Yesterday was not the easiest day to motivate myself. A lot of it was spent either looking at the source code for The Market Underground feeling daunted at the amount of details which need adding or spent working out how the story SILVER CHORD is going to work. Today presents its own obstacles for my attention, but the worst of the time sinks, refactoring my Emacs configuration for this quarter, has been dispensed with after spending some hours hacking it into a better shape.
There are many features which I adore in Emacs and most of them are a consequence of its programmability, but the one which I keep coming back to is Org-Mode. It kicks the shit out of other time planning and document markup languages in terms of ease of use and the number of features it contains. The biggest stumbling block for me using it has always been that I work in an environment where sharing data by the cloud or any other means is at best frowned upon and actively discouraged by both policy and implementation. The logical consequence of this is that I can’t keep one unified organizer environment across my personal and current professional existence. In the past I’ve tried to reconcile the two in order to have a better todo system as per Getting Things Done or Tom Limoncelli’s Time Management for System Administrators, and I’ve always failed.
I’m not going to do that anymore. I want to use these tools to make me happier, so I’m going to have to accept that there is going to be a dividing line between the two spheres of my life.
The next exercise in distraction will be hooking Emacs up to my email. :)
THE SKY IS: BLUE
So it happened: Leicester won the league because Spurs bottled it. There’s not much else to add. I will be interested in seeing the mood in the city centre when I wander out for lunch.
Of interest to me this morning is Martin Petto’s piece “Two Proposals For The Structure And Administration Of The Arthur C Clarke Award” which is in dialogue with Nina Allan’s recent post on the Clarke Award, “The Last Hurrah?”. The section of Nina’s essay I’d like to draw attention to and would be interested in reading Martin’s views is quoted below:
At least a part of the problem resides in the fact that there is no recognised online ‘hub’ for British SF. For a number of years (from 2009 when the submissions list first started to be released), the submissions list was announced via the BSFA/Vector blog, Torque Control, where lively, informed discussions of many critical and ideological aspects of SF took place under the dedicated, engaged stewardship of Niall Harrison. In 2009, the post announcing the Clarke submissions list generated 112 comments, mainly debating the eventual shortlist and offering guesses. The following year saw an almost equal number of comments and shortlist guesses, surely a sign that interest surrounding the award was in rude health.
These critical and ideological debates have the capacity to be infinitely less stupid than Puppyshit, and instead of endlessly replaying the American culture wars over and over in commercial adventure fiction and actually converse with the rest of humanity and its crises. But having a critical conversation which is based around a yearly award ceremony strikes me as both an exercise in the short term, but also as fixed on something too real, and actually too commercial.
The best forum conversation I ever read was on the archives of the New Weird threads from the old TTA forum. The sub-genre at the time of the discussion existed as a few novels and short stories, but was, mostly, an abstract idea about to bifurcate into the VanderMeer’s commercial vision and whatever else was left. That movement fizzled and elements of it absorbed by those less committed. But still, it was not a conversation based on a general shortlist drawn up by an award process, but by a specific argument being made by a community. This is what made it interesting.
However, that discussion might only have been possible then. As the times have changed I struggle to see how a space can now exist, as we live in a time where people cannot make their arguments without being shouted down by individuals who possess both entrenched opinions on everything and a financial incentive to be on the winning team. We need to have a space to be wrong and to thrash out the assumptions behind our collective stupidity.
Also there are some scrum notes for today.
The last month of Spring has begun and the weather is still atrocious. Welcome to 21st Century Britain! A corrupt ruling party and shit weather. We have it all.
Yesterday was a write-off. Things broke and I cooked dinner for my family.
Today has promise. Also I went into the cupboard under the stairs and extracted some of my favourite books. Sitting in a neat pile next to me are my copies of Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation and Other Essay, Samuel Delany’s About Writing, and Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose. Initially I went looking for the Theory of Prose and emerged with a slightly damaged food and eight other texts.
I’m calling today the start of the sprint because yesterday as non-eventful. The objects are to polish The Market Underground and to start putting words down for SILVER CHORD.
In retrospect I’m glad that I decided to concentrate on the technical framework for the Old Man and Evil Waiter storylet, as it means I can copy-paste the guts into the next one. I’m sad that I abandoned the story I was writing for Jon, but that happens. There is nothing to be mad about. It would be foolish for me to get annoyed with life getting in the way of project work.
CURRENT CRISIS: ONE 20g DOSE OF COFFEE LEFT!
Saturday, a day when the Walklate-Ellwood household sits in their shared office ignoring the world. Except not today, because the Ellwood half is heading out to a workshop session of the writing circle they attend. I haven’t looked outside today and the curtains are still drawn, so the weather could be anything and not surprise me.
Tomorrow Leicester City Football Club have a chance of winning the Premier League. If someone had told me this twenty years ago when I attended my only football match, a miserable second team match between Leicester City and Norwich, then I would have refused to believe it. This long held mood of low-expectations has start to lift over the city and blue banners are draped everywhere. This is an upheaval of the natural order and one which is pleasant to watch.
As I’m on foot most of the day and locked into a room for four hours this afternoon, along with the social activities I wish to enjoy after, today will I not achieve much. Because I intend to only have one or two drinks later I might be able to get some stuff done later tonight, but wouldn’t plan on it.
Yesterday’s food experiment worked. Today’s lunch will be whatever I can buy on Queens Road in Leicester, probably something from a nice deli. No idea what curry I’ll eat tonight.
THIS MORNING: Jen’s cat attacked my feet in a berserker rage!
Having a slow day to get started. There was a lot of activity yesterday and this is the weird middle day of a sprint, where I can see what I’ve done and I also can see ahead of me what’s left. I’ve been rereading the Fail Better Games Storychoices wiki this morning to refresh myself on a lot of their theory. I’m also trying to avoid playing their games Fallen London and Sunless Sea.
Maybe I’ll treat myself later.
Anyway it’s getting late in the day and I need to make myself some lunch, so the scrum notes are below.
It occurred to me after publishing this post that I didn’t set the goals for the sprint that started yesterday. They are fairly simple:
Of those three goals attending the workshop session is a fixed event in my calender and the bid for time has already been placed, and the second task is well on the way at the start of the second day.
LUNCH TODAY WILL BE: ONE POT TOMATO AND BASIL PASTA!
The holiday starts today! All of the real work on this IF work starts today. Awesome. It’s also freezing cold outside, which should help keep me inside and not wandering the city looking for interesting places of caffeinated distractions where I can sit and read.
Yesterday evening I attended my local speculative fiction writing group. For the first hour of the session I distracted myself by watching the Clarke Award announcements on my phone and reading Aaron Reed’s book on writing interactive fiction, Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7. Second half I got some words down. Then went to the pub and had a reasonably good time discussing workshop bureaucracy and some other topics, which have escaped me. It helped that I could drink more than usual, but this also exposed the inadequacies of the bar we visited that I’d not normally exposed to. Oh well.
Some items which came up in the unpublished Tuesday scrum, where I carried out a quick retrospective were:
One item which appeared on my radar was Harry Schwartz’s talk on org-mode, which was posted to YouTube. It makes me want to revisit my configuration of Emacs & start using org-mode again to write documents and organise my life. There are some environmental interoperability issues that need to resolve, but it might be a task that I can reflect on if I get stuck with something else. Configuring my text editor to do cooler and cooler things is a form of meditation. :)
LUNCH TODAY WILL BE: HUMMUS!
Yesterday’s afternoon of work was frustrated by our awful washing machine. It’s an excuse but one that I’m sticking to. Today has been made slightly more complicated since I am due to support some work activities from home later tonight, which will eat into the 21:45 – 22:30 time before bed that often gets used for reading/writing. This Monday I won’t get to watch some episodes of The West Wing, which makes me very sad. :(
It’s a Sunday afternoon. Jenny & I are sat in our home office in front of our desktop computers. My work laptop sits next to me doing things. A glass of Co-Op apple and cucumber sparkling water sits half empty to the right of my keyboard. Pink Floyd’s The Wall plays through my giant red headphones. My parent’s will call for their weekly chat in a couple of hours.
I have been made to book holiday or lose it, so will shortly be enjoying an extended break from productive work. This is great. There will be almost two weeks to lounge about reading and playing games. What the hell am I going to do with that time?
It’s simple. Apart from working on short fiction I’m going to learn how to produce material in another niche medium and write a piece of interactive fiction. I’ve had a book on my shelf about Inform 7 (a language for writing these things) and a fascination with IF for about half my life. It won’t be practical. It won’t make my day job easier. But it will be something different to do.
To keep myself honest I’m going to treat this in the same manner I’d treat a work project and run a variation on the Scrum Methodology. With twelve days off starting from the Thursday coming that’s enough time to do four sprints of three days each. If I start today running three day sprints then I’ll get myself at least five sprints over the course of the project. This post should be considered the planning session for sprint one. I will write a retrospective post on Tuesday and short scrum updates tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday.
The daily scrums will be published to this site in an effort to keep myself honest.
What’s this game going to be about and what technology am I going to use to write it? Well I’ve had the book on Inform 7 for ages and it’s a fun language to use. The snippet below is a work of rudimentary IF. This compiles into a working example.
The Study is south of the Landing. “Two untidy desks line the walls. A desk lamp sits next to a monitor and keyboard.”
A desk lamp is an object. “The lamp is a cheap Anglepoise knock-off.”
The Landing is east of the Bedroom. “The narrow corridor leads to the study, bedroom, and bathroom. A steep staircase next to the bedroom door descends into the Living Room.”
The Bathroom is west of the Landing. “A shower cubical & bath at one end. A toilet and sink at the other end.”
The Bedroom is east of the Landing. “Some of these directions are a bit tiresome.”
The Living Room is below the Landing. “A living room.”
The sofa is an object. The description of the sofa is “A blue Ikea sofa.” The sofa is in the living room.
Deckard is an animal. The description of Deckard is “Deckard is a fluffy brown tabby cat.” Deckard is in the living room.
There are some nuances which I have not yet explored, but you can do a lot quickly with Inform 7. As such the game is going to be set in an underground market place and involve three very short pieces of fiction. At the end of the project I want to have implemented and done the following tasks. Because the project is being ran under SCRUM I’m throwing in fiction writing activities under the scheme, so that the time is properly accounted for.
Finish writing a short story for Jon Cronshaw. Type up. Send.
Map out the game’s environment on paper and in code. Give full descriptions of rooms
Write encounter one: the old man and the evil waiter. Implement this as a menu driven conversation with item collection
Write encounter two: TBC. Ensure this is different and more complex than the previous
Write encounter three. TBC. Ensure this is different and more complex than the previous
Design a through line which unites the three diverse encounters and provides a number of different endings for the player
Polish the game and release a beta version
Attend at least one fiction workshop session
Attend Wednesday writing sessions on Queens Road with the Speculators
Start and complete draft zero of the story based on prompting phrase “Transreal Alien Landscapes”
In the first sprint I intend to tackle tasks one, two, and start prototyping for task three. Tasks one and two require little explication and will probably be worked on in the West End Brew Pub. :) Task three I will provide some requirements for in tomorrow’s scrum.
CURRENTLY READING: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
So I am reading ‘All the Birds in the Sky’ by Charlie Jane Anders are the moment, because it’s a book which I suspect is going to get a lot of attention this year. I’m also reading it because it will be discussed on The Coode Street Podcast’s bookclub this month and I wanted to listen to the program more actively. I’m only about fifty pages in and I’m finding it difficult because of how inoffensive both the writing and the story have been so far.
(I don’t actually think it’s bad as such, just not my groove.)
However one small detail caught me out. Where I’m at the boy, Laurence, has just been given a Heinlein juvenile and recommended to read more Heinlein by a rocket scientist in her twenties. This strikes me as anachronistic and awkward. It’s hard to figure out why, but Heinlein was not in print when I was in my early teens and I’m not certain he had much to say to me. It feels like an awkward intrusion of skiffy nostalgia. The Ready Player One effect.
That said, my own nostalgic impulses would have had Laurence being given the triptych of Playstation Final Fantasy games (VII, VIII, IX), or even the first Kingdom Hearts game. They didn’t kindle my reading or my tastes for the speculative, but Final Fantasy VII is the game that encouraged my brother to learn to read and feel like a more universal set of cultural touchstones than Heinlein. It would skew the feels down to an audience between twenty-five and forty something. I’m not sure where the Heinlein reference is meant to aim for and it jars.
 – For those unaware the Final Fantasy games are basically slightly interactive novels which take anywhere from 30/40 hours if you blast through the game just to consume the story to well over 100 hours if you explore/collect everything.