September « 2015 « Tidepool News

From the eleventh floor of our Queens hotel, I see new Manhattan skyscrapers, several bridges, and a row of cliffs along the Hudson where lies Alpine, my childhood home. Before me is a panoramic view of my father’s ambitions, with the vibrance and energy of New York emerging in his youth, then his agency on Madison Avenue, his move across the river to Englewood Cliffs, his commute ten minutes north along the Palisades.

We’re here for Maker Faire, a grand collection of DIY inventors and artists, all showing each other what’s possible with some found materials and a little ingenuity.  I’ve been talking Tidepool with many of them, including Stephen Wolfram, of Mathematica fame, and Gary Stager, a long-time collaborator of Seymour Papert.  In a few hours, I’ll show Paula and Isabel the nifty things I found yesterday.  I’m hoping Isabel takes away some of the shared optimism and motivation found here in abundance, that most precious of attitudes: that there’s nothing she can’t do.

Looking out on my father’s city, seeing the towers and roadways of my own young imaginings, I’m feeling less than brave.  Seeing the bright eyes at Maker Faire with Kickstarter hopes and wild ideas, I’m feeling daunted and exhausted.  Standing on the edge of Tidepool’s first public alpha, with hundreds waiting to use it, I’m feeling afraid.

In the womb I likely walked these paths at the 64/65 World’s Fair at which computers were first shown and Disney’s magical toys made their debut.  Now a half century later, though given every advantage for this exact moment, I feel not up to the task.  I’m wishing for more of the ego-driven arrogance of my father and his city.

For Tidepool to succeed,  I need to create beauty.  I need to build community.  I need to find play.  To make my dreams real, I need to spread my light like blazes all across the sky.  To achieve my life’s work, to make real my ambitions, to outlast my own life, I need somehow to find my courage.  On this morning, in this place, I don’t believe I can.

It’s been a while since I posted, as I’ve been heads-down on the alpha 3 release.  After finishing the new features two weeks ago, I found a whopping 40 bugs during our initial testing, which took me two weeks to fix.

Saturday’s joy at reaching zero bugs was short-lived.  Yesterday’s five hours of testing yielded another 30 bugs, eight of them show-stoppers, preventing our release.

As I wake this morning, I’m sick about it.  I’ve been neglecting my billable project, my daughter’s homeschooling, my house chores, and myself.  Every responsible part of me says, “Put Tidepool on the shelf a while and tend to important things.”   Every hopeful part says, “You’re almost there … keep going.”

Last autumn, I listened to the responsible part and lost six months of Tidepool time.   As this new autumn starts, I have 150 playtesters waiting for the release, many of whom will forget their initial interest if too much time goes on.

Doing both billable and Tidepool is a practical choice, but I’ve been on the edge of debilitating burnout for a while now.  Also, my track record balancing both hasn’t been great.  In the four months since last release, I’ve lost a whopping $15,000 of net income by putting Tidepool first.

So what’s the choice?   Tidepool on the shelf?   Delay billable a bit more?   Do both and risk burnout?

The only certain thing is my 30 new bugs, which will not go away on their own.

Yesterday I finished the features for the upcoming release, which felt great for a few hours. Some of the trickiest bits are in this release, which implements a full-blown programming system in the game world.  I’m able to do some nifty things now, which I’ll show off in coming days.

The good feelings ended after the multiplayer integration test.   I found another 20 bugs, which brings the count to 40.   Pretty close to what I expected, but there’s always that hope that things will go better.  After pushing for weeks, it really knocked me out.

Fixing them will take roughly twenty hours, which if the past is any guide will lead to another 20 bugs and ten hours, which means I’ve got a good 30 hours before the release candidate.  This is time I don’t have if I want to keep the schedule.

This morning I waivered between doubling my hours or pushing the schedule.  Given that I’m feeling the unmistakable twinges of burnout breakdown, I wisely opted for the later.  I’ll use up my December buffer and push the next four releases forward.  Who needs a holiday break anyway?

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