game of life, hacker, cellular automata

Social Media vs Social Network

Last week I had a disagreement with some folks about what "social network" means, and my latest attempt to use alternatives to Facebook has really driven home how the distinctions here have been lost in both our language and the tools available to us.
A "social network" is a website (or app or other tool) that allows you to connect with people based on existing interpersonal connections, and form new ones. People you know, love, grew up with, work with, commute with, etc.
A "social media" platform allows people to interact with [usually] [mostly] strangers about specific pieces of content, like news articles, videos, screenshots, etc.
Of course, there is plenty of overlap, but the design of any new social-whatever site tends to lean strongly toward one or the other of these options, and that affects how people can and do use it.
I will quickly be pruning from my list of sites to follow the ones that focus on "influencers" and "celebrities" and "channels"; I don't need yet another way for random popular people on the internet to get my attention. My new year resolution to replace Facebook use with use of other platforms is meant to be about social networking; places I can interact with the same individuals repeatedly, develop connections, keep in touch, learn about my friends, organize events and discussions, etc.
PS: A few times I have tried and failed to start a wiki to categorize and discuss and inform about these sorts of distinctions and how they affect the ways we communicate with each other. Here's the initial skeleton of something I tried last year and might pick up again this year:
game of life, hacker, cellular automata

Duty, of the fiduciary and other sorts
It has become apparent to me that a lot of people are entirely unaware of this concept. Even among people that I know who are aware of it, they seem to be generally unable to incorporate it into their perception of others' actions.
Normally I would be very general in a post like this, but I want to open with an example that is at the forefront of my life right now, in the hopes of giving you something to anchor your thoughts to. That example is as follows:
As a board member, I have a **legal obligation** to prioritize the success of the Loophole project over any individual's feelings or the health of my own relationships.
I am not going to go into the history of fiduciary law here. If you want more details on that there are plenty of legal resources online. If you object to this duty existing, you will need to take that up with about a thousand years worth of judges and legislators.
My purpose in this post is to discuss my approach to obligation and duty and responsibility more generally. Before I had ever heard of fiduciary duty, and before I was mature enough to grasp legal concepts and jargon, I was raised according to what I now recognize are the same core concepts that lead to those laws. The duty that a fiduciary has to their client, I feel to some degree to every person and project to which I apply myself.
When I say I'm going to get a project done, I'm going to prioritize it over other things and people that I have not made the same commitment to. When I say I'm going to protect you, it may be at my own expense or harm to myself.
This shows even more intensely when the other people have made the same commitment, and I have written about that before. If you and I both commit to getting a project done, I am going to value your feelings less than those of someone else who did not make that commitment, and theirs generally less than our goal.
Think of it this way... Before you and I try to hang a painting together, suppose we formed Hanging This Painting LLC and both signed on as board members. As fiduciaries, we would each be required to prioritize the success of the company over other not-illegal outcomes for third parties (such as a neighbor being unhappy). Further, there are effects that would be illegal for us to force on a third party that we might be required to endure ourselves (such as missing work at our day jobs).
That imaginary scenario is how I feel about almost every such endeavor, to some degree. This is why I frequently find myself choosing success over failure in a project even when it means making another person involved in the project upset; because that's exactly what I would be required to do if I had officially accepted the duty of getting it done, as I have with the corporations on whose boards I sit.
I know most people don't feel this sort of duty or obligation. I occasionally revisit this topic in the hopes I'll learn something new or come to some new realization or understanding. Today I'm just trying to give it a bit more context and framing since the legal aspects are relevant to my life at the moment.
game of life, hacker, cellular automata

The outcome of being rejected by default.

 Over the last few days and weeks someone close to me has indulged my need for deeper conversation about my behavior and led me to realize something that I've been doing for a while but had not previously nailed down.
People often tell me "If you do X thing, you make it unlikely the other person will interact with you again, heed your future advice, etc, and thus reduce your overall success rate in your goals".
Ten or twenty years ago I wasn't as much of an asshole as I am today. I wasn't an asshole at all. I don't think I did or said a single thing to anyone in high school that would be described as unfriendly. I can't recall ever driving someone away during college. Moving into adult life, the trend was mostly the same as I started socializing at video game events and geeky conventions.
What I do recall is being a social outcast, being bullied, being made fun of, being ignored (at best) by the people I was attracted to, etc. Some of this was due to not being attractive. Some was due to being neuroatypical. Some was due to being short, or white, or always the new kid at school, or other factors outside my control.
I think the turning point was when I started taking on responsibility for accomplishing things. I volunteered, then staffed, then directed various events of various sizes. Based on my previous experience, I knew that no matter what I did, most of the people I interacted with would choose not to interact with me again, to ignore what I had to say, etc. This left me making decisions where that variable wasn't relevant; I knew that whether people were happy with my decisions or not wouldn't change how they responded to me personally or in the future.
That led to me making decisions where the decision itself made people respond in those ways. As far as they know, it was my decision and action that led to that outcome, and if they are capable of perceiving cause and effect they perceive this as a divergence from the default neutral outcome they would have expected.
At this point I have a decade of ingrained habit of basing my world view on this prediction. No matter what I do, people are going to avoid me, disengage from me, ignore my feedback, etc. That means that nothing I do is going to cause those outcomes, even if someone might perceive that to be the case. It means that when someone tells me my efforts are "net negative", they are probably comparing the observed outcome to their default predicted outcome based on neutral default reactions, while I am perceiving my efforts as net positive compared to the default negative outcome.
What has changed in the last few years is that I might have an opportunity to surround myself with people who might actually be welcoming IF I behave the way I did twenty years ago. What stops me from doing this is the uncertain timeframe, and my confidence in the continued negative outcomes along the way to that goal. Is it worth a year or a decade of going back to the default-negative results in order to eventually be surrounded by people with whom I have a default-neutral outcome?
game of life, hacker, cellular automata

A Week Back East

 A Week Back East
I did not attend Burning Man this year, because Victoria is stuck in Toronto and I've discovered that I don't like attending big events alone. Instead, I decided to visit Victoria and other friends and partners on the east coast. I discovered later that some friends would have wanted me to go to BM with them, and was also invited to some alternative events that I didn't previously know about, but the decision was already made.
First stop, Savannah GA, to visit a comet partner of mine. Thursday night I flew from San Francisco to Charlotte for a short layover before flying to Savannah. At least, that was the plan. The flight into Charlotte was slow to land and slow to taxi to the gate due to weather, leaving me just minutes to sprint across the concourse to catch my next flight. I made it as they were announcing last call. A few minutes later the captain announced we were being delayed for weather. A half hour later some of our flight crew had still not arrived on incoming flights. After two hours on the plane (the legal limit), they told us our flight was canceled. Of course, this was just after midnight so all the hotel websites had just switched over to refusing to allow reservations or give vacancy information for the night. I walked off the plane to the sight of a hundred people in line to speak to a single gate agent. Fortunately the automated system called and informed me I had been rebooked for morning within minutes, but I still needed to talk to a human about a hotel. I called customer service and got in their queue, and spent a while standing in the barely-moving line in the terminal. I eventually gave up and left to have breakfast and find a hotel on my own.
First stop was a Waffle House, which is my favorite destination for filling food in the middle of the night if I'm in the right part of the country. Then I started the slog through dewy grass and mud (of course, in the land of no sidewalks, and few street lights so walking in the road wasn't even remotely safe) to check the dozen nearby hotels. In the half hour of meandering to six hotels I managed to get through to two on the phone, striking out eight times. I lucked out with number nine, an extended stay chain I had never heard of. The room was very much a one star sort of experience, but the linens smelled clean and the shower worked and that's all I really cared about. As I got in the shower before bed, an hour and forty six minutes after I called them, I finally won the privilege of speaking to an airline representative on the phone. I told them I was too sleepy to deal with the problem and that I would contact them later, then I showered and went to sleep. (note: I actually took a break from writing at this point to go send my complaint to American Airlines)
Friday morning went pretty smoothly, getting to Savannah on time on the rebooked flight. I took an hourly bus from the airport to my hotel, where my partner from GA had already checked in the previous night (and very disappointingly spent it without me). Friday afternoon we went out to see a bit of downtown Savannah. We found a wonderful little bookstore built into an old house, with every nook and cranny filled with bookshelves. Then we had burgers and alligator meatballs and some other unremarkable things for lunch. That evening we met a friend of hers and their date who was through an amazing coincidence also visiting from the west coast, and the four of us had dinner at a very tourist-trap-y place called the Crab Shack, right on the water somewhere in the maze of creeks and rivers near the swampy parts of the shore. We ordered a three person platter after one of them warned that the four person platter would be too much. That was fortunate, because what we got was still far more than we could eat. I haven't had crawfish in years, or locally caught shrimp and crab either. The meal was good, we waved to the captive alligators, then we headed back into town. The nightcap was a very loud rooftop bar at another hotel, with karaoke we could barely talk over, then a walk along the riverfront and an attempt to ride a ferry which we could have taken the last trip of the night on if we wanted to get stranded on the far side.
Saturday morning we went to the smallest farmer's market I've ever seen, maybe 30 vendors with the full variety of what you might expect at such a place. Unlike the abysmal airport bus service, the downtown area has two free bus routes which served us well. Later we drove around a bit farther from downtown, saw some sights, and did laundry at her house where through bad timing I met her roommate's girlfriend but not her roommate. Then for the evening we saw a drag show at Club One, famous as the home of the Lady Chablis who you might know through the book and movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil".
Sunday we had brunch at an amazing Cuban restaurant (Rancho Alegre) and spent most of the day in our hotel room. That evening I borrowed a bicycle from the hotel and did a little touristing on my own. With no bike lanes and not enough sidewalks it was a harrowing experience even in the light traffic, and not an experience I would recommend except to capable cyclists. I harassed a drive-thru that refused to serve me, then had some other local fast food, while wandering around and reading plaques about various historical people and events, mostly antebellum and civil war related, which was about the last time Savannah was relevant on the national stage.
Monday morning I said goodbye and made my way back to the airport, again on that once-an-hour bus which meant spending about an hour longer at the airport than I'd have liked. The flight to Charlotte was uneventful, as was the layover and ensuing flight to Boston. Once there I rented a car to make the 90 minute drive to what Boston residents might call "Western Mass" but everyone else calls "Boston suburbs". This was to visit a friend who is homebound due to illness and had posted online "I'm too tired to correspond and coordinate visitors; just show up". I was worried this wasn't meant for me, but I took a chance a few weeks earlier on sending them "If you don't reply to say no, I'll show up" to which they didn't reply. I helped them with some grocery shopping and some packing to move closer to their support network, had some chat about old times and our lives, met one of their other local friends, then departed. (note: taking a break here to go buy a nifty tiny bluetooth keyboard+touchpad that I saw them use and thought would be as useful for my home theater as it is for their inability to reach the computer from bed)
Monday evening had one of the highlights of the trip. 4-7 years ago when I lived near Boston, Artisan's Asylum was the only big public makerspace. It set a shining example in a lot of ways, but was also lacking in other ways. Around the time of my departure, some alternatives were starting to spring up in different niches and locations. One of which was the Worcshop, so named due to being located in Worcester which is way out in cheap real estate land ~45 minutes west of the city. An old friend teaches metalwork classes there but unfortunately I wasn't able to connect with him this time around. Fortunately a few folks were around including one of their general staff who gave me a tour. It was amazing. The tour started with half a dozen smaller rooms of various uses, sewing and 3d printing and general crafts and such, all of which would make a passable small makerspace in a city. Then came the punchline, their metal shop which appeared to be about 10k square feet of high ceiling warehouse. I won't bore most of you with a list of tools here, you can find that on their website if you like. Suffice it to say that it was the most well equipped non-private-commercial metal shop I've ever seen by an order of magnitude, and arranged in the "cluttered and densely packed where it doesn't matter but with clear paths to every tool and every work station" way that I love. I left with a brochure and membership pricing details to potentially take advantage of on my next visit, which might sound weird but will make sense when you read what comes next.
Two years ago on a visit to Boston a friend asked me to put them on track to having a bondage suspension tripod for their bedroom. I acquired some heavy duty steel pipe for them and pointed them at instructions for joining the apex with rope, in the same way you might lash bamboo traditionally. Unfortunately they were never comfortable with this approach so the materials languished. On a visit since then I re-measured one of the pieces so that I might fabricate a solution back home, but I never got around to it. This time, things would be different. That friend gave me a couch to sleep on Friday night, after I spent some time watching Blunt Talk with a gaggle of their friends. If you haven't heard of it, think "30 Rock" with Patrick Stewart playing the lead.
Tuesday morning I took the pipes and went hardware shopping. The first Home Depot I went to. where I had bought the pipes years earlier, had the fittings I needed but had given up their pipe threading station. This was unfortunate because the new plan called for the pipes to have both ends threaded, not just one as I had left them previously. A helpy associate sent me to a nearby store who should have had pipe threading capabilities except it turned out that their pipe cutting station was torn apart for electrical upgrades and the associate there couldn't be bothered to roll the pipe cutter over to the wood cutting area where there was the right kind of power available. So off I went to a local commercial plumbing supplier facility, the sort where pipes usually come out by the truckload, with my handful of pipes in need of just being threaded. For the low price of $15 per pipe end, $90 total (one end on each of the long pipes and the short cutoff extensions I had made previously) they got the job done.
Then I was ready to head over to Artisan's Asylum ( I was a member there for years and saw a lot of people I knew and a lot of new faces. I had arranged in advance to purchase a day pass and to coordinate with the metal shop steward about any changes in tooling or procedures since I had been there last. Unfortunately the pipe threading shenanigans had cost me a couple of hours, so I had to break to do my day job at that point. Fortunately they have comfy chairs, good wifi, cold water, and friendly faces, so that wasn't too bad. On my lunch break and after work I was able to proceed with my plan. I spent a few hours in the metal shop turning three pipe elbows and some bar stock into a head for the tripod and gave it to her that afternoon. I look forward to hearing tales of its use.
Tuesday evening I had announced a dinner at a restaurant in my old neighborhood, open to anyone who wanted to catch up with me. I went in fearing nobody would show up, and was delighted as about ten people came and went during the three hours I had set aside for dinner then ice cream nearby. A lot of seemingly sincere hugs were shared, and reminiscing was had by all. I caught them all up on what I've been up to, and heard tales of what's been happening in Boston in my absence. I also made tentative plans to visit some folks more specifically and intentionally in the future, including a friend who recently bought a house in Rhode Island and is planning exciting things down there. Without calling out anything I did with anyone in particular, I do want to make note that this was not only the first time in my life that a woman has spontaneously invited me to share her bed when we weren't already currently recurringly intimate, but that it happened twice. It never rains but it pours, I guess.
Wednesday morning was breakfast with a friend on their way to work, doing my day job, then some thrift and mall shopping in search of full size luggage. While I normally only travel with a carryon, or sometimes even just a backpack, this trip I knew in advance that I needed to take a mannequin body home from Toronto and found out with less notice that I was being gifted 200m of retired climbing rope in Boston. I ended up getting something new from the mall, time will tell if it was worth it. I made my flight with plenty of time to spare and was in Toronto later that evening.
Arrival in Toronto was a new experience. Previously, traveling from and to San Francisco, I used the big airport outside the city. This time I got to experience the tiny commercial airport on an island right next to downtown Toronto. If you ever have the chance, I recommend flying into Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ). Due to some outdated signage, predating the digging of a pedestrian tunnel from the airport to the city, I ended up on the most ridiculous ferry. "Take the scenic route – the 90-second trip is among the world’s shortest ferry rides". Due to the existence of the tunnel, the three-story 100+ passenger ferry was a ghost town, but it would cost so much to make it smaller due to the connection to the terminal walkways being on the top floor. After making landfall yet again it was a quick car ride to Victoria's house.
Thursday I hung out with Victoria, did my day job, and spent a little time volunteering at the nearby location of the Toronto Tool Library. Victoria joined and started volunteering at the desk there recently, and apparently convinced them that I could help with tool repair. I showed up without her when she was running late due to a delay at work and introduced myself. The fellow at the desk showed me around and explained their intake process, then set me loose on incoming tools. My instructions were straightforward: take each new tool, test anything that I thought was important for functional and/or safety reasons, label good tools and sort them into categories, spend not-too-much time trying to do repairs on any obvious failures, and scrap anything beyond repair or too old to be worth dealing with. I spent half my time there chatting with the other volunteers, including Victoria, and the other half fixing a few tools. There was a sander with the brushes stuck against the commutator due to sawdust gumming up the springs behind the brushes, fixed by taking the brush housings apart to clean and lube them. Then there was a circular saw making an awful noise in use, which after a few dis-and-re-assemblies without finding a problem anywhere in the motor housing turned out to have absolutely no grease in the gearbox that we hadn't even noticed in our initial assessments. Unfortunately what was probably months to years of intermittent use in that condition had worn the gears down enough that adding grease didn't silence it, but it was good enough to put into circulation. I told the folks there that I would probably be back on a future visit; I love getting my hands dirty, fixing tools, and helping a good cause all at the same time.
Friday after work we went out for dinner and then to Oasis Aqualounge, one of the nicest and best equipped kinky and sexy play spaces I've ever seen. In addition to enough furniture and padded areas for at least a few dozen couples to be doing their thing separately, spread across three floors and ten rooms of an old victorian mansion, they also have a well equipped dungeon space with about 8 stations of various sorts, a sauna, a hot tub, a heated outdoor pool, two cash bars, and a private room that can be reserved for couples or moresomes in two hour blocks without additional cost. We went on a night that did not allow single men, which seemed to produce a mostly-couples atmosphere with not a lot of swinging or hooking up that I could see. When we arrived in the early evening the space was sparsely populated and we had our choice of rooms and stations. We left closer to midnight as the space was becoming much busier but looked like it had not come even close to peaking yet. I will definitely visit again when I am in Toronto.
Early Saturday morning I flew back to SF. I managed to snag a whole 4-seat row to myself on the plane and was able to lay down to sleep through most of the flight. I got back with plenty of time to prepare for the first outing with an escape room team I've recently joined, but that's another story for another time.
Overall this was one of the busiest and most enjoyable vacation / travel / seeing-friends trips I've taken, perhaps second only to the two weeks Victoria and I spent in Europe last year. I will repeat many parts of it on future trips, and am looking forward to the next time I can go this many places in a short time.

game of life, hacker, cellular automata

PBEM Game Design

This post is my first attempt to write down my ideas for a game in a genre that has no name. Explanation of the genre with links to example games are in my previous post (, and that is necessary context for most things below to make sense.
My primary inspirations here are Overlord (, modern asynchronous board game platforms, and modern game mod systems.
Most previous games in this genre have existed in the form of a single instance that runs for a long duration. A few have had large enough player bases that the codebase of the game continues development and after one game has ended another begins with bigger and better rules, or some creative new twists. Only one, Atlantis, has directly spawned additional games based mostly on the same code that ran at the same time. I don't want to build a game that only gets played once (even if that "once" might last for 5-20 years if I am as successful as Atlantis or Eressea or Olympia), or that is the same every time it gets played. I want to build a game that is easy to modify, with a modern approach to scripted game mods that can alter fundamental aspects of the game without having to write detailed engine code to support the changes. Further, I want to build a platform that can run multiple instances of the game, and provide all the necessary tools for users to administer their own games with whatever settings they want.
The game will have a web interface and probably a mobile app. Every game in this genre has started out in a purely textual format, but then community efforts have produced GUI clients that make the game situation far easier to comprehend and interact with. Those have all been based on custom written parsers for the plain text output of the original game. There are some planned efforts underway to create a web client for Atlantis v5, but they will be pasted on. My game will be designed to produce machine readable data from the start, with transformation to pretty text or interfaces as a layer on top of that. Instructions from the player will also be in machine readable format, possibly with a parser for plain text instructions if some players want to play the old fashioned way.
In addition to the general grid of world map locations, my game will embrace the idea of smaller and nested locations that are fully distinct. Cities will exist separately from the surrounding terrain; it will be possible to guard a city to prevent entry without needing as many men as it would take to guard the whole region. Conversely, it will be possible to guard a region without entering the city it contains, which will enable laying siege to a guarded city. Caves and tunnels and portals will exist, leading to other locations in ways both realistic and fantastic, and the interior of at least some of those locations will be places units can exist without interacting with units outside.
The economy of a location and larger areas will be driven by systems that produce fluctuations over time even without player involvement. Cities will grow or decline on their own. Trade goods will become available and sell out over time, rather than being produced at entirely predictable rates.
Turns will be subdivided into discrete time slices, probably days. Many games in this genre simply handle whole turns/months at once, leading to silly situations where a unit that is otherwise capable of moving four regions per month can't make a two-region round trip in a single month if it needs to accomplish anything at the midpoint of the journey. I want a unit to be able to spend 5 days moving, pick something up, spend 5 days moving, buy something, spend 5 days moving, attack someone, spend 5 days moving, reach a destination, all in about 23 days.
Instructions given to units will have constructs to enable conditional orders so that units can behave more intelligently than just doing one specific thing or doing nothing. A scout will be able to travel until it hits an obstacle, then travel in a different direction or do something else in the obstructed location. A courier will be able to do something productive until someone hands them an item, then immediately depart in a direction that depends on the item they were given. An army will be able to decide whether to move based on the outcome of a battle, or whether to engage in a battle based on some criteria applied to the environment. Any unit performing an action with an unpredictable outcome, such as a random amount of production or a random probability of success or a random duration of effort, will be able to base their next action on the previous outcome without waiting a whole month for additional instructions.
Most games in this genre have a syntax checker for submitted orders, to tell you if you've submitted something that can't be parsed at all. Very few have any amount of order simulation and warnings, to tell you when you're doing something that may not or probably won't work, such as attempting to study a skill that a unit does not have the prerequisites for, or spending money they don't have. None can simulate orders to the point of knowing that the money you're trying to spend but don't have is money being earned or given/traded from another unit earlier in the turn. I want to simulate orders at least to that degree, including showing the player what the state of the world would look like if their orders were enacted without any other player giving orders. A stretch goal would be allowing a player to submit theoretical orders for another faction in order to see what the world would look like if those orders took place alongside their own.
Those are my thoughts for today. My next effort on this front will probably be to write a very rough draft of what a rules/intro document might look like, with a lot of placeholders for more complex content in the future, but nailing down some numbers about various game mechanics as well as perhaps describing/designing what the interfaces might look like.
game of life, hacker, cellular automata

Distinction between community organizer choices and my choices?

 I am part of a community that has some internal problems that require significant effort to deal with. Multiple organizers of the community have become burned out under the stress of this situation. Prior to being completely spent, they were subjected to the ire of many members of the organization who wanted them to do more to address the problems. They were also told they should spend more time avoiding making members upset while still making at least as much headway on the issues at hand. More reasonable community members point out that these people aren't getting paid, they are doing this out of their desire to see the community thrive and grow and continue and their commitment to the well-being of the community. They don't have to do all of this work. It would be perfectly reasonable for them to not do any of it at all. So reasonable that that is exactly what happens when they step down because too much is demanded of them. They are being perfectly reasonable when they offer a dichotomy of doing as much as they are willing to do or doing nothing, regardless of how many people suggest that a third option of them doing even more work would be better for everyone [else].
I see a parallel here to how people respond to my approach to dealing with controversial topics, or interacting with people in general. The same sorts of people who are upset at those community organizers for not doing more work for their benefit are also upset at me for not doing more work for their benefit. However, some of the people who recognize what is wrong with those demands of community organizers are also upset at me for not doing more work for their benefit. I am curious what drives that discrepancy. Where I see a very similar distinction between the two groups, the people in them must see something different for a significant number of them to draw the line in a different place.
To elaborate on my situation... I often do things that others find abrasive while I am intent on achieving some outcome that I think both myself and those others have as a shared goal. In some cases people tell me they don't see how my actions could lead to those outcomes, but that's a different problem for another discussion. Here I am thinking of the cases where they do recognize the good that comes of my actions, but they want to convince me that it is my responsibility to choose a different course that both achieves those goals and avoids causing strife. I offer them the dichotomy of me doing nothing or what I already do. They implicitly support doing nothing, by failing to in any way address the many people around us who choose to do nothing on a particular issue. But instead of accepting what I do, they push this third option on me, as if it is my responsibility to choose that path if I choose to do anything at all, rather than it being acceptable for me to choose any path that is better than doing nothing.
game of life, hacker, cellular automata

PBEM game explanation

I want a particular computer game to exist and be played by enough people that finding people to play and games to join is easy. The genre of this game does not have a name, and you've probably never heard of any games like it. Some example games in the genre are Atlantis (, Olympia (, Eressea (, Lorenai (, and my personal favorite Overlord ( They are very niche, with a peak player base across the whole genre of perhaps 1000 people 10-20 years ago; recently a new game of Atlantis started up, the first in a few years, and players were excited to find a few dozen others across the whole community. A key term in searching for them is "PBEM", which stands for "Play By EMail", but that is a generic term that also includes a thousand other games played via email from chess to diplomacy to mafia/werewolf to thematic role playing games.
A rough outline of the genre is as follows.
There is a fictional world, often inspired by fantasy tropes. The world is laid out on some sort of grid map, with locations on the grid having properties such as terrain, weather, population, animal and plant growth, towns and cities, and perhaps less common things like magical effects. Some grid locations might contain natural or artificial additional smaller nested locations, such as towns and cities, buildings, caves, etc, which connect to each other in ways other than the typical compass directions of the main world map. Minor activity happens in the world outside of players' control, such as economic changes, city development, monster and animal migrations, and similar things, but most major events are driven by the players.
In this world each player of the game controls a faction or nation or other grouping of individuals sharing some loyalty or purpose. The player has full knowledge of everything the members of their faction can see, and controls the actions of those members by giving them instructions about what to do.
The game operates in discrete time units, often conceptualized as months, sometimes as days. On a regular real-world schedule each player finds out what happened in the world during the previous game-world time that has passed and has the opportunity to submit new instructions at their leisure. A common configuration is for 30 game days or one game month to pass for every real world week, with players experiencing the game in discrete 30-day chunks. To be specific, submitting instructions on Monday or Friday has the exact same effect on the month of game time that is about to be processed.
The player's faction is often divided into logical groupings of people and items, which can be treated as single recipients of new instructions and single sources of new information. There are various ways to handle this, with different restrictions on the total number of different units of people that can be controlled at once, and how they might be structured.
Here is an example taken from a game I am currently playing. Below is an excerpt from a game report which I receive every two days and represents one game month of time passing. This excerpt focuses on a single unit:
Scout (1234): Rides from swamp (15,11) in Linsstu'ist to mountain (14,12) in Wenhin.
Scout (1234): Rides from mountain (14,12) in Wenhin to mountain (13,11) in Wenhin.
Scout (1234): Claims 10 silver for maintenance.
mountain (13,11) in Wenhin, contains Tranlastan [city], 17154 peasants
  (humans), $17497.
  Wages: $15.1 (Max: $3499).
  Wanted: 116 grain [GRAI] at $27, 178 livestock [LIVE] at $23, 198
    fish [FISH] at $24, 30 leather armor [LARM] at $67, 52 wine [WINE]
    at $287, 32 perfume [PERF] at $290.
  For Sale: 38 vodka [VODK] at $76, 25 gems [GEM] at $130, 686 humans
    [MAN] at $48, 137 leaders [LEAD] at $845.
  Entertainment available: $1046.
  Products: 35 grain [GRAI], 22 iron [IRON], 10 stone [STON].
  North : ocean (13,09) in Atlantis Ocean.
  Northeast : ocean (14,10) in Atlantis Ocean.
  Southeast : mountain (14,12) in Wenhin.
  South : ocean (13,13) in Atlantis Ocean.
  Southwest : mountain (12,12) in Wenhin.
  Northwest : mountain (12,10) in Wenhin.
- City Guard (48), on guard, The Guardsmen (1), 120 leaders [LEAD],
  120 swords [SWOR].
* Scout (1234), Sparr (11), avoiding, behind, sharing, consuming
  faction's food, won't cross water, high elf [HELF], horse [HORS].
  Weight: 60. Capacity: 0/70/85/0. Skills: stealth [STEA] 2 (90).
- Unit (678), centaur [CTAU].
I have focused here on unit #1234 whose name is Scout. This is a unit under my control. In the previous turn I told it to move a couple of times, which it has done, ending the previous month in the described region which contains a city. The unit is composed of a single person, of the race high elf which has some effect on what skills they can learn to advanced levels later. The unit has a single horse, and ignoring some arithmetic could travel while carrying 10 weight units of cargo at riding speed or 25 units at walking speed. The unit has previously studied (under a teacher, as it happens, but that's not evident here) the stealth skill, which makes the unit harder for other factions to see and get information about, and also gives this unit the ability to attempt to steal or perform assassinations. Also I have a small amount of money available to any unit of my faction anywhere in the world, without them needing to carry it with them and I am currently spending 10 silver per month from that fund to keep this scout alive. My next wave of scouts are better trained in earning their own keep while they travel, but this one represents the earliest wave of scouts I sent out into the world.
Also shown are details about the region. In this game, the city itself isn't physically represented, it just describes a very high level of economic activity throughout the described region. Every region has some amount of wages that can be earned by working units, taxes that an army could collect, entertainment value that a performer or magician could earn from the population, and a few other aspects. Most regions have some resources that can be purchased and some that can be produced with the right skill. All of this is detailed here, and some of it might change over time depending on how I and other players interact with the region, and also on some background economic changes that the game itself implements.
There are also a couple of other units present. The city has a force of guards which are controlled by the game engine, and whose job is to prevent fighting or pillaging in the city, among a few other things. Finally there is a lone centaur controlled by some other faction that I cannot see any other information about.
Now I have a few days to talk to other players and consider my options, then I will send in a new set of orders telling this unit (and all of my others) what to do for the next month of their life. This particular unit has a future as a courier, carrying items and money from place to place, for which stealth and a horse (or, later, a flying horse or airship) are key.
I had intended to actually write about the game I want to build, but this explanation of the genre and the example have already run longer than expected. Next time I write about this, I will start to describe what I want to do differently than the previous games, in terms of interface and features and game mechanics. Stay tuned!
game of life, hacker, cellular automata

Two years with Victoria

I recently celebrated the one year anniversary of my marriage to Victoria, which is also pretty close to the two year anniversary of us doing something that you might label dating if you squint and tilt your head a little. My life has never been uninteresting, but the ride has gotten even more exciting recently, mostly thanks to her. We don't always get along, and we aren't always interested in the same things, but all the rest of the times are pretty darn good. When I started this writing challenge recently and asked myself "what's been happening in your life recently that's worth writing about?", she easily made the top of the list.
She has inspired me to travel more. My first trip to Europe, or outside the US at all, was early last year. In theory the trip started out for work, but I wouldn't have gone at all if it didn't present an opportunity to go places and see sights and do things with her. Even before the trip, the experience of planning all the stops and travel along the way was refreshing compared to similar attempts in the past with other friends and partners. When our styles differed, we could both get things done. When they meshed, even more so. After we started the trip separately for logistical reasons we met up in Amsterdam for my work thing. Then we made a mostly predetermined path to Berlin, Prague, and Rome over the course of two weeks. There were planned activities and spontaneous wanderings and midnight bike rides along the way, most of which worked out delightfully. And when I felt the urge to sit in the hotel room for a whole day playing video games, she was happy to take the day to herself and explore the city alone. I suspect some manuals on the care and feeding of introverts could take notes from her.
Now she is out of the country for a while and my desire to see her, as well as her influence on my desire to see new cities, has me traveling again. I've recently been to Toronto for the first time, which is where she has spent most of her life. And I'm going again soon, with stops along the way in places I've never been. I've always wanted to get out and see the world more, but never quite got over the initial hurdles until she came around to give me the push that I needed. I look forward to seeing how this develops and where we and I go in the future.
We have done more substantial things together than I have with any previous partner. Don't get me wrong, I've had plenty of fun before, but never anything that really made an impact. That's all changed now. Although I founded Buspatch on my own before we met, she really helped it come alive when she moved in and joined me in managing it. Without her, it might never have gotten into good enough shape to hand off the reins and let it survive after my departure. Together our influence and creativity and steering have gotten Loophole off the ground in a way I never could have alone. This house is doing things I've been inspired to do for a decade but never quite figured out how, and she's a big part of whatever missing puzzle pieces were standing in my way before. She has even given me small pushes toward creative and social projects that I've had simmering in the back of my mind for years and might actually see the light of day soon, or even the inside of a digital shopping cart somewhere if we're lucky.
She has provided an eager ear for many of the things I am passionate and/or knowledgeable about, and she soaks up information like a sponge. Not everything sticks, but she's always ready to try again or learn something new when it's topical or someone is just feeling the urge to share. She has also jumped into the role of a social filter for me on various occasions, trying to give me insight into other people's thoughts or them mine. This is often invaluable, and a welcome addition to my life.
I look forward to seeing where our relationship goes next, figuratively or literally. I hope that she is getting as much out of it as I am. Time will tell, I guess.
game of life, hacker, cellular automata

A mid-year resolution

TL;DR: I'm going to write more long form stuff to post various places, and I'm going to post less negative and controversial stuff.
Starting today and going for at least a month, the precise duration TBD, I'm going to make some changes to my interaction with social media and online discussions.
First, the positive. I am going to do long form writing more often. I will probably use which is a writing challenge site my ex introduced me to, and which I've used successfully for a month before. If anyone out there uses another site or app to track their writing commitments, maybe something designed around NaNoWriMo, I'm open to recommendations. Other than this post, it is likely that some of the first few things I write will be re-writes or updates of things I've written in the past about my life and world and outlook. At least one upcoming day will be a slight cheat day, where I post the ~5000 word document describing myself that I've been working on recently, although not much cheating since I will probably do at least 750 words of edits to it that day.
Next, I am going to stop making unfiltered top level Facebook posts that are entirely negative ("this sucks", "that is terrible", "you are dumb", "I am sad", etc). I will try to stop making them at all, although I am wary of this because I have felt positive support come out of some of those posts. If I feel the need to make those posts, I will create a mostly-opt-in filter for people who want to know this sort of stuff and/or who want to be there to offer support. This change is mostly inspired by observing the posts and interactions of a few specific people, including Victoria (my wife).
Finally, and probably most importantly, I am going to stop making unfiltered top level posts on Facebook about controversial topics, and I will not be the first person to make controversial comments on those posts on other people's or groups' walls. I have gotten direct feedback from a few people that they intentionally disengaged from me because of these sorts of posts and comments. As usual, it was not clear whether it was my positions they objected to or any discussion of those positions or my style of discussion, but I can address all of those possibilities by just not letting them see those posts int he first place. A lot of recent discussions about the feedback loop that my reputation is stuck in have included an element of the impact of new posts that I am making. While I believe that this impact is no longer significant[1], I am willing to make a good faith attempt to eliminate this factor to see if things get better. One reason that this experiment is of indefinite length is that it may take months or years to see a result on this front, but I may not have the patience to wait that long. Hopefully I can be patient and the results become apparent sooner rather than later.
I feel compelled to disclose that these changes to what and how I post are intended to be almost entirely for my own benefit. My ethical and value systems tell me that I am hurting other people by making these changes. I've written at length about the absolute and net positive outcomes of my approach to controversial topics, and no one has ever come close to convincing me that those positive things aren't happening. I am going to convince fewer people to behave in less harmful ways. Fewer people are going to come for me for support, inspired by my posts on the subject of whatever they need support on. People are going to commit consent violations that they would have known not to if I had kept posting where they could see it. What these changes represent is the success of the large number of people who demonstrate that their lives are more fulfilling when the people immediately surrounding them are happier about their presence and interactions, regardless of what the long term or widespread effects are. I am sorry for the harm that this change will cause, and I wish more people could see the consequences of their actions.
I am open to feedback on what I am doing here. None of this is set in stone, and I am open to making small modifications to each of these plans. Maybe someone has a compelling argument that I should only make controversial comment replies instead of making my own comments after someone else does. Maybe you want me to create the support-seeking negative posts filter now instead of waiting until I think I need it. Surely there are other things of that sort that you can think of that I cannot, and I would like to hear them.
[1] I believe the impact is not small, but also that eliminating it will not have much impact because other factors outside my control have much larger impact. The people who vehemently dislike me put a lot of effort into spreading rumors and lies about me. Those efforts are effective and tend to multiply, regardless of what I am doing and whether I ignore them or attempt to address them. Stopping all the negative things I am doing isn't going to stop people who I have never met, or who have never even heard of me before, from hearing those things, believing them, and then spreading them or making up new ones.
game of life, hacker, cellular automata

Does my approach have any positive effect?

I was recently confronted by someone who proposed a utilitarian viewpoint valuing only people's happiness, calling it Good to make people happier and Bad/Wrong to make people less happy, with some inconsistent distinction between "upset" and "hurt" as categories of unhappiness. They were of the opinion that my aggressive and controversial approach to important sensitive topics like consent was not only net-negative, but that there were actually no good effects at all, even ignoring the bad effects. It has been a few years since I wrote something on the subject, so maybe it's worth revisiting, with a slant toward discussing the mere existence of the positive effects rather than their relative weight compared to the negative effects or the responsibility for those effects. In this post, I am going to elaborate on some of those effects, but first I want to call out some factors that are common to many such effects.
First, it may not be obvious to some people, but when I am arguing with someone about one of these controversial topics, it is not usually my goal to convince them to change their mind. These arguments happen in [semi]public forums, and among the audience there will always be some people closer to the fence than the people vocally engaged on either side. It may help to consider it like a political debate; the two candidates are not trying to convince each other of anything, they are trying to convince the [undecided, usually] voters in the audience. Changing the mind of even one of those people is an effect, as is simply making them aware of my position at all, and most of the people mentioned below were only ever spectators in those discussions.
Second, I cannot know every effect that my actions have. However, I can observe some effects, and predict or extrapolate from there what the effects I cannot see might be. If someone comes to me to privately respond to a public discussion, it is very unlikely that they are the only person thinking whatever they are thinking. Unfortunately this observation is biased toward positive responses, as I expect people with negative reactions to approach me much less often. However, that isn't a problem in this specific context, where I am illustrating any gross positive effect, without the need to consider net or negative effects.
Finally, some of the outcomes described below are at least partially based on prediction and confidence, compound probability and evaluation of likelihoods. If an outcome is not just plausible but probable, and the scenario repeats many times, I am comfortable acting as if that outcome had come to pass at least once, even if I will never be able to confirm it.
On to the Good...
Around the time I was becoming vocal on the subject of the nature of consent and consent violations, there was a serial date rapist and drugger-of-women active in the Atlanta area EDM/rave scene. He was unwelcome at some venues and in many homes, but otherwise free to continue acting. Some of his victims disclosed their rapes to me. Some of those victims told me, explicitly, that they were coming forward to me, and only to me, because of my vocalness and [uncommon, rational] opinions on the subject. I used that information to coordinate with other victims and the police to put him [back] in jail. I am confident in predicting that a double digit number of rapes, the ones that he would have committed had he remained free, were averted by this chain of events, and I count that as significant positive change in the happiness of those potential victims.
More generally, there are mental health benefits to be found in providing an outlet for disclosing violent trauma at all. Of the dozens of other women who have come to me to discuss their experiences with consent violations, many have told me that they chose me because of how they see me interacting in discussions on the topic. Giving them that opportunity, where no other extant approach had done so, would likely increase their happiness in at least some cases.
There are men who have come to me to confess that they did something in the past that my posts have convinced them was a consent violation. Some of them are thankful for this, and profess an intent to avoid that behavior in the future. I cannot know how many of them are being truthful or succeed, but I am comfortable predicting that of at least one of them. If those changes take place, some of them would lead to their partners less often feeling violated.
More broadly, there are people who have come to me to tell me that they had entirely dismissed the idea of modern consent culture due to the impossible and hypocritical standards of the people they had seen promoting it. I was, for some of those people, the first person they had seen give any model for consent that could be used to avoid violating consent. This opened them up to the idea that at least some modern consent culture ideas could be useful in improving their behavior. Whether their behavior actually improved or not, and whether that improvement made their future partners happier, is not certain, but again I am comfortable predicting that it has happened in at least one case.
On a closer personal level, I have had friends and colleagues and sexual partners whose connection to me was initiated or strengthened by my views and approach to these topics. People who explicitly thank me for doing what they cannot, often out of fear of the same repercussions that they see me facing. I like to believe that at least some of the people who choose to remain connected to me are enjoying some part of the experience, and I am certain that at least some of them would have never become so close to me if I were a different version of myself. Their (and my, for that matter) enjoyment of those relationships is a positive effect.
I have friends who have been in relationships with serial consent violators, some of whom I have attempted to intervene with. When I approached them about the situation, they explicitly told me that they were listening and weighing my counsel specifically because of my vocal views on the objectiveness of consent violation, where they had dismissed feedback from people with subjective and unpredictable ideas of what consent means. Based on this feedback, some of those relationships ended. While I may have made them unhappy by sharing this information, that is outside the scope of this post. Once they had the information I gave them, I am comfortable concluding that their choice to end the relationship was intended to, and hopefully did, improve their own happiness.
Similarly, I have friends who have considered relationships with serial consent violators, dismissing warnings on the subject from the people I described in the previous paragraph. Following a similar train of thought, my warnings were heeded where others' were not. I am comfortable predicting that at least some of these people were happier without that potential partner than they would have been with them, and that my warnings would have been dismissed with all the others if I thought and behaved as they do.
A friend of mine is authoring a book and blog on the subject of consent violations, mediation, community response, etc. Based on my vocal and unusual views, they came to me to request an interview to gather my insights. I do not know what they will do with this information, but I do know that they did not seek this level of detail from some people less like me in the ways in question. I am comfortable assuming that they think having this information from me can help them help other people, and given their profession they seem more likely to be right about that than I am. Even if they disagree with me and will only ever use my contributions as a negative example, my being vocal and aggressive about my position is what led to them seeking and acquiring those contributions.
I know people who have been inaccurately accused of consent violations. Not "falsely", because that phrase has a specific meaning in our culture. By inaccurate, I mean that there is no dispute about the events, only about the conclusion of what label to apply to them. These people felt able to speak to me and confide in me because of the content and intensity of my position on the subject, and I know that some of them were less sad and felt less isolated after having those conversations.
I'm going to stop here. There are a lot more examples of positive effects that I could bring up, but this is already running a bit long. Next time I write at length on this subject it will probably be about net good and ratios, and I'll bring up some other positive effects in the context of specific negative effects. I would appreciate feedback on any of these examples. I want to understand how so many people either don't see/predict/understand these positive effects, or do but don't attribute them as I do.