“The inspiration for the film Stalker and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video games”, read the front-cover copy of the recent edition of Roadside Picnic I read — a fresher translation from the Strugatsky brothers’ original Russian, apparently, than the one last published in the U.S. some decades ago. The idea to read it came to mind quite obliquely a couple of months ago, following a path including but not limited to my learning of Andrei Tarkovsky’s films via the video game The Witness earlier this this year.

While I seem to have lost my notes about Roadside Picnic, I do recall it as a fast and easy read. I loved its setting, which has surely inspired many more games and films than the two direct adaptations listed on the cover. The novel’s central conceit studs the world with lingering “Zones” that exist many years after a brief and ill-defined visit by never-seen space aliens. They left behind piles of refuse in the forms of miraculous artifacts of completely opaque purpose, and bizarre energy fields that warp local physics. To wander into a Zone unprepared is suicide, and so a sub-culture has sprung up of “stalkers” — desperados who risk their lives and flout the law in order to raid the Zones, seeking loot to sell, and building up maps and codexes of routes and secrets and survival techniques. Stalkers refer to each other only by goofy callsign-style nicknames, and they’re all extremely miserable people.

Having established this setting, Roadside Picnic tells several stories as vignettes from the life of ever-tragic protagonist Red. An expert stalker, Red makes his work a real pleasure to watch — even though he hates the Zone, and he hates himself for feeling more at home there than with his own family, even while it’s trying to kill him. (To this extent, he rather reminded me of Jeremy Renner’s character in The Hurt Locker.) The modularity of this storytelling style all but begs other creators to borrow the same setting for their own ends.

Tarkovsky’s Stalker, then, feels like another story set in the same world, maybe surrounding a different Zone. (Roadside Picnic seems set somewhere in North America, but Stalker happens in Eastern Europe.) Instead of the book’s use of an abandoned but haunted industrial town, the film’s Zone encompasses a lush environment, so green and wild that the film stock explodes with color Wizard of Oz-style when the adventuring party arrives, after a dour and washed-out prologue. (A Twitter-friend coincidentally watched the movie just as I did, and noted how it made him want to re-read the Southern Reach trilogy.)

The movie sees a stalker lead two “tourists” with their own agendas through this Zone, whose allure is not caches of alien technology surrounded by deadly traps, but a magical wish-granting room couched in layers of dangers so strange and subtle that the threat they pose never really becomes clear. To risk a spoiler: Nothing happens. Between Tarkovsky’s mastery of the medium and my own expectations — based, if nothing else, on having watched umpteen seasons of Lost — I felt tense right up until the end, waiting the whole time for something terrible, and then I laughed, because yeah okay.

We do get an intriguing and lengthy epilogue that suggests that Stalker’s world does have room for the supernatural, but the blind adventurers just didn’t know where to look for it — each bundled up too tightly in their own convictions, perhaps.

Both book and film are about as old as I am, and the former shows it more. The exclusive masculinity among not just all the characters in Roadside Picnic but everyone in its whole world (other than “girls” used as props) felt some combination of dated and other-cultured, but also wholly separable from what made the book interesting. I ended up using the particular brand of doomed and self-hating masculinity espoused by Red, the sole point-of-view character, as an aid to digestion. I imagined the novel’s woman-free world as not the literal truth of its reality, but rather the sad and diminished reality that broken-macho Red chose to see. Maybe not quite the authors’ intent, but it worked for poor Red and me both.

I think I heard about this book on a podcast some time ago? I knew its precis: recent anthropological studies suggest that Native Americans lived all over this continent in vast numbers in the centuries before Columbus, scarcely resembling the image of here-and-there villages of tribesmen that both the author and I grew up with. (In the book’s introduction, Charles Mann describes his motivation for writing in the disgusted disappointment he felt when discovering his sons’ history textbooks filled with the same outdated falsehoods about pre-Columbian civilization that he’d been taught.)

Growing up in New England in the 1980s, I learned about American Indians primarily as the scattered bands sometimes friendly to “the Pilgrims” and other early European settlers, sometimes not. I had to memorize (for a brief time) the names of their many local tribes, with little attention given to their fate after the American Revolution. As an young adult in the 1990s, media like Dances with Wolves and the Alvin Maker novels created a guilt-ridden continuation of that story, casting these tribes as proud but doomed martyrs who lived sparsely on the American plains and accepted their fate nobly as rapacious westward-marching white men drove them, defenseless, to near-extinction. When I heard about 1491, I felt ready to learn about ancient Native Americans as anyone other than a people who made no mark on history besides dying cinematically.

Death still plays a huge and terrible role in the updated history that this book collects, but shifts it centuries before the era of Manifest Destiny. In short, archaeological evidence up and down the American continents — as well as written observations of middle-millenium visitors from Europe, studied with fresh eyes in a new light — suggests a new story of whole civilizations every bit as complex and populated as their Old World counterparts.

Likely descended from bands who walked east out of Asia prior to that hemisphere’s Neolithic Revolution, the peoples of ancient America had to start their own tech-tree from scratch, and they followed it along broadly recognizable but often fascinatingly divergent directions. If their engine of invention didn’t turn quite as fast as Europe’s, we can perhaps ascribe it to their having fewer diverse trading partners to mix ideas with. (Yes, I did read this book through the lens of an avid Civilization player. Look, it’s a great game.)

By the book’s titular year, the continents thrummed with a number of American Indian civilizations with their own histories, conflicts, and national ambitions. When Europeans show up, Mann casts the event as alien invasion: the people of the known world (from the Indians’ perspective) already had to deal with all the complex political drama of any functioning power, and now this? And for their part, the visitors had all sorts of motivations too; not all European visitors were stomping Conquistadors bent on subjugation. Many achingly tantalizing written records exist of trade and treaties between the two worlds; ancient Indians might not have had ocean-crossing technology, but they knew how international politics and diplomacy worked, infinitely more than the naive chumps I learned about as a kid.

But then, no matter how good or evil their individual intentions, the Europeans always unwittingly brought smallpox with them. Over the course of just a few generations it did what smallpox does to any dense human population with no natural resistance (or knowledge of germ theory). The handfuls of American natives that 20th century schoolchildren learned about were — modern records strongly suggest — post-apocalyptic survivors, a human remnant of what had been before.

Here lies a new and terrible tragedy: while American Indians live on as a people, their ancestors’ civilization — their whole new world of civilizations, whose unique histories and cultures should by all rights have traveled and traded and intermingled with Europe’s and Asia’s in ways we can only dream about? It died, it all died, robbing the world of something forever unknowable. Only lately do we start to understand these buried histories and lost potential better, and it’s amazing, and it hurts.

I really liked this book, written engagingly by someone with both a clear passion and a personal connection to the subject matter. Mann clearly followed a mandate to use an impressively broad range of sources from academic journals to interviews, and as often as possible includes work by and voices from modern Indians. I read an original edition from 2005, and am led to understand that more recent editions include updated material.

Last night, as the spouse of a civilian employee of the U.S. Naval War College, I attended an evening of lectures covering topics of interest to the college. This included a summary of USNWC’s role with America’s military allies, a history lesson about the foundational naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, and a summary of unclassified U.S. military intelligence regarding China (particular, naturally, to China’s burgeoning navy and increasing sea-borne interests).

I found all the talks quite interesting for different reasons. The latter talk about China mixed in feelings of slight alarm, not because the speaker described a grave threat (as he cast it more of what we might call a “Nation of Interest”), but because he spoke so freely about the Chinese. “What do the Chinese want?” stood as the talk’s central question, and in so many words. The speaker easily made remarks speculating about the myriad plans and motivations of “the Chinese”, based on decades of careful observation.

And for long minutes I fidgeted in my seat, suppressing a desire to swivel around, counting how many folks of Asian descent attended the evening, so I could better gauge how dreadfully embarrassed I should feel. All the while a social-media trained voice in my head stood agog, yelling “Oh my god, ‘What do the Chinese want?’ Do you have any idea how racist that sounds? Why don’t you ask them, you dingleberry?”

But as the talk continued it become clear to be that by “the Chinese” the speaker did not mean “the Chinese citizenry” and certainly not “all Chinese people everywhere”. Rather, he applied the label in precisely the way that the computer game Civilization uses it: as the name of a single player in what a global military power unavoidably and only semi-metaphorically sees as the greatest and most real of all games.

In the context the lecturer spoke from, “the Chinese” is the name of a monolithic power, which — like all global powers, when considered from a sufficient height — acts with a unified mind and purpose. And when the relationship between two such powers is as frosty as that between the United States and China, how natural for the military-intelligence apparatuses of either to speculate about the psychology of the other as an individual entity.

Having reframed it like a game-player, I found myself able to chill out and enjoy the remainder of the lecture. Incidentally, the answer to What do the Chinese want? is: food, energy, and security. That’s all I was able to learn at my clearance level, anyway.

As part of my preparations for Trump’s not-unlikely electoral victory in a few weeks, I am making some promises to myself about how I will ride through the shock, doing my best to survive it. I share these should you want to adapt them for your own benefit.

(This follows plans laid out in an earlier post, but I wrote that before I decided to start assuming the worst in this regard. A revisit seemed in order.)

  • I will stay calm. I have started this already by dialing down my caffeine intake; I last week swore off my usual breakfast espressos after realizing that, as of recently, they make me feel paralyzed with hopelessness for hours. (Drip coffee is okay.)

    As the weeks go on, I will do whatever else I need to do in order to stay calm enough to adhere to the rest of these promises.

  • I will accept my feeling sad and scared. Corollary: I will accept my friends and family feeling sad and scared, too.

    I felt a raised baseline level of anger throughout the George W. Bush years, and many of my friends and colleagues did too. We lived with it. I expect that the tone of a Donald J. Trump presidency to primarily engender anxious fear rather than frustrated anger. We will have to live with it.

  • Internal resistance: I will not give in to despair or nihilism. Giving up represents by far the easiest path to take, a constant temptation. Not giving up will take work. Some days it will take more work than other days. I promise to put in the effort.

    Corollary: If my friends and family start teetering towards the edge, I will help pull them back. I need them.

  • External resistance: I will seek out movements keeping American hope alive. America under Trump will be a kleptocracy at best, and at worst a super-villain committing atrocities on a scale unique to human history. I expect something in between: years of inept, purely reactionary leadership, whose neglect of law and policy at every level causes suffering and injustice at home and abroad.

    I know that many, many Americans will not simply accept this state of affairs. I will look not only to my friends, but also to American political leaders, journalists, and other public figures who will openly take a stand against their country embracing evil. I accept that life might become very dangerous for the most visible of these leaders, and I will support them and add my voice to theirs as much as I can.

  • I will keep doing what I love. I realize this might become difficult, especially if various government services that I and people close to me depend upon start to diminish or fail under the Trump administration’s abuses. I suppose I’ll do my best to adapt, if I need to. But I take definition from what I love doing, and I cannot let myself lose that.

Last weekend, almost exactly a year after seeing John Hodgman perform his “Vacationland” stand-up show in Boston, my partner and I revisited the same theater to see “Live Justice”, a touring, on-stage edition of Judge John Hodgman. I have written plenty in the past about my years-long admiration for this podcast, and everything transferred to a live experience fantastically well. The show featured a handful of format adjustments to turn it from an ordinary episode (as the podcast’s producers do indeed record it) into an evening of entertainment, including musical interludes by Juliana Hatfield and a “Swift Justice” segment of rapid-fire hearings in between the two full-length feature cases.

I’d written last year that as much as I enjoyed Hodgman delivering scripted comic monologues, I missed the oddly intimate spontaneity of his judicial persona as he helped real-life people navigate through various of life’s lesser disputes. I don’t feel in the least bad or pandered to that I got exactly what I wanted a year later. We had a great time.

A couple of observations particular to the live experience:

The context of a thousand ticket-holding people watching the cases in person, rather than a scattered and time-shifted podcast audience hearing a Skype conversation among a few people, made the atmosphere feel just a bit more fraught than I would have expected. I fidgeted a little during at least a couple of moments.

The evening’s first featured case involved a disagreement within a young husband-and-wife couple over her enormous shoe collection. The topic cozied with certain stereotypes all by itself, and the addition of hundreds of entertainment-hungry eyes in the same room threatened to shift the show’s normally light-hearted framing of “internet justice” into something more sinister. Hodgman seemed aware of this — though I don’t know if he prepared for it or realized it on the fly — and to my eye steered the case away from becoming overcharged.

(I fully admit I might not have noticed had he not admitted his discomfort with the case once it ended. He asked Juliana Hatfield, while she set up her gear, whether she enjoyed watching — in so many words — a bunch of men discussing the size of a woman’s shoe collection while she sat under hot stage lights. Despite his misgivings, I think he stuck the landing perfectly.)

Of the four litigants involved in the two featured cases, two were people of color. I thought that pretty great, especially since I’d pigeonhole Judge John Hodgman as a very “white” entertainment, if I had to. (The cases are screened and vetted well ahead of time, so props as appropriate to the show’s producers.)

On that note, having correctly and respectfully guessed one litigant’s intercultural heritage based on the nature of evidence submitted (her enjoyment of a comfort-food specific to India), the judge later made a rare misstep by beginning a case-wrapping monologue with “You come from a land where…” Her deadpanned “I’m from Lowell” brought the house down. Hodgman accepted this moment gracefully, dropped that particular subject, and moved on.

Probably due to plain old aging, my hearing — or, perhaps, my hearing comprehension specifically — has become poorer in recent years. I find this most noticeable in conversation, as I fail to understand utterances made in my direction with increasing frequency.

I’ve tried to describe what it sounds like from my end, but as with many subjective experiences I find it strangely not possible. The closest I’ve managed: it’s a bit like the first and last consonants of words drop out of reach, even though at the same time I know I heard them. No, that doesn’t make a great deal of objective sense.

I have at least noticed it much more likely to happen with unexpected communication, particularly if I don’t happen to face the speaker at that moment. As such, I’ve learned to simply adjust my facing when when I ask for a statement to be repeated, and that helps. But here is another adjustment I have made: I’ve learned to ask for repeats less often.

For a while, I would aggressively say “What?” all the time, and got to point where I started aggravating myself with how much like a cranky old man I sounded because I didn’t want to let a single statement go past my person without my full comprehension. But over time, and perhaps informed by my embrace of a philosophy to not read every single social-media update I can, I eased into a less completionist stance.

If it seems from context that a given utterance does not require immediate attention for processing and then response, then I’ll make an educated guess as to its broad content based on what I could make out, and what I know of the speaker and the situation we presently find ourselves in. If my guess seems to call for a response, I’ll make a stab at it. I will otherwise let it go.

I don’t claim to be perfect at this, and certainly I hit false positives now and again. But such mistakes make their presence known in short order, and then I need only turn to face the speaker and apologetically ask them to repeat the question. So far, I find the need to do this every so often far more pleasant than earhorning “Eh?” countless times daily.

I don’t title this post “Prepare for a Trump victory” because even though I prefer using the active voice, I realized with mild interest that a statement beginning “Prepare for” implies inevitability, where “Be prepared for” dials it down to conceivable possibility. At the time of my writing this, that latter describes the situation my country — and therefore the world — faces regarding the likelihood of Donald Trump winning the U.S. presidential election.

I want to do everything I can to survive this if it happens, and I want everyone I care about to survive it too. As such, I advise you to not only not assume a Clinton victory, but to make active preparations for experiencing the shock of Trump’s election, and then adjusting to the new reality of life afterwards.

I rather expect the interval between Trump’s election and inauguration to feel like sitting trapped on a malfunctioning jetliner as it slopes its way downward into terrain — except worse in a way, the horror lasting not for minutes but for weeks. I feel certain my own sympathetic nervous system would scream for escape the whole time, heedless of the lack of anything to escape from, nowhere else to go.

So: I have started settling myself on the assumption that a Trump election will happen. If incorrect, I will bask, briefly, in the sweetest relief. Otherwise, steeling myself ahead of time will — I hope — let me avoid profoundly damaging myself by stretching over entire months the bodily systemic shock of a flight-or-fight reaction meant to last only moments.

History, I expect, would look on Trump’s inauguration as an impact event. Chaos would follow at national and global scales, starting with the election and rising to a crescendo in January. I fully expect markets worldwide to spontaneously crater at least as much as they did in 2008, and remain there. Racist violence may erupt across America and elsewhere as white nationalists, feeling both empowered and protected, hear the call to swell in numbers and take to the streets, seeking catharsis.

I would anticipate Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, to engage in an orgy of arson, using the opportunity of a diminished Supreme Court and a nihilist executive to reverse all the accomplishments of Trump’s hated predecessor. Obamacare, the Paris climate agreement, anything else they can get their hands on: gone. That they’d have nothing to replace them with wouldn’t matter. They wouldn’t care about improving the country, not even pleasing their constituents or PACs. They would focus solely on blotting out Obama’s legacy with the same fervor that victors in the ancient world would gouge out the depicted faces of fallen rulers from royal bas-reliefs.

All this horror, all the suffering, confusion, and death it may cause, would prove a short-term seismic shift leading to a new, permanent reality for all Americans that I won’t try predicting or describing. From that point, a lot would depend on what kind of president Trump chooses to be. Perhaps he will try to actively govern, attempting to spitball his way through global leadership the way he did while campaigning. I find it more likely he’d grow irritated and bored and throw the wheel to Vice-President Pence within months, whether through a formal resignation or willingly turning himself into a figurehead.

Either way, life will continue, and so must we. I know it sounds really hard from this side of the curtain. I feel very scared and nervous about it. Already in this experiment, I feel the tug to give in to hopelessness, to just stop and sink into inertia. But we have to stay together in creativity and resistance, if we don’t all want to tumble down into darkness, and I believe that preparedness for disaster — together — has to play a role in that. And that needs to start today.

Text I read at my mother’s funeral:

I had originally planned on reading the obituary I’d written for the newspapers, but changed my mind, since it copied a great deal of text from the obituary I wrote for my father three years ago. This was because I have never known a couple who approached life with such a totality of partnership in all things as my parents.

My father happened to leave first, so for him I wrote the things that I read here three years ago: how he dedicated his latter decades to property management, and left beautiful homes up and down the east coast as his mark. I realized now I should have written the plural “they” and not “he”, a mistake I corrected when I had to lightly edit the article last week for his wife’s sake.

Dorothy defined herself so much as half of the person that she and Richard made that, towards the end of her life, when nurses and old-folks homes asked me about her hobbies and interests, all I could say was: I don’t know — talking? When she did have to act as an individual, she retreated easily behind a veneer of storytelling. As I grew up I came to realize that most of her stories were baloney, so much that I really have no accurate notion about her own past and probably never will.

But that was never important. She always used her talent for storytelling out of love: either to help boost the confidence of a loved one, or to cement friendships, or to make new friends entirely.

Were you her child, and had trouble with a bully at school, she might confide in you that she’d spoken to the superintendent about it, and he agreed in secret that the other kid was a little jerk. Or, if you felt doubt about your wardrobe, she’d let you know that she just saw a TV news report about how bright green slacks for boys are super-fashionable right now, and that the other kids, aware of this, surely stared at you out of silent admiration.

Were you a stranger, she would ask where you were from, and — wouldn’t you know it! Her college roommate was from the very same place, can you believe that? And she’d carry on an easy conversation about it, letting you fill in the details yourself because you loved this strange lady even if you didn’t realize it yet and you really wanted her to like you too.

And everyone she did ensorcel in this way would know her husband too, because they were never apart, at least not during my own lifetime. Far more often than “Richard” or “Dorothy” would their friends call them “Dick-and-dottie”, the four-syllable name of a single person.

We had to say goodbye to this person three years ago, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Dorothy alone lost something far too profound to continue as anyone knew her. There really never was a Dorothy alone, after all.

For the rest of my own days, while I will time and again flash on an earthy joke my dad told, or have reason to recall one of my mother’s beautiful and winding absurdities, I know I will remember my parents less as two individuals than as a single partnership, a model of love for one another and for all the world around them that I can only aspire to.

Graphic novel by Peter Kuper, discovered by my partner at Newport Public Library. A swift and pleasant read, with a thin story but a lush depiction of finding oneself falling in love with an initially foreign culture, ever deeper, by layers.

In this case, the main characters are an American couple, a man and a woman, visiting Oaxaca, Mexico, and its surrounding countryside (which includes the titular remains of pre-Colombian cities). She seeks to recapture something she feels she left behind during a youthful visit; he, recently laid off and feeling rootless, passively joins her. But while the woman’s search ostensibly drives the plot, I found the man’s story more interesting.

When they first arrive, he can’t speak the language (as she can), feels nervous about traveling anywhere, and is even scared of the feral dog that hangs around their rented house. Bit by bit, though, while his wife busies herself with her quest (a story Kuper renders in parallel), the man — without necessarily intending it — begins a months-long process of personal assimilation. He befriends Anglophonic immigrants, who start to tell him more about the area, making it suddenly less than completely alien to him. This leads to his asking their live-in housekeeper to teach him rudimentary Spanish, and this leads in turn to his getting to know the neighborhood’s life-long inhabitants. Months after his arrival, he drives like a native, has become politically active, and otherwise starts throwing down roots in the last place he expected to.

I think the author meant the woman’s story to seem at least as compelling, but I found it rather one-note, serving mainly to background the man’s transformation. But the book is short, and I enjoyed how it applied a breezily colorful art style to its take of personal-scale political and artistic awakenings in the faraway land next door. The afterword suggests that the book, while fictional in its particulars, springs from the American author’s own experiences learning to love Oaxaca, so it stands to reason that these would translate into its strongest elements. I liked it.

During one of the hours-long drives across New England that life events have obliged me to make lately, I found myself thinking about Poker. I have enjoyed a new implementation called Prominence Poker on Playstation 4, finding it a fine replacement for Full House Poker back on the Xbox 360, my appreciation for which I have written about before.

I feel a little silly once again using a current-generation video game console to play a low-technology game like Poker. I even feel a little frustrated that playing 90-minute Poker tournaments with silent strangers on my TV represents one of the only consistently engaging and repeatable networked-multiplayer gameplay styles that works for me. But I cannot deny the fun I have with it despite myself, and while the gentle curves and sparse traffic of mid-Maine I-95 lulled me into half-sleep, I wondered why it does work. Could I build something that would isolate and emphasize the attributes of the game I liked the most?

Long story short, I took advantage of a brief respite at home yesterday to create a couple of poker bots that use a rudimentary sort of machine learning to figure out the game for themselves over thousands or millions of hand-iterations. (I used, in part, this excellent Perl module by Nathaniel Graham, one of several related Poker libraries he’s published this year.) Through this work, I understand Poker better, and also can now say that I’ve dipped my toe into machine-learning, even if only a layperson’s interpretation thereof. I began with a degenerate-case robot that bet on only one-card hands, tuning it until I could see its improvement curve over successive games. Before bedtime, I rewrote it to play Straight Poker (the game’s simplest and oldest legitimate variant), and let it play a million games overnight; I woke up to read its report. When the barista in the coffee shop across from my office politely asked me about my weekend, I forgot myself and told them about all this. That’s how right this project feels for me at this moment.

And yet, before I could even begin outlining this work, I had to work through strong internal resistance to spending any time on this project at all. The culture I learned coding within holds unequivocably that few greater sins exist than reinventing the wheel, which is to say creating software for some purpose despite the availability of free alternatives that already adequately fulfill one’s need. Acting under this tenet, part of my near-automatic preparation for this project involved googling around a bit from my hotel bed for existing material on poker and machine learning. Of course I found exactly what you might expect: not only do articles and books on this topic exist aplenty, but celebrated all-pokerbot tournaments happen with some regularity too, and an AI birthed at the University of Alberta’s Computer Poker Research Group — which is a thing — has “weakly solved” two-player Texas Holdem, with essentially guaranteed victory against any human opponent.

So: never mind, right? No reason to write any of this — no matter what I delivered, it would not improve on resources already freely available to the world. I felt rather dejected about it, and stubbornly kept thinking about it in the background. (Not difficult, and I still had a lot of driving to do.) After a couple of days, I saw my category error: the deliverable, in this case, was not the software itself, but the transformations wrought within me by the act of having created it.

The code-culture that surrounds me approves of programming just for its own sake in the specific case of learning a new language or other technology, but it has little to say about using technology you already know to explore a new idea-space unless you have a tangible deliverable in mind: a game, a web app, a work of art that you can share online. In the case of this work — I can’t even call it a project, since it doesn’t even have anything to hang a project name from, with all my work sitting in ~/Desktop/poker/ — all my code and labor exists for purely exploratory reasons, letting myself personally tour the possibilities of a given idea-space, heedless of how well others might have already documented it. I have so seldom thought about writing code for this purpose that, until I thought it through, it simply felt wrong, fit for discarding alongside every other excited-rookie time-wasting exercise.

Fortunately, free-software culture is not the only nerdish sphere I spin in. As my owning a PlayStation at all would suggest, I also have invested a certain portion of my life’s energy into video games, and from this fact a comparison emerged: Why does it seem normal to spend 100 hours exploring a single-player video-game world with an ultimately predetermined outcome, but incorrect to spend half as long messing around with code with no goal in mind? This proved the koan I needed to see my own mistaken assumptions. Programming culture wasn’t actively holding me back; it just didn’t have much to say on the topic. Meanwhile, video game culture loves deep immersion into artificial experiences for its own sake. Pouring enthusiasm from one vessel into the other wasn’t something I’d knowingly tried before, but once I did, I found nothing in the way, and certainly not regret.

The one caveat I’d add: a dozen years ago, I followed a similar thread and ended up with Volity. I don’t regret that either, per se, but it still represented years spent chasing ever-more-abstract unicorns instead of just making a thing. I am building these poker bots with the soft but finite goals of discovering a thing or two about machine learning via hands-on work, and maybe also figuring out what within Poker keeps reigniting my interest in the game. Maybe I can pipe the discoveries I make into future projects with shareable deliverables; maybe not. Either way, if I start talking about reinventing games again, please politely direct me to re-watch my own five-minute talk on the topic.