A photograph of the waters of Provincetown at sunset. Boats silhouetted against a blazing orange sky.

One of my freelance consulting business’s main clients runs a seasonal passenger ferry between Boston and Provincetown, Massachusetts. Very early in our professional relationship — perhaps before anyone signed any paperwork, some five years ago — the company’s head invited me to its offices, located right on the city’s waterfront. He toured me through one of his docked ferries, and then — this being a summer day — we also came upon a small crowd of his own customers, passing the time before the boarding call.

He smiled with a particular sort of satisfied warmth at the sight, the expression of a small business owner seeing their customers both as familiar individuals worthy of affection, and as a living score-tally proving that the revenue-generating machine they built continues to operate well. Gesturing at the crowd, the owner said to me: “A lot of lesbian couples today! That’s always a good sign. They’re some of our core clientele!” The unexpected directness of the observation struck me bluntly, and I don’t recall how I immediately responded.

Of course he spoke only the practical truth: Provincetown (“P-town” to the locals) is a decades-old wellspring of LGBT culture in the United States, and has long served as a welcoming tourist destination for queer couples. I received a little education about it that day, starting with my client’s admiring if unvarnished description of his own customer base.

Five years later, writing in a rather murkier atmosphere that encourages the drawing of bright lines, I have lately wondered how deeply I should let politics affect decisions or declarations that I make in my own small business. This includes pondering policies I might wish to overtly set about the political positions I expect from anyone who I support with my work. Planning ways to start addressing this, I wondered whether my current clientele might pass qualifications I may lay down. Happily, a little reflection shows how they don’t conflict with my personal politics: one client gets a pass for not basing its headquarters in the United States, and thinking about the other client quickly brought the story of that Boston afternoon to mind.

And then it struck me: my soon-to-be client had tested me, that day. That blunt observation about his valuable tourists on the dock wasn’t merely showing off his blasé horse-sense regarding the particular skew of his service’s demographics. Through his truthful but surprisingly direct utterance, he gave me a little shove, and watched to see whether or not I’d fall down.

The purpose of my visit, after all, involved establishing a business relationship that he knew he’d have to invest not just money but a great deal of trust into. He, rightly, had no desire to walk into that investment with anyone who had some kind of problem regarding certain attributes his customer base possessed. So, at our first face-to-face meeting, he hit me over the head with it. However I may have reacted to the push, I must have comported myself well enough, because we did soon thereafter ink agreements that have brought our respective companies years of mutual benefit.

All this ends up a lot less sad or angry than the post I had in mind when I sat down this evening, with this beam of light from the achingly recent past shining in to warm my battered heart. I find myself feeling freshly unafraid to allow my projects to express my politics, especially when my business benefits directly from the world I want to help create through those politics. Why yes, I do want a more progressive society that gives me and my loved ones healthier and less stressful lives, and thus allows me more time and attention for my various professional and creative endeavors. (And if that means more security and economic freedom for everyone else in the country too as a necessary side effect, oh well.)

I plan to feel less shy about making this more clear, across all my published work. And I will in so doing invite anyone who takes issue with this stance to keep on walking.

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My IndieWeb call to action from a few days ago drew down a stronger and wider response than this blog’s articles typically receive, and I acknowledge this generous feedback with humility and gratitude.* As I wrote then, I’ve been aware of the IndieWeb movement for only three months, so I now shift my stance towards listening to and reporting this response, rather than pressing my initial point any further.

Other than general words of appreciation (which I appreciate!), the response in both written replies and followup IRC discussion† largely centers around two complementary counterpoints:

  1. While the IndieWeb group began its work many years ago, its resultant technologies remain very young — Webmention’s W3C certification dates to early 2017 — and they’re still only taking root in the form of varied and tested implementations. Its exposure to the public grows no faster than strictly necessary. Why rush the process, and risk spoiling things?

  2. The core IndieWeb community focuses on development, not public outreach. It falls to second-order groups to organize around these developed principles and technologies, implementing their own project-specific goals. This will carry the welcome side-effect of testing and proving these technologies — and bringing comfortably gradual exposure to them as the basis for successful applications, rather than mere standards and theories.

    The world already starts to see this with commercial efforts like Micro.Blog, and the wide-open land invites the invention of more services like it. (I might include non-commercial but stable services like Bridgy and Webmention.io into this class, as well.)

I feel it not my present place to vociferously agree or disagree with these points, which do not necessarily conflict with the observations I voiced in my previous article. I will say how impressed I feel that the core community clearly possesses such a strong sense of cohesion, despite a lack of formal organization, to produce these consensus-based counterarguments so efficiently.

And I must admit that they have already inspired me start dreaming up new ways that I might contribute further to IndieWeb on its own apparent terms.

This was also posted to IndieNews.


* It also exercised my hand-rolled backfeed software to a great degree, with webmentions rolling in from a number of non-Bridgy sources for the first time — not surprising, I suppose, for a post about the IndieWeb itself! — and breaking my young and fragile libraries this way and that. I wrote many patches very quickly, and for this opportunity, too, I feel humbly grateful.

† Of all the Freenode IRC channels with populations of more than 100 that I’ve spent any time on, the people of #indieweb have proven among the most friendly and welcoming, always quick to answer newcomers’ questions with no trace of mockery, feigned surprise, or bad taste. This has helped a great deal with my own ever-deepening interest in and respect for IndieWeb’s principles and goals.

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A photograph of a lake with a small island in it, fluffy low clouds hovering above.

When Twitter announced its plans to start asphyxiating all extant third-party clients this summer, I decided I would never again let my heart get broken by a web-identity service that invites me to invest so much of myself without offering matching levels of ownership and control. I have grown utterly weary of the every-few-years trudge of picking whatever service seems most agreeable at the moment, building up my network once again, and then enjoying things for a time while waiting for the rot to set in after management shifts and shareholders start grumbling.

By coincidence, at the very same time Twitter announced its euthanasia plans, I stumbled upon a promising way out: a chance to reclaim my own online identity without simply retreating to my own website as a digital hermitage, or otherwise turning my back on the ever-dimming but still-glowing promise of the interconnected web. This route exists through the long, quiet labor of technically savvy, politically realistic hobbyists who really do seem to be onto something, though they also seem hesitant to grasp the full potential of it. Driven by my usual selfishness, I want to help them change the world, because that will help me too.

I’ve mentioned IndieWeb here recently, introducing this blog’s new experiments in a “backfeed” that pulls in and reprints reactions to local content from across the web. Backfeed represents only one of IndieWeb’s core building blocks of technologies and protocols that this small, globally scattered team has spent the past several years developing and refining, to the point where it today boasts multiple W3C recommendations to its name. I find Webmention the most engaging of these, the admirably simple protocol for mediated inter-website communication that makes backfeed possible.

IndieWeb’s mission envisions a web that uses standards like Webmention to marry the powerful technologies and diverse cultures of the modern internet with the original promise of what we once called the world-wide web. In this democratic vision, everyone self-publishes to their own websites — each with its own domain name — and IndieWeb tech enables not just connectivity but active intercommunication among them, bringing about a sort of federated social media where everyone communications freely and yet still owns every bit of original content they share.

For all this driving idealism, IndieWeb impresses me with its practice of modern-internet realpolitik. While it turns its nose up at “silos” like Twitter and Facebook, IndieWeb philosophy eschews any great rallying call to throw off the yokes of these undeserving owners of your content. Instead, IndieWeb accepts silos’ present ubiquity as a reality to work with, admirably resisting the pure-nerd stance that would see them as damage to rout around. This working compromise is epitomized by Bridgy, a service that uses various silos’ own APIs (plus, I reckon, a wee bit of screen-scraping) to convert tweets, Facebook updates, and other silo-stored content into nice, platform-neutral webmentions. Via Bridgy, websites like mine can work with sites like Twitter as a peer — even though the latter has no interest in learning what a “webmention” is, much less bother sending one to me.

At the start of 2018, the IndieWeb community calculated that websites had, since the protocol’s inception, sent around one million webmentions. And that’s great! But: fully 95 percent of them came from Bridgy alone. This signals that, so far, the userbase of this core IndieWeb technology comprises only people like me: enthusiasts. Getting ourselves into a Berners-Lee headspace, we knit up our own hobby-horse solutions for consuming webmentions, and we might even dutifully send them out as well. (Ideally, Webmention-aware blog software will offer a fresh webmention to each and every URL that a new post links to.) But for now, it all feels like pantomime. Any website not run by one of the world’s very few IndieWeb-obsessed people will have no facility for receiving webmentions. (There also lurks the problematic nature of Bridgy, itself an unpaid hobby-project, becoming a monolithic service within a supposedly federated vision.)

Webmention, like most every IndieWeb technology, hides its light under a bushel of deep obscurity. I discovered IndieWeb three months ago by happenstance, and since then exactly zero of my fellow web-working professionals with whom I’ve brought up the subject had heard of it before that moment. On the one hand, I find this truly fascinating: here is a geographically diverse group of deeply caring technologists who have not just invented but, over most of a decade, refined and iterated tools for a truly democratized web. They have developed them to a point where the web’s core standards body has recognized their merit, and — more to the point — where a jaded lifelong web-engineer like me can so much as glance at them and immediately feel amazed by their coiled-spring potential, suddenly hungry to start working with them myself.

And this leads to my second reaction, which is the deepest impatience and frustration with IndieWeb itself for having developed tools to very literally revolutionize the web, but then continuing to not strive for a level of public visibility beyond that of model-train enthusiasts, perhaps, or ham-radio clubs. Smart, motivated people gathering regularly in the shared pleasure of their craft, with these quiet gatherings having negligible effect on the world at large.

An acceptable stance during the long incubatory period for new technologies, certainly! But through Webmention and other W3C-certified techs, IndieWeb has proven itself ready for a far more public debut. If it truly wants to help make real the federated web that it envisions, it now needs to show a little more initiative in getting its message out, rather than staying content with having nerds like me accidentally stumbling across it from time to time. IndieWeb has done the work to prove its message, and now it must somehow push it out upon the modern, cynical, commercially exploited web, showing it a path — a real path, well-defined and ready to explore! — to a better, less broken, more democratic web.

That will require quite a lot of coordinated amplification. So: I call upon IndieWeb to get organized. I want to see at least one real non-profit organization formed out of it. I fully believe that IndieWeb already has, through its years of published hard work, the ability to attract and build a diverse board of highly influential directors who care about the web’s future. From there, it could bring the attention and material resources that IndieWeb not only requires but has long deserved in order to start really reshaping the web at large, letting its ideas at last reach outside the rinky-dink hobby-sphere that currently confines it.

I recognize IndieWeb’s status as a truly global movement, as well as the fact of my own mere three months of involvement with it, so I decline to dictate any specific next actions here. But I can describe my experience in co-founding a non-profit corporation over less objectively important matters. Through that organization, various loose and hobbyist-led services that I have cared about for decades now have elements of basic organizational grounding, such as a bank account, legal representation, and presence on various charitable-organization lists. This corporation has central and easily-discoverable points for public communication and social media, and it can accept tax-deductible donations and sell branded merchandise. Most importantly, it can organize programs, raising funds to fuel them and attracting talent to staff them, all under a unified, recognizable, and trustworthy identity.

IndieWeb deserves at least as much as all this, and I daresay that it must have them in order to start truly effecting change on the world. Whether it intended to or not, IndieWeb has forged a set of tools that — with next-level leadership, attention, and funding — has a real chance to start making its vision real on a large scale, pulling the web’s power away from a handful of mile-high profit-seeking centers, and redistributing it to individual voices. While this isn’t my charge to lead, I pledge to help however I can, and I begin with this note of encouragement borne on equal parts hope, personal excitement, and benevolent impatience.

This was also posted to IndieNews.

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Photograph of a protester holding a sign that  reads 'Demilitarize the police'.I picked up This is the Police in a Playstation Store sale a few weeks ago. I had never heard of it before, but I liked its trailer. Now that I think of it, I notice its similar style to Night in the Woods’ trailer, which still gives me chills. (And, of course, I loved that game.) Both trailers flash rapidly through such a heterogenous variety of scenes, leaving me mystified and intrigued about the game and the experience of playing it, rather than taking a trailer’s more typical tack of checking the boxes on survey of genre, style, and content expectations. All right: I suppose I must appreciate that!

Many hours in — at least a dozen, perhaps twenty or more by now — I can say that Police is all but destined for my 2018 game-of-the-year list, even though I doubt I could generally recommend it. The game feels far too long, inconsistently signals its narrative shifts with an often opaque UI, and its core game loop rubs constantly against its ongoing frame-story with rubber-squeaking friction. Most galling, the Austrian-developed game blunders into sensitive topics about American policing, race relations, and gender politics with stunning clumsiness, again and again. And yet: not since I played Zeno Clash eight years ago has a console game that I began playing on a whim, with zero prior knowledge, hooked me so thoroughly and returned so richly on my invested time.

In short, this game is amazing — literally, in that it amazes me. I feel pretty sure it’s also bad in that everyone I know would probably hate it, and would seriously question my judgement for praising it. Believe me, I’m right there with them.

At the center of Police lay a perfectly decent police-dispatch simulator. Calls come in; judge their veracity and urgency based on the circumstances, and choose how many officers to send, with sub-choices about deploying support units (like a SWAT team or a police van) and whether to send experienced personnel or greener ones. Cops will resolve most situations on their own, but some calls challenge you with a little two- to three-page mini-quiz about handling the situation. (These are not hard, with generally one “act like an aggressive but level-headed law enforcer” choice against two silly or otherwise weaker choices.)

Do well at this day after day, and the mayor will reward you with budget or salary increases; embarrass him, and face browbeating and staff cuts. You also need to maintain stasis with local organized crime syndicate, looking the other way from time to time (despite the mayor’s distaste for this) to keep that pot from boiling over. Finally, you must consider your officers’ mood: treat them well and they’ll execute their duties efficiently, but work them too hard and they’ll screw up, slack off, or just quit. So far, all this sounds like a pleasantly competent variant on any Hamurabi-style management sim, something that one might have played on a pure-text terminal or on a BBS 35 years ago.

But This is the Police layers surprises and disruptions on this comfortable loop. In a delicious turn, it wastes no time at hinting at its own depths: before you begin your first day, the game prompts you to choose a song. Huh? It gives you a unique, single-task UI — one of many that the game will trot out, over its course — for thumbing through your character’s collection of jazz and classical LPs, picking which to to pop on his turntable. Otherworldly abstract art decorates the album sleeves, but the music is real. Once the chosen string quartet or clarinet band-leader begins to play, only then does the view amble over to the core police-dispatch UI (which exists in-world as a literal scale model of the city that the chief keeps in his office, contemplating like a scheming Game of Thrones character while he works). This wholly unexpected flavor instantly gives a bland management sim a somehow electrically ironic and fraught air, a feeling like anything could happen.

I loved this initial Minority Report-style hook very much. It immediately established a bond of trust between me and the game that it held far more than it first appeared, and would reward my spending time with it while it unfolded. And that is why I continued playing when the game flung itself off the rails on only the first or second pass through the dispatch-loop when the mayor called with a special request: an increase in racially motivated violence across the city had made him worried about cops being targeted, and therefore I had to fire all my black officers and replace them with whiter ones before the weekend. Uhhhh. I ignored that directive entirely, and thus started off on very poor footing with City Hall, which retaliated with the first of many capricious budget cuts. But by this point several in-game days had past, and I had kinda fallen in love with everything else about it. I kept going.

It became clear, over time, that this bizarre event was a card pulled from one of many “event decks” the game will draw from in order to keep the player from ever feeling too balanced and comfortable. In one deck, the mayor’s office calls with simon-says requests to arbitrarily rearrange your force somehow. The game presents these calls with wry cynicism, depicting a mayor far more concerned with appearance than practicality, but they mostly have positive aspect: Hire more women in order to mollify an increasingly feminist constituency, or make sure to have at least three Asian-Americans on duty the day a foreign delegation visits, or send a bunch of cops off to training (whether they need it or not) to combat public perception of the mayor’s own incompetence.

I assume that they developers made a matrix of all the varieties of staff-reshuffling the cowardly mayor could demand, wrote some appropriately eye-rolling excuses for each, and dropped that whole event-deck in. That’s fine in concept, but boy, what a note to start on, in my playthrough. All those other mayor-calls I have fielded, while cartoonish, at least have a foot in plausibility. “Replace all your black cops with white ones immediately” is just not a thing that could ever happen so casually in any American city, not even in fiction, not even in parody. It’s the kind of nuclear–bomb event that would make sense only if the entire story focused on it and its aftermath. I can’t shake the feeling that its presence as just another random event comes from an inside-out misunderstanding, by a European developer, of the very real and very painful tensions and mistrust between the police and black American communities; most any American developer would laugh sourly at the thought, and simply elide that particular card.

This sort of causal political clumsiness happens over and over, involving not just African-Americans but oversimplified “feminists”, upset “LGB” crowds (to use the game’s term), and so on. TV-tropey rape and murder rolls in for lazy dramatic stakes-raising. I cringe, and then I keep playing because the game as a whole is so strange and so good, and I’d lie to say that its half-baked politics don’t end up accentuating all the strangeness I find so compelling. Further, the game’s convinced me its heart is in the right place, even if it expresses itself clumsily sometimes. A small counterexample: you’ll often receive calls during the normal game mode that boil down to “I saw a black guy! Help!” and you learn that the most efficient way to deal with these involves politely ignoring them. Maybe that shouldn’t feel good, but given current headlines, it kind of does anyway.

And here I’ve written 1,500 words so far about a game I’m supposedly halfway through, which leads me to the last I-love-this-horrible-thing point I’ll cover in this post: This game is long. Probably too long, possibly way, way too long. It offers no manual save-files, instead using a system like The Last Express where you can rewind time in week-long chunks and try for better outcomes (with, mercifully, the same random seed applied*). Since bad outcomes can leave you sufficiently resource-poor to make gameplay more frustrating than fun, you’ll likely rewind rather often, adding even more length to the game as you call repeated do-overs on particularly rough weeks, the resolution of which can take up yet another real-world hour or so.

The frame story names goals that sound outrageous at the start: the player character has six months to retirement, and wants to amass $500,000 before then, so as to settle a dangerous debt. At first, seems impossible that the game literally means that you’ll go through the dispatch-loop 180 times, and will need to somehow net an average of $500,000 ÷ 180 = $2,777.78 per day. Not when you start with a $1,000-per-week salary, and the music-selection screen actively encourages you to spend hundreds of in-game dollars on new music (flipping through a lovely paper catalog, in just another the game’s so-lovely, so-bizarre one-off specialized interfaces). Not with so many other purchasable perks for keeping your bosses and subordinates happy. Surely, surely the player’s cash is for discretionary spending, and let’s just see where the story takes us.

I hit my 90th in-game day last night. After a slow start, I’ve a better idea of which money-making side-schemes I can dip into without upsetting the cart too much. My character’s bank account lies just south of $200,000. I… I think it means it. This is absurd. I can’t possibly be expected to see this whole flaming mess to the end.

I love it.


* I assume that every player experiences the same prewritten overall set of story arcs, but that the “encounter decks” the player works through are uniquely shuffled for every freshly started game. I’d be curious to know if other players began their games with the same alarmingly bizarre request that mine had.

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Close-up photograph of an onion slice.

I’m pleased to announce two new open-source code libraries for the Perl 5 programming language, my first contributions to the CPAN in well over a decade. They represent a significant milestone in a side-project I’ve quietly but obsessively pursued for the last couple of months, some effects of which have become immediately visible on this blog.

Getting the nitty-gritty out of the way: Web::Microformats2 can parse, query, and serialize HTML documents marked up with Microformats2 metadata. Web::Mention provides a Perl object representation of Webmention-adherent HTTP requests, with methods to verify, determine authorship, and extract content from valid mentions. Both modules are free and open-source, released under the MIT license.

The modules bring to Perl two of the many “building block” concepts espoused by IndieWeb, a relatively small but worldwide community promoting technologies and policies that encourage people to self-host their web-based content. I have a lot of thoughts about the surprisingly impressive and frustratingly obscure IndieWeb movement that I plan to explore in a future post. For now, allow me to describe my specific attractor to it, and how I’ve implemented it for the sake of my own blog.

After I saw it in action on Watts Martin’s blog in February, the particular IndieWeb concept of backfeeds struck me as a killer app, and I knew immediately I wanted it for Fogknife. A website with a backfeed pulls reactions to its content from across the web, sorting them all together and representing them meaningfully on its own pages. This felt like an obvious next direction to move in after my brief experiment with Disqus and my subsequent and somewhat more successful use of posts aware of their own Twitter-links.

Starting a couple of days ago, Fogknife began running on an experimental and unreleased branch of Plerd. It uses both of my new Perl modules to make backfeeds possible, and you can see a live early example underneath this post about my recent read-through of a new Odyssey translation. All the facepiles and comments come from Twitter reactions to that article. (The bridging step between the suddenly IndieWeb-enabled Fogknife and Twitter, a silo that doesn’t give a hoot about any of this stuff, is the aptly named Bridgy service run by Ryan Barrett and Kyle Mahan.)

I consider these modules unstable and fragile, and use Fogknife as their live-fire proving grounds — via the Bridgy-fed backfeeds as well as the manual webmention-suggestion form that currently appears under every post. I expect therefore Fogknife’s support for webmentions and backfeeds to start out rather wobbly, but I do plan to continue improving it by increments, with all such improvements carrying over into new releases of the public Perl modules as appropriate.

When everything seems reasonably stable, I’ll follow up with an official Plerd release so that other bloggers may squeeze similar magic from my humble little publishing platform. Until then, I hope that the rather nerdier Perl modules will prove interesting to my fellow web-worried programmers.

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The lid of a silver MacBook Pro, covered with all the stickers described in this article.

Ashrind the MacBook, subject of last week’s post, has returned to my hands from its likely final visit to an Apple Store with a healthy new battery, a good-as-new keyboard, and — I hope — a few more years of viable use. Before I left it at Providence Place, I took the attached picture of the stickers it has accrued on its lid. How about I share the stories behind them, in celebration of Ashrind’s continued resistance of digital dotage?

Even though this laptop has served as an inseparable companion since 2012, I didn’t start decorating it before early 2016, and the bulk of its glued-on accoutrements date to only the last calendar year. Never really one to sticker up a laptop or a car or the backs of street signs near my house or anything, I didn’t become a laptop-decorator until the role was thrust upon me, as I shall now relate.

Duck Duck Go: In early 2016 a community manager at Duck Duck Go noticed that my bespoke blog software makes DDG its default search utility, and mailed me a stack of these stickers in recognition.

It took this unexpected act of pleasantly personal corporate outreach to get me to consider pasting any stickers at all to my heretofore unblemished MacBook lid. It seemed more like a badge, though, an emblem with a tiny true story that would make me smile a bit every time I saw it, far more than a typical glue-backed company logo from a conference goodie-bag or whatnot. So I stuck it on.

Black Lives Matter: A whole year after receiving the DDG stickers, I purchased and affixed this one as a reaction to Jeff Sessions becoming U.S. attorney general. I wrote a Fogknife article about all this, at the time. Certainly, I feel today about the slogan and the movement to which it refers exactly as I did then.

Since this represented the first time I sought out and obtained a sticker with the express intent of laptop decoration, it had the unavoidable side effect of opening the door to all the stickers that would follow.

National Park Service: First of all, I should note that this sticker looks just awful after more than a year of rubbing against the ribbly little villi that line my bag’s laptop-sleeve.

Vinyl stickers resist these destructive effects of my bag’s protective nubbins, I have learned, while paper stickers are all too happy to give up their ink to any such persistent source of friction. By continuing to display this sticker I realize that I mark my laptop as the gallery of a first-timer stickerer, and really I ought to show a modicum of corrective dignity and just peel this one off.

As to why this huge arrowhead claims this corner in the first place: in late January 2017, four days after Trump’s inauguration, the Twitter account of the Badlands National Park posted a bunch of climate change facts. Observers tended to interpret this as a doomed but meteor-bright act of defiance against the incoming anti-scientific administration, which had wasted no time in ordering federal agencies to stop educating the public about global warming.

The tweets, of course, vanished within hours, even though their publication had made news headlines around the world. I felt very moved by this bravely futile candle held against the flood of New American Ignorance, and I wondered if the likely self-sacrificing act of this anonymous federal employee would turn the logo of the National Park Sevice into a sign of resistance. I gambled a sizable sticker-spot on it.

The Apple Store employee who checked my laptop in last week asked me if I worked for the Park Service, and I said “no”, feeling unmotivated to offer any further detail. So, no, I don’t think it ever really caught on, not even with me.

Perl 5: Even though I use the language every day, I’m not entirely sure how or when the velociraptor got adopted as a co-mascot for Perl 5 alongside the hairy old O’Reilly camel (and not to be confused with Perl 6’s butterfly, or the stylized onion that represents both languages and neighboring territories). But, I do like it: it embraces Perl’s reality as a dinosaur among practical programming languages, but one that can shred through work quite efficiently when necessary. (And which can also make a frightfully bloody mess, if deployed carelessly…)

Anyway, by the time I put my third sticker on Ashrind I could tell where things were headed, and I wanted to rep my beloved and favorite general-purpose proglang.

“Praise Love”: This candy-colored and vaguely chthonic goaty friend comes from the hand of Gloombones, an artist whose ouvre of gooey happy-necromancy cartoons I discovered early last year. Embodies no meaning to me other than its own self-evident grinfulness.

Last week at a coffee shop a little girl ran right up to this sticker, practically planting her face on it, agog and delighted. Unsure how to react to this I kinda just waved hello, and then her mom ushered her away and out the door wordlessly.

Empire Tea & Coffee: My standby coffee shop in Newport, Rhode Island, the sleepy seaside city I lived in for over three years, and where I continue to rent an office. Nothing much to add here!

Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation: Recalling my positive feelings at Duck Duck Go showering me in vinyl stickers, I supported my nonprofit buying a sticker-stack with our own logo, and naturally I affixed mine the moment we received them.

We’ve sent a few others around, but not in any habitual fashion, let alone an organized one. We really gotta remember that we have these! People love stickers, I hear.

CRU Cafe: During a recent visit to this classy corner establishment in Newport, a barista approached my table and handed me this sticker while complimenting the others. I am an easy sell.

And that filled up the last space, so those are all of Ashrind’s sticker-stories. (Unless I peel that National Park Service one off, anyway…)

The front cover of the Atari 400/800 Basic Reference Manual, depicting a late-70s-looking father and son programming a late-70s-looking computer together.

I draft this post, unusually, on my little Raspberry Pi 3. I had to spend much of this morning making it minimally palatable for desktop use, since before today it served only as an occasional display-free server for one experiment or another. Today it gets to act as my desktop computer pro tempore, because yesterday I dropped off my first-generation MacBook Pro (mid-2012, Retina display) at the nearest Apple Store for a battery replacement. The prospect of life without this machine, even for a few days, invites me to reflect on why I’ve chosen to reupholster a relatively ancient computer rather than taking the more mundane — and much faster — path of buying a newer model.

Certainly, I could both afford and professionally justify another such purchase, and I’ve taken that road many times since I first adopted a Mac laptop as my primary personal computer in 2001. This MacBook Pro, which I long ago named “Ashrind”, represents my sixth such machine. (This includes a couple of work-purchased laptops from my last salaried job, and skips over a sessile Mac Pro I used at home for a while.) Ashrind’s purchase in 2012 made for an average of about one new lappie every two years — followed by six years and counting of coasting on this single machine.

The gentleman in the Apple Store advised me that the elderly Ashrind would, in mere months, cross the veil into unsupported territory. They’d replace its battery for a nominal fee — an in-patient procedure, due to the user-inaccessible components of all MacBooks built this side of Steve Jobs — but it would almost certainly represent the computer’s very last first-party repair. The store guy did not explicity say that I ought to therefore consider purchasing its inevitable replacement, but I recognized the words as politely driving me in that direction. I do not begrudge the nudge — had I been in similar straits with any prior laptop, I would have leapt at the excuse to go shopping. Doctor’s orders, after all! But not this time: the $200 replacement fee seemed entirely reasonable, and not just because it represents a tenth of a new MacBook’s minimum cost.

Other than the dying battery — and looking past its merely skin-deep scuffs and pockmarks — the six-year-old machine does not feel old at all. Unlike, say, my sequence of iPhones, each instance of which has always started to stutter and lag under the weight of new OS versions and the always-increasing demands of ever-heavier web pages, no part of using Ashrind has ever made me wish for a newer computer — not for a faster processor, or better graphics capability, or novel controls. It feels in the spring of 2018 every bit as flexible, powerful, and vital as it did the day I first unpacked it in the autumn of 2012.

“This is the peak,” wrote Marco Arment in his own paean to this product line, which Apple continued to produce through 2015, and still sells as a lowest-end MacBook Pro option. “This is the best laptop that has ever existed.” I certainly cannot offer disagreement! But the excellence of this particular computer to one side, I wonder if it also bespeaks a more general trend in personal computing.

I have a hypothesis that, outside of specialized use (including bleeding-edge photorealistic 3D gaming), the advancement of microcomputer technology has seen a somewhat sigmoid curve. After a period of slow and steady evolution through the mid-late 20th century, the 1990s and 2000s saw an explosive period where Moore’s Law seemed to rule the land. I worked in a computer store and then in IT during much of that time, and well do I recall the ubiquitous jokes about how PCs felt like bananas: fresh and flavorful when first brought home, only to blotch over with obsolescence overnight.

But during the current decade, I feel like that curve has flattened back towards the horizontal, resembling once again the modest generational-advancement pace of what we might call the pre-Windows era. I offer, as circumstantial evidence, two of my own personal computers: Ashrind, coasting along the flat top of the sigmoid curve I envision, and then on its bottom stroke we find “Renenldo”, the Atari 800 I used and loved — all 48K of it, never upgraded — from 1982 through 1990. (Its name came from a BASIC program I wrote, probably typed in from a magazine, that generated random but vaguely pronounceable non-words.) For all the years I used Renenldo, it and all its peers — which in the United States included the Apple ][ and the Commodore 64 — defined home computing, with relatively little pressure to upgrade. But with the 1990s there began to pass through my life a starkly sloping stack of PCs and laptops of varying pedigree, each of which utterly humbled its predecessor in terms of capability and relevance to its contemporary software and internet context.

It really does feel like we’ve moved beyond that now, and in so doing have returned to a gentler time when replacing the battery to give one’s primary laptop a few more years of life seems no stranger than visiting a similar procedure upon a beloved, trusty automobile. That’s my hope, anyway! Despite the attractive novelty of the touch bar or the extra-extra-thin profile of more recent MacBooks, checking Ashrind in for one last manufacturer-supported tune-up feels — maybe for the first time in my computer-using adulthood — more like responsible maintenance than undignified avoidance.

The front cover of The Overneath, by Peter S. Beagle. It has no illustration on it.

Continuing my streak of reading only the most recent books by writers with careers reaching back a half-century, I borrowed The Overneath as soon as I noticed it on my local library’s new-fiction shelves. My knowledge of Beagle extends to dim memories of seeing the animated adaptation of 1968’s The Last Unicorn on HBO, and my eight-year-old self finding it too quiet and sad to enjoy. As such, I fell into this book with no expectations other than let’s read some fantasy shorts by a super-old dude. Well: I loved it.

While not strictly a retrospective — all the stories have original-publication dates in the current century — Beagle seems to have structured the book with his own past work in mind. It opens with a Last Unicorn prequel, providing an origin story for Schmendrick, the inept magician who would later travel with the titular monoceros. This segues into two new stories about unicorns, informed by Arabic and Chinese legendaria, with settings and tone to match. A final unicorn story set in colonial America rounds out the book, with a second Young Shmendrick story at the midpoint.

And in the rest of the pages, all manner of things. A gnarly ode to a real-life troll statue that lurks under a bridge in Seattle. The story of two sweet old ladies who must fix their aquarium after they accidentally add a decoration cursed with a pirate-ghost. A day in the life of DEA agents patrolling the American desert with a dragon-proofed jeep. And so on!

I cannot lie: Knowing practically nothing about the author other than his age, I expected at every page to cringe at some evidence of oh-grandpa outdated cultural mores. Part of me had my bony finger raised and ready for an extended tut-tut session given the lack of women in the initial triad of unicorn stories, but these are immediately followed by two stories that neatly neutralized that complaint. Had I really wanted to reach for it, I’m sure I could have found something to offend in Beagle’s depiction of an ancient Chinese judge, or a Native American mystic, or a Jamaican-born exorcist. But I chose not to strain myself so, and allowed myself to instead feel utterly charmed at the diverse cast with whom Beagle has peopled these stories.

The book does contain one undeniably cringeworthy story, and I find its inclusion curious. Each tale opens with a brief editorial preface, and Beagle uses this one to all but apologize that the attached story is really not his best work — but he found it so meaningfully personal that he felt obliged to include it anyway. And there proceeds a story about an older man who, through a computer he barely understands, befriends a space-alien girl and chats with her regularly until her space-alien dad shows up and reveals she’s space-alien underage, and so he stops, the end. It reads like a pathetically self-denigrating Kilgore Trout novella, and — as the introduction promised — not at all at the level of the rest of the collected prose. “Peter S. Beagle, did you get catfished?” I asked the book, aloud. What happened here? I will never know.

This lampshaded oddity is offset by the hundred subtleties found throughout the collection. Personally, I found the book full of writing lessons, even though I seldom write fiction per se — the whole volume shot through with so much quietly masterful expression. I recall, for example, a particular moment in the final story as a reformed scoundrel prepares to end his exile in colonial Maine. He packs nothing but a few mementos from his time in the wilderness, each suffused with memory and experience, and reflects that he leaves with far more than he arrived with. I have to say that I felt rather the same way, by the time I finished this book.

(And if that sounds hokey, it is only because I can’t write as well as Peter S. Beagle.)


My creative pace with this website skipped a beat because I last week moved to Providence — the first major relocation I have undertaken since relaunching this blog in 2014. Reasonably settled now, I plan to resume the site’s weekly-ish pace starting with this post.

I began Fogknife, in part, as a reaction to the isolation I felt during my first iced-in winter on Aquidneck Island. My partner and I removed ourselves back to the mainland for expressly quality-of-life reasons, choosing to bear significantly longer daily commutes in exchange for the promise of richer social and cultural opportunities that living in a real city brings.

For all my moping over its spartan nature, Newport was good to me. I will do my best to carry the projects and habits I began there — Fogknife included — into this new context, and work Providence’s increased event-density into inspiration rather than distraction.

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OmniFocus's current Mac icon, shaped like a big purple checkbox.This year marks my tenth anniversary using OmniFocus, the small family of Mac and iOS productivity applications from the Omni Group. I do not exaggerate to say that the Mac edition of OmniFocus has served as the glue of my life as a doer-of-things over this whole span. Not consistently, mind you — more than once I’ve let weeks, even months pass without tending to its lists of lists. Exactly once I took the opportunity of a new major release to declare “OmniFocus bankruptcy”, punting countless stale projects to start fresh with an empty task-database. Either way, I always find reason to return and stick with it once again for a long time.

Today finds me stepping through a pleasantly extended dance with the big purple checkmark on my Mac’s dock. After so many years, I have found my best approach yet of working with OmniFocus, such that it feels far more like a companionable assistant than a burdensome nag. In this pattern, I consult the program’s Forecast pane throughout the day, both to whittle down my daily task-list and to build up the next day’s priorities. Between tasks I revisit the app’s Inbox pane, reviewing the jotted-down proto-tasks I’ve recently captured for later cogitation, deciding the next steps for each. These become the raw materials for actionable tasks that, eventually, wind up on the next day-long shortlist, with all its invitingly empty checkboxes.

In recognition of how much this software-assisted cycle has helped me over the years, and in the hope that it may help someone else as well, this article describes several strategies I use when working with this glorified to-do list program. I focus here more on overall approaches than on software-specific tips-n-tricks.

Goal: Mind like water. While I did read David Allen’s Getting Things Done back when I first started using OmniFocus, I ultimately found it more useful as a backgrounder for the program’s design philosophy than as a guide to using it. In a way, OmniFocus reifies GTD, giving you a single place to capture tasks, tie time-and-space contexts to each one, and then forget about them until it’s time to focus on them. When it all comes together, I really can approach the “mind like water” state that Allen espouses in this talk from 2008*.

I don’t expect anyone else who relies on the program to use it precisely as I do, so your mileage may very much vary regarding the following list of personal habits and philosophies — except, perhaps, for the first point, which I understand as a core tenet of OmniFocus’s objectively intended use.

Always Be Capturing. Reduce the friction between yourself and your OmniFocus inbox, minimizing the length of time a newly realized task must sit in your meat-memory. Ideally, as soon as you perceive the need to get something done — and it could be anything, in any scale or context, from “buy cat food” to “respond to this email” to “deliver this six-month client project” — you can have that noted in your inbox within moments, and then eject it from your active attention, letting you return your focus to your current task. (Less than ideally, you’re driving or showering or something when a possible task hits you — but you can hold one or two things in your mental cache until you have a chance to inbox them safely.)

An inboxed item can wait until you’re ready to focus on your next inbox-processing session, sometime in the next day or three.† At that point — and no sooner — you’ll promote it into a time-deferred project filled with sub-tasks, or recognize it as a ten-minute doddle you can knock off right away, or change your mind about its relevance and just delete it.

(This doesn’t include emergencies, of course! Sometimes things pop up for which we really do need to put everything else aside, because they honestly can’t wait a few hours. Crisis management lies outside the forte of OmniFocus. On the other hand, in assisting you with continuously storing and processing the “everything else” that you must put aside when crises do emerge, OmniFocus can help make the transition from tactical emergency-mode back into strategic normal-work mode much less painful.)

OmniFocus gives you lots of ways to add stuff to your inbox, both inside and outside the actual applications — some of which I must admit I’ve never really figured out, like “clippings” or direct Siri commands. I tend to use a mix of the apps’ buttons, the control-option-space global keystroke on Mac, and the email integration feature. The latter I use in two ways: I forward to it all non-emergency email that requires a response from me, and when an idea hits me while I’m out walking I’ll pinch my iPhone’s mic-button and say “Send a new email to My OmniFocus”, and proceed to dictate the item’s content as its subject line. (This latter trick works because I have an address book entry for someone named “OmniFocus”, first name “My”.)

Organize time via deferrals. When I want to mark a task or project as a candidate for my attention on a certain day, I mark it as deferred until (and not due on) that day. Because I set OmniFocus to include deferred items in my Forecast tab (via its checkbox at Perspectives → Show Perspectives → Forecast), I can see with a click everything that my recent-past self thought I could get done today.

My thinking here tends towards the short-term: at the start of my work-day, if that list looks short, I’ll often browse my projects to “defer” some tasks to today. I’ll also do this for new tasks important enough to deserve my more-immediate attention. If the end of the day approaches and I have some leftovers, I’ll defer them to tomorrow. (Items have a handy “+1 day” button under the Defer Until field in the detail-pane, and I hit that button a lot with no shame. Three times apiece, on Fridays.)

Of course, I also defer tasks that I know lie in my future, but, for one reason or another, I can’t focus on yet: for example, writing a wrap-up report for a project that doesn’t wrap up for another month. I’ll define as many of the project’s subtasks as I can, stamp the whole thing as deferred for four weeks, and then happily forget about it, secure in knowing that OmniFocus will float it back into my sight-line just in time.

I also made myself a custom “Deferrals” perspective-tab which lists only deferred items, ordered by their defer-dates relative to today; OmniFocus intelligently and pleasantly groups these into today, tomorrow, next week, next month, and finally a fuzzy three-months-out blob. This view omits due-dates and calendar appointments and other stuff I can’t actually do anything about, giving me a nice summary of my likely future actions into time-chunks that grow appropriately coarser with greater distance from the present’s certainties.

This perspective will also show tasks whose deferral-dates have slipped into the past — something that happens to me frequently. This doesn’t mean failure, or even anything overdue; it just means that I expected to work on something during a certain day, and it happens that I didn’t. In this case, I feel no regret in just kicking ahead its deferral-date as needed.

Make and use a “Waiting” context. I have a context called “Waiting”, whose status I marked as On Hold, and which has no particular location or other information associated with it. When the next step in a project literally involves me waiting for something to happen — an email response, a package arrival, and so on — then I represent it with a task — “Wait for Jim-Bob’s reply”, say — and assign that task the Waiting context.

The task will then inherit the context’s On Hold status, causing OmniFocus to represent it as a blocker, preventing access to all subsequent tasks even though I cannot act on it myself. The program draws the task as grayed-out, with its “Waiting” context acting as a nicely self-documenting label.

But as we usually don’t feel content to wait for something indefinitely, I will most times set the Due field for that task to the date at which I shall be done waiting. (By default, I’ll just kick the “+1 week” button here.) Should the task become overdue, then it’s time for me to take action. If it’s an email reply I’m waiting on, for example, perhaps I’ll send another status-request email, and kick the due-date into the future for another week. (And also note this on the task’s notes-field, so that if it happens for two weeks running I’ll know to escalate appropriately.)

For most of the time I’ve used OmniFocus, “Waiting” has been my only defined context. I just haven’t used contexts very often, though I’ve very recently started experimenting with them once again, as I describe further below.

Use due-dates only for literal due-dates. I set the Due date-field only on tasks that actually have real-world deadlines attached to them. The due-date of my “Pay taxes” project is April 15; the due-date for obtaining a present for a friend is the day before their birthday. This sets an upper-bound in time for focusing on its constituent sub-tasks, and so long as I’m on the right side of that boundary I will use the Defer Until field to lightly pin times I intend to actually focus on the tasks, as I describe above.

(My exception to this restricted use of the Due field involves the way I pair it with the “Waiting” context, described earlier.)

I used to set the Due field to the date I thought I ought to work on a task, rather the way I use the Defer Until field now. This had the effect of items falling into cherry-red “overdue” status all the time, and my phone reminding me every day of all the ways I continuously fell behind schedule, in tasks both crucial and trivial. This made me not want to use OmniFocus. The Omni Group paired the release of version 2.0 in 2014 with a set of advice-articles from other long-time users; from one of these did I glean the strategy of using Due only for real, hard deadlines, and Defer Until as a more flexible date-pin. After declaring task-bankruptcy and starting with an empty database, I adopted this strategy myself, and I haven’t looked back since.

Use contexts only for physical-location prerequisites. Much like I use the Due field only for tasks that have real-world deadlines, I create and assign contexts (besides my beloved “Waiting”) sparingly, limiting them to physical locations representing the only places that certain tasks can get accomplished.

Right now, I have only “Home” and “Office”, and then “Hardware store”, “Supermarket”, and a few other shops. And even though I accomplish most of my work in my home or office, I assign these contexts only when I must be at that location to fulfill the task. For example, only my home has a printer in it, so I’ll assign a “Print this out” task to “Home”. Only the hardware store will sell me a new screwdriver, so its context gets affixed to the “Buy new screwdriver” task.

The vast majority of my tasks, though, involve doing something on my computer. And since my main computer, a laptop, travels with me throughout the day, I don’t bother setting the context field for most of my OmniFocus items. That works out just fine!

Only quite recently have I begun geotagging contexts, letting OmniFocus send me a little reminder-ping through my phone whenever I approach a location tied to an available task which I can accomplish only there. I haven’t used this feature long enough to call it a definitive part of my long-term OmniFocus strategy, but I will admit to finding it pretty cool.

Trust the judgment of your past self. Often, a task will come up in my list of tasks for the day, and I’ll think: Is this really that important? Often it seems too “fun”, a next step in a personal project mixed into a daily task-list otherwise full of bread-winning client work, perhaps.

But here, I have learned to put faith into the judgment of the past self who found this task valuable enough to put into OmniFocus, and then to furthermore assign a deferral-date to. I can try to put myself into the mind I had then, and feel free to ask whether the value I saw in the task then remains true today. But unless I today find the task completely outdated or otherwise disagreeable, I’ll make an effort to focus on it exactly as my past self wanted.

I seldom regret this.

Drop stale projects ruthlessly. As I wrote above, I think very little of clicking the “+1” buttons below the Defer Until field on tasks for which I just don’t have the attention to spare today. There comes a point, though, when it seems like so much can-kicking, especially if I find myself marking the project as reviewed without any changes for week after week, stretching into months.

Very often, these fall into the category of “nice-to-have” goals — either personal projects, or work that would benefit clients or myself professionally but which nobody’s explicitly asked for. In any case, potential progress on these projects keeps getting shouldered out of the way by more important or interesting work.

In time, and for each of these, I have to face the fact that I clearly don’t want to work on this project. With no other force in the world (such as money) encouraging me to do it anyway, I’ll just keep kicking that can. And that’s when I mark the project as Dropped.

To lessen the sting, I reserve the right the copy the project’s checklist and paste it into an project-ideas archive file, outside of OmniFocus. This leaves the door open to picking it back up again, someday, when I feel actually ready to give some time and attention to it. But OmniFocus is about what deserves my attention today, and so it doesn’t belong there.

Take joy in completion, but do not dread commencement. Checking tasks’ checkboxes brings a feeling of forward momentum throughout the day. Completing (and dropping!) entire projects delivers an extra boost, causing whole rows of work to vanish in glory from your OmniFocus sidebar. When I don’t check myself, this pleasure in making things go away drifts inexorably into an adversarial relationship with my OmniFocus database, something not so much to complete as to defeat.

Seeing my inbox as a column of enemies to mow down may feel fun in the short term, but I try not to lean hard on this visualization — because it makes inboxing new items, or adding new tasks to an existing, evolving project, feel terrible. It makes the very act of planning feel like a step backwards, like fighting a boss-creature in a video game who keeps healing itself away from an end-point of ultimate victory.

Thinking of work as a foe to vanquish forever represents a category error, one whose impossibility to achieve can lead only to frustration. So long as I remain alive and healthy, I will have work to do — much of it, happily, of my own choosing, with a pace I set for myself. OmniFocus helps make this possible. To keep my use of it meaningful, I must see the act of capturing a task less as another burden to struggle against and throw off than as an investment, one which after some tending will sprout a profit of accomplishment, or wealth, or — yes, even just relief.

And that’s how I use OmniFocus today! I hope it proves at least as useful to me for another ten years.


* If that video looks a bit dated, note that it coincides with my adoption of OmniFocus. Watching it way back then did help me set my initial attitude towards the software and its use, and I expect that the talk still holds up today.

† I’m sure some OmniFocus fans get all meta about this, making a repeating project just for inbox-clearing! I personally don’t find that necessary. That little pale-blue stripe signifying unprocessed items in the Inbox tab feels like a pebble in my shoe, and I look forward to shaking it out.

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Photograph of an index card pinned to a corkboard. Written on it, in pencil, is the personal mission statement described near the end of this post.I learned the value of mission statements — super-succinct summaries of an entity’s raison d’être — while starting to organize the nonprofit I co-founded a couple of years ago. Since then, my application of mission statements has transformed and expanded, growing in steps from legal-document practicality to defining the heretofore unwritten goals of a long-lived group project, and finally to serving as a pocket-sized personal guide-star.

While I researched how to launch a nonprofit, all the better books I consulted agreed upon the ratification of a mission statement as a first step, something the would-be founders should accomplish before making any further major decisions about the nascent organization. This task has the founders unanimously agree upon a short statement of the nonprofit’s reason for existing, and then enshrining it such that it always sits in the sight-line for both themselves and any of their successors leading the nonprofit in the future.

Here is the mission statement of that nonprofit, standing today just as it did two years ago:

The Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation (IFTF) helps ensure the ongoing maintenance, improvement, and preservation of the tools and services crucial to the creation and distribution of interactive fiction, as well as the development of new projects to foster the continued growth of this art form.

Half the magic of a well-implemented mission statement lies in how it defines, by omission, everything the nonprofit doesn’t do. A nonprofit that pursues every noble-sounding goal it sees, even ones that all its constituent members individually appreciate, would quickly lose all its focus to effectively accomplish anything at all. In IFTF’s case, we’ve several times passed on opportunities to help causes in the general sphere of interactive fiction that just wouldn’t fit in the intentionally narrow mission we gave the organization. Board members have quickly learned to say “that sounds great, but I’m not sure it would be on-mission” — and not to feel like an uncaring jerk while doing so.

This negative angle does include a happier corollary: when the board encounters a promising project proposal that does fit the mission, this compatibility often amplifies our interest in the idea into outright excitement. We’ll trip over each other to find the best ways that the organization can help realize it, confident that we’ve found something rare and good. That’s a healthy and meaningful mission statement working exactly as it should: as passive gatekeeper, and active energy-focus.

IFTF also follows the common pattern of other multiple-program nonprofits by dedicating volunteer committees to the oversight of its various ongoing public-service projects. Each of these committees has, at its core, a charter document, and each of these charter documents begins with a mission statement. Here for example, is the chartered mission for the IFComp committee:

IFTF’s IFComp Committee oversees the operation of the Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (“the Competition”). Its membership at any given time includes the Competition’s current organizers as well as its official advisors. As a group, they have the power to set the Competition’s year-by-year direction and definition.

It works for bringing a group of volunteers together under a common cause, which is all the charter cares about. However, this statement doesn’t have much to say about IFComp itself! This is why a year ago, around the same time I decided to make 2017 the final year I’d run IFComp before passing the responsibility along, I led an effort to define a separate mission statement specifically for the competition.

In retrospect, this represented a turning point for me in my view and usage of these things. Prior to this, I helped craft mission statements to affix to legal entities because of an external expectation that they exist. My proposal to add one to IFComp, however, came entirely self-directed, and only during my fourth year as its organizer. After my experiences with IFTF, a project of IFComp’s complexity and teamwork suddenly struck me as quite naked in lacking a mission statement, even though it had managed without one for its prior 22 years.

And once I had proposed it, the whole IFComp committee took this task seriously! After some weeks of discussion in email and chat, we produced the following mission statement, which now heads the competition’s About page:

The Annual Interactive Ficton Competition (IFComp) welcomes all kinds of text-driven digital stories and games, making them freely available in order to encourage the creation, play, and discussion of interactive fiction.

I like it.

Finally, the idea to write a mission statement for myself didn’t occur to me until the start of this year. (This may have flowed naturally from my official passing-along of IFComp duties with the turn of the calendar’s page.) I know very well that I have hardly invented the idea of personal mission statements; in fact, I likely drew on my dim memories of their description in Stephen Covey’s First Things First, read decades ago on a mentor’s advice.

So some day in late January, I set some time aside to draft something to replace my life-long pre-installed mission of “I wanna do stuff I like.” I did get as far as writing something down, at least:

Through study and toolmaking, I strive to foster the stability and growth of myself and my communities, in wealth, wisdom, and happiness.

As I type it out again a few weeks later, it reminds me how it does not look fully baked yet. In particular, “study” feels like it’s doing a lot of work here. I decided at the time that it covers reading, blogging, gameplay, podcast production… just about all my interactions with culture, really, and honestly that seems overloaded. And the rest feels a tad generic — who doesn’t want those things?

Still, a start. I liked it well enough to pencil it out on an index card and pin it to the corkboard on my office wall, per the photograph accompanying this article. I consider that a fine staging area, not as ephemeral as the whiteboard hanging beside it, but hardly permanent either. It has already proved its worth as a razor, encouraging me to cut away several ill-fitting projects I’d been dragging along for months. I can only keep it pinned at eye-level for now, and plan to revisit it later in the year for further sharpening.

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