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Fri, Mar. 3rd, 2017, 10:05 am
Fnord

I have a friend (I’ll call him D) who’s diligent about calling outlandish news story posts to task. Sometimes he bites off more than he can chew.


M: Pizzagate Arrests and Busts Occurring!
General Flynn's resignation possibly due to his authority and intention to destroy networks of sex traffickers…
[link omitted]

D: This is someone's personal blog. Smells fake to me. Are any of these stories being corroborated by other media?

M: I just learned a day ago about Pizzagate, and that it is really Pedophile-gate and reaches throughout even upper levels of government. I have been reading about such crimes over the years. So maybe "the swamp" of Washington D.C. includes this. I can get excited about that cleanup! Such is the protection for the trafficking through networks of individuals top to bottom: from the President, to the Justice Department criminal division, to the courts, to law enforcement and mental health institutions, to Child Services, and then to farms producing kids for sex slavery and places that hold or handle the slaves for pornography....

D: Uh...you know Pizzagate is fake news, right? One of the more ludicrous attempts to discredit Hillary.

M: i'm not swayed by the spin around Hillary. She didn't appear in my readings until the Cathy O’Brien and Mark Phillips book around the year 2000. I was doing street organizing with a War on Drugs campaign in 1984-1988 and saw the pedophile rings as part of the flow of laundered drug money, pornography, CIA and military secret experimentation to make child slaves into couriers, prostitutes, assassins, and super soldiers they could switch on and off at will. The Omaha, NE Strategic Air Command base was a reported covert location for mind conversions and coding of children back in 1984. That was the first I heard about the pedophile rings. The money flows were handled by the CIA, FBI, and individuals from the US General Staff and Federal Reserve Bank, especially after the Senator Church hearings in 1975 squeezed the CIA’s public budgets. People were co-opted and blackmailed by involvement in the pornography and prostitutes and escorts. Also, world events and treaties required lots of secrecy for back channel communication, and the mind controlled sex slaves served that covert role. Cash, cocaine and heroin travelled on cruise liners, military transports, Federal Reserve Bank security flights and other ways protected by individuals "above suspicion" with public official authority. So, my ears are open for all our usual "friends" in high places to get sucked into the current cleanup. The secrecy is so pervasive it's as tight as the UFO national security crisis, where nobody who sees one is believed, leaving the whole country vulnerable to a future false flag terror event using flying saucers and a ready-made story to disarm all our defenses. There cannot be integrity in public business with so many compromised individuals being part of these networks.

So, there is no need to pick on Hillary. Emboldening those who have seen things but not yet spoken may be enough to open the flood waters to drain the swamp across the USA... in my dream.

Tue, Sep. 6th, 2016, 02:27 pm
stuff I saw at PAX (and SIX)

PAX

Noteworthy

Clank!
Dire Wolf
The first physical board game designed by the video game studio that makes the digital CCGs Eternal and Elder Scrolls: Legends and is doing the digital port of the board game Lanterns. (In fact, they’re publishing Clank! through the company that published Lanterns. It’s sort of a mirror arrangement.)

It’s a deckbuilding game with a boardgame element. It’s the same general concept as Trains, although designed from the ground up rather than making shallow changes to Dominion and tacking a board game on. Players are thieves delving into a dungeon to skirt encounters, grab treasure, and get back out before the dragon kills them. They need to decide whether to build up their decks with movement, combat, gold, or VP depending on their approach to victory, which hallways they plan to take, how deep they’ll try to go, and what other players do. Some cards give you Clank! points, indicating that you made noise and attracted the dragon’s attention.

Pyre
Supergiant Games
An upcoming RPG from the makers of Bastion and Transistor, with the same attention to art style and amazing sound design. Pyre makes an ambitious choice: the realtime conflict mechanic is closer to soccer than to swords or shootyguns. That’s daring considering how much of the video game-playing public prides itself on disliking sports.

Super Galaxy Squadron EX
Synset
A scrolling vertical schmup from a small indie company. Not innovative, but fun, with a difficulty and a control scheme that were tuned very well to my personal tastes (or maybe I simply picked a good ship option).

Misc.

The American Dream
Samurai Punk
A tongue-in-cheek social commentary first-person shooter, chronicling the early childhood of a boy in 1950s America learning to grow up and use his guns for everything from eating to learning arithmetic.

Super Dungeon Tactics
Underbite
A 1-player tactical game that’s a close implementation of the board game Super Dungeon Explore by Soda Pop Miniatures. 2D square-map-based fantasy skirmish combat, a la Krossmaster or Final Fantasy Tactics or the four D&D boardgames or… Nothing really new, but polished and colorful.

SIX (Seattle Indies Expo)

Noteworthy

Topsoil
The standout title from SIX for me. It’s a simple, elegant, touchscreen-friendly puzzle game of the sort that epitomised the mobile platform when that hardware was still new. You have a 4x4 gridded field. Each square can hold one plant. You receive list after list of random plants and must plant them all, one per square. At the end of each list, you must reap one contiguous group of identical plants. Reaping a larger group scores more points and (more importantly) clears more room for additional planting. Complicating things further, each square has a color. Only groups that are all on one color can be reaped, and reaping cycles the land’s color. You play until you run out of room.

Bring Your Own Book
Do Better Games
Close runner-up for most promising game at SIX. A digital tool for playing their existing board game over the internet with the help of a mobile device. It’s not standalone — you still need a physical book. The app handles the random questions. Once you find an appropriate passage, you take a picture of it with the device’s camera and highlight the relevant phrase so player in the judge role for the round can read your entry from a single image rather than an audio feed.

Ghostlight Manor
Digital Future Lab
A puzzle game that takes the form of a turn-based shooting gallery. Ghostly forms follow a winding path down the screen in strict rank and file, while the player, in the form of a flashlight, takes actions illuminating a column of his choice. The first lighting reveals an enemy’s true form. The second one dispels it for points or some bonus effect. Skilled play comes from dispelling multiple foes in the same column.

Misc.

Friday Night Bullet Arena
A competitive 2-player vertical-scrolling shmup. Both players fly on separate screens facing duplicate patterns of enemies. Performing well builds up combo points that you can spend to spawn extra obstacles on your opponent’s playfield or even temporarily morph into a boss that invades his screen and attacks him.

Rewind
Stubborn Horse Studios
A 3D first-person puzzler involving time manipulation and sending multiple copies of yourself to do multiple tasks simultaneously.

Armour on the Wastes
Reluctant Koala Studios
A simple, top-down, 1-player tank combat sim. Combat against multiple AI tanks, with a basic story about trying to salvage the alien tech that’s crashed in enemy territory. Realtime, but old-school feel and grognardy.

Mon, Aug. 29th, 2016, 12:20 pm
boldly going back to 1967

Yesterday, I ran into a physical copy of something that I saw online…geez, I think I was still in college. It was the original writing guide for Star Trek scripts. It's something I originally recalled in the context of the whole Hugo & Puppies thing — yes, even I, someone who can barely read, saw problems with the claims they staked regarding the history, purpose, and proper judging criteria of science fiction.

What follows are the first two pages of the third revision, dated 1967. The full document can be found online.


CAN YOU FIND THE MAJOR STAR TREK ERROR IN THE FOLLOWING "TEASER" FROM A STORY OUTLINE?

The scene is the Bridge of the U.S.S. (United States Spaceship) Enterprise. Captain Kirk is at his command position, his lovely but highly efficient female Yeoman at his side. Suddenly and without provocation, our Starship is attacked by an alien space vessel. We try to warn the alien vessel off, but it ignores us and begins loosing bolts of photon energy-plasma at us.

The alien vessel's attack begins to weaken our deflectors. Mister Spock reports to Captain Kirk that the next enemy bolt will probably break through and destroy the Enterprise. At this moment we look up to see that final energy-plasma bolt heading for us. There may be only four or five seconds of life left. Kirk puts his arms about his lovely Yeoman, comforting and embracing her as they wait for what seems certain death. FADE OUT.
(END TEASER)

PLEASE CHECK ONE:

(   ) Inaccurate terminology. The Enterprise is more correctly an international vessel, the United Spaceship Enterprise.

(   ) Scientifically incorrect. Energy-plasma bolts could not be photon in nature.

(   ) Unbelievable. The Captain would not hug pretty Yeoman on the Bridge of his vessel.

(   ) Concept weak. This whole story opening reeks too much of "space pirate" or similar bad science fiction.

NO, WE'RE NOT JOKING. THE PRECEDING PAGE WAS A VERY REAL AND IMPORTANT TEST OF YOUR APPROACH TO SCIENCE FICTION.
HERE'S WHY.

(   ) Inaccurate terminology. Wrong, if you checked this one. Sure, the term "United States Spaceship" was incorrect, but it could have been fixed with a pencil slash. Although we do want directors, writer, actors and others to use proper terminology, this error was certainly far from being the major STAR TREK format error.

(   ) Scientifically inaccurate. Wrong again; beware if you checked this one. Although we do want to be scientifically accurate, we've found that selection of this item usually indicates a preoccupation with science and gadgetry over people and story.

(   ) Concept weak. Wrong again. It is, in fact, much like the opening of one of our best episodes of last year. "Aliens", "enemy vessels", "sudden attack" and such things can range from "Buck Rogers" to classical literature, all depending on how it is handled (witness H. G. Wells' novels, Forrester's sea stories, and so on.)

UNDERSTANDING THE RIGHT ANSWER TO THIS IS BASIC TO UNDERSTANDING THE STAR TREK FORMAT. THIS WAS THE CORRECT ANSWER:

( x ) Unbelievable. Why the correct answer? Simply because we've learned during a full season of making visual science fiction that believability of characters, their actions and reactions, is our greatest need and is the most important angle factor.


(I do want to stress that the correctness of that answer has nothing to do with the social inappropriateness of treating women in an unprofessional manner and everything to do with how unbelievable it would be for a decorated, veteran officer in active command of a military vessel to stop and hug someone in the middle of a battle. Roddenberry was certainly one of the highest-profile SJWs in SF history, and Star Trek was his mouthpiece, but that's not what's going on here (except possibly surreptitiously).)

Sat, Jul. 16th, 2016, 06:01 pm
inescapable logic

"I know Liberals all too well. They talk high about free speech but if you say something they don't want people to hear they'll attack your right to speak and even resort to violence if you don't let them silence you."

Okay. Let's say I'm a Liberal (since I probably am, being married to another guy and all) and you say something I don't like.

I'm kind of stuck.

If I punch you to shut you up, well, obviously I'd be attacking you.

But not punching you is also an attack! It's an attack on your expertise. You claimed to know something about me, and by acting contrary to that claim, I'm challenging your authority on the subject. That's not physically violent, sure, but it's certainly confrontational!

In fact, it's entirely possible that I want to punch you, and that I was going to punch you, but because you exposed that fact about me, I deliberately acted in contrary fashion just to make you look wrong. In a dishonest act of rhetorical petulance, I manipulated the data to hide your correctness and undermine your reputation. And that's not a very constructive way for me to act, now, is it?

Fri, Jan. 22nd, 2016, 06:26 pm
The Force Awakens

Or, why I’ve learned, once again, not to bother trying to have an opinion on anything art-related. It’ll only make me feel bad.

(spoilers)

Read more...Collapse )

Mon, Aug. 3rd, 2015, 11:40 pm
character engineering

One of the prizes you accumulate from playing Guild Wars 2 is items for quickly advancing new characters. I’d built up quite a pile, so I made an Engineer of the game’s giant cat race and made her look like the late bookshop cat from Powell’s Books’s old technical annex. I was expecting something that played a little like engineers do in Team Fortress or Firefall — a class that trades off its own personal attack power for the ability to build stationary gun turrets and team-healing devices.

Technically, Engineers can be played that way in GW2, but unlike in those other games, that playstyle barely scratches the surface. While I won’t say I’m hopelessly confused, I will admit that the complexity caught me by surprise. The Engineer’s true strength comes from its ability to pick and choose from more than twice as many powers as other classes have, which makes it excel at things like equipping multiple powers that all apply the same debilitating condition or mixing and matching obscure powers so their idiosyncratic, normally inconsequential side effects interact in potent ways.

Take this one example: the lowly healing turret. When you build a healing turret, it initially emits a single strong healing wave to nearby allies, then provides a persistent low-grade regeneration field. Every twenty seconds you can manually trigger another healing wave. A neophyte would build the turret at the start of the fight, to preemptively establish the regen, then trigger healing waves as needed as the fight progressed.

That’s about the worst possible way to use it.

A skilled Engineer ignores the weak regeneration effect. She’ll wait until the team is hurt, build it and overcharge it immediately for a back-to-back double heal, then manually disassemble it so she can do it all again once it recharges. If the team is really hurt, she’ll build it, overcharge it, then blow it up for a triple heal. (How is it a triple heal? Well, 1. Overcharging a healing turret also creates a water field around it. 2. Ordering it to self-destruct produces a burst effect. 3. Any time there’s a burst within a water field, all nearby allies get healed as a free bonus. This is a specific example of the game’s combo system, which makes certain pairs of powers stronger when used in tandem.)

A truly expert Engineer will do things like create a fire field before the fight (or use a teammate’s), then sacrifice a surplus healing turret to trigger a burst of bonus attack strength over the party. (Only the oldest field matters, so the detonation combos with the fire field and not the turret’s own water field.) Or customize themselves with a trait that puts a temporary projectile-reflecting field around every new turret they build, and build a well-timed turret purely to bounce a massive volley of arrows back at a raid boss’s face. Or….

So, yeah. I have a bit of a learning curve ahead of me.

Wed, Jul. 15th, 2015, 11:19 pm
the problems of being open-minded

It alienates you from all sides.
There is a cost to listening to both sides of an issue: it makes each side think you’re a flaming idiot for not seeing that the other is wrong on its face. Whichever one you ultimately conclude has the stronger point will be less likely to accept you.

On top of that, it identifies you a risk factor. When you’re emotionally dedicated to a cause, you’re in. You’re one of them. You can be trusted. The same can’t be said when everyone knows you are perpetually one random factoid or rogue discovery from flipping sides.

No, really. It makes you look gross.
Double-checking claims about how many people of color are killed by white cops or how much women get paid relative to men jeopardizes your reputation as a compassionate human being.

If you uncover that a politician voted against a multi-billion-dollar hurricane relief bill because a) he thought billions were going toward things that weren’t relief and/or to agencies that have misspent or hoarded previous funds, and b) senators aren’t allowed to vote for/against individual elements of a bill, only the whole thing, you’re hosed. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with that politician and feel it’s totally appropriate for a relief bill to include funds for preparing against the next disaster. It doesn’t matter if you point out that he’s stuck in the no-win situation of either acting like an ass or voting in favor of what he and his constituents feel is corruption. The nuance is wasted. You’re already a shill for him, or a sycophant, or an apologist. Or you’re an idiot for believing those were his real reasons for voting no.

Approaching divisive issues rationally is not the optimal approach to affecting change.
It’s more sensible to strike a balance between learning about an issue and being an effective leader. As I pointed out in the opening paragraphs, you sabotage people’s trust in you if you thoroughly investigate the problem from every angle before committing to a course of action. The price you pay for making sure you know exactly what to do is that you may then find you’ve rendered yourself unable to garner enough support to do it.

It’s (possibly) selfish.
If your end goal is not to affect change but rather to maximize your self-edification, open-mindedness and critical thinking are wonderful tools…at helping you be selfish. An end goal of just making sure you know as many things as possible, and that all of them are true, doesn’t help anyone but you.

It doesn’t tell you who’s right. It only tells you who it’s most logical to believe.
Critical thinking isn’t a perfect approach to settling the truth of a matter. Research is. The only truly reliable way to tell who holds the more accurate stance on a controversial issue is to already know the answer yourself and check their conclusions against it. Of course, this is pretty much always going to be somewhere between impractical and impossible, so we fall back on critical thinking as a second-best-but-actually-workable approach. Always remember that it’s a fallback plan.

Critical thinking isn’t necessarily open-minded.
Meet Gene. Gene has a high school diploma but never went to college. Gene has worked for five years as a flower arranger at a shop in a small city in Vermont. Gene has some great ideas on how the U.S. should handle Middle East relations. Would you like to hear them?

Of course not! As far as you can tell, Gene has no expertise on the subject. There is no rational reason to expect to hear something insightful. The principles of open-mindedness say, “Yes, listen,” but rational thinking says to consider your source and advises you not to bother.

Eventually, you still have to pick a side.
Although it does require you to be forever receptive to the possibility that you'll need to revise your beliefs, being open-minded doesn’t absolve you from forming opinions or from becoming convinced that one viewpoint has distinctly more merit than the rest. Neither open-mindedness nor critical thinking encourage you to remain undecided forever, irrespective of what new truths subsequently come to light. In fact, if you’re going to do that, critical thinking actually becomes useless.

“Decide for yourself” is a rhetorical trick.
It’s counterintuitive, but if someone presents you with both sides of an argument (hers and an opposing one), then plays to your sense of critical thinking and asks you to decide for yourself which one to believe, you’re more likely to be getting shammed than if she simply argued her own position straight up. Like a bush league southpaw who can only throw strikes if he stays down in the minors, a common rhetorical trick among people who have weak arguments (and know it) is to throw their pitches at folks who aren’t experts in the field. They pretend like they’re honestly exposing themselves to critical analysis, but it’s a smokescreen. It makes their arguments weaker, not stronger, and if they’re trying to convince you via that method, it’s because something about you gave them the impression you’ve got a lousy batting average.

Sat, Jul. 11th, 2015, 11:21 pm
Picard had Paris, I only have plaster

Playing X-Wing sort of got me back into miniatures painting (mostly touch-up work), which got me looking up scratch-building and model making sites, which led me to a blog titled Solipsist Gaming run by someone who creates a lot of simple models and homebrew rules as a hobby. I was particularly intrigued by how he made starships by manually hollowing out shapes in clay and pouring in resin or plaster of Paris. (Well, that and gluing pasta together, but one thing at a time.)

I already had spare paint, and I did some resin casting back in my Warhammer 40,000 days. I have a lot of old Sculpey, but it's a little too stiff to take deep impressions even when it's fresh. Plasticine works well, though, and it's three bucks for a pound. The casting compound I used is even less.

Step 1 was sculpting a vanilla hull shape out of spare Sculpey and baking it. I pressed that into the softer clay to give me a starting impression, then ad-libbed the surface details with various tool tips and paintbrush handle ends. Next, pour in the plaster and wait. Pop out the dried shape, sand off the excess, then paint on a quick base coat followed by a thin black wash to darken the crevices and some soft edge highlighting. Then I drilled a small hole in the bottom and stuck it on a spare X-Wing ship stand. The whole process was pretty informal and experimental (i.e. sloppy) just to feel the process out.



(here's the rest of the album).

Sun, Mar. 22nd, 2015, 12:00 am
I'm talkin' 'bout practice

There’s a game designer I know of who is a vocal proponent of competition as a means to determine true, objective merit. He’s a huge fan of games like chess or poker that let everyone compete on an equal footing, where how well you perform depends solely on how hard you work at it and how much skill you develop, and he has little respect for games like basketball where some players possess material advantages that give them an undeniable yet inescapable edge over opponents who would otherwise be equally skilled.

One day, this designer did something I didn’t expect. He blogged enthusiastically about a psychological study that showed practice is more beneficial to people who have more natural talent to begin with. To be precise, the study showed that people who perform consistently poorly when trying a given activity for the first time don’t get as good at it in the long run as people who consistently performed well at it at the outset. It confirmed another of his philosophies, which is that people are better off playing to their strengths.

I pointed out this contradiction to him. How could he be such a fan of the idea that you deserve success if and only if you work hard at it, yet be happy that science confirms that someone with more inherent skill than you will always stay better — in fact, pull even further ahead — if you both practice? It kind of put the kibosh on his whole “ultimate success through self-improvement” philosophy.

His response was handwavy but fairly sound. He pointed out I was assuming everyone gains skill at a linear rate and takes the same amount of time to reach their personal ultimate mastery level. Thinking about it more, I came up with several additional complications on my own. Not only might the graph of a person’s skill over time easily be a curve instead of a line (in fact, it probably is), it might even dip in places rather than always rise. The worse early performer might learn swiftly at the beginning and slower later, while the better one does vice-versa, which would flip the tables at least temporarily. There’s no guarantee that the better initial performer will practice as much as the other competitor, or even at all. It’s also possible that the person with the stronger initial performance didn’t achieve it due to having more innate ability but rather from having more past experience in similar activities, which means he’s actually already climbed part-way up his learning curve rather than having a higher origin for it, and so may not truly have the higher ultimate plateau.

All that said, none of this may matter. This isn’t the whole picture. I double-checked the study that started this whole discussion and discovered this designer never mentioned its most important finding. While the study did find that people who do consistently poorly at a new task usually only ever become so-so at it, and that people who do consistently well at a new task usually become quite good at it, it also discovered that people who display a wide range of early results — amazing “beginner’s luck” outcomes and abysmal failures — tend to do best of all in the long run.

Sun, Jan. 11th, 2015, 11:34 pm
The Modern Prometheus

When I was a boy, my parents were good friends with our neighbors across the street. They had a son who moved away to college when I was still in junior high. As a result of repurposing his old bedroom, they donated a small shelf of his old books to me. I don’t remember anything about them except that several were Hardy Boys mysteries, which I was already too old for, and one was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. That’s how I came into possession of a paperback printed the year before I was born, containing a story written almost a century and a half before that.

With my curiosity of the title piqued by frequent showings of the Hollywood version and its many sequels on one of our cable schlock movie channels, I picked this book as my Christmas travel filler. Somehow, despite all odds, I finished it shortly after returning home. (Seriously, I read more than half of it on the return flight in one sitting. I still don’t know how that happened. I don’t read quickly — hell, I don’t even read at an average rate — and no one burns through early 19th century grammar.)

The plot frequently relies on coincidence, inexplicable decisions, or sheer convenience to progress. For instance, when Frankenstein first animates his creature, he freaks out over how hideous it is and dashes from the building. He goes back that evening, searches for a bit but can’t find it, so he instantly and totally forgets about it for months. Then one of his relatives back home is murdered, and another on the far side of town is framed for it. (I’ll give you three guesses who’s to blame.) Also, the same setbacks tend to occur repeatedly. The following events all happen multiple times: the doctor spends weeks in a fugue state; the doctor tries to tackle the creature but it “eludes” him; a new relative is introduced; an innocent person is arrested for murder.

There is much philosophical fencing between the doctor and his creation. It touches on many subtleties of good and evil, right and wrong, forgiveness, fairness, and truth. It gets complex, though to its detriment it tends toward the melodramatic.

Frankenstein: “You’ve made my life miserable.”
Creature: “You’ve made my life miserable.”
F: “My life is more miserable!”
C: “It is now because I made it that way. If your life were already more miserable than mine, I wouldn’t have done that. But it was better, so I had to make it worse because you deserved it.”
F: “But that makes you evil.”
C: “Yes, I know. And I hate being evil— Gah! You’ve made my life worse than yours again. Now I need to take more revenge. This is why I hate you!”

Still, this interplay is the heart of the story, and it stands the test of time. The creature is a tragic figure who responds as appropriately to his extraordinary situation as we could reasonably expect anyone to.

And hey, I’ll even get to say I recently read a science fiction novel when Foolscap rolls around in a few weeks.

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