Back in Seattle

It’s been several months since my last two blog posts, one of which detailed my New Year’s resolutions while the other accurately predicted an abundance of chaotic energy and change throughout this Year of the Fire Monkey. Perhaps I can blame the Fire Monkey for my less than stellar job following through on some of my 2016 resolutions, but I have accomplished at least one major goal: I am now once again living in the beautiful, coffee-loving, legal-pot-smoking tech hub of Seattle! My path here was quite circuitous, however, so I’ve decided to share some highlights from that journey followed by a brief discussion of the work I’m engaged in right now.

From Utah to Arkansas

It was back in March that I first bid another fond farewell to my home state of Utah. I had been working part-time as a hiking guide for the Green Valley Spa while devoting the rest of my time to various software development projects, most notably the establishment of my own game development company: Golden Drake Studios. While looking around for additional programming work, Insight Global reached out with a contract to work as a software engineer for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) at their offices in Conway, Arkansas. The price was right and the work sounded interesting, so I accepted.

HPE (Conway, AR)
HPE’s office building in Conway, AR.

My trek to Arkansas was hasty, but pleasant. I chose to go by car, not only to carry more things, but also to see some parts of the United States up close and personal that I’d never seen with my own eyes before. Setting out rather late, the sun was already low in the sky as I crossed from Utah into Arizona, passing through the oddly-named and mostly-polygamist community of Colorado City. The sky darkened as I drove on through the Kaibab Indian Reservation. I enjoyed my last glimpses of the gorgeous, rocky plateaus typical of southern Utah and northern Arizona, then night fell as I ascended into the forested regions near Jacob Lake, a small community named after one of my most fascinating recent ancestors: Jacob Hamblin. For a time, the moon had yet to rise and I was far from any city, so I was treated to awe-inspiring glimpses of the Milky Way stretching across the sky. Later, I crossed the vast, moonlit expanse of the Navajo Nation before finally stopping for a few precious hours of sleep at a cheap hotel in Gallup, New Mexico.

Resuming my journey the next morning, I was grateful to once again see my surroundings more clearly. The austere beauty of New Mexico was reminiscent of Utah and Arizona, though definitely possessing its own unique flavor. As a die-hard fan of the Breaking Bad television series, I also enjoyed making a brief stop in Albuquerque.

Breaking Bad
Promotional image for Breaking Bad, which was set and filmed primarily in Albuquerque, NM.

I didn’t have time for a proper tour, though, so I pressed on, eventually entering the first of three states I’d never set foot in before this trip: Texas. I’d heard time and again that everything’s bigger in Texas, and now I was forced to agree. The sudden change to an almost completely flat and unbroken landscape was awe-inspiring, as were the frequent rows of enormous wind turbines slowly turning and forming interesting patterns, like giant dancers performing for the wonder and amusement of passers-by. Darkness fell by the time I reached Oklahoma, affording me the opportunity to glimpse Oklahoma City’s colorful nightscape and then to be pleasantly surprised by thick, moonlit clouds of mist as I reached Eufaula Lake and beyond. This more humid and verdant landscape continued on into Arkansas where I made it close to Conway before finally stopping again for some much needed rest.

The following morning I drove up to HPE’s impressive office building for my first day on the new job. As part of my introductory tour, I had the pleasure of meeting a diverse set of interesting coworkers, including Alan Watson, one of the founders of Ozark Softscape: the studio that created M.U.L.E. and a handful of other influential video games back in its heyday.

Coworkers (Conway, AR)
Some of the interesting folks I worked with at HPE in Conway, AR.

There were ping pong tables, weight rooms, and other facilities now typical of large tech offices, including the oddly named Toad Suck Cafe. Apparently, several spots along the Arkansas River acquired the “Toad Suck” nickname back when steamboat crewmen spent their leisure time “sucking on bottles (of alcohol) till they swelled up like toads.” In fact, later on, around the end of April, I had the pleasure of sampling some live music and local cuisine (and a little alcohol) during Conway’s 35th annual Toad Suck Daze festival.

Toad Suck Daze (Arkansas)
A live band performs as part of the 2016 Toad Suck Daze festivities in Conway, AR.

Truth be told, I’d never given much thought to visiting Arkansas before, but once I was there I was blown away by the simple beauty of “the Natural State” and the friendliness (generally speaking, of course) of her people. I found southern accents, southern cuisine, and southern hospitality quite agreeable and loved driving through forests and along country roads where I could look out across green fields accented here and there by wildflowers and old, picturesque houses. Also, the city of Conway itself was a nice place to live, in my opinion. There were lots of great places to eat, shop, and hang out and I loved the abundance of trees and lovely buildings in and around the University of Central Arkansas. Speaking of UCA, Conway is also home to two other institutions of higher learning, earning it the nickname “City of Colleges.”

As for my work, I was one of many programmers responsible for creating, maintaining, and improving code that handles healthcare data. In my case, this meant writing C code with embedded SQL, along with the occasional Unix shell script. It was a fantastic experience and, for the most part, an excellent fit for my skill set. Sadly, however, it did not evolve into a long-term position like I originally hoped, so I soon found myself back on the job market and contemplating another move.

From Arkansas to Seattle

After evaluating my limited options in the Little Rock area, I decided to go forward with a plan I’d already had in the back of my head for a long time: to return to Seattle, establish a new social and professional niche for myself there, and put down roots among the tall evergreens and misty mountains of the Pacific Northwest. As such, I was back on the road again, this time passing through eastern and southern Texas so I could tour the National Videogame Museum in Frisco and spend a little time with one of my sisters and her family in San Antonio.

National Videogame Museum (Frisco, TX)
The console timeline section of the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, TX.

After catching up on sleep and exploring the Alamo and a few other local sights, I continued west through lands of scarce water and even scarcer cellphone reception before spending a night in El Paso along the US-Mexico border.

Mission San Jose
Mission San José in San Antonio, TX.

My path then took me north through the beautiful wastelands of southern New Mexico, over the gorgeous mountains of Gila National Forest, and across the golden fields, deserts, and mountains of Arizona before finally landing me on my parents’ doorstep in St. George, Utah, in the middle of the night.

I spent some time with my parents and then with another sister and her family in Cedar City before heading north all the way to the rolling hills of southern Idaho. A tire blew out on me just before sunset, delaying my progress for a few hours, but I’m grateful to say that was the only car trouble I had throughout either of my major road trips this year. In any case, after getting the tire replaced, I kept driving until I absolutely needed to stop for a little sleep, and then, “ere break of day,” I was back on the road passing through the greenery of Oregon and on into Washington. Upon reaching the mist-shrouded mountains of Snoqualmie Pass, I couldn’t help but start singing a beloved dwarven song from Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

I finally arrived in the Seattle area about an hour later and was grateful to spend the next several days with my brother and his family as I got situated. Having survived my journey back to the PNW’s “misty mountains cold,” my next task was “to seek the pale enchanted gold,” i.e., to land a good day job. Seattle has no shortage of tech companies, so I sent resumes to several of these along with a few places that could make use of my fluency in Mandarin Chinese. Much to my delight, I soon received an offer from a contracting company associated with Nintendo of America, so I now work for Nintendo by day and my own company, Golden Drake Studios, by night.

Nintendo of America
Nintendo of America’s headquarters in Redmond, WA.

The Game Dev Must Go On

Throughout all the transitions I’ve experienced this year, and in spite of the Fire Monkey‘s appetite for chaos, I’ve done my best to stay focused and positive and continue spending time on indie game development and other projects of interest to me. I’m definitely behind schedule and have a long way to go in terms of my overarching personal and professional goals, but nonetheless it feels great to reflect on what I’ve already achieved: I am now directly assisting Nintendo in the production of their excellent games while also gradually bringing my own game design visions to life. And all the while I get to enjoy the abundant natural and cultural beauty the PNW has to offer!

The Puget Sound and Mount Rainier
Looking across the Puget Sound from Vashon, WA, toward a cloud-capped Mount Rainier.

If all goes well, I should finally have my first “real” game on the market within the next year or so. I look forward to sharing it with you, along with occasional highlights from the game development process and other things going on in my life. In the meantime, I wish you the best of luck in whatever goals you’re pursuing. No, I take that back. To paraphrase “The Fire,” one of my favorite songs by The Roots, “I don’t say good luck: I say don’t give up.”

Year of the Fire Monkey

2016: Year of the Monkey

Happy Lunar New Year (新年快樂 xin nian kuai le)! For followers of the Chinese lunisolar calendar, today is the first day of yet another Year of the Monkey (猴年 hou nian). More specifically, it’s a Year of the Fire Monkey (火猴年 huo hou nian), which, like all element-animal pairs, occurs once every sixty years: twelve zodiac signs times five elements equals sixty variations.

Behold, the fearsome Fire Monkey! Actually, this is a realistic rendering of the Pokemon Infernape, by Heri-Shinato. Also, apes are technically distinct from monkeys. But hey, close enough!

Just think about it. The expansive, chaotic energy of flame coupled with the clever yet reckless attributes of the monkey? Sounds like we’re in for a wild ride! At the risk of seeming culturally insensitive, I suggest we follow the sage advice of Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: “Hold on to your potatoes!”

Incidentally, I was born in a previous Year of the Monkey: the Year of the Metal Monkey (金猴年 jin hou nian), which conjures up an entirely different image!

Metal Monkey
Metal Monkey holding a Wooden Rat, by Mike Rigby.

This is the third Year of the Monkey since my birth, hence I’ll be turning 12 * 3 = 36 years old later this year. Kind of fun to think of one’s life in terms of multiples of 12 rather than decades. Anyway, although I don’t actually believe in any form of astrology, here, for our mutual amusement, are some traits supposedly associated with Monkey Year births:

  • Positive traits: Intelligent, dignified, optimistic, romantic, sociable, quick-witted, confident, agile, curious, gregarious.
  • Negative traits: Egotistical, selfish, deceptive, reckless, suspicious, manipulative, restless.
  • Health risks: Circulatory and heart troubles, diabetes, arthritis, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder.

As is the case with Western astrology, it’s easy to find some words that ring true and others that don’t within these lengthy lists. But again, it’s all good clean fun. I’ve also found it interesting to investigate the attributes associated with both metal and fire in Taoist thought. For starters, metal (金 jin) is associated with yin (陰) of the yin-yang duality, the planet Venus, autumn, dry weather, the west, old age, decline, the color white, the White Tiger (西方白虎 xi fang bai hu), inward motion, contracting energy, and the following:

  • Traits: Firmness, rigidity, stability, ambition, forcefulness, self-reliance, wisdom, patience, willpower, organization, stability, etc.
  • Health: The lungs, large intestine, nose, skin, and emotions surrounding both courage and grief.

Metal also happens to be the element most strongly associated with the monkey in Chinese astrology, so perhaps I should be especially monkey-like? In any case, let’s contrast this with fire (火 huo), which is associated with yang (陽), the planet Mars, summer, hot weather, the south, daylight, prosperity, the color red (extremely lucky in Chinese culture), the Vermillion Bird (南方朱雀 nan fang zhu que), upward motion, expanding energy, and the following:

  • Traits: Dynamism, strength, persistence, restlessness, enthusiasm, creativity, aggression, impatience, impulsiveness, warmth, heat, and burning.
  • Health: The heart, small intestine, tongue, and emotions surrounding both joy and hatred.

I wish I had more time to elaborate on all this, but midnight approaches and I must conclude this post. As such, I’d like to close by simply wishing all of us a happy and prosperous Year of the Fire Monkey, full of as many of its associated positive traits, and as few of the negative, as possible. My thoughts go out especially to all those affected by the recent earthquake in southern Taiwan: may your sorrows and pains be replaced, in due time, with serenity and peace of mind.

Resolutions for 2016

2016 Fireworks

Throughout these, the first two weeks of 2016, I’ve continued to contemplate what I want to accomplish and where I want to be, both figuratively and literally, by year’s end. I don’t always indulge in the tradition of New Year’s resolutions, but this year I’ve decided not only to write a few goals down, but also to share and discuss them here on my blog. So, without further ado, here is resolution number one:

1. Finish and release Golden Drake Studios‘ first game: Adventures Unending.

Game development projects rarely go smoothly enough to meet their initial deadlines, so this is a lofty goal. Nonetheless, through careful monitoring of weekly and monthly progress, I’m confident in my studio’s ability to see it done!

2. Publish new content, either here or on my company’s blog, at least once a month.

I write a lot, but I’m such a perfectionistic self-editor that I rarely publish anything. This needs to change. From now on, you can look forward to reading my thoughts on technology, game design, and various other topics on a more frequent basis.

3. Relocate to a major city with a thriving tech community, such as Seattle or San Francisco.

It’s been great spending time among family, old friends, and gorgeous desert surroundings back here in my hometown of St. George, Utah, but I always knew this was temporary and I’m ready to move on. Having lived in or visited many parts of North America as well as East/Southeast Asia, it’s been difficult to pinpoint exactly where I might want to put down roots. Each part of our planet has its own unique flavor, its own pros and cons. Naturally, this has led me to also consider the perpetually unrooted life of a digital nomad. In the final analysis, however, I still like the idea of having my own long-term home, so I’ll be looking closely at the Pacific Northwest, the Bay Area, and other scenic tech hubs as I consider where to establish it.

4. Exercise, read, write code, do something artistic, and meditate every day.

This is fairly self-explanatory, if a bit vague. Hiking is my primary form of exercise these days, which is wonderful, but I ought to do a better job of regularly working out as well. I also ought to do more reading, i.e., the actual picking up of books and turning of pages rather than the casual skimming of online articles that has dominated my reading life in recent years. Writing code is already more or less a daily habit for me, so that part shouldn’t be difficult. As for “something artistic,” by this I mean anything from game, level, and quest design to drawing or playing around on the guitar: anything that engages my creative/expressive side. Finally, by “meditation” I simply mean setting aside a little time each day for the healthy practice of breathing deeply and fully relaxing both body and mind.

Enter the Drake

I’ve finally decided to enter the blogosphere, so here is my glorious first post!

My blog will focus on the following topics:

  • Game design and development, especially my own indie game projects, along with other areas of computer science and computer art.
  • Philosophical reflection on mind, mental content, information, language, consciousness, personal identity, the nature of human existence and human relationships, ethics, aesthetics, politics, and the origin, evolution, and destiny of astronomical, biological, cultural, and technological phenomena.
  • Creative writing, including my occasional forays into the unruly realms of poetry and speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, etc.).
  • Reviews of books, essays, movies, games, and other works.
  • Occasional reflections on my own life, my travels, my experiences as an American expat in Taiwan, current events, and so forth.

For now, that’s all I have to say. If you’d like to learn more about me, my background, and some of the projects I’ve been working on in recent years, please refer to my about page as well as my online résumé and portfolio.