Life? Don’t talk to me about life! RIP, John Conway

I hope this doesn’t become too frequent, but I had to post something about one of the recent victims of the pandemic. As is being reporting in multiple outlets, John Conway has died at the age of 82.

Photo credit Thane Plambeck/via the Ars Technica article linked.

I know Conway the same way so many people know him: from his game of Life. No, not the family board game with the impressive spinner in the middle of the 3-D board. Conway’s game was abstract and far more mathematical (but it still has spinners!). It was like an endless civilization-building simulation.

I first tried my hand at it using graph paper, but found this to be very manual, so I took to using a Pente board, not realizing Conway himself had used a Go board when he was coming up with the game from the 60s. Thankfully, far cleverer people than I ported it over to the Interwebs, where you can test much vaster combinations much faster than I ever could manually. My favorite is over at Bitstorm.

So, take a moment at some point and play around with it. It’s very absorbing.

A proper sendoff via XKCD https://xkcd.com/2293/

(Note: not being a mathematician, I really can’t comment on what I understand are vast contributions in terms of other areas of mathematics, but I believe there are some links to that and some interviews in the Ars Technica article).

Online Writing Conference this Weekend!

The coronavirus pandemic has halted an ever-increasing number of conventions, conferences, and in-person workshops.

Russell Nohelty and Nicolas Nelson are lamenting this state of affairs, so they’ve organized a free online writer’s conference this weekend.

You can register for free, as well as learn more about the panels at this website.

See you online!

Typecast During Holy Week

I’ve played a wide number of characters over the years, including henpecked husbands, Shakespearean fools, and villainous muleteers (I know, is there any other kind?).

But one character type I seem to have gotten several times is that of the well-intentioned jerk (an invaluable archetype in a number of training videos I’ve been a part of).

He’s just saying…

So perhaps it’s only fitting that, for a modern, social media kind of passion play, I get to be a doubting disciple. You can check it out on The Tandem Bicycle page on Facebook and evidently also on Instagram.

The first installment is here and the second installment (including a doubting yours truly) is here, with a nice combo segment later.

Based on the text, I pitched it as a modern vlogger/pundit, not unlike some of the pundits you see on TV who don’t really want change if someone in authority will be put out.

Behind-the-Scenes Show Biz Superstars

I’ve been pleased to see all the memes on social media reminded everyone that they’re taking solace in the output of artists, whether it’s books, music, or films.

So many of my friends are not only creative freelancers, but ones involved with film, theater, and television: creative pursuits where they have to go someplace to do their gig and get paid. And those places are, by and large, now closed (film and TV production has halted across the continent and live theaters are, by and large, closed).

This is not to diminish any other job which requires one go to a physical space to do it. So many of us have to do it (and I’m now acutely aware of all my friends in “essential” jobs that now find themselves on “front lines”), but part of the fun of doing some of these creative jobs is you go to a certain place and do your best to make some magic.

Kirk McKoy / for a Los Angeles article on the Kroffts

Perhaps no group is associated with some childhood magic-making in the 70s, outside of Jim Henson and his cohorts, as much as Sid and Marty Krofft.

While I’ll be honest that their many shows were never “must-see TV” like “The Muppet Show,” I absorbed them all, forming a critical part of my generation’s 70s psychedelic pop culture references.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard many positive things about working on the Krofft shows, so, especially given my own minor efforts to make magic, I’m always interested in what makes teams work.

Matt Hurwitz delves into the history and people involved in Krofft shows in an article in Variety from February this year… and Jevon Phillips, in an article from 4 years ago from the LA Times, goes into some of the reboots the Kroffts have been doing.

Successful Self-Publishing Case Studies

Given the sheer numbers of self-published books, it statistically unlikely that someone will make a living via self-publishing… except that given the sheer number of self-published books there’s a non-trivial number of writers who make a living via self-publishing.

So with that caveat in mind, take a look at Sam Haysom’s article on Mashable about three self-published authors who have succeeded.

Roll for Initiative… at a distance

I’ve been compiling the various resources and freebies that people are posting daily on the Interwebs as ways to combat the coronavirus isolation.

One activity I sorely want to try in the coming weeks is delving back into some role playing games (RPGs)… and, in fact, it’s possible that might be an activity to do with my kids.

So Paul Darvasi’s article for KQED is a treasure trove of ideas about how one can use RPGs for educating people (and honestly, just being a better gamemaster).

In addition, since we’re now in stay-at-home mode, Charlie Hall has a great article on Polygon about how to run your RPG online. I’ve used Roll20 before, but I’m thinking trying straight video may be easier to just jump in. I just need to work on the descriptions.

Tips on Isolation from Astronauts

It’s week two of a lot of us Americans staying at home. Per historian and librarian recommendation, I am keeping a journal during this time. Lesson plans and activities are set up for the kids. We’re doing our best to make sure Jabberwocky Audio Theater continues as planned for this year. And of course, there’s some home projects that are rearing both their practical and sanity-based heads.

In the face of all this, it can be kind of overwhelming, so it’s been nice see the take on some isolation subject matter experts: astronauts. Former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has a nice quick two-minute video that might help you feel a bit more centered:

And if you want a longer, written take, former astronaut Scott Kelly has a great piece in the New York Times that covers some of the same topics in detail. I especially appreciate the idea of pacing oneself.

Science Fiction Tropes, Ranked (Barnes & Noble Edition)

I’ve posted about science fiction tropes before, but as we’re now deep into the Era of Social Distancing, at least some writing has got to happen, right?

So here’s another list ranking tropes via Ross Johnson for Barnes & Noble. I might quibble with the ranking of the top 5 (dystopian governments and time travel would be my 2 and 1 respectively), but everything on the list should give you a knowing nod or a smile.

And who doesn’t like space pirates?

A drop of water for your thoughts…

In the face of global pandemic? Muppets.

Much of this week has been adjusting to the very new reality of self-quarantining (well, with the fam). My social media feeds are now almost exclusively news and reports about the coronavirus striking the globe and memes to try and help with it.

Replicating the social media feed seems quite pointless, but I’ll certainly post links to resources or other fun things as relevant.

For now, one recommendation, which I heartily endorse, was for families to take respite in the original Muppet Movie.

Perhaps after that, and perhaps only for you and older kids, you may also be interested in the camera tests they did to see how the Muppets could work in “natural habitats” and, well, it gets a little Samuel Beckett.

The Mind and Music

Someone posted about Bobby McFerrin earlier this week (who many people still know best from his song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy“) and that made me think of this short video where he shows how humans naturally think in musical terms:

If you like the video above, it’s part of an overall talk that is just delightful in a geeky sort of way (which I’m biased towards anyway.

An hour and forty-five minutes of music/science goodness.