Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for December, 2016

Fear of Success

Posted by Trixter on December 19, 2016

When I have an exceptionally good idea, I think about it endlessly until it gets fleshed out and fully realized inside my head.  This is fun.  I like to work on these projects every night as a way to get to sleep.  It rarely results in actual sleep, but at least I have something to think about during bouts of insomnia.

The problem with this is that it leads to obsessing over the implementation of the idea, to the point where it manifests in a really unhealthy way.  When I coded some of my best demos, I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning multiple nights in a row to take advantage of the +2 INT bonus you get from hyperfocusing without distractions.  This led to being inefficient at work, being short with my family, and occasionally getting sick.  When I was fleshing out MobyGames with Brian Hirt, I spent every moment of my free time working on it for nearly two years, which damaged my relationship with my wife and my young children.

I’ve reconciled with my family for that period in our lives, but ever since then, I’ve been very careful about how I spend my time fleshing out my ideas.  If it looks like I’ll have enough pockets of free time that don’t impact anyone that needs me, or said project doesn’t require intense focus, only then can I actually work on a project.  This is a balancing act.  It took several planets to align for 8088 MPH to happen, complicated by not just my own time, but the time of everyone involved.  I’m amazed we pulled it off.  I’m also positively thrilled we pulled it off.

I have a new idea that is just begging to get out of my head and into the real world.  It’s a project that has an audience of thousands — not the largest audience, but it will make a real impact with that audience and save them thousands of hours of time, and that’s enough to make converting this idea into a concrete project.  It will require me to learn a new programming language, adopt community programming practices, use collaborative platforms, and will overall be a positive learning experience.

But, it will require a large amount of discipline, focus, and study.  So I’m afraid to start, because I know once I start, I won’t be able to stop.  I’m afraid of causing collateral damage by being unavailable to those around me.

So, I haven’t started.

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Posted in Programming, Sociology | 3 Comments »

I’m right, you’re wrong, and it doesn’t matter

Posted by Trixter on December 5, 2016

(20161208 Update: Since writing this opinion piece, I have learned that what I was feeling but not able to articulate very clearly was the “Death of Expertise”: The notion that modern collaboration platforms and social media have eroded the division between laymen and specialists.  After reading this piece, you may want to read Tom Nichol’s piece on the same subject.)

I used to think that being an archivist automatically granted credentials to be a historian.  I’m not sure that’s true any more.  It’s not that I can’t perform the same job; I’m known for performing extensive dives into subjects I am considered an expert on.  Rather, I now think it is impossible for any historian to do an effective job, because history no longer matters.

Stop screaming and let me explain.  Of course the concept of “history” matters, but only as a concept.  The reality in recent years has turned out to be something else entirely: People simply don’t care to benefit from it.  Humans have a survival instinct that has evolved from protection of the body to protection of the mind, and people don’t want to be told anything that can upset or inconvenience them.  Mentally harmful information is rejected, and whichever population has greater numbers gets to define history.  Because the general population greatly outnumbers all professional historians worldwide, guess which group defines truth?  Not historians.

Facts no longer matter.  Everyone has an agenda.  Before written records, information was passed down orally from generation to generation.  Natural mutation of information inevitably occurred, but sometimes it was helped along by tribal leaders with ideologies to push.  When written record was invented, purging or alteration of records was invented shortly thereafter.  So, the modern era of perfect audio and video recording exists — will that save us?  No, because people will either claim what they are ingesting has been subjectively edited, or subjectively produced, or will choose their own interpretation of what the speaker said (or meant to say).  Facts have now become opinions; just like assholes, everyone has one.

Do you think written or digital archives will save history?  Will digitally-signed binary information solve arguments or advance the sciences?  Will it steer us away from war, mental illness, or famine?  It hasn’t, so far.  I think our ability to (mis-)interpret data is more powerful and widespread than we care to think about.  I have spent hundreds of man-hours extracting and creating metadata for various archival efforts, and I think most archivists have done the same.  How useful is that information if people are incapable of interpreting it, or worse, capable of doubting its authenticity despite indisputably-documented provenance?

Have you ever had an argument with someone online over certain facts about an object, something that is physical and present and obvious?  I have.  Writing about it, then taking photos of it, then shooting live video of it for the benefit of the other person still didn’t set them straight about the facts.  I resorted to physically sending them the object — surely this would clear up any misconception, yes?  They thought I sent them an altered version of said object.  I gave up.  I give up.

If you’ve read this far, and you’re familiar with the type of information I traffic in both above and below ground, you’re probably worried that this is my Raze Manifesto; that the last image anyone will ever see of me is of my silhouette walking away from a giant smoking hole in the ground as decades of archival work burn into ash.  If you’re concerned, don’t be.  I’ll continue to do what I do in the manner I’ve always done it.  But from now on, I’ll do so without any belief that the work is important or valid.  I will archive, document, research, and rescue for my own satisfaction and entertainment, not for the greater good — because there is no greater good to be had from this work.  If you want to charge that windmill, knock yourself out, but don’t pretend for a single second that you’re changing the world.  The world is changing every second without any regard to the past, as it always has, as it always will.  A mountain of data ignored is just as useful as a mountain of data destroyed.

I sometimes wish I were not a subject matter expert in the few, narrow fields I derive enjoyment from.  For once, I would love to enjoy something with the bliss that comes with ignorance.  I think this is why some people long to return to their youth, to return to a time when they lived in bliss.  That desire, I believe, is what creates archivists:  We are desperate to preserve everything that made us happy, in the hope that it will still make us happy; that interest in our time period and its products will matter somehow, and provide some form of validation.

I don’t seek validation much these days.  Seeking closure is probably more productive anyway.

I wonder if there is a specialized psychiatric discipline for treating disillusioned historians.

Posted in Sociology | 5 Comments »