Unhealthy for sensitive groups
(30 Jun 2023 at 11:52)
Quick one because we’re currently in Toronto and I will be holding up the Torontoing if I take too long to write. This is a weekend roadtrip with some friends, with the primary event being to see Herbie Hancock at the Toronto Jazz Festival. I was very impressed with how energetic and with-it Herbert was, at the age of 83. I hope I can hold up that well when I’m old(er), or have access to whatever super-drugs he has. Good show, although for most of us it was really just a pretext for having a road trip to explore this nice city. Unfortunately the trip has been ravaged by these wildfires, which have been blanketing this whole part of the continent with a choking miasma. At times the air has been rated “very unhealthy,” pushing into “hazardous,” probably the worst I’ve ever experienced. I find I’m pretty sensitive to it. So, sadly, one of my favorite vacation activities (exploring by running around) has been contraindicated, and we’re often doing reverse-covid masking protocols (mask outside) etc. The “good” news is that Pittsburgh seems to be actually worse than Toronto, so at least we didn’t drive into the Airborne Toxic Event; more like we drove around within it.
Since finishing my last video I got on to a project that was enqueued and that I was excited about, and then I got immediately sucked into another idea that came up, and then a third timely one. One is “very risky,” (probably won’t amount to anything), one is “risky” (may not work, but probably a decent fail-tale) and one is very likely to succeed with some work. So that’s a good mix. I’ve been trying a new thing as summer starts and the sun comes up early, which is to just get up and out of bed as soon as I wake, even if it’s hours earlier than I’d normally stir. Then I make a coffee and work on personal projects before work. It’s definitely making me a lot more tired (duh; I am getting less sleep) although it’s helping me fall asleep at night (duh; I am more tired). The unexpected thing about it is that it’s generally making me feel less anxious, because I’ve already gotten some work done on projects each day (so I don’t feel like I’m “behind”) and I enjoy starting the day with some focused Tom Time instead of heading directly into the barrage of e-mails and interruptions. Not sure it’s sustainable though.
We had some other wildfire smoke earlier this month, which made it natural to continue the habit of running on the treadmill indoors. The main goal continues to be to run a strict 5m00s mile, and the main method continues to be intervals where I try to run as long as I can at that pace, but I’ve set some “casual” treadmill PRs in the meantime: I did a 19m15s 5k, which is faster than I’ve ever done a 5k on the road, and a 5m17s mile, which is in the ballpark of my all-time best mile (5m05s; but I was in my 20s for that). These are all strict, where I don’t touch the handles or anything like that. But the treadmill is easier than outdoors because you don’t have the air resistance. Still, it looks like I should attempt a serious 5K during this cycle.
I’ve been playing Tears of the Kingdom and I think it’s great. Like the previous game, I’m playing it Tom-style: I’m only upgrading my stamina and focusing on exploration and deliberately trying to approach everything the wrong way. Lots of good opportunities for that, although I do feel like this game is a bit too hostile if you do this. (Easily missable but essential events, like during the tutorial.) I’m also pretty deep into Cathedral, a solid NES-style Metroidvania. I think the highlight on that one is the graphics and music (except for the graveyard music, which might be the most annoying track I’ve ever heard?); recommended for genre fans.
As noted before, this one is definitely pretty esoteric; refreshing for some after the way-too-relatable Pac Tom video. As usual, I started loathing the project at the end, so it was heartwarming that people cared about the video at all, let alone enoyed it. The video follows the paper pretty closely this time, which of course can be found in the epically long SIGBOVIK 2023 proceedings. I finally got my copy and have been working through it.
But, mostly this month has been a refractory period, compounded by the release of Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. I have been taking my time with this one, but as you have probably heard it is a large and good game and so that time has been considerable. Before that I finished off Lone Fungus; it was a good game, although I didn't get into it enough to want to complete all the optional astral fragments (the ones with the swinging spike balls are just irritating?). Ladybugs were enough!
I did work on new projects, of course. Not much to share about those, though. Both of the active ones are of the sort that "this might not work at all," which is kind of thrilling, but also kind of bad for me. So I need to balance it with some things that can definitely succeed but still scratch the project itch, like "make a nice CAD model of this thing even though a napkin sketch would suffice," or "do performance optimization on this library even though it doesn't need to be fast."
Ha! Remember when in the last post I said "maybe this weekend" about the video version of my SIGBOVIK project? Well then I started seriously working on it and remembered how much work video editing is. Also once I got into making it, I realized that this one is not really for general audiences, and the only appropriate approach is the "relax with your weird friend Tom as he gives an hour-long lecture about esoteric computer things, with occasional slapstick, and then at the end you're like wait what happened?", which is one of the more involved styles of video (mainly because of the hour-longness). It's really almost ready now, but it's not going to be done in time for this blog post, so April Fool's On Me, I guess. Probably tomorrow?
Pac Tom is making the rounds in local media now, with the latest being in Pittsburgh Magazine, just in case you are somehow not yet tired of that! Since the new year I've been working on a different kind of running project, which is to run a 5 minute mile on the treadmill. Back when I was about 29 I came really close to five minutes on a track (it was like 5m05s). At the time I wasn't particularly trying; I mean I ran that mile as fast as I could, but not with any particular goal in mind. I always regretted that I didn't just go back every weekend until I came in under 5:00. The treadmill is definitely easier, both because you don't have any air resistance, and because it paces for you, but it's still a good challenge would probably help me put that ghost to rest. What I've been doing is putting the treadmill at 5m00s pace (and I found out that this is as fast as it'll go, 12mph) and trying to run as long as I can at that pace. I'm up to about three and a half minutes. I may already have it in me, but part of this is just the mental struggle of making myself feel like I can keep it up that long, so approaching it gradually seems better for that. (And anyway you don't want to finish your projects too fast, you know?) On the way I set some new treadmill 5k PRs, although these did have a little bit of handsy stuff (holding onto the bars, which you can pretend is for taking a heart rate measurement, but it's really just because it makes it easier) so I won't claim any specific times here. Hands are not allowed for real records, like the fantasized 5 min mile.
Video games: I did finish COD of Duty 2, by getting each gun to its maximum level. I do not recommend doing that. Then I played through The Entropy Centre, which is a Portal-alike 3D puzzle game (not bad; I did have fun "solving levels the wrong way") and then Shantae 1/2 Genie Hero. The latter is a platformer, maybe a "Metroidvania." Lots of Magic Girl Anime vibes / humor. I really liked the one before it in the series, "Shantae and the Pirate's Curse." This one was also fun but I was not a big fan of the 3D environments, especially since you end up replaying the same maps so many times? But now I'm on to Lone Fungus, another Metroidvania which is definitely not as good in the art department, but which does have a bunch of precision segments that I'm enjoying. In this game there keep being areas where I'm like "I bet I can do this jump already with damage boosting etc. even though I clearly don't have the right equipment yet," which of course I love and grind away at, but then the equipment I need is right on the next screen, which takes some of the fun out of it.
I think this is all. I'm going to put the final touches on this vid!
We did it! Due to mysterious heroes and a fortunate time anomaly, they managed to get a SIGBOVIK together after all. The proceedings are like 350 pages, with papers from all over the place! They are supposed to be up on the SIGBOVIK 2023 website soon. The conference went pretty smoothly although we didn't get everything done as slickly (no livestream, etc.) as has happened in the past. There were a number of people who wanted to meet me at the event (and/or sign their body parts, etc.), including some students who made the trip from Rochester (!), which is cool but also still a strange experience.
I submitted one paper, which is called GradIEEEnt Half Decent, though it is a multi-part affair. I gave a talk today, and I'm working on a video for it, although it's a bit much to get a long paper, a talk, and a video all done for the same moment these days. Maybe this weekend, or otherwise soon because I'm eager to be done with this darn thing (and excited about the projects that are queued up!)
Speaking of eager to be done, I am still addicted to COD of Duty 2: Modern Warfare 2, but I decided that I can retire once I get every gun to its maximum level. I am almost done with this, and I already did all the intolerable ones like the riot shield and PILA (more like PILE A' shit, amirite?), so that will be nice, and I can move back to the artful games before no doubt getting sucked into the Breath of the Wild sequel.
Lastly, the local NPR station did a segment about my "Pac Tom" project, which aired on Wednesday. You can listen or read on their site. I like the way it came out (though I wish I had provided a better audio feed—I must have screwed something up hooking it into Zoom, which I was using for the first time!) and a lot of people mentioned that they heard it on the radio, so I was also happy to learn that radio lives on!
I have this ridiculous moustache now that I grew in preparation for our vacation to Miami Beach. It's is what you could call a "handlebar moustache", the kind that can be twirled into little upturning curls at the ends, although that configuration is not very stable so it's often pointing down like an extremely exaggerated frown. I have in mind to shave the moustache, but, as with every time I have some facial hair the calculus is like, Now I have something of value, so you don't just go shaving something of value. In particular I am thinking of some scenes for this upcoming video I am making, and that the scenes would be funnier with a moustache. So that is what's going on with the face part of me right now.
I've finished up that silly project I started writing about in post #1207 but that then got interrupted by several other things (e.g. Pac Tom Finale). So now I just need to finish writing up the paper (and I made a big dent in writing it during vacation, which is one of the kinds of things I like to do when I'm on vacation, just wear my aviator sunglasses with the gradient tint and my ridiculous moustache and sit by the pool and write "research papers" on my iPad) and a video. This one is, like, not very relatable, so if you were disappointed that the Pac Tom video was too easy to understand, you may be less disappointed. I hope that we have a SIGBOVIK this year. It always feels like "maybe this is the year that the dream dies" around this time, until some hero emerges to organize it, but we do seem to be pushing it. It kind of has to be a CMU student organizing it, and at this point I don't really know any CMU students any more to try to talk into it. But even if there is no SIGBOVIK, I will make silly projects (although maybe never finish them due to No Deadlines).
Also embarrassing is that I keep getting sucked back into Cod Of Duty II: Cod. Warfare 2 (could be related to the World of Bouncecraft series?) since they keep putting up new chores that I can do to unlock new things that are a lot like the things I already unlocked, like guns that aren't good and high numbers and more chores. Which is also sad because it seems like there are a lot of other good games out there, like you just go on Steam and you see all these artful games, but you can't play them all, especially if you are nearly level 250 in Cod of Duty. An example of a "game" I have been "playing" is Acronymy.net, which was made by my friend David. It's basically self-explanatory, but I'll explain anyway: We're trying to build a full dictionary where each word is defined using an acronym (expansion of the word itself). So for example "gasket" is "gummy annular seal keeping everything tight." These are fun to make manually, but I've also been working on some tools for assisting that process, like using word2vec and some models I built myself, both because they're good toy problems and because I want to make good acronyms. Maybe a post with some more details about that in the future but for now I am feeling the Demand Upon the Yeomen.