CTWC 2020: A New World Order

Gallopin’ Gorgons!  This past Sunday’s CTWC Grand Championship matchup was truly a tournament for the ages.  Top-eight, single-elimination, same piece-set, with global participation.  CTWC has been around since 2010 and has always billed itself as the “World Championships.”  But Real Talk for a moment.  As Heather mentions in the Ecstasy of Order documentary, for the longest time, the “W” in “CTWC” was a kind of inside joke– it really was practically restricted to only the people who happened to live around LA.  Then in 2012 once it moved up to Oregon to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, it then –if we’re being honest here– should’ve been called:  “The-Classic-Tetris-World-Championship-that-only-people-who-can financially-afford-flying-to-Portland-and-staying-in-a-hotel-for-an-entire-weekend-can-attend.”

But then COVID happened this year.

For the first time in CTWC history, money and means would be far less obstacles to participation.  Though, to be fair:  You still needed decently fast internet, an NES, the game cartridge, and some minimum tech savvy to know how to stream on Twitch.  But this, beyond all doubt, was a far lighter lift and one trillion times more democratic than in previous years.  This year the existing Tetris world order was primed for a shaking up.

And boy, were things shook.

Below are several quick highlights of the tournament.  The first surprise:  Huff pulling up a 3v2 upset of two-time defending champion, Joseph Saelee in the opening round of eight!

Sir Huffulufugus would go onto semifinal where he ultimately lost to thirteen-year-old, No 1 seed, Dog, 1 vs 3. But in his final game, he noticeably scored a maxout but still lost to Dog who’d scored ~1.1 million by level 28! No shame, Huff, no shame. That was a match well played!


Finally, after two months and hundreds of contenders… the Grand Final Championship Match saw… Brother versus Brother. You literally couldn’t have scripted a more more cinematic, Hollywood-style final showdown. One day I’ll write up the match specific details, but for now, let’s just jump to the best part:

Down 0 vs 2 against his older brother, 15-year-old P1xelAndy, 13-year-old Dog was faced with that monstrosity of a set up. With his back against the wall, with no where else to turn, Dog then subsequently turned on beast mode and joined the Mount Rushmore of all-time Tetris greats, storming back to win the match in a reverse sweep. Words are inadequate here to describe Dog’s legendary comeback but as Liam Neeson’s character once told Bruce Wayne:

“If you make yourself more than just a man, then you make yourself something else entirely… Legend, Mr. Wayne.”

–Liam Neeson (Batman Begins)

And also:

Despite a misdrop (in the heat of Game 5, the Champion Match DECIDER!) that would’ve ended most people, a few pieces later, Dog manages to fight his way out of it! Good lord, what poise and composure. Tetris is so much about not only playing pixel-perfect, but also being able to think fast on your feet in the heat of a critical moment. Because no matter what, the pieces will just keep raining down! So when things do go wrong (and they always eventually will, if you’ve played long enough), not panicking, keeping calm, and fighting back one piece at a time is absolutely critical. Truly, a big kudos to Dog for battling his way outta that roof on level 24 in Game 5. Well done.

Taking a step back, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the gods who organized CTWC 2020 for us mere mortals: Director Vince Clemente, Keith Didion (vandweller), and Technical Wizard Extraordinaire Trey Harrison. Additionally, the commentating by Chris Tang, James Chen, and Arda Ocal were all also top-notch and superb as well. This year I really appreciated that they aired “Player Interview” videos before the matches that gave the audience a better chance to get to know the players. Many fans don’t closely follow the Classic Tetris scene so those interviews were a terrific “gateway introduction” into the Classic Tetris World. At the height of the stream yesterday, when Joseph was playing against Huff, the viewership reached ~30k on Twitch! Later, after Joseph was eliminated, those viewership numbers did drop though. Moving forward, whether or not the scene can grow and expand will highly depend on whether more players became well known.

So incredibly looking forward to next year! Well done to all players and organizers this time around and thank you for giving us such a great show! 🙏🙏🙏

The Open-Source Writing Movement

Generating ~500 words of new content every single day isn’t exactly difficult.  But after three months of doing it, I can definitively say that, for me at least, writing nonfiction is a trillion times easier than writing my fiction story.  When I write nonfiction, I can just plumb the depths of my brain and pluck any topic under the sun to write about which interests me.  I can write about entities, events, or people.  Or emotions, memories, or experiences.  All of it is fair game.  So easy!

But when I work on my fiction story, whatever entry I write next needs to connect to whatever I’d written for the story’s previous entry.  And while this constraint may sound trivial, I’ve genuinely found it to be a real challenge.  It’s tougher than one might think!

Take my entry yesterday, for example:  Interstice 2.2— I’m unhappy with it.  It captures the general feeling of what I wish to convey (world leaders have gathered in Davos and are struggling to make Big Decisions) but the passage’s placement is jarring and doesn’t connect smoothly from Interstice 2.1.  I went from writing general exposition in Int-2.1 (always among the easiest material to write– exposition!  General worldbuilding!) to jumping directly into a specific scene featuring two new characters, Johann and Beck, never before introduced.  Again, I’m unpleased with it but the daily story train rolls inexorably on! There’s no stopping it!  Also, starting with Interstice 2, I’ve upped my daily entry word count minimum to 500– this way, if I continue wanting 4,000-word chapters, it’ll cut down the writing time from ten days to eight days per chapter, a pace I’m happier with.

With this first draft, which I’m hoping to finish by April 2021, my aim is to simply get some semblance of the characters, setting, and general plot down on paper.  Then I imagine in the rewrite (which there will be several, I’m sure), I’ll slowly go through and iron out all of the kinks, inconsistencies, and rough transitions.  Since I’m organizing everything in WordPress, once I begin revising, I plan to create entirely new posts for every passage I rewrite– this way I’ll have a neat “timeline” of all of the revisions and ways that my fiction story evolved over time.  This is an idea borrowed directly from the software dev world where we using Version Control Systems (like GitHub) to audit every single code change we make to a project over time.  I’ve always wondered why established authors don’t use VCS for their written works.  (Or if they do, why they don’t release them to the public.)  I would love to see first drafts of Harry Potter or The Da Vinci Code to see how Rowling or Brown slowly put those books together.  In fact, I bet people would even pay money to see that!  That would be such a treat!

Anyway, like Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  I’m going to do it! Someone’s gotta start the open-source writing movement. Might as well be me!  ✊😄❤️‍🔥

Meeting Erin – Part II

“Gee,” I say dryly.  “That’s a real ringing endorsement for the democratic progress.”

“Well, right,” says Erin.  “That’s exactly my point.  Xi takes power in 2013, right?  And what’s the first thing he does?  Anti-corruption purges across the entire country.  Hundreds of political opponents jailed in a single weekend.  Chinese SWAT teams going province to province, kicking down doors of quinquagenarians and sexagenarians and hauling their ancient, old asses off to jail on trumped up kangaroo court charges.”

“And no one complained?” I ask.

“Of course people complained,” scoffs Erin.  “There were riots in the streets.  Tiananmen Square 2: The Sequel, every single weekend.  Hundreds jailed or just suddenly disappeared.  Elites who were in power under Hu Jintao went apoplectic.  But Xi controlled the military, and thus the country.  What was one to do?  You just didn’t see any of this in the west because media was of course censored.”

“So you’re saying that Xi essentially just wiped the board clean and started over with a blank slate?”

“I’m saying Xi’s ascension in China was like Fat Man hitting Nagasaki,” says Erin shaking her head. “It was complete, total, and irreversible. After Xi made landfall in Beijing, no one who defied him survived. Not even bacteria. All legacy baggage, dissenting voices, and opposition vanquished in one fell swoop in a matter of weeks with Terminator-esque efficiency.  It was nothing but smooth sailing.  For years leading up to 2013, Xi had worked behind the scenes, pulling levers and pushing buttons, to install all the right people in the right places.  So when the time came, it was the easiest and most peaceful coup in Chinese history.  Mao would’ve been proud.”

“Sounds like you really admire Xi Jinping,” I say.  “You speak of him in such glowing terms.”

Erin frowns.  “I guess as much as one can admire an authoritarian ruler who stomps all over human rights, disappears his political opponents, and runs forced detention and reeducation camps?”

“So you like the results,” I say, “but not the methods.  Sounds kinda hypocritical, if you ask me.”

“I think it’s a thankless job,” says Erin.  “And being president and chair of a top-heavy communist regime is certainly no picnic.  I’m sure every night, Xi sleeps with the fear of being assassinated by one of his own cabinet ministers, the Americans, or some other party hostile to his vision of what China can and should be.  It’s not an enviable life.”

The bus begins to slow and I look outside Erin’s window.  We’re turning off of the main, 16-lane highway and onto some dirt road that looks like a scene out of Mad Max: Fury Road.  It looks like they’re building a new highway interchange and there are earthmovers and bulldozers everywhere.  Construction workers in yellow vests and hard hats are busy operating heavy machinery and digging.

Growing Older

Growing older has an interesting effect of compressing the passage time.  When we are young, time feels like it passes more slowly because as children, we are just doing so much stuff.  We have sports like tennis and soccer practice, extracurricular clubs like Model UN, and musical endeavors like orchestra and band camp.  Every waking hour of our day is filled with some activity, whether it be school-related, hanging out with friends, or personal time expenditures like reading and videogaming.  As a kid, you’re never bored; there’s always something to do.

Once you become an adult though, that entire universe of activity reduces down to only two spheres:  Work and personal time expenditures.  Now, to be fair, I don’t currently have kids so I have no idea what raising children is like.  So I can’t speak to that.  But I know as a childless adult, my days pass far more quickly than they ever did when I was younger.  The chief reason for this is monotony.  In school, especially elementary school, every day you attend class is an adventure.  There’s something new to constantly learn.  And once you get to high school and college, the year conveniently breaks down into semesters so your days then orbit around cramming for midterms, submitting projects, and completing problem sets.  Your entire world is structured.

But then you graduate and start working and all of those natural time markers disappear.  No more midterms and final exams.  No more final group presentations to prepare for or regional competitions to strive towards.  Adult life is simply one long haul.  It just keeps going and going and going, and your days in the cubicle begin to blur together because they’re all similar.

One remedy against the inexorable march of time and inevitable decline is to create your own structure.  You may no longer have Mrs. Henderson in AP US History giving you weekly reading assignments or Professor Donovan in sophomore English Lit telling you read pages 313-350 in Moby Dick this week but the good news is that this and age, with the internet, one can easily build your own curriculum.  The world is literally your oyster and you can read and explore as much of it, on your own pace, as you wish.  There’s never been a greater time to be alive for self-directed lifelong learners than today.

Another daily habit, that I really cannot emphasize enough, is journaling every day.  Since starting this daily writing exercise back this past August, I have actually felt time slow down.  I can look back on my blog and see what I wrote about last week or last month, and I’ll distinctly remember having done that.  Writing every day is an easy way of breaking up the monotony of adult life.  Go ahead and give it whirl; you may just surprise yourself.

With Great Power

Great power comes with great responsibility. Uncle Ben’s immortal, final words in his last moments on this little blue planet. This afternoon, Cal sent me this article about how the Academy was changing the criteria it uses to award the Best Picture Oscar.  Basically, the new rules dictate that starting in 2022, to be eligible to win top prize, movies will need to meet new “diversity guidelines.”  It’s worth reiterating that these new rules only apply to the “Best Picture” contenders and also that they can be satisfied not just by the actors in the movie, but also the staff crewing a movie as well.  So, for example, as Vox helpfully explains— even a movie like The Irishman that looks pretty overwhelmingly white would’ve, in 2022, qualified just fine.  Scorsese’s longtime collaborators (a producer, casting director, and editor) are all women and the film’s cinematographer also hails from Mexico.  Diversity guidelines met!

Initially, I confess, my knee-jerk reaction was predictably annoyance and umbrage.  Another liberal overreach!  Who are they to tell artists how to make movies?  But then as I calmed down and thought through it more, I slowly warmed to the idea as my more authoritarian leanings kicked in.  A few years back, the whole #OscarsSoWhite mania had hit and significantly damaged the liberal image of Hollywood.  Additionally, I actually agree— forget all of the PC stuff.  The structure of the Academy– meaning, the way it’s actually constructed— grants lifetime memberships.  So predictably, the voting membership heavily skews old, male, and white because of historical circumstances. But in 2020 America, the Academy constituency no longer demographically reflects the country and that’s problematic.

Right now, all of the old white men have all (or at least, most) of the power.  And they’re trying to encourage others to come get some of it!  Good for them.  The Oscars is just a prize.  It’s an arbitrary badge of prestige.  If you want to make movies that don’t meet the new diversity guidelines in 2022, you’re welcome to do so!  No one will be stopping you.  The Academy is a private institution and can make its rules accordingly.  If you dislike it, feel free to take your ball and go home.

My take is that the Academy is trying to do a good thing– correct hundreds of years of racism and sexism in its industry. This is a step in the right direction.  Yeah, artists may feel like they’ll need “to compromise their creative vision” moving forward, but if the new guidelines even help a tiny bit in greenlighting more minority-backed and racially diverse movies, then I think that’s good.  This whole situation makes me think of HR hiring policies at big companies like Microsoft and Facebook or college admissions at elite universities.  There are only a limited number of spots and meritocracy is only a part of the picture.  The reason the woman with a less stellar resume may get the job, or a Hispanic student with lower SAT scores may be admitted is because on the company or college-administration end, there is also an interest in maintaining a diverse workplace or campus.  It behooves other super-excellent male and white students (the future Brett Kavanaughs and George W. Bushes of the world) to meet female and non-white students and employees.  It’s a collective consideration that’s for the greater good.

So in summary:  I’m all for it!  Good job, Academy!  Flex those authoritarian biceps!  Be the change you want to see in the world! 👍👍👍

The Global Positioning System

GPS, aka The Global Positioning System, is now something we just take for granted. But its history is fascinating and worth 300 words today. First– GPS is owned by the United States government and operated by the US Space Force. Technically, it’s today a network of 33 satellites not in geosynchronous/geostationary orbit. At any given point in time, at least four satellites are visible from anywhere on earth.

The GPS project started at the US Department of Defense in 1973; the first prototype satellite launched in 1978; the first constellation of 24 satellites came online and operational in 1993.

Originally, GPS was solely meant to be used only by the US military but President Ronald Reagan authorized its civilian use via executive order sometime in the 1980s. It really only became truly useful to civilians starting on May 3, 2000 though when the US government disabled “Selective Availability” which had hitherto deliberately added errors (up to 100 meters) to GPS precision when civilians used it. Not good for Google Maps navigation, one can imagine.

Finally: It’s worth noting that the US government can selectively deny or degrade access to GPS to selective endpoints at the government’s discretion. For example, Uncle Sam did this in 1999 during the Kargil War to the Indian Army when India and Pakistan were fighting over the Line of Control in Kashmir.

Since foreign nation states understandably don’t want to forever be at the whim and mercy of America, they’ve also started launching their own GPS satellites in the past two decades. Russia developed GLONASS (which finally completed in 2011, but its origins actually date back to the USSR, 1976); China launched BeiDou in 2000; the EU’s GNSS (Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System) went live in 2016, India put NavIC into orbit in 2018; and Japan even contributed QZSS (“Michibiki”) –four additional satellites– that augmented in the American system in 2018. In 2023, Japan plans to launch seven additional satellites to create its own independent system.

Anyway, America did it first. And also: For anyone who wonders why a fourth of the federal budget goes to defense each year, this is one reason why. So America can be #1 and have nice things. Even if it means our citizens don’t get universal healthcare and the poorest among us are consigned to dying in the streets. At least we gave the world GPS.