Smallhouse Log

the Sunday after Fall Trimester

In UX design, there's this concept of graceful failure: the word processor that saves your work before closing unexpectedly, the game that reverts your keybindings upon crashing, the error message that gives a unique crash code you can feed to tech support. Basically, a sudden shutdown that does as little damage as possible. And this is mostly done by preparation: autosaving frequently, keeping the game's keybindings separate from the system's keybindings, and so on.

And in the pandemic-and-small-children struggles with my mental health, I've started trying to adapt this philosophy to asking for help. I used to just push ahead as long as I could until I had nothing left, hoping that I'd have enough in me to complete whatever I had to do before I ran out of spoons. And usually, I could. But sometimes I'd collapse, and either an essential task would go uncompleted, causing damage elsewhere, or I would exceed my limits to complete it, absorbing the damage myself. And that damage has been building up. So a change needed to be made. Now the idea is to shutdown a little earlier, while I still have something left for emergencies -or better yet, to ask for help with an estimate of how long I can go without it so those around me have time to adjust and reorient.

But this is not natural for me. Or maybe better to say, it's not simple. It's not difficult or strange, it's just complex. And it foregoes the possibility of just solving the problem. Correspondingly, I'm adopting the practice inconsistently, still trying to find the right threshold where I ask for help early enough to get it (or adjust my expectations to avoid a crash) but not so early that I'm complicating things that should be simple.

Friday, last week of Summer Break

I've been reading a lot lately, and the most recent thing I read -I just finnished- was Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. It was a very compelling tale, and I think part of why it was so compelling is that I knew how it would end, and the tension among what I could expect given the story thus far, what I wanted to happen, and what I knew (or thought I knew) must happen grew as the story progressed and I grew to love the characters more and more. It was a very satisfying ending, in that the characters acted true to their character; everyone got what they wanted, or at least avoided what they could not abide; and the fairytale we all know was presented in total, note for note. Maguire realizes what should have been obvious to any cynic looking at the tale with fresh eyes, but never occurred to me: That a beautiful stranger entering a ball unescorted could not escape the attentions of a prince whether she wanted to or not, and that the uses princes have for beautiful young ladies lie predominantly in one specific area.

Which served as a nice twist, but isn't really important to the story being told.

But the aspect of the book that arrested me most is what I describe above, the same desperate tension that I adore in the Norse myths: We know how the story ends, and it doesn't end well for the heroes. Every action is either in service towards or defiance of that eventuality, but come it shall regardless.

How many movies have employed this trope, of showing the climax first, or part of it, and building up to it the rest of the movie? Of course, they so often have a twist, or Deus ex Machina, or unreliable viewpoint, that let them weasel out of their terrible promises and give a neat resolution before the credits roll.

I think that's part of the appeal, for me, of the Terminator franchise: No matter if the Connors and their allies delay it by years or decades, Skynet always awakens. A victory today doesn't solve the problem, it just kicks the can down the road... and quite possible under less capable feet, as likely to kick it back to the Connors as to kick it forward. Note also the fact that John Connor's father is Kyle Reece, sent back in time by John to protect his mother Sarah; which gives the whole story a cyclical feel, an inevitability that nevertheless leaves room for uncertainty, for hope.

I've had a story kicking around my head for years, about Janus, the Latin god of beginnings and endings (and arcades). While it may seem odd to those that know me well, I who despise dualism in every arena, I have always been intrigued by this deity. Perhaps a part of me, the architecture enthusiast who loves arcades (or the videogame enthusiast who loved arcades in their heyday) felt a kinship or obeisance to this figure, the patron of change -in more ways than one, as he is also associated with coins, which plays nicely into the video arcade angle. And it occurs to me that perhaps this technique -of knowing the end before the beginning, and the tension that creates- is the perfect device for a story about a god of beginnings and endings.

Not that I know how the story ends. Up to now it's been mostly a character study.

Tuesday, eighth week after Pentecost

I met a prophet yesterday, and I've been thinking about it ever since, which is what one ought to do after something like that, I suppose. It was very unsettling and I didn't enjoy it, but that also seems par for the course. I'm also not sure what he was trying to tell me, which, again.

But the way these things go, if I recall correctly, is usually that one person gets the prophecy, another writes it down, and a third party reads and understands it (though sometimes too late?). I regret now that I didn't write it down immediately, but I wasn't ready. Who ever is, thought?

The prophet asked me a lot of questions, but the one I remember best was the first one I wasn't able to answer. "If a man shall tempt you, what shall be your answer?" It sounds like the first half of a formulated question and response pair... very familiar, but I couldn't give the answer. What is the response to temptation? How do we answer it? I still don't know.

As we travelled together, he asked me more questions, which I also couldn't answer, and which were less formulaic. He asked about the pain of a mother losing her child, about people being killed. I really wish I'd written more down right away afterwards. I don't know what I'm being called to do, but I feel the pull. Do I go out and seek? Do I trust that I will know the time for action when it comes?

Can I really solve violence in Chicago? Even if I can't, don't I still have to try?

Friday, fourth week of Lent

Got a new job and it's going well. I have a reverse commute now, which is odd. But I think I found a pretty nice bike route between home and Oak Park.

I'm just glad to be working again.

The day after the Feast of the Epiphany

When I was young, my dreams were things like: I'm being pursued through an infinite museum, but it's okay because I can fly.

Now that I'm grown I have dreams like: My former best friend is in town for a professional development course, but when I manage to spend time with him around my own work schedule, we just stand in uncomfortable silence.

Friday

I'm typing this from mobile for the first time ever, so please forgive me any typos amassed during my midnight ramblings. Also remind me to make the new post page a lot more mobile-friendly.

I feel like a vision has been crystallizing in my brain for years of my ideal videogame. It has critters, you give them tasks, they carry them out to the best of their abilities (if they feel like it). Examples:

And I've come up with my own variants, most prominently, or rather most robustly, one more in the Princess Maker vein where you conduct a whole orphanage, and one that's a Merchant / Dwarf Fortress hybrid designed for mobile use where you have seven rather hapless dwarves trying to survive stranded in the wilderness. Less prominently, or less full-fleshedly, one where you act as village hetman trying to pay the correct tribute to your feudal lord to keep them from descending on you with fire and sword, and one that, hrm, is basically The Sims (a game I possibly should have included in the list above) but as a roguelike... or possibly as a Zelda ][ clone sidescroller with some geometry shenanigans. And because I'm a sucker for this sort of thing, there's always a genetic simulation aspect as an optional add-on.

That's four potential games, variations on an ideal: Critters. AI. Decision-making, delegation, and automation. The oldest has been knocking around for almost a decade, the youngest for only a year or two. Bees in my bonnet. What should I make first?

The easiest? Probably Seven Dwarves or Tribute.

The most exciting? Seven Dwarves, maybe. The most accessible? Seven Dwarves, again.

Aside: Wow. I actually did not expect this exercise to be so helpful in picking a project. Let's continue.

The most original? Tribute. The most ambitious? Teacup (working title for the Sims / roguelike / Adventure of Link ...thing). The most financially renumerative? Who even knows. Probably whichever one can be wrangled onto mobile.

Food for thought.

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Do you ever look at your blogging software, that you wrote yourself, and think, "How does it work?"