blarg?

life

For about ten minutes this morning I was in a beautiful relationship.

I bike to work in the morning, and I’m pretty aggressive about it. I’m one of the scofflaw cyclists people who spend a few hours every day slowly dying in traffic like to complain about. I move so much faster than traffic, though, that their opinions hardly matter. Off peak hours (whenever those are) you can make a case for driving, I suppose? But in general, in rush hour in this city, nothing is faster than me. Subway, Porsche, Ducati, doesn’t matter.

Today, though.

This morning I’m cranking down the road, not full out but sure not dawdling, when a woman about my age riding with fenders and a pannier – a pannier! Wicker! – blows past me like it’s not even a thing. Whoosh.

This cannot stand, of course; the machismo bullshit is strong with me at moments like this. It’s a rare day and a rare treat for me that I get a rabbit to chase on my ride in, so I can’t miss this; I gear down take off after her.

After a while I catch up, start drafting – the two of us are flying down the road – and then pass her, but I’m not shaking her, oh no. She was not having that. I beat her to a light by about two lengths but she timed it better, got out in front of me again, took a better line around the traffic and started stretching her lead. She was raising her game here, and I did not have an easy time catching up. By the time I do I’m feeling it, and looking over it doesn’t look like I’m pushing her anywhere near as hard as she’s pushing me.

We went back and forth like that for about ten minutes, past everyone, trading leads and drafting around traffic and go go go until finally her commute took her north near where I turned south. I was grinning like a lunatic at the end of it, and she seemed happy as well; we shared a nod and went our separate ways, and that was that.

Whoever you are, that was one of the best rides in I can remember. I hope it was as much of a blast for you as it was for me.

Well done, and thank you.

Leaves

In Tsukiji there’s a small, open-fronted shop called “Tsukiji Masamoto”, and it’s packed. The walls are lined floor to ceiling with knives in various wooden cases, row after row of every tool you’d need to separate one part of some animal from another.

Their shapes were unfamiliar to my western eyes, specialized tools for jobs I know nothing about. Even the local equivalent of the west’s workaday one-size-fits-all chef’s knife, the santoku, seems to come in more shapes and sizes than makes sense. The cleaver-like usuba bocho doesn’t have an obvious western counterpart, the hard angles of the usagisaki hocho, the “eel knife”, likewise. And the savage economy of the soba kiri or udon kiri – literally “noodle knife”, because that’s all they’re for – looks more like the business end of something stylized and cruel than a common household utensil in its own right.

Most striking is the maguro bocho, made for filleting four hundred pounds of tuna in a single motion; some seven feet long, five of it blade, they seem more like a Daimyo’s tool than a fishmonger’s. It’s hard to believe they’re useful until you see how big a full-sized tuna can be; the nature of the tool becomes clear once you understand the nature of the job, as usual.

When I visited there was a man squared up over a whetstone out front, a man who looks like he’s made out of old leather and dock rope. He was holding a hon deba to the wheel in hands you could mistake for a bag of walnuts. He seemed to have been there forever; as far as I’m concerned he’s probably still there, a small man who stands like an old mountain. Tsukiji seemed to have been built around him; I had the impression some shogun’s son had found him standing in front of that wheel when it was still called Edo and returned home to say, father, we do need a fish market, and there is a man already there sharpening knives. Respectfully, father, I don’t think he’s going anywhere for anyone.

As I was watching him work he lifted the hon deba off the wheel and peered closely at its edge for a long time before he lowered the knife and stared at the sky for just as long. For a moment I could almost see a hint of dissatisfaction and then nothing; he put the edge back to the wheel, I moved on.

I think about this a lot; I wish I’d been able to ask him what he’d seen.

This has been sitting around in the drafts folder for a while. I’m not sure why I wanted to finish it off tonight, but I want to get all these half-finished posts done. This seemed like a good way to knock off some of the rust.

Rust Never Sleeps

Occasionally when I’m in one of my darker moods I’ll fire up a game that’s meant to be multiplayer and walk through it alone, crawling around the fringes and corners to see how the game reacts to unexpected stimuli, looking for soft spots and exposed nerves.

I’ve always been a lurker in open worlds games, real life being no exception; I don’t remember when I started looking for the seams, the little gaps where the walls don’t quite line up or the high ledge that offers a long view, but it’s not a thing I can turn off. And when I’m in that sullen loner’s mood, sitting in the dark soloing multiplayer spaces is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two on just that sort of wallhack tourism.

Halo’s Spartan Ops, is kind of fun though not particularly replayable distraction. It’s a neat idea, and I sort of wish they’d done more with the idea of serving up Halo in smaller episodic doses. The environments, though… if you have the right eyes you can’t help but notice that built-for-a-shooter feeling that pervades the designed landscapes of that franchise.

Its not just the trademark gun-litter; whether it’s a forcefield deployed pointlessly in a cave, an otherwise-empty room with one door and twenty or so alien warriors milling around inside waiting to no discernable purpose or an massive structure of dubious architectural merit built by an advanced alien species whose accomplishments include intergalactic teleporters but not doors, you never have a moment to shake off the sense that the world is built entirely around sight lines.

Specifically, as they emerge from you.

This is a pretty niche failure mode, I’ll admit. It’s possible I’m the only person who will ever notice or care about it. But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a space designed for a shooter that didn’t undercut any grandeur and greater aspirations the game might have. It maybe unavoidable; as lush as some of these environments seem at first, how do you evoke that sense of being part of something much bigger than yourself when everything is designed around you?

So much video game architecture fails that test of basic significance, worlds of outsized and beautiful physics-defying structures that don’t speak to any motive beyond themselves. Halo 4 is hardly the worst example, but the scale it aspires to makes this kind of anarrative laziness hard to overlook. This incredibly ambitious backstory, these huge structures and it’s all facade; there’s no “why”, because you’re there with the controller in your lap and you’re the “why” and there is no larger story than that.

“This place once belonged to an ancient and noble civilization, whose might and wisdom spanned the galaxy”, these structures say, “and as a monument to our glories we have built this: a monochromatic rhombus.”

Also I’m not sure how that Spartan Miller guy got his job, but he’s kind of excitable for an ostensibly hardened space marine.

But if you’re the sort of person who appreciates a jetpack – and if you’re not I don’t really see how we can keep being friends – then a lot of these arbitrary obstructions and forced perspectives are suddenly, inexplicably tractable. That extra degree of freedom is enough; in some places – Science Mountain is a good choice here – suddenly you can fly over a gate you were meant to fight past. And the game, of course, doesn’t appreciate being spoken to like that: Halo is on rails, and always will be thus! And you’re frightening the AI and this is just the way things are and I don’t care for your tone, young man. You can’t just leave the rails, that’s why it’s called “going off the rails”, and… hey, get back here!

And in this transgression, of course, Halo reveals itself for what it is.

You clear that gate, mop up a few stragglers and hop back to flip the switch to proceed. Enemies appear, less and listless. Defeat them, and now you’re alone. The next part of the sequence simply doesn’t happen. No-one else appears, no more doors open. Your team never contacts you and you, stoic and silent, never reach out to them.

There’s no meaning, there’s no more, there’s no distraction; there’s just reflection and just you, silently exploring a small corner of a deserted island intended only for you, forever. And there’s nothing to do but look for another seam, another glitch, to allow you maybe possibly move on.

It’s a weird, lonely feeling; kind of what you’d expect from soloing a multiplayer game alone in the dark.

My father, David Hoye, died on Sunday at about 5:30 in the morning. He was seventy years old; he’d been married to my mom for the last forty-five.

He had his own ideas about what was right and how things should be done, and though he’d always listen he didn’t much care who disagreed with him. He was impractical and idealistic and stubborn and if you know me at all I’m sure that comes as no surprise whatsoever. We were differently stubborn people with different ideas though, or perhaps “of course”; finding a common language, much less common ground, was never all that easy. It took me a long time to recognize what I’d decided in my teens was overbearing micromanagement for the uncomplicated thing it really was: caring. Lots of it, all the time. I’ve inherited that too, to my chagrin. And it never goes away and I can never turn it off and if I’m lucky someday my kids will hate it just as much as I did. If I’m really lucky they’ll eventually feel the way I feel about it now, but who can say?

He never complained about pain, ever, so when he had to cut a March visit short because his back was “bothering him”, that was worrying. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer shortly afterwards, and it took longer than we would have liked to get him on a treatment program and a pain-management regimen that seemed to be working. But prostate cancer is one of the ones we’re supposed to be able to manage, right?

It looked that way for a while; the numbers were moving quickly in the right direction, and though he was still weak from the medication and radiation treatments he was lucid, could still move around with some effort and things seemed to be moving in the right direction. On May 5th, though, he was checked back into the hospital in considerable pain, where we found out that whatever he had had metastasized and by that point was basically on fire.

All of his kids got a chance to talk to him while he was still lucid and fully present, for which I’m grateful.

It wasn’t a good week; cancer doesn’t give out many of those. But he was himself, right to the end; stubborn, determined and caring deeply about his wife and family. Another thing I’ve apparently inherited from him is that painkillers don’t work for shit; on Friday I watched him, in a body that barely worked at all, fight his way up past enough morphine to put down a mule to tell my mom he loved her. On Saturday with the painkillers running as hot as the hospital staff could set them he was still struggling to talk, but the only thing we could make out were the names of his wife and kids and him asking us to take care of each other.

I want to tell you a story about him.

This happened in mid-November, I think, when I was seven or eight years old. We’d had a warm, dry lead-up to winter, and though the leaves were long off the trees we hadn’t seen any snow yet. But that evening while the temperature dropped on our calm one-block street, we got about a quarter-inch of freezing rain on top of everything.

Dad woke us up for this; it gets dark early in the winter so I have no idea how late it really was but it felt late. Dad woke us up and got us dressed in our snowsuits and we went out to the front porch, where he helped us put on our skates.

In hindsight, I doubt we were out there for more than twenty minutes. But how can I describe those twenty minutes, through an eight-year-old’s eyes? Everything I’ve grown up around suddenly made of crystal, the whole world from asphalt to the treetops shining in the old yellow streetlights like one diamond. Skating up and down the street, arms out like a superhero, stumbling over exposed pavement and turning around to try again. Ruining our skates, I’m sure, for a few minutes of surreal, magical flight up and down our block.

We were the only kids out there that night of the dozen or so young families on the block, and this is what I wanted to tell you about my Dad: he found this for us, this moment that was as close to magic as anything I’ve ever seen. And anybody else could have done that, sure. But nobody else did, and I doubt anybody believed me when I told them about it the next day or any day since, and I don’t care. I had dreams about it afterwards for years; to this day, sometimes, I still do.

He died early Sunday morning, slowing to a stop after his first decent, painless (I think, I hope) night’s sleep in a long time. And I’ll miss him, and I hope that when my time comes that I can show my family a fraction of the love and dedication that he did.

Goodbye, Dad. I love you.

A little while ago, the espresso machine in our office broke down. This doomsday scenario is, and I say this without the least bit of hyperbole, the most catastrophically dire situation that can exist in this or any other possible universe. If the intertubes felt slow for you the last few weeks, that’s probably why.

After a while, I started asking a colleague, Sean Martell, to ‘shop up some old war propaganda every few days, to express our dismay.

So, here you go.

We Need Coffee To Survive

It Can Happen Here

We Can Do It

Mercifully it is now fixed, and productivity should normalize in a day or two.

I had a long conversation with the very excellent people of Samantha Blackmon’s “Not Your Mama’s Gamer” podcast the other day; I get rolling at around the half-hour mark. They’re quite flattering about the whole thing; we talk a lot about video games and parenting, and I had a great time doing it.

One of the points I got to make there was about the reaction I get when I tell people that I received death threats for making the Windwaker mod. They fall into basically two camps; I tell that story to men, and they’re invariably surprised, or at least feigning surprise. “Really? Death threats? No way. Really? For that?”

When I mention it to women, on the other hand, the reaction is invariably just a slow breath and long stare into the middle distance. “Yeah, that’s how it is. Did any one threaten to rape you to death? No? Well, you’re only halfway to your Being A Woman On The Internet Merit Badge, then. Oh, you though it would be any other way? That’s adorable.”

So much work to do.

Yesterday on the subway I watched a man write “KEY INSIGHTS” at the top of a page in his Moleskine, and then just stare at the page unmoving for the next six stops. He hadn’t budged when I stepped off to switch trains; I have to admit that as the minutes ticked by, I struggled not to start laughing right there. “ZOMG Thought Leadership Liek Woah”, I was thinking.

This morning I realized I’d been staring at an email window with a “To:” line, a title, and a cursor blinking away in an otherwise empty editor for at least five minutes, maybe more.

Sorry, key-insights-on-the-subway-guy. The inside of my head could have been a little more sympathetic, it turns out.