23 December 2010

An important update!

I have been informed only girls can/should take their shirts off in the manner described in my previous post. I was also told I should man up and just let stretched collars be stretched collars.

Dear readers, is this really true? Are we living in a world where such discrimination still takes place?

And speaking of updates, man how bad did that Casey Kotchman turn out? What a friggen disaster (for the Mariners, at least)!

14 December 2010

being hipsters

i feel like there's no good definition of hipsters, but something everyone agrees on is that hipsters aren't cool with undisguised joy and appreciation of anything. they're just so cool and level about that shit.

we're all hipsters and it sucks.

06 December 2010

I don't know how to take off a shirt

When I was in Framingham for Thanksgiving, I was taking off a shirt and when I finished my sister started making fun of me. Apparently I've been taking off my shirts wrong all this time. I'd extricate one arm and then pull the rest of the shirt off to the side of the freed arm. This, my sister argued, and I'm inclined to agree, stretches out the necks of my shirts unevenly so they rest oddly. I had noticed this before and assumed I was just asymmetric.

The proper technique, apparently, is to take your shirt off from the bottom with crossed arms, inverting them and pulling up. This avoids stretching out the neck of the shirt, which is most visible. Doing this feels really weird because I have to actively think about it. Also sometimes I forget what I'm doing and have to start over. My shirt-removal mojo is totally trashed.

How do you take off your shirt?

04 December 2010

Giving Video Games Another Try: Donkey Kong Country is way too hard

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I played a lot of video games. They were a fun way to pass the time. Then one day they stopped being fun all together because I TURNED INTO A MAN. Ok that's an outright lie (the part about it suddenly stopping being fun all together, wiseass!). I think it was more a gradual process in which the games I used to find fun just seemed like work with the net effect being a score and some weak congratulations. Also it might have been because I was really bad at basically everything I played. At that point I decided programming all the time was fun and I got to make stuff too so it was like the best of worlds.

But programming all the time isn't fun! Duh!

I stumbled into this strange emotion called boredom today (seriously normally this time of the year I have a in the thousands of assignments to complete and I'm a total wreck and eating greasy takeout food and not showering but that's that needs to be said here) and I decided to try some video games I never played! I never had a SNES so my buddy Ilya recommended some SNES games. Without further ado, I introduce DONKEY KONG COUNTRY.

This game is really fucking hard. Basically the premise is you have this big hulking monkey (Donkey Kong) and this little monkey (there was some racing game with him????) and they have to uh go through the world and collect bananas but there are lizards and birds and shit. To what end, I'm not quite sure yet. Sometimes the monkeys die (mostly because you're distracted and a lizard sneaks up on you and molests you), but fear not, you can find them in barrels later on in the level.

A note about monkeys in barrels: I'm a man and I'm not supposed to have a big "that's cute" instinct but the monkeys in barrels make the cutest sounds.

There are also other type of barrels that you can throw but then they seem to go away forever, which doesn't seem right at all. I'd think you'd use them to kill 'baddies' but I have not witnessed this phenomenon. The 'baddies' are like Mario-brand 'baddies' in that you can jump on their heads, but they also can do stupid cheating stuff like walking off higher level stuff onto lower level stuff rather than just turn around like good 'baddies'. Bad physics.

Also apparently some of the bad guys can only get killed by the big dude but the little dude is a higher jumper (despite being encumbered by the presence of the big dude). I find this sort of switching feature to be genuinely neat. What a country!

I got to ride on a rhino but accidentally sent him falling off a cliff. This is not a metaphor. I just did this for a second time.

I'm hearing some Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young in the stage selection music. At least I think it's the stage selection music because I can only select "Jungle Hijinxs" at the moment.

This game is really hard because the monkeys have minds of their own and just when you think you understand how they handle, they change it up on you. They really do think and they really do resent the fact that you can control them. Also some of the bananas require thought to reach and then you actually have to execute your plan with these monkeys who want nothing more than to scratch their junk and fling poo rather than deftly maneuver according to your commands.

I give this game a 3/10 because the monkey sound effects are really cute.

17 November 2010

Live from the 24th Floor

I'm up here on the 24th floor of the library. When I arrived this guy was on the phone with his mommy. All good and well, it seemed like the conversation was nearing a close. Then this fuckstick decides he has to call his girlfriend, because he's "bored". Man, jerktown, I'm so sorry that you have a live such a boring life, but this is a library where I'm trying to study. P.s. your voice and phone mannerisms make you sound like a little bitch. Like worse than me circa 2006.

I mean if you're going to make a phone call when you know people are around, try being a little discretionary and move like between two bookshelves or the elevator lobby. Also maybe not spending your free time in libraries.

I think I'm going to try to save up a fart and silent but deadly him when I leave.

18 October 2010

Another short subject!

Did you know you can no longer choose "Whatever I Can Get" and "Random Play" as your "Looking for:" on thefacebook.com? If you have these previously set, it seems like you have them. My apologies to anyone who had second thought about the value of random hookups in their life. Sociologists: what does this say about Facebook's place on the internet. That movie totally said that this was what Facebook was all about.

Now one of my old posts totally won't make sense to a new generation of readers. Thanks a lot!

13 October 2010

Random Thoughts

I got my first wedding invite (actually a 'save the date').

Was there good music before Neil Young? And if so was it nearly as good?

01 October 2010

A Zuckerfucking Movie Review!

Well I just got back from seeing the Mark Zuckerfucker Movie and let me tell you I learned a lot things!

Some things about Havard!
You know what sucks about top tier schools? When you see people who are going to the school who aren't just monumentally academically talented. Or are really hot chicks. I mean way to fucking win the lottery. But Matthew can't you say that they worked very hard to get into said top tier school? Way to fucking not coast on your less labor intensive talents. Jesus Christ!

The movie doesn't really focus on this at all but it just reminded me of it something fierce. I remember one time I visited MIT when I was in high school and I saw this gorgeous girl jogging and just thought "damn". Way to take away my ability to say "I might be not be wicked smart, but wicked smart people you know they have their problems"!

Then I didn't apply to MIT because I probably wasn't smart enough.

Holy shit guys, this is a movie about software development!
Spoiler alert (do you actually watch movies for the plot?)! That clever Mark Zuckerfucker gets drunk and takes a bunch of images from semi-public directories at Havard and lets people compare them. Then he's recruited by some dudes to make THE HARVARD CONNECTION* which is like MySpace or Friendster but just for Harvard! But that zany Zuckerfucker just decides to do it himself with the help of his business school friend. Shit gets crazy when those other dudes find out, but then gets less crazy. Then he gets involved with that crazy Napster guy and things are all crazy again and he screws over his only friend! Then he gets sued a lot for all that crazy shit he done did!

*The Harvard Connection was the name of the song created by a friend of mine in my senior year of high school as part of a rock opera we were composing about our band instructor. I remember Facebook becoming public to everyone with a university email sometime and in late high school, so maybe those dudes had it first, but there's precedent for legal action here!

So now you can make movies about software development! And this movie will have you know that if you add enough hijinks to software development (namely taking shots at odd intervals while coding or inventing widely used systems or both) that SCREAMING GIRLS will watch you do it and you will earn the adulation of your peers and also random hookups!

Trust me, software development is not that interesting!

Also did you know if you are sufficiently successful as a software developer you will be teleported into a magical world of fine food, loose women, strong drinks, and cocaine? All because becoming a successful software development undoubtedly involves a fair amount of thumbing one's nose at the man and chicks dig that. I can say that definitively because I'm a sexpert. Also this magical world is known as California and involves ziplines and pools as well.

As a developer of some fairly unsuccessful software projects I eagerly await my day in the sun!

Why not us? And I don't mean the Red Sox because, as the previous post indicates, they are mathematically eliminated!
Hollywood, listen up! Here are the rights to my story. No really here they are right here in this blog. You know those entries about THE M.F. OPENPKMN PROJECT yeah you got that. And remember that post I did about my research? Take that too. You come knocking and I'll tell you more. One stipulation: I want to be played by Wayne Brady.

Zuckerfucked up shit about how the movie relates to social hierarchies!
If you're a Zuckerfucking king nerd with an aggressive, douchebaggy personality, guess what you get to have fun and be a success story. But what about us mild mannered types who just wanna live our lives and made the big mistake in getting wrapped up in this software game? Plug in and work, bitches! Proletariat and bourgeoisie, serf and master, police and thieves (well not the last one but I'd recommend both the Junior Mervin original and The Clash cover).

Police and thieves in the streets
Oh yeah!
Scaring the nation with their guns and ammunition
Police and thieves in the street
Oh yeah!
Fighting the nation with their guns and ammunition

And then later there's the part with the awesome vocal ad-libbing!

I'm supposed to arrive at some rating I think!
Would I have seen this movie if my friends weren't going? Probably not. When I found out they were making a movie about Zuckerfucker I was kinda like "objection: relevance!" but I guess a lot of people use thefacebook.com and so do I! Now that I saw it I don't really feel any differently about any of the parties involved! So I guess maybe it didn't do it's job or I don't care or I'm just really enjoying this Junior Mervin way too much to care about anything really.

Unless you're a gorgeous girl at a top tier school in which case I care about you but not so much that it's creepy!

28 September 2010

The Red Sox have been mathematically eliminated

The Red Sox have been mathematically eliminated. For everyone who had earlier deemed them eliminated, congratualtions you're so fucking prescient and smart! You really did know that they were not going to make it when they lost that one particular game! You knew it, buddy!

This has been the single most frustrating thing this season. I can understand when a typical fan does this, but it's pretty infuriating when supposed experts--journalists, tv analysts, former players--do it. For everyone who made confident claims that the Red Sox were out of contention at point x in the season, no one offered a compelling reason of why they were sure of this. No one in the mainstream media did the simple analysis of looking historically at how many teams have come back from an n game deficit with m games remaining. Have only 5% of teams made it? Then maybe I can be confident about your confidence! Instead they tend to focus on the abstract and the unprovable: they just don't look like champions and they know this because they played the game.

These people are supposed to be experts, but an expert cannot just confidently make a claim and have it automatically be true. The statistical reasoning is neither difficult nor wacky, but the supposed experts would rather base their claims off of personal experience that is undoubtedly tinged by bias. It's obviously that these people are not the true experts, yet they're the voices you hear on the tv or the radio. They are hard to escape.

These sham experts and their under-supported claims really do make baseball hard to watch. At least to me, it's way more frustrating than the fact that the team I root for has been eliminated!

18 May 2010

Let's get political: A former high school libertarian speaks out

I think I present the image of being rather apolitical. I think it's somewhat of a misrepresentation of the full extent of how I think politically, but it's convenient.

Most political discourse sucks. You present a political opinion and you expect to have it rebutted almost immediately. Did your debater really consider the extent of your point? How could they respond so quickly? Then you're expected to fire back, targeting holes in their argument. But say if they said something that you can't really respond to well? You lose. And then later on you realize how you could have countered it, but it's too late. You lost. But say you could counter it. You go back and forth, and more often than not you don't find consensus, both parties feel exactly the same way they did before, plus there have probably been some personal attacks exchanged and feelings hurt. You've seen this before. You've seen it on TV between career politicians. You've seen it in classes. You've seen it between your parents. You've seen it between your friends. And yes, it doesn't always happen like this, but it's awfully uncomfortable when it does.

Personally, I think political discourse should be deliberate and civil. I think the process of forming a political opinion should be a long and arduous one. Write out how you feel. Does it seem convincing? Have you approached it with a critical eye and realized its potential flaws? Can someone with opposing views read it without being incensed?

Confronting an opposing political opinion should work along the same lines. Take a lot of time to consider what the author has to say. Be critical, but don't be hasty. Ruminate. Can you calmly point out what you see to flaws in the reasoning? Are there parts that you agree with?

Jefferson and Adams did this sort of stuff in their letters despite being political rivals from different parties. Why can't we? I'm sick of politics being a divisive force or being used to rile people up. If you can't be friendly and civil with people who have opposing viewpoints, you suck. Seriously. The vast majority of the time, the people we get in political spats with aren't 'bad guys', just people with different views on how to make things run better. Find some fucking common ground and hate people for running over your dog or fucking your significant other or killing your dad, not how they voted!

So this is going to be my attempt to do just that. I'm going to try to get my opinion out on some issues in contemporary American politics. I can't guarantee flawless reasoning or lively debate, but at very least I hope to point out how I feel and get some thoughtful responses on it.

But first, something I think anyone who writes on politics should do. We're all biased, and I think our political history is tip-off to the readers what our biases are likely to be. So I give you my political history.

The earliest political sort of thoughts I remember having were heavily focused on equitably distributing political power and resources throughout the world. If I had any idea of the means through which this was to be established, I forget it now. I doubt that I did.

I managed a pretty thorough reversal of this, probably some time in late middle school or early high school. Influenced in no small part due to my father, I began to believe that the government functioned better the less that it actually did. My father has always been a bit of an angry political person. I've known him to be a fairly harsh critical of politicians from both of the major parties. The people running the political machine were not the greatest flaws in the system, the machine itself was too big to function.

I took this and ran with it. Things really peaked my junior year of high school. My teacher for AP US History was very much into running debates in class, sometimes using historical material as context, sometimes focusing on some current event. As one would expect in the typical Massachusetts classroom, there would be about two or three conservatives and a bunch of liberals and they would group up on opposite sides of the classroom and debate along the party lines. Very rarely did the groups change.

Then there was me. I could be a bit of a wildcard. I'd sit with the conservatives on most economic matters and go over to the liberal side on most social and foreign policy ones. It probably looked like I was just being contrarian, but I still believe to this day that I had a point. The traditional American parties don't make a whole lot of sense to me. Intense regulation of social norms while allowing very lax financial regulations? Strong financial regulation while allowing greater social freedoms? To me, both seems like silly things to conflate, but such is the reality of the political scene. I wasn't buying it.

I remember one day we were having a debate on gay marriage. The typical groups formed. I dragged my desk to the middle of the room. When asked, I asserted that the government had no place in the recognition of any marriages. One guy from the liberal coalition dragged his desk over next time mine, saying that he agreed the government should issue civil unions to all consenting adults and whether or not people called them marriages could be according to their beliefs. I continued, however, that even this was not what I was going for. The government should be entirely agnostic to such a vague bond between people. If people wanted to share property or custody, they could sign explicit contracts to do so. But the government wouldn't care if they considered themselves in a civil union, a marriage, or whatever they were calling it. This would simplify the tax code and codify the obligations between partners on a case by case basis. This was freedom. The guy kept his desk in the middle, but moved it conspicuously away from mine.

Near the end of the year, I was so convinced that I found the solution that I started drafting plans for a body of governance based on strict libertarian principles. This was pretty extreme stuff. There would be no public schools, public roads, public utilities, or public emergency services. Political decision-making would be done electronically by a completely referendum-based system where any citizens proposed new legislature and new laws were voted on daily by all interested citizens. The judicial system would act similarly. The executive branch would merely consist of technical oversight of the electronic governance system and a contracted police force. The government would never go into debt. Most money would be raised by advertising on public land and systems. The government merely existed to prevent a more controlling government from forming. I never finished it and to this day, it's sitting in a drawer at my parents' house.

I never finished it because I began to realize two things. First, I realized that such a system was in such stark contrast to people's notions of a political system that it was doomed to be dismissed. The second issue was more subtle. This system was all about the rank and file citizenry establishing the laws. They did this electronically. But who owns this infrastructure? Does the government? If so, why doesn't the government own the police that enforce the laws? Why doesn't it own the roads the police will have to go over to go about their business? How can every citizen be ensured access to this infrastructure? Does the government guarantee internet access? Can it do so to someone without a permanent residence without making public voting kiosks? And then how can it be guaranteed that the operators of the private roads that must be traversed in order to access these public kiosks will not try to skew election results? Is this the goal of regulation? At some point an arbitrary line is drawn between what the government does and doesn't do. And when I looked purely from the perspective of minimizing government, I couldn't give a good indicator of where to put the line. I could be as ideological as I wanted, but I could not fashion a pragmatic system from it.

So I gave up. And midway through my senior year I started shying away from the debates. I started looking at the government as more of a sausage factory. I had less interest in how it ran, I just want it to make delicious sausage, or in this case cause me the minimal amount of disturbance while providing me the services that I want.

And that's roughly where I stand today. I have some ideas one how I want the government to work, and yes many of them are shaped by my days as a high school libertarian. But I hope that they have more of a pragmatic bent. I hope to share them with you in a constructive and thoughtful environment.

Next time, the first issue I hope to expound upon is universal healthcare.

15 April 2010

6 Degrees

A long time ago (early high school maybe), I talked with someone named MagicDentures on AIM. I'm not sure I even knew who it was then. I don't if they were from school or from the wonderful world of online Pokemon. We had some conversation where we intentionally used the wrong homophones.

Your task to is ask people if they know who MagicDentures is. And ask them to ask around. And so on. You get the idea.

Why am I asking this? I think it could be fun. Plus MagicDentures is a pretty sick name.

10 April 2010

I'M MIKE LOWELL! I'M SO OLD!






Mike Lowell gives a shit about statistics.

25 March 2010

In this post, I beat my wife

So as part of my new buy clothes that actually fit you campaign, I looked to invest in some wifebeaters to wear as undershirts. All my teeshirts hang out below my long sleeve shirts and it looks really dorky (at least that's what my sister says), so I'm in the market for undershirts. So where better a place to get some wifebeaters than good old Walmart.

So I pick up some smalls. I'm not exactly the tallest guy in the world nor would I say I'm particularly barrel chested. Let's tell it like it is. I should probably wear smalls. I figure Walmart typically has stuff custom made for them (if you're Walmat you can do whatever you want!) and everybody knows that everyone who goes to Walmart is some fat, oafish lump so the small is relative.

I open the package and see what I got. First observation is these things are fucking tight. Maybe they're supposed to be. They're undershirts, after all. But this is a little unnatural. Second they're long. What the hell man. Way to rub in the fact that I am a mere quarter of an inch over the average male height. I buy a small and can't even get an undershirt that doesn't terminate at some reasonable length. Eat a dick. Seriously.

So now I have five of these fuckers. Who knows if they can go back to the store (the receipt does, but I don't have it handy). Any tall gangly fuckers want to buy them off me?

The worst part is tomorrow my teeshirts are still going to hang out. Eat. A. Dick.

16 March 2010

Restaurant review - Rincon Latino

A long time ago I had pupusas in a Mexican restaurant in my home town, The Aztec. Then they mysteriously disappeared, showing up every once in a blue moon as a special.

Somehow I found out there was a Salvadoran restaurant in downtown Framingham called Rincon Latino and they had pupusas. I was at my parents' house over the weekend and I convinced them that what I really wanted for my birthday meal was to get takeout from them.

My mom and I got papusas and my dad got tacos. Everything was dank in the best of ways. I probably wouldn't know a good pupusa from a bad one, but I really enjoyed them! And I think the three meals came to $14.08 all together.

There are about 7 tables inside, so if you want to sit and watch the cars back up at the railroad crossing you totally can. Go there! It's at 39 Hollis St, right over the railroad tracks.

15 March 2010

Normal people things (feeling nostalgic)

When I was in high school I didn't really talk about normal people things with my friends. What's normal people things: you know shit like who likes whom, who's fighting whom, who's doing what this weekend, general interpersonal shit. I mean honestly, I look back it now and feel kinda like I was this (literal) clown who could say weird stuff that was occasionally funny. That's all I was though. But rarely did I know what was actually going on. And no one ever knew what was going on with me. In some ways I felt like I was among of the nonessential personnel of my social circle, and I blame no one but myself for that.

I think I really broke out of that sometime my second year of undergrad. I'm still kind of uncomfortable asking people to elaborate about things in their personal lives, but I think I've improved. And basically I'm an open book. Fucking prompt me and I'll tell you anything you'd like.

The problem, though, is that I feel like I'm still my prior self around people I know from high school! Oh well?

12 March 2010

Polka party time

Waking up is a real battle for me. Not in the depressing sort of way, but I really like lying in bed and I don't have a whole lot of self control. If I have an alarm going off, I turn it off and then walk right back to my bed and fall asleep. I tell myself only a couple of minutes, and that never happens, and it happens nearly every time without fail. Usually when I know I have a test or something, this doesn't happen, but for your ordinary days I play a pretty dangerous game.

So I began waking up to music. And I had the perfect station for it: 99.3 your basic mediocre rock station. Typically what would happen is I'd gradually wake up over the course of 3 to 4 mediocre to decent songs and then a real stinker would play and I'd be awake and alert enough to hate it and not feel like getting right back in bed after I turned off the alarm.

Then for some reason I decided to test fate. I sort of grew irrationally fond of 93.9, a pretty weird eclectic station after they played Gimmie Shelter and Reckoner back-to-back. Of course this will never happen again, but it was pretty rad. And speaking of rad, they have some pretty rad funk on Friday evenings. So it became my wakeup station. This worked less well because the music was overall pretty inoffensive. The alarmism over the heavy water leaks at Vermont Yankee helped for awhile, but after some time the station became pretty ineffective.

So I switched it up again, this time to 91.1, UMass's own WMUA. And that's probably been even worse. But it's been pretty educational. The past two Sundays I've needed to get out of bed fairly early to start working. This is the hardest thing to do, waking up on a weekend to do some unenviable task. There's no embarrassment of showing up late and missing a meeting or class, but if you lounge around in bed you're screwing yourself. But lounging around is so nice. So what do I get to lounge around to?

A big block of Polka.

So granted to half-conscious mornings of Polka hardly makes me an expert, but I'm pretty convinced that Polka is probably among the most uniformly themed type of music out there. Maybe the woman who does the show is picking and choosing, but all Polka seems to be about two things:
1) Polka music.
2) Polish people.
One is really weird. I've heard so many songs about the merits of Polka, a "Polka party time", how much fun people have because of Polka music. This sort of makes you wonder how Polka came to be in the first place. It emerged fully grown out of its own head??
Two takes some explanation, and is probably biased based on one ridiculous song. This song was basically long lists of girls' names and the implication that they were crazy about this "Polish lover boy". It was weird.

But really, I can't think of any songs that fell outside of these two headings. And so that got me thinking, could all music, fundamentally, be like this? I don't think so. I mean imagine a world where the only two songs are "Old Time Rock and Roll" and "Proud to be an American". It would stink.

Polka stinks.

14 February 2010

A love story

When I was in first grade I fell in love with a girl named Janell. Which for a shy first grader means that in spite of the fact I interacted with her no more than one would expect in the typical first grade classroom environment, I thought she was the greatest thing ever and we were going to end up together and everything in the world would be perfect and groovy. I would talk about her constantly to my parents and to my friend Stephen. Hell, I wrote about book about her (a piece of paper, folded like a book, with a story inside about us kissing). And if we had to pick partners for anything, guess who I'd pick. But at one point I asked by dad what he thought the chance of us marrying was, and he responded with a very unromantic 0%.

But I didn't let that dissuade me. All through elementary school I harbored this crush. The fates conspired to keep us apart, we were never in the same class again. Not that that would have helped any, most likely. At some point I think she ended up with a boyfriend, however that works at the elementary school level. But my resolve was unshaken.

Then middle school happened, and about halfway through 6th grade I found out that she was going out with some guy would spray binaca breath spray up his nose. And that pretty much killed my interest in Janell.

Nice story.

Here's the catch. One winter day in first grade I was wandering around aimlessly at recess, as I was wont to do. And who comes up to me but Janell, and she says "I'm playing with you today". Alright!

So we walk around together and she leads me to some ice that people are playing on, despite that being strictly prohibited. And she says come on, let's go on the ice. I sort of silently protest and she says I can hold her hand. Well I still protest--staying out of trouble is very big at this point in my life--and we don't go on the ice!

But still, that day was the triumphant moment of my first grade life. But the next day, status quo was resumed.

There are some days in life that just don't make sense. They don't seem to fit in with the established cast of characters, or the context of the past, or the context of the days after. In some sense, life seems to follow a more logical progression without it.

I think it's pretty fair to say that some people are more spontaneous than others. And I'm not particularly spontaneous. Whenever something like this happens, I'm left trying to force the day into some logical progression of events. And I drive myself crazy thinking of what I did to both cause this day and to cause the return to normalcy. What had I done in the immediate past? How did I fail to capitalize on this outlier?

Really there's probably nothing. It's just some more or less random decision that I'm caught up in. But fight it as I may, I inevitably crave logic and reason. I manufacture stories I know are farces. And then it eventually drops.

One day, when I die, and if there's some sort of god, and it's a cool sort of toss-a-football-around-and-let-me-pick-his-brain-for-eternity god, I think these will be first things I ask about.

07 February 2010

Right way to rock, wrong way to roll

I never really intended the power hour to be be a Matt emotes for the viewer at home type of deal. I was hoping I'd write about stuff I found neat, interesting, or frustrating. But this one is going to be pretty borderline. Maybe there's some social science applicability hiding somewhere, but you're going to have to dig for it.

I did karaoke last Wednesday.

Since I moved up to Sunderland, I've been spending occasional Wednesdays at the bar basically across the street from my apartment complex with my neighbors and their friends. This is me trying to be social. I don't get a lot of that aside from people in the lab and the occasional visit to friends from undergrad. Wednesday night is, in effect, my weekend. But Wednesday night is also karaoke night. (Never mind the fact that I feel pretty inadequate socializing in loud bars. Conversations with me end up being a lot of "WHAT!!" and don't last long because I swear to god the conversational part of my brain, weak as it already is, does a full shutdown above certain noise levels.)

It was a small crowd last Wednesday, and I had it in my mind I was going to sing. I was riding a bit of an emotional high. The day before I had thought about a song that I felt I could do. So I wrote out a request card, and was planning on holding onto it for awhile as I mulled things over, but my apartmentmate stole it from me (in true Jay form) and handed it off to be submitted. I was due up sometime soon, and I'd be singing For What It's Worth by Buffalo Springfield. I had 22 ounces of beer in me. I could do this.

At this point I'm going to provide some analysis of what I feel are the two opposing elements that dictate a good karaoke performance. One element is actually being really good. Having a good voice, having good stage presence, the like. People eat that shit up and you'll make people wonder what the heck this amazing talent is doing in some backwater hick bar. There's another element that's totally unrelated to the first, though, and enjoyed on an entirely different level. You need to be really drunk. But not just any drunken state is going to suffice. You need to be hilarious, stumbling, shouty, call-me-Phil-Collins-'cause-I-don't-care-anymore drunk. And I don't think everyone gets that style of drunk.

I mean I certainly wasn't, and I probably wasn't even normal-drunk at that point. So where on the spectrum did I fall? Artist's rendering.

So there I was, too talentless to be lauded, too earnest to be heckled. Stuck in some uncomfortable valley between two peeks. I can't get over some of the similarities with the Casey and his Brother sketch. Stiffly moving around the stage, grimacing and looking extremely uncomfortable during the musical breaks, hesitantly starting up singing again trying not to mis-time an entry. It was awkward for me. I could see it being awkward for the people in the bar. I had a small cheering section, which meant I didn't have to walk off the stage in silence, and some guy high-five me on the way back (I fucking entirely missed the high five the first time around, in some "what the hell just happened" stupor). Jay said that it "was better than [he] thought it would be".

I think part of the human experience is being afraid or unwilling to do something, and then doing it and finding out that hey it's not that bad. You learn about yourself and come out a more confident and well-rounded person. Well unfortunately I didn't experience that. It just seemed incredibly unsatisfying.

I think it's unsatisfying because there's no resolution. I mean now I can say I tried and I didn't like it. Don't put yourself in a situation that's going to generate some weird self-loathing. But there's the other argument that maybe if I did it again and again I'd possibly desensitize myself to the whole process and end up enjoying it. Make a better person out of me.

Of course it begs the question, why is this a big deal? You did karaoke and you didn't like it; how is this news? I'm not sure. There's some sort of significance of it in my mind that I can't quite get out at the moment. Some sort of strange importance I can't yet grasp.

15 January 2010

Pokemon Simulation and Me (and You) Pt. 5

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

It was January of 2009 when OPENPKMN really lived again. My undergrad career was drawing to a close. I had less work to do. I set up a server in my dorm and Ilya and I had our first match in the brave new world of OPENPKMN. It was both good and bad. Comprising the good was the fact that the server side portion this thing was pretty solid. A lot of stuff worked right off the bat, no testing. The stuff that didn't typically had a pretty obvious fix. The game mechanics were nearly solid. The process that allowed users to challenge each other needed some critical fixes, but nothing has baffling or awful. The bad was the fact that the interface had taken a step back because, really, I had no interest in sinking time into it. At one point, things were so slipshod that you'd make your Pokemon, then have to do an SQL query to look up their id numbers in the database and then give the server a list of id numbers to form them into a team. But really the bad was nearly completely cosmetic.

So after many battles with Ilya, I decided I had a real winner on my hands. Ladies and gentlemen: the only open source Pokemon simulator that supports the classic Red/Blue/Yellow/Stadium 1 Pokemon games. Please, hold your applause until the end. And please ignore the fact that it took the better part of a decade.

Now let's do a quick refresher on the state of Pokemon community. Smogon now had its own official Shoddy Battle server. Though Smogon no longer supported it or ran a server, NetBattle had undergone a bit of a revival. (It was now operating as NetBattle Supremacy which I guess would make this version of OPENPKMN OPENPKMN Supremacy. Not happening.) This seems like it had done bad things to the number of people who played anything but the most recent Pokemon games. The Smogon NetBattle server was huge. I don't think anything approaching it ever came to be in the NetBattle Supremacy days. Whereas the older games had a decent following in the NetBattle days, in these times battling Pokemon online was understood to be using Shoddy Battle.

So I though, why not spruce up OPENPKMN a little and get the word out. So I threw about a month of sprucing into it. And it was ok. It was not really intuitive or pretty, but with some documentation you could use it to have Pokemon battles that had a reasonable expectation of working. Now promotion was a harder thing for me. Would posting about it be considering unwanted advertising? Would I get banned, censured, or otherwise criticized? Nevertheless on February of 2009 I made a post on Smogon talking about it.

In retrospect, I did a horrible job. My post was a big oration: big huge paragraphs, no prominent link, nothing that would make it appealing to read. And then I basically up and left for two days after I posted it because I had to work non-stop to meet a deadline for an my capstone project.

The response was weird. It was definitely positive. I got kudos for perseverance and definite signs of interest. But people seemed to be treating it as though it was some theoretical thing, or an announcement of something to come. Meanwhile, though users seemed to have signed up, the server seemed as empty as ever. I naturally and probably rightly assumed that people were finding it to be a bitch to use, so I asked for feedback and offered any help that I could muster given my schedule. Requests for help here light. Still no battles. I asked Ilya to post about it on 4chan. And that got us some snarky responses and a guy who would without fail attempt to crash the server at around 5 AM (and for the first couple of days succeed), but still no battles

In late February, I thought I had my trump card. I had hunkered down and wrote a GUI. It was clunky and required Java 6, but it amped the usability way up. Or so one would thing. Instead, the thread fell quiet. I was too busy to care. The thread got sporadically bumped by interested users in the subsequent months, but each time I had to tell them that I didn't have the time to run a server.

Meanwhile, I presented OPENPKMN at a symposium for undergraduate computer science. I tried to spin it as a project that applied many of the components of an undergraduate computer science education. The reaction to it was fairly pretty subdued. I thought there would be more nostalgia for something like this. (At one point two girls seemed to be eying my poster from a distance with a combination of amusement and interest, but some middle aged dude would not stop asking me questions about it and they moved on. Fuck you man!)

So my semester finished and for a while I wanted nothing to do with programming. My capstone project burned me out. In the last two weeks of the term I pulled three all nighters. It wasn't healthy. But eventually I did come around. And thus, another summer session of OPENPKMN programming began. But I couldn't run a server at my folks' place. So I basically forgot about the old Smogon thread.

And then sure enough, grad school started. Development slowed, then stopped, as I realized the graduate algorithms class was a full time job. Ilya started running a server on his desktop, which he left on all day anyways. Then, in early November, out the blue the Smogon thread was revived. I told them about Ilya's new server, and gave a very basic sketch of how to connect. But I kept the post short this time! I was too busy for orations. The response I got was different his time around. There was the requisite interest. But there were two posts of real interest.

The first asked if it jut be easier to run a NetBattle server. My response to that was it would, but OPENPKMN was all nice and open source and didn't need Windows to run. The second was one that said I should check out the Shoddy Battle source and start contributing. It's worth noting two things about Shoddy Battle at this point. First is that Smogon and Shoddy Battle had formed a close affiliation. Second there was a big push underway to release Shoddy Battle 2, which would make it much easier to modify Shoddy in order to support any Pokemon game. I found the point to check out Shoddy Battle to be really interesting. After all, did the world really need two open source Pokemon simulators? Isn't he real fruit of open source collaborative software that turns out better than a fractured developers doing their own things? Still, the idea of leaving OPENPKMN saddened me quite a bit. In many ways, compared to Shoddy Battle, OPENPKMN was a turd, but it was my turd, and I liked how it smelled. So I wrote up how I felt, yes, I would check out Shoddy Battle, but in the mean time, why not play some OPENPKMN. Yes it was a new and different program, but it was the most accessible classic battler that existed. Why not give it a shot?

The topic went wildly off course. People got all excited about the possibility about RBY in Shoddy 2 rather than the actuality of RBY in OPENPKMN. I returned after finals were over to try clear the air. I got a bit more aggressive in soliciting feedback and pointing people to the documentation. I was free from algorithms and I wanted my turd to sprout wings.

Things got a little better. One day I battled with someone other than Ilya. It was totally awesome. I had harvested the first fruits of my labor. I sent the user a private message of how thankful I was, but never got a reply back. I probably creeped the poor kid out. And I did get feedback. But there was something really unsatisfying about it. People wanted chat in the client. I thought setting up an IRC channel as a well-known place to coordinate battles would suffice. But that school of though had died when NetBattle was released with integrated chat. I mean don't get me wrong, I got some good feedback too. But the amount of battles remained low. I got pretty discouraged. OPENPKMN, combined with its documentation was usable. The issue was critical mass. If people were signing onto OPENPKMN, seeing no one to battle with, and immediately signing off, nothing would ever happen. I decided I needed to get OPENPKMN out of its backwater subforum and into the spotlight.

I sent a private message to a Smogon administrator. I made it clear that I thought the future of simulation was Shoddy Battle 2, but suggested either I run a server under a Smogon subdomain or they host an official OPENPKMN server. This would drive people to OPENPKMN while giving Smogon an official RBY battling simulator that was under active development by a community member who was attuned to the needs of the community. The idea was politely shot down, due to concerns about OPENPKMN's maturity and the need of people to maintain the server, with more advice to contact the Shoddy Battle developers.

I was discouraged, but hardly surprised. I understood the argument, but I felt that in some ways I had been blown off. How would assigning a subdomain to an OPENPKMN server and putting some Smogon staff in another IRC channel really hurt them? Why was the community content to wait on something when an immediate solution could be patched in and then scrapped when it no longer had purpose.

I mean part of this is the mentality surrounding Smogon. This is not me shitting on Smogon, because it's a good site. The real goal behind Smogon is to be the best at what is does. And it generally succeeds. Many other competitive Pokemon sites start strong, but die out. Due to an incredible ability to delegate and transfer power and what seems to be an amazing content management system, the site has operated at a high level for a sustained period of time. And that's something. And maybe that sort of reputation can't be compromised by associating with an RBY simulator with some warts. I personally disagree, but it's not my site. One of the reasons why Smogon was slow to transition to Shoddy to begin with was holding out for Competitor to get done.

So I took things underground. I've stopped caring if the server is in some indeterminate, unplayable state. In some ways, it's more fun. I get to fuck around with things without answering to anyone. I've been tinkering with a much improved client over my winter break. Maybe if OPENPKMN had gotten popular I'd be too busy triaging bugs and focusing on day-to-day maintenance to rip the client to shreds and put it back together. But at the same time it's unsatisfying. What has my time investment been for? Something that no one uses?

So my opinion of what to do with OPENPKMN changes with the wind. Some days I want to contact the Shoddy Battle people and ask where it would be most helpful for me to contribute. Other days I feel like it would feel like pure work to learn someone else's code base. Some days I think another attempt to drum up interest on 4chan would be worthwhile. Other days it just seems like stupid self-promotion. I've thought about formulating some research questions and having 20 battles with the handful of people who would be willing and testing things. If in a battle a user has a critical hit rate/move hit rate/secondary chance hit rate/full paralysis rate/average battle damage random number that is higher than expected for the given moves and Pokemon in a battle, how strongly does that correlate with them winning? With OPENPKMN, this should be doable with several SQL queries. Maybe if I posted something like that on Smogon people would see the utility. But who knows if the right people would see it?

Even I have mixed feelings on OPENPKMN. I like it. I spend a lot of time on it. I learn neat things because of it. A colleague of mine thinks for most people it takes about 10 years to 'get the bad code out of them'. I totally see that when I look at the history of OPENPKMN.

But I hate it. It's an addiction. It's something that I go to when I should be trying new things. And 'new things' is a broad term. Maybe I could focus more heavily on my graduate research, maybe I would learn something really neat by working on Shoddy Battle. Maybe without OPENPKMN, I'd be able to get bored and be forced to do other things like actually get the motivation learn how to play my guitar or to be more sociable. But maybe I'd just sit around and vegetate, but who knows? OPENPKMN is a time suck, and I have such bad self control that I can't easily pull myself away. OPENPKMN does not make me interesting as a person but to very small group of people. It's not something that's easy to talk about to groups or new people. It's not exciting to most anyone. And it's a lot of who I am.

And, to me, there's some unsettling pseudo-psychology about what OPENPKMN really is. It's a sad attempt to be a hero to be a community of strangers where I see no other avenues of get established and fitting in. Couldn't the same thing be said about me offering to run the Marble Palace server? Social interaction on the internet is worse for me than normal in-person social interaction. When I know no one, I feel lost. I need to use others that I know better as a way to develop my personality to others. Either that or I need I need someone to sort of continually interact with me to establish a level of comfort. An internet message board does not have a notion of neighbors or roommates or classmates to force the latter. Yeah I have things to work on.

So what do I do? I'm not sure. Will this semester bombard me with enough work to make duality of my feelings on OPENPKMN moot? Do I make a clean break, keep trying, or what? Has the Pokemon community passed OPENPKMN by? Does it need that random big break? Is it just another Supertime Radio? At this point it's all unclear.

EPILOGUE: WHERE ARE THEY NOW
* Azure Heights still exists! The site is basically the same it was in late 2001, with the forum receiving the occasional post in the random discussion board. More amazingly still is that Azure's PBS is still up, still very much a living museum of early online Pokemon battling.
* There's still an old copy of Marble Palace living on. This one sprouted up when one of the administrators got broadband and could host it, but was made defunct with the purchase of real web hosting. Now it lives on frozen in time. I've recently seen an old MP admin lurking at Smogon, but he has not returned my messages. Hey fuck you, N-Man! (I kid, I kid, please get in touch with me if you see this!)
* I don't think anyone runs the gsbots anymore. But you can find a site about it in the internet archive.
* NetBattle has a community associated with it and a development site.
* Smogon is as alive as ever.
* Work on Shoddy Battle 2 seems to be progressing. I mean I could (as could anyone) easily check out the source and take a look.
* Last but not least, tell all your friends about OPENPKMN!

And that's my story.

09 January 2010

Pokemon Simulation and Me (and You) Pt. 4

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Work on OPENPKMN became somewhat feast or famine. During my semesters, I largely ignored it, swamped with classwork. Then during my winter and summer breaks, I would break it out and start some pretty hardcore development. And this would be after programming all day at work. I wish I could be more descriptive, but really all of 2007 in terms of OPENPKMN development was pretty light on permanent records. One thing I did do pretty early in the year was rewrite the battle engine from the ground up. I basically did not allow myself to copy any code from the old engine. The result was actually pretty nice! Not everything turned out that great though. After taking a class on network security, I developed a rather elaborate authentication scheme which was based on Kerberos. It was overly ambitious and totally unnecessary, and all my work that was sunk into it was scrapped.

Meanwhile Smogon was chugging along, truly an unmitigated success. It was rapidly collecting users rapidly and was developing quite a reputation as the preeminent competitive Pokemon site. With work focused largely on improving site, Competitor was nowhere in sight, however. Then, in the summer of 2007, the landscape of online battling was changed again. A new battling client called Shoddy Battle came out.

What was the significance of Shoddy Battle? I'm going to start on things that I fully understand. For one it was open source. It was also written in Java, which meant it wasn't Windows-only like Netbattle. Now it's important to note that in many ways the world of Pokemon had passed me by. I only actually owned the first, second, and third generation of Pokemon games. I only played the first and second generations of games to completion. I only battled with the first generation mechanics online. I think Shoddy Battle had support for the fourth generation of games when NetBattle's support was somewhat lousy. But don't quote me on that. In any event, uptake of Shoddy was slow at first, particularly at Smogon where people were holding out on Competitor. Then NetBattle seemed to start crumbling. I think the domain lapsed and development from the core team slowed down. The version number seemed stuck at .96, but maybe there were patches. I couldn't use the thing anyways. So really I don't know. In any case, Shoddy became the big man on campus sometime in 2008.

I found Shoddy Battle to be an interesting, but not profound, development. Another open source Pokemon simulator! But in any event, it only supported the latest games, which I didn't know shit about, so I didn't really give it much thought. So in my mind OPENPKMN still had a reason to live.

In late January of 2008, I set up an SVN account on Source Forge and started pushing OPENPKMN updates out to there. After a few updates, I took nearly a year break from publishing anything. I'm not sure why that happened. I worked on it some that summer, but there are no commits until late December 2008.

Basically all of 2007 and 2008 were pretty undistinguished, but a lot got done. While to the end user it would look like a lot changed between now and then, late 2008 OPENPKMN was structurally very similar to the OPENPKMN that exists today. The battle engine is essentially the same. There were the skeletal beginnings of encryption and extensive logging of battle data in a database. Even the Java based-client, which looks radically different, came into existence during this era. So, really, a lot happened, but it wasn't exciting stuff. No egregious glitches. No terribly poor coding decisions. A lot of forward progress. But everything was happening in the dark.

WILL I RESTORE RHETORICAL QUESTIONS IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT? STAY TUNED!

06 January 2010

Pokemon Simulation and Me (and You) Pt. 3

Part 1
Part 2

While my interest in OPENPKMN was at an all time high, my interest in the Pokemon community was at an all time low. My first semester, I don't think I went to any Pokemon site once. I didn't think I did my second semester either, but some OPENPKMN code from the era contains a Smogon link, so I definitely swung by at some point. In any case, I largely tuned out from that scene and lost contact with the people from Marble Palace that I knew the best.

It turns out, I missed something really huge. Remember NetBattle, which had the word "cesspool" associated with its user base? Well, few things remain downtrodden forever. By some combination of the development of a competent NetBattle user base, people from the IRC battling bots migrating to NetBattle, and the seeming constant power struggles that the bots seemed plagued with, a large, mixed community had settled in at Smogon which had transitioned from laid-back shit-shooting to attempting to become the preeminent competitive Pokemon battle site for English speakers (and shed its Nazi Koffings in the process). Or so I surmise. Remember I wasn't there at the time. (Unfortunately, another thing that I missed was basically the golden age of non-English-speaking people trying to speak English in the NetBattle chat, with hilarious results. If you've ever heard me reference "chariots of barn" or "the mother of chaos's mother making sex with three mans oh no" this era was responsible for these.)

Meanwhile, how was I doing? It was becoming readily apparent by the end of the semester that OPENPKMN was a mess. Certain classes of moves never seemed to work right (trapping moves were particularly notorious, leading to "Fix Wrap!" becoming a constant rejoinder to basically any OPENPKMN bug). Attempting to fix something would almost certainly cause something else to break. OPENPKMN was dirty. It was designed to be efficient in both code and data. A lot of variables got reused in certain battling conditions that seemed similar, but it turns out were quite different. There was a lot of fruitless hacking. Furthermore, the system was not partitioned into logical chunks at all. Code that did low level reads from the disk were interspersed with code that created the user interface. This was anathema to any sort of organized system design.

Then, to some extent, I found religion. I got a summer internship at a very small company that made a networking stack for embedded systems. They had this big massive C codebase, that (obviously) dwarfed OPENPKMN, yet it seemed perfectly maintainable. My boss told me I had to split my lines of code at 80 characters. I was most likely responsible for the company sending out a mass email with the programming style conventions of the company. I saw a lot of clean code. By the end of the summer, I realized that something needed to happen with OPENPKMN.

But by then I had no time. The semester was in full swing and my life essentially became my operating systems class. And actually that may have been a good thing. It gave some time for the ideas I picked up from my job to really sink in and marinate in my mind. It gave me the opportunity to play with sockets a little. Meanwhile, though, I had been going on Pokemon sites a little bit more frequently. My crazy freshman life had died down some, and to some extent the internet reentered my life. One day during the first semester of my sophomore year the founder of Smogon (who is known as chaos, and who you may remember from the former parenthetical remark regarding the promiscuity of his grandmother) made a topic seeking out programmers for the sites battling simulator project, Competitor. I couldn't commit to it, but I did provide a link to my existing code in hopes that it could be of some use (and with a warning about it's current state). Competitor never came to be (more on that later), and I sincerely none of that OPENPKMN code was responsible for that. I hope they saw it for what it is was, because it was that bad.

WILL MATT EVER FIND TIME TO WORK ON OPENPKMN AGAIN? WILL SMOGON GET MARBLE PALACED? STAY TUNED!!

04 January 2010

Pokemon Simulation and Me (and You) Pt. 2

Part 1.

Meanwhile, in the world of online Pokemon, more change was afoot. In mid-2002 a simulator known as NetBattle came out. It was a bit of a departure from the web-based PBS and the IRC based gsbot, This thing was an honest to god visual basic application with what appeared to be considerably more polished than anything the wide world of online Pokemon had seen. And in addition, this whole dog and pony show had a built in chat client.

So now we had forums, IRC chat, and chatting over NetBattle. Was the community at risk of being spread too thin? Well, not immediately, as NetBattle seemed slow to win the hearts and minds of the old school competitive Pokemon crowd. For many years NetBattle was derided as a cesspool of low skill players.

Meanwhile, Marble Palace suffered through several hosting changes, and by the time I was finishing up high school apathy was taking a definite toll on the community. One day, sometime in mid to late 2004, one of the main admins posted a topic that said something along the lines of "this is a good pokemon site" and had a link to a place called Smogon. I think it's fair to say that at that point Marble Palace was essentially through. Major bummer.

But what was Smogon? In those days it was a bunch of the 'IRC crowd' starting a discussion board to shoot the shit. (It was also delightfully politically incorrectly festooned with Koffings that had the poison symbol replaced with a swastika, Smogon being the German name for Koffing, of course.) But if Marble Palace was dying and the fine people of Marble Palace were to move on to Smogon, who was I to protest. Remember that I had been born into and raised on the "your message board is your nation" archetype, so Smogon was for all intents and purposes my "new home" lest I become a stateless person.

Soon this all became moot, because I was heading to college. And this marked the beginning of a transition in my life. Pokemon was not this thing to be hidden on the internet. Pokemon Stadium matches would break out left and right in my dorm room. And my fervor about my simulator was at an all time high.

Now you're probably asking yourself, "why?". From when I started programming my simulator, two full-featured simulators, ones that simulated the newest Pokemon games rather than just the classics that I focused on had come out. Meanwhile I couldn't even get something running. Why the heck was I even trying?

For one, I saw neither simulator as adequate. NetBattle only ran on Windows. And we already know how I felt about gsbot. I was high on the idea of doing computer science academically and thought being surrounded by computer scientists would invigorate my drive to program. Plus, I had rethought my simulator as an open source project that would bring the ability to create any sort of Pokemon-like game to the masses. I christened it OPENPKMN.

And thanks to a load of determination, a long winter break, and a general sense of despondence with my social scene during my second semester, in March of 2006, the first OPENPKMN battles were played. To put it nicely, they were rough. How did one play OPENPKMN? You had to ssh into a server (all the interprocess communication was named pipes rather than sockets), run a process colorfully known as pokedump to generate your Pokemon, and then run another process specifying your team, your name, and your opponent's name (which, ostensibly, you'd know in advance). Then you'd pray it would work. When it crashed it would do wonderful things like a change a Pokemon's status from something reasonable like sleep, or paralyzed to something as illogical as "BELLSPROUT", or randomly pull the string "Linux" out of nowhere and assign it to level 137 Wartortle, or allow you to send out unkillable level 0 Bulbasaurs under basically any circumstances. Never mind the fact that there were some pretty egregious problems with some of the game mechanics. All in all, what had four years gotten me? Something less usable and only slightly beyond the feature level of 1999's PBS. But it was something!

My roommate Ilya, OPENPKMN's second biggest fan, was very instrumental in testing it and exposing some of its more egregious bugs. During a flowchart phase, he created this gem. It's brutally accurate.

WHAT DOES OPENPKMN'S COMPLETION MEAN FOR YOUNG MATTHEW? WILL HE MAKE HIS TRIUMPHANT RETURN TO ONLINE POKMON? WILL ILYA EVER CHANGE HIS PASSWORD TO SOMETHING LESS VULNERABLE TO A DICTIONARY ATTACK? DON'T TOUCH THAT DIAL!

03 January 2010

Pokemon Simulation and Me (and You)

A long time ago, the Laquidara family broke away from the shackles of pay by the minute America Online and got broadband. This marked the beginning of me being truly being on the internet (I'm a little embarrassed to admit that in the dialup days, I would basically spend my limited internet time on the Apple website, lusting over computers I couldn't afford).

What was I doing at the time? Playing Pokemon of course. Who wasn't in the glory days of early 2000. At least I think that's true, but my timeframe could be seriously messed up. Anyway I think one day in the summer of 2000 I was looking for Nintendo 64 ROMS, (a fruitless task, emulating the N64 on the hardware of that day was pretty dicey), and somehow I stumbled on the online Pokemon community.

"The what?", you may be thinking (alternatively "You're fucking yanking my chain!").

Well it turns out, largely unbeknownst to me, people were using the internet to do something as crazy as to congregate with peers with similar interests. I know, right? There was more to this internet thing than reading about the G4 Cube or the iMac DV Special Edition. And these Pokemoners were fucking smart. Through collaboration on Usenet and message boards, they'd made incredible observations about the game: they had many of the formulas nearly figured out, they had strategies that seemed so extremely clever when you saw them, but I wouldn't have thought of in a millions years, but the coup de grace was that they had an online simulator of Pokemon battles. Pokemon was released in the US in September of 98 and, in under two years, through largely clean room reverse engineering, the mechanics of the game were well-enough understood to write a simulator and someone actually did it. This is really impressive to me!

So now I'm going to qualify this a little. The simulator that was written, known then and until the end of time as the Pokemon Battle Simulator or PBS, was buggy and incomplete. I don't want to take anything away from the guy that wrote it (I'm, quite frankly, in no position to, as you'll later find out), but the coding was, legend has it, fairly horrendous. These legends indicate that no functions were used whatsoever. (Or perhaps functions were used, but there was no argument passing. There's some dispute regarding this, and while I did have the source code for a brief period of time, I didn't really feel the need to examine this at the time.) But in spite of this qualification, I still think it's an impressive thing.

Coincidently, another thing I was into at the time was programming. What this means is I had the Kernighan and Ritchie C Book, had started reading it and stalled out at functions (my 13 year old mind did not see the utility and found parameter passing extremely confusing), and was going to a computer-oriented summer camp. In my mind this made me the ideal person to write a successor to the PBS. And I actually started work on it. Boring, tedious, awful work on formatting information on every Pokemon and move in the game. Once that was done, I started writing some code to handle real basic stuff, like creating Pokemon from the command line. Remember that I had no idea how to use functions. I got about five layers of conditional statements deep and found it unmaintainable. (A little sidebar, primarily for anyone who's a bit familiar with Pokemon, part of this work was decomposing each move into a primary damage value, a secondary effect, a move usage parameter, and an accuracy value, which essentially allows the creation of arbitrary moves based on the recombinations of these components. It sort of baffles me that I had the foresight to design a system were I did not need to create discrete code for each move but could not understand functions!)

So with that initial push out of the way, we return to the Pokemon community, namely a message board called Azure Heights, which was among the first sites I stumbled upon in my encounter with the Pokemon community. Remember those smart people reverse engineered so much about the game? Well if you were looking for them, you probably would find them at Azure Heights. That was awfully intimidating to me. So as I'm wont to do in real social situations, I spend a lot of time observing (on the internet this is known as lurking, in real life it's known as being the weird kid sitting in the corner a the sophomore ring dance). It took me nearly a year to have the cojones to register an account and start making posts on their message board.

And when I did it was anticlimactic, because I was just another face in a the crowd. I was neither butt-stupid nor particularly insightful. But Azure Heights was hardly the only gig in town. Remember this is the roaring pre-tech-bubble-burst days. You wanted free web space with no ads and the ability to run basically any type of CGI you wanted? You went to f2s.net and you fucking had it. So I shopped around and, some time in late 2001, joined a message board called Pokemon Daily, which was sort of in a decline. In a smaller pond, I got noticed a little bit more.

And soon something really significant happened. PokeDaily's decline really accelerated. The database for the message board got corrupted and f2s announced that their free service was ending. The subset of the site staff who still seemed concerned about the message board, in an act of protest towards the seemingly absentee staff who appeared to have left future site in jeopardy set up a new Pokemon Daily and started a grassroots effort to recruit new site staff. Then, back came the old guard to the new PokeDaily, stripping the young blood of their new positions. Long story short, factions formed, a new site called Marble Palace was started, I offered to host it on a 486 I was using as NAT router, got fucked over by port 80 blocking, had no idea what was going on, declared defeat, and ended up site staff at Marble Palace anyway. I was a part of something, however small or trivial or even embarrassing, and honestly, that felt pretty good. So my interest in my aborted simulator was very much reignited.

In truth and retrospect, the fall of PokeDaily and the rise of Marble Palace was not of extremely great significance (even on the minuscule scale of online Pokemon!), because things had shifted. In the olden days, one typically felt an allegiance with at least one major message board. Now, IRC was the place to be. Pokemon Gold and Silver were the state of the art, and the simulator to play them was an IRC bot (the original gsbot and its various progeny). So if you battled on IRC, why not just chat on IRC? The archetype of Pokemon message board as a notion of "nationality" was very much deemphasized.

Marble Palace wanted to buck that trend and no one wanted to help more than I did. In my mind IRC was a scary place where millions of conversations were occurring at once and you had to rush what you wanted to say, and say if in the process of keeping up you fucked up: you'd never live that down. Marble Palace had a couple of good years, as I fruitlessly worked to build the simulator that would now had the dual aims of saving the Pokemon playing world from the bugginess of the PBS and the "terrifying" gsbot. (Some IRC notes: being involved with Marble Palace did eventually break my fear of IRC, but I remained terrified of both gsbot and the large channel that it was run from. Thus I never played beyond the original generation games competitively. So basically it's fairly accurate to say my fear of IRC turned me into the future-hating Pokemon curmudgeon I am today.)

But honestly, High School me was a lousy programmer. Yeah I figured out functions. Yeah I eventually coerced my mind to understand pointers. But along the way I made so many bad decisions. Writing massive amounts of the system in shell scripts. Eventually rewriting them in C, but not having the good sense to do such basic things as put line breaks in reasonable places or not create massive conditional statements whose clauses stretched over four unbroken lines full screen at a fairly high resolutions. Adding to the issue was the fact that I worked my ass off in high school. I feel like a lot of people realize that they can do ok slacking off in high school. I never got that memo, or I was just wasn't smart or ballsy enough to pull it off. So working on my simulator was largely limited to Christmas and summer breaks.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO MATT'S SIMULATOR? WILL MARBLE PALACE CHANGE THE POKEMON PLAYING WORLD? WILL MATT EVER STOP BEING SUCH A PUSSY? STAY TUNED!