The Worst Filing System Known To Humans

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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Blue Screen of Death

Last week I downloaded 100 viruses to my computer, then downloaded a virus to myself, and then someone downloaded all of Patreon's information to their computer and uploaded it to the Internet.

None of this is an explanation, really, for why I haven't gotten shit done for several weeks--the timeline is wrong for one thing--but I think this hilarious chronicle of mishaps can maybe shed some light into just how precarious a project like Storming the Ivory Tower is, and all the ways that it can all come crashing down unexpectedly--the ways that it can bluescreen.

Late last week, already behind in my work, I discovered that my SD card, containing seven years of photos, had stopped working. That sent me into a furious search for SD card recovery software. I discovered eventually that the only software that fits the bill costs $50, and since a price tag that high for a one time use is a bunch of bullshit, I immediately sought out a crack of said software.

Only what I found wasn't a crack at all.

It was 100 viruses.

I am not exaggerating.

Anyway, long story short, I faced a pretty comprehensive bluescreen.

Not a real bluescreen, by the way--a fake one that disables everything in order to scam you into giving some dude in India your credit card information. Luckily I didn't fuck up quite that bad.

Anyway, long story short I had to reset my computer to the factory default and reinstall all my programs. It sucked, but not as much as having 100 viruses on my computer.

Having to reset all my programs really highlighted for me the way digital art production is a practice of putting all your eggs in one basket. A basket covered in salmonella. Everything depends on the continued functioning of this one fallible piece of technology. It's nice to have all your tools in one place, don't get me wrong. But when your hammer breaks, you lose one tool. When your computer breaks, it's like the whole damn tool shed burning down.

There's ways of mitigating this sorry state of affairs, of course. I'm a big advocate of free and open source programs not just as a political stance--though I do think that code should, fundamentally, be free of copyright restrictions--but as a way of preserving my own livelihood as well. I've been lucky so far that I've been able to restore my Adobe Creative Suite functionality through several Windows 8 mishaps, but there's no guarantee I'll be able to do that forever, given that CS4 has built in digital rights management (i.e. Adobe micromanages your right to use the tool you bought from them, like putting a padlock on your hammer and unlocking it only if you promise to use it to build things to their specifications) that could hamstring my ability to use the program on future machines. It's this kind of state of affairs that's led me to use stuff like Krita for art and LibreOffice for writing.

But here's the issue with that:

Diving into the wild and wacky world of open source software often means relearning a LOT of stuff. Krita, for example, is mindbendingly powerful but also throws so many damn options at you that it's difficult to figure out how to actually access any of that power. This can be particularly problematic when I'm learning things on the fly. For example, I decided to bite the bullet and explore Scribus as an alternative to Adobe's InDesign. Right now, I have a draft version of My Superpower is Manpain! built in Scribus.

I only figured out partway through, though, that Scribus has some pretty crippling design flaws. Among other things, it's impossible to select multiple text boxes and edit their properties en mass. That is... a baffling way of building a piece of software literally designed to manipulate text boxes on multiple pages.

This, I think, is another form of bluescreen, though maybe a less obvious one. It's a moment when a hidden defect in whatever you're working with crashes your ability to get actual work done. These might not be as dramatic as downloading 100 viruses, but they mean adding a difficult to judge amount of time to a project that, in the case of MSPIM!, is already way behind the schedule I had originally planned for it. It's the cabinet door hovering just above your line of vision that you're about to walk straight into--the hidden danger that requires turning the project off and on again, with some amount of data and time lost.

This is increasingly an issue for me as I push more experimental with my projects. Adding illustrations to every article, for example, was a good decision, I think, in a broad sense, but the types of illustrations I've put together for articles since meeting that goal on Patreon run so broad that it probably won't come as a surprise when I say that I'm often exploring totally new techniques or strategies each week. The risk of walking into the cabinet door rises dramatically when you're pushing your artistic comfort zones.

This is true in a more metaphorical sense as well. I think we can draw parallels between these technological problems and psychological ones. Producing content each week and fitting it roughly into the framework of 3000 Words Plus One Illustration, posted somewhere in the range of Sunday to Thursday, before 8 PM, can be tricky to navigate, and anxiety provoking to the point of total cognitive shutdown--a creative bluescreen of death if you will.

I keep looking at this blank text entry window, for example, and freezing up and clicking to other, less threatening tabs. It looks a little bit too much like the desolate plains of Antarctica as the expedition approaches the Mountains of Madness. I could flip the contrast of the screen but I'm pretty sure that would simply flip the icy desert for the cold void between the stars.

It's easy to get overwhelmed, I'm finding, in part because of my particular psychological issues. It's difficult to keep up with Patreon rewards, for example, when your initial response to a new backer is one of gut level dread. Each new reader is someone new to inevitably disappoint! I mean, not that I think you should stop funding me, I'm just being up front about the fact that I'm working with a brain that hungers for praise but can't actually assimilate positive feedback in any meaningful way.

Then last week, after sorting out my computer's sickness, I got sick myself, and spent three days in a row sleeping for 14 hours a day. Did I need to do that? Sure, from a health perspective, I'd be sick for a lot longer if I hadn't done that (I don't really get mild colds--I tend to get sick for a week and a half, if I get sick). But it kinda killed my ability to get anything done.

Beyond that, though, it's easy to just generally get overwhelmed by the work itself. The last planned article was going to be on Steven Universe, for example. I had a sense, when I declared that it would be the next article, of how much material I had to cover--one, maybe two articles' worth.

Then I actually started recording and before I knew it I was an hour in and had barely scratched the surface.

That was pretty disorienting and I've had to radically rethinking how I'm approaching what now looks like a quite extensive article series. Since I'm working week to week for the most part (though I do have a couple of extra articles recorded), when something like that happens I don't have a lot of room to adjust. I can either scramble to rework things everything and scrape in possibly a day late or so (what I attempted to do at first) or I can push things off entirely (and lose time and money) with a potentially stronger product.

Or, you know, I can totally melt down and fail to get ANYTHING done whatsoever.

By nature, problems like this, and the degree to which my brain seizes up upon impacting them, are unpredictable. Like the computer issues, there's a measure of planning I can do, but any planning I do by necessity translates to less mobility, less flexibility.

This week, for example, I could have written on the most recent episode of My Little Pony, which I've written on, like, once or twice before. In fact, it's a show that's somewhat important to the development of my identity with respect to gender. It was somewhat appalling, then, to dive headfirst into an episode that was basically nothing but 20 minutes of "man in a dress" jokes. It was nonstop transphobia all the way through.

Do I want to write about this? Yes. But, it's also October which I sectioned off in my schedule for Halloween related things since I freaking love Halloween. That's a conflict there. Beyond the question of whether or not I should adhere to what's in my schedule document for 50c backers or just blow it off entirely when the need arises, I know that watching the episode was emotionally trying to the point where I had to skip to the end. How trying will writing about it be? I'm just not entirely sure. If I miscalculate and it becomes much more psychologically overwhelming than I expect it to be, that's another week lost... for an article which I know isn't necessarily going to get good play on social media anyway.

See, that's a consideration as well--when I tell people that the thing they like is doing something wrong, they tend not to react as positively, and negative publicity is not, numerically, just as good as positive publicity. It just isn't. NOTHING gets hits like telling people that the thing they like is secretly a brilliant masterwork of heartrending genius and sensitivity. And it makes the most sense to target big fandoms as well... So we enter the calculus mode. If it potentially takes me two weeks to write this damn thing, does bronydom, or possibly the hatedom for bronies, constitute a large enough group that the exposure will be worth the lost income? What about the loss in relevancy if I can't pump the article out in the week after the episode airs? Does it still matter two weeks later? A month later?

These are the sorts of calculations that go into everything I do. Even though I still do periodically write about bullshit no one but me wants to read (keep an eye out for my epic article about how a symphonic metal album is a really good examination of trauma!!!) I don't write on art that much, really, unless I've got some wider social issue to hook it into, because I know it takes research and doesn't bring in pageviews. Unfortunately, the imposition of structure upon what I'm doing is increasingly making this question of relevancy more and more of a priority within these calculations.

I'm really not trying to seem like I'm complaining relentlessly here, I do think I'm making progress with my process. Just discovering that I can record myself babbling and translate that, usually, into an actual article is pretty great--though I'm not gonna lie, there's a point in the transcription process where I get real sick of the sound of my own voice, and it's hard to put up with my own nonsense when I'm already not in a place where I'm that into myself psychologically speaking. I'm producing at a steadier rate than I think I have for years, not since I first started and was vomiting out three short, semi-coherent articles per week. I honestly do think I'm putting out strong work right now.

I'm just highlighting the way this progress is always way more unstable than it might seem from the outside. Call this a glimpse into the realities of essentially making this shit up as I go along, and trying to do all the work of an entire publishing house myself, with this one laptop.

On that note, there's probably one other form of instability worth mentioning, that I touched on in the intro: the instability of the systems supposedly making it possible for me to do this. This week Patreon got hacked and a huge amount of information was just sort of dumped on the web. Why? Who knows. But for a while Patreon's log in function was disabled, making it impossible both to view posts from creators, and impossible to post creations. Was this a fluke? Probably. I'm not overly worried, to be perfectly honest...

But if I was, what difference would it make? The vast mechanisms that make this Patreon gig I've got going are totally out of my control. If PayPal decides tomorrow that writing about Sunstone means that I can't use their service anymore, there's not a lot I can do. The reality of the digital economy is that we are all basically subject to the whims of corporations that have set up little fiefdoms.

In essence, what the Patreon hack highlights for me is that we're facing the same double bind that various Arts and Crafts movements around the world after Industrialization faced: we either exist at the whimsy of much larger bureaucratic entities that control various means of production (virtual storefronts, art software, virtual banking) or we do absolutely everything ourselves. And while it might be possible to set up an artist commune that's purely digital, I sure can't see a way to do it.

What I suppose I'm saying is that there's a lot of factors going into producing what is, ultimately, free content for the majority of readers, and there's not a lot of groundwork laid for creators who are finding their feet. I think the only people who have really thrived in the conversion to a web economy are corporate entities, and gag-a-day cartoonists who to a large extent could simply port the production techniques that've been in use for a century to a digital distribution context. I mean not that they had it easy necessarily but the fact of the matter is that the Internet is littered with the decaying husks of hypercomics and long form narratives and hypertext experiments that couldn't find an audience, couldn't find an economic model that worked, and couldn't produce content quickly enough to stay relevant. It's great that things like Patreon exist now, but they haven't necessarily solved the problems here, they've just displaced some of them and replaced them with security concerns and a potentially shaky, fluctuating, and occasionally dishonest customer base.

I guess what I want to suggest, then, is not that it's totes cool that I keep blowing through the deadlines I've set for myself, but just that there's a lot of factors driving my ability to produce something that I'm satisfied with, and if there's a culture designed to ease the groping of web artists like me towards a worthwhile business model, I sure haven't found it yet!

We're all wandering around in the vast blue expanse of Web 2.0 alone, just trying to orient ourselves as best we can.

1 comment:

  1. Symphonic metal concept albums that actually do a passable job at exploring a concept? Sign me up! (criticism of any type of music beyond a purely musical level? Sign me up!) (what's the album, BTW?)


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