Sunday, October 30, 2022

Happy Halloween '22!

Another bizarre year has come and... well, not gone, yet.  My wife and my self have each gained some responsibility at work, which is fine but has thus far come at the cost of free time, something we've never felt an abundance of to begin with.  Then there's been all the other general madness this year, some sprinkles of really great news and some heavy darkness as well.

According to Autumn, this year has been serviceable, though her grievance that Book exists has still gone ignored.

This year's jack-o-lanterns were picked from a bunch that I doodled using my old Halloween Artist program.  Sometimes we shoot for one representing each member of the household, or some other cute theme.  The best we could manage this year was to visualize some of the vague emotions it feels like 2022 has carried our way.

"Smile".  When anyone asks how anyone is doing, words like "fine" and "good" are expected.  Grin and bear it. Things could be worse.  It's fine.  We're fine.
"Running on empty".  It's time for such-and-such ...already ...again.
"Concern".  What now?  Is that something I can do anything about?  Is that something everyone expects me to do something about?

"The supreme court did what?!"

So, it's been a mixed year at best.  But, we're doing what we can, and doing our best to take better care of ourselves and each other.

We wish you and everybody a happy Halloween!  May you find some joy and some fun and some tasty snacks, and may we all dig deep and find the mojo to do some good.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022


My little group of movie-making friends has been putting together shorts for eight years now.  As with most things in life, one gets out of these weekends what one puts in.

These 48-hour events mean stress and sleepless nights for me, but I can't help it.  My outer middle-aged body has valid objections, but my inner child demands the creative outlet, and my inner toddler keeps yelling "again! again!" no matter how tired I get. 

But enough jibber-jabber!  The point of this post is to announce Chunky Milk Productions' latest 48-hour film: "Incontinuity"!

The screening is next Friday at the Parkway Theater if you'd like to be among the first to let this movie amuse and confuse you.  Ours will be one of twelve local made-in-a-weekend short films; my favorite part of this whole process is going to a theater and seeing what everybody came up with!

As usual, we can't share the movie itself until the competition is over, but once we do, I'll share it here as well as on the Chunky Milk Productions website.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

On the Importance of Cats, and Why There's No Such Thing

Firstly, the title is not a joke: there's no such thing as cats.  That may seem surprising, and as someone who has loved cats his whole life, I can understand your skepticism.  But I will address that; please be patient.

Secondly, all of this (and all of everything which anybody ever discusses) rest on specific points of view, and specific patterns of how to map our sensed perceptions of "the world out there" into structures our minds can understand.  I'm not talking about "alternative facts" or any similar head-in-the-sand practice of treating fiction as reality.  Quite the contrary.  What I mean is something real, being perceived through multiple valid metaphorical lenses.  What may look to someone like an equal partnership, may look to someone else like a dominant/submissive relationship.  The subjects in question may reject both descriptions, and in fact may each perceive their dynamic uniquely.  These cases, where everyone might be in disagreement are all "right, in a way", serve to illustrate that we all, by necessity, have simplified, rough-cut perspectives.

So, let's begin.

Dogs and cats are wonderful human companions, both with plenty to teach us about ourselves and our societies.  Consider a dog, be it a wild wolf or a so-called purebred puppy.  The creature has an instinctive understanding of hierarchy.  Packs have leaders, alphas.  Being in a pack is better than being alone, so to be in a pack one acts according to the leader's conditioning.  Do something "right", get rewarded, become inclined to keep doing that thing.  Do something "wrong", get punished, become disinclined.  A dog's instincts map out their world into a hierarchical structure.  Substituting a tall, weird-sounding, two-legged animal who shows themselves capable of rewarding "right" and punishing "wrong" for a pack leader is not a great leap for the canine mind.  It's an easy fit for humans too; naturally we want to cuddle and feed a dog who does something cute, or scold them for peeing on the rug.  And indeed many humans have instincts not so far away from a dog's, desiring to be part of a pack, and following alpha two-legged weird-sounding animals of their own.  Society is flecked with these hierarchies, large and small, built with leaders on top.  Chief executives, governors, monarchs, regional managers.  Top-down structure.  I'm about to use a word which carries a lot of baggage, but I mean it only in the literal sense that dogs are big on obedience and chain of command.  Life with dogs is authoritarian.

But society is also composed of chaos.  There is no organizational chart large enough to list every citizen of a small town, let alone a state or continent or planet.  At any moment, many humans are being born with no pecking order among them, and many are dying without upending any "subordinates" or "superiors" they might have recognized.  We each know a handful of people closely, more people less closely, and so on until completely unfamiliar people are some sort of rounded, aggregate statistic.  For people we don't know well, we build a lot of mental sorting buckets.  Artists, car owners, nerds, feminists, Italians, conservatives, MBA's.  These buckets are not without their uses, and in fact many people proudly identify using these sorts of labels.  But many of us give in to the temptation to dismiss entire buckets worth of people.  Hippies, Scientologists, immigrants.  Once the label is there, whether the person announced it, we deduced it, or a leader we follow proclaimed it, we might decide, with no further information, that the labeled person has nothing to offer us, and therefore we can (or even should) ignore or reject them.  You might be able to come up with an example or two where this sort of thing has led to violence.

So what about cats?  All I've been blathering on about is societal structures and human foibles.  All right, I'll discuss cats.  Except there is no such thing.  Cat people (to use a bucket term) know this to be true upon reflection.  You can grow up alongside a cat, love and cuddle and play with them every day of their life.  Know their meows, be soothed by their purrs, read their moods and learn their favorite spots to nap per given time of the day.  All of that is a wonderful bond, but gains you next to nothing towards the next cat you meet.  I knew many cats before meeting one who growls and plays tug of war.  I knew a cat who understood many words, including her name.  I know a fully-grown big chunky cat whose voice never got deeper than a puny squeak.  There is this cat, and that cat, and this one, and that one, but there is no such thing as "cats".

You've probably already guessed that my roundabout point is that there is also no such thing as "people".  There's this person and this person and that person.  Those buckets mentioned earlier are all lies.  Even the ones we enjoy and find helpful -- none of them are real.  So, what can we learn from a lie of a bucket like "cat people"?

A cat's instincts don't use hierarchy, at least not in the way a dog's do.  You can train a dog, but it's said that a cat trains you.  That's a cute idea, and it's close, but the truth is that you and a cat figure out, together, how to coexist.  It's potentially a painful, slow and messy process, compared to "you do as I say".  Feedback is inconsistent, boundaries are never fixed, and sometimes you end up bitten, scratched, and bruised.  But your multi-species family grows, together.  Not because someone in charge says so, but because everybody found ways to make it work.  Are you ready for another charged word?  Life with cats is democratic.

And that's it, right there.  A society whose goals include things like equality, adaptation, and the embrace of diversity has plenty to learn from cats.  Families which include cats are microcosms of our much bigger family.  The global and national and city societal families we're all born to.  "Cats", of which there is no such thing, show us that each person on this planet is exactly that, a person.  You'll never understand them all; they'll do things which amuse and annoy you, and every now and then you'll be gifted a dead animal or step barefoot in some cold barf.  But if you learn from each other, figure out which battles are worth picking and what is workable to allow on each other's terms, you'll find more agency over your own life, and more appreciation for theirs.

Saturday, February 26, 2022


(I started writing this a month or so ago, then decided it was a silly and unnecessary thing to put on the internet.  That may still be true, but here it goes anyway.)


The Metroid series has been a favorite of mine, right from the start.  Zelda is more grand, Mario more playful, but no other games get me quite so enthralled.   It doesn't look like much now, but young-me's heart pounded guiding action such as this:

The games are light on story, not especially large or long, but the series always provided plenty of exploration and experimentation, mixed with challenging fights against crazy space monsters.  What's not to love?

There have been some droughts between mainline Metroid games.  Not counting spinoffs (including the also-great Prime games) they were released in 1987, 1991, 1994... then 2002... And that was it, apparently.  Around 2005, there were rumors of another one, named "Metroid Dread", but it never materialized. Generations of gaming hardware came and went.  Then, just months ago, 19 years after the previous Metroid entry, it was finally real.

This world of ours is full of stuff that's not what it used to be.  Everything changes, time moves on, but in some primal way, this new game got its hooks in me just as the originals did.  The exploration and experimentation were more detailed and smoother than ever.  The boss fights were challenging, occasionally bordering on cruel for a now middle-aged fan with middle-aged reflexes.  I enjoyed every moment, including the moments I hated.  (I doubt any single game has shown me its "Game Over" screen nearly as many times.)

After my initial adventure, and then diving back in to collect everything, I still wasn't ready to stop playing.  "Hard mode" became available after finishing once.  That just about made me laugh out loud; the last thing any sane person would do is subject themselves to a harder version of the battles I'd just scraped through.  Switching gears, the series has always provided little extra bonuses for finishing the entire game quickly, which I never cared about, because I just like to soak everything in.  But this time, I felt like yes, I could probably get through in under 8 hours.  Just to say I'd done it, and gotten that little bonus.  So, I started another playthrough, aiming for efficiency instead of completeness.  By the late game, I realized I might just be able to come in under the 4-hour mark, let alone 8. If I managed that, I'd get two little bonuses.  ...And so I did.  Another full run completed, in well under 4 hours.  (The game mercifully did not count all the failed and retried battles.)

And again, somehow, Metroid Dread wasn't done with me.  I'd collected every item in the game, several times, and finished it as quickly as it would reward me for.  The only rewards left (truly little things, which anybody can find on the internet) were for finishing hard mode at all, finishing it in under 8 hours, and under 4.  So, I started the adventure again.  On hard mode.  Never mind the boss battles, I got killed just walking around.  I knew where I had to go and what I had to do, but getting it done was right up against the boundaries of what skill and patience I could muster.  As I got closer and closer to the ending sequence, no video game has made me sweat and shake like that since ... Well, since the original Metroid.

I did finish hard mode. In just over 3 hours by in-game reckoning. I'm not sure I even want to know how long it would have been including all the retries.  It's been over a week since then, and at last it seems Metroid Dread is a game I could go back to at any time, but I don't feel compelled to revisit again right this minute.


(I decided not to post after writing this far.  The internet has plenty of nerds talking about video games.  Since then, a couple more things have happened and I've changed my mind again.)


Well, now it's a little bit later still.  An update has been released for Metroid Dread, something none of the previous games on their cartridges could have done.  Two new difficulty options were added added, "Rookie Mode" for those who find difficult games to be difficult, and also "Dread Mode".  There, getting hit by anything - a fast boss attack or a tiny little gnat, means game over.  My initial reaction was the same as to Hard mode.  Nope!  Who would ever do that to themselves?

You know where this is going.  Me.  I did that to myself.  And now, the game does keep track of how long the failed attempts took, and how many times I got killed.  (A few minutes shy of twelve hours, and three hundred thirty-eight times, respectively.)  There are parts of the game where you are hunted by indestructible robots, and if they catch you, even on the easiest settings, you're done for.  That's where the "Dread" in the title comes from.  Those sequences were now the most soothing, relaxing areas of the game.

I will say this.  The bits where I got stuck dying and trying over again and again for the longest, were also some of my favorite moments in the game.  There's a section where everything's catching fire and falling apart.  Touch any mere lick of flame and you're dead.  (Naturally, your prize for surviving this sequence is the Varia armor, which protects you against heat for the rest of the game.)  Soon after that is Kraid, who launches torrents of projectiles at you (just as he did in 1987!).  A few late-game bosses are also very enjoyable, even if they did grind my patience into a fine powder, and the final boss fight is one of my favorite video game encounters full-stop.  At some point during my 338 game-overs, I learned just enough from my mistakes to not repeat them ... at least not quite as often.

So why post now?  The world is still full of nerds talking about stuff that doesn't matter.  But the world is also full of scary, awful things.  Russia invaded Ukraine the day I completed Dread mode.  That final boss who killed me over and over for an hour before I finally prevailed ... was a stand-in for Vlad, and 45, and all the other villains this world has on offer.  The sadly-real evil, those who value power or wealth above basic humanity.

There are many, many challenges before each person on this smallish planet.  Some of us have the luxury of accepting entirely optional ones, essentially-trivial challenges of muscle memory and minor problem-solving.  But!  Anything I can do, anybody can do.  For every reckless halfwit whose power eclipses his responsibility, there are millions of us regular people.  Some of us get to choose our battles, and some don't.  But we can all take on much more than seems plausible at first.  Everybody can learn from our mistakes, even the embarrassing or crushing or repeated ones.  Anybody can get themselves in over their head, and yet prevail.  Not for a reward or a prize, but because we feel a connection.  Because something inside us says we should try.

I encourage everybody to take on something that feels impossible.  Something that draws you in despite seeming insurmountable.  Don't worry about where it falls on some ladder of the most important or urgent problems facing the world.  There are billions of us.  We can tackle many challenges at once.  And once you do tackle one, whether you surprise yourself by succeeding or learn why you couldn't, find another challenge, and another.  Don't wait 19 years in between.

Thursday, February 03, 2022


Cryptocurrency has been off the deep end since its inception. NFTs are cancer on cancer, and as in most situations, two wrongs don't make a right.

I therefore hereby propose my own implementation of fake money, and offer up all my digital assets on its own exchange!

My development codename for this currency is "nopecoin', but one of its groundbreaking features is that you don't need to name it at all! Unlike other cryptocurrencies, which use expensive hardware, consume massive amounts of energy and poison the planet, you can mine nopecoin by putting your computer or other fancy internet-connected device to sleep. You will begin to profit immediately. Enrich your life at increased pace by shutting down multiple devices; nopecoin mining is compatible with all computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and overpriced wristwatches.

As for NFTs, you may be pleased to know that you already own all the images, movies, games and other digital junk which I have created over the years and will continue to create. These NFTs are special in that you can sell them over and over as often as you please, simply by giving the files or links to others. No special accounts or apps required. Rather than a search for the next trendseeking sucker, you need only find someone to share a chuckle or smirk or moment of confused frustration with.

This is all coming from someone who fell in love with computers and technology at a very young age. I could barely speak English when I learned Basic. Maybe it was inevitable that the capitalists and scammers would take over computing, but that doesn't mean I have to be happy about it, or that I won't speak out when I see conmen and their marks hailing the blockchain. This particular emperor is all kinds of naked, and it's an ugly sight.

(If this was all gibberish to you, then keep it that way! You are living life correctly.) 

(If you want to understand crypto and NFT, set aside a couple hours and watch this.)