Tom Almeida

Tom Almeida's website

Imposter syndrome and improvement

I've recently been watching a lot of Daniel Kapadia's (a.k.a. ddk) videos. For those that don't know, ddk is an ex-Quake professional, who's moved into esports casting with a primary focus on FPS games. In a (somewhat) recent video of his, he says the following: limiting factor I had was - and I still suffer from this a great deal - and its part of the reason why, in some respects, I've achieved anything in some of the realms that I've worked in is impostor symdrome. It's been an issue for me.

It's the thing that really makes me work really hard sometimes, but it also is the thing that makes me discount myself from feeling like I'm worth anything or good at what I do in any remote sense. So that can be a really big issue for me, and it was an issue when I was a player...

This phrase reminded me of a rule from the "Digital Age" addition of Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People"; Give Others a Fine Reputation to Live Up To. In many senses, I think that impostor syndrome is the other side of the coin for "giving others a fine reputation to live up to".

The definition of impostor syndrome is to doubt your accomplishments or talents and to fear being exposed as a fraud. If you are given a "fine reputation to live up to", especially if its not for something that you've actually done yet (as "How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age" suggests), then of course you'll have impostor syndrome. You're being expected to live up to some ideal which you haven't achieved yet, and whilst being treated as though you've already achieved that ideal may be nice, you are - in the literal sense - an impostor.

"How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age" suggests the following:

Coaches, mentors, leaders, and parents often find that people live up to our expectations of them, no matter how diminished those expectations are. If a man feels unimportant or disrespected, he will have little motivation for improving himself. So why not create a vision of him that embodies everything you know he is capable of achieving, as well as everything you don't know about his possibilities? You will rarely be disappointed...

To change somebody's behaviour, change the level of respect she receives by giving her a fine reputation to live up to. Act as though the trait you are trying to influence is already one of the person's outstanding characteristics.

If this isn't a call to the bettering influence of impostor syndrome, I don't know what is!

We must also keep in mind the other component of the quote I've taken from ddk. Impostor syndrome can cause people to "discount themselves from feeling like they're worth anything or good at what they do in any remote sense." - in other words, it can cause low self-esteem. So there's certainly some skill to the balancing act of trying to make people live up to the expectation of their better self without massively impacting self-esteem.


Honey, I shrunk the blog!

At the time of writing this post, loading the front page of this blog without anything cached takes around 1MB of data. Compared to the average website page (according to the http archive), this is actually pretty good. The median page apparently ranks in at around 2MB of data, with about 1MB of that being images, and another half a megabyte of JavaScript. Even worse, according to the http archive's 2019 page weight reports, 10% of website pages are over 6MB, resulting in requiring at least a second to load the page on many internet connections around the world.

Obviously this blog is no where near as bad, so why have I taken this entry to talk about page size and how I've made this blog smaller? (Yes that's the topic if you haven't picked it up already.) Well this blog is almost entirely text, with one image that is used for the header/footer, and some custom fonts. There is no JavaScript, no videos, some CSS (although not that much locally, only 9KB is CSS that is hosted here), so why on earth is this website checking in at even half of what the "normal" website would be?

Well the answer, as it turns out, is entirely that one image that is used for the header and footer of the website. The profile image (which I use as my profile picture in most places) is a 2320x2314 JPEG image that takes up 747.8 KB of space. That's an absolutely whopping three quarters of my entire page, for one image that arguably isn't even needed. Fortunately, there's ways around this.

The container that my image sits in at the top of my page is a square with a side length of 125 pixels, so this image only actually has to be 125x125 for there to be no noticable change in quality from the original. The container at the bottom of the page is also a square with a side length of 30 pixel, and as 30 is not a divisor of 125 it makes sense to create an image for that separately so that the image doesn't sub-sample oddly.

The static site generator that I use is called Zola, and has a number of inbuilt functions in its templating. One such function is the (very handy) resize_image function, which (as you'd expect) resizes an image to be of some particular dimensions. The function processes an image for you and returns its path, allowing you to keep almost everything unchanged save the loaded image url.

-      <a href="{{config.base_url}}" style="background-image: url({{config.base_url}}/img/{{config.extra.profile}}"></a>
+      <a href="{{config.base_url}}" style="background-image: url({{resize_image(path='../static/img/' ~ config.extra.profile, height=125, width=125, op='fill')}}"></a>

By applying this function, I ended up with images of sizes 4.15KB and 1.21KB for the 125x125 and 30x30 images respectively, a total reduction of 742.4KB. That's basically a saving of the size of the entire original image, with no discernible change in image quality!

Of course, after this change I was greedy for more gains, and thus began my fight for fonts.

I use a number of fonts on this blog (and on my main website), which are generally downloaded from Google Fonts on demand via CSS. Raleway is used for the text of front matter (the information for each blog post such as the publishing date, total words and tags), whilst the excellent Montserrat is used for the rest of the text elsewhere. Whilst I have replaced my Raleway with a combination of Verdana and Geneva, Montserrat will be sticking around as (in my opinion) one of the best looking variable weight sans-serif fonts available. Thus, my savings with actual fonts was only around 20KB, relatively paltry gains.

 html, body {
     background-color: $background;
-    font-family: 'Montserrat', 'Raleway', sans-serif;
+    font-family: 'Montserrat', 'Verdana', 'Geneva', sans-serif;
     font-weight: 400;
 .frontmatter {
     color: $title;
     font-style: bold;
     list-style-type: none;
     font-size: 14px;
-    font-weight: 700;
-    font-family: 'Raleway', sans-serif;
+    font-weight: 500;
+    font-family: 'Verdana', 'Geneva', sans-serif;

My major gains in the fonts department actually came from another place entirely... FontAwesome. FontAwesome is a fantastic font for using company logos instead of images, which does indeed save a lot of data compared to the size that even one image of a logo would be. The only problem is that the entire stack of FontAwesome icons that I'd need to get for my little symbols next to my website, GitHub and Atom feeds is around 130KB, which (now that we've shrunk a large portion of the website) accounts for about half of the remaining website. Fortunately for me, FontAwesome provides SVGs of their icons, which allows me to download them all individually and use them instead in <img> tags. The total size for the three icons individually is a little under 5KB, around 25 times smaller than the entire font.

-  <li><a href="https://{{}}" target="_blank">website <i class="fab fa-firefox" ></i></a></li>
+  <li><a href="https://{{}}" target="_blank">website <img class="symbol" src="/symbols/firefox-browser-brands.svg"></img></a></li>

According to Firefox's network tools, I'm now down to 128.2KB, of which my remaining font of Montserrat makes up a solid 70%, so there's clearly still some room for improvement. Perhaps I'll continue to look for an alternative font to use instead.


The curious case of the disappearing ideas

I've taken to setting aside time in evenings to write these entries (and very late in the evenings - its currently 11:40 PM). This has mostly been fine in terms of my schedule. I have university during the day, and I also often have other activities such as choir in the early evenings, so the late evening is pretty much the only time that I can write my entries without having it potentially disturbing the rest of my day.

But this has also lead to another thing which has arguably already negatively impacted this blog - I've forgotten almost every idea of what to write by the time I reach my allotted writing time.

Sometimes, I have a good idea in the middle of the day, or something to discuss that I've just done, and either of these would be a good idea to type up as an entry. But by the time its the evening, after the vast majority of the day has gone and my focus begins to turn to the next day, I find it incredibly difficult to remember the details of my thoughts, the minutia of my activities or the ideas that came to me throughout the day. Admittedly, this isn't a particularly promising thing to admit at what is effectively the restarting of this blog, but in my opinion it is better that I am aware of this problem (especially as it would be likely to persist if never recognised) and am now able to think of methods to combat it.

One potential idea for me to do away with my structured day and instead to write whenever the ideas come to me. This is somewhat tempting, because starting to put down ideas when they are fresh often means that the ideas will all be left semi-formed for me to come back to later to fill in. I could quite easily see (however unlikely) my drafts folder reaching peak capacity, with too many half-formed (and likely duplicated) ideas left strewn around that I am left with the paralysis of too many choices. The main reason why I wouldn't necessarily want to do this approach, however, is because of the structure that I need for the rest of my life. I'm currently in the final semester of my Masters, and as I have previously mentioned, I am in the process of writing my thesis. Writing a thesis is a time consuming process, but I am also taking a full course-load in addition to my thesis, resulting in even more time being dedicated to university. Thus, I require a large amount of rigid structuring of my day in order to ensure that I am able to get all the work of the semester done (and its arguable that I still don't have enough structure to comfortably make it to the end of semester with full marks).

Another idea is to note down ideas in a journal of sorts, with none of the ideas as fleshed out as they would be (this is arguably just a variation on the above). I already keep a small Moleskine journal on me to keep track of my tasks for the day, which has often proved invaluable in ensuring I don't forget assessments. Without modifying my day much, I could quite easily take short notes of my day and my ideas for this blog. The disadvantage of this approach is simply that I would likely need to provide myself some context for each thought in order for my previous thoughts for each topic to be able to be recanted as I had originally thought. Even of the topics I have already covered, if I had just written the title in my journal, I doubt that I would have been able to restate all of the points that I have.

Even as I struggle with this, I am lead to be incredibly impressed with the various YouTubers that I see uploading new content on a regular basis. Whilst it is arguable that some topics practically write themselves (product reviews or political news come to mind), the variety work between those topics needs to be interesting for their existing audience to continue to want to watch it. I think an example of this is LinusTechTips, who upload six videos a week on their main channel (and even more on their other channels). Whilst the majority of their content is product reviews or based on technology news, in the last two weeks alone they've included videos about a Chinese x86 chip, a budget build from the jankiest origins, run a "tech support" challenge, done a video on the custom air conditioning in Linus' home, discussed a pyramid-shaped case that was requested and looked at the remaining players in the (arguably dead) sector of mp3 players. That's an incredibly wide range of topics, all of which appeal to their audience and all of which have an incredibly large number of views, but all entirely original content ideas. That they have been able to keep up with the insane schedule of new videos, all whilst keeping fresh and original ideas coming over a matter of years is incredibly impressive to me.

I suppose I should hope that I can do the same.


The word count of essays that aren't essays

As you (probably) know, I've just restarted this blog, and this is my fifth total entry. One of my goals for this blog is to try to write one entry every day for as long as I can, with the purpose of creating a habit for me to keep. My hope is that I am able to turn this blog into somewhat of a diary, a record of things that I've thought about and things that I've done, and as I continue to write, the time that is put aside for writing entries will allow me to think through and articulate ideas and concepts that I have throughout the day.

One of the interesting observations that I have already (especially considering that this is only the fifth day of doing this!) is that I've already written 3270 words (not including this entry) for this blog. That's almost as much as my research proposal for my Masters' thesis (which clocks in at 3429 words), and about half as many as my final thesis is expected to be.

3270 words in five days seems insane to me, especially considering that a good two-thirds of that was in the last two days alone, and none of these entries has taken me more than perhaps 45 minutes to write. I've certainly never before had an easy time writing a lot of words, especially in one sitting - regardless of the topic. My proposal took me close to four weeks to finish, and the complexity analysis that I wrote not long after took me nearly two weeks of straight writing (and I'm still editing it). So what makes these so different? I have a few theories.

For one, these essays are written with comparatively little research. I certainly have done research for them (my entries on contact without social media and esports probably never being mainstream both had some rudimentary research done for them), but compared to a university essay? It's not even close. The amount of time that I sank into researching my research proposal does indeed show, whilst I only have 15 references - which seems relatively paltry for a research paper - its proposal on a topic which I had no experience in. Both papers on gravitational waves and the literature on refactoring are not usually part of my daily reading. My unfamiliarity with the topics only exacerbates the issue of actually needing to read the papers. One of my references in my research proposal is a 204 page PhD thesis, upon which my research builds. Reading 204 pages takes enough time, but considering the mathematics and physics behind gravitational waves was not something I'd seen before, it took even longer for any of the content to actually make sense. So certainly, the amount of research plays a role.

Another potentially contributing factor is the style of writing. Most of my university essays are written in a very formal style, and it is important (at least to me) to be as concise as possible whilst wording any given sentence. Why spend paragraphs trying to explain something that could be explained in a sentence? (although sometimes you want to spend the paragraphs if the topic being explained may be obscure) In contrast, the writing in the blog (so far) has been mostly prose. I sit down in front of my computer with an idea, and I leave 45 minutes later with the equivalent of my thought pattern put into words. My sentences and word choices aren't as carefully chosen, and my tone is far more casual. This means that the amount of time that it takes for me to construct any given sentence is scarcely more than the amount of time it takes me to think it, and although I do edit a little before publishing and do roughly plan the order of what will be said, my typing speed whilst writing these posts is almost always approaching full speed.

Regardless of the reasons why (there may be even more that I haven't immediately thought of), I do hope that some of the apparent efficiency with which I've been able to type these words can be translated to my university work. I have a large number of essays due this semester, with each unit having on average at a little over one essay each and my thesis being due by the end of the semester. If I could somehow take some of this speed to add to my more formal essays, the coming semester will be significantly easier.


Esports will probably never "go mainstream"

This is a topic that has sat on my heart for a very long time.

When I was in my first year of university (2016), the game Overwatch, by Activision Blizzard, was released. As someone who plays a lot of games, mostly CounterStrike, and enjoyed playing Starcraft II whilst I was in high-school, I immediately hopped on board and played a lot of Overwatch. When the Overwatch League was announced in November at Blizzcon 2016, I was very hyped. Finally, esports would have a league that could go mainstream. Teams would be based out of cities, giving the chance for lots of local fans to arrive. There was a plan for creating a second and third tier leagues to make sure there was a space for new talent to develop and be discovered, and finally there would be a way to ensure that all the players had enough money to go full time. And it seemed like a real possibility.

Both traditional sport and esport organisations clearly bought into the hype as well, with the Kraft Group and Stan Kroenke, as well as Cloud9 and Envy purchasing slots in the league for $20 million USD. Top broadcast talent was moving into Overwatch as well, as Montecristo and Doa (previously best known for League of Legends commentary) and Semmler (from CounterStrike) jumped over to the Overwatch League. The start of the first season of the Overwatch League in 2018 seemed to be a success as well, with enough viewers to rival CounterStrike's majors, and plenty of exciting games to watch. But everything seemed to come crashing down over the next few years.

The commissioner of the league, Nate Nanzer, left Blizzard early into season 2, leaving the league without its (arguably) most publicly-facing figure. This was followed by a large number of other Overwatch League staff leaving as well, as well as a meta (short for "meta-game") known as GOATS, which was so dull that player and viewing numbers dwindled. There's been a number of reports that teams are all "operating in the red", and much of the broadcast talent that went to Overwatch left at the start of season 3.

So what went so wrong?

I went back to playing CounterStrike in mid-2018, and have barely looked back since. There was a brief period in time where I played both Overwatch and CounterStrike at the same, but after the GOATS meta came into full force I lost almost all interest in playing. I have, on occasion, tried to watch the Overwatch League since then, but have found it increasingly difficult as new characters and mechanics were introduced. Sigma, Ashe, Baptiste and Echo were all introduced as characters in the short months after I stopped playing, and each time I was bewildered when I saw them. How did their abilities work, what made them unique, how did they interplay with other characters? The components of the game that I could only properly understand by playing were slowly falling away with each patch, and every time I tried to watch I'd find it difficult to tell what was going on.

I've found that I have much of the same problem with League of Legends and DOTA, both of which I don't play. They both have a massive roster of characters (especially in relation to Overwatch), all with at least four unique abilities and interplay with other characters that cannot really be understood unless you have personal experience from playing. In this sense, I can't be amazed by some element of skill which I can't even grasp. Was this particular combination of abilities really hard to pull off in tandem? I have no clue, I don't play this game. Was the interplay between these two characters such that someone who won really should have lost on paper? I have no clue, I don't play this game. Was this particular tactic a mastermind choice that completely ruined any chance that the other team had to win? I have no clue, I don't play this game.

Traditional sports don't really have this problem - in comparison it's easy to tell if something is difficult. Watching a player in AFL jump over four other extremely muscular players to snatch a ball out of the air is impressive purely off of the fact that I am human, and I know that I'd have no chance. Watching soccer players curl shots into the top corner of a goal is impressive purely based on it looking amazing and being a clearly difficult task. Impressive saves in by goalkeepers boggle the mind with their quick reactions and fast movement, and I would (I think) be able to tell that even if I had never played a game of soccer in my life. I wouldn't be able to discuss tactics much without either playing myself or watching an inordinate number of games (much like esports), but the barrier to enjoyment and watching apparently spectacular plays is much, much lower.

In addition, the ruleset by which interactions occur between players is much simpler in traditional sports. I think that the simpleness of a ruleset can be modelled by how easy it to describe the objectives of the game. Most traditional sports are, at their core, relatively simple: Do some objective more times than someone else. Soccer - put the ball into the opponent's goal more times than the other team without the ball touching your arms; Basketball - put the ball into the opponent's hoop more times than the other team; NFL - run the ball into the opponent's area more times than they do to you. These simple end objectives may have some complicating factors - different point systems depending on where you shoot from for basketball or the offside rule in soccer - but even these are simple and intuitive. Esports, on the other hand, is another beast entirely - try explaining how to win a game of League of Legends to someone without any context. The lanes and towers and inhibitors before even getting to the base add a layer complexity which is only made worse by the Baron and Dragon (especially now that there are different Dragon types). This is even further compounded by the skill system, the levels of the characters, the abilities and the concept of a "build". I can intuitively tell that destroying a tower in one of the lanes gets you closer to winning League, the reason behind Baron or any of the Dragons is a different matter entirely.

Even the (arguably) simplest esport, CounterStrike, suffers this problem to some extent. It's much more difficult to explain the roles of the Terrorists and Counter-terrorists and the "phases" of the game (pre-plant and post-plant) than it is to explain the basic premise of soccer, even though it is inherently impressive to watch someone land three one-deags, and easy to tell why winning a round with pistols against rifles is impressive. Whilst it is easy to see the skill in CounterStrike, understanding goals of the game is much more difficult than in traditional sports.

This is a problem that is inherent in video games. It is difficult to make massively replayable games without some form of guaranteed variation, which in video games comes from additional complexity to the goals of the game. Would it be nearly as fun to play League of Legends if there were no items and a much smaller roster of characters? For me, at least, the answer is no (although fans Heroes of the Storm might argue that the answer is yes). Would it be as fun to play Overwatch if there were no abilities and no characters? I certainly don't think so, the difference and interplay between the different characters are part of the core reason why the game is fun. The complexities of the interplay between characters and build selection is part of the reason why these games are so successful, even if it means to a casual audience that any high-level play is unintelligible.

And it's to that casual audience that esports has to appeal if there's any chance of esports "going mainstream". There will always be more people that don't play a game than those that do play it, and it's that audience that needs to be captured. How many people do you know that watch some sport and follow their favourite team and yet hardly play that sport? I'm a rabid Tottenham Hotspurs fan, and I haven't played soccer for years, and there's many others like me. Of my friends who watch lots of sports, hardly any of them play the actual sport, instead the watching of a sport is a past time to enjoy with friends, whilst at a bar, or eating dinner. It's a break from real life, and can be followed from afar instead of requiring continual re-learning as new content is introduced.

To this end, I say that esports will never "go mainstream". The things that make the games fun are contrary to the things that make the games easy to watch casually, and if the game is easy to watch casually but not fun to play, no one will play it anyway.