Tag Archives: texas

Impressions of “Explore/Create: My Life in Pursuit of New Frontiers,” by Richard Garriott with David Fisher

Explore/Create is an odd book in need of a better episode. It is composed of episodes from two of Richard Garriott’s passions: making computer games and space. These two stories eventually converge, with exciting and unexpected results. Because of the nearly-random ordering of chapters, though, most of the dramatic tension is lost. The story is still fascinating if you care about either — or better, both — of these passions, however. Garriott is a legitimate pioneer in both fields.

I knew Garriott from computer games, where he is known as “Lord British.” Garriott was the writer of one of the first commercial computer games — Ultima — and the founder of one of the first successful games publishers, Origin Systems. Even before I had a computer I knew of his work through Ultima IV, a computer game where the moral “alignment” of the player character is under continued development. Likewise, I remember following the launch of Ultima Online in high school, as well as the famous assassination of Lord British.

But while this is happening a loving but titanic figure looms in the background — the astronaut Owen Garriot. Richard had grown in up Houston near Mission Control. A number of chapters which at first seem to be self-indulgent narcissism lead to Richard’s contributions to human space flight: his company Space Adventures was an early funder of the X prize

I greatly enjoyed the episodes of the history of computer games. Growing up in Houston near NASA, Garriott was part of the Texas computer scene (indeed, he founded Origin around the time that Compaq was founded.) But while California was a golden light for the Compaq founders, for Garriott it was a warning: the flightiness and drug-use of early California entrepreneurs served as things to avoid for Origin.

I wish Garriott spoke more about the transitions Origin made. He writes about the painfulness of transitioning from Apple-based to a PC-based clones, but has few details. Origin is sold to EA, but beyond making shelf space easier to get, little is said to why.

While at EA Garriott created Ultima Online, the first large-scale massively multiplayer online role playing game. Garriott describes some of the corporate politics that went into creating the game, including the unexpected consequence of people selling in-game “gold” for actual money. Even though the creation of Ultima Online is one of the most detailed parts of the narrative, I was left wanting more of these details (And less of, say, Garriott’s Titanic themed party in Austin).

Much more is said of why Garriott left NC Soft, and the subsequent lawsuit. And here’s where the two threads of Garriott’s life — attempting to reach space and making computer games — clearly interacted. Richard was fired immediately upon returning from the International Space Station, while still in quarantine. His $32 million victory would be the highlight of many lives — Garriott’s life is exciting enough that it’s a transition from one chapter to another.

So I wish these threads were better connected. Garriott’s love of space, and his skill at the game business, lead him to dramatic climaxes at nearly the same space and time. In my mind I organize the stories in the book this way. But instead the book begins at a seemingly self-indulgent tale of Garriott viewing the Titanic, and events that make the lawsuit with NC Soft more meaningful (like previous experience at Origin) is treated only superficially.

I also wish there was more on Garriott’s space exploration work. I don’t know if what appears to be a gap between what Garriott describes (funding for early space companies, a role in the creation of the X-Prize, etc.) and what I can find elsewhere represents Garriott’s grandstanding in this book, or his unfair marginalization in other work. Frustratingly, not enough detail is given in this book to even have a clear idea.

Last, it’s too bad that Richard did not narrate his own book. Garriott is charismatic and a good speaker, and many of the events in this book are better told in Garriott’s interview on Retro Tea Break. Richard Garriott is justly respected in the history of of computer gaming, yet an openly admiring interviewer is able to extract a more coherent narrative out of Garriott than he presents of his own life.

I really want to read an Explore/Create 2.0. I want to know more of Garriott’s work at Origin, more about EA, more about space, more about NC Soft. Hopefully, one day I will be able to.

I read Explore/Create: My Life in Pursuit of New Frontiers in the Audible edition.

Religious Tolerance, after they take the kids

After Texas raided the Yearming for Zion compound of a small religious minority, the Fundementalist Church of Latter Day Saints, I wrote:

The Texan Raid against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is an example of religious persecution. Combining the unsubstantiated allegations of the Crystal Gale Magnum hoax with mass persecution of a religious minority, the attack on the FLDS Church will probably be seen as the disaster it is for decades to come.

I then asked:

a) When does the government’s case collapse?
b) When are people fired over this?
c) Which government employee is the first to serve jail time?

The answer to the first part is, “today“:

SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) – A state appellate court has ruled that child welfare officials had no right to seize more than 400 children living at a polygamist sect’s ranch.

The Third Court of Appeals in Austin ruled that the grounds for removing the children were “legally and factually insufficient” under Texas law. They did not immediately order the return of the children.

Child welfare officials removed the children on the grounds that the sect pushed underage girls into marriage and sex and trained boys to become future perpetrators.

The appellate court ruled the chaotic hearing held last month did not demonstrate the children were in any immediate danger, the only measure of taking children from their homes without court proceedings.

Obviously, as in any criminal case, time may provide new evidence and change the situation. But the fact remains that Texas’ bizarre raid against FDLS, in which large numbers of children were seized from their parents, makes the Elian Gonzales debacle look a day at the circus.

If you’re a WASP with weird folkways, stay away from Texas.

Religious Intolerance

Congratulations to Adam for putting into words something I have been thinking (but unable to say well) for a bit now. The Texan Raid against the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is an example of religious persecution. Combining the unsubstantiated allegations of the Crystal Gale Magnum hoax with mass persecution of a religious minority, the attack on the FLDS Church will probably be seen as the disaster it is for decades to come.

The Metropolis Times: El Dorado Raid
At the end of last march, someone claiming to be a 16-year old girl named “Sarah” called a local crisis center, claiming she had been sexually and physically abused by her husband named “Dale” at the YFZ Ranch, a religious center for members of the FLDS Church. County officials concluded that because FLDS members have been associated with child abuse in the past, any allegations must be true, and that if some FLDS leaders have been marrying minors, then every follower of the religion must be involved in it.

So, instead of finding out where the girl lived and investigating in her home, they took the children away from everyone in the entire town. This is religious bigotry. Whether you think polygamy is sanctioned Biblically or not, it is not equatable with child abuse.

Of course, now we learn that her supposed husband hasn’t been in Texas for three decades according to his probation officer and that the call doesn’t seem genuine:

“There is no verbage or terminology used that leads me to believe the statements were made by someone inside,” said Ezra Draper of Hildale, Utah, who left the FLDS sect six years ago. “I think it’s bunk.”
“The term FLDS use to describe other people is “gentiles,” not outsiders, and they don’t observe such holidays as Easter Sunday, when the alleged victim claimed she was last beaten.”

To me, the questions are

a) When does the government’s case collapse?
b) When are people fired over this?
c) Which government employee is the first to serve jail time?

Houston, Texas

“Houston Rain,” my friend Rob said, “is like any other kind of rain, but worse. It is worse than South Dakota rain. It is so thick that you can’t so the front of your own car. It will be like a wall, which is just there, in the distance. Then you drive closer and closer to it. Then you are in the rain, and you’re blind. I hate driving in Houston Rain.” Obviously Rob’s thoughts were absurd, I thought, as the morning in Nacogdoches was warm and sunny.

Until we came closer to Houston

The storm grew worse and worse as we approached Houston. It never grew as bad as Rob feared, but driving was pretty terrible.

We had heard about the storm, but the fact that a storm was predicted for our town about two hours north of Houston yesterday, and nothing happened, led us to think that the weathermen may just be crazy. Nope. It rapidly became clear that in Texas proximity to the ocean means proximity to moisture. The only time we

The rain would stop from time to time, sometimes leaving the city in a dark gloom. The hour we were lost in Downtown was beautiful.

After helping some friends move our first destination was to the Nautral History Museum. Nearby there is a nifty statue of President Samuel Houston on a horse. It was raining too much to take a clear shot, but the monument to the old war hero was beautiful in the rain.

As we parked the rain suddenly stopped, and we passed the Fragrant Gardens. Fearing a return of Houston Rain we hurried on, but it brought back memories of the much more lush Fragrant Hills outside Beijing.

There was a definite Asian, if not Oriental, them to the gardens. A statue of Gandhi is below, walking away from the viewer. See also a side view of the man.

The museum charges for admission, so we mealy walked the main corridor. Overall it had the feel of a gigantic McDonald’s (a feel fueled by the appearance of two McDonald’s counters near each other). Still, there were some neat sites (obviously intended for children) available for free. A ghoulish “bone bike” sits in the main hall, as does a dinosaur from Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (specifically, a Dracorex Hogwartsia)

Some random sites in Houston included a Greyhound Bus (hoping not traveling to the South)…

The Toyoto Center, which was locked up and thus unavailable for further exploration

And Palm Trees, which are crazy-cool for this blogger from South Dakota

Some sites made me think of Foreign Countries, and not just in the gardens sense. The love of Texans for their flag was obvious

Other times foreign influences were more… inexplicable. For instance, the payphone and postage station in honor of George VI, last Emperor of India, last King of India, last King of Pakistan, and first Head of the Commonwealth.

Some of the unAmericanisms were anti-Americanism. The front part of the message is illegible, but it ends “… it. Those towers were hideous,” with a drawing of the World Trade Center beneath the text.

Happily, another plastered note we say was happier. “LOST. Winning lottery ticket worth $28 million. REWARD: $10 if returned (no questions asked).”

Stephen F. Austin State University

I am currently in Texas visiting my close friend Rob (he of Trumpy Productions). Rob left our common home of South Dakota to move to Nacogdoches some time ago to prepare for a career in film. Now a graduate assistant at Stephen F. Austin State University, Rob has made everyone proud with his original, technically demanding, and often hilarious work.

In the middle of the University is a giant statue of Stephen Austin, the “Father of Texas” and the Republic’s first Secretary of State.

Interestingly, two nearby plaques appear to have been written by a tumultuous committee. Both are polite towards Secretary Austin, though the first refers to him as the one person whose vision and leadership led to [the Republic’s] creation and the other uses a somewhat more Leftist formulation

But whatever one thinks of the past, the present of the campus is beautiful. Read more, and see for yourself!

Like IPFW, which I saw while visiting my other friend Dave in Fort Wayne, SFASU has the mandatory anonymous pseudo-pagoda.

Samuel F. Austin also has something much more beautiful: a series of walking paths with a variety of flora known as the Arboretum.

The greenway begins, gorgeously, immediately behind the Film Department where my friend studies

Walking back to the main campus, the mandatory tall scary building (seen even at Peking University

A last reminder of Beijing: construction! SFASU’s new student union promises to be snazzy. For now, it’s only a headache.

Leaving Nacogdoches

Leaving Nac, East Texas today. No posts until tomorrow evening at the earliest.

Thought: Texas considers itself a country. How does this affect immigrants? Is Texas’s assertiveness contributing to its relative ease in assimilating immigrants, especially when compared against California?

Mindi and Damion, you are good friends. Rob, I love you as a brother.