Tag: gratitude

The End of an Era

This weekend, April 10-13, 2014, will be Notacon 11. The last Notacon, apparently.

The first Notacon I attended was Notacon 2. I was less than impressed, as it seemed like the most poorly organized event that I had ever gone to. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was because the event was not put together by professional event planners, but by a bunch of geeks who were no older than me, who didn’t see any reason why they couldn’t do something they thought would be cool. But in those first years, the execution wasn’t quite at the level of the vision yet.

There were printed schedules for when talks and presentations were to be given, but due to last minute changes no one was where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be. I missed talks that I had wanted to see, and saw things that I had no interest in. Speakers’ presentation slides were projected onto bed sheets that were strung up in an improvised manner. If they had a microphone, maybe it worked but as likely as not it was low on batteries or cut in and out throughout the talk. I didn’t know anyone there, and no one seemed to be friendly or inviting. I tried to chat with geeks playing with legos and soldering irons, but no one seemed very interested in getting to know me, or talking about what they were working on.

So that was my first and last Notacon, until Notacon 6. A friend I knew from the interent, named aestetix, who I’d never met IRL declared in a blog post that he needed a ride from the airport so he could deliver his talk, and he offered to get whoever helped him in for free. I’d long admired his thinking and writing, and took him up on the offer. By then, Notacon had matured into a well run conference, with interesting talk topics and personalities. Drew Curtis from Fark.com presented that year, as did Jason Scott of Textfiles.com and the BBS Documentary, Archive Team, and the Internet Archive. And Mitch Altman, of Cornfield Electronics and TV-B-Gone, and a young comic book artist named Ed Piskor, who was working on a 4-part graphic novel on hackers called Wizzywig, and would later go on to create a definitive history of hip hop and rap music, Hip Hop Family Tree. Among the attendees was Emmanuel Goldstein, whom I had read about years ago in connection with the legendary 2600. I was afraid to walk up to him and say hello, but I was impressed that he was there, and amazed that I knew people who knew him.

I went every year after that, and made friends with a lot of people there. Aestetix introduced me to Paul and Jodie Schneider, Notacon’s primary organizers, and I met many others there for the first time who would become friends, acquaintances, and professional contacts. Most significantly, for me, I met a neurohacker I met at Notacon 6 named ne0nra1n, who was very friendly and made me feel welcome as a newcomer to this space, and corresponded with me after that weekend, giving me encouragement to present a talk myself. At the time I didn’t think I had anything that I was good enough at or knowledgeable enough about to make an interesting talk, and the amount of work that I felt I’d need to prepare something even barely adequate frightened me. My first presentation proposal, a talk on intellectual property and copyright reform, wasn’t accepted for Notacon 7. I felt secretly relieved.

But ne0nra1n’s encouragement changed my life. As a result of Notacon, I started this web site, not yet knowing what it would be. I participated in the founding of the Makers’ Alliance hackerspace in Cleveland, and through my involvement there, first encountered the Cleveland Game Devs, and became heavily involved with them in 2010. This helped me to rediscover my enthusiasm for programming and game development, which I’d put aside for many years.

I delivered my first presentation at Notacon 8, “How I (FINALLY) Made My First Videogame”. I put a lot of work into it, which was only possible because I’d just lost my job two weeks before, and that allowed me to pour 14-18 hours/day into working on finishing that first game, and to preparations more directly related to the talk itself.

I worked on the game and the talk I would give about how I had made it, right up until the last minute, and while I knew my topic and what I wanted to say, I hadn’t had time to rehearse, and no real idea if I’d fill the hour slot I had, or go over. But my prepared material fit the hour almost perfectly, and I received many compliments from attendees — this completely exceeded my expectations.

Presenting was a great experience. I was transformed that day. When I went to bed that night, it all hit me at once: I had done it. I had grown up to be the person who I had dreamed of being since I was little: a videogame designer. It was something I’d given up on when I became an adult, and I had tried to forget about for years, but I never had found anything to replace the passion I’d had for that dream, and life felt unfulfilling as a result. But, because of that chance interaction with ne0nra1n at Notacon 6, in two years I had become the person who I had always wanted to be.

Talking about that journey in front of a room full of people, had made it real in a way that it hadn’t been before. I felt, at last, like I had arrived, and I had a place where I belonged.

I’ve met some amazing people.

I’m going to relate a story that just happened to me that got me to thinking: I’ve really met some amazing people in my time.

The other day, I was trying to log into the Global Game Jam website, and was having a hell of a time remembering my password. Stupid me had forgotten my password, which isn’t a big deal since the website, like just about any website has a forgot password feature. But for some reason this one was driving me nuts. I’d get the email to reset my password, click the link, log in, change my password, then log out to verify I now knew my password by logging back in again, and it would tell me I wasn’t giving it the right username/password again.

After a dozen or so times doing this, I went to the web site and clicked Contact, and wrote them an email describing the problem I was having.

I got an email the next day from Elonka Dunin. She suggested that I try logging in with my username as my username, and not my email address. A lot of websites these days use your email address as a login name, since they generally uniquely identify a user. And a lot of websites are done in such a way that you can log in either with your username OR the email address that you used to create the account with. In this case, they didn’t. But I didn’t know that. And because I didn’t sleep much that weekend when I created the account, I didn’t remember or didn’t notice, or both.

Now, ordinarily, who cares, right? It’s just one of those things, a “me being dumb” moment out of maybe a million I’ll have in my life, if I’m lucky to live that long. Nine times out of ten, I might have not cared about it enough to bother notifying the web site that it has a problem, and would have just not bothered logging out, or I would have just continued using the reset password method to get back into the site until I really got sick of it. But actually, in my case, I have been using the Global Game Jam site from multiple computers, and it was bothersome to have to go through the whole process every time, and, besides, it was driving me effing bonkers to have the web site tell me every time I tried that I couldn’t for the life of me enter my @#($#(& password in correctly, even when I @#(&%((^ well knew that I’d been @#($&#@&(^* entering it correctly. So, this one time, I bothered to write and let someone know I was having a problem, and someone was nice enough to help me fix the problem.

The story might end there, 99 times out of 100. But Elonka had written to me from a gmail account, and so the next day after I’d replied to her message thanking her for her help, I got a notification from pidgin asking me to authorize new buddies, and Elonka’s account happened to be one of them. I figured I didn’t need to chat with her, and probably wouldn’t ever need to again, and I’m not normally an outgoing type of person, but for whatever reason I figured “what’s the harm” and I clicked Authorize.

So, today, I get home from work and I’m all set to go swimming at the Y. I have a little time to kill, so I fix myself a quick dinner and I try to watch The Daily Show from their website. Only, their Flash seems to be all glitched up and the stream keeps interrupting and restarting, and then REALLY starts messing up and playing commercials over the top of the show, and then crashes entirely. I keep messing with reloading it, hoping to get the show in before I have to leave to go swimming, but as is often the case with computer problems, I get sucked into it and before I know it, it’s too late to go swimming.

So, because of that, I happened to be home when I got the IM from Elonka, asking me if I was OK with getting into globalgamejam.org. I say yes, wondering why she was asking since I’d already replied to her email with my thanks. Ordinarily I might have just ignored the message, not out of rudeness, but out of this driven focus to try to manage my time effectively. But for some reason, instead of closing the window I thanked her again and I figured that was going to be that.

By now, you might be wondering who Elonka Dunin is. Well, I wasn’t sure myself, although the name had sounded familiar for some reason. It turns out, this is who she is. So, I wrote to globalgamejam about an authentication problem and I didn’t get a response back from some volunteer intern college student, or an outsourced helpdesk monkey. I got a response from someone who happens to be Chairperson Emerita and one of the founders of the International Game Developers Association’s Online Games group, has contributed or been editor in chief on multiple IGDA State of the Industry white papers, and is one of the Directors of the Global Game Jam. I had no idea.

For reasons I’m not quite clear on, she went on to ask me if I was planning on attending Notacon this year. I was a bit puzzled, but I guessed that she had read a mention of it in my Game Jam project page or something. I’m speaking there, in fact, so I told her about my talk and about how I was organizing a tiny little Game Jam event this year. And she said, “Wow!”

Elonka Dunin: "Wow!"=D

Dude, I got a “wow” from Elonka Dunin.

It turns out she has some family in Cleveland, and has herself spoken at Notacon, and she knows my friend Aestetix, who probably more than anyone else is responsible for helping me find my way into the hacker scene. Small world!

She also complimented me on my blog entry postmortem on the Game Jam, and mentioned that she had sent it to some other people as an example of good writing.

So I’m sitting here, feeling kindof struck at how amazing tonight has been for me, and how a series of seemingly inconsequential events strung themselves together to make it happen. And it also made me think about how many amazing people I’ve met and gotten to know at least a little bit in the last couple years since I stepped out of my comfort zone and offered to pick Aestetix up at the airport in exchange for being his “plus one” to get in to Notacon 6, just so I could meet this cool guy I’d been reading on livejournal since forever.

I guess I’ve come a long way from that time. In many ways I feel like I’m still just getting started, but I guess I should start getting used to the idea that people are going to know who I am before I tell them if I keep this up. What a strange realization to have for someone so used to feeling invisible.

Hi Dan

I went to the Cleveland Videogame Developers meetup tonight. It ended up being a special meeting for me, because I got to meet Dan, who was one of the founders of the meetup, but hadn’t been to a meeting in about three years.

In talking to him, I learned that he also was instrumental in helping Mike Substelny set up Lorain County Community College’s Computer Game and Simulation Design department. It was in Mike Substelny’s class that I got my start with Game Maker, a year ago. Since then, I have started out my first game project, been invited to contribute technical review on an upcoming book on Game Maker, spoken about my experiences at the Notacon conference, and in doing so I’ve realized a 30-year childhood dream and become the person I’ve always wanted to be.

It’d be easy to say I did that all by myself, but really, if it weren’t for Dan, everything else I’ve done wouldn’t have amounted to anything. For everything else I did, and as much as I’ve always wanted to make videogames, it didn’t finally come together until I took that class last year. So, however indirectly, Dan’s partly responsible for me getting my legs under me and able to move forward.

After telling him about the things I’ve been up to, Dan told me that it sounded like we had a lot in common. We both aspired from a very early age to design and make video games, we both had taken a long path in life to becoming programmers, and we both have yet to complete and release our first game. That last part threw me for a loop, but it’s true. When I asked him what games he’s made, he said he had a couple of projects that he was working on, but hadn’t released anything yet. [It seems like everyone in Cleveland Game Devs says that! :( ] I just hope that I’m enough like him that some day I run into someone who, although I had no idea, I had some small yet significant part in their life turning out the way they’d hoped it would when they were six.