Watched the "Oscar nominated animated shorts collection" with Sushu last night at an artsy-fartsy theater in Palo Alto.
- Madagascar: A Travel Diary. French. Just what it says - animated version of somebody's trip to Madagascar. Changes rapidly between animation styles and techniques from shot to shot. Very pretty, nice music, relaxing atmosphere, not much of a story.
- Let's Pollute. American. Shrill, obnoxious, preachy, heavy-handed environmental oversimplification. Sarcastic preachiness is still preachiness. Ugh. The only one I wouldn't watch again.
- The Gruffalo. British/German. A children's book, animated, with rhyming narration and all that. Lovely rendered forest backgrounds, with lots of incidental creatures in motion. The light is really well done. Nice acoustic guitar music. At over 20 minutes, goes on about twice as long as it needs to to tell the story, though.
- The Lost Thing. Australian. My favorite of the bunch, this was just really really cool. A simple story but with a unique aesthetic - rust, giant inexplicable machines, biomechanical lifeforms... a little Kafka and a little HR Geiger filtered through Myst and interpreted by Dr. Seuss.
- Day and Night. Pixar. The one that was bundled with Toy Story 3. I find it kind of whatever; just a vehicle for visual tricks and sound-effect gags, really. Also: amorphous blobby cloud-men wolf-whistling at human women is gross and creepy.
- Urs. German. VERY VERY GERMAN. Brutally, depressingly German. A gorgeous oil-painterly animation style. A harsh, bittersweet ending mixing hope and despair. It made me think "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU LOSE AT AGRICOLA". Serious and thought-provoking: Sushu and me spent the ride home talking about what it all meant.
- The Cow who Wanted to be a Hamburger. American. Done in a rough, wiggly animation style that reminded me of old Klasky-Csupo stuff on Nickelodeon. Cute, fun, and darkly humorous, made me laugh out loud several times. Great use of musical notes on the soundtrack to substitute for speech.
Interesting that the last three were all completely wordless.
Urs, The Cow, and Lost Thing were all fantastic; three out of seven ain't bad. I recommend going to see this collection if it plays in your town.
It was sunny when I left!
It doesn't snow here, but in the winter it rains a lot. When it's rainy I'll take the bus to work.
It was sunny when I left home, so I took my bike. But pretty soon it started misting, then drizzling. With the sun still shining - that rare combo-weather. Then the clouds came in and it was just plain raining. By the time I got to work I was drenched and had mud and road-grit splattered all the way up to my knees.
Should have checked the weather report before I left, I guess, but I hate checking weather reports. It's like reading spoilers before you see a movie. Takes all the surprises away.
When I'm walking down the street with a group, I steadfastly ignore the Greenpeace guys with the clipboards, because I'm in the middle of a conversation with my friends and I don't want them interrupting it.
But today I was walking by myself on the way to get a burrito from La Bamba so I figured hey, why not engage this dude and see what he says.
He was part of a campaign to outlaw bottom-trawling worldwide.
I already know all about how destructive bottom-trawling is to coral reefs and other fragile marine habitats, and how much damage it causes for a minimal return of edible fish (most of what they dredge up just dies and is thrown overboard). It's basically strip-mining of the ocean. And I already know that a lot of fish populations are either near the point of collapse or have already collapsed. It's a really serious problem for global sustainability and it's a hard political problem because so much of it happens in international waters, so it requires treaties to address and even once passed any treaty is hard to enforce. I know all about that stuff and why it's a serious issue. So I kind of made the guy fast-forward through a lot of the shpiel he had prepared (hey, I needed to get my burrito and be back at work in time) and skip ahead to "So what can I do to help?"
What he wanted was for me to fill out a form right then and there to sign up for an automatically recurring monthly donation to Greenpeace, who would then use my name in petitioning the UN to ban bottom-trawling. Hmm.
I felt uncomfortable signing up on the spot for a continuing drain on my bank account without knowing anything more about the issue, the campaign, or the organization. I don't really know anything about Greenpeace and whether their tactics are ones I want to support financially. Are they ethical? Are they effective? Are there other issues I'd rather donate to? If I do want to oppose bottom-trawling, is Greenpeace the best group to do it through?
I mean, having guys stand on the corner hitting up random passers-by for recurring monthly donations seems like it must have an incredibly low success rate. It seems like the unlikliest possible way to get people involved. If that's the kind of outreach Greenpeace does, then are they really an organization that's going to use my donations efficiently?
I made the old "need to consult with my wife before committing to any payments. Joint bank account don't you know" excuse and refused to commit to joining or to give him my credit card information. He tried to give me the hard sell but I held firm.
What was very weird about the whole thing was that I suggested several alternatives that would allow me a chance to look into the details - do you have some info pamphlet that I could take home? Can you send me an email and maybe I'll donate through your website later? He categorically refused them all. The only transaction he would accept was me signing up for a monthly recurring payment right then and there. He was clearly following a script and that was the only way the script could end. This seemed really sketchy to me. This is not the behavior of a group that wants to engage in dialogue, educate people, or be open to input from volunteers. It's the behavior of a group who carved their tactics in stone long ago and just wants your money to keep doing what they're doing.
In the end I just had to say no and walk away.
I don't want to be somebody who throws money into the black hole of an organization I know nothing about, to fight for an issue I don't understand, and then says "There! I did my part for the environment, now I shall return to my mass-consumption lifestyle with a clear conscience." I feel like if I want to really make a difference I need to do my homework, find the right issue and the right group and actually do something.
The Generic Eurogame
Played a whole bunch of Agricola and a bit of Dominion lately. I like Dominion's fast play (turns are very short) and its customizability. I like Agricola for the way the options gradually increase as the game goes on, for the scoring that emphasizes getting a variety of crops, and for the "you want to grow your family but not faster than you can feed them all" tension.
They're both fun games, but beneath the novel mechanics they both feel a little bit too... familiar.
You've got a menu of options in front of you for stuff that you can buy using the limited number of resources you have every turn. Some of these options increase the efficiency of your resource-producing economic engine and therefore have expected future payoff. Others don't help you increase efficiency but are worth the victory points you need to win the game, so you need to balance between building up your engine and preparing to be ahead in victory points when the game ends. Interaction with other players is extremely limited - except for a very few special cards, basically the ONLY way you affect each other is by competing for similar resources, i.e. if I take thing X then it means you can no longer take thing X, or you have to wait until next turn to take it, or thing X costs more for you to take.
What game does that paragraph describe? Besides Agricola and Dominion, could it be Puerto Rico? Race for the Galaxy? Power Grid? Probably lots more Eurogames I'm forgetting at the moment?
Sometimes I feel like these are all minor variations or reskins of essentially the same game.
The main strategy in all of these games revolves around estimating when the game is going to end and picking the right time to switch from a focus on boosting your own efficiency to a focus on grabbing victory points before the game ends.
That's why variable game-ending conditions are so important in these type of games - they make it harder to guess how many actions you have remaining and therefore make the trade-off between VPs now and VPs later into more of a judgment call. There's fixed number of turns but with variable actions in each one (Agricola), there's depletion of shared resource pool (Puerto Rico, Dominion), and there's end conditions that a player can unilaterally trigger by passing some threshold (Race for the Galaxy, Puerto Rico, Power Grid).
The essential similarity is obscured by a whole lot of different types of currency and resources and efficiency synergies and secondary mechanics that alter the value of various goods - Coal! Uranium! Corn! Sugar! Gold! Provinces! Cattle! Stone! Oh look if I get the basketmaker's workshop than I can turn reed into victory points, and nobody else is getting reed so lots of it is available cheap! Oh if I build this Galactic Empire card then all these military planets will be worth more VPs! Do I have enough cash to buy this power plant AND expand to more cities? Do I have enough people actions to build a room in my house AND feed everyone by the harvest?
The main differences are in the details of the actions that you use to make resource transactions - e.g. when other people take an option does it block you from doing the same (Agricola), help you do the same but not as well (Puerto rico, Race for the galaxy), make it more expensive for you to do the same (Power Grid) or have basically no effect on you (Dominion)? Can you get the ability to make more transactions per turn (having babies in Agricola, extra buys in Dominion)?
Also, each game has its own way of adding uncertainty and variable cost so that the game is not completely solvable. Power Grid has the auction element, Dominion and Race for the Galaxy have the randomness of the deck shuffle, Agricola has the uncertainty of which action will become available next, and Puerto Rico has the shuffled plantation tiles. Agricola, Puerto Rico, and Power Grid all have resources that accumulate turn after turn, making a transaction more efficient the longer it goes unclaimed. Every game has options that give you bonus resources for certain transactions or otherwise decrease the cost of other options.
I'm not saying that these are completely trivial differences, but generally the skillset and thought process for evaluating potential moves are very similar across all of these games.
I enjoy these games. There's often a lot of cleverness in the details which is fun to puzzle out. But they often feel kind of like multiplayer solitaire and leave me longing a game with more direct player interaction, more uncertainty, more bluffing, or some kind of geometry to the board that enables positioning tactics. Something extra beyond just resource management that elevates it above the Standard Eurogame Template.
Games != art ?
My take on the 'are games art?' question sparked by Roger Ebert's curmudgeonly article:
I say "no, games (with video games as a subset) are not art". But before you leave angry comments, let me elaborate. Games are not art, they are something else entirely, something which is equally capable of cultural significance and equally worthy of considered study as art. They exist on a different plane from art and should be judged on their own terms.
Trying to treat games as an art form actually does games a disservice; games deserve their own critical vocabulary and their own form of analysis because many of the tools we use to analyze art are poorly suited to analyzing games. A player of a game makes decisions and actively participates in constructing what they experience; being audience to a piece of art lacks this dimension. Art critics don't even know how to address interactivity; they lack the vocabulary to ask the right questions.
Art can be meaningful because of the meaning that the artist puts into it (and sometimes meaning that you read there that they didn't intend). A game with a storyline can have traditional author-intended artistic meaning encoded into that storyline, but this is usually incidental to the game itself. Games have their own way of conveying deep meaning: the decisions that you and your fellow players make reveal human nature in action. Games like Poker, or Werewolf/Mafia, or Diplomacy, which have no storylines at all, are like windows straight into dark parts of the human soul. Intense, first-person psychological studies that teach you about relationships, trust, lying, small-group dynamics, mob mentality... there's a whole world of depth there, which can never be understood by asking about "the plot" or "the characters" or "what was the artist trying to say".
Game design is about crafting a rules framework that supports, constrains, elicits, and focuses meaningful and interesting decisions by the players. Good game design contains brilliant gems of ingenuity; rules that work together to subtly draw players in a certain direction or to demand that they consider something they've never thought of before. Like the way the scoring system in King of Siam encourages you to pretend to support one kingdom while secretly angling for a different one to win. Or the way the first few screens of Super Mario Bros. act as a silent tutorial, teaching the player the basics of play without using words. Or the way that the gun dice and fallout dice in Dogs in the Vineyard make you constantly ask yourself, do I care about this enough to draw a gun over it? If you understand the depth of what the game designer accomplished and the elegance of how they did it, it can take your breath away. But all this creative genius is invisible to you if the only question you know how to ask is "what artistic statement is this game trying to make".
Do games deserve more respect than they get? Yes. But the attempt to make them respectable by shoving them into a place on the Pedestal Of Significance that our culture reserves for Art is fundamentally misguided. Games deserve their own Pedestal Of Significance, equally high but separate.
The whole "is it Art" question is a red herring. Ebert, and the gamers who argued with him, are asking the wrong questions and looking in the wrong places.
Stats 315A was an expensive mistake
When the subject of "the expectation value of the p-dimensional matrix product of multivariate gaussian distributions" was broached, my sparing human intellect instantly assumed the most ingratiating posture of surrender imaginable.
Well, not really. But I did realize that the statistics class I signed up for was beyond me. It made me feel really, really stupid.
I got the first homework assignment and spent about a week banging my head against a brick wall. The textbook was too advanced for me so I spent a lot of time searching the internet for definitions of basic terms. This week overlapped with my Brazil trip, so I regrettably spent my day in Rio de Janeiro indoors trying to do statistics homework, instead of going to the beach like a sensible person.
I could do the coding exercises for the class (and in the process I learned a lot of R coding, which is the one useful thing I got out of this) but I just don't understand the probability math. I need to take an easier class where I can learn the mathematical properties of probability distributions and expectation values and conditional probabilities and learn how to manipulate them.
I dropped the class, but not in time to get my money back. I'm not going to complain about that, because it was totally my own fault. It was an act of pure hubris to assume that I could do a Stanford 300-level statistics course without taking the prerequisites first and I compounded folly upon folly by taking so long to figure that out and missing the refund deadline.
I still want to learn data mining. I just have to learn to crawl before I learn to walk.
Yesterday was the first day in like two months that I didn't have any activities scheduled. It felt really nice. I ate food, played a bunch of games with a visiting friend, enjoyed the sunshine, enjoyed a lemon sorbet in downtown Palo Alto, watched a crazy guy on the sidewalk swing a bag around and yell, backed away from him slowly, went home, practiced accordion, put some paint on a Khadoran warjack, read some more Homestuck, and went to bed.
Anyway I wanted to talk about games. I played some Warmachine, some Agricola, and some Tigris + Euphrates, and this morning while I was biking to work I got to thinking about the concept of game balance, and how people on the internet love to argue about it without ever really defining it.
Does "balance" mean each player has an equal chance to win? Or that different choices of factions are equally powerful, in a game that has such a thing? Or that different types of strategies are balanced against each other? Or that all the different game options (e.g. units, or cards, or character classes, as applicable) are equally good? (And if they were really all equally good, wouldn't that mean it doesn't matter which one you pick, and wouldn't that be a really boring game?)
Here's a thought. If you give a game to the most competitive possible players, people who want to win at all costs and will exploit every opportunity that is legal by the game rules, then they will optimize ruthlessly. They'll probably do a better job of finding the optimal choices than the game designers ever could.
Any choices that are sub-optimal will be quickly abandoned. In a fighting game, the competitive players will center on a subset of characters who are marginally more powerful than the rest. In a wargame, they'll build armies of only the most powerful units and ignore the rest. In a CCG they will identify the most powerful card combos. Etc.
All of the options in your game have now been divided into a hard core of competitive, tournament-worthy options surrounded by a gaseous halo of "suck". Only newbies use "sucky" options, while serious competitive games are played with options from the hard core only.
From the perspective of those competitive gamers, then, the options beyond the hard core may as well not exist in your game. The process of learning to be good at your game is partly a process of learning to discard these options, shrinking the game down to just the best of the best. This means that your game is smaller, i.e. less options, than you designed it to be.
(What about the non-competitive gamers, i.e. those whose top priority in making game choices is something other than sheer effectiveness? They might choose a character or build a deck or an army based on theme or story or whatever else, and good for them! They're important too; but they're not part of the definition of "balance" that I'm sketching out here, because what they want out of a game is different. Hopefully your game can be balanced for the uber-competitive crowd without sacrificing the theme or story elements that appeal to these other players.)
As I was saying, your game effectively has fewer options than what you designed it to have. The question is, what's the ratio? As an extreme case, consider a game with a hundred choices of armies/decks/characters/etc. but one of them is so much better than the rest that it is the only one used by competitive players. In high-level games, then, there is effectively only one choice. Every matchup is the mirror matchup, and games are decided by slight differences in skill with playing that one choice, or by luck, or by who goes first, or whatever. The other 99% of your game does not get played. (This is closely related to the idea of a game being "solved" in the game-theory sense.)
For the opposite extreme, consider paper-rock-scissors. Someone who wants to win must consider all three options. All three, 100% of the options, are part of the competitive hard-core. We can say that jan-ken-po is 100% balanced. ("balanced" does not imply "interesting" or "fun" mind you.) This is my definition of game balance: The size of the viable competitive option space relative to the entire possibility space of the game.
The smaller your hard-core is relative to the entire space of options, the more imbalanced your game is, the less variety competitive matchups have, and the more of the game design is "wasted".
The original Starcraft, with Brood War expansion, is well known for its excellent game balance, and with this definition, we can see why. Even after the most competitive gamers in the world had thirteen years of refinement, they have not "solved" the game down to a single dominant strategy. Many strategies remain viable, and almost every one of the game's dozens of units has a use as part of one of those strategies. (The Zerg Queen and the Protoss Scout, rarely seen in competitive play, are two of the very few exceptions.) The balance of the game means that almost every option included in the game design gets used, which leads to lasting variety even in the highest levels of play, which is why people have continued to play it for so long.
Other people may have varying definitions of game balance, but this is mine. I hope that it might be of some use to anyone thinking about game design.
Man, I have so many irons in the fire. I wonder if any other kid on the planet has as many irons in the fire as me. I DOUBT IT.
boxes of miscellaneous
We're completely moved out of the old place now. (Sushu had to do the last trip without me while I was flying to Boston. Sorry Sushu!) Today we're having a housewarming party so we're trying to unpack and put away everything in these stacks of boxes that were blocking off our entire living room.
We're at that point now where the sensible boxes - the ones containing things like books, clothes, art supplies, and dishes -- are all packed. What's left are the boxes of... well, the best way to describe it is to list the contents of the one I just opened:
- A styrofoam skull
- the map from the shanghai 2010 expo
- the pamphlet from Campus Party
- a Joann fabrics catalog with some coupons in it
- ROB the robotic operating buddy from the NES (broken)
- a bag of balloons
- 4 dry-erase markers
- a pair of chopsticks
- a washcloth
- a plastic bag of parts of lego men mixed together with parts of anime character models from gatchapon machines
- a doorstop shaped like a dinosaur
- a belt, with tag still on it, never worn
- a 3-d relief map of China
- a usb charger, I don't know what it goes to
- a can of maccha powder (still good? who knows)
- a wooden top (the spinny kind)
- the Carmen soundtrack, by Bizet. Naked CD, no case.
- The Rosetta Stone teach-yourself-Russian kit
- 6 identical blank christmas cards that say "warmest wishes from California" and have a snowman made of sand, on a beach
- 2 metal rods that look like they go to something, but i don't know what
- a box of old Humanized company business cards
- the KLUTZ castle-building "building cards" set that I got excited about and then never put together
- an index card with a plot summary for a Yuki strip that I already drew
What do you do with this stuff? It's not anything, it's just this miscellaneous stew. It's the hardest thing to clean up because there's no pattern to it. It has nothing in common. In a tag-based system of data organization no two of these objects would have any tags in common. Each item got put in this box because considered individually it was "not trash", but collectively it's a box of "Why did I save this stuff".
We're obviously living in the future
because I'm blogging FROM AN AIRPLANE!
From the crappiest possible seat on the airplane, the middle seat of the very back row. Because I missed my connecting flight, because Delta can't get a plane off the ground without dicking around on the runway for an hour first. So they're always an hour behind schedule, and they only give you an hour leeway to make connections.
And then they offered to put me on the next flight, but it was completely full, so they put me on standby, so the only way I could get on is if somebody else didn't show. Lucky for me, they didn't. If everybody had showed up I would have had to sleep in Minneapolis and get a flight out at 9am. Bluh.
That's on the way back. On the way there, they sat on the runway for 30 minutes, then kicked four people off the plane because they were over their weight limit. Then sat for another 30 minutes. Then announced that they had accidentally deleted the computer files with their permission codes for takeoff so they had to redo everything. Then sat for another 30 minutes before we finally left.
Delta still sucks, even here in the future.
They also suck because they charge $25 to check a bag at the desk, but they check it at the gate for free when people have too many. So everybody tries to save money by bringing all their bags to the gate, and the half the people who board first with all their extra luggage take up all the luggage space on the plane while the half who board last don't have anywhere to put anything. Basically they make it into a luggage lottery, so it's always a ridiculous game of jockeying for position at the gate and then waiting around while the overflow is checked.
I wouldn't care, except that my accordion HAS to go in the overhead bins. It doesn't fit under the seat and it's too fragile to check into the hold. It would surely be destroyed. So I have to fight to the front of the line to get a bin spot before it's all gone.
Contrast to Southwest, who checks luggage for free. There has always been enough overhead bin space to go around on Southwest flights because they don't encourage people to hog it all. I've never had a problem taking my accordion with them.
In-flight wi-fi is really expensive but it was worth it because I had to put out some fires related to Test Pilot. It's a long story, but every hour mattered and I didn't want to wait until I landed. Blogging in flight is just a side benefit.
The Name of the Wind
by Patrick Rothfuss, is a good book. I started it on Stephen's recommendation, and finished it on the airplane today.
It's not your typical fantasy novel. It's a funny, sad, and most of all very personal story. There's not a world at stake, or even a kingdom; there's a map inside the front cover but it never really matters because this story is not about world-building or about getting from point A to point B. It's just this dude Kvothe, telling the story of his life, the choices he made, the risks he took, the tragedies he suffered, the things he learned. It's not an ensemble cast: it's a fantasy biography, all about one single character, and getting really deep into his head.
And it works because Kvothe is such an interesting character. He's far from noble, and he's not out to save the world. Most of the things he does are motivated by either petty revenge, trying to impress the ladies, or trying to scrape together enough money to buy a decent meal and a pair of shoes. He's endlessly curious about everything and has a brilliant mind, able to quickly master just about any skill he applies it to. He's also proud, arrogant, has no common sense, and doesn't know when to quit, so of course he's constantly biting off more than he can chew. Every time the odds are against him, he just raises the stakes. This makes him an immensely fun character to read about; he's not the type to sit around waiting for adventure to happen. Reading this book I was constantly slapping myself on the head and saying "Kvothe, you idiot, this is SUCH a bad idea..." but I had to turn the page and find out what would happen.
In fact Kvothe reminds me of nobody so much as a fantasy-world version of Richard Feynman. They both hang around universities picking locks, playing music, infuriating the authorities, following their scientific curiosity, and messing around with the building blocks of matter and energy.
And the magic Kvothe studies is so logical and predictable that it might as well be the physics of an alternate universe. Sympathy, as in "sympathetic magic", involves using willpower to create bonds between similar objects and then manipulating the bonds to effect transfers of energy. It's reliable and well-understood; "arcanists" speak of energy conservation laws, they calculate the percentage efficiency of energy transfers, they build user-friendly artifacts, and so on. When he first makes it work, Kvothe is almost disappointed at how non-magical and utilitarian it feels.
There's another kind of magic, though; one who knows the true Names of things, can call them and they will obey. Basically nobody in the book understands how Naming works, but people who study it too much have a tendency to go insane. That's not enough to scare off Kvothe, who spends much of the book seeking the eponyous Name of the Wind anyway.
Kvothe, being raised in a troupe of traveling entertainers, is well aware of the power of stories. His thorough knowledge of typical fantasy tropes makes him Dangerously Genre-Savvy. He often contrasts "what would have happened in a fairy tale" against what actually did happen; meanwhile the stories told about Kvothe's exploits grow ever more embellished and further removed from anything he actually did. There are stories within stories in this book, as well as competing versions of the same tale; the versions of stories told by different nations and religions both illustrate the differences in their cultures and hint at a common history whose details are long forgotten. It's like a thesis on how traveling minstrels served to transmit and preserve culture in a world before printing presses.
I loved the writing style. It's not in-your-face "Look at me, I am a WRITING STYLE!" but it's not the typical fantasy schlock either. It's subtle, thoughtful, meditative. Poetically pessimistic. Serene. Sprinkled with very dry humor, and shot through with genuine emotion. The tragic parts are told with the distinct voice of one who has lived through them. I was sucked in from the very first page, where a silence is described as "..the patient, cut-flower sound of a man who is waiting to die."
The book makes skillful use of foreshadowing. We know from the beginning that Kvothe is going to get kicked out of the University, and that something bad is going to happen involving a woman, because he tells us right up front. You might think this would kill the tension, but it actually raises it, because every woman he meets, we're like: Is this "THE" woman? And every time he goes off following another terrible idea, we're like: Is this going to be the one that gets him expelled?
I can't remember the last time the same book had me laughing out loud, and then a chapter later, had me choking back actual tears. But The Name Of The Wind did.
Book 2 of the inevitable trilogy is supposed to come out soon, I hear...
fly pupa! flyyyyyy!!!!!
It is decided! For ACEN this year my posse is all cosplaying the Homestuck trolls.
The Troll Arc of Homestuck might be the single weirdest thing I've ever read. But somehow it's the kind of weird that makes you want to PARTICIPATE.
I'm going to be the adorkable Tavros seeing as Brian already called dibs on Sollux, who knows all of the codes. ALL OF THEM. (Do not eat the MIND HONEY, Brian!)
Tavros lost the use of his legs in an EXTREME ROLEPLAYING ACCIDENT but cosplaying the wheelchair would be, um, inconvenient to put it mildly, so I'll be him in Pupa Pan mode. Meanwhile Stephen already has a head start on this guy who wants to kill all land dwellers and Isaac has plans to be a certain troll Juggalo.
Sushu might be the huntress Nepeta, sea princess Feferi or else the blind Terezi who enjoys ORCHESTRATING THE DEMISE OF THE WICKED.
First time cosplaying a webcomic instead of an anime. I wonder if anyone will recognize us.
Learning to say "No"
Between the Sao Paulo Campus Party, college recruiting at Brown, Champaign/Urbana, and MIT, User Research Friday, the CHI conference last April, the Mozilla summit in July, the Hackers conference in November, I've been spending a lot of time flying places to give talks over the last year.
It's very flattering that so many people are interested in listening to me give talks, but it's exhausting. It takes away from my precious Sushu-snuggling time as well as my code-writing, comic-drawing, music-making, and role-playing time.
Add to that summer travel abroad with Sushu, Anime Central to see my college friends, and trips back to Illinois for Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Mom's birthday, Aleksa's birthday... it averages out to a couple of trips a month. I'm getting really, really sick of the insides of airports and airplanes.
I feel continuously behind at work; I'm not getting stuff done on Test Pilot nearly fast enough because of all the interruptions and distractions to my work, which are largely because I have been accepting so many additional responsibilities on top of Test Pilot. But Test Pilot now has 2 million users and only one developer (me). So it's not fair to those users for that one developer to be splitting his work time with other things.
My problem is that every time somebody offers me an opportunity to go somewhere cool and do something, my reaction is "Sure! That sounds neat! Why not?" But that's because I'm considering it in isolation from everything else I have to do. In isolation, it's a great idea, but in aggregate it's taking away from the more important things in my life.
This month was the last straw. Sure I want to go to Brazil! Sure I want to go to MIT! But I didn't realize how much it was going to suck to do them less than a week apart. I seriously overcomitted myself this month and I feel ragged. I just want to go home.
So I hereby resolve to say "no" to taking on any additional work responsibilities, especially ones that require travel, at least until I'm completely caught up on all my core activities.
Introvert / Extravert
As I mentioned, I'm at the MIT career fair.
And it's a funny thing: I have no fear whatsoever of public speaking. I always give a talk when I visit universities, and it's fun. I talk about the history of Mozilla, why we were founded, emerging threats to the freedom of the Internet and what we can do to fight them, etc. I feel relaxed and energetic and I crack lots of jokes.
I can also, without feeling a bit of self-consciousness, rattle off the whole pitch to every student who walks by, telling them why Firefox 4 is going to kick ass and why working for us will be way more fun than working for any of those other guys at the other booths.
But last night there was a fancy dinner party for career fair reps and selected students. I tried to weasel out of it but failed. And I was miserable. I felt so awkward that I barely said one word all night, and I spent the whole time wishing I could be anywhere else.
Because I'm not shy about public speaking, most of my coworkers assume I'm an extravert. They're wrong, though. I'm introverted by nature but I can play the role of extravert if I have a mental script to follow. If the interaction has a concrete goal ("present this information in an entertaining fashion", "make this person interested in applying for an internship", etc.) that I can focus on. And of course I can talk to my friends about anything.
When I'm just dumped in a room full of strangers and told "make casual chit-chat!" then I fall apart. I don't know who to talk to or what to talk about. I feel a very strong desire to hide in a corner and read a book until the strange people go away.
It's why I hate parties and avoid them (unless I know a quorum of the people there). I've been this way ever since childhood and it's probably never going to change; it's just part of who I am.
Where the female engineers at? Right here!
I'm at MIT right now, manning the Mozilla booth at the career fair for engineering students.
It's snowing hard outside. I trudged through several blocks of it to get here from the hotel this morning. Living in California has made me miss snow so bad. This is the first time I've walked through a serious snow shower since moving out of Chicago. I'm so glad to be in a place with a good honest Winter; the sensation of snowflakes melting down the back of my neck as the wind numbs my face makes me feel ALIVE!
MIT students are definitely kindred spirits. A lot of them have hardware experience. They're all overachievers so many of them start blabbing about their skills and experience right at the booth, and I have to be like "Dude, we're not interviewing you yet, you don't have to sell yourself!"
Since this is a bunch of engineering students, I expected it to be depressingly male-dominated, but actually the male-female ratio is quite balanced and many of the young women I've talked to are into the deepest, crunchiest areas of technology, like compilers and hardware.
Contrast with the ratio at Mozilla - where the Labs team has as many guys named Dan as it has women - and it's clear that something is going wrong somewhere between college graduation and hiring.
I interview an awful lot of people and I don't think I'm prejudiced, but of course our biases are often invisible to ourselves. Anyway, the people I get assigned to interview are almost all dudes, so I surmise that whatever is going wrong is going wrong somewhere between college graduation and interviewing. Either the women engineers are not applying or their resumes are getting screened out, or something.