What I've Been Up To

Published on February 12, 2022
Categories: computing, dnd, h0p3, rsi and santacruz

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Four factors have combined to keep me from posting on this site for six months, which feels like an eon.

  • The janky setup behind this website Imposed too high an activation energy for creating new posts.
  • My poor hands, though in a somewhat better state than at the beginning of 2021, are still suffering from an undiagnosed source of pain.
  • I started graduate school.
  • I’m busy as heck outside of school.

However, aside from my hands, things are really looking up. For the benefit of my lovely readers, here’s what I’ve been up to since the final episode of The Drongo.

Living and Growing

In August, I celebrated my 27th birthday. I still didn’t really know anyone in Santa Cruz, but someone who didn’t know me very well was game to come over for drinks and pizza. Thank you, Patrick; I hope your mathematical art blog is still going strong. We haven’t kept in touch, but that’s OK. My only regret is that I did not get to go dancing the night of my birthday, because the music at the local open air club was complete trash.

My living situation here in Santa Cruz was, at first, a disaster. I moved sight-unseen into what must have been the cheapest and crappiest lodgings in the city, and between the condition of the place and some unpleasant roommates, I was despairing at the thought of having to live here for all two years of my degree.

For those who don’t know, the Santa Cruz housing market is one of the tightest, and most expensive, in the entire country. Alex and Angie, both of whom have lived in New York for several years, tell me that they were paying similar prices for better places in that famously expensive city. The way to find a rental around here is to get extremely lucky and take whatever you can get, no questions asked.

Lucky for me, I fell ass-backwards into a far superior pad. I poached the one good roommate from my old spot, and together we moved into a small detached house that had recently been renovated. The way I would put it is that we moved from a craphole to a dreamhole.

In Which I Pursue Mastery

In September, I began graduate school at UC Santa Cruz. In my first quarter, I took two classes.

The first was an introductory class which primarily consisted of reading and discussing primary sources from the history of computing, including material By the likes of Alan Turing, Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Alan Kay, Doug Engelbart - and a host of other thinkers slightly less well-known, but usually no less inspiring.

The second was a course on game artificial intelligence. Normally such a class would involve implementing classic algorithms in AI, but the instructor, my advisor Michael Mateas, decided to change it up for our graduate level course. Instead, we explored a relatively niche field called “automated game design,” Which is concerned with figuring out how a computer might generate entire playable games from scratch. This field is the big brother to procedural generation, which is about automatically creating certain types of content for use in games, such as textures or levels; automated game design is concerned with creating all of the things that make up a game, from sounds to environments to level connections to nonplayer characters. As you can imagine, it’s a complex field that has made progress only slowly since it began in the 1990s; researchers continue to be interested in it because being able to create a large number of games automatically would mean lots of novel fodder for programs that automatically play games.

During the AGD class, I worked on a project which did automatic level design for a text adventure (verdict: not successful, because I mismanaged the design of the program), as well as a longer project where I tried to generate blocks of tax that were both, A, valid limericks, and B, valid programs in the English-like Inform 7 programming language. This project was a bit more successful, but my hands were still in such discomfort that I really couldn’t put enough time into the project to make it as much as a success as I had hoped for.

Amigos Aplenty

Despite the fact that I didn’t perform as well as I had hoped in the AGD class, it was extremely valuable in terms of social connections. The first and strongest friend I made here in Santa Cruz is Alex, who I met at orientation; our friendship was cemented because he also took this class. Two of the other classmates, Angie and Ross, have also become my close friends.

What’s more, as of a couple weeks ago, those three have become my first group of D&D players in several years. And what players they are! Despite the fact that only Ross had ever played a roleplaying game before, all of them have the entrepreneurial, wily confidence needed to set their own goals in my open-ended game world. They aren’t afraid of the grittiness of my rules, either. I’m confident all three will grow into formidable players, and I’m going to give them the best gaming experience I can offer.

Outside of school, and more recently D&D, I’ve been taken advantage of the uni library, reading all kinds of books on history, as well as a fair amount of poetry. I’ve tried to get outside as much as I can, going for walks on the beach, or short hikes along the cliffs and in the forest - including one particularly memorable trip with my friend Wolfi and his analog camera, and another excursion with my homie Karthik where we spent an all-too-brief period of time laying on a log over a river.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to make friends with a postdoc in the CM department, Oskar, who, being very athletic, has encouraged me to go along on bike rides and archery outings. Finally, I have continued having weekly coding calls with Angelo, my computer sensei, a tradition we have kept up for nearly 2 years now. I hope he has gotten as much out of it as I have!

Join Me in Merriment

There are other goings-on, but I think this is enough to make up for my silence all these months. Because I have to prioritize what I use my hands for, I can’t promise a regular posting schedule, but I’m getting more used to voice dictation on my iPhone, and Angelo‘s work on web development has borne fruit in the form of code that I can use to make this website easier to run and maintain, which will encourage me to post more often (as well as allow me to dictate directly into a new post).

As always, feel free to get in touch, especially if you are in the area. Luci (a friend of my Internet buddy h0p3) and her boyfriend visited me while they were in town a couple months ago, and we had a grand old time over seafood. Come have a grand old time of your own!

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