videos, writing, programming, pocket computer

I am sort of done with the Random Life project. There are 100 videos there now. It was fun digging through some old stuff, but I got almost zero reaction from anyone out of it, and maybe it was a dumb idea. Oh well. Maybe in two or three years, I’ll look at it again and it will be interesting.

Been insanely busy with a big work release, and that’s finally done, but I haven’t been back on the horse with anything writing since then. It’s the time of year where I start to panic about not getting a book published this year, since the last year I had nothing published was 2010. But I’m in a weird place right now, where I am having a lot of trouble writing anything cohesive. I am just repeating myself at this point, and I really don’t like what I’ve been doing the last few books. And a lot of people agree, based on my sales numbers. So who knows what I will do. Maybe I will pull something together in the next 96 days. Or maybe I will pick up this writing thing after I retire. I really don’t know.

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For whatever reason, I started programming again. One of the three projects I always take up when I think I’m going to learn programming is writing a Zork-like game, a text-based RPG. Yes, I could just use Twine or some other game engine to do this. I mean, I could just play Zork. This is mostly just a dumb hobby for me to do because I can’t write, I don’t want to spend two thousand dollars on a gaming PC, and I am not about to start playing golf.

So I started writing this game in straight vanilla C, with nothing but the standard library. I still know a remarkable amount of C, given that I think I learned it thirty years ago. What I didn’t remember is that C is such a pain in the ass to work with. Every data structure that isn’t an integer requires you to either write or steal a library to do it. Dynamic arrays? DIY. Binary trees? You’re on your own. It all involves pointers and malloc’ing memory, and every time I would write ten lines of code, I’d think, “well, that’s going to break in actual use” or “that’s completely insecure.” I got a few hundred lines into the thing before I decided to switch to using Ruby.

I guess Ruby is now an inherently uncool language. All the cool kids use Rust, or JavaScript, or maybe Python. I first started messing with Ruby in the context of Rails development in 2006 or 2007, and spent a couple of years doing a ton of it, on a brief  sabbatical from tech writing. Haven’t done much since then, but I thought maybe I’d do this game in Ruby, no Rails, no ActiveRecord, no crazy gem dependencies. I think it took me about 25 minutes to redo the couple of days of work I did in C.

It was easy to get lost in this, but I also ran into a few issues. The first is the constant though of “nobody uses Ruby anymore.” The other is thinking that some bit of code is a very un-Ruby way to do things. I started reading more about Ruby, and it sort of drove me nuts because the Ruby way to do stuff is usually inherently unreadable. It’s neat and cool, but in my mind, doing a “if this thing is nil, do something else” is more readable than “do something else unless this thing is nil.” I realize I’m probably losing all of you non-programmers here, and I’m being pedantic, but I have some basic fear of writing this thing, publishing it on GitHub, and then having a seasoned veteran look at it like I’d look at a Reddit DIY post about some idiot who proudly enlarged their living room by removing every load-bearing interior wall in their house.

Also I get to the “why are you even doing this?” point. And the fact that I’m relaxing after a dozen of hours of hacking away at unreadable garbage in the Atom editor and pushing it to GitHub by spending a few hours hacking away at unreadable garbage in the Atom editor and pushing it to GitHub. So, yeah. How much does golf cost?

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I bought this “Pocket Computer” – a Sharp PC-E500S. It came out in 1995, and has 32KB of memory. It’s roughly half the size of an iPad lengthwise, about 9×4 inches, maybe 3/4-inch thick. It has a 4×40-character display, LCD, and more or less a full QWERTY keyboard, except plastic little keys like a calculator. You can write BASIC programs in it, but it also has a bunch of crazy engineering software in it, so you can do integral calculus or pull up a periodic table of elements. It runs forever on four AAA batteries.

I don’t really know what I’ll do with it. I won it on a lark – made a hail mary offer on it on eBay, and the seller accepted. It has a serial port that uses a connector I’ve never seen, and a cartridge port for proprietary memory cards that are impossible to find. It is slightly more useful and interesting than the Casio FX-7000GA I have from 1990, which currently spends its time in a storage container in my closet. I need to keep in mind that buying things doesn’t really give me the joy I think it will.

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The helicopter picture above is apropos of nothing. It’s from my Alaska trip in 2006. I think I’m at the point where I want to go back to Alaska, and I’m currently stuck with a bunch of Alaska Air credits I can’t use, but who knows when it will be safe to get back up there. I sometimes think it would be cool to go further north, head up to Fairbanks, but I don’t know the logistics of it. Maybe at some point.