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.

Last week, sitting on my bed, I noticed a spectrum on the wall as the sun shone through a flaw in the opposite window. Involuntarily I recalled what layman’s knowledge I have of such phenomena — the different wavelengths of visible light, paired with tone-memories of high school science classes. An eyeblink later, I gasped to fight back tears as these thoughts gave way to a leaden sense of all human endeavor’s ultimate futility, crashing over me and pressing me flat.

I don’t mind saying that I find myself passing through a slow-motion existential crisis this summer. No doubt the vertiginous presidential race has acted as a trigger, dredging with it observations that, given our narrow attention span, news about global crises like nascent pandemics and climate change continues to receive short shrift.

I thought back to my read last winter of the climate-doom booklet Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, and its message to temper yourself for future uncertainty by striving to make yourself timeless. It advised borrowing the future’s perspective to think of yourself as already dead, and in the meantime soaking in the past by taking in — and accepting transformation through — the centuries of humanity’s most long-lived creative work.

So, in this mind, I visited Wikipedia’s pages about existential nihilism, from from there ended up reading The Last Messiah, a 1933 essay by Peter Wessel Zapffe. I found it relevant and moving, and noted how it ended with some oblique biblical references that seemed familiar. Turning back to my Wikipedia app on another device, I found that I’d left it open to the page on the Pete Seeger song Turn! Turn! Turn! for reasons now forgotten, but there re-read how it adapted an unusually lyrical chapter of Ecclesiates. And so I read that article, which reminded me in turn how friends on Twitter, the last time I idly said “I should read the bible sometime”, recommended this book in particular. So, I read it. It’s not long.

What to make of Ecclesiastes? It’s very strange and rambling, yet with somehow haunting repetitions and patterns. I’ve lately been also re-reading some of my college textbooks collecting American folklore, and perhaps that tempts me to imagine an ancient-world lore-trawler kneeling down with their papyrus beside a genial old fart while he reels off whatever comes to mind when encouraged to think back on all his own gone-by years. The speaker of Ecclesiastes — the translation I read calls him “The Preacher” — freewheelingly mixes up adages, poetry, and complaints about evil women with barbed hearts who done him wrong.

As both friends and Wikipedia suggest, it really does stand out from the rest of the bible as an impressively secular work, no matter its mood. It does mention “God” quite a bit by name, but I read it as not so much referring to a supreme being one should fear and worship as the ineffable qualities of nature, shorthand for everything we brief and inconsequential humans cannot understand. I ache with curiosity about how it ended up in the biblical canon. I know that books about this book exist, and I would quite like to find and read a recent one.

The core lesson I took from the old Preacher is this: Life has no purpose, and to seek meaning is folly — the vanity of vanities, to use a King James-ism that more modern translations often choose to preserve. Any questing for ultimate meaning will lead only to heartbreak. Attempts to gain life-transcending fulfillment through more grounded means, via offspring or art or legal contracts, these too are “chasing the wind”: personal death, inevitable and soon, brings a complete loss of both control and care over such matters.

As a balm to this, the Preacher offers his observation that some things seem to consistently bring personal happiness: the basic pleasures of good food and drink, and the higher satisfaction of doing good work. He calls this happiness a reward from God, which is to say: who the hell knows why, but it works. Focus, then, on doing the good things for yourself and for others that make you happy, and feel no remorse in making personal happiness your main motivation.

I don’t always hit my one-per-week mark, but I always feel good for a while when I manage to publish a blog post. I hope you have something that makes you feel good, too.

At the time of this writing I do not know how this comic book by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Purvis relates to the film of the same title, and the same subject matter — a (somewhat fictionalized) biography of Alan Turing. The comic has a copyright date of 2016, which seems to preclude the possibility that latter adapts the former. I see that the words “comic” and “graphic” do not appear on the film’s Wikipedia page, and the book made no acknowledgment in the other direction. I avoid contaminating my thoughts about media I blog about here until the blogging’s done, so I’ll leave it as a curious coincidence for now.

I enjoyed this book! For some reason (perhaps based on what little I’ve heard about the movie) I expected something much less compelling than what I found. Specifically, I anticipated a story that would focus more on Turing’s personal life, building up to the circumstances of its premature ending, using his world-changing work only as backdrop. The book ends up paying far more attention to Turing the war-hero mathematician than Turing the tragedy, though, and I liked that. Granted, it does lay on the foreshadowing thick at its start — teenaged Turing seeing Snow White in the theater, presaging the inevitable final panels of the red apple by his bedside — but for the most part it keeps to its sources. It uses a frame that imagines interviews with the people who knew Turing best, mostly family and colleagues, their words based (from what I can gather) on the works listed in comic’s extensive bibliography.

This set of external lenses results in relatively little attention given to Turing’s loves or relationships, though still I learned enough to surprise me. Given the well-known circumstances of his death, I assumed heretofore he kept his homosexuality a shameful secret until its accidental public revelation after the war. The Turing of The Imitation Game, however, takes a stance that a modern person would call openly gay. The privations of World War II Britain, and Turing’s value as a national asset, seem to lead to tolerance for this: most of his colleagues at Bletchley treat his preference as a charming eccentricity, and at worst he receives a scolding from a particularly stuffy lab-mate for oversharing.

The only one of Turing’s lovers we “meet”, in the authors’ imagined interview-room, is the pretty but coarse low-life (or so he is here depicted) who leans on Turing’s post-war loneliness and naivety in a way that reveals their illegal relationship to the law, leading in turn to the final, sad chapter of Turing’s life. Other than him, a few implied boarding-school dalliances, and a brief and unsuccessful engagement with a female friend at Bletchley, this Turing seems to have little interest in romance or partnership. While he valued the companionship of many friends, those same friends paint a portrait of a man whose work and studies remained his true passions for this whole life, and I find myself respecting that man all the more for it.

On that topic, I found new appreciation for the difficulty, complexity, and cross-discipline teamwork involved in Turing’s famous feat of “cracking the Enigma code”. Another bit of received wisdom that this book massaged into a more realistic shape, for me: Turing did not create a single, elegant solution that neatly and permanently turned all intercepted German messages from gibberish to cleartext overnight. Rather, building on the work of those already hard at work at Bletchley when he arrived, he devised a machine — his “bombe” — that could, when used by cryptanalysts who still had to know what they were doing, brute-force through many possible decryptions at high speed. And more than once, the Germans would succeed in stifling the bombe’s efficacy by ratcheting up the Enigma’s own complexity, a situation solved in both cases by British sailors in the field risking everything to capture hardware and documentation from sinking submarines. While Turing’s invention absolutely played a critical role in this whole process, it certainly did not rest on his shoulders alone.

This is a good book. And now I will see what I think about the movie, perhaps.

I just published a new tool called TwitterSplit. Paste in an essay or another hunk of text too long for Twitter, hit the button, and receive back a tweetstorm ready for pasting into the client of your choice. You can optionally have “page numbers” appear at the front or back of every tweet, or stamp them all with a certain hashtag. The tweets’ length in any case will never exceed 140 characters each.

It is essentially a web-wrapper around a command-line program and Perl library I wrote last year. I didn’t have any particular reason to make those then, and I didn’t have any real justification for today’s work, either. I did it anyway! My next big personal actually-useful project is still some weeks away from beta, and I suppose wanted to feel good about shipping something small in the meantime.

I hope someone finds it somehow useful. (The obvious next steps would involve making a proper API out of it, or even having it connect to Twitter and post a threaded storm for you — but these feel like features on the other side of “I myself would use this, ever”.)