December 30, 2021

Exercise-friendly Gaming

Over the past several years, I’d been watching educational YouTube videos while on an elliptical in a gym. During the pandemic, however, gyms closed down, and I had to figure out what to do.

Late last year I bought a cheap exercise bike that I’m actually very satisfied with. Instead of watching videos on my phone or tablet, I can just roll my bike in front of my computer monitor and watch whatever I want there.

This was a great replacement for my usual routine with the elliptical, but early this year I realized I could actually play video games while on the bike, too. The only requirement was that the games be playable with a controller.

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October 11, 2021

My First Quake Level

Some people are also natural tool builders instead of game builders. For them, the game is the reason for building game engines and tools, not the other way around, and their ultimate dream is to build engines and tools that are so efficient, so optimized, and so friendly that the game practically builds itself.

—Derek Yu, Spelunky

I have a tendency to drift towards coding in virtually any situation, even ones that aren’t initially technological in nature. One problem with this approach, as Derek Yu continues to write in Spelunky, is this:

To them, the engine itself is a work of art, too, and I’m inclined to agree. In practice, though, it’s easy for someone like this to noodle on their game engine ad infinitum.

This is precisely my problem, and it’s part of why despite being very excited about game development as a kid, I never finished any of the games I started making. I never really let myself have fun with game design because I was so preoccupied with building engines and tooling.

One of the things that attracted me to building a Quake level, though, was that–if I set the right constraints for myself–it would force me to focus on design. As I described in my previous blog post, the tools already existed and were easy and fun to use. I just needed to take the time to actually design something.

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October 8, 2021

The Tools of Level Design

If you had asked me about Quake a few years ago, I would've made a weird farting sound with my mouth.

—Robert Yang, Quake Renaissance: how to start playing original Quake today

This first sentence from Robert Yang’s final article on The Quake Renaissance resonated with me. Only unlike the author, I didn’t know anything about what had been going on in the Quake modding world since I last played the game in the late 1990s–and while I enjoyed it multiplayer, I had always wrinkled my nose at its palette of muted browns and greens.

Reading Yang’s short history of 25 years of Quake modding was inspiring, though, and its high praise for TrenchBroom, a newer open-source level editor renowned for its ease of use, piqued my interest.

Well, that’s a bit inaccurate: my interest had actually been piqued several months ago.

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June 18, 2021


I recently found Maria Konnikova’s The Biggest Bluff lying on a stoop and decided to pick it up.

It’s a compelling read. One of the chapters that particularly resonated with me described a concept called tilt, which is that “you’re letting emotions—incidental ones that aren’t actually integral to your decision process—affect your decision making” (page 253). This is something I’ve experienced a lot, particularly when things don’t go as I expect them to.

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January 29, 2020

The Stories Streets Tell

Those who saw him hushed. On Church Street. Liberty. Cortlandt. West Street. Fulton. Vesey.

—Colum McCann, Let The Great World Spin

Despite having lived in New York City for most of the 2010s and worked in Lower Manhattan for a few of them, I still didn’t know where these streets were when I was reading Colum McCann’s novel at the end of 2019.

Knowing the names of a city’s streets has always been meaningful to me, despite its waning utility. But aside from being useful if the internet happens to be down or if one’s GPS is on the fritz, streets somehow make me feel connected to a city in a way that I find important. The denizens of a place have so little in common with one another aside from their shared geography, and it sometimes disappoints me that the simple act of asking for directions is a dwindling reason to have a conversation in the age of the smartphone. But at least it’s still a valid one.

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December 29, 2018

An ode to YouTube's recommendation algorithm

Much has been said about the harmful effects of YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, from Zeynep Tufecki’s We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads to James Bridle’s Something is wrong on the internet. While these are very important (and disturbing) analyses that need to be acknowledged, this post isn’t about that. It’s about my personal experience with YouTube’s recommendation engine, which has been overwhelmingly positive, largely due to the kind of content I constrain myself to watching while on the site. ... Read more

May 23, 2017

PyCon 2017

I recently attended PyCon for the first time in several years and thought I’d write a bit about my favorite sessions, the videos of which are already online.

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May 15, 2017


For the past several months, I’ve been complementing my podcast regimen with narrated long-form journalism via an excellent new service called Audm.

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May 14, 2017

Eviscerated by Spammers

My blog was gutted by spammers.

This has happened before, because I’m apparently not very good at keeping my Wordpress installation up-to-date and secure. Only before, the spammers who hacked into my blog to pepper ads in its innards only modified PHP templates, and those weren’t too hard to fix.

This time, though, they came for the database.

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© Atul Varma 2021