Good luck to all my friends and family in Connecticut, New York, and other parts of the northeast as they get ready for Hurricane Irene. Yikes!
Good luck to all my friends and family in Connecticut, New York, and other parts of the northeast as they get ready for Hurricane Irene. Yikes!
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."
-- Martha Graham (crazy-ass modern dance choreographer and performance artist)
...but this handmade House Targaryen banner hanging outside my local bookstore is still pretty cool. I guess we can tell what side these guys are rooting for.
Why was it disappointing? To try to describe this without spoilers... it felt like a thousand pages of setup and no resolution. Which is weird, for the fifth book in a series! There were two big events he seemed to be building towards, and I couldn't wait to read about them... and then they don't happen. Although they still might happen in book 6, I guess. (But how long is it going to be before book 6, and can he stay alive long enough to finish book 7?)
I think the reason there was so much build-up in this book is the same as the reason for the delay. I feel like book 3 was so cataclysmic that it resolved most of the big plot and character arcs that had been in play up until then. The War of Five Kings was over, and Westeros wasn't exactly happy but it had settled into a new status quo that was fairly stable. However, it was still far away from where he wanted to end the series.
Which would explain why book 4 felt like so much filler and side-plots and "setting tourism" (i.e. "Hey, we haven't seen much of Dorne yet! Let's set some chapters there!"). The main plot was out of momentum, and Martin didn't know how to get the main characters from where they were at to where he needed them for the conclusion. So he just kind of set the main characters aside for a book.
And then during the 5-year delay I imagine him throwing away a lot of possibilities that didn't quite work. I remember at one point he was talking about doing a time skip, but that hasn't happened so I think he abandoned the idea. Reading book 5 I felt like he had finally come up with something satisfactory for the ending of the series; but it was so different from what he had been planning up until then, that he needed a whole book to spin everything up for the new direction. I think when the series is done it will feel like books 1-3 were one trilogy, 4 was filler, and 5-7 were a second trilogy. That's my theory anyway.
Aside from the structural problems there were a whole lot of really great individual scenes and plot twists and character moments in the book. In particular, Jon and Daenerys, who both started the series at the bottom of the totem pole getting kicked around by fate, reach book 5 in positions of substantial power, and then spend the book having to make one really tough decision after another. The problem with being the one calling the shots is you're also the one to blame when things go wrong, and often there's no decision you can make without pissing off a substantial power block. So both Jon and Daenerys are faced with a series of really gnarly moral and political dilemmas. They both want to do the right thing, but what they consider the right thing goes against the culture of the people they're trying to lead, and they've both got enemies who will take advantage of any signs of weakness. Both of these plotlines lead to some really juicy character decisions.
Tyrion's story is a lot less satisfying. He spends most of it in chains, slung over somebody's shoulder, or riding on a boat. Seriously there was a lot of boat-riding. Some of those chapters could have been cut out without losing much.
Also: the Boltons are incredibly sick fucks. The storyline involving them is gross and disturbing.
All in all, there was just enough good stuff in the book that I haven't given up on the series yet. But the weakness of the ending made me angry.
(And not once during the whole book did anybody dance with any dragons. What the heck!)
He was just drawing some Star Wars dudes which wasn't that exciting, but the background music in the stream (i.e. whatever Aaron listens to while he draws) seemed oddly familiar. I couldn't place it for several minutes except for noticing that it sounded a lot like Yes.
Then it suddenly snapped into place -- Oh! It's the fourth track from Tales of Topographic Oceans! No wonder I didn't recognize it sooner, I barely ever listen to that mess of an album. (It was a four-part "tone poem" with one 20-minute song per album side, released in 1974, supposedly based on the four-part Hindu Schastic scriptures, but I kind of suspect Yes was just trolling people at that point.)
Hilariously perfect for the Dresden Codak guy, though, isn't it? There was roughly a zero percent chance that he wouldn't be a humongous Yes fan, seeing as Roger Dean album cover art appears to be the inspiration for nearly everything he draws. It's just nice to get official confirmation. One of those "of course!" moments.
Alright, my number of hobbies is out of control so it's time to get some focus here. I'm going to focus on just two things for now, and I've decided that those two things are studying Chinese and finishing Pencilbox.
Sushu said the christmas present she wants from me is for me to study Chinese for ten solid weeks. How can I say no to that? I think if I can make a concerted effort for ten weeks (now until the end of October roughly) then I can reach a level of conversational proficiency where things will get a lot easier.
And Pencilbox is tantalizingly close to done, or at least close to a 1.0. It seems like nobody else is writing the drawing app I really want, so I might as well do it myself. I want to knock this sucker out. Then I can resume my original plan of using it to draw comics. Then my two things can be learning Chinese and drawing comics.
Tonight I put the Pencilbox source code on GitHub so that it will be easier for other hackers to look at and maybe contribute to. Soon I will put up a beta version of the webapp and start looking for beta testers (beta testers will need a device with a multitouch-enabled touchscreen; an alternate UI for mouse/keyboard is a low priority feature for me currently.)
Oh, and pencilbox.com is taken, so I will need a different name for the public website, maybe something a little more sexy and exciting instead of descriptive and utilitarian (although pencilbox will remain the name of the underlying software project).
Went to the doctor today and found out it's tendonitis, not carpal tunnel syndrome. Her recommendation was basically just to stretch, take breaks, and fix the ergonomics of my working area. So keep doing what I was doing anyway. That's why I'm now typing this on an ergonomic keyboard with my laptop screen raised to eye level, instead of hunching over the laptop like I used to.
The horn on a car conveys 1 bit of information. It's equivalent to yelling "HEY YOU!!" with no other explanation. This isn't something you want to do a whole lot.
I wish cars had a row of three buttons on the dashboard. You push one and it makes a message appear (on some kind of scrolling omnidirectional message display screen on your car roof) for other drivers to read.
Button 1 is "Please, you go first".
Button 2 is "Oops, sorry."
Button 3 is "Thank you."
These are the three things I find myself wishing I could say to other drivers, but right now there's not really a way.
It would make driving feel a lot more civilized.
I saw a newspaper headline the other day that said "3 EPA murders in last week".
And I was like "Three members of the Environmental Protection Agency murdered? It must be some kind of crazy right-wing domestic terrorist hunting them down!"
But then I was like "Oh... East Palo Alto."
And then I has a sad.
Monday: get up, regret leaving my bike at work on Friday so I have to take the bus. Get in just in time for my first meeting of the day, have meetings non-stop one after another until 4 or 5 pm. Too exhausted and irritated to get any coding done after that. Regret not having done more coding last week.
Meet Sushu for dinner, eat out because there's no time to go home before my accordion lesson. Drive to accordion lesson. Regret not having practiced accordion more last week. Apologize, make excuses.
Tuesday: put clothes on, notice "University of Chicago Aikido Club" t-shirt in closet, regret dropping out of Aikido in 2008 and never finding the time to go back to it.
Try to catch up on my never-ending flood of email, or at least flag the most critical ones to respond to and delete the rest. Regret not responding to old e-mails or instituting some better kind of e-mail sorting system. Think about all the people who offered to work with me on cool ideas, regret never having had the time to write back to them.
Read about the Japan tsunami, regret never finding the time to keep in touch with the people in Kamaishi.
Go to the game store on Tuesday night to make my toy soldiers fight other people's toy soldiers. Regret all the time I spent painting them instead of doing something more useful.
Wednesday: deal all day with interviews, write-ups, debriefs, random people asking me questions on IRC, random people stopping by my desk to interrupt me with questions, random people with test pilot data requests. Regret not having written more code on Tuesday. By the afternoon I've almost caught up to where I was when I left work the previous Friday. Right when I'm on the verge of starting to be productive, it's time to go.
Go to Chinese family dinner, regret not having studied Chinese at all during the last week and not being able to follow the conversation any better than I could a week ago. Apologize, make excuses.
Thursday: look at the newly filed Test Pilot bugs, try to remove the duplicates, close ones that need closing, test and accept patches where they've been uploaded, requrest code review where something I wrote needs code review, and correctly sort the rest. Regret not having a better unit test suite. Regret not having written more code on Wednesday. Feel like the bug list never gets any shorter.
Come home, think about what to do on my one night of the week with nothing scheduled, think about all the creative projects I've started, regret not finishing any of them.
Friday: It's a nice day out. Look at the mountains in the distance and regret not spending more time outside enjoying nature.
Look at emails about upcoming all-hands Mozilla meeting, regret not having had the time to pay attention and plan a session for it.
Leave work just when I'm starting to be productive, once again. Time to go to my Smallville role-playing session. Role-playing is supposed to be fun, so why does this feel like an obligation? Have to take the car since it's too far to bike and not near public tranist. While driving, notice expanding waistline, regret not biking more, regret eating out at restaurants so much and not cooking at home with Sushu more.
Smallville role-playing session is mediocre because I'm not putting in the time and effort to make it good. Regret not having read the rulebook during the last week. Regret not having made characters who gel better together.
Saturday: go to taiko. Upon leaving taiko think of how little I know any of the other members and regret not spending time to get to know other them better. Rush to roleplaying sessiona fterwards (Mouse Guard this time); regret not having finished reading Mouse Guard book and not having prepared better. Eat out again.
Sunday: think of all the creative projects I've started, wonder which one to work on today. Play Wizards online with Aleksa, regret not being able to see my family more than a handful of times a year. Do laundry for the week and regret never having time to fix all my pants with holes in them. Buy groceries and regret not eating healthier or cooking more often. Write a blog post, think about all the other things I meant to write about, regret not blogging in the last week. Whoops, the day and then the evening slipped by without any work done on any of my other projects.
Where does the time go? How can I always be rushing from one activity to another and never feel prepared for anything or feel like I'm geting anything done?
Even at work, it seems like I never have time to get any work done, because I always have a full plate of all this... I don't even know what to call it... these trivial tasks that never stop multiplying, and somehow each one is too important to skip, but they never add up to anything either.
It's like I never do anything properly because I'm always too busy with all the other things, that I'm also not doing properly?
How is it that I've trapped myself in obligatory activities six out of seven days of the week, and although they're all things I chose to do, none of them is what I really want to be doing? Have I sliced my time up into chunks too small to be useful?
It seems every few weeks I'm getting on an airplane to somewhere, and when I get back I'm even farther behind on everything. That's not helping.
I keep telling myself "I'm really busy right now, but I just gotta get through this busy chunk and then I'll have time to do all the things I wanna do". But I've been saying that for years now. I think it's a lie. It feels true, but that's just because the future always seems free. Problem is, the wide-open future keeps turning into the cluttered present.
Ultimately if I want to do more of some things I'm just going to have to do less of other things.
The worst part is all the creative projects I've started and can't finish.
Sushu asked me recently, "Have you ever... finished a project?"
I was quiet for a long time. I can name some small projects I've finished (making a costume, learning a song, making a present for someone, making a comic page), and some projects for work, but I've never finished a big, personal project. I just kind of work on them until I get distracted by a newer, shinier idea. I'm always starting and not finishing so the list of projects just gets longer.
Another day, Sushu got very frustrated that I haven't followed through with any of the projects I said I would do with her. Jiang Hu and learning Chinese, especially. I'm always busy either with work stuff or with self-imposed obligatory social activities and when I'm not doing one of those things, I'm getting absorbed in yet another solo project I've invented for myself to do. It's like, when I do finally get some free time, I want to use it on something that doesn't take a lot of mental energy, and that usually means a solo activity.
Now, Sushu is talking about wanting to "form babby" (or, as people who have not had their language corrupted by internet memes call it, "have a baby") sometime within the next few years. This thought kind of terrifies me because if I am feeling the time crunch now, imagine the time crunch when I am one half of the team responsible for foiling a human larva's attempts to kill itself 24/7. I keep thinking about how my mom said she didn't get one solid night's sleep for the first six or seven years of Aleksa's life. It sounds like a safe bet that work and family duties will be all I get to do.
So basically any idea for a creative project I have, I either need to get it done in the next let's say two years; or I will have to postpone it until like 2025 when the baby is old enough to ignore for a few hours. (Longer, if there is more than one baby)...
Damn. Two years. It's like finding out I have two years left to live. I need to seriously rethink my priorities. I need to start saying "no" to a whole bunch of things and just eliminating them from my schedule entirely.
Blogging from the public library at Frankfurt, Michigan.
GenCon was underwhelming.
There were a few neat things there -- a guy dressed as Link who actually played the ocarina; a giant-sized RoboRally board with remote-controlled lego robots that followed the programs the players punched in; Homestuck cosplayers, including a (male) Vriska carrying around Tavros' severed legs; the display case with the winners of the miniature painting contest; and the writer and artist of Erfworld, who happily signed books for me. And the True Dungeon was pretty neat.
But other than that, well... there was a lot of carrying heavy bags around while lost in Indianapolis, a lot of missed connections, a lot of waiting around for people to gather up so we could get food... some napping on benches in hotel hallways due to sleep deprivation... a lot of glitches figuring out the rides to and from the sleeping arrangements that Cat and Kent were kind enough to provide (thanks guys! And thanks again for the pancake breakfast, Cat!).
I never managed to find the role-playing that was supposed to happen with the Forge people at the Embassy suites. I went there at the time I was told it was happening, but I couldn't find anybody. That was very disappointing, since it was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to GenCon in the first place.
Played some Warmachine in the Iron Arena. Extra points were given for fully-painted armies so I didn't have to play against the Silver Horde of the Barren Pewter Wastelands like I often do at the local game store. Got in a 75-point game with both sides fully painted, which was neat. I won a tape measure. (It sounds dumb, but I had broken my old tape measure, so it was actually something I really wanted.)
Alright. Gamers. We have to talk.
We have to talk about the quantity and aggressiveness of gamer identity totems you guys had on display at GenCon. Like, I get that the normal social order is inverted and everybody can't wait to brag about what a huge dork they are. It's OK to care a lot about your hobbies. That's cool.
But, like, would it kill you to be a little more creative about it? Supposedly gamers prize themselves on creativity, but I just saw the exact same tired played-out gamer memes on display over and over again. Guys, that Star Wars pun on your shirt, like the joke about the guy attacking the gazebo, was already old twenty years ago. You guys have ruined zombies, Cthulhu, and "steampunk" forever by reducing them to the stupidest possible cliches and then beating them into the ground. I don't want to hear any more Monty Python and the Holy Grail references ever again, and I hate to tell you this but Army of Darkness was not a good movie to begin with. Neither was Highlander. But apparently what passes for humor in gamer culture is all about getting references; no actual jokes are required.
And the slogans about living on pizza and ramen, or killer GMs, or staying up all night playing video games... it just felt like people were bragging about their unhealthy lifestyles. Ick.
Overall I felt like I would have had just as much fun, with 1/100 of the hassle and aggravation, if I had just spent the weekend visiting some friends and gaming with them. I spent most of Friday night and Saturday morning at GenCon wondering why I had come. I contemplated giving up and hopping on a bus back to Chicago.
I decided to stay for the True Dungeon, though; that was the one thing I couldn't do at a friend's house. Kent was Very Serious about collecting the round plastic tokens which represent treasure in True Dungeon; he had a special sash holding them all so he could pull out a healing potion or wand of lightning bolts right when he needed it. He loaned me a custom set of tokens to boost my Elf Wizard stats up out of the newbie level, since we were going to be playing on Nightmare mode.
Imagine that cool dad in your neighborhood who makes elaborate haunted houses every halloween for the local kids? Now imagine he's got the budget for fog machines, lasers, blacklights, and animatronic monsters, and there's game mechanics to it. A GM standing in the corner of each room announces events, tells you you've sprung a trap, answers rules questions, rolls for the monsters, etc.
There were seven rooms, with fake rock walls. Five had puzzles, three had monsters. Some of the puzzles were quite elaborate, like the one where we had to line up a laser to bounce between ten orbs with mirrors in them, in the right order, to hit a spot on the door. Hit a gong to start the laser, then we've got 30 seconds to try, and the whole party takes damage each time we fail. The monsters were an animatronic gargoyle, an animatronic red dragon, and a (conveniently invisible) astral stalker. You attack monsters by sliding weapon disks across a smooth table to try to land in a good hit location on a monster silhouette. It's like shuffleboard of the damned or something. Each spellcasting class has some random knowledge to memorize (for wizards, it's memorizing a map of the planes); when you want to cast a spell, the nearest GM will quiz you.
There were some tensions between the ten people in the group, most of whom didn't know each other, and some of whom took the whole thing way, way too seriously. (I got yelled at by the bard for wasting a spell in the second room which she thought I should have saved for the dragon.) The puzzles involved a lot of everybody yelling ideas at once. Anyway, we beat the dungeon with only one character death, huzzah.
True Dungeon was a fun thing to try once but I don't think I care enough to go back, and that about sums up GenCon for me as well.
Friday morning I'm flying to Indianapolis for GenCon, the Hajj of gamerdorkdom.
This will be the first time I've gone. I bought a ticket in 2008, but chickened out at the last minute and went to work the next day instead.
(Why? Partly I got nervous about the sheer size of the thing; I hate crowds. Partly because some of the stories I've heard make it sound like GenCon brings out my least favorite aspects of gamer culture. And partly because I tend to freak out about how far behind I am on work right before I leave on vacations. I'll try not to do that this year.)
I plan to meet up with my friend Cat and her boyfriend Kent, who have invited me to run the True Dungeon with them. It's a kind of LARP where they build a human-scale dungeon and have people dressed as monsters jump out at you and you have to survive and find the treasures. It could be cool or could be really corny; I won't know until I try it.
I'm also going to try to meet up with indie RPG publishers from The Forge community and roleplay with them.
I'm going to bring my Warmachine army; I don't feel ready to sign up for a tournament (I am still a noob and will get ROFLstomped for sure) but I'm going to play the Iron Arena, which is an all-day room for casual lil-man battles. Still have to figure out how to pack these guys safely for airplane travel.
Finally, I'm bringing some copies of The Massive vs. The Masses (see ad on the right sidebar) to see if I can get them into the hands of people who will play them and write reviews.
After GenCon, I fly to Chicago to meet up with Sushu and my family; we'll pile into a van and drive up to Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan, for a week of camping.
(Yes, this means I will have all my con-swag, plus Warmachine dudes, with me at a campground. Maybe I'll have to set up some battlefields out of rocks and pinecones and teach Aleksa to play.)
I'm going to (ominous music here) leave my laptop at home, so I'll be cut off from the Internet for an entire week. Scary, I know! I haven't done that for years.
Hopefully some time in the woods with no keyboard will give my wrists a chance to rest and recover.