Museum of Illusions at Union Station

Went to the Museum of Illusion today over at Union Station! Here are some pictures and videos. 🙂

Overwhelmed

It’s hard to shake this feeling of being utterly overwhelmed by life. Whether it’s simple things like keeping my house clean or bigger things like how I can make a difference in the world, it’s too easy to feel lost these days.

I keep thinking about how we grow up learning about super heroes or magical girl squads or whatever else – single people or small groups that protect the rest of us from the evils of the world. But as an adult, it leaves me feeling helpless; wanting to be a super hero, but that not being an actual option. A single person cannot save the world.

I used to stress my brain a lot wondering how I could use my leet computer skillz to help the world, or to protest in some way, or otherwise for activism. Then some children got stuck in a cave and I watched Elon Musk on Twitter fuck around with a stupid unwanted tube he invented and delivered with who knows how much testing. Instead of just using a more useful resource – money – to fund other people to save those kids. The kids got out safe thanks to professional divers, and Musk just left his stupid death-trap tube in a cave in another fucking country and tried to play it off, like “in case somebody needs it later.” That event made me realize that I don’t need to necessarily use my knowledge of programming to do Good if it just isn’t what the problem calls for – don’t try to egotistically shove a square block into a round peg.

And with the singular super hero… a single person isn’t important. A single person is vigilantism. A group of people is a movement. And a group requires individual people to be part of it to go anywhere.

And there are good groups that exist. Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed I think about all the other people here who want to do Good and make the world better for others. I know I’m not alone, even though I look at politics and the alt-right movement and just see pure evil.

Groups exist like KC4Refugees – they don’t have to exist, but they do. A volunteer organization where we all work together in different ways to support the refugee community here in Kansas City. Sometimes I think about how I’m helping out only a couple of families with my volunteering, but then I remember that I’m part of a group and each person is helping their own family, or doing organizational volunteering to get families the resources they need. And, the families I mentor are happy I’m there for them. Even if I’m “just” helping the kids with math homework, or “just” tutoring the stay-at-home mothers in English, or “just” helping them move from an old home to a new home, I am helping enrich their lives, and I’m hopefully drowning out any of the Islamomisia they may hear second-hand with my love. I know that if we’re out together and they are targeted first-hand, I will physically be there to protect them.

But, back to feeling overwhelmed.

Unfortunately, I don’t think anything is going to change until the end of this semester. I’m applying for software development jobs again because I’m really craving the routine, and I need to not be bringing so much work home with me every day, every week. We’re reaching the end of October and we still have November and December to go, and it seems like such a long time. I’m so burnt out, and I’m just trying to power through. Until then, I feel like I’ll be a less-than-ideal house keeper, wife, friend, game developer, artist, and so on. Like I have to take all my creative inspiration and drive and just shove it down into a box because if I think about all the things I want to do but can’t, I’ll just dive deeper into depression. But it’s always there. I feel like I’m just a robot getting through this semester, executing the tasks I need to perform, all the while feeling like the world is falling apart around me, and feeling helpless to affect our politics, our policies, or to somehow remove the alt-right threat.

I’m just so drained.

Let’s take a step back

When I think about what I get out of Social Media, and what I wish it looked like…

…I just think of blogs and RSS feeds.

Of course blogs weren’t the best for keeping up with everybody back in the day – everyone had blogs on different services, and they lacked privacy settings except in cases where your friends were using the same blog service. But that’s basically the same thing as what we have now, right? You can set privacy settings on Facebook, but of course the only people who can read your non-public posts must also have Facebook accounts. Now, we have so many networks you have to go to all these separate websites to see your feed.

We’ve gone from TV to cable to streaming to every network having their own streaming service, and we’ve gone from blogs to social networks to TOO MANY SOCIAL NETWORKS.

What did we do back in the day if we had information from a lot of sources we wanted regularly? RSS feeds. Google Reader was one of the most popular ones, but then they decided to do away with theirs. Sites like Twitter and Facebook favor APIs now over any sort of RSS feeds (even for public content).

I feel like I’d be so much more happy with my “social internet experience” (and a LOT less overwhelmed) if I could just check everything in one single place, and only post to one single place. Ideally, I could use a single website in lieu of Linked In, Facebook, and Twitter, and just post to different “channels” with different privacy settings based on that.

But, most social networks we use today are proprietary; it is not in their best interests to let you combine all your services into one with webhooks or RSS feeds or anything else. We’re always the product, and the software no longer serves us.

In the meantime, I’m going to try to post to my blog more, and rely on what webhooks I can to distribute links to the posts on my other pages. At least with an open source blog hosted on my own server I have control over my own data – when I delete it, I ACTUALLY delete it; it isn’t just left on someone else’s server “marked” as deleted but still there.

Do you have a blog?

Give me your blog link! I’ll try to find a decent RSS reader and start keeping up with people that way.

Social Ocean

THERE ARE TOO MANY SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES.

Seriously, I’d love to just post in one place (my “hub”), and then have my hub forward that post to all my social media platforms, or easily select which posts to send to my @Moosader accounts (Twitter/Facebook/Mastodon), and which posts to send to my @rejcx Rachel accounts (Twitter/Facebook/Mastodon/Diaspora), and just aggregate it all in one place.

Also with minimal server setup. Don’t make me change config files.

I guess I can try to attempt this with my WordPress? I was looking at IFTTT but I don’t see a Facebook applet anymore! I used to have it set up so if I posted to Diaspora it’d auto-post to Facebook with a link to the post. Uggh. (Seriously, screw proprietary platforms, for more than one reason.)

I’m going to look at some of the plugins and figure out what I can set up.

First problem: Centralizing your “post” page, which gets distributed out.

Second problem: Centralizing your feeds from all the different sources in one location. (GEE, WOULDN’T SOME RSS FEEDS BE NICE? RIGHT??)

 

Status of Moosader projects

Just to barf onto “paper” somewhere…

  • Undead Debt – active development (Fall/Winter 2018)
  • Ghosts – Intern visual novel – to be finished early 2019
  • Dance Competition – on hold
  • Flipside Fairytales: Sleeping Beauty – to be finished early 2019

The internship program is paused for Q4 because of holidays and school! 😛 We will resume in January. In the meantime, I am personally working on a pet project: Undead Debt.

Kind Software

The struggle

How can we fight the powers-that-be in our normal, daily lives? What can we little people possibly do when even our one power – voting – is ignored. We call senators and tell them how to represent us, and they ignore us for their own gain.

When our daily lives are monetized for the rich. We use software that costs nothing to us, but we give our data. We are profitable. But these networks are so heavily ingrained in our lives.

I, personally, have used Google Calendar for over a decade to keep my life in order. I use gmail because its spam detection is the best. I sell my apps on the Google Play store because it’s easy and cheap. I use Facebook to keep up with political organizations, family, and friends. LinkedIn. Twitter. And so on.

And I know my daily life is being sucked of value because it brings profit to others. And it makes me sick. But how much of my productivity am I willing to sacrifice for becoming an individual again?

Well…

The sacrifice

We live in a capitalist society, and the main thing that influences our representatives (if you can call them that) is capital. I’m sure that I’m not alone in feeling like our government works for the lobbyists and not for me. As individuals, we can’t make our own lobbying group, and we can’t bribe politicians into caring about our lives; we try to tell them the consequences of going against our wishes (“we won’t vote for you”), but that all seems to land on deaf ears.

But, we have some power: We are a product. And we can stop being a product.

We can shift our lives onto non-proprietary platforms that don’t monetize us. We may need to spend a little money to donate to keep a server up-and-running somewhere in a distributed system, or we may need to give up some polish and perhaps some features, and even a chunk of our social network.

Now, I know as a small business owner, and someone who has volunteered for a political campaign, that we can’t just upend this entire aspect of our lives. Social Media can be integral to making a living. But, I’d implore people to begin using alternative systems, and use them as the primary form of communication in our personal lives.

Of all the things you can currently do to fight against a corrupt system, isn’t being slightly inconvenienced by your software one of the easiest things to do?

And it can only get better…

Building and using ethical software

The more energy and time we put into platforms that are ethical – and maybe a bit rough around the edges because of the lack of a paid, dedicated UX team – the better these get. The more people know about it, the more quality of content exists on them, and the more programmers will invest in these technologies. It doesn’t have to be “inconvenient” forever.

If we understand what we’re doing by moving away from these “free-but-you’re-the-product” services, if we make that intentional move and encourage others to do the same, we can make the world a little better. Together, we can send a message that we’re more than just something to extract value from – we can send this message to companies as well as our own government.

These systems in place aren’t helping us, and they’re not taking care of us, so what is the point of these systems?

Let’s construct our own…

Ethical software vs. Open Source vs. Free software

I love FOSS (Free/Open Source Software) from the outside. When I am teaching people how to program, I prefer exposing them to FOSS tools available – anyone can program or make games, and you don’t need much money.

However, FOSS isn’t perfect. If you lift up the surface, you will find a lot of problems. Namely, the communities built around developing the software are known to be toxic.

Our software can’t be ethical if we’re making the developers suffer, or keeping willing participants out.

Just recently, Linux has replaced its “Code of Conflict” for a “Code of Conduct”, and there has been massive backlash – people are threatening to leave development of the system, trying to defend their “right” to be toxic and disrespectful.

Even the father of Free software posted:

“I disapprove of strict codes of conduct. They feel rigid and repressive to me.”

(Pulled from this Reddit thread)

It seems odd to me that a group can be ideological about how software should be Open and/or Free (as in liberty) and yet be against making software Good (as in Kind) as well.

And we can’t just flip these systems from the inside – we are outnumbered. We have to start at the ground floor and build our own movement for what we want to see in the world…

A movement?

And there are groups working towards this – groups like Compassionate Coding with April Wensel, who advocate for caring and kind software development. I would like to go further than this and create a license and a resource website around ethical, kind, compassionate software development. That by, creating a project within this framework, you are committing to having Codes of Conducts, to treating people with respect, to building good software for a good purpose.

And we can start small. We can identify good, ethical, kind software that we can use, and identify what is problematic – even if it is under the umbrella of FOSS. We can build some small utility projects under the new license and release it to the world.

We will need to pull in all sorts of programmers as well. I cannot be “the boss”; I am a queer white nonbinary person, but I cannot offer (nor will I pretend to offer) insight for every view. An ethical coding movement must contain people from many different backgrounds, and it must honor and respect many perspectives. It cannot be centered around just white men/people building software for their own politics, but violently keeping out other people.

I’m going to be thinking about this project, and ask some friends to jump in with me. I hope that there will be interest and buy-in from others as well.

And if there’s already something like this that I’m not aware of (specifically making a “Kind Software” brand instead of just “Open Source” or “Free”), I will signal boost it.

Thanks for reading.


Kind Software homepage (edit)

I went ahead and created this page as a kind of landing page for “Kind Software”. Other people can also make suggestions and edit the page (+ issue a pull request) to add their own ideas. My main idea is that classifying your software as Kind brings along a certain set of expectations; a certain message you’re saying about your work.

https://kindsoftware.bitbucket.io/

Lol I didn’t make it.

“This semester, I’ve begun at UMKC. I’m taking Advanced Software Engineering, which is doable. I can get through this semester and I can work with a small team to build an app. Piece of cake.”

(http://rejcx.moosader.com/2018/09/exhaustion-depression-and-directionlessness/)

Lol nope. I took an incomplete in the course because I was really unhappy with the structure of the course and the quality of instruction, and I ended up complaining to the department chair.

Geeze. I have not yet completed even one semester of a grad class in the past five years. And I generally don’t think of myself as a failure; I know I’m good at problem solving, I know I’m a good programmer. I know I’m at a disadvantage due to working. I know I’m also at a disadvantage because I’ve worked in the industry, and I’ve taught classes, so I have a low tolerance for busywork-for-the-sake-of-busywork and poorly developed classes.

And it’s so frustrating because I could be such an asset to any school, but I cannot be because of the systems in place – whether it’s community college, or even teaching grade-school level (I’d be a kick-ass math teacher or computer teacher). I know there are restrictions to try to keep up the quality of instruction at all levels, so I don’t know what to say – I have experience teaching and the knowledge of the topics, so maybe I should be able to substitute this out in place of the requirement of a master’s degree? At least for high school level? Please?

But really, what I want is to make education accessible for everybody; not just people going to college (though I really love teaching college), and not just for people at a single school. So maybe I should just shift my teaching focus from a concrete classroom back to the internet, where I had originally begun teaching.

I still gotta pay bills though. And a full time software development job is starting to sound really nice, as long as I’m working with people I already know – to cut down on the alienation.

Exhaustion, depression, and directionlessness

Burnt-out Rachel on a laptop, saying

Burnt-out Rachel on a laptop, saying “I don’t have the inspiration to write lecturesssss.”

Maybe if I hadn’t been so over-worked the last two years, I would be willing to stick with it longer. But, working up to 12-hour-days on days I have class, and then spending so much of my time off-campus also at a computer working – prepping, grading, answering questions, etc. – has thoroughly burnt me out.

I mean, I’ve been burnt out for well over a year, but at this point I just don’t want to continue. And it’s only the 3rd week of this semester. I know I’ll have to tough my way through this semester, just like many semesters before it, but I cannot return to this in 2019. I need something else.

But what?


Interviewer:

Interviewer: “So why do you want to work for Boring Co.?”
Rachel: “Because you exist, and you hire C++ developers.”

From software to teaching

I was miserable as a traditional, corporate software developer with traditional, 8-to-5, salaried employment. I hated feeling baby-sat since I had to be at a specific location at a specific time to do my work on a specific machine with specific tools. Hated it hated it hated it!

I hated how pointless it felt, building software that didn’t affect me, or didn’t improve things I really cared about, or were even remotely related to a topic I was even tangentially interested in.

I hated always being underpaid and underappreciated, always feeling different from everybody else, and feeling like a zombie throughout the workday.

When I began teaching (part time), I loved the freedom – I built my own curriculum, on my own machine, using tools I liked. I had to be in the classroom at a certain time, but beyond that, I was simply trusted to get my work done whenever and wherever. My best work is done from home, at my desk with my computer with my music, and not being disturbed by listening to smalltalk from coworkers on the other side of a flimsy wall in an open-office floorplan.

I loved teaching my students, and creating classes that they liked being in, that empowered them. I liked building accessible and welcoming classes, classes that understood that I’m teaching adults and they have their own lives going on, so I’m not going to assign grade based on attendance. Classes where they know that I know that they’re adults, and I treat them as such.


Rachel stands on a cliff and yells out to the world,

Rachel stands on a cliff and yells out to the world, “I’M NOT READY FOR SCHOOL TO BEGIN!!”

Teacher workload

But, over time I got more and more work. First a standard full-time load – four classes. But as the need arose, some semesters I ended up with 5 or 6 classes.

A majority of my work is done outside of the classroom, so it may seem invisible to most people. Again, it’s grading (very time consuming for programs), prepping for the next week’s classes, correcting errors/typos in slides and exercises, answering questions via email and phone, and so on.

If you reuse everything from previous semesters, students may cheat. Some things I can reuse, but I’m also always striving to make things better, so that does require work every semester to improve my slides and exercises and projects and so on.

In an effort to cut down on my grading time, I have been adding unit tests to all the projects and labs in my Data Structures class. Writing a programming assignment can take 2 – 3 days: Building the full program, building a sufficient amount of unit tests, writing the documentation, and bundling it all together.

I try my best to write clearly and give illustrations and diagrams where appropriate, I try to make sure my work is accessible and doesn’t leave students feeling completely lost. I’ve had so many teachers who were disorganized and 90% of the challenge was figuring out wtf they even wanted.


Rachel's in bed and the alarm goes off. Rachel looks disheveled;

Rachel’s in bed and the alarm goes off. Rachel looks disheveled; “Ugh can I not do today, plz??”

Student workload

Additionally, my employment as a teacher at a community college – adjunct or full-time – depends on me actively working towards a Masters degree in Computer Science.

I completed one semester at KU, taking an undergrad class and the orientation class.

The second semester, I dropped the grad-level Machine Learning class within the first month because I didn’t have enough time to complete the time-consuming hand-based computations (things that we should be programming a machine to do, but okay…).

The third semester, I dropped the grad-level Visualizations class within the first month because I bombed the first homework assignment because I also did not have enough time to figure out and work through all the computations and the programming assignment, and the drive to KU is 40 minutes at best, and I had to pay hourly for parking, and with my full-time employment it just was not doable for me.

I dropped out.

This semester, I’ve begun at UMKC. I’m taking Advanced Software Engineering, which is doable. I can get through this semester and I can work with a small team to build an app. Piece of cake. Also, UMKC is 10 minutes away, I went here for my undergrad, I know the campus and some of the faculty, and I’ve even worked here previously as an adjunct.

While the instructor of the class still assumes that the grad students are only students and not working three part-time jobs (teaching, teaching, and running a startup), it’s doable. It’s more accessible. But it’s still frustrating.

And it’s not really what I want.


(In 2002...) College employee:

(In 2002…)
College employee: “You’ve been accepted to community college! What will you major in?”
Rachel: “Oh, uh…” (Didn’t think about it.)
Rachel: “I like computers? So, that?”

Where to go?

I don’t really want another degree in computer science. I’m not really that interested in pure Computer Science theory anymore. Heck, I’m not even that interested in the idea of teaching Computer Science anymore – actually, I’m feeling rather adverse to it at this point.

I’m interested in linguistics. I’m interested in entrepreneurship. I’m not interested in software development for other people/businesses, and I’m not interested in teaching anymore; at least, not until I’ve had a good and thorough break. Maybe again in the future.

Sometimes I think I should go back to doing software development for a bit – it’s good pay, and I’d be able to come home and just veg-the-fuck-out for once. I wouldn’t be able to continue going to school, though. And if I dropped out, I’d be denying myself the option of the “back up career” of teaching. Maybe I’ll want to teach again in another 10 years? Or in my retirement age? So I don’t quite want to deny Future-Rachel that option.

But the idea of going back to work full-time as a software developer feels like a step back. It’s not what I want, and it would continue to steal time away from things that are really important to me, although not very lucrative right now: My startup. Learning about linguistics and languages. Projects revolving around educational games, language preservation, and so on. Volunteering for good causes. Raging against capitalism.

I could do contract work, or part-time software development (if such a thing even exists; it’s super rare if it does.) For a contract job, I’d probably have to find some other people to work with, I wouldn’t want to do it alone, and I probably wouldn’t want to be the one in charge. I’d need a human buffer who can translate human requirements into programming features, because I don’t need that kind of stress in my life right now. I’d probably need a second programmer to help split the work so we’re not over-encumbered by what should be an alternative to the 8-to-5, 40+ hr/week development job.

Or, I can be a contractor at an established company for a short amount of time. Usually, companies dislike my history of working here-and-there for 6 months at a time, but maybe it’s fine for a contractor. At the end of this year, I’ll have been teaching at my community college for 3 years now, so I can stay somewhere as long as I’m happy.

I wouldn’t mind being the “all-tech” person at a small business that doesn’t revolve around software. Like fixing the business’ computers and updating their website and making little utilities to help make life easier. That sounds fun. Some Kansas City small business, hire me as your techie.

But going back full-time just … doesn’t seem right. I don’t think I could even begin to tolerate it. What I’ve wanted to do, since I was 12 years old, is just run my own company. But I also have to pay bills.

Rachel:

Rachel: “This is how I think a business should be run.”
Guy: “Yeah, we do the complete opposite of all of this.”


Rachel is looking at their calendar. Rachel:

Rachel is looking at their calendar.
Rachel: “It’s a miracle! I’m not 100% busy this week!”

Fragmented focus

Here’s what I actually want: Time to build some educational games, and focus on those games. Focus on making them and marketing them. Focus on getting the word out. Focus on maintaining them. Focus on making them a viable product to sell.

And keep working at it. And keep trying. And keep going until I succeed in making some amount of money.

 

But with the way my life is, with having to work full-time, or be going to school, or whatever else, I can’t. I literally cannot, because my focus is so fragmented. I am constantly switching between planning for this class, or that class, or the other, or switching into student-mode and focusing on lectures and doing homework. When I’m home and allow myself a bit of free time alone, I pursue projects I can complete within a day, within a few hours: Drawing, writing a comic, making the odd YouTube video, programming a small experiment or utility, and so on.

We’re all working on visual novels this year, and we’ve been getting them done with our once-a-week meetings. But, I still don’t have time to focus on the marketing, or much of anything. Artwork here and there for the games, getting them published and on a store, and not much else.

We stop working for weeks at a time because we’re all so busy. And even when I neglect the things I want to be doing, I’m still completely overwhelmed by work. Work work work work work. If I take a Sunday to spend time with friends, the regret hits me the next day as I’m even more overwhelmed and under pressure.

 

I’m tired. I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to build cool things, useful things, educational things, fun things. I want to have a chance to make it work. And I’m so depressed because I still have 14 weeks left of class – the semester has only just begun.

DIALECT: A Game about Language and How it Dies

I love languages, and I love constructed languages.

Years ago, I heard about a Kickstarter for this game: Dialect. I was excited, and so were other Esperantists.

I finally received my physical copy of the game and I was so excited to play it with friends, and seeing the variety of Backdrops provided with the game (four core ones, and several additional ones contributed by others) inspired me to start thinking about how an “Isolation” is formed, and what counts as an “Isolation”.

I can’t find a lot of information about the game elseware online, but I hope popularity for it blows up. I would really like to read about other peoples’ stories and languages they develop through the game.

In the meantime, I’ve created a BitBucket repository with a template “Backdrop” page, and some custom backdrops I made, inspired by stories that I like, or games my friends and I used to play as kids. Feel free to print and use them however.

https://bitbucket.org/rejcx/dialect-extra-backdrops/src/master/

Right to religion

People have a right to practice their religion.

I generally see religion as a good thing, and I feel like any accusations that “this religion causes this!” or “that religion causes that!” is just scapegoating something that does bring happiness, value, community, and support to peoples’ lives.

Religion isn’t what causes Bad Things. Humans, abuse of power, greed, etc. cause Bad Things. You can abuse power in the name of anything.

Investigate your personal biases, especially now this day in age. Do you find yourself feeling negative toward certain people or groups? Why? Investigate that part of yourself.

Are you afraid of Islam? Why? How much do you know about that religion? How many Muslims do you know? You can’t rely on what YouTube atheist bros say about peoples’ religions, you need to learn about what the religion means to the people who practice it.

Most of your everyday regular people just want to thrive, have friends and family nearby, and take care of each other – regardless of their religion or lack of religion.

And there are plenty of free resources for learning about all religions online. Maybe learn a bit about each religion so they become less “unknown”, less “scary”, less “weird”.

I’m not religious, but I respect other peoples’ beliefs. I compare it to… I’m not married to you spouse, but I BELIEVE in the love you have for your spouse. I don’t have to marry your spouse to respect that. ;P