The Transfiguration

everything is sacred

Archive for the ‘ruminations’ Category

Movement of the Day #2472

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Movement of the Day #2472

More and more over the past few years I’ve come to view creative works – books, movies, music, video games, comics – as the product of a fellow human, something personally crafted, driven by inspiration and flawed like every person is, rather than as something materialized from the void by deep magic. Even if I am not as much of a creator, I’m seeing artists as peers, and the things they make as part of the lives they live, and that’s letting me appreciate creative pieces in a different way.

Through the creator of the PICO-8 I learned about this game, Strawberry Cubes, in which the world is constructed of cellular automata, growing and shifting in an aesthetic that straddles the line between mechanical and organic. You need to see it in motion to appreciate it; for a game working with such a simple palette it’s very eerie.

Loren Schmidt kept using the hashtag #altgames, which I’d never heard of, so I did some exploring. It turns out to be something of a subset of Indie game development; there seems to be a community growing around the concept, but it’s so young that most of the explanations online are made of clouds of Twitter messages.

@erichermit says: to me it’s like, making the game you want to play or tells the story you want tot ell w/o compromising for wide appeal?

@lectronice says: #indiedev is for people who want to make games to live, #altgames is for people who want to live to make games.

@inurashii says: To me, #altgames are works with alternative audience goals. They may be for a niche, or everybody, or the author themselves… …but the goal of #altgames is, in my belief, to evoke an emotion or set of emotions in the audience(s). To make them feel something.

(These tweets found here)

In short, these are games made by individuals driven by creative expression rather than by what’s profitable in the gaming industry. Altgames are tiny worlds to explore, or encapsulated emotions, or just an aesthetic to submerge yourself in for a moment, and I think that’s wonderful.

A lot of altgame talk discussed the economic difficulties of it: creators who want to create something that pretty much by definition is not marketable, that will appeal to only a few people (but hopefully resonate deeply with some of them). The quandary is how we go about supporting creators like this, who are working so hard in such a niche field.

There is also a strange sort of moral question to it – should these people even be spending so much time on work that few others will appreciate? It would have been an absurd use of time long ago, when every hand was needed for communities to survive, but we are reaching a point where very little human labor will be necessary to support everyone, and on that path to a post-scarcity economy, artist exploration will be so important.

I want to create, too; but I have decided thus far to be practical about things, to make a decent living instead of dedicating all of my time to creating. This does free my from a lot of economic stress, and in my remaining free time I can still make things – albeit slowly. What’s more, I afford to help support these other creators. Strawberry Cubes comes out on Thursday, and I’m looking forward to seeing what strange worlds Loren Schmidt has crafted.


Written by Umbrella Man

June 30, 2015 at 12:23 am

Posted in games, pixels, ruminations

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Cog of the Day #2431

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Cog of the Day #2431

I went to an early lunch with Jeff and his work friend, whose name I didn’t entirely catch but would be an appropriate name for a dragon who commands the rain. The café where we met let me order online with an interactive sandwich constructor, complete with automatically updating nutrition facts; I dropped the mushrooms and added slices of green apple, which I probably wouldn’t have done if I’d had to make the order vocally.

At the café, sandwich in hand, I saw Cordelia at the other register, collecting a meal for her own coworkers. It’s been almost two years since I last talked to her, and having that time folder back into the present moment made for a peculiar mental twist. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I said hello; she was equally baffled, and rushed off to deliver the food after we both gestured in the direction of our workplaces.

I ate lunch with Jeff and the rain dragon and met her husband, whose name is Gavin. I only barely believed that was a name when Laurel called me it two years ago, and when I was introduced to a real, live Gavin time folded over on itself again – more gently, this time.

My camera sat next to me over lunch, but between eating and speaking there are few options to actually take a photo without shattering the moment, so it rested quietly the whole time, and I took only a few haphazard snapshots on the brisk walk back to work.

I finished my last book yesterday and hadn’t decided on another one yet, so on the ride home I just stood on the train, arms crossed, and wondered about the other riders. It’s very easy to see a stranger and imagine that you know what they’re like; the truth is always far too complicated to invent. A mother sat with her son on her lap, smiling and talking to him in a low voice while he called out in response. They looked so happy, and I wanted to send her a smile as I left the train, but decided it would be better not to pop their bubble by trying to make eye contact.

I walked home slowly and felt like a piece of the universe. When I passed this flower resting its head on a leaf it caught my attention; I walked past and then retraced my steps, which may have bewildered the man walking behind me.

Tonight Leo asked me to write some lyrics so he can write a song. I’m not sure if I have it in me, but the words will come out if they are there.

in the powers of the earth

Written by Umbrella Man

May 19, 2015 at 11:48 pm

Posted in flowers, plants, ruminations

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Decision of the Day #2104

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Decision of the Day #2104

For the last couple weeks I’ve been jumping through hoops, taking a number of coding challenges as part of the application process to a school of sorts called App Academy. They sent me an email yesterday officially admitting me, and tonight I accepted their offer.

App Academy is a peculiar sort of institution. It’s a twelve-week course in various aspects of programming and web development, and very intensive; they estimate 80-100 hours of work per week. It sounds like quite a sprint, an incredibly dense packing of information into such short time.

There are other coding bootcamps, but this one has a unique approach to tuition: at the end of the session they help you find a job, and you only have to pay if you get one. This makes the entire prospect a possibility for me; I’ve been living on a very slim budget for the past year, and my pockets aren’t deep enough to invest in anything up front.

For the past six or seven months I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to do next with my life. At lunch with Michelle last week, I mentioned that I was considering pursuing a more programming-oriented career, shying away from academia. She sent me a lengthy email the other day about finding your funktionslust – essentially, pleasure taken in doing what you do best. She wrote how research could be hers and encouraged me to for my own, whatever it might be – although I think she might have been a little disappointed that I wasn’t keen on staying in the sciences. This is part of my reply:


The ideal thing really is to find work doing whatever your funktionslust is, eh? But not everyone finds that their greatest strengths are very employable.

I’ve been thinking about this possible career switch for at least six months now – going back and forth about what I really want to do. My big struggle with it, though, has been that I don’t feel like I have one particular funktion that really, really calls to me – there are so many things I want to do! Writing, coding, photographing, researching, creating of all sorts – and I haven’t been able to work out a way to tie them all together. Never mind all the little hobbies besides that, the climbing and reading and video games, and seeing friends in the middle of the week.

But after working for a year and a half at the lab, I think I’ve decided that what I would gain from continuing a career in research doesn’t outweigh the things I would give up for it – at least not in the field where I’ve been working. fMRI is so limited in what it can teach us about consciousness, as is every other technology we have to peer into the brain. I could spend thirty years in it, looking for correlations here and there, building up small hints about what’s going on inside us, and I’m sure it would be interesting – but it will never teach me what it’s like to be a bat. And that’s really what I wanted to learn from it, ultimately.

Programming seems like the next best thing, both because it offers so many crunchy puzzles to solve and because it involves a lot of peering into the intricate workings of a sort-of brain. If I can’t learn exactly how our brains work through researching them, maybe I can learn something by trying to build a brain myself. If that makes sense.


I’ve wanted to be so many different things in my life.

When I was five years old, I wanted to be an ice cream man. I was enamored with the Sonic-shaped treats sold from a musical truck at the park, and wanted to invent new ones myself, to create things that other kids would love.

When I was eight, I wanted to be an astronaut. Looking back on it now, I really only wanted to float weightlessly and look out at the fantastical shapes and colors of the cosmos; all the hard work and scientific pursuits involved were an afterthought at best.

When I was twelve, I wanted to be a comic book artist. I drew little Sonic comics, traced the real ones with fancy markers and smoky paper, and thought up new adventures for my hero – which lead to a lengthy piece of fiction that you will never read.

When I was eighteen I wanted to be a writer. I hoped to uncover the secrets of the universe through introspection, to help people understand each other with stories. I still write and I want to write forever, but these days I feel like trying to make a living as an author would create a sort of pressure that could squelch everything genuine in my writing.

When I was twenty-two I wanted to be a neuroscientist. Introspection didn’t have the solid, empirical foundation I needed to understand how consciousness could arise from matter, so I dove into maths and sciences in hopes of finding an answer – calculus, organic chemistry, molecular biology – and it was beautiful. It seems, though, that my biggest questions still can’t be answered, and while all these subjects are incredible, fascinating things, delving deeper into them would come at the cost of other wonderful things. Breadth versus depth.

Now, although I’m aiming for a career in programming, I don’t want to be a programmer – I’d like it to be the work I do, something I can puzzle over and enjoy, but I want to be able to step back and do a dozen other things as well. The question now isn’t “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, because you don’t need to define yourself by your job – and unless you are very inspired by a very specific thing, you probably shouldn’t. Instead I’ve been trying to trace out what I want the shape of my life to be, and consequently who I want to be as a person, and I’m hoping that taking this path will help.

I don’t regret any of my bygone goals, of course, because every time I’ve pursued one of them I’ve grown as a person, and I’ve been able to appreciate the world more with each new fascination. In a few more years I may change my mind again, and that’s quite alright – everything is worth getting excited about.

I started writing this entry feeling very unsure of myself and of the future, but dumping out all these thoughts seems to have helped. This will be a little adventure, and a few months from now life will have transfigured once again.

Keep learning, keep exploring, keep being enraptured with everything that is and everything you are.

don’t believe you’re all alone

Written by Umbrella Man

June 27, 2014 at 12:16 am

Posted in ruminations

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Tear of the Day #2095

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Tear of the Day #2095

For a short time, a few years ago, I had the habit of doing five-minute stream-of-consciousness writing sprints each day. The goal was to find interesting images that could be made into stories (the astrolisk was the most notable result), and writing in a dreamy, sleep-hungry state during class breaks worked quite well.

I haven’t been writing as much as I wanted lately, so I decided to pick up this practice again. Writing in a more lucid state of mind, though, often meant that less fantastical, more pensive ideas flowed from the pen, and I’ve found myself writing some things in this little notebook that I’ve wished I could write here.

I think I have, gradually, become more self-conscious about what I write on this blog, and I restrain myself with it when I really shouldn’t have – such as when I found out my grandpa had passed away last year. I’d like to be more open, leaving really sheer nonsense to the notebook, so perhaps I’ll start writing in a more thought-stream form here as well. Otherwise I find myself writing about the photo more than necessary; it’s good to let the image speak for itself.

Today one of the thoughts bouncing in my head is about how it is very difficult for one to really become an expert in something, and many people never do; but it is well within reach for you to become discerning about a few things you care about. I am not as strong a writer as I would like to be, but I think I can tell good writing when I see it; I have a lot of admiration for photographers who really excel in their craft; I can feel such a strong connection with some well-designed video games. Conversely, I have little appreciation for masterfully made food, and I am probably often lured by cliches in music.

Loving an artistic medium or a craft or any particular subject means that poorly-made items in that genre will be a bit painful to see, while people less familiar with the subject might not notice the flaws at all. This is balanced by a greater appreciation for good work, and so your emotional spectrum regarding the medium is stretched out in either direction. You may not be able to master many things – or, perhaps, even one – but it’s good to learn to properly appreciate a few different mediums.

Those are some notions for tonight. I’ll see if I can open my mind a little more in the future.

breath, train, electric wheeze

Written by Umbrella Man

June 18, 2014 at 1:25 am

Posted in ruminations, scrawls

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Sentiment of the Day #2034

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Sentiment of the Day #2034

The thought that I really wanted to put here, at least in the shape I had in mind, has melted away, but I will try anyway.

Because every moment feels like such a permanent thing – and like something of very finite supply – I have been feeling more and more like I need to choose each action with great care. Progressing through life feels a little like trying to craft some delicate precision instrument – a musical one meant to produce a very specific chord, or a scientific one meant to learn something subtle about the universe.

I should realize that it’s impossible to fit your life precisely to any plan you have, but there are still certain things I’m certain I want. Perhaps if I’m careful I can balance them all just right.

It always feels like the saddest thing to think that some lovely thing will Never happen again – or that a small floating dream you had will Never happen at all. The future is an infinite tree of possibilities, you could say, and as you move forwards every possibility not taken is sheared away forever.

I’m speaking some melancholy nonsense here, I’m sorry. I’ve been making a list of what I want to do, and it seems to grow much faster than I can check it off.

But I’ll keep at it.

scientist studies

Written by Umbrella Man

April 18, 2014 at 12:13 am

Flake of the Day #1877

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Flake of the Day #1877

I’ve had a little blizzard of scattered thoughts whirling through my head tonight, and I just can’t collect them into an organized reflection right now.

For the most part I think I’m doing fairly well right now, but the current pressing issue is to decide what to do with my life professionally – what to study or where to work – and I haven’t been able to settle on anything. It makes me feel a little groundless at times.

I’ve known with confidence what I wanted to be several times in my life – ice cream man, astronaut, comic book artist, writer, neuroscientist – but I have been wondering lately whether my career is how I want to define myself at all, and that question has brought with it a lot of uncertainty.

Every year and every day and every breath seems like a sort of dance, or like as I move forward through time I’m carving every motion into the clay of the universe, leaving behind a bending tunnel in the shape of my life. Everything we do is so permanent, and I want to leave a good shape behind.

simple in the moonlight

Written by Umbrella Man

November 12, 2013 at 1:38 am

Posted in ruminations

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Substation of the Day #1796

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Substation of the Day #1796

I keep slipping into a perspective that makes everything look so small and distant, like the world is a petri dish and I’m watching civilization squiggle around inside. We have gotten quite good at plucking bits of matter from around us and making it do what we tell it do, and so our environment is made of matter listening obediently. We experiment with different chemical experiences to make refueling more compelling, we fill our brains with layered patterns carried through the atmosphere on pressure waves, we interact under the restrictions of countless arbitrary rules.

I can’t quite convey the feeling here, but rather than make everyone seem unimportant or mechanical or meaningless, it just has the effect of making everything and everyone more endearing. I’m so much smaller than the greatest people living, but when I see massive architectural sculptures, or watch our scientists land a robot on Mars, or listen to shiver-inducing music, or watch a movie full of feeling, I want to praise the people involved as if they were preschoolers who lumped together something out of play-doh. We’re all so tiny, but people have made these beautiful things, and I’m really proud of them.

they still scald my lungs

Written by Umbrella Man

August 23, 2013 at 2:01 am

Posted in ruminations

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