Permacomputing (link to permacomputing wiki) is a movement/aesthetic about computer systems that are sustainable / resilient. It is a response to the idea of eternal growth in the area of technology.

I learned about this term a few weeks ago on mastodon. I can’t find the link anymore, but it was a blog post about the failure of the free software movement, describing permacomputing as its spiritual successor. This week I had the time to give a good read at the permacomputing wiki, and I found it exceedingly interesting.

For a while I have been worried about things like planned obsolescence, eternal growth, scaling as the only way of progress, bloat, conspicuous consumerism, etc. While computer systems in my youth felt like something that could free and raise people as individuals, today they feel wasteful, uncaring and asphyxiating. On the other hand, I have been attracted to aesthetics that see computing as smaller, simpler, more connected with our physicality and ecology. However, this has always been a very lonely feeling — I have always thought that these dreams were pure nostalgia, me being “an old man shouting at clouds”. Learning about permacomputing made me realize that there were people thinking about the same things, and in much deeper and more proactive way. It was a nice feeling.

Reading through the wiki, I came across many terms and concepts that I have seen among people working on Alife, such as alternative forms of computing, like DNA and fungal computing, and robust systems, like Dave Ackley’s T2 project. I wonder if this is something that some people in the alife community has engaged with (even though there are also some in that community that embrace the eternal growth mindset). Something to look forward in Hokkaido later this year. The term Unconventional Computing in the wiki was a nice throwback to my PhD years, since I remember once participating in an “Unconventional Computing” workshop at Todai, just because the name felt interesting. Back then, the concepts were way out of my depth, and I didn’t get a lot out of it. Maybe it is time to revisit it.

Indeed, although as a global movement, permacomputing seems very utopian (more so than the Free Software Movement must have felt back when it was proposed), it also feels like it matches my primordial concepts about evolutionary computation and alife — how computation could behave as a pseudo-biological substrate for long term self-sufficient evolution — or how artificial creatures could find their own niche, and grow in their own direction, if given just the right kind of push. This idea seems to diverge from the permacomputing ethos in that it does not place humans in the center of the technological landscape, but I feel that merging computation and nature in a sustainable, evolving way, even (or specially) in the absence of humanity, is still an appealing dream.

Anyway, this might be worth studying more in the future as a disinfectant for the cynicism that grows out of the bleak techno-corporate environment that I feel myself immersed into these days. But let’s see if I still remember this in a month or so… (maybe I can plant these seeds in more fertile ground?)

Making a Mega-Dungeon, a room a day.

At the beginning of this year, someone over at Mastodon suggested a challenge where you write one Dungeon Room each day, and at the end of the year end up with a 365-room Mega-Dungeon. (Does anyone have the link to the original post?)

At the time, I thought it was a really neat idea, but was busy with other things (I don’t even quite remember what… maybe Ludum Dare?). I followed some initial posts, and then I eventually forgot about it.

That said, the idea was still shaking around at the back of my head, and the new academic year beginning in April gave me the excuse I needed to give it a try. So I bought an year planner at the local bookstore (unfortunately, I couldn’t find one with a nice grid), and started writing the dungeon this week. Well, to be honest, I began on Thursday, so I wrote the first four days all at once then.

The rules are simple: (1) Each day, I draw a dungeon room and write the room description on the planner. (2) Each week corresponds to one dungeon floor or area. (3) I try not to think about the next areas or rooms too much in advance. (4) On each area, I write a random monster table, and brief descriptions of the monsters.

I am using Labyrinth Lord like for the monsters in this first week, although I probably need to re-read the book to remind myself about magic items and rules. I am a bit concerned about the place feeling a bit disjointed or boring, but I’ll try not to worry about it too much for the moment.

Here is a quick preview of what expects the adventurers in the first area:

A drawing of two RPG adventurers in a dungeon, being attacked by giant ants. One of them is standing, wearing armor and wielding a weapon. The other is laying on the ground, covered in ants.
(Found on an image search, author unknown. Probably some D&D supplement)

I hope this works. I have been looking for some sort of writing habit to work on every night, and gratitude journals weren’t quite cutting it. If I can turn this into an actual adventure in the future, even better!

Subnautica: A week lost at sea!

Note: this post has very minor spoilers to the game “Subnautica”.

Last week I spent a lot of time playing “Subnautica”, a game that has been on my radar for a long time. I loved it! (although I could have spent my time with it better — more about it later).

Subnautica is an exploration game – you crashland into a vast alien ocean planet, and you have to explore, research and build your way out of it. The game consists of learning more about the place where you are, and gathering resources to improve your ability to explore. There is no in-game map — creating your own sense of direction is a key challenge of the game. The game is also very 3D — there are openings to underwater caves almost everywhere, and some of them are hard to spot – I would often find new caves in area that I thought I had thoroughly explored before.

This game is wonderful in many ways — first of all, the game is gorgeous. All the different underwater scenes are very beautiful, and so are the fauna and flora. Also the feeling of exploration and learning permeates the game in a great way. Base building hits a nice spot between being useful and being aesthetically pleasing. One thing that I really liked in this game is that violence is very optional: it is usually easier and faster to flee or scare away predators, and you have to go out of your way to kill large animals (you do eat a LOT of small fish, though). You are a scientist, not a soldier.

A screenshot of the opening moments of the game "Subnautica". The player is swimming in endless ocean, with a futuristic lifeboat in the front, and the wreck of a large spaceship in the background.
A rough landing into a beautiful planet.

In total, I put 50 hours total in the game, start to finish — that’s two solid weekends and much of the weekday nights in the past week as well.

I started out trying to play this game as unspoiled as I could. In my first few hours, I died many times trying to explore a local cave, which by the end of the game I would just zip through, because I didn’t know how to build bigger tanks of O2 (which you can do quite early in the game!)

After a while, I started to slowly check the wiki to better understand how this piece or that piece of equipment worked… The first really self-spoiling came when I couldn’t find the entrance to the spaceship wreck above — decided to look for a image to find the door, and ended up reading up almost everything about the wreck…

After that I spent quite some time without checking spoilers again, but the seal was broken… when I couldn’t find one specific location that I knew existed, I went back to the wiki and then I would do that again and again if I couldn’t find something or another after looking for it for a few hours.

A screenshot of the game subnautica. A vast ocean, and a futuristic base floating in the middle of it.
Making myself at home — basebuilding is delightful in this game!

This felt a lot like my experience with “Breath of the Wild” — one spoiler here, one spoiler there, and pretty soon I was charting my path through the wiki. I know that in the end I would enjoy these games better if I kept myself away from spoilers, so what happens?

Part of it is impatience, I guess. I set myself some goal, and when I fail to achieve it, I feel uncertain if I was close, or going the complete wrong way, and I feel like I need to check that on the wiki. This is something that could be solved if I had people who I could talk about these games. In the case of Subnautica, I found out too late that one of my friends was another big fan of the game.

Also part of it is fear of using my time inefficiently. If I have only one or two hours to play at night, it feels kinda bad to spend it trying to understand how one piece of equipment works, or gathering resources to build something that I won’t actually end up using. Although this feels like an invalid concern.

I remember when I was a kid, how I figured out Ultima 3 from start to finish without the internet, just writing maps on pen and paper. I guess this would be the proper way to really enjoy this game.

That said, I still enjoyed a lot my time on Subnautica, and I can try to do it the proper way on the sequel, “Below Zero”.

That will have to wait for my next break, though!

Media review powered by Travel

I’ve spend the last two weeks traveling around the globe for work. There is a lot to talk about the trip, but today I just want to look back at some media that I’ve watched on the plane.

Better people manage to work or do their hobbies in an airplane, but for me long flights are a chance to catch up on movies, TV series and sometimes books. Here is what I was up to on the over 60 hours of flight I had recently:

  • The Billion Dollar Code — I think I first heard about this on Cory Doctorow’s blog? It is a German mini series about the tech art project TerraVision – How it was developed in the 90ies, and how Google copied/stole most of it to make Google Earth. It was pretty good for the tech/90ies nostalgia.
  • I’m a spider, so what? — Isekai anime series recommended by a friend on Mastodon. A person dies in this world, and is reincarnated as a spider monster in a megadungeon. The first few episodes are really tongue-in-cheek, and chock-full of memes, so it is fun to watch. But when I went to look for more information about it, I learned that it has a really convoluted story, that makes me not sure how far I will be following it. The old problem of fiction trying to explain all the workings of what should just be magic. Does remind me of covic.sys, which is nice.
  • That time I turned into a slime. — Another Isekai anime series, also about someone who reincarnates as a monster. However, I bounced off this one pretty quickly, because the series takes itself too seriously.
  • Amazing Attorney Woo — A Korean drama about an attorney with autistic spectrum disorder. Recommended by a lot of people, and I really liked the first 6 or so episodes that I watched. I usually avoid K-dramas for being overly sentimental, but this one feels a bit toned down, and just the right amount for me. I also like that there is a fair amount of social discussion in the episodes, not only about neuro diversity, but also gender issues, age issues, family roles, etc.
  • Everything, Everywhere, All at Once — Hollywood movie, also recommended by a lot of people. A pretty fun, absurdist romp, that goes around back to an interesting message in the end. Maybe worth seeing it on a big screen for all the special effects. The hotdog fingers were a bit too much for me, though.
  • Atlas of AI — a book by Kate Crawford, about the hidden global costs of AI, like mining, global warming, military complex, state surveillance, etc. For the past 10 years I have been feeling uneasy about this area of research, and this book, puts all those abstract fears and news, substantiates them, and throw them back at your face. I think there is a really good argument that we should scale down on AI research, not because of any fantastic images of killer robots, but rather because of the more prosaic problems caused by humans trying to greedly extract value without looking at all the problems that they cause to other people through that path.

Week 9 Blog: Maybe a lot of work got done?

Another post with a look back at the past week — can I make a habit out of this?

Work Stuff

I spent a lot of last week wrapping up the budget — so much paperwork! I got some nice books, and wrote about one of them yesterday. I also wrote a short text for the next Alife Newsletter, and reviewed GECCO papers. This year GECCO and Alife will be back to back, I wonder how that will turn out.

Talking about Alife, I helped my students to write their Alife papers. I’m kinda worried on whether they will make it by the deadline next week. I’m finding it really difficult figure out the right balance of helping them out with the writing more directly and letting them find their own voice. When I think about back when I was a student, my advisor was that kind of absentee advisor — I had to figure out almost everything by myself… I don’t want to be like that, but sometimes I’m afraid of meddling too much with their ideas.

Game Stuff

This week I bought Caves of Qud, a modern roguelike that tries to stay close to the roots of the genre. The game is really weird, with a somewhat scifi aesthetic in it. I’m still getting used to stuff and learning, though, so I can’t say much about it.

By the way, I learned how to quickly sell all those trading cards that you get on Steam, and after selling all the cards that I had accumulated over the years, I got almost 1000 yen, which felt nice (but is not that much in the grand scheme of things).

Talking about roguelikes, I’m still working on my pico-8 photography based roguelike, but progress has been slow. Probably because I have been feeling really anxious about my trip next week.

Finally I’ve been playing a bit of ONI as well.

Media Stuff

After 69 episodes, we’ve finished watching “Yakitate Japan!”, which is the most enjoyable mindless anime I’ve seen in a while. The anime is a shonen anime about cooking battles, where half of the battle is the judge having over-the-top reactions to the food the contestants made. The anime relies on puns and 4th wall breaking jokes to carry it over, and while it wears thin at times, it never takes itself too seriously, and is light-hearted enough to have earned my good will to follow it to the end. I’m not sure how strongly I would recommend it to other people, but it is not bad, per se.

If we are talking about bad stuff, I also saw the 2021 remake of Cube. The original cube was one of my favorite movies back when I was in university, and I felt this remake really did it dirty. The original movie was about the mystery and the gruesome traps, the remake seems to toss these aside to put the spotlight on the celebrities in the movie… people will only die on appropriately dramatic moments, and not out of nowhere like in the original.

I’ve now started watching “Junji Ito Maniac”, and I’m liking a lot, but I’m only in the second episode.

Next week

Next two weeks I’m going to be traveling to Brazil and Peru to participate in several student fairs. It will be a 10 day trip, and almost half of it will be spend moving around in planes… I am hoping that I can spend some of that time working on my roguelike, and catching up on reading. But I guess I’m just avoiding thinking too hard about it… I need some true vacations!