Sunday evening I "launched" a project I've been quietly focusing on for a few weeks: the shutdown and dissolution of Volity Games. The fact of it's been an open secret for a little while, especially to those closer to the company. But the farewell page (with text written by Zarf) finally went up on Sunday night, replacing all Volity and Planbeast web content.

The Volity Network games -- Fluxx and Werewolf and all that -- are all taken down and packed away as well. I saw that someone was playing a game of Fluxx right up at the very end. I took a screenshot before updating the DNS records and then pulling all the game servers down.[1]

When it was all done, I was surprised to find myself feeling bone-deep tired, though it was only 8 PM.

This was, finally, the public acknowledgment that this project that obsessed me and consumed so much of my life from 2001 through 2007 is essentially dead.[2] And though it's a relief to put it behind me, and though I can point with pride at the good work that went into it, it's unavoidably painful and saddening just the same.

It's also confirming that it was a total failure as a business, and that the financial investment that our friends put in years ago will never see any returns worth mentioning. (We broke the news to the investors weeks ago, in email. Number of surprised responses we received: zero.)

Every member of the core Volity team has gone on to more successful projects, with Zarf and I both getting involved in much saner-scaled game work, shipping a lot of neat stuff with more to come. And honestly, I don't have much love left for Volity, which I will always regard as a nadir of nerdism for me, one I spent far too long in. And we probably should have shut the company down two years ago, honestly.

But it still hurts to see it go. (Where by "see it go" I mean "bury a shovel in it." Sigh. Enough.)

[1] The jabber servers continue to run (on a different machine), for those what care.

[2] At least one person I know hopes to keep Volity's (significant) open-source portions alive and moving forward. I honestly think that's awesome and with them luck. But just the same, I don't plan on being involved in any significant way.
Or rather, go ahead, but I'll just tell you the same thing I tell everyone else, when they say "Hey, you should make Volity for $SOME_NEW_THING" (most recently, this has been Google Wave). "No," says I, "you should make it. It's an open protocol. Knock yourself out."

My attitude towards Volity today is something like borderline hostility. I consider it an aspect of what William Gibson has called "the great clomping foot of nerdism", the kind that is always more interested in taking things apart and exhaustively cataloguing the components than it is in creating wonderful new stuff. Obsessed with categorization and taxonomies, of finding the common root to all things, and then trying to capture that in code, or at least in sprawling wikis. And then, when it's "done", wondering why nobody except for one's fellow robed adepts show any interest at all in it.

It's the video-game equivalent of spending more time writing and trimming an enormous, detailed "world bible" than in creating any stories set in that world. Or of tabletop-game "systems" like Icehouse or Piecepack, which despite their aspirations never sold to anyone other than hardcore game geeks (hi).

If you want to make a video game, go make it. The tools, community and resources to help you do so are all there for you. And yet, if you're a certain kind of geek, the temptation will exist to instead treat your game idea as the top level of a stack: the real prize, you're sure, lay in generalizing all the lower levels, paring and refactoring them into some sort of Ur-Game technology that will solve gaming, somehow, and lead inevitably to lifelong fortune and glory.

My advice is: don't go there, because I know you have great ideas and you're a ninja and everything, but that is folly. Please just make your game instead. I guarantee that you'll be happier with it, and you'll make more fans that way, too. If you're new to making games, the fans might not come, but you'll be so thrilled at what you made - even though it sucks - that you'll do it again, and again, and it will keep getting better. And eventually you'll really be onto something.

I started writing this post with the intent that it'd accompany a release of Webgamut source code to Volity's Sourceforge account. I had a burst of energy to do so earlier today, but it didn't take long to peter out. I am loath to put context-free, commented-but-otherwise-undocumented code out there, because that sounds worse that nothing. I'd instead want to spend a day or so writing some nice farewell documentation for it, first. And I just can't muster the energy right now to re-learn how to get this 18-month-old glop of Perl, Mason and Javascript to run on my laptop.

What do you think? Would it be useful to you or anyone you know were I to just paste a couple of my hard disk's directories into Sourceforge and just put a "Here, you figure it out" README next to them? I don't know, I'm asking. Would the fact that the target for this maneuver would intentionally be obsessed game geeks make it OK?

This post also briefly had a concluding thought along the lines of "I wish someone told me all this six years ago, alas," but that's just dumb, and I apologize for the five minutes of wrong-idea-giving it gave.

I don't regret my work on Volity, nor the work that others have put in, and certainly not any interest that others still have in the project. I think that's great, and I wouldn't even be asking about Sourceforge if y'all didn't exist. I just wanted to put my own current attitude about Volity into words. I'm proud of what we did manage to build, and I am wiser - the real kind, not the cynical kind - for the experience.


Thursday, 23 April 2009 10:29
Just had reason to touch up my LinkedIn profile. Re-aimed the Volity link to the increasingly useful company page Zarf made, changed my profile's headline from "Software Consultant" to "Software Consultant and Ludocentric Entrepreneur", and added this graf to my description:
I am also the president of Volity Games (, a little startup I run with a few friends. Through various experimental web-based projects, as well as a blog and occasional TV show we produce, we study games as a communication medium, and seek innovative new ways for people to come together through play.
Half of me is rolling his eyes, and half of me says "Yeah, sounds about right."
People have been asking, so here is where stuff be at:

The Volity Network (including the webclient): Personally, am completely burned out on it. I have no plans on doing any active work with it at any point in the foreseeable future. The proper thing to do now involves wrapping an open-source license around the webclient and letting it fly, right? That's a conversation I'll need to have...

Planbeast: After a successful early testing phase and an initial bump of interest, approximately zero people are using it right now. This is OK. As far as I'm concerned our soft launch was a success: we have a much better service now than we did in mid-February.

But now we need to figure out how to get the users to come. I had a truly excellent day of meetings a couple of Fridays ago on this topic with a couple of new voices. My major take-away is that, this early, our main customer shouldn't be game players but game producers. We should form partnerships with companies, offering Planbeasty tools they can use on their own websites and such, driving traffic to us while we increase the visibility (and online multiplayer-ability) of their games.

I last week spent a long time writing the first letter making such a proposal, aimed at a very particular target. Now that GDC is done, I'm going to send it, and then I'll see about writing some more like it.

Project X: Regretfully, and for reasons not entirely under my control, I had to move it from the back burner to the freezer. If you want the full poo-poo on this saga, feel free to contact me through another channel. Given everything else I have going, my heart isn't exactly broken over this, though it is rather disappointing just the same.

If nothing else, it was a great one-year hands-on course covering both the technology and the business of commercial game publishing. Even better, starting on it gave me the confidence to reconnect with the local game-dev crowd (hi [ profile] dariusk), a resource that I expect I'll continue to find invaluable - and worth being an active participant of - as my focus shifts back to meta-gamier projects like Planbeast and...

The Gameshelf (the show): This has been idling for as long as has, another victim of the Project X bug biting me, even though my attitude towards it is entirely different. Still have tons of new footage waiting for me to get awesome with it. I haven't really been zotted by a bolt of inspiration to resume work, and haven't been bored enough to do it anyway. But I really am expecting that I will return to it, when the time is right.

That all holds true for Jmac's Arcade, as well.
I am looking to build a contact-list of folks who may be interested in being the first betatesters for a major new Volity Games project.

It is not a game, or a thing for game programmers; it is an entirely new service that our company will run, separate and different from anything it's done previously. It does carry Volity Nature, though, in that it's all about improving the landscape of online, multiplayer games, and helping like-minded game-players find one another.

Specifically, we are looking for current users of the Xbox Live online system. For the most part, this means people who play games on a Xbox 360 console. We're especially interested in folks who have a "gold" XBL membership, permitting them to play multiplayer online games via the Xbox. If you happen to use Xbox Live with an original Xbox console, we'd also be interested in hearing from you.

The first wave of testers should be willing to not just use our service, but to also find ways to break it, and write up critiques about how it could work better. If you think you may be interested, please write me at, or comment on this post. Feel free to share this request with people who you think would be good, smart testers. People who are on my XBL friends list will be getting an email about this from me sometime in the future, regardless of how they respond to this post (but feel free to comment anyway).

We haven't announced the project yet, or released a date when we'll begin testing, but it's near enough to now that it's time to start gauging the size of our initial tester pool. After the first testers have been crawling around a while and we've banged out the biggest lumps in the system, we'll start being less coy about it and commence letting more people on board. Watch this space. / Arbitrarium users:

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After a week of consultation and thought, I've decided to pursue "Project X" at full tilt. This involves me creating a prototype game for the XBox 360 and then pitching it at Microsoft, as a candidate for their "XBox Live Arcade" service of smaller, downloadable games. Things have aligned in such a way that not doing this right now would seem very foolish. Over the last few weeks, and much faster than I anticipated, I got Microsoft's ear, and I earned the support of the rights-holders of the game I wish to adapt. I have the skills, and the time to do it. OK: let's do this, then.

Success, which looks not impossible, spells a significant amount of prestige and passive income. Yes this turf looks a bit familiar. Already the project is reminding me of writing the books, except that I'll actually enjoy the work, and the checks will be bigger. Much bigger, if everything falls out the way I hope, and I have good reason to believe that it really can. I mean, actual market research, with hard numbers. Good stuff.

I shall continue to avoid describing the particular game in public blogging, at least until the project pitch has been delivered, and its fate decided. At that point, on success, there would be great joy, a press release or two, and then six months of deep magicking. On failure, there would be surprise and disappointment, and perhaps a time of deep magicking anyway with an eye to float the title in the upcoming XNA Community Games thing. But the first route would be quite preferable, since it would include a great deal of support from Microsoft.

This project will happen under the Appleseed aegis. (I'm ramping up a DBA to use specifically for game publishing.) I'll look for ways to involve Volity, but Volity is not a deal-maker-or-breaker. No matter what happens, though, there's plenty of opportunity for positive blowback in Volity's direction.
[ profile] classicaljunkie volunteered to help clean up my tags, found the LJ page that lets you mass-delete them after sorting by usage, and (with my blessing) nuked all tags I've used only once. This cleared up well over half of my alloted 1,000 tag-slots. So, my new posts have tags again. Aren't you pleased.

• I have a copy of the webclient alpha mostly running on Brie, my creamy white MacBook. This is very important, not just because Brie's become my primary all-sorts work machine, but because I left's codebase in a sad state when I last touched it, way out of synch with Subversion. No more of that.

The webclient daemon's regression tests all pass again, as of this evening, and I'm raring to write more tests. Recent work for clients saw me learning to really learn to rock Test::WWW::Mechanize and I am honestly looking forward to writing a mechanized agent that will try to play Tic-Tac-Toe games over the web and report back to me. (I may need to write and install a deterministic TTT bot to complement it.)

I have a goal to launch the damn alpha by April 1, and feel it's entirely realistic. I'll miss it only if I get too distracted by pay-money-work, which isn't impossible, but even in that case I'm gonna get a lot of good work done.

• My consulting business's brand-identity work is down to negotiating business card design, which is just a peewee version of the website's design. I am nearly there! I will be so happy when I can finally announce the business's name and identity loud n proud, though I haven't been exactly keeping it a secret in the meantime. (Have begun renegotiating my open contracts to point at the company, rather than at me personally.)

• Idled in the The Burren with [ profile] taskboy3000 this evening to discuss the format of upcoming Gameshelf shoots, the likes of which you have never seen before, at least not on this particular show. Mailed our director about it. He seems really energized about our trying new things, and quite into playing his role through all of it. We are lucky to have him on-board.

Is there a word for when a baby decides that a certain person in a certain setting is a fascinating source of visual data, and so stares and stares? Mr. T. Boy had one of these attached to him tonight, from the next table over. Very amusing.


Wednesday, 19 March 2008 15:30
I have been playing too much Half Life 2, during this, the first week (of two) I've set aside for the greater glory of Volity. Before putting it away one last time, I made sure to unlock the 5-point XBox achievement you get for killing a headcrab by throwing a toilet at it.

The story and structure reminds me a lot of Marathon. This is not a bad thing. I'm unsatisfied with the characterization of the protagonist, though. Judging from NPC reactions he's a brilliant and creative scientist, but from PC actions he's a silent, staring robot who is only able to follow orders and kill things: a standard-issue FPS dude. This same setup played into the plot of Marathon in a clever way, but here they just pretend it ain't so, nearly to the point of self-parody.

I was amused to find the turrets from Portal as enemies, and then meta-amused that I thought of them as such, since this game is two years older. (And the turrets are, sadly, far less polite.)

Other than last night's yuckiness I've been really enjoying my XBox. It's everything I hoped it'd be, from both fun-having and game-wonking perspectives. I have added my (cough) GamerCard to the games page, and here it is again:

Yeah, "zendonut" was taken. I came up with that username when I was 28 (for my first AIM account) and while I still use it where I can, it may be the last silly internutty handle I'm capable of creating. I have so far run into nobody else using anything resembling their full legal name as their XBox handle, which makes me feel unique, and old, but not in a bad way.
I am pleased to announce a new homepage for The Gameshelf, at the same location it's always had ( I started to build it last week as a way to learn Movable Type 4 (which, gord willing, I may soon use to help a potential client) and finished it yesterday. This is the first time I've felt confident that I have a site for the show that people are going to want to visit more than once. This also completely obviates the site, which I'll draw down presently.

Why, yes, there are Google ads on it now. No, I don't expect to make a significant amount of money from them today. But I've started to become quite curious about the magical world of passive income, and wish to begin some experimentation. This page is the most appropriate (or least inappropriate) one I have to spray ads onto. I like how they fit on the current layout: visible, but polite and unassuming.

In related news I'm a little embarrassed the most recent episode talks up and links to the Icehouse Game Design Competition, as the winter 2007 IGDC might have just ended before it even began with a teh drama flameout on the Icehouse mailing list. I like the competition, and hope that someday it can find a dependable moderator with an emotional stability better than a 14-year-old cheerleader's. (IIRC this is the second one to fail after Zarf retired. To this person's credit, at least they managed to push out one competition cycle, unlike the first guy, who simply vanished from the internet after all the entries were submitted.)

It's less the mere passage of time and more the active work on another project that makes the call to return to Volity get stronger. Regardless, and despite how close we are to an alpha release, I'm still feeling pretty burned out on the whole deal. The October collapse came after almost six months of obsessed-focus work, and it was a reaction of equal magnitude, compressed into one evening and aimed straight down. I'm not recovered yet.

That project isn't really something I can return to properly until I am once again truly excited about it. Perhaps it after I'm done setting up the shoots for the next Gameshelf episode, I can work up a good Volity froth again. We will see.
Worked for close to six hours editing The Gameshelf #6. Too much time spent in tweaking greenscreen stuff - it won't look quite as good as last time, sadly - and nosing around for appropriate (and CC-licensed) background music. If you know of an instrumental that would work well against several minutes of blathering about a corporate-takeover-themed board game, please do share. (Especially if I can legally use it.)

I now understand why other low-budget (but still some-budget) shows like The Phantom Gourmet seem to like having a small library of background music, from which they pick something more or less arbitrarily to throw on when nothing else is happening.

I hope to finish the show tomorrow. We'll see.

After negotiating a couple of points, I signed a contract that will keep me in part-timey work for the rest of the year. Suddenly, half my work-time allotment vanishes, ker-chunk, and I have to be careful about farming out the remainder. I will allow myself to take on one more such contract, and that's it until 2008. If both of the big uncertain deals pop the question this week, I'll almost certainly have to turn one down. A good problem to have. Until then, I've slowed down my frantic job hunt.

In the background, I've felt myself warming up to the idea of working on the web client again. Don't expect me to lift a finger for it until my working schedule is completely defined, but when that happens (and it won't be too much longer), I'll be ready to pick it back up again. It doesn't hurt that someone put the idea into my head that, once it's up and running, I can much more reasonably add Volity game developer to my list of services as a software consultant...

What's new

Monday, 8 October 2007 21:46
I stopped panicking about money after I was reminded that my accounts receivable has got stuff in it. This is not money in the bank, but it is the next best thing, and it's from clients who are good about paying on-time. I am fine.

All that said, looking for more work remains my ay-numbah-wun priority. Things I did this afternoon included uploading my resume to and setting up Google Reader to start eating various job sites' RSS feeds. I was pleased to see that many sites let you subscribe to feeds with search strings attached, and happy to see that, say, "perl telecommute" is rather well represented.

The Andys and I met for an in-person webclient test this evening, and quickly found some zonkers that I wouldn't have ever found by myself. On the other hand, the damn thing is running on a subdomain and actually working in every other way. I'll fix these bugs in the next day or two and resubmit them to my colleagues. It would be nice to agree that it works before I vanish for vacation on Saturday. (Well before, actually.)

But, yeah. It's October, so there is now undeniable schedule slip. But there's equally undeniable release-type activity happening now, so I am not sad.

Saturday night [ profile] mr_choronzon had a little birthday gathering. I was reminded that I forgot to blog about one of the most WTF things that's happened to me this year, when he and I and [ profile] lone_phaedrus were hanging out at his place a few weeks ago. Somehow the conversation turned to nunchucks, which is allowed because Mr. P is a ninja. Mr. C's reaction to this was to produce a pair of nunchucks and commence to flipping them around with the genuine skill and confidence of someone's demo reel.

I was as WTF about this as you'd be if, like, some random friend of yours suddenly did exactly the same thing. I guess it'd be less completely reality-jarring if we were all, like, 15, but this was just odd. In a delightful way.


Tuesday, 2 October 2007 00:01
Today was wacky. A kerfuffle resulted from's highly intolerant mailserver refusing an important mail from a client several days ago, due to the fact that the mail was sent from a hotel with a reputation for spam. The client didn't see the bounce message that the server instantly shot back at them, so they didn't know that I never read the mail. Come Monday morning, frolics abounded. By Monday evening, everything's settled, insert folk juju-dispersal here.

Then had a good Volity meeting. There's only a few steps left before the alpha, which is now slightly late if you want to be a bastard and hold me literally to the dates I called months ago, but it's gonna be close-enough-dammit. Cross your fingers.

During the bits of downtime today, I worked on updating my professional presence. Following a conversation I had with [ profile] taskboy3000 last week, I'm switching my self-assigned title to "Software Consultant", and have been busily retouching all my resumes and linkedins and such appropriately. I also redid my contracting consulting page, expanding the portfolio section and dropping a lot of the technobabble and buzzwords, reckoning that the resume's a better place for that stuff.

Need to redesign I am tired of the "Big Gray 7" layout that's, what, four years old now? On pages like this, that top bar is just oppressive.

Some days

Sunday, 23 September 2007 22:49
Thursday was a sick day. Clobbered and miserable. At the end of the day I greeted the returned [ profile] classicaljunkie and she gave me Tylenol cold & flu pills, which (after an hour of sleep) snapped me back into sensibility like a light switch. I swear by this product now.

Friday did some contract work for the first time in a while. (This coming week I'm gonna be doing a lot of it, actually.) After that, delivered an HTML snapshot of the web client's table UI (not super-easy to do since it's a slippery DHTML app) to[ profile] radiotelescope. He insisted that this demo needs to make a much better first impression than I was preparing, and then volunteered to help make it happen himself. I have no problem with this sort of criticism!

Saturday started to set up the machine that will host After moving over! It's mostly Gameshelf episodes, and I discover that a few seem to exist in duplicate. Well, i can do something about that, at least. Then attended an art salon featureing [ profile] cthulhia's paintings, marymary's poetry and C's recorder-playin. It was delightful.

Sunday, more machine setup, and reaching out to prodigal users via email to tell em what's up and ask if they'd like to stay. Discovery, via [ profile] daerr, of Google's domain-level management apps. I am likely to point's MX records at it to let Google handle all my domain's incoming mail. Yeah, I know.

Afternoon meeting with [ profile] taskboy3000 about the Gameshelf shoot we're having on Tuesday, including a script read-through. Also, we played MULE again. Trader Joe's dinner with [ profile] classicaljunkie, and then we hung out at [ profile] dictator555 and Nate's place for a while, drinking their tea while I wrote some new game news segments. It will be a good show.
Last night's growling due to happy news: my web-client work is more or less integrated into (my test branch of) the website, and it works on all browsers I can be bothered to care about, including Opera (yes, I have tested it on my Wii) and both MSIEs. I'm going to push to take it live by month's end.

It's technically not slippage, because my original deadline was Sept. 30. Let us ignore all the boasting about earlier releases I did a month ago.

I do all my JavaScript development on Firefox + Firebug, and Safari generally follows suit without any extra work. It took me an hour or two on Saturday to make it Opera-compatible, figuring out that it didn't like how I was handling cookies. Opera seems to insist that you set the cookie header used for subsequent AJAX calls with the DOM's document.cookie property, and no other way will do. Fine, whatever.

It took all day Sunday to get the MSIEs in line. They are turds and I hate them. Their only redeeming feature in this matter is the surprising fact that both 6 and 7 had the same problems, and I got both to work simultaneously.

The IE problems, each of which took far too long to isolate:

  • IE silently ignores requests to add <tr>s to <table>s via the DOM appendChild method. You must instead add them to a <tbody> which is itself a child of the table. Seriously, what the fuck; who uses <tbody> normally?

  • IE caches the result of each AJAX call, and subsequent calls to that same URL (a very common polling pattern) will result in no request at all being made, but instead a silent return of the old value, so it looks like it made a request. You can get around this by (meaninglessly) adding the current time to the URL's query string, or adding a bogus If-Modified-Since header to the request. (On the plus side, this made me finally add decent logging to my server-side daemon, since I couldn't figure out what was going wrong without it.)

  • For the life of me, I couldn't use any Prototype.js methods to refer to elements that had been added to the DOM tree since the document's original rendering. I finally punted, adding such elements to some global arrays upon creation (with apologetic code comments noting how fucking stupid MSIE is) and just accessing those instead later on.

Working with Microsoft software as a developer makes me so angry. It makes me angrier than thinking about the current American government and its foreign policy, because I usually burn through that in a few minutes. But working with Microsoft means wading around waist-deep in a vat of pure shit for hours. It gives me a hate that can last for days afterwards. I really hope I can minimize exposure to it as the web client project moves forward.
prog: (khan)
And now I am going to go drink until I can say "Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer" without shouting FUCKING in between each word.
Here is a much less psychotic looking picture of me at the lakeside, though my head is still huge because it was taken at arm's length with the iBook's built-in camera.

Someday I will re-assemble my camera-shaped camera. )

I proclaimed this to be a working vacation and I did work, to an extent. Put in all the time I could for the client - only about three hours, before my plate was clean - and kicked Volity around a little. Made palpable progress towards the demo but there are too many bugs to fix before that can happen, and this just isn't the environment for swatting bugs. Gotta be at my own desk for that.

Started a new Angband character (a Dunedain ranger) and am having maybe my best game yet. Controlling the urge to just play and play fairly well, this time, though I wonder if that will remain true when I'm back by myself in Somerville. There's novelty with this character - she's become deadlier with a bow than anyone I've run through the dungeon previously - and I am having honest fun with it, though there's still a distinct and unpleasant aftertaste of addiction after each play session. We'll see what happens. Anyway, I finally learned how to use the targeting command and my dude killed Wormtongue yesterday, which in my experience is the point where the game starts to get really interesting. (Whenever you manage to splat your first non-Farmer Maggot-related unique, anyway.)

Learned to play Tigris & Euphrates this weekend, and decided I really like it, though I'm quite far from figuring out any sense of good play. I've felt vaguely bad for years that I didn't know how to play this T&E, though, which is considered a high water-mark of modern board games. I did play it once before, and for whatever reason it didn't take and I found it confusing and frustrating.

General personal rule I've recognized for some time but need to enforce better: If my opponents point out a good move to make, and it is different from a good move I had been eyeing, I should not make that move even if it seems better. Since the people I usually play games with are my awesome friends, I do not accuse them of deceitfully metagaming me; rather, it's a personal fault to always see a new suggestion as better than one that I came up with myself. Their decision may be wise, but mine is based on the most intimate knowledge of my personal game state and sense of how I'm likely to follow through on the move. In yesterday's game, I ignored a tile-placement suggestion at first but took advantage of it a couple of turns later, and it scored big for me. But later I made a game-ending move right when it was pointed out to me, and ended up losing by one point. Was still a fun and rewarding game, but: yes, that's enough of that.
WebGamut, as I've been calling it, is very close to demoable. I've got it integrated with my local copy of the website, and it works on both Safari and Firefox. (Haven't tested on Opera or any MSIEs yet.) Remaining obstacles largely involve irritating session management issues, more in the realm of general web programming than anything specific to Volity. Still, I won't announce it until I'm fairly certain that people can play with it without getting stuck.

This post was originally going to be a longish ramble about my elusive hunt for happiness, based on the fact that Volity progress pleases me, but performing contract programming work literally makes me happy, happy enough to whistle and chirp from the satisfaction of good work being done, as well as from thoughts of the money a-rolling in.

But it's not really much of a conundrum; Volity is a long long project and, unlike my contract work, there's no external force telling me explicitly what my goals are, so there's no way to feel good about meeting these goals. The best I can do is feel momentarily satisfied that I am digging in the correct direction.

And so I drag this project into the year's final trimester. The web client is ahead of schedule, which is good, but there's still so much to do. Can you blame me for looking over at a certain neglected pillar and wishing I could just make art instead, work on projects which have a definitive final draft? Projects which, in other words, are not software? At least for the time being I can take genuine pleasure from the contract work, which I conveniently enough must do if I wish to continue eating (without mooching).

ETech 2008?

Friday, 17 August 2007 12:43
Seriously considering applying to ETech 2008's CFP. In fact, I have already written my (exactly) 100-word bio first, which with my ego is basically like eating dessert first:
Cut for flagrantly rampaging ego )
I can objectively state that applying would be a very bold move. I'd want to highlight the web client during the presentation, because it will have been in beta for several months by then - but at the time of my application, it's not even in alpha yet. On the other hand, everything's going to plan so well (and ahead of schedule) so far, it doesn't seem outright foolhardy, either.

Midweek stuff

Wednesday, 15 August 2007 10:25
Zarf lent me Hofstadter's new I am a Strange Loop yesterday. Between him and the reviews I've read the consensus seems to be "Eh... it's worth reading." It covers the same ground as Gödel, Escher, Bach, examining how consciousness can emerge from unconscious material, but is both shorter and much more explicit about it - GEB is often seen and even loved by its readers as an almanac-style funhouse of art and logic not arranged around any particular topic, and though the book helped set him for life Hofstadter has always regretted its unintended ambiguousness. I read two chapters of the new book in bed last night and am already convinced that if nothing else it contains enough new angles to stay interesting throughout, so I'm cool with it.

The review I read suggests that I can expect him to spend a lot of ink alternately and mourning his dead wife and thrashing John Searle's anti-AI arguments, which I've already seen him do years ago in Le Ton Beau de Marot (highly recommended reading, by the way, if you haven't heard of that one). But this time he's doing it in a GEBby context and not a linguistic one (though these are certainly related to begin with) so we'll see. If I trust any author, I trust this one.

I touched base with my client on Sunday evening, reminding them that they gave me zero hours of work last week but adding that this was OK given my webclient push, and I wouldn't complain if they chose to withhold for another week. The response has been uncharacteristic silence, such that I've been peeking in on their ticketing system just to make sure that I hadn't missed anything. Well, I'm getting what I asked for.

I don't think that I've overtly noted here yet that doing paid web work on the side of Volity has been good for my own project. Facing and overcoming challenges that don't originate from my own needs forces me to learn new web programming and styling techniques, broadening the arsenal I bring to Volity webwork. In June, for example, paid work encouraged me to get up to speed with CSS - all the books I own on the subject are from 2003 and therefore nearly useless - and for this reason the web client has a beautiful layout without a single <table> involved (except for the actual tables).

Yes, I still have to see how badly it fails on MSIE6. If it is full of fail I will be tempted to just lock that damn thing out and require MSIE7, or the non-shitty alternative browser of your choice. We'll burn that bridge when we come to it.

Speaking of 2003, I've been thinking lately that as of this summer I've been working on Volity for the length of a typical American undergraduate education. All that time on a single project! It makes me feel a little panicky until I look at it sideways and figure: yeah, that's about right, actually.

I can't wait to show y'all the webclient prototype. I can't until [ profile] daerr builds a proxying solution that will let the webserver freely make AJAX calls to my Jabber connection broker daemon. For the time being, I have been having the daemon itself serve all the static HTML bits as well as the Jabber stuff, and just hit itself with the AJAX. This... does not scale. Heh, it might scale actually but it would be utterly unmaintainable and I don't even want to feint in that direction, not even for the sake of a demo.

My voice of experience speaks here. This is how paranoid I am of a "oh, we'll just do it this way for the time being" hack becoming the permanent solution. No, I'm not giving that an inch.

I have been threatening to just shoot a video of the alpha running, and I just might resort to this if I can't do anything else this week.

Heh, the Diesel finally put up polite-but-firm little placards in its booths asking that they be used only by parties of three or more during "busier hours". It's 10am now and I see only couples and singles-with-laptops. Wonder how well this works when it's time. Oh, here comes a guy now... and he reads the card... and he keeps walking! Wow.

I used to stretch out in the booths by myself all the time, but at some point I lost the ability. The last time I did, earlier this year, I thought I could feel waves of resentment beating down on me from everyone else. I might have even picked up and moved to a table before I left!

Twice, attractive young women I do not know have asked to share the booth with me, and this always gives my day a little lift but it's probably a weak reason to seek to sit in the giant booths alone. I wonder whether mutual strangers might now recognize the look of argh-I-can't-sit-anywhere in each other as they wander around the cafe, and propose to become one-time Booth Buddies.

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