Monday, November 03, 2014

Go and vote. Period.

Moving back to a swing state in the months leading up to an election, even a midterm, has been interesting.  The "news" was on here the other night and after an ages-long commercial break containing literally nothing but campaign ads, the next story was about yet another campaign ad and whether it was true.  The segment after that was a few minutes of free air time for a couple of local candidates.

Between the flood of emails begging for money and the 24-hour mudslinging, I'm beginning to think that even if all the wrong people get elected, resulting in the most crooked and backwards outcome for each office in play, at least this madness will be over.  Small consolation, but palpable relief nonetheless.

I gassed on earlier about how preposterous amounts of money will be spent lying to us.  I sure wish I could say I was crying wolf. There are local politicians I like, those I consider a lesser evil, and those I dread.  But the bigger, money-soaked picture has been all dread.  Well, save for this fascinating little proposal:

I've embraced the irony; the idea of killing ridiculous political spending by means of ridiculous political spending makes me smile (even if I'm also shaking my head).  If a politician's platform includes stamping out the absurd legal equivalency of money and speech, includes patching up known corruption vectors, includes valuing human citizens even if they aren't billionaires, then he or she has my support.

I hope you agree with that sentiment, wherever you find yourself on America's silly one-dimensional political spectrum.  But even if you don't, I hope you go and vote.  Period.

We have no right to complain about our civilization if we don't exercise our most basic civil liberty.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


The short version:

Try out a prototype of "Bub" (a game I'm developing) in your browser:

The long version:

Decades ago, I started scribbling alien critters, and this little guy(?) became one of my favorites.

Over a year ago, a scribble turned out like this...

...and I mused that this incarnation might need to star in a game at some point.

Months ago, I saw a crowdfunding campaign for this wild little thing.

Called Gamebuino, it's a tiny homebrew portable gaming console powered by cheap, ubiquitous, open technology all the way down.  I needed to pitch in, and I needed to write a game for it.

The screen is small, low-resolution, and black-and-white; my game had to use simple imagery.  There are very few buttons; the controls had to be simple too.  Ork is a simple shape, so I began prototyping a low-resolution game where he could walk around.

Completely-irrelevant tangent:  I say "he", but I'm pretty sure Ork and the other inhabitants of planet Snork (gimme a break, I was 8 :^) are hermaphroditic.  I'm not sure how biology works there, but no two critters look alike or have gender by Earth standards.

Anyway!  Ork needed some actions.  Traditionally he would blow bubbles, so I thought about how he might use those to get around.  Letting him blow bubbles just anywhere just got in his way since I hadn't coded any way to jump yet.  Blowing them beneath himself and climbing up, though, that was promising.

A long list of quick experiments flew by.  Different blocks, the idea of an inventory and slurping up bubbles before blowing them, bit by bit a prototype came together.  I've shared it with a few developer friends to get their feedback (and a few level ideas!) and now I think it's time to share it with anybody who will try it.  :^)

It's still a prototype.  There's no animation, there's no nice level select menu or custom controls, there's not even any music I'm willing to have on by default.  But you can experiment, play your way through the even-numbered levels and their odd-numbered evil twin versions, and once you've got the hang of it, you can build your own levels and share them by email or twitter.

Someday, I'll have a full, animated, polished version.  I also hope to publish it on Nintendo Wii U.  In the meantime, I hope you have fun with Ork in his new game, Bub.


Have a Gamebuino?  Grab the .HEX and play on Bub's inspirational console!
Have a computer/tablet/phone?  Play it in your web browser!
Have an interest in tinkering beyond making levels?  Poke around in its GPL3 code!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Goodbye Utah

When asked where I'm from, I've had trouble giving the expected quick answer.  For the last decade, I may have traveled from my home in Utah, but I couldn't bring myself to say I was from Utah.

I do like to say that I moved to Utah for a job at Novell, back when that was a good idea.  I suppose I missed out on their true glory days, but the projects I worked on were exciting.  Netmail was exciting enough that I followed it through various names and to a different company.  Now that company (gradually re-branding itself as "Netmail") will let me work from anywhere.

When we moved, I made a deal with my wife.  This was for my job, and if she didn't want to live here in ten years, we could move.  More than fair.

That was an apartment, a house, and three cars ago.

As it happens, a couple months shy of ten years later, it was time to get going.  Not due to a bargain struck when we moved, but because we each felt and knew it was time.  But I didn't start babbling here to talk about the move and the future - this is about our time out there and what I've learned about the place.

The Mormons

The white elephant in the room, if you'll pardon the awful mixed metaphor.

Until I moved to Utah, I couldn't have told you the difference between a Mormon and a Jehovah's Witness.  They were all just those people who knocked on your door and wanted to tell you about their God.

I know quite a lot more now, and could probably write post after post of sweeping generalizations about the religion and its members, glowing and/or scathing accounts of individuals, or just go on at length about how strange I find this or that piece of doctrine or practice.  I'm quite sure I could do that about any religion though, so I'll just hit the highlights people ask about.

  • "Mormon" == "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints" member.
  • A "good Mormon" tithes 10% of their income to the church.
  • The church is massively wealthy and owns land all over the planet.
  • Most Mormons are not polygamists.
  • There are polygamist families, even in "mainstream" areas.
  • Mormons are fine with modern technology. (Were you thinking of Amish?)
  • Mormons are fine with science (including evolution), mostly.
  • Mormons are fine with birth control, but many have tons of kids anyway.
  • God changed his mind about black people in the 1970s (they're OK now).
  • That episode of South Park is surprisingly accurate.

Mormons raised elsewhere find Utah Mormons to be a strange bunch too.  And "strange", I have no quarrel with.  I'm strange myself, and almost proud of it.  I tend to build opinions about churches based on how their members treat others, including non-members.  This is where things can start hitting fans.

While we were moving into our house, a neighbor started chatting with Kim and offering to help.  I emerged from hoisting a box out of the trunk, exposing my beard and my "drink beer" cap.  This neighbor interrupted herself to ask, "Are you LDS?"  We indicated that we weren't, and she turned and left.  I don't think she said another word to us while we were neighbors.  There were plenty of other times where we were snubbed or judged or ignored or just generally made to feel crappy based on not being Mormon, but this is our go-to example.

We also had neighbors who are completely wonderful.  They've treated us as peer human beings from day one, and are just generous and fun people.  They are what I would have previously called quite devout - they go to church every Sunday and attend plenty of other church functions.  Around here, though, that's not enough.  Others in this particular block of houses go to one specific church building, and our neighbors go to another.  They began doing so when one of their children had hearing trouble, since the other church does sign language.  He can hear fine now, but they like the place and still go there.  Some people here look down on these neighbors due to this.  Even more scandalously, the mother had been divorced, and their eldest is even from a previous marriage.  There are families in this neighborhood who don't want their children to play with our neighbors'.

So, in Utah the Mormons are everywhere, but there is quite a spectrum.  Judgmental and closed-minded all the way through as lovely a person as there could be.  Groupthink and tribalism are dangerous, there and anywhere.

The Drivers

I've touched on this a few times before.  I've spent time on roads all across the nation and a couple of places beyond.  I was raised in the polite-as-Canada midwest and have a very strong "get out of everybody's way" mentality.  (This is the recessive counterpart to the easily-spotted "me-first" gene.)  I have never feared for my life as often or as intensely as on Utah roads, nor have I seen such anti-social and self-destructive behavior outside of "reality" TV.

East coast driving can be nerve-wracking with its close quarters.  California freeways have wild speeders and sudden stops.  A number of places have more horn-honking than Utah.  But nowhere else have I experienced so many attempts on my life from negligence and/or aggression.

Like anyone, I find any newly-installed stoplight annoying.  But I would have absolutely welcomed one near our house.  There's a four-way stop, but schools here must not teach people how to count all the way to four.  Or two, sometimes.  Or to look both ways.  Or to look at all.

These bad driver flames are fought with kerosine.  Road signs may or may not mean something, and that something may or may not pertain to the present, local situation.  A lane might be coned off for no reason, a sign may warn of a condition that hasn't been true for a month (if ever), a "right lane ends" sign may announce the left lane being closed, or my favorite, "detour".  Just "detour".  No arrow, no distance, no road name.  Is it for a road up ahead?  Is the street I'm on now part of a detour?  Do I need to turn somewhere unusual?  Is something nearby closed?

I suppose it would be a waste to have clear, well-placed signs since these people are only going to ignore them anyway, but it feels like a chicken-and-egg problem.  Why heed a sign if so many of them lie in the first place?

The Politics

Seems like I've touched on this before too.

Presently, Utah is spending its precious few taxpayer dollars (wouldn't want to tax the giant crazy new NSA data center here) fighting gay marriage at the supreme court level.  Utah, the territory which re-defined marriage in order to become a United State.  Highest individual bankruptcy rate in the nation.  Second highest per capita water consumption.  Fastest population growth.  Insane waste and pollution.  All this in a desert.  But the most pressing issue is to stop those monogamous gays.  Yeah, it was time to get out of there.

The Culture

Given the ultra-conservative politics, one would think the culture would reflect a very individualistic attitude.  I had never come across the concept of a Homeowner's Association until we moved there.  Our house (not anymore!) is part of two HOA's - a master and a subdivision.  Doors in the block must use one specific color and type of paint.  Same goes for fences and patios.  The neighbors we like have gotten citations.  So did the neighbors we didn't like.  So have we.  And part of the appeal of that neighborhood is how little HOA involvement there is.  Most places a person can live out there have very steep HOA fees and strict rules, all in the name of keeping property values up, or looking like proper ant colonies, or something.

And God forbid you want a drink.  In Salt Lake City there are a handful of good bars, including some excellent local breweries.  Beyond that, there isn't much to speak of.  All liquor stores are state-owned, restaurants are not allowed to serve alcohol unless food is ordered, and there are all kinds of wacky drinking laws written and enforced by people who don't drink.

Somehow, in the reddest of red states, we've got this little police state full of people who claim to swear by their personal freedoms.  Maybe it just depends which freedoms.  Concealed weapon laws there are truly American - a pistol in every glove box, and two cops for anytime someone gets pulled over.  One coworker (that I know of) wore a concealed gun at work when I was at Novell.  I don't know if the company was OK with that, I sure wasn't, but the state is.  But maybe I'm just sore about gun nuts since one of them tried to burn down my neighborhood.

The Friends

I've done enough harping on Utah.  One can find stuff to gripe about anywhere.  What has made these last ten years good, and what we will miss now that we've left, are the people here who have become our family.

The guys I work with and their families have all welcomed us into their lives.  We talk, we barbecue, we play with their kids, we joke about Mormons (the Mormon coworkers moreso than the others!), and we help each other out.

I couldn't dream up a set of people I'd rather call friends.  I'll miss them the same way I've missed my midwest friends all these years. I think "family" is not a genetic measurement, but a living substance that grows and catches on us like a vine.  Whether buried or up where it's visible, it acts as roots and tangles you up.  We've gone, leaving bits of ourselves there, and carrying pieces of others with us.

The Growth

As Kim pointed out to me the other night, 10 years is not far from a third of our lives.  Plenty of time for personal development.  Though we made new friends and found supportive people, we started out a thousand miles from anybody we would normally turn to.

As I like to say, everything seems like a big deal until you do it.  Our van stopped working in the middle of nowhere.  Kim didn't have her credit card and I didn't even own one yet.  We came out of that OK.  We raised a tiny, neurotic runt of a cat with a huge personality.  We bought, worked on, lived in, hated, loved, and sold a house.  By the time our previous car committed suicide on the freeway coming home one day, it felt like a minor inconvenience.  Entire years might go wrong, and we could laugh it off.

Of course, there have been other things that actually are big deals, whether they're familiar or not.  We had to let go of our beloved runty cat.  We've moved back to the midwest with one fewer parent.  There were scary trips to the emergency room.  There are events where the only option is to grow and come out the other side changed.

As a couple, we've loved each other for what feels like forever.  We've also relied on each other.  Even on the worst days, we each knew there was one solid ally.  We can still worry about changes or situations or possibilities, but I feel like as a couple, we're indestructible.  Whatever is next, we can handle it.

The End

So, we've emerged from our time in the desert.  I'll leave the rest of the allegorical reference there as an exercise for the reader - we've got the next hours, days, years of our lives to figure out.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hello, Minnesota

After some crazy days of packing (weeks, if you happen to be Kim), a day of movers loading most of our stuff, and two days of driving across the country with everything else (including our fish, in a mason jar, in a cupholder)...  We have arrived in Minnesota.

Getting settled, finding more permanent housing, and all that good stuff will happen, but for now we're happy to be done with the long drive, and to have the use of our rear-view mirror back.  :^)

Monday, July 14, 2014

House For Sale

Well there it is, our house is on the market.  We're packing up and we're getting out of Dodge.  For certain values of "Dodge".  "Utah", mainly.


Wisconsin, you've gone nuts since we left you.  You're full of roundabouts and corrupt politicians.

Minnesota, here we come!  Well, soon.  :^)

...and Sold!  Well, under contact, anyway.  The midwest and its boundless bouquet of  cheeses, sausages and beers feels closer already!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life


I was a bit bummed about my old server dying when it happened, but it has quickly gone from sad to funny.  In preparing to take that machine (and a bunch of other old stuff) to a nearby electronics recycling event, I removed its hard disks and a few other parts.  During its autopsy, onslow reminded me about its storied history and gave me a few farewell chuckles.

  • Huge case, no room at all inside it.  Crunchy SCSI cables everywhere.
  • Nothing I removed had an even number of screws holding it in place.
  • Of the odd number of screws I removed, none matched each other.
  • The rear fan had a big chunk smashed off of its outer brace.
  • The rear fan was twisty-tied to vent holes in the case.
  • The CPU fan was not a CPU fan.
  • The CPU fan was twisty-tied to cables that sort of ran by the CPUs.
  • Three CD drives (including a caddy loader) were installed.
  • Only one CD drive remained attached to the power supply.

Finally, the unused drive bay which served as onslow's name plate had damaged clips.  It was held in place by duct tape.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

R.I.P. onslow

The oldest computer I still had running stopped last night after a power failure.  It was known early on as "fatbastard" and, in its final hardware configuration, "onslow".  It's the biggest computer I've had (and I've had some doozies), it's heavy, and it's packed with parts that modern computers can't use.  After running almost continuously for 14 years, it's time to say goodbye.

(Yes, I'm enough of a geek that I'm eulogizing a computer.  I'm also retiring its internal IP address.  Just give me this one.  :^)

Onslow started out as a streaming server for RealAudio, if I remember right.  A friend from UWRF's student center went on to work there and bought or inherited some hardware, and I bought or inherited that machine from him.  It was the first PC I owned which never ran Windows - by then I'd fully become a Linux guy.  It was my first multi-CPU machine.  (Back when that was worth noting.)  It had such ridiculous high-end specs in 2000 that it was still worth running now.

Onslow lived with me in two college dorm rooms, my parents' basement, two apartments in two states, and in my first house.  It was part of what made a place home.  Over the university's broadband and a series of awful DSL connections, it has served up my home shell as well as a bunch of websites.  Most of those were of no real consequence, and I'll probably restore at least a few of them on my newer webserver.  But accessing my home network remotely and being greeted by a machine other than onslow, that will take some getting used to.

When the power came on again and I was checking that all my servers and drives were coming online, a few pokes of onslow's power button told me what I knew had to be coming.  I had to echo its namesake in sarcastic disappointment...

"Oh, nice."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Photo by John Johnson, creative commons by-nc-sa license.

I took a walk around a nearby park last night, with my gaze mostly fixed on our old pal the moon, during its complete eclipse.  I'm very tired today and my neck is as sore as it's ever been, but I'm glad to have done it.

The last eclipse I saw was while I was in college.  There was a partial lunar eclipse with some cloud cover, and a handful of fellow students gathered to see it.  I impersonated the lecture voice of our astronomy professor and said whatever silly, vaguely-scientific-sounding crap I could think of.

This time was pretty different.  Clearer night, no company, and of course a very beautiful and somewhat rare event.  No loud English accent or laughter, just my footsteps and my own thoughts.

Everyone should spend some quality one-on-one time with the moon, whether it's putting on a big show or not.  I let it be a metaphor for pretty much everything.  It's one of life's constants, and it's also always in motion.  It's a mirror of our own little sphere, and it's also in stark, alien contrast to our familiar home.  That reddish shadow was cast by more area than I'll ever visit, and I could cover it all up with my thumb at arm's length.

I let it represent the end.  There have been some tough endings recently.  The reason I was walking alone instead of with my wife is that she's away for a friend's mother's funeral.  She was in the same hospital as my father-in-law for a while.  Both are gone now, but still connected by the people who love them.  And there was our cat.  She went through her own waxing and waning cycles, and slowly moved her sleeping spot in an arc to keep in the sunlight.  We miss her small steps and giant leaps.

I let it represent the beginning.  If my wife stays where she is for a little while, she might get to meet our new nephew.  His beginning will mark the beginning of two new parents.  Great ones, I suspect.  Beginnings are what make us explorers, what make us want to understand the things around us.  Things like the moon disappearing.  Our beginners' ignorance is valuable; it gives us somewhere to test new ideas and build new knowledge.  It's also scary, so sometimes we fill it with comforting nonsense too.

While I walked and stared, I let the moon and its eclipse represent inevitable change, immovable resolution, good, bad, fiction, fact, fear, joy, miraculous, mundane, and anything else i could think of.

I also imagined spouting nonsense in a loud English voice.

"Now we can see that the Earth is not particularly good at shadow puppets.  Never mind dog or bunny, the Earth is only able to do basic shapes like rock, paper, and scissors.  Tonight, it would seem, it has chosen rock."