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Entries from October 2022
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October surprise (31 Oct at 21:15)
Hi! It's the busy time of year again and I feel behind on a great many things.

BUT! I did actually get a lot done this month. First, we finally got some some Dangerous Material Experts to come out and properly abate the asbestos-containing vermiculite in the attic, which had been up there not causin' anybody any problems, but whose undisturbability was blocking a whole series of home improvement projects (e.g. get better insulation in the attic) that had been cumulatively weighing on my mind for years. Even though I'm willing to do a lot of work myself (I prefer it, even) asbestos abatement is a rare example of something I don't even think about trying. So that's great and now I have a new urgent problem, which is an uninsulated attic as freezing temperatures approach, but this one is something I can manage to do myself with some grind, which as you know is my cup of jam. The hardest part may be getting all these huge bags of fiberglass Home from the Depot:

Mininsulation
Mininsulation


but the Mini is barely big enough to take two "passengers" at a time with the top down.

And speaking of grinding being my tea, I finally finished the Pac Tom Project! Well, finished in the sense that I did the final run and all the streets are now completely complete. The reason I took so long to actually finish this thing (it's been one street away for over a year now) is that I wanted it to have a fitting finale, with a costume and help from friends to commemorate and film that finale, and the costume's construction was ambitious and hit some snags relating to physics and so on. But this last few weeks have been perfect fall weather in Pittsburgh (and it's about to get Not Perfect Weather real soon), so that was enough motivation to solve the problems and get it done. I will put together a video shortly for this project, so I don't want to say too much more or officially celebrate here, as the video will be the right way to experience it (unless you are one of the gang who helped out, and then: Thanks!!).

And speaking of running, I did do the Detroit Marathon a few weeks before that. It was a fun course, with the bridge into Canada at sunrise being the highlight (I found running through the security checkpoints to be weird and funny, too). We had perfect conditions (cool and dry) and the hotel was right on the start line, and the course is very flat, so it could have been a good opportunity to set a PR. But I'm definitely still not feeling recovered from COVID (but I ran a whole marathon; I know, cry me a river right?), and relatedly did not train enough, so I did not push myself (and also Walled pretty bad around mile 18). 3h52m05s is not that bad given the circumstances.

Finally I did play some more games. I was in the mood for a low-stress one, so I played Need for Speed(TM) Heat on sale for $3.50, which was definitely worth $3.50. Imagine Grand Theft Auto V but you can't ever leave your car. I liked the day/night mechanic and running from the cops was actually stressful and hard (until you figure out the tricks). Humorous to me is that almost my exact real-life car is in this game, but for a long time I was not high-enough level to drive it (which is also silly because it gives you like a Ferrari first), but that was a good goal to unlock it. I'm done with that one now and now I'm midway through Manifold Garden, which is pretty neat. It reminds me a lot of Antichamber, whose puzzles and general vibe I think I liked more, but some of the graphics effects in M.G. are quite unique and impressive. Meanwhile one of my side projects for this video involves some very simple 3D graphics programming, which I suck at, and so when my brain sugars run out and I give up on the graphics programming to play video games instead, it's like an extra humiliating experience.
(3 comments — almost 2 days ago)   [ comment ]
Entries from September 2022
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ICFP Contest 2022, Great Race 2022, Birthday 2022 (30 Sep at 22:53)
As I mentioned in the post 1208 we did get the band partly back together for this year's ICFP Programming Contest. This is a freeform (any size team, "any computational resources at your disposal") 72-hour contest that I've participated in many times before (and led the design of the 2006 contest). This year's was a pretty good problem which was basically to try to draw pictures using a little instruction set with a strange cost function. The instructions are things like: split a rectangle into subrectangles, color a rectangle, swap rectangles of equal size, merge rectangles. We had a team of four working full time (I took a vacation day from my "programming" job to program this instead) with a some help from others in the chat room. As expected we all kinda gravitated towards our favorite part of the problem (often, not the most important thing), like I wrote some kind of mediocre heuristic solver and got distracted by some algorithmic subproblem and optimizing code; Jason made a UI; David wrote submission and solution management infrastructure and Adam dabbled in everything. We didn't do that great; at some points we were in the top 10, or even briefly at 1 because our automated solution and submission infrastructure allowed us to solve a new batch of puzzles before anyone else. But by the last day we were pretty behind. It's easy to imagine how we could have done much better at the contest—my solver was not that bad in principle but I had ignored part of the cost function (cut size) that I thought was a minor detail, but which turned out to maybe be the most impactful term, for example. But it's hard to imagine having more fun; we definitely achieved that late-night delirium of in-joke upon in-joke that was just like the grad school days. (I also take some pride in how many bugs we found and reported in the task and support code!)

Here's an example image our solution produced:
Problem 27, Robot
Problem 27, Robot
Somehow this one reminds me of artwork from "Sword and Sworcery."

I'm feeling somewhat better than I did last month, and had some tests that have at least cleared me for active duty, so that's good. I've been trying to get back in running shape, and for example ran Pittsburgh's Great Race this last weekend. I've run this one many times before, both in an attempt to get a good time and in ridiculous costumes and also several times just casually. This weekend was in the casual category, and I had an acceptable time of 44m03s. In a few weeks we're going to do the Detroit Marathon, which is exciting because the course goes under the Detroit river into Canada! But I'm not going to be in shape enough to set a personal record on this one (despite my declaration of intent in May) nor will I try any shenanigans.

Real quick in Video Games: I finished Sniper Elite 5 (it continued to be exactly what you expected) and started Stray (excellent animation and mood; not totally sold on "gameplay" but I'm enjoying it), and then binged Trombone Champ. This game has pretty much the same vibe as my favorite YouTube video, and though it's very silly, it's also a pretty solid rhythm/music game. Some of the original tracks get stuck in my head for sure. No way I am going to try to get the S-rank achievements but I did become a proper Champ.

But mostly I've been spending my free time trying to wrap up this most recent silly programming project, which I think is fundamentally a good joke and probably new, but there's always something to either get distracted or stymied by. I'm in the phase where new project ideas are beckoning me, which tends to be a pretty good motivator!

(Oh yeah, and then I turned 43 years old!)
(4 comments — a month ago)   [ comment ]
Entries from August 2022
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Do we do Dewey or Rehoboth or both? (31 Aug at 22:43)
Wow, August sure went by fast. Unfortunately the Covid after-effects I mentioned in the last post are continuing to vex me, specifically the lightheadedness/dizziness that just happens throughout the day. It's pretty annoying, but having had some tests now, at least we can probably rule out some scary things, and it might just be a matter of taking it easy for a while. Taking it easy is not easy for me but I do like hard things!

On that front, we went on a short little vacation to Delaware, which is drivable and has some nice beaches on the Atlantic ocean. Even though it was a very hot weekend and the second-to-last of the summer, it was less crowded than I was worrying, and generally quite nice. Before that we saw The Beths in Baltimore, at a great little club called Ottobar. I love this indie rock band from New Zealand and they rarely play in the US, so I was willing to make a trip to see them; of the drivable places Baltimore was the only one that didn't conflict with anything. But after we booked it they added a show in Pittsburgh! In fact they are playing a few miles away just as I write this. But the show and venue was great and we did other stuff on the trip, so no regrets. On the way back for example, we stopped at the corner of Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to hike into the woods to the little stone marker that indicates their triple-point (I guess this was also where the Mason–Dixon line began?), for the sake of my side quest to "run" (hiking counts too I guess if I'm recording a GPS trail) across as many border crossings as I can. Doing multiple crossings in one trip is bonus points. This one is not as good as Germany, France, Switzerland but it's still good bonus points.

I did finish Thimbleweed Park, which I recommend for genre fans, though I did have to get a couple of hints. I tried Cursed to Golf but I don't think I'm getting into it... it just feels a bit too slow to do the actual golfing and too easy to have your run ruined by a mistake you made several strokes ago. I decided I needed a thing that's less frustrating, so I picked up Sniper Elite 5 which is exactly what it sounds like.

I made some more stuff for my expansive and silly programming project that will probably become the subject of my next technical video, so that's something. The ICFP Programming Contest is this coming weekend, and I will participate in that with the same old crew (look for team "Cult of the Bound Variable") as long as the programming task is appealing.

OK but now I must get to bed because I have an early doctor's appointment tomorrow.
(2 comments — almost 3 months ago)   [ comment ]
Entries from July 2022
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C\shamrock{}VID-Jr. (31 Jul at 23:12)
Well, it looks like the last post was right when I had "recovered" from COVID the first time. I had tested negative several days in a row, but then started feeling bad again, and had a full rebound with strong positive tests and everything. The second time through was a lot worse than the first but after five more days I was at least testing negative again. Since then I'm mostly back to normal; a lingering cough (not surprising) and some bouts of lightheadedness. These had been keeping me from running (plus trying to take it easy) most of the month, but I have been picking it up a bit for the last week or two. It's pretty weird how my legs feel in shape but the rest of the body, not so much. Quite a contrast with two months ago when I nearly ran a PR marathon. Bleh!

Fortunately I am not experiencing "brain fog," at least no more than the usual 40s stuff. So I've been spending a lot of time on this silly programming project I mentioned in the previous post. For a while I had the feeling that I had invented a "programming contest" for myself and was in "the good part" of it (is it even possible?; breakthroughs while thinking about something else; optimizations reducing from "possible but silly" to "almost reasonable"; etc.). And maybe this is a good way to conceptualize future projects or project prompts. This one is still in the expansive phase but I have some "results" for sure now, and I think a story is starting to come together. Of course it remains confidential but how about this mysterious image?

op4strobe
op4strobe


Amazingly this 80s "school portrait laser background" emerged from an ernest attempt to visualize something computational, not to create artwork.

I did finally finish Elden Ring. I certainly didn't 100% it but I visited all the places you can go and beat all the accessible dungeons and bosses and that stuff. It's definitely a good game that I recommend, although it did suffer from the same late-game absurdly-strong-character problem that most of these open-world games have. I truly had no idea what was happening in pretty much any of the cutscenes, which I think is a compliment. After that one I wanted something pretty different. I played through MO:Astray which was a decent but forgettable puzzle platformer (highlight here are some well-designed boss fights). I'm also about half-way (?) through Thimbleweed Park, which is a point-and-click adventure by the creator of Monkey Island (one of my all-time favorites). It's good in the same way those old LucasArts games were, and obviously targeted at people like me. I have only needed a few hints but I admit to such weakness after trying to apply every verb to every pair of inventory item and object in town, you know?
  [ comment ]
Entries from June 2022
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C\shamrock{}OVID-22 (30 Jun at 23:58)
Hello. I bolted from my chair in the middle of a relaxing late-night game of Elden Ring after remembering to do the ceremonial post before the end of the month.

A few weeks ago we went to Ireland for a wedding (not mine), the first time I've been there and our first international trip since COVID. It was pretty fun; we drank beer (I discovered that Ireland has good beer, but Irish Pubs are not the place to find it: It seems to be part of their "thing" to just have the same 5 mediocre things on draft) and went in some castles and climbed some rocky mountains. But then we got infected with COVID, which makes sense, as the wedding activities were exactly the kind of thing that will give you COVID. This was a rude disruption to the vacation that created many logistical problems and costs, but we did make it back and have pretty much recovered by now (I'm testing negative and even did some gentle running). I took antivirals (Paxlovid); it's hard to know whether they specifically helped me, but I think it is cool technology and it seemed likely from looking at the studies that it would do more good than harm. So assuming that I continue to get better and can continue my running training, it might even turn out to be overall a relief to have that in my rear-view. \fingers_crossed{}

During my illness I played a lot of video games (of course) since I wasn't finding much energy for projects. I played through Shotgun King: The Final Checkmate (recommendation and gift from Adam); I've been a Benjamin Soule fan since the early days of Ludum Dare and this game is a good exemplar. The gameplay is a bit like Crypt of the Necrodancer (but turn-based). I beat it on hard and that's enough for me. And speaking of Chess I also discovered the engine called Maia, which tries to predict human moves rather than trying to destroy all humans with computer precision, and this is my new favorite engine to play against (it's on lichess as @maia1 or @maia5). It is much more fun than Stockfish because it will fall for traps and when it makes a losing move, it tends to be a reasonable looking one, not like the weird random ones that low-level Stockfish will make. But anyway back to the finer arts, videojuegos: I also played through The Looker, which is a free, single-sitting parody/tribute to The Witness. It has a few creative puzzles in it, and I found it funnier than I was expecting ("Gravity's Rainbow", ha ha), enough to get me through the uncustomizable controls! Then I played ElecHead which is a short puzzle platformer. This game has a small set of mechanics (which felt fresh) and they get a lot of mileage out of them, with constant new ideas. Very good game. I even stumbled upon the mysterious developer room organically. And then finally I'm on my hundred-somethingth hour of Elden Ring, but I'm pretty sure that when I destroy this other tree or whatever it is I'm doing (????), it will nearly be over.

I do have a little programming project going on, though, and I managed to succeed at the main "joke," so I'm pretty sure it will at least become a little paper or maybe even short video. So that's nice!
(4 comments — 4 months ago)   [ comment ]
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