This week, I’ve been reading more graphic novels and engaging in non-moving visual media. I grew up with the television relegated to an unfinished basement. As a family, we didn’t watch all that much television. My mom watched Dallas and Falcon Crest. And my dad would take a Sunday nap while leaving the football game on the television. To this day, I often find it to be an infernal distraction.
What follows are things I’ve picked up throughout this past week.
More RPGs or Longer Campaigns?
I was sitting in the virtual pub last week listening to other gamers discuss all the different games they’ve been playing and I couldn’t help feeling that I have been missing out. When it comes to my turn to describe my recent gaming though, I talk about the year-long D&D game I’m almost finished with, and the two year long Whitehack 🔍 game I finished last year, and the other campaigns I run which just keep rolling on… Suddenly my pub friends are jealous of me and they (some of them anyway) are wishing that they could run a “proper” game of more than 4 sessions.
I grew up playing long campaigns. In junior high and high school, we’d get together and play every Friday evening. We’d start around 5pm and go until 4am or so. Sometimes we’d pick back up on Saturday evening. As a group, we built a mythology that has carried us forward. Now, some 30 years later, we get together once a year to sit around the fire, play some games, and share our friendship.
We might touch on a story from our past, but we do that less and less. Instead, we know them. They are our part of the mortar of our friendships.
I wish I could find that magic ingredient to draw us back to the table and throw our dice together. But time zones, life stages, and varying priorities create a seemingly impassable chasm.
I’m well aware that this is why I chase after the lengthy campaigns. To read through them and fill in the gaps with how I envision my friends playing out these moments. I conjure the ghosts of childhood past, wishing for a time and space where we could once again delve into a new mythologies.
And it’s a reason I want to support those campaign-spanning creations; to hopefully create opportunities for others to build a shared mythology with a group of friends.
Book Review: "Index, A History of the" by Dennis Duncan
, I wrote Organizing Information for Retrieval. the following shows up in my Rich Site Summary (RSS 🔍) feed:
The history of organizing thought is extraordinary. Once we reached “Big Data” (too many scrolls to fit on a single shelf) it becomes obvious that humans need metadata to make sense of the vast troves of material we generate. The book goes from the earliest invention of indexing, through its surge is popularity, up to the modern day. It covers the fashions, the spats, and the technology which unlocked its popularity.
In the review, Terrence Eden said that they may never had used an index. This surprised me. I think of all the times I’ve needed to look up a rule from a Role Playing Games (RPGs 🔍); the index proves almost indispensible. And if you play Burning Wheel Gold 🔍, with it’s lack of a digital version, you will reference the index throughout game play.
And from the book itself:
Most of us give little thought to the back of the book - it’s just where you go to look things up. But here, hiding in plain sight, is an unlikely realm of ambition and obsession, sparring and politicking, pleasure and play. Here we might find Butchers, to be avoided, or Cows that sh-te Fire, or even catch Calvin in his chamber with a Nonne. This is the secret world of the index: an unsung but extraordinary everyday tool, with an illustrious but little-known past. Here, for the first time, its story is told.
Given my recent writing about Developing Documentation Strategy, it sounds like I should look into Index, A History of the. So many books, so little time.
Who knew that indexes could be so political and cause so much controversy? It shouldn’t surprise me, of course. Gathering and presenting data is not a neutral act.
And Eden’s rhetorical question and answer, reinforces what I’ve long known: our systems of discovery and access encode our biases. And in the era of Machine Learning (ML 🔍), these biases amplify. What is the corpus you pick to train your ML? What you include and exclude, regardless of it being a conscious decision or not, shapes the next reality.
Neither technology nor metadata are neutral. They reflect the ontology of their creator, with all of their hopes, dreams, and prejudices.
Programming for Money
I’m never 💯 about the job. I just do it for the money.
Sometimes people at the office are shocked when I put it that way. Of course I enjoy working with good people, friendly people, funny people, I feel good because we are lucky and there don’t seem to be any narcissists in the company. That alone is one of the best aspects of the job. But think about it: if I weren’t paid, I wouldn’t show up, no matter how nice my coworkers are, no matter how interesting my projects are. I’m giving away years of my life in order to get paid, and that’s it.
I love this post! Alex walks through his history of becoming a paid programmer. He has a healthy detachment from his job.
Early in my career as a software developer, I told myself and others that I didn’t identify as a programmer. As I began to “succeed” at a programming career, I started considering “programmer” as a noun somewhat central to my identity. After all, we become what we do.
These days I’m not so sure that I identify as a “programmer”; I still write code, both personal and for my job. And sometimes the line between personal and job intertwine—like writing or configuring general Emacs 🔍 functions. But I work to live, I most certainly don’t live to work, and I wouldn’t show up if they weren’t paying me.
I still enjoy “programming” but much more prefer problem solving, to which programming is but one tool. And from this vantage point, it appears that we pick up the “programming” tool far too often and eagerly.
Negative Capability: How to Embrace Intellectual Uncertainty
Certainty is reassuring; what we know can be better understood, managed, and controlled. But intellectual certainty can limit our creativity. Where lies a certain path, many alternative doors leading to innovative ideas are ignored. We follow a fixed roadmap, without giving ourselves the opportunity to explore, make mistakes, and learn. In contrast, negative capability is the art of embracing intellectual uncertainty.
In a letter to his brothers George and Thomas sent in , John Keats defined negative capability as “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” Later on, philosopher and politician Roberto Mangabeira Unger described it as the “denial of whatever in our contexts delivers us over to a fixed scheme of division and hierarchy and to an enforced choice between routine and rebellion.”
Notice the key words in these definitions: negative capability is about uncertainty, mystery, and doubt, as opposed to “fixed” and “enforced” conceptions of the world. Negative capability encourages us to keep an open mind and always consider the possibility that we may be wrong.
I’m working to better hold mystery and doubt; to dip my hand into the shoreline and draw forth water and sand yet let it drain through my fingers and back into the tidal flow. Or to know when to simply look at the waves and tumbling sand and say this is enough. To eschew ascribing words to each possibility.
To bring as quick as I can a lens of optimism; to see how might I improve the situation in the moment, but hold in tension the fact that I may not understand the situation nor understand what an improvement would look like.
This doesn’t mean I should retreat from the problems and mysteries. I should sit with them, converse with them, turn them over, and seek others who may also be near these mysteries.