Have you ever migrated 1.5 million lifeforms? When I was a kid my mom was a prairie steward. One time I got to help move insects from one prairie to another. Maybe in kindergarten. I captured them with nets and tubes. Then, miles away on yet another golden hill, we let them go. Clouds of triumphant of freedom. Quite literally escaping extinction.
(Would aliens do the same for us?)
Devirtualize. Verb. To invert paradigm of digital-first, physical-second. And virtualization was always second-nature. So many of us leapt in with both feet.
(After all, we grew up here.)
Somewhere, months later, I saw “online-ness” offered as another axis with to gauge your employees. 21st century flare minimums, etcetera.
(But then what?)
Now, I go into the “office” once a week. Tuesday is the day. I have two accountability buddies. It is good for each of us. Devirtualize. Sometimes we all pull up. Sometimes two. Sometimes only one. Last Tuesday I was alone.
(But yesterday-Tuesday I got to interact with humans! Isaac and I hacked the Gibson. Arthur played Aerials and Chop Suey on drums. Jack shredded bass and spoke of distant horizons. Erik plotted empires.)
“Office” in scare-quotes because Output HQ is the most comfortable professional domicile within which I’ve ever had the pleasure of conducting business. Drum machines and instruments just sorta float around in slow eddies which can only map to employee devirtualization-cycles.
(Ah, that photoshoot three weeks ago is now one-third tucked away…)
Those who entered isolation earliest are more likely to leave the latest. It is simple - they were the most paranoid and/or most at-risk so they’re more likely to be the more cautious and alert.
(Just because I’ve seen every science fiction movie ever made doesn’t make my paranoia any less valid, thanks.)
But why did we have to migrate all the insects in the first place? What was wrong with the prairie? Simple. It was in the path of a subdivision, a highway, some strip malls. It was in the path of the American dream.
(For each dream you destroy, three more shall spring, and each shall be more smoldering than all previous.)
So it is an error to wait around for inspiration, or to demand some feeling of readiness for an undertaking, or for a teacher or some other golden opportunity. I think these slouching inclinations come partly from an overly-systematized experience during childhood school years, and partly from a fear of failure. In fact, when you stop waiting for others—for either their permission or instruction—and instead begin on your own, fumbling through, regardless of how ready you are, this could be considered one of the true beginnings of adulthood.
I think there is value in pushing learning and doing as close together as possible. I wish to learn like an apprentice with no fixed master, instead with repeated trial and sharing the results. If no teacher is found along the way, then the mistakes will be my teacher. Every undertaking is a series of questions and experiments. I believe every hard thing you do, for that matter, acts as a multiplier on the rest of your knowledge.
Failure is something you want to tempt. You should court it the way the bullfighter courts the bull. When I wish to learn something, I begin with this in mind. A meaningful first project should have sufficient difficulty that there is some real chance of failure. It is in approaching the edges of our abilities that we are really learning, and often simple projects feel more like delaying things, including delaying mastery. A chance of failure ensures your hands are firmly touching reality, and not endlessly flipping through the textbook, or forever flirting only with ideas.
Tik-tok strikes me as a curiously appropriate social medium for these tenuous times. The things that spread on and out of Tik-tok seem culturally energized, but unvectored, and ultimately self-contained in a way that makes it hard to call them trends, let alone cohering into bundles worth labeling torrents.
They are fleeting moods at best. They seem to correspond to a kind of dreamy undecidedness in historical processes. The world is asleep, but actively dreaming. Often fever-dreaming. But the body politic of the world is in the rigor mortis of REM sleep. It cannot act to unleash the built-up energy.
The essential immobilized dreaminess is why I call this psychohistorical tenuousness. Psychohistorical tenuousness is world history dreaming about being, without progressing to becoming. All adjacent possible, no actuality.
Because the greatest shock of all would be to wake up one morning and find that while we were driving the kids to soccer practice and enjoying that welcome after-work cocktail, more and more of our rights had been stripped away, as has happened in so many countries in which democracy vanished, overnight and in darkness –when, as it were, no one was looking. The overturning of Roe v Wade should shock us even more than it already does – shock us into looking beyond the dance floor of the Titanic and spotting that iceberg, looming in our path, not so very far away.
The blinking past persists but each pulse erodes epochal episodes. How many more times will you remember that one thing? That golden afternoon; that forbidden evening? A decaying deal with the inner sanctums of your beautiful skull.
I have noticed an unsettling trend in recent years:
Have noticed an unsettling trend in recent years.
There is this tendency to drop the first-person nominative pronoun (aka, the loneliest word: “I”) from communications.
This phenomenon appears confined to text-based mediums like SMS, Twitter, or Discord. I haven’t observed folks do it verbally.
I chalk it up to simple laziness and frugality. Gotta minimize effort and keep it under the character count, right? Plus, the speaker is always “baked in” to the message on these platforms: tweets are accompanied by handles; texts by phone numbers. Frugality and economy are things I can get behind. I enjoy being lazy, too. But…
What I find unsettling is the how passive these pronoun-less statements become:
“Have cancer,” versus, “I have cancer.”
“Went to the mall,” versus, “I went to the mall.”
“Amputated the patient’s arm,” versus, “I amputated the patient’s arm.”
Pasteurized! The whole lot of them! Utterly drained of charge, urgency, and agency. What could have been a strong assertion shrinks to a spineless hedge.
Voting “present” on an important piece of legislature has the same energy.
And no, not all communications need a sense of urgency and charge. But — I do declare — if you’ve got the gall to publish a whatever, consider the potential impact of not using your pronouns.
I’m fascinated by linguistic relativity: the idea that language can impact perception of reality. I have a theory The Case of the Missing Nominatives has actually had a massive impact on our shared reality.
With so many people choosing to drop pronouns from their communications, our shared discourse has become increasingly cavalier. Everything takes on the air of a self-evident “truism.” Perhaps this is an evolved defense mechanism to an increasingly toxic environment of trolls wielding ad hominem attacks? By removing yourself from the statement, do you actually decrease the attack surface? Is this a type of linguistic camouflage?
And because we live in a precise intersection of time and circumstance there is a very particular sensation, in the slipstream of inconceivable terror, that posseses the body, that seeps into the recesses of the mind. The sensation is not anguish alone that one feels, that one understands with a too-familiar sigh and heartbreak, because the feeling, in the context of this moment, is more than that. It is a simultaneous and exponential crush, swell, and unsettling: Everything is compounded on top of, next to, and under what is happening and what has already happened to you.
Our bold, flawed project of citizenry, of permitting Americans of every hue, status, orientation, and religious belief a voice in the building of our republic has failed. Our elected leaders have failed us. And we, in part, have failed ourselves by not doing more sooner. The collective feel—the Final Vibe, as it were—is total disrepair, and an ushering into the dark ages.
On the other hand, if you’re an older adult in a place that was peaceful through much of your life, but is unraveling into a generalized crisis in your old age, you face a different problem — though your crisis bandwidth has expanded with age, it is not up to the challenge the times are throwing at you in your old age. You will be overwhelmed.
We seem to be entering a historical period where crisis circumstances are more common than normalcy. This means crisis mindsets will increasingly be the default, not flourishing mindsets.
Cultivating better crisis mindsets means building up all the unsubtle practical capabilities and resources of course, and perhaps, to a degree, even seeking out small crises to prepare you for bigger ones. Taleb is right about that. Antifragility is key. But it is not enough.
It strikes me that the most important aspect of cultivating a crisis mindset is the subtlest one — the ability to retain a strong connection to the sublime, to life beyond mere survival and claustrophobic intersubjectivity, in whatever stolen moments you can find against the general backdrop of never-ending crisis.
Of all the fairy tales that have blinded us to the realities of this new era, this is the most seductive — that the future ahead of us offers a simple, stark moral choice with a simple, stark outcome: we will rise to triumph and all will be well, or we will fall. Victory, or death!
In this just-so story, we get to cast ourselves as the heroes. Those of us fighting for climate action and ecological sanity are — against steep odds — the ones rescuing humanity (and all other living creatures). Our opponents are evil. The end of the story can only be our success, because for us to fail means the end of everything. (Man, there is no drug like self-righteousness.)
Central to the struggle, of course, is belief in continuity. That which was — or at least an idealized version of it, optimized perhaps to avoid some of history’s ubiquitous injustices — must be the future, as well. At the end of the fight, we come around, like T. S. Eliot, to “arrive where we started / and know the place for the first time.” After the struggle is won, there will be a homecoming.
But this is not a fairy tale. This is the world, and the world is not simple. The fight cannot be won and yet all is not lost. We are heroic only to the extent we mold ourselves into people who can succeed with purpose on a planet in permanent crisis. We live in discontinuity. We will live in discontinuity for the rest of our lives. It is our home now.
That discontinuity piece linked above is titled “We’re not yet ready for what’s already happened” and I couldn’t agree more:
The planetary crisis is a crisis because it has unleashed discontinuity throughout human systems, and because only a few of us can see it yet.
Collapse won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.
I’m traveling soon. Why not pair with a social fast? Then it hit me: everyone should social fast while traveling. I owe a huge thanks to artist and friend Gage Lindsten for reminding me social network fasts are a thing. Three reasons why you should social fast while traveling:
We’re at war.
Nothing is good enough.
It is going to get more interesting before it gets less interesting.
Pop quiz! Are You In WWIII?
For almost a decade, I have considered myself an active participant in WWIII. In the last ten years:
How many data breaches compromised your private and medical data?
How many times was your data sold without your knowledge?
How many times was your information surgically targeted by bad actors?
How many frauds were committed with some or all of your data?
How many of your exasperated, “Oh, aren’t computers just frustrating sometimes?” moments were actually something more sinister?
The answer to all these questions - for everyone who has ever used a computer! - is the same: it is impossible to know.
And that is exactly my point. Because we are all active participants WWIII, some people just don’t realize it yet. And no degree of caution is good enough.
I have hardcopies of backup codes in firesafes at geographically separate locations.
All these measures are not good enough. My answer to, “Pop Quiz! Are You in WWIII?” is the same as yours. (All our answers are the same, remember.)
Why Social Fast While Traveling?
Day one of your vacation was full of adventures. You’re in the warm amber light dinner and friends. You excuse yourself. Your phone won’t unlock. Now it is resetting. Someone has engaged the remote wipe protocol.
“They’d need my watch to do that.”
You realize your smart-watch is missing; undoubtedly lost on that hike…
Instagramming a concert in a new city. You get a call from your landlord in the morning that your rental unit was broken into and all your belongings stolen. Later, you learn of a zero-day exploit in a popular IoT device.
“I didn’t even use that thing.”
Doesn’t matter if it’s connected to your wi-fi. They were just waiting for you to be gone for a few days.
You arrive at LAX after a domestic flight. You are detained. There was another outbreak. But you were not in that city, you protest. The official reveals a photo of you tagged in the vicinity.
“But I was on the highway, 70mph.”
You contract the new virus from other detainees.
I could write these little nightmares all day. I don’t believe these things are likely to happen to me. But I have the imagination to see how they could.
Things are not going to stop happening. Sharing what you’re doing while traveling in 2022 comes with a higher risk profile than I am willing to allow.
What About Security Through Obscurity?
“Security through obscurity,” is the philosophical notion that you are safest if you reveal as little information as possible. Secrecy is your primary armor. While appealing on the surface, this has been rejected by military and security professionals for decades. Many of them ascribe to the NIST recommendation:
“System security should not depend on the secrecy of the implementation or its components.”
Meaning it shouldn’t matter if you know I use a strong password and 2FA to access a particular website. The strong password and 2FA should be resilient enough on their own. (Tangent: this is one of the reasons why we get to worry about so called “quantum supremacy,” a situation in which a world power gains the capability to crack all existent security protocols with a new type of quantum computer.)
And this in a really round about way brings us to the current Musk / Twitter controversy. (For those of you reading in the far future, it looks like Musk is going to acquire Twitter for $44 billion.)
There is a future where Musk, personally, will be able to read your DMs. He’ll have jolly green terminal screen to clickity-clack your name into and pull up ever Twitter handle you’ve ever had. And read every message you ever sent. Every message his exes ever sent…
Free speech is pretty asymmetrical when you take unfathomable into the equation, eh?
In a world where your data can be sold to the highest bidder, the chain of custody is terminally compromised.
“But I Don’t Have Anything to Hide.”
Until precisely the instant something changes and we do.
CCI is an open source game for the monome norns sound computer in which players lead the CC Incarnadine and her crew of climate-punks, nautical drones, and GMO algae on a mission to heal the desiccated coral reefs.
We open the update with a canonical short story written by Coral Carrier Incarnadine contributor, @pleco. Afterwards, I’ll share what I’ve been up to for the last several months.
This story is sung between the whales, it is one of their oldest songs.
When the number of whales in the sea had grown so few, and the Great Patch had grown to its terrible size beyond comprehension, Obibe, the Lung Mother, led the last pod on what she feared would be its final migration. Together they dove under the Patch, hoping against all odds to find waters far from its reach where the sea was clean, the air was pure, and the krill were not mutated and distorted by the poisons that leached from the refuse. The journey went on and on, at times the struggle of finding some tiny gap in the garbage to breathe led to such exhaustion that many in the pod nearly drowned daily.
On the twenty fifth day of their journey, the Patch became so thick with waste that none in the pod could find a suitable place to reach the air. Obibe watched as one by one the members of her pod writhed and wretched, fighting back the need for breath. When the eldest of their pod suddenly ceased her struggle and became still, Obibe let out a mourning bellow, opened her mouth as wide as the Third Moon’s tail across the still ocean and swallowed up mountain after mountain of waste, creating a space for the pod to surface. The pod went gasping to the open air, aiding each other up, and rejoiced when the elder sputtered back into consciousness. Amidst their cries of joy, Obibe let out a piercing tone of pain and sorrow. The waste had poisoned her every part, and the weight of it drew her down into the depths of the ocean. Obibe’s four daughters chased after her, singing, and the pod, exhausted and weakened, could only listen to their chorus until it went silent three days later.
Obibe’s whale fall has never been found, and the daughters were never seen again. There has been hearsay among the travelers of the Garbage Patch that some gaps in the patch will appear perfectly circular, and in the waters within them a distant, four voice drone can be heard in all directions. The whales themselves tell differing interpretations of hearing the daughters song, both of it being a guide to safe waters, or it being an omen of impending loss or sacrifice.
When I started this project in January of 2022, I dove directly into execution mode. This was more or less how my other norns scripts emerged. Something was different this time, though. I kept stalling out. I’d write a few lines of code and have no clue how to progress. Slowly, it dawned on me.
I didn’t know what the hell I was building.
In order to write code you need “business logic” — an industry term for the arbitrary policy or legal rules needed in a feature. “Send invoices on the last day of the month,” is a wonderfully dry example of business logic. If it were up to a developer to determine the day, she might decide the 1st or the 15th so that every month could be exactly the same. But, because the company chose the last day, now she needs to write code that has some notion of “last day” and the complexity multiplies…
Me? I was writing code before I even knew if there were invoices.
I stopped programming immediately.
I didn’t even know what the rules of the game were! How do you win? How do you lose? What are the mechanics? I knew CCI was a narrative, roleplaying, abstract-strategy game… but that’s about all I knew. There wasn’t enough of a game-world developed to start distilling concepts into business logic into features into UI into, ultimately, fun. This is a game afterall!
My thinking evolved into several concurrent streams.
CCI contains gene sequences from all the games I’ve ever played. What are the touchstones the game is anchored in? Who’s made similar games? Who’s told similar stories? What can I learn from them?
Growing up, Magic: The Gathering, Battlefleet: Gothic, and Warhammer 40,000 were some of my favorite tabletop games. Metal Gear Solid, Starcraft, Doom, Diablo 2, Resident Evil, Armored Core, Abe’s Odyssey, Another World, Flashback, Humans, Kings Quest IV, and MechWarrior were some of my favorite video games. I got a GameBoy Color and Pokemon: Blue right when they came out came out and was hooked for years…
And any of my Instagram followers know I’m way into Kentucky Route Zero, Elden Ring, and Bloodborne.
It has been an absolute joy to return to my old strategy guides and rulebooks with “developer tools enabled.” All these games look so different through this lens. (Did you know Magic is Turing complete?)
Creating space for folks like @pleco and you to contribute and carving out small chunks of actionable creativity and keeping everyone connected has been a top priority since day one.
Who and what lives in the world of CCI? What are their names? What are their motives? This all takes place in the far future of our own timeline, so what is this world’s future history? What recognizable fragments and plastic garbage survived all the eons?
Presently, around 90% of my CCI energy is spent on world-building. This, too, has been riddled with challenge.
Say you are tasked with writing a small, interactive scene to establish the player and another character. They’re out celebrating at a bar. Excellent! This scene will offer plenty of opportunities for characterization, world-building, and serving up a little slice-of-life for people living in the hive-city of Mannheim. You get an idea for a dialog choice. The player will be asked if they want another drink! In a flash, you see three options:
A conservative, “No, tomorrow we sail and I need my wits about me.”
An impartial, “I don’t know…”
A rowdy, “Eh, you sure you want to keep going after the trouble we got into last time?”
The wheels are turning with allusions and references to a shared history… but suddenly you realize: what are they drinking? Beer? Wine? Rum? If it is wine, where do the grapes come from? Are there cellars out on the nearby region known as Chembayou? Can grapes even grow in a bayou…? Or maybe they aren’t drinking alcohol? Maybe folks drink stimulants to relax? Or even narcotics or psychedelics? Or maybe there are “food printers” that can 3D print consumable items?
What people eat and drink are fundamental building blocks of culture. Each decision is an invitation to establish canon and build a cohesive, living world.
The question becomes one of resolution - how deep do you need to go with the details? Some details write themselves. Others, like this one, spur entire new sub-quests of research.
One of CCI’s fundamental concepts - like arcologies, and many of my other pieces - is emergence. Small, seemingly simple decisions that yield massive ramifications later.
I share this scenario because it reminds me of my favorite bug of all time. It is from Dwarf Fortress. Players were reporting cats getting drunk. No one could figure out why. Then, one of the creators cracked the case:
Now, the cats would walk into the taverns, right, and because of the old blood footprint code from, like, eight years ago or something, they would get alcohol on their feet. It was originally so people could pad blood around, but now any liquid, right, so they get alcohol on their feet. And then I wanted to add cleaning stuff so when people were bathing, or I even made eyelids work for no reason, because I do random things sometimes. So cats will lick and clean themselves, and on a lark, when I made them clean themselves I’m like, “Well, it’s a cat. When you do lick cleaning, you actually ingest the thing that you’re cleaning off, right? They make hairballs, so they must swallow something, right?” And so the cats, when they cleaned the alcohol off their feet, they all got drunk. Because they were drinking.
I aspire to write bugs like this.
What kind of story is this?
Player vs player, player vs computer, me vs god, me vs me, or me vs nature? (hint: “yes”)
Who is the story about?
What are the conflicts? Is there only one ending? Or multiple?
Which aspects of the world show up in the game? What are the mechanics? How can I minimize the impact of un-fun random number generators?
I am just now getting into designing how the main “game loop” works. A game loop can be thought of as a “turn cycle” or a sequence of events that repeats. If we’re talking in musical terms it could be compared to a measure or bar. The game loop of Chess is: white, black. In basketball: pass, dribble, shoot. In Magic: untap, upkeep, draw, main, combat, main, end.
CCI has several game loops that interconnect and operate on different timescales. Roughly, they are:
The Mitigation Loop
Locate reef, heal reef, get tangible rewards. Imagine toxic sludge clogging the vessel’s engines. Timescale is in days.
The Resource Loop
Acquire items, use items, run out of items. Imagine running out of fuel or healing items. Timescale is in weeks.
The Exploration Loop
Chart, depart, passage, arrive. Think about storms and hostile waters. And just because this is a “non-violent, anti-colonial” game doesn’t mean there aren’t any violent colonists sailing around! Timescale is in months.
How do are the game mechanics communicated to the player? How do they interact with the world?
Programming & Architecture
How is the software organized? How is data persisted? How do save files work? If they’re stored as plain-text, will people save-scum and hack them? Am I OK with that?
Syntax, logic, booleans, and version control.
I’ve shared many sketches and designs. I’m thinking about this project as something of my thesis in user interface and user experience design. With only 8,192 pixels to work with on a given screen this has proven to be an especially brutal challenge!
@ngwese’s latest screen.display_image_region() feature arrived just in time for this and has enabled me to design with sprites in mind. (With arcologies and yggdrasil, I programed each glyph pixel-by-pixel.)
Only a few concepts have made it all the way to programming spikes. A “spike” is a small piece of (typically) disposable code used to prove an idea. One spike turned into the (now mythical) unreleased roguelike ASCII game called HIVERUNNER. Other spikes made their way into utility scripts like u/KEY, u/DCE, & u/REF.
Once a feature is complete… Does it work? Is it fun?
For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee: —
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea —
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
Though this is a sci-fi tale, it takes place in our own timeline. Fragments of our culture have survived and manifested in surprising ways.
The “Floating Casino” serves as the central hub for the first act of the game. It is ensconced in protective breakwaters called “The Palisades.” Why would a casino be so central?
Earth, and the rest of the solar system, look quite different in this distant future. What’s this talk of a third moon?
One thing I love about science is that much of what’s true, what’s interesting, makes no sense (to us) at all. All of life encoded in some silly spiral ladder of molecules that spells out how to grow, when to stop, whether to flower or swim or study the universe? Give me a break. Curved spacetime doesn’t make sense; time dilation doesn’t make sense; quantum mechanics isn’t even supposed to make sense.
So what? They work. Just like evolution. Maybe understanding is knowing what works and what doesn’t—including what works to tame pandemics, put a lid on global warming, better manage war. It is clear that what we are doing isn’t working.
This website is now open source. I had it set to “private” for the longest time because I used to keep a _drafts directory with lunatic scrawlings and half-baked thoughts. I’m happy to report these have since been published or expunged.