Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Zen of Dating

I recently read a short primer on Zen and the theory, and I think it shed some light on how the world works a little bit. From what I understand, one becomes enlightened via meditation and disconnecting your mind from thinking about the answer to your question. Instead of reaching the answer from logic, deduction and reaching for external assistance, one turns the eye inward and reaching that outward answer via introspection. I think some of these concepts can be applied to dating.

Dating 101
Let me say from the start that dating sucks. For the most part, the act of putting yourself out there for other people to window shop, judge, critique, and nitpick whether you are worthy of their time can be a fruitless activity. Dating does have its potential upside (otherwise we wouldn't do it), but there is a lot of downside to go with it. Granted it does go both ways and you are continuously on the lookout for a higher number on the 1-10 scale.

Online dating in general I think is a pretty treacherous place. There are many unspoken rules, and every person has their own expectations and preconceived notions of how they expect things to happen. The thing with online dating is that it's becoming a more commonly accepted avenue of meeting people, so the pool of participants is growing; I'm not sure the pool of participants has the potential for shrinking anytime soon though.

It's a game. Dating is a game, and people want to win. All the players will naturally want to catch the biggest fish possible, and because of this the most attractive (physical, career, personality, potential) participants will get the most attention from the people in the dating pool, while the least attractive people will get barely any attention at all. It's kind of a vicious system, but I think that's life. This imbalance exists in many facets of life, but the online environment lowers the barriers of communication and reduces the social friction of approaching a potential date.

There is another dimension of attractiveness that is very intriguing, and it is very subjective. It seems to me at least that those who are the most eager to date and put the most energy into dating or starting a new relationship are the people who are the least likely to succeed. They are trying too hard, and end up having the least amount of success. I'm definitely guilty of this with a couple girls that I date. This may just be an indicator of how lots of different people behave, but I think there is some human aversion to others that overextend themselves.

My Dating Reflections
The last year has been unfulfilling for the most part. After my breakup with Erin, I waited a few months and then decided I was ready to get back out there and meet girls. Mostly this was because of loneliness, and I missed having someone else in my life. Looking back, this was not the best thing to do at the time; I am just now coming to terms with the breakup about a year later and being able to accept it and move past it .

Over the course of the year, I think I talked to dozens of women and went on countless dates but all I have to show for it are a few girls that I actually connected with. These girls were people that could be myself around, enjoyed their company, and were physically attracted to. I think it was these girls that I learned the most from, but in the end I learned something new from everyone that I spent time with.

Things I learned. Don't rush, love grows as people become closer; if you are forcing it, you are doing it wrong. Be true to yourself first; you are useless to a potential partner if you don't know how to be content without someone else. If you are doing all the leg work, and clearing your schedule for someone else, they probably aren't that into you or just like the attention. Don't assume you are the only person they are seeing, especially if you are seeing multiple people as well. Get outside your comfort zone once in a while, you will probably meet some interesting people.

The dating process has been more of a self education and introspection rather than bearing fruit for meeting someone else. Like I said, it has the potential of meeting someone who is awesome and knocks your socks off is always present, but I think nature of the system becomes an exercise in game theory; why commit to something when you can roll the dice one more time and see what else may come. While I may not have a woman to show for it, I think I have come out of the process a better person, and it was a lesson in catharsis.

The Online Dating Model
I said before that online dating is growing and becoming the new standard for finding the man or woman of your dreams. This may or may not be true, but I am of the opinion that the trend is that if there is something that can be improved by adding an online component, it is generally done and adds an efficiency to it. Whether the efficiency benefits the operators or the users is up for debate. It's a useful tool, but I think it becomes a crutch for the average John or Jane that is looking for that special someone. For the dating sites, it is of more benefit to get you to keep paying a subscription to that system, than to lose two customers who fall in love. That's probably a little heavy handed and cynical, but it seems plausible.

From my experience, a computer or some algorithm matches people based on similarities in personality and what their expectations are for a mate. From my experience, these sites aren't terribly good. To quote Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, "They claim to use heuristic algorithms, but it may well be hokum." Over the year I used eHarmony, I would say that only about one in ten people they matched me with seemed like we would actually have any potential. This may be my mental filter hard at work, but some just seemed way off. I would argue that having access the matching criteria turns on a lot of the mental filters that we have, and a lot of people don't get a chance before you mentally discard them.

Physical attraction is paramount. If you say different, you might be kidding yourself. It doesn't matter what your profile says if the other person isn't pulled in by that initial physical attraction. As I wrote that first sentence, I heard poets and scribes from the ages calling out in pain "Love is blind!"I really wish it was, but tragically we are human. I think it is beautiful when emotional chemistry and compatibility transcends the physical, but the rest of us are initially pulled together by physical attraction. Once that connection is made, we are then poking and prodding each other and evaluating the other person on an emotional level.

I think that one fault that the online dating system suffers from is that people have too much information available to them before they decide to get to know the other person. From a glance, you can know crazy amount about that person even before you decide to get in touch with them and see if the dating potential is there. This coupled with the sheer amount of people in the system makes the snap judgment a very effective tool. Maybe too effective.

Having too much information also makes getting to know that person a little awkward. Based on what the other person put out there, you most likely know where they are from, brothers and sisters, what they do for work, how much they make, if they want to have kids, and a whole slew of other things. Granted the other person isn't going to quiz you on what you put in your profile (and if they do, run fast and run far) but I think there is more value in the process of discovering these things rather than the information itself. This is one situation where I would say less is definitely more.

Dating might be a necessary evil though. While you play a game that may or may not favor you, I think it is important for people to date. You might hit the jackpot on the very first slot machine pull, or it might take you a few different machines to get the payoff, but I think the process is important. It builds character. Through meeting people and potential mates, you learn a lot about the world you live in, and you also learn about yourself. Spending time around people and situations that are unfamiliar helps you grow as a person, and as an extra bonus there is someone right there with you whom you are sharing the experience with; the bonus is that they might decide to keep you.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ten Man Raiding: A Post-Mortem

After raid leading 25mans during Wrath, I decided to see how the 10man side of progression raiding would measure up to what I thought was the more stressful and chaotic 25man side of things. While it lived up to my expectations in some areas, 10man progression raiding underperformed drastically in some areas. Would I call it a win or a loss? I’d call it a wash. Both models have their warts, but as long as the Internet exists, there will be people from both camps lobbing grenades at each other. Let’s dive in.

The Good:
- Easier to assemble.
So you decided you want to raid, or want to put together a raiding team. Depending on how many friends you have (who play wow, know what raiding is, and aren’t that bad at the game and/or how many people you can pull from trade chat or the realm forums) odds are pulling 9 other people together is always easier to manage than 24. I still applaud this decision made back in Wrath.

- Less Loot
Less loot is a good thing? Whaaaaa? Loot drama all but disappears when there are only 1-2 people in the raid that can use a given item. Trinkets are still a wild card, as are tier tokens, but generally everyone stays pretty happy. Less loot = less complex loot systems, and all the crazy DKP variants are sort of redundant.

- Geometry
Need to spread out? There is an ENORMOUS space for you to do so. Generally spread out mechanics are trivialized by 10man raiding, but to be fair 25man raids pull someone back from the brink if “that guy” messes up a spread out mechanic. I’m still giving this one to the 10mans.

- Less downtime
From my experience there is far less time spend on raid chatter, and wipe recovery is a lot quicker when there are less people to manage. I think everyone does a lot more self-policing when the anonymity factor goes away. You are more accountable to the people around you because you have a much bigger effect on the success of the raid.

- Everyone’s voice gets heard.
Since the sea of voices is diminished, you might hear from people who don’t normally speak up and offer useful advice. As a raid leader, you will probably get a good perspective from other points of view during an encounter, and parsing the useful advice gets a little easier.

The Bad:
- Everyone’s voice gets heard…
As long as there are more than two people in close proximity, someone is going to have an opinion about something else. Raiding is no exception. There is less inertia for people to have their voices heard, and people are also going to take advantage of that and speak to an audience.

- Less Loot
Another double edged sword. While the boss does drop loot that is pretty much tailored for 1-2 specs, the boss loot tables are so big, that getting 2-3 pieces from a 15 item table can create a lot of problems and if you are really unlucky, you may never end up getting that piece that you want. 25mans get to sample the loot table more times, so there is a greater chance that something you want will drop even though the loot/raider ratio is the same.

- Fighting the raid buff boss
It becomes very difficult to balance a raid group and making sure that you have all the raid buffs possible, which will help your chances of success dramatically. Given the ridiculous amount of buffs/debuffs/auras there are available, all I can say is that I hope you have a hunter and a shaman to fill in the gaps. We ran for the longest time without the 3% damage buff in the raid, and while I am sure it didn’t make that much difference, it would have been a huge help. I even know some teams that ran without druids before warlocks and death knights were given battle reses. That is huge for an encounter and recovering from and RNG death.
Don’t even talk to me about raid cooldowns. 25man wins it flat out in that situation.

- One death usually means wipe.
Having one person die to an encounter means very different things when you compare the two sizes of raid. Losing 10% of your raid vs 4% of your raid is a big deal. I have raided a little bit with the Big Crits 25man team, Da Crew, as well as pugging 25man raids and you can usually limp through an encounter after losing 3-5 people. If you have a person die on 10man, the encounter is generally considered over.

- Thinner social fabric
This one I think is the most important thing. As it is much easier to form a 10man raiding team, it is equally easier to dissolve one. A 25man raiding team carries with it much more inertia with it in terms of people wanting to play together, and friendships forged. There is more team spirit and camaraderie in a 25man raid that stays together than a 10man. Another raider and I decided to quit at about the same time on our 10man team and it pretty much meant lights out for the team.

Lessons Learned:
The major drawing point for me to start 10man progression raiding was that smaller tight knit groups required less cats to herd, communication from raid leader to raider was more clear, and that the raiders would have a bigger interest in having the raid succeed. The density of raiders would be able to gel and everyone would be able to play off the other raiders’ strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately this was true, but the flaw in my plan was that turnover happens, and when it does, filling that hole becomes incredibly difficult. Tier 11 was really hard to recruit raiders for, especially given the careful class/buff/gear balance that 10mans have to take into consideration.

Ten mans also suffer from the daydream that you can have 10 and only 10 raiders, given all the other balances that need to be kept in check. Raiders want to raid, and sitting on the bench for a 10man seems like such a foreign concept. It’s not uncommon for a 25man to have a raiding roster of 35 people given people’s availability and boss encounter compositions. In retrospect, having a bigger bench would have helped tremendously. Real life happens, and when it does, it can cripple an entire raid night.

I suppose it doesn’t matter whether you are raiding 10s or 25s, but one bad apple spoils the bunch. Every raiding team has their “that guy” whether they can’t find his interrupt button, they can’t manage their sound on Atramedes, or they lack a functioning mic to warn that they just did something bad. I guess it is all relative, based on the perceptions of the rest of your raiding team; I have definitely been that guy before.

As far as the fun factor, I had a lot of fun in both environments, but I think that depends more on the people that you raid with rather than the size of the raid. To each his/her own in that regard. I hope to get back into progression raiding eventually, either with Big Crits or some yet to be found guild full of cool people. As for the moment, life is calling me in other directions.