Don We Now Our Satan's Power

December 18, 2014

Yes sir, writing every day.

So I built a thing last weekend, and when I was building it I was doing so on my tilde space but then moved it over to my own Dreamhost stuff because it involves serving up a couple megabytes on every page load and that seemed sort of rude if it was gonna get a bunch of use to do on someone else's dime. Given the competitive nature of commoditized servers that cost might have literally been a dime, but somehow it made a difference to me vs. just posting some text or something on my blog here.

Which is interesting; I don't know yet, still, what my sense of boundaries for this place are. I love sharing stuff here; I love thinking as stuff as "" stuff; but I also feel some sort of need to not abuse it, not treat it like some fungible web resource, even though it is literally just a unix box where people post stuff they make.

The thing, in any case: Endless Jingling, a simple JS script that loads up a few of the 36 holiday songs I recorded last weekend, all at 120 bpm in C (but shifted up to Eb for elfiness), and then jumps around from half-measure to half-measure more or less at random to create newly synthesized hybrid cutup carols, forever and ever. I am reasonably happy with how it came together, given the amount of effort and shameless hackiness in the code; if I decide to do a more robust take on this idea at some point, I'll have a good place to start in terms of what I learned about what did and didn't work.

Bailing and Binding

November 8, 2014

The gig in Olympia was a bit crap. Not a disaster; not something that makes a great story; just not good, not something worth driving two hours out of town for and paying for a motel for. We didn't make back gas money, let alone the cost of the room the three of us shared. Show was at a failing art collective type place; playing up the street at the same time was Mudhoney and Girl Trouble; it's not clear that the person charging covers at the door was actually consistently charging, which may be part of why the split for even the smallish crowd seemed thin. And we played first, with that always fucked take-one-for-the-team deal where nobody's there yet because nobody's playing music yet, so by the end of your set folks will have started to wander in.

We played fine, we sold no merch, people were nice enough, the other bands were good, and it was a money-losing farce. I'm more bothered by this feeling like par for the course than I am by any of the actual details of the night. Playing road shows as nobodies is a mug's game, and it's not something I love so much that I feel okay about that; I think we may have to just not do any more of these unless someone for some reason comes to us with something great.

In any case: we said fuck it, this morning, checked out of the Super 8, and headed back to Portland, cancelling on the Tacoma gig tonight. I hate to be the band that drops out at the last minute, but I've been the band that puts up cheerfully with unreasonable bullshit a great many times so there's probably some debt I can call in here, karmically speaking.

Things I did today that weren't canceling things: put a third coat of polyurethane on the floor, which I think will be the clincher; wrote some more fake game content (making myself a little carsick on the ride back to Portland in the process); and beat the first big boss of Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, Isaac's mom.

BoI is a hard one to explain in a lot of ways, but one thing I can sum up without details is that it's very, very good at creating tense situations that (a) feel fair when you fail in them and hit a game over, and (b) feel amazing when you triumph over adversity. There's yards to be written about game difficulty and the philosophy of game design re: aesthetic experience vs. mechanical challenge, but BoI is a game very much about presenting a serious challenge and training you, inch by inch and death by death, to meet that challenge with a growing skillset and set of polished instincts. It's a game that takes some work, but when that work starts to pay off it's exhilirating. I'm glad games like this exist.

Welcome to the Motel Olympia

November 7, 2014

I'm sitting on a bed in a Super 8 in Olympia, full of a BLT and chili and cherry pie from a diner called King Solomon's Reef, out back of which an old dude in a flatcap with a banjo told us he was a Vietnam vet and then just sort of stared at us and didn't play his banjo at all.

We load in at The Northern in about an hour; then a show, then back here for the night and into Tacoma tomorrow for another show there, then, in theory, back to Portland that night. Whether that'll actually happen or we'll end up crashing at this motel or another one like it instead and making the drive in the morning, hard to say. The vagaries of gigging: we could be done in Tacoma at 10, or at some time after 1. Makes a difference jumping in the car for a couple hours.

Today's my wife's birthday; I'm out of town and so is she, on a geology trip. Neither of us travels much without the other, so both of us traveling without the other at the same time has a kind of laudable efficiency to it.

Taylor Swiftly

November 6, 2014

Some joking on twitter this morning about a Taylor Swift/Star Wars mashup parody led to actually writing and recording it over the course of a couple of hours in the middle of day: Choke a Moff, rewriting her recent "Shake it Off" as being from the perspective of a misunderstood Darth Vader.

I tend to put a lot of jokey song ideas together very quickly, when I do record them; the upside is they tend to get done that way, the downside is everything that you'd think would be a downside of rushing something out quickly. I hit a lot of little lyrical touches that I'm happy with but there's rougher bits as well; the recording is sloppy, with improvised parts for most of the instruments and some timing issues and an overall smashed muddiness to the mix; my voice is pitchy and suffering in spots from putting the song about a whole-step higher than I probably should have, and I barely practiced my lyrics before I tracked them and as much as I've heard Shake It Off in the last month I haven't actually sung along with it since Swift's in a different range entirely from me.

But: it got done. And sitting on this for a couple more days trying to punch up the lyrics, trying to work out the arrangement, trying to nail down the vox stuff: why? "To make it better" is the obvious answer, but going a little past the obvious, the question really is why. What's the payoff for doing that extra work on this song, this silly lark? People don't listen to joke songs for the production values all that much; production values are nice, but it's mostly about landing the joke. And in this case the joke requires the listener to (a) be familiar with Swift's single and (b) be familiar with a lot of little bits of Star Wars. So the Venn's already on the smaller side than if it were just one or the other. The title is kind of a poorly chosen hurdle, even: who remembers what a Moff is? Do they even use Grand Moff Tarkin's full title in the films, or is that just something I know about because I know more about Star Wars than I should?

I don't have an easy answer to the why question. I would like to think I'd put all of my energy and ability into making really good, really considered recordings, and I do do that sometimes, but it's a lot of work, and draining, and means blowing so far past the crazy excitable energy and momentum I get with a one-day project that it's easy for the attempt to just grind to a halt once the initial burst of crazy-eyed I HAVE AN IDEA AND I'M GONNA MAKE IT HAPPEN just-get-it-doneness.

Tomorrow: off to Olympia to play a show, and then Tacoma the next night. Hopefully we can shake off (choke Moff?) the weird bullshittiness of that bungled release show with a couple really good half hour sets.

Today today

November 5, 2014

And so but yes:

- Wrote some more. About 2000 words about the history and gameplay details of a fictional ripoff of the arcade classic Tron called "TORN", a ripoff so blatant that the Disney corporation sued its creators into oblivion and had most of the existing cartridges destroyed.

- Helped ~mathowie debug a short bit of JavaScript that was getting hung up on a tricky wrinkle: he was using the === identity operator instead of the == equality operator to compare a string of input expected to be a value between 1 and 10 to a randomly generated integer value between 1 and 10. It was always returning failure, even when they matched, because what was "matching" was, e.g., a string of value "2" and a number of value 2. === explicitly does no type conversion, whereas == does; ergo, while "2" == 2, it's not true that "2" === 2. This is a handy distinction for certain purposes, but person writing their first simple JS code to do simple comparisons isn't really one of 'em. And I'm still relatively new to JS myself and so only got him this answer by chasing down a vague sense of there being something tricky about ===.

- Caught up with an old co-worker, Tom, from job I left six years ago, had a couple beers, talked video games and horror movies. Good to see him again.

- House still stinks of solvent. Tomorrow I put down some glossy polyurethane, really spiff that shit up. Spiff it like crazy.

- Just, hella spiffy. The spiffest.

Yesterday today

November 5, 2014

I don't even know yet if I'm actually Posting Every Day, but if I am then I didn't but I meant to and I'm doing it in spirit, so:

- I put another coat of stain on that floor. Looks a lot darker, redder, and even now. Yesterday's coat went on uneven -- too light for the first two thirds of the floor -- because I didn't proper shake/stir the stain before getting going, so I was a little freaked out to find it suddenly going on much thicker and darker toward the tail end of the room/can. Whoops. Amateur home improvement. House continue to smell terrible. Joked on twitter last night that it doesn't matter that Oregon legalized weed yesterday because I'm already super duper high on solvent fumes.

- Got some new writing done on the fictional game system project. Wrote up 1800 words on the history of a single specific game, the context of its creation, the spat between its developer and the founder of the game hardware company, the several notable bugs players discovered they could exploit for fun and weirdness. It was an easy 1800 words to get out; gives me hope that I may actually be able to make serious, non-crap progress on this writing project. The fact that it lends itself to these isolated chunks of faux documentation is probably key.

- The new Binding of Isaac is out! It's a remake of the original, by the maker of the original, a few years after the original, which is a weird setup in a lot of ways, but it's a scratch rewrite in not-Flash that's a lot more modern and reliable under the hood and which will presumably be a lot easier to maintain and expand. It's a difficult game to convey: I can say "like Zelda meets Smash TV except with an overarching aesthetic theme of poop and oppressive Christian fundamentalism" but that's, y'know, a little tricky to unpack and still not conveying why it's such a compelling play experience.

Projects, Interrupted

November 3, 2014

To the extent that the fictional-video-game-system story is My Project right now, today was unproductive. Moving outside those bounds, I got some shit done:

- I did some touch-up sanding and then laid down a coat of redwood stain on the floor of the spare room on the main floor of our house, a room that has been In Progress for between 1 and 4 years now depending on how you do your accounting (work, per se, began on it some time after our cats began using it as a place to pee inappropriately, and the work has been in large part to rehabilitate it by tearing out cat-piss carpet and undercarpet padding and then to turn the resulting mess of a floor into something nice looking) and which I spent yesterday going at with an industrial floor sander after having put too many hours into earlier in the year in fits and starts with a hand-held orbital sander. The main problem with the floor: previous owners had painted it, multiple times, and getting that paint out has been a horrible pain in the ass but necessary as (a) the paint smelled in places of cat piss and (b) it was shit brown for some inexplicable reason.

- I recorded a couple of episodes of one of my slumbering podcasts, The Crapshoot, with my co-host Jesse; we set out last year with the intention of doing weekly or maybe bi-weekly shows but reality has intruded in the mean time as has my tendency to procrastinate, and so it's been a month and a half since we last published a show. Tonight will hopefully get us back on track somewhat. In any case he is a friend who I haven't seen much outside of podcastery, and so it was nice to just sit and bullshit over beers for three hours.

- Recorded, this morning, a Metafilter Podcast, something that because much of the production process is not my responsibility is actually published pretty regularly on a monthly basis. Always a nice time BSing with Matt Haughey and Jessamyn West about mefi stuff.

So now I am hoarse, the house smells of stain solvent, and I am sore and tired from all that floor sander wrangling yesterday, and I've gotten no writing done. But a good day, all in all.

Endlessly sharpening one's pencil

November 2, 2014

After my burst of writing yesterday about my fictional video game system, I took a look at my little nest of Twine nodes and decided to move them over to a MediaWiki install today because Twine doesn't feel like it's going to end up making a ton of sense as a container for this. But will a wiki? I'm not sure. But it may be a better environment for developing this hypertextual network of story and biography and game-review stuff.

It has occurred to me that what I really would like to come away with isn't a wiki, either, but what a wiki replaces: a printed, linear encyclopedia of this fictional game console. A big volume of alphabetic entries on all the different angles of this alternate reality 1980s, where the chance of letter distribution drives the reader to first a biographical summary of Abner, John, British electronic components importer/exporter; then to a brief writeup of Acclam, a game about helping a clam succeed in school; then Adder, a technical description of full- and half-adder logic circuits; then to Aegis Videotainment, a Canadian software development firm responsible for three middlingly successful games release for the console in 1988 and 1989; and so on.

There are two books I own that are I think why this idea of a linear encyclopedia appeals to me so much: P.D.Q. Bach, by classical music satirist Peter Schikele, and The Dune Encyclopedia, by Willis E. McNelly et al. The former is a goofy, tongue-in-cheek biography of and collection of historical documents regarding the sad and absurd life of an invented 21st child of Johann Sebastian Bach; the latter is a serious (if itself sometimes dryly funny) collection of fictional scholarship based on the Dune universe as established up through the fourth book (God Emperor of Dune) in Frank Herbert's series. They're very different books, but both do something I enjoy a great deal, which is to take an idea and run with it in doting, interlocking detail as if it were so obviously, matter-of-factly real that of course there's a non-fiction reference about it.

It's daydreaming, but I love the idea that someone else could sit and flip through my invented video game history and get as much running-with-the-idea pleasure out of it as I have gotten out of returning repeatedly to those books myself. Whether it's an actual book, or a wiki, or a Twine game, or a plain .txt file probably doesn't matter so much; it's mostly just about believing in that weird make-believe reality enough to put it down on paper.

So I should probably try to do some more of that and less futzing with wiki configurations or writing about writing it over here. But the actually doing is always the tricky part.


November 1, 2014

Creative work has largely been displaced by videogaming and work-work and moderate glumness the last several days. As much as anything I resent that the videogaming has been mired in glumness because I really genuinely love videogames and have misgivings about having to sort of convince myself to play them instead of just having an anxious, excitable desire to be playing them. I know once I get into the game it will provide an absorbing distraction from mehness, but kickstarting that can be its own kind of effort. And then: if I'm having such a hard time convincing myself to do something I in principle enjoy, why not convince myself to slog through something I don't instead? Which I also do, but not as much as I ought to. Dishes, laundry, basic household things that need doing: if I'm going to be grumpy about it, why not be productive?

And so, not much to show for the things I'd been nattering excitedly about previously. Did a bit of work on Shai Hulud, but "a bit" is accurate; I added some hacky improved support for four players, which was a big goal, but doing it hackily mostly made me realize that I need to redo it unhackily, which is something I know intellectually I can accomplish but which feels somehow like a grand horrid mess of refactoring. It feels like I Don't Wanna.

I have thought before, many times independently over the last fifteen years, about the idea of forcing myself to make a blog entry every single day no matter what, to note some sort of "here's what I did today" thing however slight or even a "here's how I was feeling today while doing nothing" in the worst case. And the last week of no entries here is me not doing that, partly because I don't know if I want to ever force myself to do it (and set myself up for feeling miserable about lapsing, for that matter) and partly because I don't know if I want to subject even a handful of people to having to read the dull glum do-nothing stuff or a daily dose of whining. But, so: haven't updated in a week, on a blog no one needs to read but which is in its own way emblematic of my creative enthusiasm and my desire to see somehow be A Thing. It's hard to sort out, cleanly. Where does No Shame end and Not Caring start? I don't want to not care.

So, but, yes: what I did today. I started in on a writing project for an idea I had three years ago, of a biography/documentation/encyclopedia about a fictional video game console from the late 80s, a failure of an also-ran that noone really remembers today. The NES, and video game culture in general, was such a massive part of my childhood worldview growing up that this is something that I have a fair amount to say about personally and a lot of enthusiasm-in-principle for creating fictive sorta-parodic, sorta-serious world-building details around. It's an idea I love telling people about (and I did some tonight, at a Metafilter meetup); the question is, how much will I enjoy actually trying to write it down on paper? Or text files, say.

And so I've started up a Twine game, that's not actually a game, because that was the fastest way to jump right into writing some hypertext. Just type a bunch of shit and throw [[double square brackets]] around keywords and boom, you've got an autogenerated link to an autogenerated text stub for those keywords. What I should really probably do with this is make it a wiki, because managing all the nodes I want to write in Twine is probably madness and in any case Twine seems like a better fit for a CYOA/Interactive Fiction branching narrative than for what is essentially a non-linear index into various details about a fictional historical subject. But being able to get started in one minute was valuable, earlier, compared to spending my first blush of rekindled-after-three-years enthusiasm futzing with a wiki install and reading up on markup.

Will the writing project survive the week? I don't know. But after a week of not getting much creative done, it's worth a shot.

Gig Bites

October 25, 2014

I'm in a band, which is something I always sort of want to be when I'm not and then have complicated feelings about when I am. Mostly I like making music and like making it with people I like who do interesting things I wouldn't have thought of, and so: being in a band.

We just put out a record, which is to say we're about to put out a record when the physical records (and they are vinyl LPs) arrive from Poland where they have been fabricated; they were supposed to be here already, supposed to be here by or before yesterday in point of fact, which is important only because yesterday was our record release show. So we ended up stuck playing a release show without a release.

We also only played half our set, because we were headlining the show and there were delays up the bill, and the venue does early shows not in the "we just feel like starting early" sense but in the "you literally have to stop at ten o'clock p.m. so we don't get shut down by the city over noise ordinance violations" sense.

So: release show without a record where we didn't get to play more than half of the record that we didn't have. Not really living the dream.

And the thing is, this just sort of feels like existing as a random independent nobody band, to me; last night's dramedy of errors makes for an Ouch, That Sucks sort of story but it also sounds about right for everything I've ever experienced in a band in the last dozen years or so. My expectation is of lack of traction, lack of attention, deep unlikelihood of a random gig in Portland actually being a well-run, well-attended, wholly-positive experience. And this is a hobby for me, not my One Thing, and so I'm sort of at peace with a lot of that (you could rewrite that as "unmotivated to try really hard to change that" and make this into a You've Got To Chase The Dream, Man sort of turnabout). But its a weird thing to acknowledge, and its at the core of why being in a band is always this complicated source of misgivings.

I like the idea of playing out. I like performing. Running throught a set of good material in front of people is in isolation a really great, fun thing to do. But the details all pile up in actual practice: booking is a pain, coordinating with other bands is a pain, loading equipment up and loading it into the venue is a pain, sorting out stage stuff is a pain, getting decent sound is often a pain (esp. if there's no house engineer and/or the PA is shit, both common in venues its easier to get booked in), dealing with the bands being late to load in or sound check, figuring out equipment sharing, dealing with stuff going missing, hanging around till late to load shit out if its logistically impractical to do so early (and it usually is), wrangling beer tickets, dealing with bar food, trying to get paid before two in the morning if you're even getting paid at all. And that's all totally independent of the question of whether there's really gonna be anyone there and paying attention. It's a lot of work and hassle gambled against the possibility that more than a handful of people other than you will enjoy the 45 minutes or so that its all setup for.

There's a sort of variation on Imposter Syndrome that comes to me every time I start thinking through this stuff: maybe that it seems like a crazy slog to me is just evidence that I'm the one with the problem, that if I look at all that and don't come away with a wry smile and a Yeah, But It's All Worth It, Man, that's not proof so much that it's a bad deal as it is that I've picked the wrong hobby, that at the end I'm just not cut out for it and haven't noticed. Which is not the worst thing in the world if its true, because there's a lot more to music than just gigging in a band. But it's tricky when that is so much of the cultural narrative of musicianship, of putting together a record and a set list. The difference between putting out a record that almost nobody listens to vs. playing a gig that almost nobody goes to: the difference between not much happening on the internet and not much happening on a stage under some lights with crowd chatter and scattered applause.

Hard Drive

October 22, 2014

I'd rather not drive across a state in a rainstorm again, is the big takeaway from today.

I only started driving regularly a couple of years ago, in my early thirties; it's been long enough now that its all very normalized and familiar, but short enough that I still have new experiences sometimes, first encounters with one or another specific driving scenario. At this point I have on a couple occasions driven straight through half a day; and, living in Portland especially, I've driven in sheets of rain. Neither is particularly fun.

But I hadn't really imagined how physically and mentally tiring it'd be to do both. The stretch from Vancouver, B.C. to Vancouver, WA was almost unfailingly horrid rain, just great constant sheets of it and the highway a foggy, blurry, bright-but-dim low contrast staring contest. The protracted nature of it is exhausting; I'm just sort of a lump now that we're home in Portland, arms and back sore, eyes zapped, brain slumping against skull.

Beer in a jar

October 20, 2014

Well, look at this:

agray and me

It's ~agray and I, at 33 Acres, a nice little brewery/bar in what agray reports is called the "Mount Pleasant" neighborhood of Vancouver. We met up for a quick beer and hello this afternoon. is now a concrete thing that involves handshakes with erstwhile internet-bound new friends: that's a nice development. And 33 Acres makes a very nice schwarzbier, which they serve in a 24 oz jar, which is an odd size but not something I would kick out of bed. Kicking a jar of beer out of bed: not on the to-do list.

I feel like I will have settled into Vancouver properly around the time we leave, day after tomorrow; the different road manners, the layout of the street grid, the sound and smell and feel of the Yaletown/West End/Gastown/Downtown area I've been driving and walking around, all of it is starting to gel and relax a little bit. I annoyed some pedestrian to shouting by either driving badly or driving correctly in a way that defied his intentions, and I don't know which and wasn't really mortified about it the way I might have been on day one. I have learned the routine with the hand-held card scanners brought to the table here (in Portland, and in the US in general that I've seen, restaurants spirit your card away and come back with a receipt to sign/tip); I have learned, more or less, to read/anticipate the street parking signage, with it's crossed-out stop sign symbols in place of the familiar literal "NO PARKING" or crossed-out "P" text renderings of home.

Tomorrow: a Metafilter meetup, at The Alibi Room. That should be nice, and relaxing and familiar; mefi meetups are a kind of instant home-away-from-home for me, all the weird social anxiety of a cold-open mingle in a strange place stripped away by the underlying implicit simpatico of our collective Metafilter readership.


October 18, 2014

Got a nice note from ~agray offering beer advice from a local's perspective -- the core of which is "don't buy beer at that one store you bought it from because they charge way too much" -- and so have a couple of alternate targets for sixpacks and growler fills (note to self, see if airbnb host has a growler in a cabinet somewhere) as well as a couple local breweries I could go visit. Thanks, Andrew!

Also, with the beer thing: Portland sells beer in grocery stores and minimarts and such, which I am so accustomed to that it's always odd to be somewhere where that isn't the prevailing norm. Walking to an IGA to grab a little non-fried food last night, my wife and I passed the over-priced booze shop in question and started speculating based on its existence that Vancouver would turn out to be one of those "no beer at the market" places, so even with the over-spending for our sixer I felt a little bit clever for predicting that we'd have to double back to get it.

Portland does have its own dedicated beer shops, too, but that's more a matter of the market being pretty big than a licensing issue; bottle shops (usually beer and wine as well) tend to be more about a larger, more reliably varied selection of imports than just plain getting beer, so if e.g. you've got your eye on a bottle of some odd little Belgian that the (actually pretty well-stocked in general) grocery stores aren't likely to have, there's your shop. There's also been a spate of stand-alone growler fill shops popping up in the last couple of years, though I worry about those a bit because you can fill a growler at just about every bar in Portland already and our bars tend to have decent-to-eclectic tap selections to begin with. I have a vision of 2017 where weed has been legalized and a lot of failed growler-fill shops have turned into dispensaries.

The Cost of Beer

October 18, 2014

Not a figurative title or some sort of thematic gesture; the beer just costs a lot here, it's crazy. CAD$16 for a sixpack? The exchange rate's in my favor and so strips off a couple bucks, but still, that's disorienting. Funny how a little thing like that stands out when adjusting to metric is a shrug and hearing people say "SOH-rry" just blips me back to to Kids in the Hall for half a beat.

It's not even crazy money; a growler fill in Portland is somewhere in the $11-13 range and is 64 oz, so I'm paying a pretty reasonable going rate in that context (and there's all this local/regional Canadian beer that I can't get at home, so it's kind of like I am buying tiny novelty growlers). Just: huh. Like finding out that gas costs a buck extra at the town you decide to fill up in.

Vancouver so far: a city. Bigger than Portland but not alien. We're staying in Yaletown, because there was a good price on a well-reviewed Airbnb and it's close enough to the conference my wife's attending; got a dog at Japadog that was pretty tasty, now settling in for the night to relax and recover from the fatigue of the last 30 hours or so.

Toward Canada

October 18, 2014

Drove up from Portland to Seattle yesterday to play at the Ball of Wax 38 release gig with one of my band mates (the other is not feeling well), with plans today to get brunch with a Seattlite friend before proceeding to Vancouver, B.C. where my wife will attend a geology conference and I will chill out doing some Metafilter moderation and ambling around the city.

I've been to Vancouver only once and only very briefly: went on a cruise several years go up to Alaska, and we stopped in on the way back for a couple hours, long enough for my wife and I to walk around a bit in the mile-or-so vicinity of the port and eat some random tasty grub. It's a thin tendril of an impression, but a nice one; I look forward to spending a little more time in the city not in the strange mental space of having been on a large boat full of strangers for a week. has been such a go-go-go part of my attention for the last week and a half or so that it's a little odd to be so thoroughly distracted from it the last thirty-six hours. Like I'll come back after a day and it'll all have just disappeared, been an extended odd dream.

Forget it, Jake, it's Pixeltown

October 16, 2014

Been nursing a little collaborative shared space "who's around" page idea for, essentially a wee pixel neighborhood where everybody could have a tiny shard of pixel space to do what the like with, maybe a bunch of little prefab avatars as well that people can really easily customize with a little toolset (hair, skin, clothing color and style, a choice of prefab idle animations, apartment deco).

pixel neighborhood sketch

Part of the sense of place would be tying in the display of lights/avatars vs. dark room to people's status on the server: are they around right now or not? With hundred of users on the site/block, panning around sufficient housing for everybody could be a chore, so along with the detailed macro view there could also be a way-zoomed-out "street view" that comes down to just wee lights-on-vs-off pixel blips on a whole bunch of buildings.

None of which, given some work ahead of time to produce some pixel art assets, has to be particularly hard to put together. Templates for apartment units could slot into a grid, rendering the whole thing could be done pretty trivially as a tile-based thing into a canvas element. The question mostly comes down to whether people would particularly want this, or want to do the work to configure or contribute further art assets, and if so how to manage that.

I talked about the idea a little bit on our new local usenet, in our new tilde.projects group, which is just still a delightful thing to even be able to do. There's the weird nature of bifurcation here where I'm basically saying "okay, stop reading this here and go use a different protocol entirely to read a related thought" that I'm not sure about, but on the other hand I don't have comments on this blog so that's where we can actually have a discussion.


October 15, 2014

Once in a while I get a bit of a tendonitis flareup going on when I overdo it with my wrists. Doesn't happen often, and when it does it's usually pretty transient, but for those few days I am hyperaware of it, especially since it usually happens because I've been doing too much of something I like. Usually that's gaming, or writing, or coding.

Which is a terrible time for it to come into play, because I want to keep doing those things. And I can, with moderation, but moderation and flow state don't play super well with me.

It's been recommended by several parties now that I rebind Ctrl to the CAPS LOCK key on my keyboard to ease the strain from shortcut cording stretches. I should probably give that a shot, though I'm worried I'll go a little nuts trying to make the adjustment.

One thing I can do without pissing off my tender left wrist is play with photoshop, and so among other things I kluged together a little transparency overlay last night of all the high score screenshots I've gotten for Shai Hulud, et voila:

8 screens merged together

Happy Balloon Boyniversary

October 15, 2014

Some stray tweets made me realize it's the five year anniversary of the Balloon Boy hoax. There was a very busy thread on Metafilter (warning, 1400+ comments) tracking the whole trainwreck from its initial credulous reportage on the major cable network shows to the awkward "oh never mind, he wasn't on the balloon after all" backpedaling from the hoaxing dad, on through to the post-incident family interview in which the purported Balloon Boy horked on live TV presumably under the stress of being compelled to lie about the whole thing by his dad.

It was weird and funny and terrible and everything all at once: the purest sort of narcissistic spectacle getting bigger than the instigator had probably ever expected but also spiraling inevitably out of his control.

I recorded a song about it, from another Metafilter user's parodic lyrics, a jangly garage rocker called Oh Balloon Boy. It's sloppy and improvised and sounds like my entire basement, but it's still one of my favorite personal recordings.

Thousands of Readers

October 14, 2014

Some clever folks are in the process of getting a local USENET spool up on the server. It was up, and is at this moment down again, presumably as configurational efforts continue by increments. I had time to post a couple of excitable messages to the club.tilde group and testdrive both slrn (unfamiliar!) and, notably, alpine, which I had forgotten could be an NNTP client, but which I must have used as such back in college or high school because I was flooded by sense- and muscle-memory as I poked around just now after figuring out how to set news stuff in it.

newsreader warning

Yes, alpine. Yes I am. I've never been more sure of anything in my life.


October 14, 2014

i swear to god i didn't do it

They Call Them Makers

October 14, 2014

a Fremen lures a sandworm with a thumper

I think I like having made something more than I like the process of making things, a lot of the time. I'm impatient for my ideas to concretize, or unwilling sometimes to put in the effort and risk to find out if they will turn out to be concrete.

Programming is especially challenging for me in this sense; I'm not bad at it and not great at it, I don't do it enough, that's a whole long entry in its own right, but: the thing about programming vs. say song-writing is the total fragility of an unfinished piece of code. I can sing a half-written verse; I can't run a half-written block of code. With coding, there can be these gaping lacunae between when I start rewriting something and when it goes back to being A Thing That Runs, and I find those interludes anxiety-inducing to a degree that makes me wonder if it's not very much for the best that I never ended up being a professional programmer. I want the thing I'm making to reassure me that it's still there, that it's improving, that it's going to be okay even though I suddenly, by my own doing, can't sing a single note of what I know I've already written, and might not be able to for another couple hours or a day.

There's a fear there that the thing will never recover, that I'll do it too badly or become too dispirited and my attempt to fix it will turn out to be how I killed it instead. "But you can just go back to the previous version and start again." Yes. But. I have a terrible time with re-doing work, too. Especially when dispirited by a failure. I am not the sensible, headstrong go-getter I would like to be in the face of creative difficulty; I bail, I do something else. I let things I love and am excited about wither because I can't make myself go back to them.

Of which, all this: I spent a couple hours last night tearing out and rewriting from scratch the keyboard input control logic for my Shai Hulud cabinet. Did some design work first in a notebook to avoid coding blind -- that gonzo prototyping is what produced the mess that needed rewriting in the first place -- and proceeded with hope and confidence but ended up frustrated and uncertain by the end anyway. Ranted in IRC a bit to friendly, supportive tilde folks; ended up, late in the evening, closing the final gaps and returning the code to working order. Profound relief: I had not destroyed the thing. But it bothers me that anxiety and catharsis is such a prevailing cycle of emotions for me when I code anything longer than a couple hundred lines. There are people who build billion-pound bridges out of metal and concrete, and I'm shaken by a couple of invalid variable references.

In Frank Herbert's writing, the sandworms of Arrakis have several names, one of which is "Maker", because the sandworms are seen as manifestations of the living god and creator of all things. The worms, giant, terrible, stubborn eyeless forces of nature, are relentless and proceed without caution. I have no interest in being a worm, but something there is resonating with me right now. Maybe I can hitch a ride on my own little electronic sandworms next time I'm feeling lost in the desert with this stuff.

Webfonts of Dune

October 13, 2014

Just spent fifteen minutes trying to figure out how to make webfonts/@font-face work, with the result that (probably) you'll now see OrthodoxHerbertarian in h1 tags now instead of good ol' Futura. Likewise got it showing on the title screen of Shai Hulud. (Which has gotten far enough in the initial single-player version that I've posted it. Got a couple high score submissions, which just, I dunno, it's silly but it delights me. I feel delight.)

Most of my trouble getting the font to work (beyond having literally never used @font-face before and so casting about a bit even figuring out where to start) was that the font is provided as a .ttf, which is fine for OSX and Photoshop but not I guess so great for webfonts; .woff is apparently a thing that exists these days and what the kids are using.

So I took the .ttf over to fontsquirrels' webfont generator, put it through on "optimal", and, bam: .woff. And .svg for that matter, but just looking at filesizes I can see why .woff is liked for this sort of thing.

Shai Hulud

October 13, 2014

screenshot of early version of Shai Hulud game

Have worked last night and this morning on the Dune-inspired variant of Snake talked about yesterday; so far the basic Snake mechanics are there as is the submerge mechanic, and it's interesting how much just that little twist seems to add to the feel of the thing. Being able to exist on this self-made labyrinth on two levels gives you an out in otherwise desperate situations, and adds to both the visual and tactical complexity of the game. As a one-player experience it's still essentially just Snake, though; I'm really looking forward to implementing multiplayer to see how this feels as an actual head-to-head experience.

Which raises the question of AI, for a couple reasons: 1. It'd be nice for a single player to still be able to experience the non-solitaire version vs. just playing mostly-vanilla snake by themself. 2. As the person developing this, I may not have anyone else around to play against me for testing purposes while I'm working on it. So: I'll probably want to program up some little brain for the computer, some small set of heuristics for it to use to try and steer a snake toward goals and away from deaths. Could be interesting.

Also this morning: created a quickie CRT filter graphic, to lay over a game, to fake up the scanlines and ovoid masking of an old tube display. It's the cheesiest possible approach, but as a proof of concept I'm a little charmed regardless. In the long run it'd be interesting to look into actually contorting/filtering/whammying the html canvas output in a real way, but I don't yet even know where to start on that and it's a distraction from working on gameplay in any case.

Soundtrack of Dune

October 12, 2014

Caught up in Dune fever, I went out and bought the official soundtrack LP, a mix of instrumental music by Toto, a bit (including the memorable theme) by Brian Eno, and several vocal stings from (or possibly just similar to those from) the film itself, including Princess Irulan's short-but-somehow-interminable introduction to the story that attempts to sum up a giant pile of elided Frank Herbert world building in a minute and a half.

Dune soundtrack

In theory this is the soundtrack to me getting a bunch of work done on those Dune game ideas. We'll see how that works out; "I should drop everything and drive across town to buy a record" doesn't exactly look like rolling up my sleeves as I sit here looking back on it. But the record is playing, and I'll stop typing now, and we'll see what happens.


October 12, 2014

But so those fever dreams: as I schlepped myself down to the kitchen at 3 a.m. for a glass of water, I couldn't get out of my head the idea of Dune as the subject of a fictional early 80s arcade craze; what if Herbert's books, on the strength of Lynch's film (which is a mess but which I love), had become a hugely marketable and marketed property for a few years, the biggest thing since Star Wars, a really inescapable multiplexed product franchise?

There would have been video games, and lots of them. A whole fleet of various Dune-themed cabinets, released six months apart, doing for Muad'Dib and Arrakis and the Fremen what Nintendo fandom has done for Mario. But all in that paleolithic early-80s blocky pixel style, arcade games that were half-ugly and home console versions that went all the way. But the cabinet art at the arcade would be amazing.

Before I went back to bed I added a bunch of quick ideas for little Dune games to a brainstorming file in my home directory. The first one I'm thinking about tackling is a variation of the classic "snake" game (e.g.) with a couple twists: a limited ability to "dive" your snake for a few tiles to avoid a collision, and a two-player local competitive mode that turns it into a Tron lightcycle sort of dynamic.

I mocked up a Game Over animation while drinking my tea after that last post:

animation of eye blinking away a tear, captioned GIVING WATER TO THE DEAD!

Brain Sounds

October 12, 2014

Bleary morning, not enough sleep but tired of trying, and so: up, bathrobe, cup of tea, vim index.html.

A mix of creative excitement, weird food combos, and emptier bed than normal led to tossing and turning, waking up at 3 a.m., and at best a kind of half-sleep for the four hours after that. Wife is on a geology field trip a few hours away; we spend so few nights apart that it's always something that stands out and often I sleep a little weird, but this weekend it has stood out more sharply.

There's a couple of tremendous mashup albums that Neil Cicierega has released in the last year or so, called (and this is both release order the order in which they should be consumed I feel) Mouth Sounds and Mouth Silence; they're deranged and yet still genuinely listenable pop deconstruction/reconstruction efforts, with all the juxtapositional inspiration and as much (if not always as danceable) momentum as the best stuff Gregg Gillis has released as Girl Talk. They're amazing, you'll love them or possibly hate them or maybe a little bit of both.

You should listen to them. They're like soundtracks to a fever dream.

Unfortunately, as a soundtrack to actual weird fevered dreams, not so great, which is part of why I decided to just get up and make some tea.

Arcade Cabinet, tilde weekends

October 11, 2014

arcade controls and coin slots

Spent the afternoon working on arcade cabinet stuff. I'm minding Metafilter all day to day, but as is often the case on weekends it's pretty quiet and so I'm just checking out the occasional flag and resetting a couple folks' passwords and otherwise having time for my own stuff. It's the kind of day where I'd like to think I'd get a ton done, but often it's less than that; today started with a great big Let's Get To Work cup of coffee at nine and then no real actual programming or design work done until around noon. Not time wasted, exactly; I read up on all the issues stuff on's github repo, and chatted with some nice folks. But still, not what I thought I'd do.

But the arcade cab stuff ended up coming along a ways: there's now keyboard support in tilde.bird (which feels to me subjectively easier than playing with a mouse button), and, more to the point, that keyboard support maps directly to animation states of graphical representations of a joystick and a couple of buttons. It's a totally unnecessary detail but I kind of love it; I see people writing little games using this framework, and I want them to be able to have a little arcade game on the web as a complete experience. Maybe use the coin slot as a clickable method of adding credits, even? Who knows. I have ideas. I am excited about the idea.

Implementation is hacky as butt, will need a bunch of cleanup. But, I did a thing. And now I've learned a couple things about how to do that thing better when I give the controls code a second pass, which is satisfying. is pretty quiet today compared to the previous few, and I was surprised to find how bummed I was by that; it's early days but I already really like this place as a place and as a little community, I like talking to and sharing things with this group. It's good that people are doing other things with their weekends, but gosh I was ready for the party to just keep going today I guess.

Pixel art

October 10, 2014

joystick button button

Doing some pixel art for the virtual arcade cabinet idea I've been thinking about the last couple of days: create a little JavaScript game framework (extending from the tilde.bird code, probably) to hook player input into the animation state of joysticks and buttons used in a given little game. Doesn't do anything, but it's cool. Got enough drawn up that now I should get to work on the actual coding, which is the hard part but really shouldn't be too hard for these purposes.

I haven't really done much of any pixel art until the last year or so, despite drawing on a hobbyist basis my whole life and growing up on older console games. (Though I did spend a lot of time as a 10 year old recreating NES 16*16 sprites in the mouse cursor editor tool on our Amiga 500's workbench. So I guess I just took a 25 year break from pixel art?) It's an interesting discipline to try and get into; there's so much economy required, different ways of having to think about rendering an idea when every dot counts and the canvas is tiny.

Further, on ideas and doing shit

October 10, 2014

Doing reverse-chron manually with handwritten date-stamps is pretty silly. I'm doing it for now because I'm doing it for now, which I think is in the spirit of this place in general and is something that I forget to do sometimes to my own detriment.

Because there's lots of shit that gets in between me and ideas. And some of it is just being busy, and some of it is being lazy sometimes, and those are both to degrees okay things. But some of it is fear and anxiety about the creative process itself, and that's not great.

I get a lot of ideas, a subset of which are good and a subset of which I act on and the two subsets aren't the same but there's at least some overlap in there. I don't mind working on an idea that I know is bad, if I like it despite or because of its badness; I'm more gunshy about working on an idea that I'm afraid I'm going to find out is bad only after I've put some work into it. Starting with a hopeful feeling and ending up with unlikeable crap is something I have a real aversion to. I don't want to waste my own time by surprise, I don't want to fail without warning. It gets me down, and I don't get much accomplished when I get down.

I also have trouble working on an idea in what I know/feel is the wrong way. Sometimes I've done a kind of thing enough times to have a general sense of my abilities, my knowledge, my areas of sure footing, my trail of past errors. That's great when it helps me aim for something I'll be happy with when I'm done; it's less good when I'm striking off into unsure territory, because not only am I unsure but I know how less sure I am than I want to be. When a process gets comfortable, deviating from it gets uncomfortable; when I've convinced myself of the right way to do something, doing it the wrong way feels worse than just not knowing what I'm doing.

And so I paralyze myself a lot by not wanting to walk into a creative failure. I paralyze myself a lot by not wanting to do something intentionally wrong. Neither instinct is bad, but neither instinct is always as helpful as my brain wants it to be. Neither instinct always helps me when what I want to do is get something done at all rather than nothing done right. Nobody's ever been impressed with the craftmanship of my latest nothing.

And so I'm starting a new blog, here, hacking it by hand with no CMS and an ad hoc subject/date/permalink structure and no plan. It's the wrong way to do it. I'm writing little JavaScript things like tilde.bird in hacky, non-extensible ways. I'm doing these things, just jumping in. I need to jump in more.

A blog entry

October 10, 2014

Lorem ipsum and so forth. I have decided to turn this into a page with both a reliable sidebar full of links and a periodically updating journal/blog main page.

Click for the [ Random page ]
Want to join the ring? Click here for info.