When Anything Goes, This Is Not Normal

Please read this if you think we are experiencing the same pendulum-swing of power we were used to. You are probably confused by the fear you have been seeing after the election.

I'm surprised by how little of my fear has to do with the same old partisan fights. What you are about to read is not a partisan article. It is not an attack on you, or on Conservatism, or on Republicans, but a recognition of something larger than that which I hope will concern you as a citizen.

We are used to the pendulum of authority swinging between factions. Millions of well-intentioned Americans thought they were voting for that. They saw the label "Republican" and thought it still referred to a stable party structure and its policy agenda.

Instead, something else is happening in American society, with parallels to the autocratic regimes of weak democracies such as Russia and Turkey.

The winning campaign was based on unprecedented insults. And unprecedented threats. The threat of jailing a political opponent. The threat of suing journalists. The threat of refusing to accept the election as legitimate if the nation had not put them in power. And yet our society rewarded that.

There is nothing intrinsically conservative or Republican about the fringe faction now coming to power. They center around, not ideology, and not pragmatism, but taking for themselves as much as they can seize by force from our bank accounts and our bodies, and allowing you and me, the "losers", to have as little as possible in a zero-sum game. The principle of working together to solve a shared problem is being replaced by enemy-creation.

We now see our incumbents continuing the peaceful transfer of power which is the envy of the world. What if it is our last free election? We have our work cut out for us to counteract gerrymandering, unlimited political spending by corporations, and the threat of violence or imprisonment against journalists, dissidents, or any citizen who declares a willingness to vote against those in power.

The disrespect for peaceful political resolutions, with checks and balances on power, is irresponsible. During the campaign, we already saw the willingness to use nuclear war as a bargaining chip.

A President can be elected without releasing tax returns. How many corrupt Americans will now run for office, realizing they no longer need fear exposing their conflicts of interest?

Possibly the most frightening quote of the campaign was that the candidate claimed he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any voters. We are exhausted by wondering whether bluster is a threat or just a joke. Especially when the global economy must also suffer this uncertainty, and our livelihoods are inextricably tied to it. Especially when nuclear-armed global powers must wonder what is a threat and what is a joke.

The Democrats lost the 2016 Presidential election on November 8, but in an important sense, the Republicans lost on May 4, to a demagogue with no party loyalty. Party elders lacked the organization to stop it at their convention. Their own Speaker resigned last year because the party's five-way electoral coalition between the 1. Establishment, 2. Tea Party, 3. Moderate, 4. Evangelical, and 5. Libertarian wings of the party could not hold together to get anything done. Anything goes. Don't tell me this transition is business as usual.

For those readers who are confused by why someone you know is freaking out about the election:

Please do not conflate these points about institutions and norms with an attack on specific conservative policy goals you may have.

Bush, McCain, or Romney bore very little resemblance to any of the above.

There is nothing calming about "anything goes".

There is almost certainly someone in your life who needs a conversation in which their emotions are acknowledged as a problem they are experiencing, regardless of the legitimacy of their factual conclusions. They do not necessarily need you and I to agree with their conclusions, but a response of mockery or outrage does not make emotions go away.

When interacting with a scared person, consider that a year ago, everything about our current President-elect was a joke. When the news told us about famine, genocice, and insurgencies in far-away autocracies, we reassured ourselves it could not happen in America. Almost everyone I knew was prepared for election night to result in a boring Democratic candidate perpetuating the status-quo. Suddenly, we found ourselves far closer to collapse than we thought was possible. Now we are wondering how much worse it can get.

So, when you reassure us that we are not living the plot to an outlandish James Bond movie, if you can only do so with insults, please do not bother. No one will listen to you until they trust you. Why double down on a Presidential campaign like this one, with further escalation of insults?

You could scoff at someone you know, who is wondering if the next four years presage food riots or World War 3. We are not there yet. Again, for emphasis: We are not there yet. But it's scary that your friend who you are scoffing at had to wonder about it at all.

We were just proven wrong about what we do not need to worry about.

All the factors listed above used to be disqualifying. Those factors are no longer a barrier to becoming the most powerful person in the world. And you can't blame someone for spending some time thinking about where the bottom is. It's not like you liked the ugliness of this election either. The prospect that this campaign style is the future of every election is troubling, regardless of which side of the aisle you are on. Reach out with compassion.

For those readers who have been freaking out about the election:

First, do not allow this to be normalized. I'm posting this because it is not normal. Someday the normal practice in politics may become the complete lack of a filter between the mouth and the lowest impulses. Then we are lost. Speak up every time you hear that this is a normal shift of power, and tell them both parties lost this election to a demagogue.

When looking for empathy, stop scooping the bottom of a dry well. Always remember the words "family" and "friend" cease to have any meaning in relationships involving shame and intimidation. Do not waste your time counter-attacking the insults and threats. Set limits on those interactions to whatever degree possible. Try to build other relationships which start their disagreements from a place of empathy first.

Let's get to work. No one can afford to be politically inactive.

Every day for about a year, for stress relief, I looked at infographics on Sometimes it gave our current outcome a one-in-four chance. Sometimes a one-in-three. That meant my work was desperately needed. But I was complacent.

In my imagination, I now see that same infographic, but it looks like this.

What will America look like in 2020 compared to 2016?
Status quo; Physical and economic safety comparable to 2016: 10%
Recession; Two or more quarters of negative GDP growth: 50%
Depression; American GDP declines equal or more than Great Depression: 25%
Militia insurgency uses IEDs on food trucks, attempting to starve out an American metro area: 10%
Conflicts occurred on earth using nuclear explosives: 5%

Do not despair. America is far from "over". Physical danger and economic destitution is not a certainty in our future. We have another chance. And this time, we can not fail. Our work is cut out for us. For one thing, I want to contribute my software development skills to Give some thought to how you can contribute.

Game Design For America's Greatness Score

What does it mean for America to be "Great"? From a game design perspective, this is a question of scoring systems. In life, you get to think about which scoring system results in the world you want to live in. Each of us is our own game designer. You get to decide what it means to you.

If America were a game, the scoring system would involve two scores. There is the Well-Being Score of each individual player. Most of the systems use those to get the second score, which is the Greatness Score. But we don't use Well-Being at all for the first one:

1. Greatness is serving your instinct. Feel ennobled. Don't feel dirty.

In Virtue ethics, an act is moral if it's consistent with your brain's moral instincts, even if it results in reducing everyone's Well-Being. Talking to many third-party voters, I have heard them implicitly use Virtue ethics and reject Utilitarian ethics. The act of voting is not about what outcome it will get; it is about whether your brain's most basic instincts give you an ennobled feeling, or a dirty feeling.

Most Clinton voters use Utilitarian ethics, in which an act is moral based on its outcome-- the Well-Being scores. That takes the form of one of the many systems described below. So, morality is a strategy game to maximize all values, not just your self-image. To a Utilitarian, holding your nose in the voting booth looks like delayed gratification. But to Virtue Ethics, it looks like evil. They are concerned entirely with how they feel about themselves in each individual moment. They will sacrifice every other value they have to preserve one value: increasing the sensation of ennoblement, and avoiding the sensation of contamination.

I know this feeling is one of the factors of Well-Being. I'm just saying, be curious about other factors.

2. Greatness is scoring a higher Well-Being Score than all other players.

This is like most traditional sports and board games. There is only Greatness if others receive a lower Well-Being Score than yours. If you hold others back, you win. Donald Trump's show "The Apprentice" designates "winner" or "loser" in this simplistic way.

3. Each person's Greatness Score is the sum of everyone's Well-Being Score.

This is the simplistic version of Utilitarian ethics, in which it is ethical to ruthlessly destroy an individual for the sake of the collective.

I suggest we not stop listing alternatives.

4. Each player's Greatness Score is the opposite of their own Well-Being score.

You are proud of how much you endure, so you keep your problems alive in order to stay proud of overcoming them. Surprisingly, I see this all the time. I live in Detroit and see t-shirts that read "DETROIT: WHERE THE WEAK ARE KILLED AND EATEN". I see Navy Seals on YouTube boasting about an enormous litany of things they refuse to complain about, and how holding a candle to the palm of their hand proves their machismo. I have been in many workplaces where we could make the process easier on everyone, but instead my colleagues have boasted about how awesome they are because it proves they care about the company.

5. Each player's Greatness Score is equal to the highest Well-Being Score.

Even if most people are sick, poor, and lonely, their Greatness consists of basking in the glow of happiness of their group's representative. Many North Koreans feel their success is reflected in the success of Kim Jong Il. Most of the time it's the exemplar of one's own religion.

It's human nature to use this scoring system. But we can rise above this too. Jesus is a better game designer than Kim Jon Il, because in Matthew 25:40 he leap-frogged off of this scoring system to switch elegantly to a better scoring system:

6. All players' Greatness Scores are equal to the Well-Being Score of the player who is lowest.

See that person begging on the side of the road? Jesus kind of said that's your score. In this form of Utilitarianism, America is only as Great as the condition of the least among us.

This conversation will go better if we admit this still needs some work. In this version of the game, all 250 million Americans are guaranteed to have a Greatness close to zero, no matter what we do. We might want to live in that world, but there have never been very many willing players for that game. A game designer's task is to motivate players. Most of these simplistic systems are game design failures because they don't motivate enough players.

7. If any player falls below a minimum Well-Being, all players have zero Greatness. Otherwise, Greatness is the median Well-Being score of all players.

This is the favorite game design I have encountered so far. Your score will never rise by sacrificing one person to utter destitution for the good of the many. There is an absolute floor of Well-Being. If any player falls beneath it, everyone's Greatness Score is zero.

The floor is however much it takes to motivate most people. Which social science finds out is pretty sustainable-- food, shelter, and some time off of work to nurture social bonds.

We can continue to refine our scoring systems, but you get the idea. What makes us choose one game design over another? Whether it motivates the players to participate. If too many players flip the table, the design has not met its goal. And like I said near the top, for a Utilitarian, it's all about the outcome, not about feeling good about myself in the voting booth.

Keeping people in the group, contributing, is the only thing that affects the outcome we get. There is no point to an ethical system in which the participants constantly flip over the table and leave. At the same time, if five people sit around a game table, and one of them is completely unskilled, and that ruins it for everyone, that's also a bad game design. Why? Because they won't participate any more. You have to make the scoring system OK for one person to be terrible at the game, which someone always will.

Not everyone has to reach spectacular heights, but everyone has to be minimally OK in order for there to be any point in continuing what we are doing together. And that's an intro to how you design an ethical system.


The Social Dynamics Of Shame

It has taken me a long time to learn the social dynamics of shame. Do you know when I feel shame? When I ignore the voice of past-me and future-me telling me "you know you'll regret this". I did it during 2015 for several months. Then I noticed something: that is the only time I feel shame. When someone else tells me their needs and asks me to meet those needs, I usually just do that, without involving my self-image. So, I need to learn what it's like to be the kind of person whose self-image comes from outside, and who feels external shame intensely.

I've always regretted involving another person's self-image in any conflict. You know I've done it repeatedly over the years. How did that work out for me? Poorly. It worked out poorly.

When you need something, and someone else is in the way of it, shame will often get them to double-down in order to defend their self-image. It's best to avoid making their self-image seem to be at stake, when really what you want is an alliance: you need their help with something they are doing or failing to do that you don't like.

When shame does not result in defensiveness, it usually results in the paralysis of despair. When I ask someone for what I need, and all they hear is their own shame, the last thing I want to hear is "I'm a terrible person". That is kind of like telling me I will never get what I need. They are focused instead on their goodness or badness.

Even if you succeed in inflicting shame, and it does not result in despair, it is likely to result in groveling. This will serve only to annoy you, as it becomes clear this person is not paying attention to your needs, and is focused on their self-image. They want to get back to thinking of one's self as a good person. Why? Because that's where you put their attention.

Another consequence of shame is that my use of shame sets a context for what to expect from future interactions with me. From then on, everything else I ask for will be perceived as an attack, no matter how gently I word my requests. This is difficult to undo. In some circles, that is the bed I have made, and I must sleep in it indefinitely.

The saddest intimacy I can think of is two enemies who are married to each other. I watch a highly-shame-filled couple leave their needs implicit, or sort of vaguely gesture toward them, and instead attack each other's self-worth. "If only my partner has sufficient self-hatred, I'll get my needs met." All they get from this is a sort of generalized, nebulous, mutual capitulation.

Attempts to provoke shame in me usually result only in expressions of sympathy like "that sounds hard", followed by attempts to determine what the plaintiff needs in case I can provide it.

I have started to notice several people in my environment appear surprised when they see no shame. In that case, their goal (usually) is a sense of vindication, or the attainment of personal power through the moral high ground. Usually such a person loathes themselves-- they perceive mere disapproval from others as if it were a threat to the survival of their self-image. Whereas I am nearly unassailable.

"When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don't get to decide that you didn't." - Louis C.K.

You don't get to convince them that you didn't. The truth in this quote is that you do not get to unilaterally resolve the conflict. However, if I accuse you of hurting me, you actually do get to decide that you didn't. Consider what Louis C.K. is proposing in the above quote. If you believe the above quote, and if I wanted to keep you in an abusive relationship with me, I could do so with a series of groundless accusations.

So where is the balance to be found?

We each must hold ourselves accountable to hear people out when they complain. Sometimes they have a solid case, but sometimes they feel entitled to get whatever they want for no good reason. Carefully ask questions, then make up your own mind about whether the problem is caused by you. Sometimes you'll be wrong, but there's no good alternative. The only true sincere remorse is in an accurate understanding of how you caused the problem, so you can stop causing it. You cannot offload that responsibility onto your accuser.

Sometimes if I'm seeing a lot of disapproval from a person, and they can't express their needs, or their demands are based on groundless entitlement, I'll either ignore them, or just politely remove myself from the sphere in which I can negatively influence that person.

Your needs probably seem easy and obvious to you, as they usually do to most people. They are rarely easy or obvious. Conflict resolution requires sincere curiosity on the part of the defendant and communication on the part of the plaintiff.

So let me tell you something that I need: please send me a message or drop me a line and tell me what you need, and if you would like something from me that's different from what I'm doing, which you think would cause your need to be met in some way.

If you also wish to tell me about the reduction in self-image you want me to have, you may. Sometimes it's necessary to just let you be mad, and stay mad for as long as you need. Self-validation might be a kindness you need to give yourself. A kindness of validation for which you are starving. Feel free to do that for yourself as well, and I will try to respond compassionately. But I won't feel shame.

In Their Desperation, They Turned To A Man They Didn't Fully Understand

There is a line that keeps coming into my head. "In their desperation, they turned to a man they didn't fully understand." I did some searches for the line in Superman comics and movies, assuming it was about the storyline in which Lex Luthor was elected President. The line turned out to be from Christopher Nolan's film The Dark Knight, in reference to the Joker.
The quote comes to mind every time I hear something about Trump supporters who-- somehow-- also follow Jesus of Nazareth.

For decades, everyone from preachers to comedians to journalists have held up Jesus and Donald Trump as polar opposites on the spectrum of sacred vs. sleaze. And yet, if Trump is the opposite of Christ, consider this: among fundamentists during the nineties, it was de rigeur to wonder out loud whether Bill Clinton was the Antichrist.

Look through the eyes of a fundamentalist and see if you understand the choice between the Antichrist, and merely the opposite of Christ. The world is growing up, electing a black President twice, celebrating the victory of gay marriage, legalizing weed. Their way of life is coming to an end, so some of them might feel like the world may as well burn down.

I vividly remember being a fundamentalist Christian in the nineties. I remember the conspiracy theories which I believed about the Clintons twenty years ago, as a college student. I believed they killed a lot of people in cover-ups. I believed, as a teenager, that they were capable of any crime.

To you and me, Hilary Clinton might just look like any other untrustworthy politician. But consider how it looks to fundamentalists that twenty years later, this is the family which the nation seems to want to put back in the White House. It looks to them like the end of the world.
Imagine if Dole or G. W. Bush had not run for President. If the nominee had been a real-estate mogul who was rebuked by every preacher my whole life, would I have panicked and slammed my hand down on the Trump button?

Desperation. "In their desperation, they turned to a man they didn't fully understand."

Perhaps the Trump candidacy is an extinction burst for conservatism as we know it. Just before a bad behavior finally goes away, there is one last tantrum of defiance. Parents and pet trainers are deeply familiar with extinction bursts, but it is not just limited to kids and pets-- it's human nature. Perhaps that pattern operates on the scale of entire societies.

Maintaining Contact

A few months ago, a former Penguicon Board member phoned me, who I had not spoken to in about four years. It turned out we were thinking about a lot of the same issues lately, and some of those issues included how to keep in touch with people, and who to keep in touch with.
What are your strategies for maintaining contact? Mine is to detect another person's level of reaching out to me, and reach out the same amount plus one step.

My strategy is due to my unique circumstances. I have a lot of projects and communities that I work on with other people. In my personal life, when someone stands me up or flakes out, I can simply decide to move on. Whereas in a group, not all of the other group organizers will see it that way. I need to plan around chain reactions in which the loss of one participant results in the loss of more.

Sometimes when someone proposes to work with you, you assume you can take that seriously at face value. But often, you can't. An important part of social calibration is recognizing when another person is not going to follow up; either they are engaging in a pretense to save face, or they are too optimistic about their availability. If I don't realize that, and I take them seriously and follow up, this can be perceived as pushy.

Not only do they have no recognition of the problem they just caused me, they also do not understand the solution. The problem is not that this person will not follow through, but that they will not inform me of it.

The simple solution to overcommitment is to admit when you're overcommitted. Say "I can't do what I wanted to do." Sometimes we all set up expectations we can't meet; it's normal. Keeping those expectations alive makes it much worse. All you have to do is say "I don't have time to work on this project until two months from now". By accepting your own limitations, you have released me from the nebulous semi-commitment of my time during those two months. I would be able to put it on my calendar to follow up then, and it's no longer occupying my mind until then.

Making A Good-Looking Favicon

I'll walk you through how to make a logo look good when reduced to a 16x16-pixel image. The easiest methods produce ugly results. Craftsmanship is fiendishly challenging at this level. When you only have 256 pixels, each one matters.

Favicons are the tiny images that appear in the title bar of your web browser. It's usually the logo of the site. If you're reading this article on Livejournal in 2015, look for a blue circle with a black pencil in it. Notice how each tab you have open in your browser has a favicon.

When I was hired to create, the designer of the company's visual identity Christine Garofolo, sent me her art (used here with permission).

To demonstrate the simple and ugly way to make a favicon, I opened it in Photoshop, and used Image Size to scale it down to 16 pixels wide:

Original Black Box Montreal logoFavicon, the easy way.

There are two problems. The logo is wider than it is tall, and as you can see, the forms are no longer distinct. This is like ordering pizza, and receiving it after the pizzeria put it through a blender-- the crust, cheese, sauce, and toppings are still there, but their forms are gone.

This has a lot of what we call "anti-aliasing": a quality of digital art in which pixels on an edge between two colors are a mixture of those two colors, to create the illusion of smoothness. Unfortunately, we used an automated process to shrink the image, which made each pixel an average of several nearby colors. Each pixel is trying to represent too much detail with just one color. The resulting color is an average, weighted by the distance of several colors from the center of the pixel. But the colors in the original image were not designed keeping in mind their distances from a grid of 256 point. The result is blurrier than it has to be.

Next, I took the second ugly approach to a favicon, by limiting the image to 9 colors: black, white, green, two shades of purple, and four shades of grey. I used the Pencil tool to color one pixel at a time.

Favicon: The wrong way.

The edges now look jagged and harsh. When anti-aliasing is in the right place at the right amount, it doesn't blur detail; it actually increases the perception of detail. With all the anti-aliasing removed, we have even less visual information than we did before. This is like if you order a pizza, and you receive all of the ingredients separately and unbaked.

A good favicon would find a balance between keeping the forms distinct from each other, and keeping them smooth enough to approximate their true shape. But making a pizza is not figuring out how long to put it through a blender; it's all about arrangement. And so it is when making a favicon.

Fortunately, the source art of the logo is in vector format, which will make this much easier. So I will open it in a vector drawing program, Adobe Illustrator.

A word about "vector" and "raster" formats. These are two main ways to represent visual information in a computer. Raster art is a grid of pixels, each of which is assigned a particular color. Vector art is a mathematical description of paths that connect coordinates in 2D space. A color is assigned as a stroke following a path, or assigned to fill the interior of the path.

An example of raster art.An example of vector art.

Photoshop processes raster information (which is good for photography), and Illustrator processes vector information (which is good for logos). They each can import each other's files, so in Photoshop, you can "rasterize" vector art, and in Illustrator, you can "vectorize" raster art.

My first task in Illustrator is to remove fine details. Those details would be lost in the favicon, and would do nothing but add blurriness. I will select all the shapes and remove the white strokes on the paths. I will change the fill-colors of the shapes until there remain only six colors: the black of the box, the green of the monster arm, the white of the claws, the grey of the robot arm, and two shades of purple for the tentacle.

The logo unshaded.The simplified logo, scaled down.

That color reduction removes all the details except for the monster claws and the tentacle suckers. I could remove those too, because in the final image, they will be faint hints-- if they appear at all. But we'll see how it comes out.

Next I'll open the art in Photoshop, which converts the vector paths to a raster image of pixels. Then I once again will use Image Size to scale down the raster to 16 pixels wide. The colors do not sufficiently stand out against each other at this scale, resulting in indefinite forms. I'll throw away this raster and go back to the vector art in the state I left it, in Illustrator.

I'll select each shape and apply Effect > Stylize > Inner Glow. For the black shapes, I'll select a white glow color, and for the light shapes, I'll select a glow color which is a dark version of that shape's color.

The logo shaded.The shaded favicon, scaled down.

You might wonder how this is better than the strokes which I previously removed. At 16x16 pixels, your eye will not see this gradual transition as a detail. At a glance, your eye will see a solid color. Now when I rasterize it in Photoshop, and scale it down to 16x16 pixels, the forms stand out to the eye. Each glow is a gradual transition. Your eye will not resolve these transitions as details. Instead it just tricks your eye into seeing each shape as one consistent color throughout. But now the dark edge on a light shape will stand out against the light edge on a dark shape, so each shape is distinct from its neighbor.

This is better, but the logo still does not fit well into a square. I'll throw out this raster and go back to Illustrator.

If I crop the image to only show the center, I would lose the important shapes at the sides. So instead, I'll carefully adjust some of the shapes so that the logo occupies less width.

Each shape is made out of invisible coordinates called "anchor points", connected by paths. Illustrator will show me these anchor points and let me drag them around to edit the shapes of the monster arm and the tentacle:

The logo modified so its width and height are equal.The favicon modified so its width and height are equal.

I made some tradeoffs here. On the one hand, I distorted the actual shapes. On the other hand, this step provided a bigger payoff in legibility than any of the previous steps. The irony is, the best way to preserve recognition is through distortion. Previously, each feature of the graphic occupied a tiny space, in order to fit blank space into the top and bottom of the image. Now, each individual shape now takes up a larger area. When space is at a premium, when it comes to making something more legible, nothing beats making it bigger.

Here are all of the versions side-by-side:

A comparison of the steps.

I would like to hear your thoughts or contributions for how to accomplish legibility at such a small size.


Antagonism Embargoes

Today a sheriff at a press conference reminded us to embargo the name of the latest gunman-of-the-month. Identifying him provides the attention he was after, and motivates someone else to do the same for fame. Your antagonism is the reward they seek.

At that moment, I realized there are some who I used to be close to in my communities, who I now only think about when dozens of people are murdered. Tragically-frequent repetition has trained me to make one main connection in my memory with some of my former loved ones: the massacre of someone else's loved ones.

Maybe the argument we get into after each massacre feeds a cycle of emotional reward. Both parties in the argument feel proud to stand up for something they believe in. Hate twists us up the inside, and it's not healthy, but all hate is based on love; on virtue. It produces a jolt of brain chemicals which your brain will interpret as a reward. The conversation is polarizing because it makes the participants feel good about themselves. Your position will become more extreme in order to regain the burst of addictive chemicals.

So will theirs. You can see your opponent posturing in a display, like a bird puffs out its feathers, to defend their self-image. In that case, are you counter-productive when you engage in an argument? An argument is a perfect opportunity for a display.

My U-Con Schedule

I'll run Alien Frontiers and Flash Duel (Co-op mode) at U-Con this year, November 20-22 in Ypsilanti; plus Terracosm and Mirage, two unpublished prototypes of my own game designs.

Alien Frontiers. Friday 7p-9p.
Roll and place your dice to gain advantages over your opponent and block them out of useful areas of the board. Use Alien Tech cards to manipulate your dice rolls and territory bonuses to break the rules. Steal resources, overtake territories, and do whatever it takes to get your colonies on the map first!

Flash Duel - Co-op Mode. Friday 10p-11p.
Up to five fighters spar against one player who is the Deathstrike Dragon. Play a number card to end your move on an opponent's space by exact count to land a hit. When attacked, reveal the same number from your own hand to block the hit. But choose wisely when to show your cards to your allies-- one of them is secretly on the Dragon's side!

Unpublished Prototype: Mirage. Saturday 12p-1p. Sunday 11a-12p.
Players are leaders from an isolated coastal community which has just opened up to the outside world, rich in opportunity and hazard. They quickly agree to split up, and explore the surrounding desert and ocean, competing to establish the most far-flung network of trading encampments. By laying tiles, you will seek to claim regions of sand or dirt with your camels, and regions of shallow water or deep water with your ships. When someone encounters an oasis in the desert or an island in the sea, the player with the most camels or ships in the regions attached to it will set it up as their own trading encampment (a tent). Can your foresee uncertain spots in the geography, indeterminate in the distance? Will they resolve in your vision, to reveal your verdant destinations? Or evaporate into salt and sand?

Unpublished Prototype: Terracosm. Sunday 9a-11a, and 2p-4p.
Control the weather cycle. Dominate the food chain! Change the position of discs on the track so your own actions arrive earlier. Place your carnivores, herbivores, and plants where they will not starve or be eaten. This is an unpublished but highly-playtested prototype.

The Best Job I Have Ever Had

I have now worked for one month at the best job I have ever had. I have never seen a software development environment so supportive of learning, and so well-disciplined in following responsible practices.

Almost all day, every day, we sit with a colleague and code as a team.

We write a test for a piece of functionality before we write the code to implement it.

We use a continuous integration server which turns a screen very visibly red and alerts our chat channels whenever someone commits code that breaks the build. We call a stop to all work until it's fixed, so the project is always functional.

We review new code with a pull request, then merge it directly into master-- and we delete every branch within two or three days of creating it.

We take seriously the feedback generated at retrospective meetings, with specific action items and deadlines which we all follow up on.

Instead of just adding more features, we keep a list of tasks to restructure the whole codebase, to make it easier and faster to add features-- and we are allocated official time to work on that.

And best of all, we only work forty hours a week, which prevents the errors that would result from exhaustion.

Does all this put us behind schedule? No. All of it makes our process faster in the long run.

Which Problems Can Be Made Self-Solving?

Today I had a conversation with a graphic design client who, for the past several years, I have charged $20 per image. It is an example of how, merely by setting your own boundaries in a healthy place, you often don't have to filter other people out of your life, because they will do so for you. I refer to this as a "self-solving problem".
Hi Matt,
I leave for a conference in Israel on Wed, Sept 2. Have any time between now & then to upgrade some graphics?
Probably. It will depend on the nature of the upgrades. There are more demands on my time these days, so I will have to raise my rates somewhat, but it will still be proportional to the amount of time I expect it to take. What did you have in mind, specifically?
Hi Matt,
I find your response of raising your rates because of "more demands on your time”very disappointing. It sounds like you have taken on the attitude of big business (airlines)…meaning charge whatever the traffic will bear.
I am sorry, but this “attitude” is contrary to my thinking and I withdraw my request for your services.
This is why it's so valuable for me to put things out there from the outset, which will prevent going down a path that can only end poorly. In various areas of life, this could be "I don't take on new clients unless you pay me to have our first meeting", or it could be "I don't want to work more than 40 hours a week", or it could be "I'm not interested in monogamy and I have a vasectomy." Etc.

Unfortunately, not everyone who should self-select out of your life will do so. Some of them will stick around and complain about your boundaries, or exert other pressures.

There are two main categories of this, depending on the power imbalance. In one case, the person who wants to set boundaries is vulnerable to the pressuring party, as I was financially vulnerable when I originally met this client.

In the other case, the power imbalance is reversed. The pressuring party has too much to lose if the boundary-setting party asserts healthy boundaries. This is often expressed as a form of romantic love, in which the chemical attachment of bonding persists long after the problems of a relationship outweigh the benefits.

If you (as the boundary-setting party) have sufficient alternatives, and if the pressuring party has sufficient alternatives, they will filter themselves out of your life. Then the only way you will continue to have the wrong people in your life is if you fail to assert yourself calmly but firmly. Sometimes walking away is not failure-- it's success. You do not have to make every relationship work.

This is also why it's smart to empower other people with independence and alternatives. Seeking out power imbalances, or setting them up, generates more conflict than it resolves.