New Investments for Xbox Developers and Gamers Kick Off GDC 2017

I generally avoid posting about topics that are specific to Microsoft, but there were some big announcements from Xbox at GDC this year with a couple in particular that I want to call out.

The Xbox Live Creators Program:

...empowers anyone to rapidly publish Xbox Live-enabled games on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs, in a totally open way. With the Creators Program, anyone can integrate Xbox Live sign-in, presence, and social features into their UWP games, then publish their game to Xbox One and Windows 10. This means their title can see exposure to every Xbox One owner across the Xbox One family of devices, including Project Scorpio this holiday, as well as hundreds of millions of Windows 10 PCs, and millions of folks using the Xbox app on mobile platforms.

Starting today, we encourage developers to download and start using the Xbox Live Creators SDK at https://developer.microsoft.com/games/xbox/xboxlive/creator, where they can learn all the details of the program. The Creators Program is currently in preview, so the program will pilot with a select group of developers initially. We will be opening store publishing submissions to all developers soon.

For context, currently only approved developers can release games on Xbox and at significant cost. While the ID@Xbox program makes this both easier and cheaper, it is still a significant hurdle. The Xbox Live Creators Program makes Xbox Live available to all game developers for just the cost of a Windows developer license ($20 USD at the time of writing), with some restrictions on the Xbox Live services they can utilize.

Xbox Game Pass:

...is a new gaming subscription service that gives you unlimited access to more than 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 backward compatible games on Xbox One – all for $9.99 USD per month.

Xbox Game Pass can be thought of as “Netflix for gaming”.

Congratulations to the folks in Xbox that are a part of making these possible. These are significant steps forward in the Xbox business and I’m excited to see them become a reality.

How to Beat the Robots

The New York Times has published an interesting and detailed look at possible ways to address the job market being automated:

Maybe the automation of jobs will eventually create new, better jobs. Maybe it will put us all out of work. But as we argue about this, work is changing.

Today’s jobs — white collar, blue collar or no collar — require more education and interpersonal skills than those in the past. And many of the people whose jobs have already been automated can’t find new ones. Technology leads to economic growth, but the benefits aren’t being parceled out equally. Policy makers have the challenge of helping workers share the gains.

That will take at least some government effort, just as it did when the United States moved from an agricultural economy to an industrial one, with policies like high school for all or workers’ rights.

Whether there’s political will for big changes remains to be seen, but here are some policies that economists and policy experts think could help now.

They cover many of the same theories I did a few weeks ago in my post on The Information Revolution, including improved education, basic income and infrastructure investment.

Mortgage Brokering is Being Automated

The CBC at the end of February, 2017:

Tory Shoreman thought she was safe.

As far as career choices go, working in mortgage financing at one of the country’s top banks seemed like a solid bet.

She figured there would be more job security than many other professions and plenty of opportunities to climb the corporate ladder in Toronto.

That was back in 2010.

Over the next seven years, she says she had a front-row seat to watch automation — most often intelligent software — take over nearly every aspect of mortgage processing.

As I stated in my post on The Information Revolution, all repetitive jobs will be automated at some point in the future, regardless of whether they are considered blue-collar or white-collar.

Postmortem: Nearly an Accident

Last weekend, driving back from the ski hill, I came extremely close to getting in an accident. This is a postmortem of what happened so that I can improve my driving and others can learn from my mistakes.

What Happened

I was driving a 2-lane mountain road with a speed limit of 55mph. There was a line of traffic, with me in it, going approximately 55-60mph. The roads were a bit wet, but it wasn’t actively precipitating. The temperature was well above freezing.

After going across a bridge, there was a moderately sharp right turn. I slowed to 50-55mph to make the turn but, due to the sides on the bridge, I couldn’t see around the bend. As I completed the turn, I was faced with the car in front of me making a sudden right turn onto the shoulder where there were other vehicles already stopped. That left two completely stopped cars in front of me, with the right shoulder filled with vehicles. The front-most car was stopped to make a left turn.

I emergency braked, but knew I didn’t have enough distance to stop. After seeing the shoulder filled with cars, I looked to the oncoming lane. A car was just passing the two stopped cars. Looking farther down the road I saw another oncoming vehicle, but it was still some distance away.

I took the opportunity and went into the oncoming lane, maintaining enough speed to quickly pass the two stopped cars before getting back into my lane. I didn’t get into an accident and the rest of the drive back was uneventful.

What Went Wrong

I am firmly of the belief that most accidents are avoidable, particularly with defensive driving, and this encounter was no exception. This close call should never have happened.

I generally am extremely good at driving defensively, but my judgement lapsed in this instance and I almost paid the price. These are the parts of defensive driving that I failed to follow:

  • I was driving exclusively based on the car in front of me, not the road ahead. This lead to the next two failures.
  • I was following too close for the speed I was traveling. I should have had more distance between me and the car in front of me, hopefully giving me more time to realize what was happening and come to a controlled stop.
  • I was traveling too fast for the sight lines available. Due to the bridge blocking my view of the road ahead, I should have slowed down significantly more for the turn so that I was prepared to stop if needed.

The last one is of particular importance. If I had not made that last mistake, I would have come to a quick, but controlled stop.

What Went Right

Since I didn’t end up in an accident, obviously I did some things right. In fact, I would say almost everything went right once I was in the emergency and had to react:

  • My hands immediately went to “10 and 2”. While you are supposed to drive with your hands at “10 and 2”, this is unfeasible for long drives. Instead, I drive with one hand at either “10” or “2” and the other on my knee, ready to react as they successfully did in this instance.
  • I acknowledged the stopped vehicle ahead of me, but didn’t lock my vision. Instead, I scanned for escape routes, finding one in the oncoming lane. I then focused on that escape route, allowing me to avoid the vehicle as opposed to driving into it; you always go where you look.
  • I braked successfully. As I started to look for escape routes, my foot hit the brakes. I felt ABS activate and started threshold braking. Once I had my escape route, I fully released the brake, maximizing grip when turning.
  • Once in the oncoming lane I didn’t brake again so that I could maintain speed and get back into my lane as quickly as possible.
  • I minimized the amount I turned, purposely coming close to clipping the back corner of the stopped car, but ensuring I didn’t. This contributed to my truck not feeling out of control through the entire maneuver, minimizing the risk of a slide or rollover.

As all of this happened extremely quickly, over a period of just a few seconds, these actions were instinctual. The only thing I technically did wrong was not looking in my rearview mirror before emergency braking, but I consider this a minor fault as nothing I could have seen would have changed my actions.

Lessons Learned

This was a strong reminder to always drive defensively. While the cars in front of me made similar mistakes, those mistakes would not have propagated to me if I had been driving defensively. Specifically, I should have:

  • Been looking farther down the road to be aware of the change in sightlines earlier on.
  • Lowered my speed given the reduced sightlines.
  • Maintained a greater distance to the car in front of me.

From that, a more general lesson can be learned or reinforced: always assume there is a stopped vehicle or other obstacle just beyond your line of sight and ensure your speed is low enough to be able to stop in time. Increase your line of sight by looking past the vehicle in front of you, if possible.

A large part of the reason I evaded the accident was that my instincts reacted appropriately. A reason for this is that I always practice the behavior I want to see in emergency driving in my daily driving. For example, I always take my foot off the brake when turning; have practiced hard braking in safe, snowy conditions to understand how my truck behaves at the limit; and am always looking for escape routes as I drive, just in case I need one.

Drive safe out there and remember to always drive defensively. While you may get there a few minutes slower, it’s better than risking not getting there at all.

 

Sherlock: How To Film Thought

Fascinating look at the filming techniques in the excellent BBC TV Show Sherlock:

Long Names Are Long

Bob Nystrom, on identifiers (e.g. variable or method names) in code:

What I want to talk about is something I see in a lot of code that drives me up the wall: identifiers that are too damn long.

Yes, names can be too short. Back when C only required external identifiers to be unique up to the first six characters; auto-complete hadn’t been invented; and every keypress had to be made uphill, in the snow, both ways; it was a problem. I’m glad we now live in a futuristic utopia where keyboard farts like p, idxcrpm, and x3 are rare.

But the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. We shouldn’t be Hemingway, but we don’t need to be Tennessee Williams either. Very long names also hurt the clarity of the code where they are used. Giant identifiers dwarf the operations you’re performing on them, are hard to visually scan, and force extra line breaks which interrupt the flow of the code.

While the algorithmic part of programming is a science, writing readable, easily understood code is an art.

Internet Marketing Blogger

If you are interested in making money online, you should check out the Internet Marketing Blogger, written by none other than my good friend Tati Meyer. She’s documenting the lessons she’s learning in setting up a business online so that you don’t have to learn them the hard way.

Furiosa’s Cat Feeder

Apparently automatic cat feeders aren’t all they’re cracked up to be:

If there’s one thing I learned in this odyssey, it’s that automatic cat feeders are the equivalent of giving a piece of dental floss to someone serving life in prison. With infinite time, you can escape anything, and (it turns out) break into almost any robot.

Making Facebook Productive

After years of avoiding Facebook for a variety of reasons, it became impractical to avoid it any longer due to a variety of groups and events I was both joining and wanting to create.

Once I added my first “friends” (who are not exclusively close friends, but also acquaintances and co-workers that I share a group with), joined a few groups and signed up for some events, I noticed that my news feed was absolutely useless. Despite being in groups and events with focused activity, it was being drowned out by the noise of random activity from my Facebook friends.

After some time spent looking around, I discovered the solution to cleaning up the newsfeed and making Facebook a productive group and event management tool:

  1. Unfollow every person you are currently Facebook friends with. This can be done directly from their post in the newsfeed.
  2. Continue to unfollow every new person you friend on Facebook when you see a post from them in your newsfeed that isn’t associated with a group or event you’re involved with.
  3. Productivity!

The first two steps prevent any posts that aren’t made in a group or event you’re participating in from appearing in your newsfeed, meaning your newsfeed consists of more signal and less noise. Of course, the exact ratio depends on the activity in your groups and events.

I’ve been using this method for the past few months now with great success. I check my newsfeed daily and it contains relevant, focused information. As for keeping up with the happenings of my close friends, I still utilize the old-school methods of phone, text and spending time with them in person.

Rediscovering Happiness

If you are considering suicide, please reach out for help. The phone number for the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

Below, I share the story of my depression as I’ve experienced it so far. I’m choosing to share it for a variety of reasons:

I share my story as a form of therapy for me, being able to document the broad series of events and lessons leading to where I am today.

I share my story to provide hope and the lessons I learned to others who are working to conquer their depression.

I share my story to help educate those who have never been depressed, both in understanding what depression is and how they can help those in their lives who are depressed.


Elementary School

I was a happy child, enjoying life. Then some kids in elementary school decided I wasn’t “cool”. I was about ten years old at the time, in grade 5, when the bullying started. A few years of bullying in elementary school and I had lost my inner happiness. With the clarity of hindsight, I now know that was the start of my depression.

Doubt replaced my inner happiness. Even when I felt happiness, there was always doubt. Doubt that the happiness was real. Doubt that I deserved it. Doubt that others wanted me to feel it. Doubt that it was worth feeling happy about something so small. My base state of mind was doubt; my self-confidence was demolished.

I could always put on a happy face. I knew how to express happiness, even if I didn’t know how to embrace it.

High School

Being from a smaller city, my high school peers consisted of many of the same kids I had attended elementary school with, including those who bullied me. Even though the bullying largely stopped in my first year of high school, I can’t say when exactly it stopped as I had come to expect it. I couldn’t help but assume other kids were critiquing and criticizing me behind my back, even if they weren’t. I interpreted satirical comments as attacks.

Of course, none of the kids knew this. I would put on a smile and roll with it, so I didn’t show signs of weakness.

While I struggled in high school, it was also when I started the long road to recovering from depression. With the eternal love of my family and working closely with a counsellor at my high school, I was handed the tools I needed to find my way out. It would take years of experiences for me to learn how to utilize them.

While depression is persistent, I did have some bright spots in high school, each of which gave me more knowledge I would use to overcome my depression.

In high school, I discovered my passion for technology and programming, a passion that still burns strong today. Finding a passion allowed me to experience happiness, albeit on my own. My computer became my trusted friend, programming a source of joy. I learned the value of finding joy on even the darkest days when I felt the most alone.

In grade twelve, I experienced my first taste of a fresh start. As part of a program called Encounters with Canada, I joined over 100 high school students from across Canada in Ottawa for a week. I knew not a single person going into it. We spent time exploring Ottawa, learning about Canada’s history and government, but for me the trip meant much more. That week, I experienced true happiness. For the first time since I was a young child, I could define myself in front of others, rather than being defined by the bullying of my past.

That trip sparked a fire inside me. I had been wanting to leave both high school and my hometown for a while, but now I needed to. I needed a fresh start.

Towards the end of grade 12, I started dating my first girlfriend, whom I had first met on my trip to Ottawa. It was a long-distance relationship, which meant it was separated from my normal anxieties at school. While we weren’t meant to be together, I learned the value of a close friend; someone you know is always there for you. With her I experienced true happiness, even if I still found anxiety and fear around my peers.

University

University gave me my first fresh start. I headed to university in another province, away from the kids I grew up and graduated high school with; away from the kids who had bullied me. Like on my trip to Ottawa, I was given the chance to define myself around my new peers on my own terms.

In my first year of university, I joined the school of engineering and lived in dorms. Both of those drove comradery and I felt my depression lift significantly. I started making new friends and experiencing happiness through the slog of first year engineering lectures and homework.

I headed back home after my first year at university to work for the summer for the City of Vernon doing general labor. Thanks to a bad boss that summer, I learned that while I my depression had lifted some my self-confidence was still low. By the end of summer, I had become mildly depressed.

Going back to university for the second year was different in many regards. In addition to being mildly depressed, I was no longer staying in dorms. Instead, I rented a basement suite off campus with a friend and fellow engineering student. This meant the comradery I found in first-year dorms was no longer as strong, requiring me to go out of my way to be social.

Over the course of my 5 years at university, I slowly fell back into full depression. There were many ups and downs throughout, but looking back I can see the downward trend. I slowly became more isolated, skipping classes to stay home instead and spending more time in my room alone. Additionally, I became angrier with the university and school system.

While I still take issue with my schooling and how the system is designed, that anger became all-consuming in my mind. It was a vicious cycle, the anger driving my depression and my depression driving my anger. In university, I learned how emotions can affect depression.

In the latter part of university, I started dating my high school girlfriend again. I have many incredible memories from that relationship. While at first it helped to lift my depression, my downward trend continued. I left university still dating and depressed.

The Summer After University

While in that relationship, just after the end of university, I hit rock bottom. Unfortunately, this showed me how much my depression could hurt those around me, as I know I hurt my girlfriend at the time. She struggled to comprehend the turmoil and darkness in my mind that even I couldn’t understand. We broke up shortly thereafter as I also learned that while others could help me handle my depression, the true fight must come from within.

It was around this time I had my first thoughts of suicide. I never did get to the point of desiring suicide, but I started wondering if I was headed down that path. It simultaneously peaked my curiosity and scared me. The mind can be a dark place, sometimes.

As I hit rock bottom, I confided completely in my Mom. While she was aware of some of my struggles, I had never used the word “depressed” before. I had done some research on depression and, based on how I was feeling, was confident I was depressed. At her suggestion, I visited my family doctor to explore options for help. This was one of the best decisions I could have made.

In that visit, my doctor evaluated me and confirmed that I was depressed. He was realistic about the options, being sure to explain both medication and counselling. After discussing things with him, I chose to try a mild amount of medication, and he also referred me to a counselling program provided by the British Columbia health care system. The program consists of a series of phone calls with a counsellor where they both evaluate your condition, as well as provide constructive feedback and ideas for how to move forward.

I can’t say exactly how effective the medication and counselling were individually, but combined with the fact that I was out of the stress of university, I started to feel my depression lifting. As summer continued, I looked forward to getting another fresh start when I moved to the United States to start work at Microsoft.

Microsoft and Rotaract

Coming down to Microsoft, I didn’t know what to expect. I was still feeling depressed, though significantly improved compared to the start of that summer. Things started to click for me, though, as I set up my new life. I loved the place I was renting, was on a team at work with people I’m fortunate to be able to call friends and was loving my job.

The one thing that concerned me in the back of my mind was forming a social circle. Due to the bullying, I had never truly experienced forming and maintaining a circle of friends. Usually I had one or two people I would call close friends for a period, and everyone else I thought of as an acquaintance. I wouldn’t let myself get close to them out of fear of being hurt.

At the suggestion of my step-dad, I joined Rotary International through a local Rotaract club. It would be a chance to get involved in the community and meet other young professionals like myself. Not long after joining I became the president of the club, with two other new members, Tati and Mike, forming the rest of the officers. The next Rotary year the three of us worked to revitalize the club and, in the process, I made my two closest friends.

With them I could be honest about myself and my past, while simultaneously looking forward to the future with them in my life. It gave me hope, and kept me busy outside of work hiking and just hanging out. Even if they didn’t know it, Tati and Mike were teaching me how to create and maintain a social circle bigger than one’s closest friends. I saw how they made new friends and maintained relationships with existing friends. They invited me along to social events they were going to and hosting, showing me how to be social with a variety of people.

Having two close friends, and being incredibly busy with both work and the Rotaract club, distracted me from my depression and I was enjoying life for a prolonged period. The downs I had over the course of my first year and a half in the United States felt far less daunting than my downs in the past.

Perhaps it was because I wasn’t watching the little things since it felt like my depression had lifted, but I made a small mistake in my social life about a year and a half ago. For most people, they would have been able to correct it, if they even noticed it. For me, it slowly turned into an all-consuming issue in my mind. All my social anxieties came flooding back. One night I hit rock bottom again and broke down. The same curiosity about suicide came back, albeit briefly. Thanks to the lessons I had learned throughout my life so far, I knew I needed help.

I reached out to an assistance line provided through my healthcare at work. They were quick in setting a path forward for me, including going to see a counsellor in person. A week or two later, I had my first session with the counsellor. Working with her, I could better understand the roots of my depression, as well as gain more strategies for how to handle my social anxieties. Even though I had crashed, thanks to the tools I had gained over the years, I started recovering much more quickly than in the past - a matter of weeks rather than months or years.

Coming out of those counselling sessions, I started working proactively to build a circle of friends around me, and to be more social in my life. Seeing how easy it was to fall back down, I paid closer attention to the little mistakes I made in my social life and corrected them when they happened, rather than letting them manifest into something bigger.

My work started to pay dividends, and as I made a healthy circle of friends that I spent time with regularly, my self-confidence also rose. While I had hit rock bottom, I had come back stronger and healthier than before. Beyond having a comfortable circle of friends, I started having the confidence to host social gatherings that weren’t focused on Rotaract.

This leads into this winter, where I wanted to go skiing regularly and wanted people to go with. I set up a group on Facebook and, a bit nervously, started asking people if they wanted to join in. I was nervous because for so many years I had drilled into my own head that people didn’t really want to spend time with me, even if all the evidence suggested otherwise.

Instead of rejecting me, people joined in excitedly and I’ve had many successful skiing trips this winter, with the excitement continuing. My group of friends is expanding further, and my self-confidence feels like it’s mostly normalized. Which leads to a few weeks ago, coming back from a ski trip, where it hit me that I was truly happy.

Through my entire body, into my soul, I felt happy. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt so entirely at peace in my own skin, comfortable with who I am. I rediscovered my inner happiness.

The Future

Going forward, I know my work is not done. Through the years, I’ve learned that depression is not something I have overcome for the last time, but something I will continue to work on and be aware of in some capacity. I have confidence the lessons I’ve learned and tools I’ve gained will allow me to continue conquering my depression.

I also have a group of friends around me that will make things easier. I’m involved in events that force me out of my house regularly and, when the social anxiety is starting to nag at me, out of my comfort zone in social situations.

I have the self-confidence to know that if I can conquer depression, I can conquer anything I set my mind to, even if it takes more than a decade.

I see light, not darkness in my future, and for that I am thankful and excited. The events in my life, including my depression, have made me who I am, and I am that much stronger for it.


To Others who are Depressed

If you are reading this and either are, or think you may be, depressed, know that you are not alone, regardless of how alone you may feel right now.

I hope the lessons from my story can provide you with some tools to help you conquer your depression. Here’s a few of the biggest lessons I learned.

Always persevere. Depression is something that you won’t necessarily conquer quickly, but persistence will yield success even if it takes many years. And it is worth it.

Seek out the help you need. Confide in friends and family, speak to your doctor, or call a help line. You are not alone.

Don’t rule out medication. Depression medication can carry a large stigma, but if depression is hitting you hard, talk to your doctor about your options. While medication may not solve your depression, it could lift it enough for you to be able to start working on it successfully through other means.

Your doctor may have options beyond medication, too, including counselling. If counselling doesn’t bring you all the way out of your depression the first time, don’t be afraid to go back, potentially to someone different. Persevere.

Find those in your life who love you. Be it friends or family, find those in your life that love you unconditionally. If you think it will help, confide in them. Even if you don’t confide, keep them close.

Find your passions. With passion lies happiness, even if it’s fleeting. Are you passionate about certain types of music? Perhaps it’s an activity? Discover your passions and embrace them. Not only can they bring happiness directly, they can be a source of more people in your life who share the same passion.

To Those Who Know Someone Depressed

If you know someone who is, or you suspect is, depressed, the best advice I can give is to be there for them. Only they can conquer their depression, but simply being a friend or family member who consistently shows they care can make a difference.

Keep asking them to attend social events, even if they deny most of the time. The fact you’re asking can make a world of difference in the long term.

If they choose to confide in you about their depression, listen. If they aren’t confiding, don’t pressure them to.

If they are confiding in you and it feels right, suggest they seek help through counselling or their doctor. Your job isn’t to be a professional health-care worker, but to support them while they get the help they need.

To My Family and Friends

Thank you for being there for me, even if you didn’t know that I was depressed. Simply knowing you love me and were there for me makes all the difference in the world. I am eternally grateful to have a family with so much love in it, and to have met so many wonderful friends over the years, even if I struggled to fully embrace those friendships in the past.

To those I hurt through the years as I worked through this, and I know there’s been some, know that I am sorry. It was never my intention to hurt anyone, but I wish you the best going forward.

To my two closest friends, Tati and Mike, thank you for welcoming me into your lives, and teaching me how to be social and live a healthy life. I will forever be indebted to you.

To My Mother

I want to call out my mother specifically, as she has been the bedrock in my life from day one. She has always supported and loved me unconditionally, always there to listen whenever I called.

She always asked the right questions, causing me to think about things a different way, or confide a bit more than I was intending, but also allowing her to better understand what was happening in my life.

She encouraged I seek out help and, when I did, was there to help monitor my mental health and ensure that I was making progress.

She has devoted more time and energy to me than I could ever have asked for.

Thank you, Mom. You have a heart bigger than the world, and I will forever aspire to be even half the person you are.

In Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I hope you’ve enjoyed my story, and taken something away from it. This has been a long-time coming for me, and I’m excited to go forward in my life. I’m excited to have freedom from depression.