The Plunge is a wedding planning site "for men", based on the assumption that "real men don't plan weddings".
It's one of the most remarkably offensive websites I've seen lately. It manages to be sexist both ways.
It's sexist against men because it assumes we're all beer-drinking, remote-control hogging, sports-watching man-children who are trying to weasel out of being involved in our own weddings.
It's sexist against women because it assumes they're all frilly-magazine-reading, gold-digging Termagants who, when proposed to, turn into Bridezilla and become intent on never letting you have fun again. (Um, why would I be marrying someone like that, exactly?)
It also assumes that wedding traditions, especially expensive ones, are unquestionable and must be obeyed no matter how much you dislike them. Forget doing what you and your bride want to do; the wedding industry MUST be obeyed. But since you're a man, you're going to be pouty and passive-agressive about it.
Finally, The Plunge assumes I am engaged to a woman with whom I have such poor communication that I need a website's advice about how to talk to her. It's full of "How to talk to your bride about..." articles that basically recommend being disingenuous and evasive.
Why am I reading this? It's like a train wreck from which I can't tear my horrified eyes.
Their attitude is summed up in this direct quote:
"It [wedding planning] makes you play along with a fake smile, bored and bitter, creating the illusion that you give a damn."
Oh no, I have to spend months and months planning all this boring stuff I don't care about and buy all these expensive things that I don't want, because Bridezilla is going to make me, boo hoo hoo!
Seriously, what the hell is with this whiny attitude? Am I a man or am I a spoiled little boy? A man decides what he wants and then does it. A boy does things he doesn't want because of peer pressure, and then complains about it. Boys should not be getting married.
And if I can't reach a reasonable compromise with my woman than why would I be marrying her? I don't get it. Talk to your partner, figure out what you're gonna do, and then do it. What's so hard about that?
The one good thing about The Plunge is that it has made me want to be more involved in wedding planning, just so I won't be the kind of guy they're talking to. Was it all reverse psychology? If so, it worked.
Like most crusty old fogies who are not hip and with the times, I am aggravated and confused by the continued existence, and non-stop hyping, of Twitter. It has always seemed like an enormous waste of time and, worse, redundant: everything that people do with Twitter is stuff that I can already do with email, forums, and blogs, thank you very much.
However, I recently found a new way of looking at Twitter so that it makes more sense to me. I'm still not going to start using it or reading it or anything, but at least I can tolerate it now that I understand why it's important to other people.
I was in one of those cell-phone stores to buy a new phone charger. It was confusing and scary, because I really don't know anything about cell phones, and here they are selling hundreds of different ones, advertising features I don't understand using terminology I don't understand, and it was a Verizon place so this was all just one carrier, and if I wanted more choices I could have gone to a T-Mobile or AT&T store.
First I realized: Ohhhhh, this is how a lot of people feel about computers, isn't it. To me, computers are normal and cell phones are confusing; to other people it's the other way around.
Then I realized: For a lot of people, their cell phone is their computer. All the things I do with a computer, minus writing code, they do with the cell phone. Text messaging, which I always thought was really pointless, makes a lot more sense if I think of it as E-mail for people who have phones instead of computers.
Then finally: Twitter is for people who do text messaging. You can post to and read from Twitter using text messages; that's why the 140-character limit. That's not an incidental feature. If you use text messages instead of e-mail, then you've been missing a lot of the infrastructure that has been developed over the last few decades to make email usable, stuff e-mailers take for granted. Mailing lists, for instance. If you were a text-messager instead of an e-mailer, then you didn't have mailing lists until Twitter provided a way of doing essentially the same thing.
And not just mailing lists; also discussion forums and blogs. Twitter is a really simple protocol, and what people do with it is up to them: therefore it's flexible enough to effectively replicate all those various forms of Internet communication, plus other forms that are just being invented.
If you're a habitual computer user like me, and you've been online for a long time and are used to meeting all your social networking needs with email and websites, then Twitter seems redundant. But for cell phone users, the advent of Twitter made their cell phones a lot more powerful, a lot more like computers.
And you know, Iranian protesters probably wouldn't be carrying laptops at the moment when they spot the abuses of their government, but they would be carrying cell phones. So the fact that cell phones can now be broadcasters, thanks to Twitter, has to be a good thing.
I did a one-shot D&D 4e game yesterday with a new group. It sucked. It was boring. Not because of the game system, because of the DM. He was a perfect example of the worst kind of railroader, who had obviously put a lot of work into his story and wasn't about to let us players screw it up by deviating from the script.
At around the three hour mark, I had to leave, to go make 饺子 dumplings with Sushu and Jinghua and friends. I found myself looking forward to my deadline because it gave me an excuse to leave gracefully and not have to tell people that their game sucked.
In the whole three hours, none of the players got to make one significant decision. We didn't even get to kill anything. We had prophetic dreams, we talked to our parents, we took wagons full of crops to the city, we hagglled over prices, we received ominous warnings, we went back to our villiage to find everybody dead or missing, we "investigated", we dutifully followed the trail of breadcrumbs to its preordained conclusion.
Attention all role-players: The word "Investigate" is a giant honking red flag. No matter how cool the GM thinks it's going to be when jotting it down in his notes, any scene which could be described as "The Party Investigates!" anything will be, in actual play, a tedious doldrum where one player plays guess-what-the-GM-is-thinking while the other four players tell jokes and build little towers out of their dice.
It was very obvious that the DM would not have allowed anything we might have tried to do to stop the orcs from killing our villiage's men and kidnapping our children. It was a pre-scripted event, like a video game cutscene. If that's what you want, why not just start the game there? "You return from your trip to the city market to find your villiage ransacked, some people dead, others missing. Tracks lead this way. Go!". Could have saved us two fscking hours of boring and pointless caravan-driving and marketplace haggling. I would think that if you advertise the game as a "one-shot" you would do everything in your power to get to the good stuff as quickly as possible, but apparently not.
When I left, they were just gearing up for the first combat. That's right, no fighting in three hours of D&D 4e, a game whose whole selling point is its team combat tactics. Before game day, I spent a lot of time making a character so I'd be ready to go quickly. Making a "character" in 4e is a matter of picking out combat powers, and basically nothing else, from an overwhelmingly large and confusing set of options. It's a lot of work! Sushu can attest that I spent a lot of time ranting at my computer about how fiddly all the choices are, how they make no sense as anything but board game mechanics. But I accepted that; I like board game mechanics; I was looking forward to playing out a fight using this bag of tricks I had picked out.
So when I didn't get to, I was like, what the hell was the point of going through that... that... math homework of a character creation system if I'm not going to use any of it?
I couldn't tell if the other players were as bored as I was. At least a couple of players seemed to be having fun acting out some kind of "cutesy anime comedy" tropes with their characters. More power to them, I guess, if they like that stuff.
One of my goals for the day was to find out whether this was a group I'd like to game with in the future. The other was to find out whether D&D 4e is something I'd be interested in playing more of. I can't answer that second question, because in three hours we did not engage the game mechanics except for a couple of perfunctory and uninteresting skill checks. But I can say for sure I'm not going to game with this group again.
When dental floss breaks off and gets stuck between my teeth. Dental floss is supposed to get stuff out from between my teeth, not get stuck there itself. It's like, treasonous Benedict Arnold dental floss, all going over to join the enemy side. And then I have to send more dental floss in there after it, but it's really hard because the space between the teeth is filled in by the first dental floss, and so the second one can't fit, and sometimes it gets stuck in there too and things just get worse and worse.
Friday night at my board game party, the topic of the Dragonlance animated movie came up, because somebody there didn't know it existed. He needed to be told of the horror. Me and Sushu actually own a copy of this train wreck on DVD. The conversation reminded me that I never got around to blogging my Dragonlance rant, so here goes...
This movie is a really, really special kind of bad. I think the scene with the monks sums it up best. (This is the only version of the video I could find, so just ignore the Portugese subtitles on top of Hebrew subtitles and the Michael Jackson in the corner. Even though they're the only good things about this clip.)
No, this is not a dream, or an Internet parody. They really made a whole movie like this. The dialogue is terrible, the voice acting is worse (surprising as there are some supposedly decent actors slumming in it). 2d and 3d animation are melded together in the most awkward way imaginable, highlighting the weaknesses of both. Even if you sit through the whole thing, you never get used to the animation. Every scene finds new ways to drag the art of animation down to depths that would embarrass a Saturday-morning cartoon.
(My favorite part about the monk scene is that none of the Draconians in the movie ever show any signs of being able to speak English at all, except in this one scene and only when hidden in monk robes.)
Um, no. The movie sucks by being too slavishly faithful to the book. There are way too many characters squeezed in and no time in the movie for most of them to get any character development, or in fact to do anything except stand around in the back of the party like cardboard cutouts and occasionally make a one-liner to express their one-dimensional personality. But OH NO, they HAVE TO BE THERE because they're in the book and some internet nerd might complain if the all-important Tasselhoff Burrfoot, say, were taken out to tighten up the screenplay! The movie doesn't even try to be accessible to anyone not already well-versed in stupid D&D lore; when watching it with Sushu we had many "You would know this if you had read Lord of the God Kings!" moments, with me in the role of Gabe. Why the hell is valuable space in my brain being taken up knowing about Kender, Gully Dwarves, and why Raistlin's pupils are hourglass-shaped? Gah!!
I'm going to commit gamerdork heresy and state that blame for the stupidity of the plot and characters belongs to hack novelists Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis, and not the film animators. Unlike most long-time D&D geeks, I never thought the Dragonlance books were all that great. Even when I was a dumb kid reading the original trilogy during lunch breaks in high school, I had a lot of issues with it. The plot is nothing but a bunch of magical McGuffins, and the characters are whiny and have no personality beyond their Fantasy Ethnic Stereotypes. The third book in particular was a wall-banger. (Dear lord look at the fanboys orgasming all over that Amazon review thread). Major events happen off-screen, NPCs do the important jobs while PCs watch, subplots appear out of nowhere, and critical conflicts hinge on arbitrary magical objects that were never mentioned before. (That dude with the jewel in his chest? WTF?) And the dwarf unceremoniously dies for no apparent reason. Like, literally, he's just walking along when he has a heart attack and dies.
It's not just that you're reading somebody else's D&D campaign. It's that you're reading about a campaign you wouldn't want to play in.
And remember, this is what 12-year-old Jono thought of these books. 12-year-old Jono thought the fucking Sword of Shannara series was good. What would I think of Dragonlance if I read it now, now that I have developed taste, now that we have books like Game of Thrones around showing that fantasy doesn't have to suck? The fact that the Dragonlance novels were New York Times Bestsellers proves only that people in the 80s were desperate to read any crap as long as it had dragons and wizards on the cover.
James Maliszewski at the old-school D&D blog Grognardia argues that Dragonlance was a huge influence, for the worse, on the development of both fantasy fiction and role-playing games in the 80s and 90s:
whereas Shanarra and Dragonlance are both quite obviously Tolkien knock-offs in broad outline -- being epic fantasies whose settings are pastiches of Middle Earth -- Dragonlance, by being associated with D&D, is the one that probably formed the imaginations of more future fantasy writers. This next generation of writers would, instead of imitating Tolkien, imitate Weis and Hickman, thereby starting the process by which D&D -- and fantasy RPGs in general -- would be snakes swallowing their own tails creatively.
I never played any of the Dragonlance adventure modules for 1st and 2nd edition AD&D. Even though I read the novels at the same time as I was getting into D&D I had no desire to do so, which should tell you something. But from what I hear about them, they were the first major published adventures based on prescripted plot. Previously, adventures were maps of locations where you could go adventuring at your own pace; post-Dragonlance, they shifted to being Epic Storylines that player characters would be thrown into. They had pregen characters (i.e. you WOULD be playing the characters from the book) and those characters had to act a certain way to move the plot forward. Certain events were required to happen or you wouldn't be able to play the next adventure in the series. In other words, they were the first published adventures to require heavy railroading on the part of the DM to function.
This approach was already well-established by 1994, when I got into D&D. Every sample adventure I read was full of "When the PCs do this..." and didn't say what the GM was supposed to do if the PCs didn't do that. Game texts at the time didn't explain any other way to play, because at the time they mostly didn't explain how to play at all, except to warn us that Dungeon Crawling Was Immature And Bad And You Should Aim To Have A Story Instead. The old-school D&D tools for fun nonlinear adventuring had been lost or hidden by the post-Dragonlance gamerculture bias for Story Good Dungeon Bad. It took me a while to realize that the pre-scripted approach to story creation Just Doesn't Work, and is guaranteed to make gaming miserable every time you try it. But when we tried to play without a scripted storyline, the result was usually a bunch of random fights and wandering around, and no story at all.
I didn't figure out how to make role-playing reliably fun until 200-fucking-7. And now I know that Dragonlance gets some of the blame for that.
So! In conclusion: Dragonlance! Terrible movie, terrible books, AND it helped ruin both role-playing games and fantasy fiction. What's not to love?
Some of my coworkers (the few who aren't on vacation) were gushing about Avatar: The One Without The Airbender today.
Meh. Judging by the trailer and reviews, I think I've already seen this movie, and it was called "Fern Gully". Except I doubt it will have Tim Curry as a demonic singing oil slick, so it's not going to be as good.
Whether the native culture is tiny fairies or CGI Na'vis, the basic plot is still "White Liberal Guilt: The Movie". It's like, "Hey, obvious Native American analogues! Your culture is all wiiiise and myyyystical and totally grooovy! It sucks that the evil colonialists / white guys are taking your land with their superior technology! Wouldn't it be great if there was a heroic white guy who joined your side thanks to (magical shrinking / dubious telepresence technology)? He could spend a few montage sequences learning the ways of your culture and then somehow be way better than you at all your own traditional warrior skills that you spent a lifetime practicing! Then he could save you all cuz you're too incompetent to do it yourselves! Whoops, totally didn't mean to imply that he's better than you since he's from the colonizing race. Um, anyway, in summary, we love your culture or at least our close-to-nature stereotype of it and we totally feel bad about kicking you off your land so please don't hate us. Bye."
I've seen that movie (see also: Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves) more than enough times already, thanks.
It also annoys me that people keep raving about the special effects technology being some kind of revolution in filmmaking. What revolution? We've had green screen since the 40s, 3D since the 50s, and shallow, flashy special-effects-driven blockbusters since the 80s. A revolution in filmmaking would be a science fiction movie that put more effort into the plot than the visuals. Wake me up when Hollywood does one of those.
P.S. "Unobtanium"? Seriously? You literally called it "Unobtanium"? Why not set your movie on Planet McGuffin and have a secret weapon called Chekov's Gun while you're at it?
This illdoctrine video pretty much sums up how I feel about the Christmas season. This year, I mailed off some cards and presents but I didn't do anything Christmasy, and I didn't miss it. Just hung out in Seattle play-testing the Jiang Hu game and playing the accordion and talking, did a little karaoke, had dinner at Chinese restaurants (the only places open.)
Most of my family had really crappy Christmases. Not surprising when the economy is as bad as it was in 2009. I kind of wish I could just opt out of Christmas without feeling like I'm letting people down; I'm not a Christian, so why should I celebrate it, anyway?
I feel a truly epic political rant coming on, this day when the Democrats are poised to once again snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, after an excruciating year of farcical political theater that has revealed in glorious detail just how ridiculous and broken our system of government is.
But I can't write that rant right now, because I have to work. So I'll just say this: The Senate must get rid of the filibuster. Permanently. It's not how the Senate was designed to work in the Constiution. Historically it's done far more harm than good no matter which party has used it. It makes a mockery of representative democracy. It prevents senators from being held accountable for their decisions. And it is now clear that America is never going to be able to enact the reforms that everybody knows we need as long as the filibuster is there protecting the status quo.
Write to your senators and tell them you want to see them doing their job, which is voting on bills. Tell them to kill the filibuster.
Via Stephen: An epic rant about Japan by a guy named Tim Rogers, from video game magazine Kotaku. (Which published his rant despite it being only tangentially related to video games.)
I feel like I've read this same rant many times before. There's a template for this sort of thing, a Standard Japan Rant if you will. It's usually written by somebody in the winter of their 2nd year on the JET program: gaijin who have been living in a Japanese cultural context long enough for the novelty to have worn off, but not yet long enough to reach a state of acceptance of the more negative aspects or form a livable compromise with their permanent outsider status.
To paraphrase the standard Japan rant:
Japanese people smoke too much and you can't get vegetarian food here and all the pop music sounds the same and the comedy isn't funny and the TV shows are horrible and there are no public trash cans to be found anywhere and attendance at boring office drinking parties is considered part of the job and CDs are too expensive and pachinko is dumb and everyone is apologizing constantly! WAAAAGGGH ARGLEBARGLE NOOOOOO!
Oh no, you poor thing, it's so terrible that Japan hasn't gotten up and rearranged its economy, corporate culture, entertainment, and public infrastructure to better suit your expectations! Somebody call the waaaaaaah-mbulance.
I say that, but I actually do have a little bit of sympathy for Tim Rogers and other ranters. I got through the winter of my 2nd year on the JET program feeling many of the same things. When you're living alone in another country, feeling isolated and alienated and stressed out, it's amazing how really small things can seem overwhelmingly frustrating, depressing, or rage-inducing.
In particular, the deeper feature of Japanese culture that drives so many westerners crazy is its emphasis on conformity, hierarchy, and group harmony. This emphasis can seem very disturbing to a westerner raised on the ideas of individualism and the rebel-as-hero. Japanese conformism expresses itself in many ways: uniforms, ceremonies, company loyalty exercises, the aforementioned mandatory drinking parties, obsequiousness towards people who outrank you. Fear of sticking out or drawing attention to yourself. Lack of ambition to set oneself apart. Seemingly submissive tolerance of obnoxious things like the loudspeakers that seem to be blaring announcements and horribly cheerful music at you everywhere you go. Reluctance to criticize or speak anything negative even when something obviously isn't working. Lack of personal relationships outside of work, school, or family. Etc.
I experienced all this stuff first-hand for three years. I understand how oppressive it can seem. There's a couple of places in Tim Rogers' rant that touch on this conformism, and those are the parts that rise above petty complaints and touch on interesting questions. Reading the rant reminded me of my own feelings of frustration about Japanese conformism, feelings which were one of the main inspirations for starting my comic, after all. (You know, seven years ago when I first came up with the idea, before grad school and marriage and all that derailed it).
But I don't think Japanese conformism is some uniquely Japanese thing, so much as I think it's the uniquely Japanese expression of a universal human thing. Every culture has things about it which are illogical. These things are often invisible to people who grew up with them; if they're noticed at all, they're just accepted as the way things are. But to outsiders or newcomers to the culture these illogical points are often glaringly obvious. We're fooling ourselves if we think that America doesn't also put a lot of pressure on people to participate in behaviors that make basically no sense. It's just that Japan wraps it up in ideology about harmony and teamwork, and America wraps it up in ideology about freedom and self-determination.
Want me to list a few of the things in American culture that make no goddamn sense? Because I can gladly do that. Why do so many Americans choose to live an hour or more away from their jobs and then spend over two hours a day stuck in a car in rush-hour traffic, polluting the air and making themselves miserable, just to live in a place with a lawn? Why do Americans constantly vote to lower taxes and then act shocked that the debt keeps going up? Why do they put up with news media that strip out all historical context and turn everything into sensationalist soundbites? Why do they accept a legal system that large organizations use like a blunt weapon, where everybody lives in constant fear of being sued by everybody else? Why do most cities not have any kind of decent public transportation system? Why does America spend more on its military than the rest of the world put together? Why do so many girls like the Twilight series? WAGGGGGH ARGLEBARGLE NOOOOOOOO!
See how easy it is to make any country sound terrible, if you just free-associate on the negatives without putting them in any sort of context or balancing them out with positives?
It all makes you wonder about cultural norms, and why they are so powerful, why people follow unspoken rules even when those rules are detrimental to the person and seem to provide no benefit to anyone? Why do people tolerate so many indignities without complaint?
And what is the appropriate attitude for someone who is a guest in a country? Is it their place to criticize, or should they just try their best to understand things from the natives' point of view, to accept things if they can and go home if they can't? What about if they see something they think is seriously whack - is it right to call it out, or better to keep quiet? Does the answer change if you're not just a guest but a long-term resident? A permanent resident? (A random guy who used to live there and is now drawing comics about it?)
I don't know the answers to these questions. But I'm pretty sure that the wrong way to approach them is to succumb to the paranoid idea all the unfamiliar Japanese cultural norms and conformity-enforcing behaviors are all part of some big, scary, Matrix-like conspiracy, or the racist idea that all Japanese people are fundamentally different from the rest of humanity in some essential way.
I thought it would be a cool thing to help with drawing comics, since I could draw right on the screen. Also, I haven't bought myself a computer since 2002 (every computer I've used since then has been one lent to me by whoever I was working for at the time). I thought maybe it was time to have a computer of my own, to separate my work stuff from the rest of my life. Finally, I also wanted to get away from Mac, as Apple has been turning evil lately and I don't want to support them any more.
I started regretting the purchase almost immediately. I brought it back to Fry's (return policy: full refund minus 15% restocking fee within 14 days) less than a week later. Should really have done more research first.
Here's a list of what was wrong with this computer.
The hardware sucks
There's no optical drive. I didn't realize this until I got home. I guess I should have read the box more carefully or asked the salesman, but it didn't even cross my mind that you could sell a computer without a CD-ROM drive these days. So yeah, it needs an external CD-ROM drive to install software or play a music CD or anything.
Even with an external CD-ROM drive hooked up, I couldn't get it to boot from a CD. I went into the BIOS and made that drive first in the boot order, but it didn't seem to make any difference. This meant I couldn't install Ubuntu.
The trackpad is a nightmare. It's the kind where the bottom part of the trackpad is meant to double as the mouse buttons, but the whole surface is touch-sensitive and pressure sensitive. This means it's extremely easy to
click when you wanted to move, or move when you wanted to click. (The Macbook Pro gets this right: it has the button separate from the trackpad, so you push the button with your thumb while moving the pointer with your fingers. You can drag two fingers to scroll. It works great.)
On the HP, supposedly I can drag two fingers to scroll, but sometimes it works and other times it doesn't, and I can't figure out why. Sometimes when I drag with two fingers the mouse pointer stays put and turns into a four-directional arrow symbol. I don't understand what this means. Supposedly I can move two fingers apart or together to zoom in or out, but that is also extremely flaky, sometimes working and other times not.
But it's not just the advanced features that don't work. When I go to click on a close button, half the time I miss because the act of pressing down on the mouse button part of the pad moves the pointer off of the button, so I do something else instead. When I try to put an insertion point in text, the point randomly jumps around, sometimes selecting big chunks of the text. Sometimes it brings up the context menu as if I had right-clicked. Dragging a scroll bar is fraught with perils. If I try to hold the button down with my thumb and move the pointer with my index finger at the same time, that means I'm touching the pad in two places, which means unpredictable behavior. The pointer might randomly jump halfway across the screen, or it might not move at all.
I have no idea what to expect when I touch this track pad. All my habits are dangerous now. It's at the point where I'd rather pick up the stylus and poke the screen with it than use the track pad, even if I'm in laptop mode and just trying to click a link.
Actually drawing with the stylus on the screen is pretty good, but using it to click links or select from menus or otherwise interact with a standard GUI is very annoying because the part of the interface I'm looking at is covered up by my hand and the pen, and because the standard GUI rendered on a laptop screen has targets that are physically very small, and sometimes the stylus is registered as a couple pixels off from where I think it is due to my viewing angle. I miss targets a lot. But in tablet mode, that's the only way to click things. (It's still better, slightly, than using the trackpad.)
There's a toggle button on the right edge of the laptop between the power button and the SD card port, which turns the wireless connection on and off. I discovered this by accident, because this button is in the perfect place to be hit by accident when you with the thumb when you're just trying to hold the computer in tablet mode. And then the next time you go to load a web page it suddenly doesn't work, and you don't know why. Now that I've figured out this button, I have to carefully avoid hitting it, forever. Why does this button even exist? Why would you put an "accidentally turn off my wireless internet" button on the hardware? (There's actually TWO such buttons, since the f12 key ALSO does the same thing). The cases when you need to turn off wireless internet on a laptop are exceedingly rare, and can easily be handled through software controls.
The back of the screen and the area below the keyboard both have this stupid spirally abstract cloud pattern etched into them. It's not printed, it's not a sticker that you can peel off, it's actually permanently etched in, like with a laser or something. Who asked for this nonsense?
Probably due to the weight of the touch-screen hardware, the machine is very top-heavy when in laptop mode. It's hard to balance on my lap because it keeps wanting to fall over backward.
The software sucks
I remember when you'd buy a new computer and it would boot to a BIOS screen, waiting for you to configure the drives and install the operating system. It was a little more work to set up, but it gave you a pleasantly minimalistic setup at first. You started with the bare minimum and added things as you needed them.
These days you have to spend the first couple of days just de-gunking a computer from all the ad-ware and useless crap that's pre-loaded at the factory before you can use it. Bahhh. Everything is popping up dialog boxes at you, begging for your attention,trying to get you to buy Norton Antivirus or whatever other crap software paid Hewlett-Packard for advertising space. You configure your network settings once in the Windows wizard that pops up, and then as soon as that's gone a Hewlett-Packard wizard takes over and asks you the same questions all over again, except it's also trying to get you to buy stuff.
HP has started using this horribly inappropriate "Nightmare before Christmas" font on all their stuff, with the slogan "The computer is personal again!" Whatever, guys.
There's a button on the edge of the screen that rotates the screen orientation 90 degrees each time you press it, so that you can use the tablet in portrait mode or landscape mode. That's fine. But for a while, every time I touched this button, a program called "BumpTop" would take over my screen for no reason I could understand. It would launch into some kind of stupid tutorial and I would close it. By the fourth or so time that BumpTop came up and took over my screen, it said "You are now done with the tutorial". Which of course I wasn't, but it had apparently been advancing through the tutorial each time I closed it. I finally uninstalled BumpTop (actually Sushu uninstalled it for me to get me to stop bitching about it).
Besides BumpTop, other useless software that showed up to beg for my attention included two wretched things called "HP Advisor" and "HP TouchSmart" which are installed and taking up space in the windows taskbar by default. Hp Advisor appears to be a combination of adware and redundant interface to things you can do through the Windows control panel. HP Touchsmart is an overblown and redundant full-screen touch interface for browsing multimedia files. Whatever. It also has a 'browser' button which launches IE full-screen, and - this is the weird part - Hulu, Netflix, and Twitter buttons. Those are websites; I don't need a special button to launch them, though I'm sure they paid HP nicely for the privilege. The weirdest one is Twitter; when I think of things that would benefit from a full-screen touch-enabled interface, Twitter isn't anywhere on the list. What possible purpose does this serve?
Windows 7 (which, amusingly, has an internal verison number of 6.1) appears to be, at least, no worse than Windows XP; it just sucks more memory and randomly changes parts of the interface around so you have to relearn everything for no real benefit. The hourglass is now a blue ring exactly like the ones the moai heads spit at you in Gradius. Every icon in Windows Explorer now gets a little check box when you select it, which is just confusing; it turns out that this is an alternate way to select multiple files at once, if you
don't want to shift-click, control-click, or drag a box around the files. That would have been a great innovation for, say, 1990, when the conventions of selecting icons were still being established, but it seems like a weird thing to start messing with now.
I do appreciate that Windows 7 didn't blue-screen-of-death on me five times in the first day like Vista did. That's a definite improvement.
I actually like the Windows 7 feature where you can drag a window to the top of the screen to full-screen it or to one side of the screen to half-screen it. The latter makes it easy to compare two windows side by side, which
is the only real use case for non-fullscreen windows anyway.
My plan was to wipe Windows 7 and install Ubuntu, but since I could never get the laptop to boot from a CD-ROM (see above), I couldn't do this.
Manga Studio really, really sucks
I'm splitting this part into a separate blog post because there are so many reasons that Manga Studio sucks.
Suffice to say here that the unreliable trackpad input, the clunkiness of Windows 7, and the horrible UI failure that is Manga Studio all combined to make an absolutely miserable, frustrating, hair-pulling out experience that had me doing more swearing and nerd-raging than drawing.
The only way to make it usable would have been to hook it up with an external CD-ROM drive and an external mouse (thus defeating the purpose of a tablet computer), wipe Windows 7 in favor of Ubuntu (providing I could figure out how to make Ubuntu compatible with the touchscreen and pressure-sensitive stylus input), and replace Manga Studio with some other software. But GIMP is equally horrible interface-wise and Photoshop doesn't run on Linux, so I don't even know what software that would be.
That's why I declared the whole thing a failed experiment and brought the laptop back to the store.
WTF is this crap? People liked Google in the first place because it was the first search engine to not cover its home page with random crap; it was just nice and clean and minimalistic. Why did they decide to copy Bing now? Why would you want to skin a page which you only spend a few seconds looking at on your way to your search results? How can Google do cute holiday logos anymore if they're against a random image background? Why doesn't the "remove background image" link actually remove the background image -- instead, it puts you back to the ugly, ugly default.
There's so much wrong with this, and it's all summed up in the message you get when you click on the customize button: "Select a background image for your Google homepage"
No. This is not "my Google homepage". Stop trying to make yourself into "my Google homepage". Stop trying to jump on the stupid, stupid Silicon Valley investor bandwagon of every web site wanting to be your Bestest Friend Forever and your matching pillowcase/comforter set too. You're just Google. We use you because you rank pages well and you return results fast. Stick with that.
Since there's such an interesting conversation going on in the comments of my previous post about free speech, I thought I'd talk about the most annoying misunderstanding people have of the concept.
Nobody's been doing this on my blog, but people do it ALL THE TIME in online political discussions and it drives me crazy. It goes like this:
Say something that's stupid, hurtful, racist, hateful, or otherwise just plain wrong.
Other people in the discussion call you out on the stupid shit you are saying.
You wrap yourself in the flag and scream about your first amendment rights, censorship, how you are being oppressed, etc. etc.
The discussion gets massively derailed and never gets back to the content of your original statement, so you are relieved of the burden of having to defend it. Great success!
One example I've seen a lot the past couple of years is conservatives calling Obama a Nazi... and then when people object, whining that they "aren't allowed" to call Obama a Nazi and that liberals want to censor them.
I'm like... Dude, what do you mean you're "not allowed to"? You just did. Disagreement is not the same as censorship.
When you have to watch the content of your speech to avoid *legal punishment*, that's censorship. Facing *social* ramifications for the content of your speech — e.g. the fact that if you say racist shit, people will shun you for being a racist — that has nothing to do with censorship, it's just other people using their freedom of association to not associate with you.
You have the right to say anything you want; I have the right to disagree with you and point out where you're wrong. That's how it works. If you want to convince people you're right, try engaging in actual discussion - asking questions, citing evidence, making better arguments, etc. instead of turning it into a meta-discussion about what you have the right to say.
Making a stirring monologue in defense of free speech in a conversation where nobody is even proposing censorship is as much of a non-sequitur as if you had started listing your favorite ice cream flavors. And it's generally the last refuge of people who can neither defend their statements nor admit when they're wrong.
There's this exercise class that I go to, twice a week during lunch breaks, right downstairs from Mozilla. The teacher is this super-buff macho ponytailed lady named Jamie.
She always has the radio on during class and it drives me nuts, because half the time it's playing commercials. (Back in the fall we'd have to sweat through two or three gubernatorial attack ads per class. At least those are over.) Nobody's even listening to it, but Jamie won't turn it off.
People will complain about it, and Jamie will even agree with them that it's annoying, but she won't turn it off. I know she has the power, since she turns it on at the beginning, but it's like the thought of turning it off is alien to her. It's kind of like when I'm at Googleshng's house and his mom leaves the TV on all the time even when nobody's watching it. Drives me batty. (Sorry, Googleshng. You know I love you anyway.) Apparently there are people in this world who just require a steady background stream of electronic jabber. I don't understand it, but there it is.
Anyway, on Tuesday it was just me and Jamie, and the radio was playing Christmas music, which I pretty much loathe and detest (it makes going shopping anywhere in December a miserable experience). At least they played the Snow Miser / Heat Miser song from "Year Without a Santa Claus", which even I gotta admit is pretty boss:
Wait, why do they call him Heat Miser if he wants to make everybody hot? Wouldn't "miser" imply that he hoards heat and won't share it?
...Um, but I'm getting off topic, where was I? Oh yeah, Jamie and the radio.
Jamie: "It's almost quarter-of, isn't that when the radio station does the thing with the funny noises?"
Me: "I don't know, I don't listen to the radio."
Jamie: "Oh, you mean you have satellite radio in your car?"
Me: "No, I don't have a car, and I don't listen to any radio."
Jamie: "What, like not ever? What do you listen to then?"
Me: "Um, my CD collection?"
Jamie: "How do you know what CDs to buy if you don't hear songs on the radio?"
She asked it in a puzzled tone like I had said something genuinely paradoxical.
Me: "I... research it? Like, I ask people for recommendations, or I go on the web and look up lists of the best recordings in whatever genre I want to learn about?"
I found her attitude just as baffling as she found mine. I mean, letting the radio tell me what music to like would be like getting my opinions on computers from the Best Buy catalog. I assume all paid advertisements are lies, ergo I must go elsewhere for reliable information.
I guess it's a reminder that most people aren't music fans - music to them is just background noise that you put on and ignore. Not a way of life, not something to dive into headfirst, get lost inside, air-drum to, exult in, etc.
Most people, when I try to talk music with them, the first thing they do is change the subject to the clothing styles of the epoch and/or subculture. e.g. "Isn't that the one where they're wearing the really skinny ties in the video? Ha ha their hairdos were so funny back then". Hello, I want to talk about music, not fashion. I don't expect you to be able to name all the chords or anything but, come on, are you listening to what they're playing? And how does it make you feel? Or do you only look at the hairdos?
It makes me really sad at what they're missing out on, cuz it tells me they've never felt it, never had transcendent consciousness-altering music-related experiences. It must be like missing your sense of smell or something.
You don't have to love the same music as me, good heavens no, but for the sake of being fully alive, please, find some music to love.
I can't understand why everybody at Mozilla is so excited for this Tron sequel. The original Tron was a terrible movie: Slow, boring, nonsensical plot, stupid costumes, and it pushed the idea that computers are full of magical computer fairies who are like little people running around doing things, which is not just wrong but insultingly wrong, like making a movie where the sun goes around the earth. And sequels, especially ones made 30 years later, are always worse than the originals. Besides, computer graphics, which were the point of Tron, are no longer interesting since they're now in every movie.
How could it be anything but terrible? And yet people at the office today are all excited about it and are planning a group trip to the movie theater. I don't get it.
On the flight back from Brazil Sushu was reading (and I was reading over her shoulder) Malcom Gladwell's latest collection-of-vaguely-related-anecdotes. It's called "Outliers", but I don't know what the title has to do with the main thesis, which is basically "the culture you're raised in influences your chances of future success". Not exactly a shocking idea there.
Anyway we hit the inevitable chapter about China and Sushu's eyebrows got lower and lower as Gladwell asserted the following dubious theories:
1. Chinese people have a stronger work ethic than westerners due to their history of rice-harvesting, which is an extremely labor-intensive form of agriculture. (Funny, I never heard anybody attempt to explain European culture as a side-effect of wheat cultivation.)
2. Chinese people are better at math because the words for numbers are shorter in Chinese, which means you can say more of them in the same amount of time and therefore memorize longer numbers.
If you doubt these statements, remember that like everything Malcom Gladwell says they are grounded in a firm foundation of anecdotes, appeals to proverbial sayings, and the occasional lonely out-of-context percentage.
It reminded me of Jared Diamond's description of China's "cultural, linguistic, and political unity". I don't know how you could ever make a statement like that unless you've never, like, talked to a single Chinese person about their country for ten minutes.
So now I'm thinking about how in the current American political climate, where China is the big boogeyman of both parties (a "boogeyman" who is nice enough to lend us trillions of dollars every time we ask), Americans seem to be able get away with writing any ignorant nonsense about China they feel like making up. It's easy! Just follow these steps:
1. Take a single actually true micro-factoid about Chinese people, language, art, history, or politics.
2. With your feet planted firmly in an America-centric reference frame, extrapolate wildly! Draw inferences from a single data point like a conspiracy theorist poring over two seconds of 9/11 footage.
3. Don't bias your brilliant theory by asking any Chinese people about it; I mean to do that you might have to drive 30 minutes to your nearest Chinese-American immigrant population center and make friends with one or something.
4. (The most important part) Be sure to tie your theory into the dominant crypto-racist cultural narratives of Chinese people as fundamentally Foreign and Other, and imply that their current relative economic success is due to some kind of Unfair Advantage stemming from their Ant-Like Conformity and Obedience.
5. Tie it all together with a grand theory that explains away thousands of years of history and over a billion people in a single glib sentence.
6. Publish a hardcover aimed at the airport-bookstore market with your name in really big letters on the cover, go on the talk-show circuit, and profit!
Ooh, I can't wait to try it myself. Here goes:
1. Actually true micro-factoid: Chinese languages use tones to distinguish otherwise phonetically-identical words.
2. Extrapolate wildly: You can't use just any pitch modulation you feel like when speaking Chinese. Pitch modulation is how I express my feelings when speaking English. So I guess that means you can't express any feelings when speaking Chinese!
3. I can't think of any other way to express emotions besides pitch modulation, and I'm not going to ask a Chinese person about it, so I'm just going to assume there isn't any.
4. A lifetime of not expressing themselves verbally makes Chinese people into emotionless automatons easily controlled by their Communist masters! They're stealing our jobs because they can work all day and night like robots!
5. Tonal language = Job-stealing robots. QED.
See, it's easy! Maybe you can come up with one about how eating with chopsticks makes people genetically predisposed to oppress Tibet.
Just make sure that you don't talk about boring stuff like the importance of family dinner time in Chinese households. Or the great diversity of local cultures in China's various provinces. Or the huge economic divide between urban and rural China. Or China's fifty-odd ethnic minority groups. Or that it's a family duty to respect and take care of elderly relatives instead of shipping them off to nursing homes. Americans don't want to read boring facts that make Chinese people sound not so different from us! We have a resentment to nurse, here.
Definitely, definitely don't talk about the phenomenon Sushu describes as "Chinese sketchiness", which is to say that Chinese people often don't give a damn about the official bureaucratic procedures or the way you're "supposed" to do something, and will circumvent odious laws and restrictions by dealing with each other directly, under the table, based on personal relationships and favors owed.
Because "Chinese sketchiness" directly contradicts the prevailing American image of China as a vast army of obedient Communist soldiers marching in lockstep. Americans want to think we've lost our manufacturing jobs because the Chinese "stole" them via some kind of Modron-like efficiency. We don't want to have to think that it might have been because of our own insatiable desire for plastic crap at rock-bottom prices or our ambivalence towards worker and environmental protections. And we definitely don't want to acknowledge the fact that we're trillions of dollars in debt to a country where men feel comfortable hanging out on the sidewalk in their pajamas all day long playing mahjong and chain-smoking. Much easier on our egos to imagine them as scary Borg.
A guy calling himself "Joe Peacock" has written an atrocious, horrible article called "Booth Babes Need Not Apply" on CNN's "geek blog". (Wait, CNN has a "geek blog"? What?)
The article perfectly illustrates everything that's sick and wrong about "geek culture" today: The denial of privilege. The identity politics. The rampant misogyny. The total lack of perspective or self-awareness. The persecution complex. The enormous sense of entitlement. Did I mention the sexism?
Thanks, Googleshng, for pointing me at this article, thus ruining my evening!
The article is so bad that I'm going to respond to it with point-by-point sarcasm for your (hopefully) amusement.
There is a growing chorus of frustration in the geek community with - and there's no other way to put this - pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention.
Translation: there is a growing frustration among Joe Peacock that girls are trying to get into his "no girls allowed" clubhouse.
San Diego Comic-Con is the largest vehicle, but it's hardly the only convention populated with "hot chicks" wearing skimpy outfits
Those evil, evil vixens! How dare they be attractive in Joe's presence, cruelly forcing him to feel sexual attraction to them?
simply to get a bunch of gawking geeks’ heads to turn, just to satisfy their hollow egos.
Joe Peacock's amazing powers of telepathy allow him to know the motivation of every girl he passes in the hallway at Comic-Con!
So... I'm confused. The title of your article is "Booth babes need not apply", but booth babes aren't there to satisfy their egos, they're there because a company with no respect for women wants to sell crap to horny guys. So are you talking about booth babes, or about something else?
Next: five paragraphs of "I'm not a misogynist, but..." Skipping these.
What I'm talking about is the girls who have no interest or history in gaming
Every geek starts out as a newbie. You know that, right? Every gamer at some point had "no history in gaming" because they had just started gaming as a hobby.
Do you want new people to join your hobby, or not? If you do, maybe don't act like people need to submit a fucking resume to apply for membership.
taking nearly naked photos of themselves with game controllers draped all over their body just to play at being a "model." I get sick of wannabes who couldn't make it as car show eye candy slapping on a Batman shirt and strutting around comic book conventions instead.
Not only are these evil, evil vixens teasing me with their hot bodies, they're not even that hot!
I'm talking about an attention addict trying to satisfy her ego and feel pretty by infiltrating a community to seek the attention of guys she wouldn't give the time of day on the street.
These evil, evil vixens flaunt their bodies, forcing me to think sexy thoughts about them, even though they don't want to have sex with me! It's an injustice, I tell you!
Isn't this the mild version of the logic which, in its extreme form, gave us the burqa?
I call these girls "6 of 9". They have a superpower: In the real world, they're beauty-obsessed, frustrated wannabe models who can't get work.
Um, how do you know?
They decide to put on a "hot" costume, parade around a group of boys notorious for being outcasts that don't get attention from girls, and feel like a celebrity. They're a "6" in the "real world", but when they put on a Batman shirt and head to the local fandom convention du jour, they instantly become a "9".
I've never heard anybody who's not a misogynistic asshole describe a woman as "a 9". Using the 1-10 scale for women reveals that:
1. you think women are only valuable for their appearance
2. you think attractiveness can be objectively ranked on some kind of universal scale, rather than being in the eye of the beholder
And you're accusing them of being shallow??
As if that wasn't bad enough, you're using the 1-10 scale to complain about women getting more attention than they "deserve" to get for their objective beauty ranking? Oh, I see. "Bitches be uppity", is that your problem?
They're poachers. They're a pox on our culture.
Whoa dude calm down.
First of all, I'm not sure this group of offenders you're describing even exists outside of your own head.
Maybe some women just want to dress up as a character from a movie they like (who happens to have a skimpy outfit) and go to Comic-Con, because they think it will be fun.
How is this a crime? How is this hurting you? How is this any different from what you're doing at Comic-Con?
As a guy, I find it repugnant that, due to my interests in comic books, sci-fi, fantasy and role playing games, video games and toys, I am supposed to feel honored that a pretty girl is in my presence. It's insulting.
How do you know that you're "supposed to feel honored"? Have you considered that maybe these girls are just enjoying themselves at Comic-Con and don't particularly intend to make you feel any certain way?
Have you considered that maybe they haven't thought about your reaction at all?
Have you considered that the universe might not revolve around you?
Oh, and by the way: do you find it "repugnant" that "due to [your] interests in comic books, sci-fi, fantasy and role playing games, video games" that the creators of these things think that hiring scantily-clad "booth babes" is the best way to sell stuff to you?
Do you blame the company that degrades your culture and demeans women by hiring booth babes in order to make more money off of you? Oh, no, I see, you blame the women who are exploited under this system instead of blaming the system.
Is it abuse in the same vein as the harassment? Not even slightly.
Someone dressing up to feel good about themselves isn't the same as guys lobbing insults, threats, disgusting suggestions and the like at women.
"I'm not a misogynist, though" he insisted, backpedalling furiously.
Case in point: there is a website called Fat, Ugly Or Slutty that catalogs insults, harassment and verbal abuse from male gamers to females on Xbox Live. Reading through just one page of the site made me ill.
This "geek culture" -- the one you're so proud of, and so keen to defend from "poachers" -- has a sickness.
Even you admit that harassment is a worse offense than being a "poacher". So why are you more focused on the poacher "problem" (which I'm not convinced is a problem at all) than the harassment problem?
The big brother in me wanted to go pound the crap out of the thirteen year olds who think it's cool or funny to demean women for sport.
The "big brother" in you, right. Women are weak and need your protection?
"White Knight"-ing is a more subtle form of sexism, but it's still sexism.
Is this type of harassment is deserved? Not at all. Are guys acting this way toward women just as disgusting and base as women poaching attention from our culture, satisfying their egos by strutting around a group of guys dressed in clothing and costumes from a culture filled with men they see as beneath them? Absolutely.
"Just as" disgusting? You just said the harassment was far worse, now you're calling them equivalent.
How do you know she sees you as beneath her? Your amazing telepathy again? It sounds more like you see her as beneath you. Maybe you're projecting your own feelings onto her.
You're looking down on her because she's not a "real geek". But how do you know she's not? Maybe she likes different geek stuff than you like, or maybe she's not quite as obsessive about it as you are. So what?
I think that these things sully what is otherwise an incredible group of people and bring down a beautiful culture. I feel the same way when some guy reads about a hot comic book title sure to be a collector's item, drives up demand by buying up all of those issues and resells them on eBay for hundreds of dollars. He doesn't love the culture. He doesn't add anything to it.
Oh no! Geekdom has gotten cool! Other people -- the wrong kind of people -- are starting to like stuff that you like! If other people buy comic books too, you won't be special any more! Your identity, which you have built up based on an exaggerated sense of victimhood over buying comic books, is under threat! What will you do?
Man the barricades! We have to keep the false geeks out of the club before they ruin it by making it popular!
I hate to tell you this, but it's too late. Most geek things are pretty mainstream now. Fantasy novels regularly top the bestseller lists, TV is full of shows like Dr. Who and Game of Thrones, and at least half of the top-grossing movies of the past few years have been about either wizards, robots, or superheroes.
Comic-book geeks and mainstream movie fans are watching exactly the same stuff these days. And guess what? Comic-Con caters to both groups.
But go on yelling "I'm a True Fan! I liked it before it was popular!" if that's what it takes to make yourself feel special, I guess.
All he does is make scarce a resource that we want and love, in the name of profit.
I hate poachers. Pure and simple.
So if you hate poachers, why single out women? If your problem is people who are "not true geeks" (which I think is dumb, but whatever), then why not write the article about "poachers"? What does being a woman or not have anything to do with it?
Oh right, it's because you're a sexist idiot.
The growing presence of these Olivia Munn types in the geek community is creating dialog that isn't helping anyone. You've no doubt heard about a young journalist named Ryan Perez who did something stupid. Really, really stupid. He "called out" Felicia Day on Twitter,
And instead of blaming Ryan Perez for being a misogyinst asshole, you're blaming "the growing presence of these Olivia Munn types". Right. The misogynists aren't the problem, it's the women who pushed them into misogyny who are the problem. Sure.
asking if she really contributes anything to geek culture other than being a celebrity.
"Hey celebrity! Do you really contribute anything to our culture of celebrity-worship other than being a celebrity for us to worship?"
(Two more paragraphs in which Joe magnanimously allows Felicia Day into the cool-geeks club).
But then, you have these models-cum-geeks like Olivia Munn and practically every FragDoll. These chicks? Not geeks. I think that their rise is due to the fact that corporations are figuring out that geeks have money, and they want it.
Oh no, the horror! Corporations that want your money!
Unlike Marvel, DC, Wizards of the Coast, Games Workshop, Blizzard, toy companies, Hollywood movie studios, ComicCon itself, etc., which are not corporations that want your money, they're charities run purely for the benefit of glorious Geek Culture! Right? Right.
You're being incredibly protective of a "culture" that mainly revolves around mass-marketed entertainment products you purchase from corporations. And you have the gall to tell some people that they're Not Doing It Right? That they're not allowed into the club?
But they can't abide putting a typically geeky face on camera, so they hire models to act quirky and sell this marketable geekdom. So, I can understand why someone completely ignorant could look at Felicia Day and see a pretty woman who is making one heck of a career starring in roles celebrating fandom, and mentally file them along with the fake geek G4 hostesses. Ryan Perez is a shoddy journalist and failed to do any research.
Not like Joe Peacock, Arbiter of Geekdom! You've done the "research" so you are qualified to decide who is and isn't allowed to be a geek.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't the concept of "geekdom" started by people who were sick of being kept out of the Cool Kids Club?
Now that geekdom is cool, popular, mainstream even -- you're going to turn around and tell some people they're "fake geeks" and can't be in your club? You're going to have, what, entrance requirements? Ideological purity tests?
Remember what happened with the pigs at the end of Animal Farm? (If you can stomach a book that doesn't feature wizards, robots, or superheroes, maybe you should read it someday.)
He knee-jerked his way into temporary internet infamy. I think he was an idiot. But I can see why he bubbled over.
There's no doubt about it – girls in geek culture have it hard, and it's probably going to be that way for a long time. At least until men stop lusting after women (so, like, never).
You're certainly not helping.
But that doesn't mean that women aren't welcomed and accepted in geek culture. Women elevate the culture, and thus, the content. And, I'll admit, you ladies are much nicer to be around.
Putting women on a pedestal: Also a form of sexism, by the way.
However, you "6 of 9s" out there? You're just gross. There's an entire contingent of guys in geekdom who absolutely love you, because inside, they're 13 year old boys who like to objectify women and see them as nothing more than butts and a pair of boobs to be leered at. Have fun with them, and don't be shocked when they send you XBox Live messages with ASCII penises.
Don't go out with those jerks! They're not Nice Guys like me!
Waah! Waah! Why do girls go for jerks who don't respect them and ignore us Nice Guys?
Those of us who actually like substance? We'll be over here celebrating great comics, great games, great art, great movies and great television, because we're actually attracted to a completely different body part: the brain.
You like a thing. Good for you. Liking a thing isn't really a "culture". It does not entitle you to special privileges. You don't get to decide who else is or isn't allowed to like that thing.
Maybe you should try not making "I like a thing" the whole basis of your identity? Just a thought.
I don't know if TED has gone downhill or if they were never good in the first place, but geez do they promote a lot of pseudo-intellectual garbage.
A random TED talk has about as much intellectual content as picking a random book out of the non-fiction new releases and reading the blurb on the dust jacket. It makes you aware that an idea exists and that somebody is promoting it; that's about all.
Some individual TED talks are decent and even good -- just as that random book with the interesting dust-jacket blurb might actually be good -- but so many are junk that the TED brand is useless as an indicator of quality.
The marketing around TED is carefully designed to make you feel smart and superior for watching them. The production values, the big-name speakers, the high price of tickets, the illusion that you're part of an elite audience... all designed to flatter the viewer and make the contents seem like something more than the shallow sound-bites they are.
And the Silicon Valley culture seems to have eaten it up. "Did you see the TED talk about..." is a standard conversation-opener at work. People think they're an expert on some topic because they watched a guy give a ten-minute slideshow about it in front of a bunch of rich people. Giving a TED talk is the ultimate status symbol in this culture.
It doesn't hurt that TED has a serious ideological bias towards things that make the target audience of rich, mostly white, industry insiders feel good about themselves for being rich, mostly white, industry insiders.
He's trying to explain how "The West" got so far economically ahead of "The Rest". He's talking about the importance of social institutions, but he tells his mostly-software-industry audience "you can't understand institutions so I'm going to compare them to something you do understand". Does the audience even realize how badly he's insulting them?
His list is: Competition, science, property rights, modern medicine, consumer society, and work ethic.
It should be obvious that property rights, competition, work ethic, and the consumer society existed in plenty of pre-modern and non-western societies. And "modern medicine" is begging the question of how you get to the point of inventing modern medicine. But even if we let those points slide, there's a glaring ommision from this list. Think for second; can you spot it?
He illustrates the wealth gap by showing how for centuries Europe was relativeley poor, but in the 1850s the UK shot way ahead while China and India got much poorer.
Gee Niall Ferguson, WHAT COULD POSSIBLY HAVE HAPPENED IN THE 1850s THAT WOULD EXPLAIN WHY THE UK BECAME WEALTHIER RELATIVE TO CHINA AND INDIA? It's a complete mystery, I can't figure it out at all.
So yeah, he's forgetting the "Killer App" where you use your superior military to invade another country, take their natural resources, kidnap their people as slaves, force unequal trade treaties on them, and deliberatly hold their devleopment back with an unequal colonial administration designed to make them second-class citizens in their own country.
The countries that have the lowest human development indices today are almost all former resource-extraction colonies of European empires. The ones with the highest indices are Western Europe itself, its former settlement colonies, a few Mideastern oil states, and Japan -- which did quite a bit of colonialism of its own.
Colonialism isn't the whole explanation because it doesn't explain how Europe achieved its military advantage that allowed it to do all this conquest and extortion in the first place. And obviously some of the wealth gap is due to the Industrial Revolution starting in Europe, which probably does have something to do with science and competition and so on. But I am highly dubious of any explanation for "The West vs The Rest" that glosses over the fact that The West spent centuries literally stealing wealth from The Rest.
Gee Niall Ferguson, WHY AM I SO MUCH RICHER THAN MY NEIGHBOR WHOSE HOUSE I JUST ROBBED? It must be because of my superior work ethic and my respect for property rights!
Ferguson brings up imperialism only to dismiss it with a couple of glib sentences. He says imperialism can't be the answer because "Asia had empires too" and because the peak of the wealth gap came in the 1970s, after colonialism ended.
These explanations are incredibly weak. Asia had empires too, yes; and in their day they were extremely wealthy and effective! If there were TED talks in the 16th century they would be attmepting to explain why Ming China and the Ottoman Empire were so far ahead of backwards Europe. All this comparison proves is that the advantage of empire doesn't last forever. Also the Ottomans and the Mings didn't have a military advantage over their neighbors remotely comparable to the military advantage that colonial Europe had over Africa and the Americas.
The wealth gap peaking in the 1970s? A mere few decades after the end of World War 2 and the beginning of the slow process of decolonization? When the rich nations had just finished reaping all the benefits of colonialism and the newly independent former colonies were just beginning their climb out of poverty? This is exactly when we would expect the wealth gap to peak if colonialism was the main reason for it. Ferguson is actually undermining his own argument by pointing out this fact.
And this illustrates the problem with TED: the format of TED videos makes this kind of sleight-of-hand easy to pull off. A couple of pretty slides, a nerdy joke or two to disarm the audience, and an appeal to your authority as a Famous Person are all it takes to paper over fundamental weaknesses in your argument.
There's a lot more to pick apart in Ferguson's terrible TED talk. Nobody should be surprised that he worships Adam Smith, but taking time to insult Gandhi for being poor? Classy.
Then he tops himself, when talking about property rights (which he says are more important than democracy itself: an interesting glimpse into the priorities of the ultra-rich.) He says one of the reasons America was able to "generate" so much wealth is because "most people in rural North America owned some land". Uh, yeah, they had lots of land after fucking stealing it from the American Indians. He's using land taken by force, and taken by broken treaties, as his example of the importance of property rights. Which presumably include the right to not have your property stolen. The audacity of this guy!
Then we get to the moral panic -- "is the west deleting its own apps?" OH NO! Here is a picture of some teenagers wearing hoodies! I'm not sure what that's supposed to prove, unless it's a clever way to invoke racism against black teenagers without actually showing any black teenagers. Ferguson then talks about the rest of the world catching up, which is a wonderful thing, a happy thing, what we should all be hoping for. Then he segues straight into "but Western decline isn't inevitable". Interesting that he equates worldwide equality with Western "decline", like we're only doing OK as long as we can keep the rest of the world poor.
He finishes with a picture of Obama bowing to Hu Jintao to illustrate that the great divergence is over. (Like no world leader ever bowed to another world leader during the last two centuries? It's a meaningless gesture to grease the wheels of diplomacy.) Nice way to invoke both Siniphobia and the baseless right-wing meme of Obama being apologetic for America.
So that's Ferguson's TED talk. That's the kind of thing TED thinks deserves a megaphone.
Ferguson teaches at Harvard. He's not dumb. He's not overlooking the history of colonialism by accident; he's trying to construct an explanation of the wealth gap that very specifically avoids mention of colonialism. This is part of a project to whitewash history, to promote a world view where the rich and the privileged are not beneficiaries of historical injustice but rather deserve to be rich and privileged due to their superior moral qualities.
That TED gave him a pulpit for this project says a lot about TED. Either they share his views, or they just don't care. At the very least, it says that TED doesn't care enough for this massive level of intellectual dishonesty to disqualify anyone from speaking there.
I have written software that has been featured in a TED talk on two different occasions: Ubiquity was shown off in a TED talk by Aza in 2009, and Collusion in a TED talk by the Mozilla CEO in 2012. But after seeing this video, I'm embarassed to have been associated with TED in any way.
What a depressing election. (Warning: giant rant ahead.)
We have one party which is dismantling civil liberties, is building a total surveillance police state, is intent on continuing to wage unwinnable wars, is thoroughly corrupted by lobbying, and is in thrall to big banks and other corporate interests.
The other party... is the Republicans.
Everything I just said about Democrats applies double to the GOP, plus as a bonus the GOP is run by racists, homophobes, and Christian supremacists. Or, at best, run by plutocrats willing to pander to all the prejudices of racists, homophobes, and Christian supremacists in order to decrease the marginal tax rate on their capital gains. The Republicans openly support torture and reject science and they're itching to start a war with Iran. They just get crazier and crazier every year; they now seem to have retreated entirely to some alternate universe based on Ayn Rand / Leviticus crossover fanfiction.
I care a lot about civil liberties, OK? They're kind of my main issue. And both parties are terrible on civil liberties. A lot of the stuff that made me so mad about the Bush administration - Guantanamo, the warrantless wiretapping, the Patriot act - is still going on under Obama. Guantanamo's still open, our government is still spying on us without warrants, we're still stuck in an endless war in Afghanistan, and the Democrat-controlled Senate was happy to renew the Patriot act and then one-up it with the NDAA.
I guess what this has taught me is that I was wrong to blame the erosion of civil liberties after 9/11 on Bush specifically. It's bigger than one president or even one party. It's endemic to the whole system. Obama either couldn't change it or he didn't want to.
How can we have a democracy (or even a republic) if voters are not allowed to know what the government, that supposedly represents them, is doing in their name?
How does a citizen vote to change a bad policy when both parties agree on continuing to support that policy?
There's simply no party to vote for if I want my country to stop killing Pakistani civilians as collateral damage from drone strikes. Or if I want the 4th amendment back, or if I want Habeas Corpus reinstated, or if I think the FBI should get a search warrant before wiretapping citizens, or if I want to close Guantanamo Bay, or if I want the government to stop wasting money imprisoning non-violent drug offenders, or if I think the people responsible for torturing prisoners of war should be prosecuted.
You can vote for a 3rd-party or fringe candidate; that sometimes works in a local election, but in a national election I'm not sure that actually accomplishes anything other than making yourself feel good. I wish third-parties were viable, but the structure of our voting system works against it; until we implement some kind of instant-runoff voting, third parties in national elections will continue to be spoilers and protest votes.
I've got a friend who was a volunteer for the Ron Paul campaign this year, claiming that Ron Paul is the only candidate who wanted to end the war, dismantle the surveillance state, and restore constitutional rights. And while Ron Paul does agree with me on some things, wants to go back on the gold standard, abolish all public education, and fucking repeal the Fourteenth Amendment. And he opposes the Civil Rights Act. Paul isn't pro-freedom; he just prefers tyranny to be implemented at the state level instead of the federal level. This is not even getting into the openly white-supremacist newsletters published under his name.
I look at Ron Paul and other third-party/fringe candidates and it's like, they will never have to seriously face the consequences of their policies, because there's no chance their policies will ever get enacted. They can go on feeling superior due to their ideological purity and never have to make the hard decisions that come with governing a country.
There's a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin, not wanting to take a bath, screams that he refuses to compromise his principles. Later, in the bathtub, he muses that he doesn't need to compromise his principles, because they don't have the slightest bearing on what happens to him anyway.
Maybe we just need to lower our expectations of politics. John Kenneth Galbraith said, "Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable." Mark Twain said "If voting made any difference, they wouldn't let us do it."
Maybe the best we can hope for is to prevent the worse of two candidates from getting into office. In practice, that seems to be how most people vote anyway -- not voting for a candidate, but voting against the party they hate more.
I'm not saying we should give up on changing things. Rather, real change is a long, hard process that takes a heck of a lot more involvement, work, and sacrifice than just voting. Sometimes it even requires being willing to go to jail for your beliefs.
So if the parties are near equally bad on the main issues I care about, then I guess I should vote based on the issues where the parties do differ. For me the big one is Romney's desire to start a war with Iran. Or at least he repeatedly during the primaries that he wanted one; some say he was just pandering to the base and he didn't really mean it, but is there any reason to think Romney would get any better at resisting the warmongers in his party after being elected?
I don't think so. I think there's a real danger he would really do it, having learned absolutely nothing from the disastrous failure of our attempts to remake Afghanistan and Iraq. Tens of thousands could die in a conflict that might not even succeed in stopping their nuclear program, or even delaying it for more than a few years. Obama's policy of containing Iran's nuclear program with diplomatic and economic pressure, imperfect as it is, is probably the least bad option.
There's plenty of other things to hate: the fact that Romney is an elitist scumbag who sees half the country as parasites, that his economic plan ("cut the deficit by cutting taxes on the rich and raising military spending") makes not a lick of sense, and that he's happy to pander to racist birthers by gloating that "nobody's asking to see my birth certificate". (Yeah, because you're white, asshole.) At the same time, he's aspiring to be even worse than Obama on civil liberties, promising to "double Guantanamo".
So as unhappy as I am with Obama's civil liberties record, it's a very easy decision to support the unpalatable (Obama) over the disastrous (Romney), and I'm glad to see Obama pulling ahead in the polls.
Meanwhile, we should use methods other than voting to work for restoring civil liberties. Speaking of that, my representative Anna Eshoo is a cosponsor of HR 3702, the Due Process Guarantee Act, which would undo the indefinite-detention-without-trial provisions of the NDAA. It looks like there hasn't been much movement on it Maybe find out where your representative stands on it and encourage them to support it too? It may not have much of a chance but it's better than nothing.
Did you know that "Zen" is an actual religious practice? It's not just a cool-sounding word for "simple"?
Whenever I hear somebody describe a website or user interface as "Zen" because it has a lot of whitespace, I die a little inside.
Unless your website is whacking me with a stick while I sit in seiza position and meditate, or using koans to shock my mind out of reliance on logic and binary thinking, or otherwise helping me reach enlightenment through direct experience in the tradition of 6th-century Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, it is not Zen.
Most recent offender is something called Zendesk; passed a billboard for it today, which shows a grotesque caricature of a hideous grinning Buddha wearing a telephone headset. I'm not personally offended by portrayals of religious figures but I ask you: try to imagine a picture of Jesus Christ flipping burgers on a fast-food-chain billboard, and then try to think of a reason why one should be any more acceptable than the other.
Now I'm thinking about what an actual Zen customer-support line would be like. Can you imagine?
"I can't log in to my account, can you help me?"
"The teachings of the way are merely a finger pointing at the moon; you must discover the truth for yourself."
"No, seriously, I really need to get in here and check my payment status."
"Your suffering comes from your desire for a state of logged-in-ness, but all binary distinctions are illusion; in reality there is no difference between logged in and logged out."
You may have seen recently that Bitcoins lost half of their value in one day. This may have frightened you into thinking that Bitcoins are no longer a safe retirement plan! You might be thinking that Bitcoin is nothing more than an interesting experiment in solving the "double spend" problem of virtual currency without a centralized verification service. You might even think Bitcoin is a giant scam designed to take money from naiive libertarians!
Fear not. I'm here to reassure you that Bitcoins are the future! Just consider all the advantages that Bitcoin has over your precious "fiat currency" with its "governments" and their "laws" and "regulations":
A great incentive to learn computer security and maintenance, since you lose all your money if your hard drive crashes!
Exchange rate vs fiat currency fluctuates by orders of magnitude from day to day, making it impossible to plan purchases or budget anything!
Great for money laundering, black-market purchases of illegal goods, and income tax evasion! You can anonymously buy illegal drugs, child pornography, and bomb-making materials!
If you want to buy food or clothes or pay rent you'll have to exchange your Bitcoins for dollars first, but this is just a temporary inconvenience until MacDonalds and Wal-Mart start accpeting Bitcoins, which they'll have to start doing any day now or they'll be left out in the cold when Bitcoin replaces all government fiat currency!
Nobody can help you if you're a victim of fraud. Fraud prevention would require non-anonymous transactions and/or a central authority to resolve disputes, both of which are contrary to FREEDOM! Fraud is just part of The Free Market, so get used to it! Caveat Emptor, statists!
Mathematically guaranteed to be deflationary, since there's a finite supply and Bitcoins will go out of circulation over time due to computer failures. Nobody in this utopian virtual economy of the future will want to spend Bitcoins on goods or services when they could be hoarding their Bitcoins to sell later! Don't you know that "incentives to hoard" are an important part of any exchange medium?
Since they're super cheap right now, this is a great time to trade all your fiat currency for Bitcoins. Do it now, so you can get in on the next bubble! Wait did I say bubble? I meant completely justified increase in value, driven by all the people abandoning fiat currency for Bitcoins! A heavily hyped-up asset whose price shoots up by thousands of percent in a short time with no change to the underlying fundamentals is always a good stable currency and not a speculative bubble at all! The one who benefits from the next price increase will definitely be you, and not one of the early adopters who's been hoarding massive amounts of BTC since the easy-mining days, waiting for a chance to cash out. Listen to those guys, they're smart. When they tell you to buy BTC and thereby increase the value of the BTC they already hold, they only have your best interests at heart.
Be part of an exciting online community! Join your fellow internet anarchists and Ron Paul fans and have fun ranting about the evils of the Federal Reserve, "fiat currency" (AKA any money not made of gold), and "coercion" (AKA living in a country with laws). Hoard ammunition and canned food to prepare for the imminent collapse of the U.S. economy due to "socialism" (AKA any government that collects taxes to pay for services).
Did you know that dollars haven't been backed by gold since the 1970s? They're, like, just pieces of paper with no inherent value, man! Did I just blow your mind??? They're "fiat currency" which means the government could print as many as they want! And I bet the government is just itching for a chance to undermine its own authority by intentionally making its own currency worthless with massive economy-destroying inflation! They're probably going to start doing that any day now! Wake up, sheeple!
But with Bitcoins, the supply is limited to 21 million! That's all the Bitcoins that will ever exist, thanks to the arbitrary will of some anonymous computer geek nobody's ever met who goes by the pseudonym of "Satoshi Nakamoto"! That means that Bitcoins are literally as good as gold, because the value of a currency depends entirely on scarcity and not on what people are willing to trade you for it (Don't listen to those economists who say the gold standard is a stupid idea. They're trying to trick you!)
Feel like a big shot when your "mining rig" (thousands of dollars worth of graphics cards and power supplies) manages to cryptographically "mine" its first bitcoin after running for just a month! Sure you've lost money, but everybody on Reddit will be real impressed!
You might think all the decentralization would make Bitcoins inconvenient to use, but don't worry: the fans of decentralization have settled on a single centralized place to trade your decentralized currency! It's called MTGOX which stands for Magic: The Gathering Online Exchange (because it was created for trading Magic cards and then pivoted to trading Bitcoins) and despite its reputation for horrible lag, a huge majority of all exchange between BTC and USD go through MTGOX -- giving MTGOX all the power of a central bank, with none of the benefits and none of the responsibility. MTGOX may even be manipulating the Bitcoin exchange rate for their own financial benefit.
There is no way the government could ever crack down Bitcoins, because they're anonymous and decentralized! If they shut down one Bitcoin exchange, another will arise to take its place! Viva la revolucion! Nobody can stop our glorious free market! Sure, they could crack down on the endpoints where people exchange BTC for US dollars, making it impossible to exchange Bitcoins for goods and services from the real-life economy, but who cares! We don't want your worthless US dollars anyway! We can get everything we need on our online black market! (All a healthy economy needs is drugs, porn, server space, and Reddit karma, right?)
Never pay taxes again! When the IRS tries to collect, tell them that your income was $0 last year! Since you took payment only in pretend internet money and not dollars, they can't tax you anything! There is no way the IRS will charge you taxes based on an estimate of the dollar value of your income, nor will they be able take your ass to court for tax evasion when you refuse to pay up. No, the IRS will be totally stymied by a simple technicality. Bitcoins are untaxable!
Learn the hard way why the real-world financial system has all of the regulations and safeguards that it has built up over the last few centuries! Sure you could learn about speculative currency bubbles, pump-and-dump schemes, and Ponzi scams from a book, but isn't it more exciting to be a part of it yourself and learn from first-hand experience?
That's why Bitcoin is sure to replace all government fiat currency any day, I tell you, any day now! You'd be a fool not to trade your dollars for BTC.
iPads crushed my dream of being a software usability guy.
It's hard for me to find the words to express why, so bear with me while I try to explain what iPads meant for my career.
My professional life in the software industry (first at Humanized, then at Mozilla) was all based around one question. It went something like:
"How can we make computers easier to learn without making them less powerful?"
"How can we give users more power without making their software harder to use?"
By "power" I don't mean gigaflops, I mean something more like the "empowerment" sense of the word. Creative power. The potential of computers to help people create things, to be a producer and not just a consumer of culture, to be smarter and more efficient and more connected and maybe even more able to self-organize and demand change from their governments or whatever. All the potentials that people used to mean when they talked about the "computer revolution".
By making computers easier to use without dumbing them down, that power could be democratized, made accessible to more people. That was my theory, anyway. Thinking about it that way made me feel like I was working on something important. The idea of this search was the source of my job satisfaction.
(Naiive techno-utopianism, in retrospect.)
When the iPad came out, at first I ignored it. Why would anybody want an iPhone that was too big to fit in your pocket and doesn't make phone calls? I had zero interest in iPhones and iPads seemed strictly inferior. I figured they'd disappear without a trace within a month.
When they started getting popular -- when every other company in the industry started scrambling to follow Apple's lead -- I slowly realized the horrifying truth:
The computer industry was no longer interested in searching for a balance between power and usability. The new trend was to make a thing super easy to use by taking away all of the power. Instead of making computers easier to use, they'd give people things that are not really computers anymore, but appliances.
Yeah technically they're "computers" in that they have a Turing-complete CPU inside them. But tablets are what you get if you strip away everything that made me interested in computers in the first place -- the ability to hack the thing, to reprogram it, to run whatever software you want, to use it to make creative works and share them.
Instead, with iPads and the "app store", it's Apple, not you, who decides what software you are allowed to run on this machine that you supposedly own. (Which by the way is far more restrictive than anything Microsoft ever did at its most monopolistic -- at least Microsoft would let you distribute whatever software you wanted for Windows. They might clone your product and crush you if you got too successful, but at least you were allowed to try.)
Also, the touchscreen UI and lack of a real filesystem or decent inter-app communication channels make it terrible for trying to create any kind of content. Trying to type words on it sucks. Trying to draw on it sucks. (Yes, I know you can attach an external keyboard. Congratulations, you've created the world's crappiest laptop.) The touchscreen UI is really only good for poking icons and panning/zooming through static content. It's an interface optimized for passive consumption.
Ironically, when I first heard "Apple is making a tablet" I imagined a thing optimized for drawing on. You know, like with a pressure-sensitive stylus and high-quality art software. Silly me; that's what Apple of 1984, the company focused on education and creativity, would have built. The Apple of 2010 is focused on being the middleman for streaming music, games, and TV shows, so that's what they built. An appliance for consuming streams of corporate-approved entertainment product.
iPads and other tablets are more similar to a new kind of television than to the computer revolution I imagined. The industry's recent obsession with them -- the "post-PC era" -- is a direction I have no interest in following. Feel free to laugh at me for being an old fogey who can't adapt with the changing times, but I wanted to make computers easier to use, not replace them with fancy TVs. If the industry doesn't want that anymore, then maybe I had no place in the industry.
Ultimately, the iPad posed a serious philosophical challenge to my whole narrative about democratizing the creative potential of computers. If the iPad got really popular, if most people saw this new appliance class as an acceptable substitute for a computer, that meant that most people are not interested in hacking or creating -- they're content with a locked-down, corporate-controlled internet media consumption device. The computer revolution I had imagined was never going to happen, because the people I thought I was fighting for didn't want it.
April 2010, when the iPad was released, marked the beginning of the end of my software developer career. I spent another year and a half trying to figure out some way to respond to this philosophical challenge, some way to fix my narrative, to get my job satisfaction back, to imagine a future for myself in that industry. (Tablets were not the only trend driving this; equally distressing was the software industry's move to an advertising-centric model that I find ethically dubious. But that's another blog post.)
By fall of 2011 I had given up. I'd accepted that my dream of being a software usability guy was based on phony assumptions, and that the role I had imagined for myself had no place in the post-PC era. I hung around Mozilla long enough to finish up my projects and then I walked away from the industry.
In short, iPads challenged what I thought computers were all about. They made me re-examine why I was ever interested in computers in the first place. And in that re-examination I realized that most of my reasons were no longer valid.
So maybe it's not quite right to say I "hate" iPads. Maybe I should really be thanking Apple for making me realize that software was not the right career for me and giving me the impetus to break away and search for something new.
Here's something that makes me madder than Bitcoins and iPads put together: America's ongoing, illegal, indefinite-detention-and-torture program.
Iâ€™ve been detained at GuantĂˇnamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.
-- from "Gitmo Is Killing Me", related by Yemeni prisoner Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel through an Arabic interpreter.
The number one reason I supported Obama was because I thought he would end this. I was wrong.
Remember how in 2011 he tried to transfer the Guantanamo inmates to a prison in Illinois? It would have technically kept his campaign promise to "close Guantanamo", but the issue is whether we're torturing people and holding them without trial, not whether we're doing it in Cuba or Illinois.
And anyway, Congress voted to block funding for the transfer. Remember that? The scare stories about how if we let them off of Cuba they would surely escape and do more terrorism? Like, somehow no prison in the USA was strong enough to hold them?
It was total bullshit; terrorists do not have super-powers. They're not going to burn through the prison walls with laser-vision. They're no harder to keep locked up than any other criminals. Never mind that most of the people in Guantanamo are not terrorists; they're regular middle-eastern dudes with beards who were standing in the wrong place when the Bush administration decided to make a big show of getting tough. Most of them are innocent scapegoats.
Sure, there's some terrorists in with them. You know how we could tell which ones are which?
By reading the charges against them, presenting evidence, and holding fucking trials, like we do with every other crime.
When I saw a link on hacker news called How I Stopped Eating Food, at first I thought it had to be a joke. Some kind of stealth parody of weird San Francisco lifestyle fads.
I hypothesized that the body doesn't need food itself, merelyÂ the chemicals and elements it contains.Â So, I resolved to embark on an experiment. What if I consumed only the raw ingredients the body uses for energy? Would I be healthier or do we need all the other stuff that's in traditional food? If it does work, what would it feel like to have a perfectly balanced diet?Â I just want to be in good health and spend as little time and money on food as possible.
I haven't eaten a bite of food in 30 days, and it's changed my life.
So the guy measures out the recommended allowance of all his nutrient needs in powder form, mixes it with water to make a gross beige-colored sludge, and...
It was delicious! I felt like I'd just had the best breakfast of my life. It tasted like a sweet, succulent, hearty meal in a glass, which is what it is, I suppose. I immediately felt full, yet energized, and started my day. Several hours later I got hungry again. I quickly downed another glass and immediately felt relief. The next day I made another batch and felt even better. My energy level had skyrocketed at this point, I felt like a kid again.
Surely this story is going to get to the punchline soon.
But on day 3 I noticed my heart was racing and my energy level was suddenly dropping. Hemoglobin! I think, my heart is having trouble getting enough oxygen to all my organs. I check my formula and realize iron is completely absent. I quickly purchase an iron supplement and add it to the mixture the next day. I have to be more careful not to leave anything out.
Perhaps this is a morality tale about how these Silicon valley wunderkinds always think that, since they're good at computers, they're automatically good at everything else (e.g. nutrition) without having to put any effort into studying it. Which leads to potentially life-threatening newbie mistakes like not getting any iron.
Anyway, this is all fake, right? Please tell me this is fake. Please tell me this guy is not really doing this to his body.
We are incredibly excited that so many of you share our vision for Soylent: the easy, healthy future of nutrition! We reached our funding goal in under 3 hours, and every additional dollar we raise will go directly towards improving the formulation, manufacture, and distribution of Soylent.
50% of the food produced globally is wasted, and food makes for the largest component of municipal garbage. If not for this waste there would be plenty of food to adequately nourish everyone alive. 2 million people are killed annually by smoke inhalation from indoor cooking stoves alone. 70% of americans are overweight or obese. 1 in 7 people globally are malnourished, and 1 in 3 in the developing world suffer from deficiency. Countless others are living hand-to-mouth, subsistence farming, hindering economic development. Even in the developed world, agriculture is the most dangerous industry to work in by occupational injuries and illnesses, and obesity is on the rise.
So, all you have to do is convince all the world's malnourished poor people who rely on indoor cooking stoves to give up food in favor of your $65/week beige milkshake, and all their problems will be solved! That's the plan, right?
Or is this just that thing that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs do? That thing where working on experimental technology for the fun of it doesn't give them enough sense of importance, so they have to convince themselves that their pet projct is a world-saving advancement? So they list a bunch of extremely difficult, long-standing real-world problems that are kind of related, in some nebulous way, and they stop short of explicitly claiming that their iPhone app (or whatever) is going to overthrow all the world's dictators (or whatever), but they imply it enough to satisfy their delusions of grandeur. (See also: every TED talk ever.)
Wait, am I stereotyping unfairly? Let's check the crowdfunding page to see if the team is five white 20something hipsters in San Francisco... oh hey look, what a surprise.
Its creator, Rob Rhinehart, a 24-year-old computer scientist, assures Babbage that his version of Soylent contains no human flesh. In fact, Soylent promises to be as tasteless as its name, comprised as it is mostly of powdered starch, milk proteins, olive oil, oat fibre and various trace minerals and vitamins. When reconstituted with water, Soylent becomes a unflavoured beige liquid.
They're really going with "Soylent" for their product name? Really??
Mr Rhinehart is no nutritionist and early versions of Soylent had their problems. Omitting iron from his original formula made Mr Rhinehartâ€™s heart race and an absence of sulphur caused joint pain, while (deliberate) overdoses of potassium and magnesium resulted in cardiac arrhythmia and burning sensations.
And he's selling this to other people to be used as their sole source of nutrition? As long as he was only experimenting on himself, his lack of nutritional science knowledge was just stupid and dangerous, but now that he's potentially hurting other people's health, his lack of expertise becomes a serious ethical problem. This isn't like writing mobile phone apps, where it's easy for amateurs to break into the field because the worst that happens when they screw up is somebody wastes $1.99 on an iPhone game that doesn't work right.
Anyway, the Economist throws cold water on the supposed price and environmental benefits of Soylent:
Adam Drewnowski, director of the Centre for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, will not be among them. â€śTo some extent, Soylent is an expensive glass of milk,â€ť he says. While Soylentâ€™s $65 weekly price-tag is certainly cheaper than eating out, it compares unfavourably with the cost of cooking for yourself. America's Department of Agriculture recently calculated the weekly cost for a family of four to eat a thrifty but healthy diet at home as $146, even allowing for some spoilage.Mr Drewnowski is also sceptical of Soylentâ€™s environmental credentials. He notes that the bulk of foodâ€™s carbon footprint and greenhouse-gas emissions come from production and processing, rather than distribution, cooking or waste. Mr Drewnowski calls the carbon impact of Soylentâ€™s milk protein "not insignificant".
I've been observing my internet news ban faithfully, but I would have to live in a cave not to have heard about Eric Snowden, leaker of the NSA phone-tapping program.
My first thought: Is anybody really surprised the NSA is recording all our calls? I mean, that's why the NSA was created, right? Or at least, that's what we all assumed? I guess Snowden just confirmed our suspicious with hard evidence?
Some people are asking "whistleblower or traitor?" This is a silly question. "Traitor" is just the word for whistleblowers the government doesn't like. I think Snowden is a hero for leaking this; I think the people have a right to know. But of COURSE the government is treating him as a traitor. How is this a surprise to anyone?
The government believes they need to know everything the people are doing, but we're not allowed to know anything about what they're doing.
Snowden spilled the beans, so they're going to hunt him down like a dog and imprison him as long as they want without charges or trial. Just like they did to Bradley Manning when he revealed too much about the scale of our government's atrocities in Iraq. It's evil, yes, it's unconstitutional, yes. What else do you expect from the US government anymore?
Is there any chance that we can stop the NSA? Realistically, I don't think so. The NSA clearly considers itself above the law and outside the authority of any of the mere elected branches of government. They think they can lie to congress; there are no consitutional checks and balances over them. Nobody watches the watchers. Even if there was a huge public movement in opposition to the NSA (and mostly I see people shrugging and moving on with their lives) who do you vote for to stop them? Where do you protest?
Some have tried to justify the wiretapping program by pointing out that it has caught criminals. Of course you catch more criminals by tapping everybody's phones. You would catch even more crimes than that if you stationed police officers in everyone's homes all the time. Better get on that right away! Consult the KGB and the Stasi for more great neighborhood crime-fighting tips.
But maybe we want to try not living in a police state. Yes, the founders were slave-owning hypocrites, but they had a few good ideas. They didn't want the king's spies and informers up in their business all the time, but they also knew that police would need to investigate crimes, so they made the compromise that the police have to show probable cause for suspicion before they search your house. It's called the fourth amendment, and I happen to think it's a very good compromise. Now and then our nation has even attempted to put it into practice, though since 9/11 they seem to have given up on the idea entirely.
The key point of the fourth amendment is that you have to be investigating a specific crime; you can't just spy on random people hoping to find something, anything illegal. Because when you do that, you can just about always find some excuse to arrest any person or group you don't like. That's how a police state finds and removes dissidents.
Having a crime rate above zero is the price of living in a free society. "Freedom isn't free", as they say, except that most people who say that are saying it to justify sacrificing ever more civil liberties to an illusion of security. "Freedom isn't free, so let's not have any", appears to be the unspoken motto of the total-surveillance apologists.
This Eric Snowden thing has gotten me wondering: what is the real difference between America, a supposedly "free" country, and the countries that we label "oppressive", like China and Saudi Arabia? I have heard that China considers the Snowden revelations "Christmas in June" since it gives them a massive propaganda boost -- they can now say "See? America is just a hypocrite; they're no different from us; spying on your citizens is just what every government does."
The things that are supposed to make America different are elections and the constitution. But elections, well... we get a choice every four years between two figureheads that have already been pre-screened and found acceptable by the entrenched moneyed interests and behind-the-scenes power blocs. We also elect people for Congress, but the laws are all written by lobbyists these days anyway.
And the Constitution? It means whatever nine unelected octogenarian lawyers say it means. If Scalia and friends think the Voting Rights Act is too hard on racists (yeah I heard about that too), they just need five votes to make white-supremacist voter-suppression tactics cool again. They can decide the government can take your house if it wants to build a shopping mall there (Kelo vs. New London). They can decide we're not allowed to limit the influence of money on politics, like, at all (Citizens United). Then they can make up a cute name like "originalism" for the philosophy of constitutional interpretation that just happens to support all of their policy preferences.
Why can the government tap our phones and imprison people without trial and assassinate people with drone strikes? It's not because they have legal justification (though they may invent one after the fact if pressed). It's not because the voters want it. It's because nobody's powerful enough to stop them. For all its self-serving propoganda about being land of the free and whatever, political power in America comes from the barrel of a gun just like political power anywhere else.
Every nation-state is an iron fist in a velvet glove. Maybe the only difference between America and say, Iran, is that our velvet glove tends to stay on a little longer than theirs. Threaten the US government's interests in any serious way -- like by leaking what they're really doing in the name of "protecting" us -- and the fist is quickly revealed.