Atul told me about Metaplace a year or two ago, but I've only tried it out in recent months, and I want to tell you about it.
What's Metaplace? It's a flash game... except it's not really a game, and it's built to support multiple clients, of which Flash is only one. Um, let me start over.
It's an MMORPG, of sorts, but with all content including game mechanics being user-created. Or to look at it another way, it's a game-development platform with a social networking component. When you sign up for an account, you get a small chunk of virtual real-estate, where you can build whatever you want, plus there's a scripting language that lets you make interactive objects and impose game rules on your virtual space. So another way to look at it is that it's like Second Life, but with a Flash client that runs in your browser, more cartoony graphics, and more of a focus on making games rather than just hanging out.
Here's an interview in The Escapist (a great online gaming magazine, by the way) with Raph Koster, creator of Metaplace.
His big idea is that making a virtual world should be like having a blog - within easy reach of anyone with a good idea, freely hosted, easily interlinked with other virtual worlds or with other kinds of web pages, able to be embedded or integrated with other forms of web content. He says, "It's really the equivalent of Blogger, but for virtual worlds." He's sick of every MMORPG, and he's worked on several, having the same old gameplay, and he wants to open it up so that people can innovate.
When you create a Metaplace account, you get a virtual home world with its own URL, and you can link people straight to it or you can embed it in another web page. Every object in your world has a unique URL too - like, there's a URL for 'this here chair'. I'm not sure exactly what that's for, but it shows a very forward-thinking design sense: at some point, as Metaplace interoperability with the web, continues to advance, there will be a use for this. And that chair itself could be rendered using images that are linked in from third-party sites. You can import images from anywhere to use as sprites or surface textrues, and even import 3-d models from the Google Sketchup warehouse. You can embed YouTube videos in your virtual world. You can sell objects that you create for virtual cash in a marketplace and buy objects made by others.
Rights of World Creators
4. Own their intellectual property.
5. Create and destroy their own world at their discretion with no liability to Metaplace or users.
6. To be the sovereign power of their created worlds and subject to rights reserved by others to have full power and authority in their created worlds.
7. Earn and extract economic value from created worlds.
etc. Seriously, go read that thing. It reads like an artifact that fell out of a time warp from some future epoch where wars have been fought over the rights of virtual citizens. Read it and contemplate the possibilities alluded to by the enumerated rights and enumerated responsibilities of world creators and world users.
OK, OK, so idea-wise, Metaplace is all very cool and exciting and ambitious. But is it good? Is it fun? Is it worth getting invovled with? Does it live up to its lofty ambitions?
After playing around with it for a while, I have to reluctantly answer 'not yet'. There's a lot of potential, but the current implementation is kinda... crummy. Everything is slow, laggy, and buggy, there are glaring interface flaws, may features don't work at all, and it's hard to find documentation on how to make your world do stuff. I still haven't been able to get friend requests to work, and one time a buggy script attached to a monster truck statue in the main hub area teleported me off to the edge of the world, on the wrong side of an invisible fence, and there was no way to get back in until I found an admin who could hand-edit my entry in the user database.
I've only found a few worlds that are even attempting to have any semblance of gameplay, and those are barely functional or playable - more proofs-of-concept than anything you would want to play for fun. And a lot of the worlds are... well, like this:
The whole thing is still in beta, and everybody who's on there so far seems to be in the 'just trying it out' stage. So maybe in a year it'll be awesome; or maybe it'll be abandoned. Who knows?
Thus far, I've been using it mainly as a way to chat with Aleksa. Her hearing aid makes it hard for her to use a phone, and she gets bored easily with text chat. But Metaplace gives us something to do together, which gives us something to talk about. So Metaplace is helping me be a big brother, which is cool. But I could do that with any random online game - I'm not making use of the features that make Metaplace unique.
If you ever want to meet me on there, my username is Jono_X and my world is here, though there's not much there yet - the few times I've worked on it, I've just been trying to figure out the scripting language (a Lua variant) that's used to program behaviors into world objects. If I manage to make something interesting (perhaps a point-and-click adventure game) I'll let you know.
When Aleksa heard I had a comic about mice with swords of course she wanted to read it too, so we read it together over a couple of sittings this afternoon. We had a blast! It's hard to say which one of us enjoyed it more. I think last year it would have been either too scary or the plot too complicated for her, but this year she's right at the level of being able to appreciate it.
Gorgeous artwork, a realistic medieval setting (well, as 'realistic' as anything with talking mice could be), a decent mystery/politics/warfare plotline, and most of all: brave mice with swords kicking serious ass. Like the bit where they're being attacked by crabs five times their size; one of the Mouse Guard basically pulls an Empire-Strikes-Back Imperial Landstalker Takedown using a line with a fishhook on it. It's freaking epic. Mouse Guard is good stuff. I would totally want to role-play it now!
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?
We had an incredibly awesome Capes game on Saturday. Our Capes game started out as a one-shot to kill a gaming session when we didn't have anything else planned, but it's grown into a fairly epic campaign. Saturday was a climax that was a long time coming.
It turns out that not only does Capes work great in a longer campaign, but there are some kinds of payoffs that only happen in the long form.
For instance, last time I expressed doubt that Capes would produce good fiction, because there's no GM in charge and it's easy to play to the mechanics with perfunctory narration. But I was wrong! Over the course of five or six sessions we've built up a very strong continuity, with an ever-expanding cast of secondary characters and ever-deepening relationships. We all had a commitment to the fiction, so we all gave a lot of weight to fictional constraints, which made themselves felt especially when framing scenes week after week in campaign mode:
"And then Meteotron flies in..."
"No, she can't! She's in self-imposed exile ever since Dr. Fukuzora's public confession, remember?"
"Oh yeah! OK then, how about..."
Because there's no GM, there's no "preparing an adventure", and there's no explicit plot-structuring mechanics like many other indie games have, the story structure that you get is mostly dependent on the round-robin scene framing, which is very loosely defined in the rules. And the scene framing is very much dependent on out-of-character brainstorming and kibbitzing, which is messy, but it works. What we've wound up with is very much reminiscient of comic book continuity; there are plots that only last one session (which feels like one "issue") and there are many continuing subplots that get chaotically picked up, advanced, and dropped. (I can almost see the footnote captions that say "* See issue #132" or whatever.)
Sushu overheard a lot of our game session and afterward she asked me, "Are there any good guys in this game? It sounded like you were all playing villians". It's true. We all made both heroes and villians, but the villians have gotten more play lately. The villains are often more fun. Talking like a supervillain is even more fun than talking like a pirate! And it's more fun to make plans for world domination than to foil them. The awesome thing about Capes is that it lets you do both.
Every superhero story is a comment on contemporary America, whether it tries to be or not. Contemporary America with the volume turned up to 11: everything is exaggerated. It occurs to me that the good supervillians, the ones with depth and resonance, are often exaggerated versions of a political viewpoint. Think about the Joker in the Dark Knight, and how he stands for anarchy as a philosophical stance: he wants to prove that life is chaos that cannot be controlled, and prove that people will revert to animals and turn on each other when this truth is revealed.
So if you want to make a good supervillian, take a political stance and crank up the volume on it until it becomes cartoony extremism. For extra fun, use some of your own political stances. Take something you really believe and twist it until it horrifies you, and you'll create a villain just sympathetic enough to be compelling. You may even learn something about the limitations of your own viewpoints this way.
Thus, I played The Utopian (mind controller + guilt-ridden) like a conservative's caricature of what liberals stand for: He feels guilty about everything his country does, and wants everyone else to feel as guilty as he does. He thinks he knows what's best for you, better than you do yourself; he thinks everyone is living their lives the wrong way and they should submit to his authority for their own good. He wants to tear down perfectly good social institutions because they fall short of some impossible ideal; he wants to replace them with a pie-in-the-sky utopia. That's why he is The Utopian. He's a super fun character to play, precisely because he is an ascended straw man.
Saturday night we had an absolutely glorious scene where I brought the Utopian's plans to fruition, or at least as close to fruition as they will ever go. Over several previous sessions I had set up all the fictional positioning: He manipulated Dr. Fukuzora to drive Meteotron out of town, teamed up with Dave's character Dr. Inevitable to distract the Legion of Justice and smash down their headquarters by unleashing a human force of destruction called Shockwave, and steal an alien artifact called the Helm of the Hive Queen, a psionic amplifier, from the Legion's vaults. In the process, I built up a huge pile of story tokens. And I saved them all for this once scene where the Utopian snuck into the central TV broadcasting station, donned the Helm, and started broadcasting his amplified guilt rays to the whole city. I got to yell "YOU HAVE BEEN JUDGED AND FOUND UNWORTHY! YOUR GUILT CONSUUUUUUMES YOU!" over and over again.
I burned through fifteen story tokens in one scene. Until I ran out, I was unstoppable! I made the Governor confess all his scandals on TV, I made the state bureaucrats walk out on their jobs, I made the wizards of finance admit they destroyed the economy and start giving away all their money, I made the scientists at the university weep over their technocratic elitism and conspire to bring down all the computer networks. I started riots in the streets, made the state government collapse, brought the city to a standstill, and basically had everyone throwing themselves at my feet to confess their sins.
Of course you know how this story ends, right? Aaron decided that the corrupting essence of the Hive Queen was still alive inside the Helm and that it would try to take over the Utopian's mind. This was right about the time my story tokens ran out. Of course. So I lost that conflict. A fitting end for the Utopian - undone by his own greed for psychic dominance!
Meanwhile, Dave's Dr. Inevitable has gone from being a one-dimensional evil scientist to being quite a likable character thanks to the development of his relationship with his handicapped sister. I have a hunch he might even find some sort of redemption.
The Utopian a permanently retired character now, because I accomplished exactly what I set out to do with him. I burned him out in a blaze of glory. For next time, we're going to make up a new character sheet for the combined Hive Queen/Utopian psychic monstrosity. Who is currently still in control of downtown and probably hypnotizing everyone into, I dunno, incubating larva or something. I think the battle to defeat him/her/it is going to be the main point of our final session.
I saw this amazing photo essay about our soldiers in Afghanistan. It is a masterpiece of photography, and very poignant, especially the pictures of soldiers suffering from heat exhaustion and carrying what looks like their own weight in gear. And the pictures of Afghani children playing among the ruins. More than anything else I've ever seen about this war, these pictures give a real sense of what it must be like to be there.
My heart goes out to these brave volunteers, who have been fighting this war for eight years now (almost Aleksa's entire lifetime) under horrible conditions, who are trying their best to protect the good people of Afghanistan while rooting out the Taliban and the terrorists, a nearly impossible task given that the enemy look exactly like the civilians. The military's stop-loss program means that many of these guys are on their second or third tour of duty. There's still no end in sight to the war, and history suggests that Afghanistan is essentially unconquerable and ungovernable.
Before our politicians send one more soldier to Afghanistan, I want them to answer one simple question: what are our victory conditions? What would it mean to "win" this war? Under what circumstances can we declare the war over and stop sending soldiers over there to die? I know, I know, as soon as we pull out the Taliban is probably going to take over again and everything's going to go to hell there. It's a dilemma. I'm not saying there's any easy answer. But it can't be our responsibility to prop up the Afghan government forever. (Same goes for the Iraqi government). When does it end?
Anyway, here's something a little more cheerful. The photo essay made me want to express solidarity somehow, and I had a bunch of Warhammer 40k Imperial Guard miniatures lying around in the craft room. I bought them years ago and never painted them because I couldn't figure out what color scheme to use. So I decided to take my best shot at painting the uniform our troops are wearing in Afghanistan (Universal Camouflage Pattern, desert variant - tan with digital splotches of brown and grey-green) as a sort of tiny tribute.
Of course the U.S. army pictures didn't show me what color to paint the chainsaw swords, since for some reason we're not giving those to our soldiers yet.
The Imperial Guard in 40k are the faction you gotta feel sorry for. They're just regular folks in way over their heads, sent to horrifying alien battlefields with inferior weaponry and insufficient training. The Imperium of Man throws their lives away by the millions, sending them into hopeless meat grinder battles just to slow the enemy down. But individually, they're sympathetic characters, so you root for them no matter how much you disagree with the aims of their government.
Of course, any similarity between this game fiction and the situation of the U.S. military is strictly coincidental.
Water on the moon?! Hot diggity dog! A brilliantly executed experiment has found clear evidence of water ice at the moon's poles, probably deposited there by comets. Maybe someday there could be whalers on the moon!
Seriously, though, this is the awesomest news in space exploration since we dropped the Hyugens into Titan. Free water, plus free sunlight to generate electricity, means we can make hydrogen fuel, which means we can fill up there and then launch out of the moon's gravity well — much cheaper than launching out of earth's. A whole lot of hard-SF plots just got a whole lot more likely.
Um, guys? The moon is a dead hunk of rock! It has no ecosystem to destroy and no indigenous population who are going to get exploited, enslaved, or eliminated. That means that extracting resources from, colonizing, or doing dangerous scientific experiments on the moon is going to be far less harmful than doing those things anyplace on Earth has ever been. Your objections are silly.
Observation: Curry is always better on the second day than it is when freshly made.
Theory: Letting it sit in the fridge overnight soaking in its own juices makes it good.
Experiment: Instead of making curry on the night of our board game party (tonight), we made two batches last night (one Thai green curry, one Japanese karee raisu). We didn't eat any, and put them straight into the fridge, still in the pans. This evening we took them out, added some water, and warmed them up on the stovetop right before our guests arrived. We made fresh rice to go with it.
I finally got my new driver's license, with my new name on it, in the mail yesterday. So my passport, social security, driver's license, and bank account are all to Jono Silinis Xia now. That just leaves a few miscellaneous things that I don't care about, like my phone bill, that still have my old name on them.
It's going to be fun getting on my flight home for Thanksgiving, since those tickets were purchased under my old name and all my ID now has the new name. And by fun I mean "fun". I already called up Southwest Airlines and told them what's up, so I should be able to work this out somehow.
I do a lot of interviewing candidates for Mozilla. I've sarted to notice certain types of people who I see over and over again. In the spirit of those Matt Groening Life-In-Hell cartoons where he illustrated the 9 types of high school teachers or whatever, here's a partial guide to the types of Silicon Valley job-seekers.
The Sysadmin Grognard
Recognizable by: Beard and beer-belly are mandatory. Ponytail, suspenders, and "Slashdot" baseball cap are optional but very common.
Advantages: Experienced, knows every in and out of his chosen flavor of *nix. Can do amazing things with cronjobs, init scripts, httpd.conf, and /etc/hosts. Gets things fixed within minutes of finding out they're broken, even if it's Sunday night.
Disadvantages: Incapable of suffering fools gladly. Thinks graphical user interfaces are the tool of the devil. Programs only in shell scripts and Perl. Says "this job would be perfect if only we didn't have users".
Watch out: If he ever leaves, nobody else will be able to understand how the servers are set up. Ever.
The Conformist Innovator
Recognizable by: He's pushing a business card into your hand and telling you all about his new social networking website startup company.
Advantages: Highly motivated; up on all the latest technology trends; knows influential people; gives cool presentations; brings great new ideas to your company.
Disadvantages: The great new ideas he brings are the exact same great new ideas all your competitors are using. He's not so good at actually building things and gets impatient with the follow-through needed to turn an idea into a usable product. Not knowing history, he is doomed to repeat it.
Watch out: May leave your company at any time he gets an idea for a new startup.
The Young Pythonista
Recognizable by: Wardrobe consists of T-shirts from PyCon 2009, PyCon 2008, PyCon 2007...
Advantages: Smart, eager, thinks outside the box, hates unnecessary complexity and will strive to simplify and streamline everything he works on.
Disadvantages: A language zealot; Complains when forced to use any non-Python language; susceptible to one-true-wayism. Writes slash fanfics about Guido von Rossum.
Watch out for: You come in on Monday to find out he hacked your company's bug reporting system over the weekend to run on Trac instead of Bugzilla because "Trac is written in Python! It must be better!"
Advantages: Creative, good aesthetic sense. Up on all the latest standards and practices. Cares about making things work cross-platform and cross-browser and knows how.
Disadvantages: Extremely condescending to anyone who can't tell the difference between Helvetica and Arial. Doesn't care what your website actually says as long as it looks good. Thinks the universe began in 1994.
Watch out for: The blank stare of uncomprehension when you say the word "compiler" or ask him to write any code not for consumption by a web browser.
The Straight-Out-of-College Know-it-all
Recognizable by: Giving textbook answers to questions: flawlessly correct in theoretical terms, but completely impractical. Makes you feel old when you realize his first video game system was an N64.
Advantages: Can name all the dimensions of database normalization, find the big-O of an algorithm, and answer questions about scoping and type systems like a language-lawyer. Is used to working hard, completing assignments, and hitting the books when he doesn't know something.
Disadvantages: Is used to being the smartest kid in his class; since he's used to everyone else being dumb he would rather hack alone in a dark corner for hours on end than talk to other people. He will be crushed when he finds out that making real-world software is 60% planning and communicating with a team. Unless he went to a very unusual school, he's never used version control or bug tracking before, let alone written unit tests.
Watch out for: Painstaking code optimization in places where it doesn't matter, coupled with gigantic gaps where it does matter ("What do you mean it has to run on Windows too?")
The Code Monkey
Recognizable by: His resume shows ten respectable, but random jobs with no sign of progression, advancement, or direction. Glazed, dead-inside expression.
Advantages: Does what you tell him to do.
Disadvantages: Does only what you tell him to do.
Watch out for: The time he spends at work daydreaming about what he'd rather be doing with his life.
The Eastern European Linux-Head
Recognizable by: Incomprehensible accent, beard stubble, laptop with GNU and EFF stickers, running obscure Linux distro compiled from source.
Advantages: Passionate; Solid programmer; Saves you a lot of work by pointing out "There's already an open-source library for doing that". Do-it-yourself attitude: gets stuff done.
Disadvantages: Sarcastic, zealous personality frightens other developers. Prone to outbursts of rage over esoterica of licensing practices, or starting flame wars about latest transgressions by Google/Apple/Microsoft.
Watch out for: Time spent at work contributing patches to unrelated open-source projects.
Recognizable by: Indistinguishable from other types unless you stand over his computer and make him write code while you watch.
Advantages: Friendly and charismatic. Has an impressive resume. Flatters you and your company. Makes you want to like him.
Disadvantages: Can't write code worth shit.
Watch out for: He is good enough at BSing his way through interviews that he passed the phone screen and made it to you. He will give vaguely plausible answers to questions and weasel out of being pinned down to specifics. You must expose him before gets hired and ruins your company.
The For Real Deal
Recognizable by: After talking to him for ten minutes you realize that he understands your own project better than you do, despite the fact that you've been working on it for two years and he hadn't heard of it before you introduced it to him earlier in the same conversation.
Advantages: Makes computers do things previously thought impossible, and does it with code that's fast, bug-free, and easily maintained and extended. Ask him to do something in a language he's never heard of on an operating system he's never used and he'll teach himself in under four days. Surprisingly humble.
Disadvantages: He can get a job at any company he wants, and he knows it. He don't need money and he don't need fame, so the only way to get him to work for you is if you're offering him more interesting problems to work on than any other company in the field. Which you're probably not.
Watch out for: Extremely rare. Also, makes you feel dumb.
Wow. Uh, go Finland! I guess. Good for them, but I can't help but think of all the people in the world with insufficient access to, say, clean potable water, and wonder what they would think of the idea of broadband as a basic right.
They're having a hackathon Dec 12-13. Mozilla is going to be holding one of the events. I'm going to do a project for it.
But what? I don't know yet. I need to think of something cool. Some kind of interactive mash-up or data visualization or cool map based on publicly available governmental info; something that makes a strong point with data and that hasn't been done before.
I'm looking for suggestions, so let me know if there's any correlation you'd particularly like to see.
Sushu blogged about the accordion acquisition process, so I won't repeat it here. Except to say that the dude in Oakland is really hardcore. Accordions are SERIOUS BUSINESS!!! Also he was one of the guys who started Burning Man, but he no longer agrees with the direction it's taken.
This is kinda funny: I was wearing overalls when I went to his store, so he asked me, "What kind of music do you want to play? I mean, the overalls give me some clue, but what specifically?".
The answer is, well... everything! Of course the first two groups that I got into when I first started developing my own taste in music as an adolescent were Weird Al and TMBG, both featuring accordionists. Also the accordion is a natural for folk music of all kinds - used in traditional styles from Mexico to Ireland to Italy to eastern Europe and Russia. And then it turns out that the song from Tetris is really easy to play on the accordion and it sounds awesome! So I've been practicing that tonight. I'm totally going to learn a bunch of anime and video game music to play at next year's Anime Central.
When it came to picking out an accordion, the first thing I noticed is that a lot of them are INSANELY GAUDY. My pearlescent red Sofia Mari with green rhinestones is the very model of taste and restraint when compared to monstrosities like this and this, and also this one. some of them have so much chrome and grills that they look more like 50s cars than musical instruments. It's like if you got your grandma to "pimp your ride".
When Sushu and I moved to this new bigger apartment, we had a lot of discussions about how to use the extra room. We agreed we needed more space. But moving from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom apartment left us with a choice about how to use the extra bedroom. (Since we, like, both sleep in one room. Scandalous, I know.) Should it be a guest bedroom? A game room?
We decided to use it as a craft room. We put in all the art supplies, craft supplies, costume supplies, tools, paints, glue, fabrics, the sewing machine, my soldering iron, my many boxes of electronic components and salvage, my miniatures and terrain and the stuff I've collected to make into terrain, our anime cosplay accessories, comic-drawing pads and rulers, and tracing table, etc. etc. etc.
All that stuff stayed in boxes until this last Thursday, when we finally made time to unpack and set up most of it.
Then we looked at each other and said "How did we ever fit this much junk in our house WITHOUT a craft room?"
There's still a couple boxes of annoying miscellanea to sort out, but the room is usable now. And what a room! Devoted to nothing but Making Stuff, it makes me feel inspired to Make Stuff whenever I step inside.
...was last weekend. I almost didn't go this year because I was feeling really worn out and frazzled after traveling the previous two weekends in a row and rushing to make the Test Pilot 0.3 release deadline. I was longing for a quiet weekend at home to decompress.
So I wiffled back and forth a bunch of times about going or not, with the side-effect that I failed to make transportation plans. At least I don't need plane tickets to get there now that I'm in California. I ended up deciding to go at the last minute and getting Sushu to drive me. We got In&Out Burger for dinner on the way.
I'm very glad I went. Even though these days I get to hang out with smart, creative computer people all day long at work, Hackers is still special. A lot of my favorite things there have nothing to do with computers at all. It's... hard to explain how life-affirming and transformative of an experience Hackers is, especially when I can't talk about the details. Suffice to say it feels a bit like discovering my home planet, or meeting the elders of my lost tribe. It's so overstimulating that it's hard to sleep afterwards. I came away with tons of new ideas, inspirations, and projects, as well as a sense of euphoria at meeting so many cool, crazy people and finding out that they're actually interested in the stuff that I'm working on.
This weekend will have to be my decompression weekend, instead. Expect a lot more "blomiting" from me.
Last week I went to see a student production of "Into the Woods" that Sushu's school was putting on. (The performances were excellent, surprisingly so for a student play. The script... eh. Too cutesy for me. Though I do like the part where they kill the narrator.)
Anyway, what I wanted to say was that during intermission, one of the students' moms met Sushu and said:
"Oh you must be the Mandarin teacher."
(She's not. She teaches history.)
Sushu says she gets this all the time. Sometimes when she tells people she teaches history, they're like "Chinese history?" and she has to correct them again, "no, World History".
I imagine these people are thinking: "Well there must be some reason you're Chinese!".
If I was in a position to have to deal with that kind of assumption, I would probably start giving snarky retorts. Sushu's way too nice to do that, though.
Here's Sushu, dressed as a Colonial Era American Dude. She sewed this whole costume herself.
Isn't she cool??
Also from Halloween, here's Nick, head of the Add-Ons team at Mozilla, in his Starfleet uniform:
Astute observers will notice this is the version of the uniform used from Star Trek II through Star Trek VI.
Nick is a pretty big trekkie. He was very excited when Shin Bishonen Star Trek* came out and went to see it a bunch of times. He lent me a comic miniseries explaining the movie's backstory. It... wasn't very good.
* - "Shin Bishonen Star Trek" is a name I made up to disambiguate the 2009 Star Trek movie from others with the same name.
Like most people, I said WTF when Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Like, for what? He hasn't done anything yet. Certainly nothing Nobel Peace Prize -worthy anyway. Are we now awarding prizes for things people have promised to do? (In which case, I promise to make Israel and Palestine stop fighting. Where's my prize?) Or is this just the "congratulations, you're not George W. Bush" prize?
Anyway I decided to take a look through the previous recipients of the NPP to see what kind of company Mr. O is in. Here's the complete list.
Along with many names you'd expect to see, like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, etc. *, the NPP has been given to:
Theodore Roosevelt, who rose to fame as a war hero in the Spanish-American war, then as President supported a revolution in Panama against Columbia in order to get a Panamanian government willing to cede us the land to build a canal;
Yasir Arafat, who in 2000 at Camp David rejected an offer by Israel that would have given Palestinians 90%+ of what they wanted, a choice which led directly to the Second Intifada and the current miserable situation;
Henry Kissinger, champion of Realpolitik, who at the time had just finished secretly bombing Cambodia, a neutral country, to get an advantage in the Vietnam War, a strategy which may have worsened the Cambodian civil war, which led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide. Many years later Kissinger supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and advised the Bush administration on the details — and we know how that turned out.
Even I have trouble thinking of a snarky comment to describe the irony of these guys getting the Nobel "Peace" Prize.
Also on the list, in the last decade:
Noticing a pattern? Well-meaning but relatively unaccomplished Democratic party politicians seem to be a very popular choice with the committee of late.
Ultimately, Obama's prize should be taken as what the Nobel Peace Prize has always been — a relatively arbitrary honor based on the entirely subjective political views of five random Norwegians, and nothing more than that.
* - (They would have given it to Gandhi in 1948 but he died and they decided not to do posthumous prizes.)
...what was with the crazy terrorism angle getting covered ALL DAY by the news networks there? People don't need crazy conspiracy theories when people snap and shoot up post offices or high schools, and I would kinda think spending a few months talking to people who had limbs blown off then being told you had to go where they all just came from is at LEAST a good enough reason to lose it as the other kids at school never talking to you.
Oh, but people DO come up with conspiracy theories to explain shootings of post offices and high schools. Remember how DOOM was responsible for Columbine? People are desperate to believe there's a pattern or a greater meaning in these tragedies, or at least a group they can blame for it. Anything to avoid facing the fact that formerly sane human beings are capable of committing such great evil of their own free will.
Somebody I know at work said in response to the shooting: "That's the problem with the Army: everybody has guns." I couldn't tell whether he was being sarcastic or profound.
When I first heard about the shooting, when nobody knew who did it yet, I remember thinking "Please don't let it be a Muslim, please don't... oh crap." I knew that people were going to play this up into a whole new round of Muslim-bashing. And now that's just what they're doing.
The fact that a the shooter was a Muslim shouldn't be used as "proof" that all Muslims are dangerous any more than the fact that the Columbine shooters were high-school students should be used as "proof" that all high-schoolers are dangerous.
Like I said, most Muslims are not scary extremists and you shouldn't stereotype them as such. But when there's such clear evidence that this particular Muslim, Nidal Hasan, actually is a scary extremist, then maybe you should consider, like, not giving him guns.
La Bamba, a Salvadoran/Mexican restaurant in Mountain View, has a TV up on the wall that is always playing CNN. So every time we Mozillanoids go to La Bamba for lunch, I get to see CNN's Quality Daytime Programming.
The program they always seem to show during lunch consists of a dude reading his Twitter feed to you out loud. They show you the Twitter feed too, not through some kind of high-tech CNN graphics, but by pointing a video camera at their computer screen.
It's like, gee CNN, could you be any more obvious about admitting you are obsolete as a news medium?
I know you guys have 24 hours to fill, and that fawning interviews with stupid, corrupt, fact-challenged politicians, who you refuse to challenge or contradict or fact-check, will only fill so many of those 24 hours. But reading your Twitter feed out loud? Why would I want to watch that if I could just subscribe to all the same Twitter feeds myself?
Have you finally decided that the purpose of TV is to repeat stuff from the Web for people who don't have computers? How times have changed since the days when the "old media" poo-poohed the "new media", eh?
So you may have heard that the government is handing out $8,000 credits to people buying houses for the first time. Certain people have even urged me and Sushu to buy a house while this subsidy is still in effect. (Never mind the fact that the price of houses in Silicon Valley means that $8,000 is less than 1% of the cost of a small house, so it would be a mere drop in the bucket.)
This seems like really bad policy to me. This soon after the housing bubble (combined with epic amounts of speculation with borrowed money) destroyed our economy, when we still haven't finished unwinding and deleveraging all the bad investments from the housing bubble, why the hell would the government enact a subsidy that seems designed to encourage re-inflation of the housing bubble?
Anyway, it seems like my intuition was right, because everything I read about it says that economists all pretty much agree that It's a horrible policy that could wind up prolonging, if not worsening, the housing crisis.. And yet, it sailed through the Senate with basically no opposition; it was nearly a unanimous vote. Yes, the Senate, the same body that can't agree on bathroom breaks without a month of grandstanding and obstructionism. From the same article:
This is something where despite bipartisan opposition to it from experts, there seems to be massive bipartisan support for it on Capitol Hill.
Senators know nothing about economics? What a surprise!
Meanwhile The Economist says that even though we probably do want the government to give money away in order to put demand back into the economy, the housing credit is about the least efficient way imaginable to do so since most of the money goes to people who would have been buying houses anyway and are now just buying slightly bigger houses. There are so many better ways we could be spending those $35 billion, such as hiring unemployed people to do public works projects, FDR-style.
Not only that, but people have apparently been committing all kinds of fraud in order to collect the free money.
If you ask me, Americans need to get over this idea we have that everybody should live in a house with a yard and a picket fence. There's nothing wrong with renting, and we don't need the government to intervene to tilt the balance of the economy away from rentals towards homeownership. Even more than that, Americans need to get over this idea we have that houses are primarily an investment, a source of free money, that they always increase in value, and that you can always borrow money against them with no risk. Americans lived in this fantasy for decades, and even now after it's been shown to be a fantasy by the near collapse of the economy, people want the government to cast a spell and make them believe in the fantasy again?
Finally, engineers at a subsidiary of Panasonic in Kyoto have built a robotic "power loader" exoskeleton (inspired by the one in the movie Aliens), with a "simple, intuitive" force-feedback based control scheme that enables the wearer to effortlessly lift 100 kg. (They plan to be marketing it by 2015).
Think about what will happen when all four of these technologies converge.
I can't wait to become a cyborg! It's such an exciting time to be alive.
(Thanks to Googleshng and Bankuei for some of these links.)
These are some thoughts about how I want to design the core gameplay for Beneath An Alien Sky, inspired by all the things that suck in the current crop of online games and how I think they could be fixed.
Why I hate MMORPGs, 1: The core gameplay - kill monster, get money, buy bigger sword, kill bigger monster, repeat - is Nethack/Rogue with 2009 graphics. It gives a certain pseudo-satisfaction by providing a false sense of achievement, but I see it as essentially time-wasting filler put in to make sure players don't burn through the content too quickly.
Any game where people try to write bots to play their characters for them is obviously a game that is having trouble being fun.
How I'd do it differently: I'd make the core gameplay about building, economy, and development, like a Civ-style game, rather than about monster-slaying. I think this is a better basis for designing a strategy game. You build something persistent, something bigger than your single character, that you manage and expand over time; maybe a town, maybe a corporation or something. Meanwhile you also take your character out for exploration to find things that you need to grow your enterprise, or trade with other players to get them.
In addition to being inherently more interesting than slaughtering mobs, this opens up relatively unexplored types of gameplay. Most strategy/simulation games have only single player per empire. What happens when your buildings butt up against the buildings of another player who is nominally on the same side? The rules make them interact in ways which could be mutually beneficial, mutually harmful, or which benefit one player at the expense of the other; being part of the same "empire", you have shared interests, but you're also competing for resources. There's ample incentive to negotiate. Plus, what if empire-wide strategic decisions were made by voting? This makes the social game very, very important.
Why I hate MMORPGs, 2: The exponential power curve. It's a treadmill (at best you keep parity with the power level of the monsters, meaning you haven't gained anything). It means that newbies can never compete with high-level characters, and in fact can't even go to the same zones as the high-level characters without getting slaughtered. Essentially it's social stratification based on length-of-time-playing-the-game.
How I'd do it differently: Players who have been playing a while already have an advantage in terms of knowledge of the game world, system mastery, and social connectedness. No need to give them an overwhelming game-mechanical advantage on top of that. Taking out the exponential power curve forces us to find other ways to reward players. If the gameplay is mainly Civ-style, maybe the rewards are all in terms of resources or additional options for building your towns. If it's more character focused, maybe you get increased ability to customize your character but only underneath a fixed power-level cap. What if rewards are explicitly social, like having your character's profile page ranked higher so other players are more likely to read about you and seek out contact with you? What about if they're political, like gaining the ability to make decisions that affect more and more of the virtual society? What if they're GM / game-designer rights, like getting to design new items/monsters/spells, or getting a chunk of the world in which to create your own dungeons for other players to explore?
Why I hate MMORPGs, 3: In the quest to remove frustration, the genre has evolved from games where player-killing was rampant and death severely penalized (frustrating, no fun) to games where player-killing is restricted certain zones and death is mostly toothless (boring, no challenge, no freedom for people to play meaningfully evil characters).
How I'd do it differently: Let's go all the way and make character death permanent. That's right: No revive spells, baby. You die, you roll up a new character. You get to write the epitaph that goes on your first character's tombstone as a warning to others. Plan your strategy better next time!
Are would-be player-killers still willing to attack newbies when the risk to them (losing a character they spent a long time building up) is far worse than the risk to the newbie (losing a character they just made)? Remember, there's no exponential power curve, so the long-time character doesn't have an overwhelming advantage.
Why I hate MMORPGs, 4: Players are not allowed to have any impact on the game world. An NPC can give you a quest and tell you the quest is important, but after you do it, nothing has changed, and the same NPC is offering the same quest to the next player. Nothing ever changes (unless the developers add an expansion pack or run a server-wide event; then everything changes at once, and the players still have no impact on it.)
How I'd do it differently: All player actions have a permanent effect on the game world - from digging a hole or building a farm to inventing a technology or driving a species extinct. Seeing how these changes interact and how the game world evolves in response to them is the primary point of play. You'd better think about what you do, because it has repercussions that affect other people. If this means that a player who joins at the beginning of the game gets a completely different experience from one who joins two months later, then so be it!
Instead of quests being offered by NPCs, what if all quests were offered by PCs in response to their actual needs? Perhaps as you are happily building up your city, you discover that you need some resource that you can't gather yourself, or you are threatened by some danger that you don't have the means to defeat. So you post a message on some kind of in-game bulletin board requesting aid and offering some reward for whatever player fulfills your request. Congratulations, you just created a "quest" that provides gameplay grist for other players. The game would need to provide strong communication tools to enable this kind of interaction; it would also need to be designed so that players are always needing each other's help - not just in the "group looking for cleric" kind of way, but in the "shoot I need alien biomass to proceed and my character is incapable of harvesting alien biomass, who can I ask" kind of way.
Why I hate MMORPGs, 5: They're massive time-sucks. The designers have every incentive to make them ever-more time-sucking, so the game design is all about rewarding me for spending time in the game grinding. People scheduling their social lives around raids is not uncommon. Even if I wanted to play, this is not something I could fit into my lfiestyle.
How I'd do it differently: Make the game something where most things can happen asynchronously: the communication model should be more like e-mail or forum posts rather than instant messaging. Maybe when you sign on to the game you make various decisions about your corporation/city/etc. but your invisible underlings do their thing (mine the minerals / build the buildings / research the upgrades) slowly, over the course of days of real-time, while you are signed out; so you only have to sign in periodically to keep things on task, or to do something with another player.
Major endeavors, like an adventuring expedition, that are best undertaken with other players, can be arranged ahead of time using asynchronous communication tools. Trading, planning, and negotiating with other players can also happen using these tools.
Why I hate MMORPGs, 6: There's no ultimate goal or ending condition; you just play until you get bored or don't want to pay anymore.
How I'd do it differently: The game ends. Any given server has a starting date and it either runs for a set length of time (3 months or so) or there are certain game-ending conditions and the game ends once they are fulfilled. Probably there are multiple endings, good ones and bad ones, and the whole server gets a single ending depending on what happened. The ending is ultimately decided by the aggregate of thousands of individual decisions; any player can try to sway the game towards the ending they want, but it's beyond any one player's power to decide.
You play to find out the ending, and the ending gives meaning to the play: Did the players work together well enough to get a good ending? Or did they squabble with each other and do mutually harmful things resulting in a bad ending? It's kind of an online sociological experiment. (And by the way, if you care about the ending, the best thing to do is to organize other people in the game to work together for the good ending.)
After it ends, maybe the game masters wait a week and then start up a brand-new server, with the same players again or with different players. How will it go this time? So you don't play "the" game, you play an instance of the game.
Why I hate MMORPGs, 7: The social scene is all screwed up. In theory, the reason you would play MMORPGs instead of some other game is for the social aspect. In practice, all you see is a hovering name like <xX_DeAtHsTr1kEr_Xx" and a character model who is busily running into a wall, every social cue is missing, and you don't know if you talk to this person whether they'll ignore you, call you a FAG!!1, speak in cryptic acronyms, kill your character, laugh at you for being a NEWB, or what.
From talking to my friends who play and enjoy MMOs, it sounds like they make social connections outside the game first and then follow up with those people in-game. E.g. Atul found his current WOW guild through the guild's website, not through in-game channels The fact that people have to use outside communication tools tells me that the in-game tools are broken.
How I'd do it differently: Well, there's a lot of tweaks you can make to the social interface, but consider just one modest suggestion: You have a switch on your interface that you could turn on if you are willing to talk to/help out newbies. This manifests as some sort of special smiley face that appears over your character's head and that other players can see. Now if I'm a newbie and I'm walking around a crowded area, I can immediately recognize that you are willing to talk to me, and I can start up a conversation with you without worrying about annoying you or getting an unhelpful response.
Also, I'd want to make sure that no character is an island. The whole idea of "soloing" runs contrary to the point of a multiplayer game, but the social structure of something like WOW makes you start out grinding solo until you're worthy enough to be accepted by a group doing higher-level stuff. Screw that! I would want to make sure every player character has useful skills to offer others starting from their very first session. And I'd make sure that nobody is self-sufficient - everybody needs other people to get stuff done - so that players literally have to make friends to be able to play at all.
A couple weeks ago (the weekend when I was sick and moving house, actually) I got a call froma strange number and it was the voice of a little old lady from some research firm doing a telephone poll on a potential California ballot proposition.
My first instinct was to hang up, but then I thought, "Let's stick around and find out what this process is actually like. Who knows, maybe this poll will end up on FiveThirtyEight or something." So I answered her stupid questions politely.
She started with a bunch of generic questions to determine my political affiliation; they were all multiple choice and I kept wanting to answer "None of the above!". Like, who am I going to support for CA governor in 2010? How should I know? We don't even know who's going to be on the ballot in the primaries, let alone the general. Stupid question. (I didn't blame her for the stupid questions; she didn't write the script, she just had a crappy job.)
She also asked how many hours a week I watch local TV news. I said "Zero". She thought I didn't understand the question and started asking it again. I had to interrupt and say "No, I really did mean zero. I have never watched the local TV news at all." I guess for her generation, getting all your news from the Internet is still pretty weird.
Then we got to the real questions, about the potential ballot initiative. Unfortunately it turned out to be one of the really boring ones; it was something about not being able to tax hospitals unless the money was then earmarked for handicapped kids or something.
One of those things which sounds great at first glance, until I started thinking: aren't most hospitals tax-exempt already? And even if they weren't, wouldn't they be taxed like corporations - on profits, not income? And isn't CA in the middle of a horrible budget crisis that will pretty much leave us with no choice but to raise taxes in all sorts of places that we'd rather not? What's really going on here? Is this going to be part of a wave of special interests trying to preemptively protect themselves from shouldering any part of the inevitable tax burden?
That's the point where I realize that I don't know enough to make any kind of intelligent decision about this proposition; to be perfectly honest if I read it on a real ballot, I would probably skim the Pro and Con arguments, get confused, and leave it blank.
I tried to tell the pollster lady that, but she had a script to follow. She went over the wording of the proposition, and the pro and con arguments, clause by frickin' clause, and asking me to rate my reaction to each clause. Seriously! I guess that's the kind of nonsensical focus-group analysis that these advocacy groups use to decide the wording of things they put on ballots. Stupid.
I kept trying to tell her that my opinion could not be traced to any particular clause, that each was literally meaningless without the others, and that I wouldn't vote on this thing at all without doing more research. She was sympathetic but still she had a job to do and couldn't end the call until I had given an answer to each question. By the end I had gone from neutrality to having a strong desire to vote against the stupid proposition because the process was so braindead.
Anyway, the whole experience made me doubt how much any poll you read reflects the actual views of the people in question, as opposed to reflecting how questions were worded and what sort of people are masochistic enough to not just instantly hang up on pollsters.
When I was walking around Mountain View one Sunday, I saw two horrible signs.
The first one was taped to a window and it said:
CORPORATE CAPITALISM IS TO DEMOCRACY AS RAPE IS TO MARRAIGE
Whoa, dude! Calm down there! First: Trivializing rape? Not cool. Second: I'm pretty sure you would fail the analogies portion of the verbal SAT with this one. Third: What do you mean by "corporate" capitalism? Is it different from regular capitalism?
If you wanna say "Industry lobbyists have way too much influence over congress" then I will be the first to agree with you, but rape? seriously? Have you thought this through at all? As I was walking past a little boy saw this and read it out loud and asked his mom what it meant; I didn't stick around to hear her answer.
The second horrible sign was on this PETA car that I've seen around Mountain View a couple times. It was decorated with grisly slaughterhouse pictures. One side of it was all
IS YOUR BODY AN ANIMAL GRAVEYARD?
...and the other side was all...
EVERY DAY IS A HOLOCAUST FOR ANIMALS!
Gee, thanks for trivializing the Holocaust, PETA. Tasteful as always. Stuff like this makes me less likely to ever become vegetarian.
On to a more cheerful subject: Sushu and I went to a swing dancing class last night, first of seven in the course we signed up for. It was at an American Legion meeting hall in Los Altos, and it was full of old people and corny music.
I got over any awkwardness pretty fast and enjoyed it immensely. I can't wait to go again. Thanks for suggesting it, Sushu!
There was one move which kept tripping me up, which was the rock-step, where you rock back and up onto the toes of your back foot. This goes against every habit that's ever been ingrained in me by aikido training, or any other martial art for that matter. I kept screwing it up because whenever I moved back my body wanted to drop back into a stance, i.e. knees bent, back straight, weight low and evenly distributed between feet. Going back and up felt so unnatural.
At least I suppressed the urge to say "Hai, sensei!" when the dance teacher corrected me.
Also I kept wondering when we were going to swap uke and nage. Turns out the answer is "never". What do you mean we never switch places? You mean I just do the man part of the dance the whole time, every time? That's so weird!
Looks like the margin of defeat was almost the same as Prop 8 in California, despite the very different population density, demographics, etc. of Maine. Maine is so white that hopefully nobody will try to pin the blame on black people this time, as some did last year.
Also interesting that Maine legalized medical marijuana (by such a large margin), which I approve wholeheartedly, but that's a whole nother blog rant.
FiveThirtyEight has analysis of all last night's races, and ponders why they got Maine so wrong.
Meanwhile, Washington passed a domestic partnership law which gives same-sex couples the same legal rights as opposite-sex married couples. So, that's good. In Washington they'll have marriage in all but name. An acceptable compromise, if you think the legal rights are more important than the symbolic victory, as I tend to do.
On the other hand, Andrew Sullivan thinks the symbolism is important too, because:
"The truth about civil marriage - why it is the essential criterion for gay equality - is that it alone explodes this core marginalization and invisibility of gay people."
...And I'm super nervous about it. I didn't expect it to have this effect on me, since it's a vote that doesn't affect my life in any way. I only care about it as a matter of principle. Nevertheless, I've got a serious case of the jitters as I wait to hear how it turns out.
Maine currently allows same-sex marriage. It was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, like in Vermont; it was not "imposed" by "activist judges" like in Iowa. Question 1 on the Maine ballot would overturn this law, if the "Yes" side gets more than 50% of the vote. It's California's proposition 8 all over again!
It seriously bothers me that a bare 50% majority can pass a ballot initiative that takes equal rights, already legally granted, away from a minority. You sometimes hear of "the tyranny of the majority" as one of the biggest problems with democracy; well, here it is in action.
This blog is covering the "No on 1" get-out-the-vote operation from the inside. It's pretty interesting, full of photos of the entirely unglamorous reality of political canvassing, long hours with phones and clipboards, etc. Quote:
The next generation will remember "Yes on 1" voters the way we remember people who believed black folks should drink from separate water fountains. I absolutely guarantee you that.
To follow up on last year when we went as a Pokemon and a Pokemon Trainer, me and Aleksa wanted to do another group costume.
I suggested being Mario and the Princess, since I didn't have a lot of time to work on a costume this year, and I already had overalls and a fake mustache.
Here we are!
I wore my Mario outfit to work on Friday and guess what? I couldn't believe it - there were two other people also dressed as Mario. Yes, three Marios. What are the odds? John Lily was like "I'm very disappointed. Not one person wanted to be Luigi?"
Some people joked that there were 3 Marios because Mario has 3 lives. This gave me an idea for an anime convention skit: You have three Marios off stage; one of them runs on, does some stuff, gets killed. Play sad Mario-dying music. First Mario lies on the stage pretending to be dead. Second Mario runs on, does some stuff, gets a little further, gets killed... you get the idea. Maybe you could have a person representing the "player", holding a controller and cursing every time Mario dies. Then maybe the third Mario doesn't want to die so he goes over to the player, smacks him around a bit, and grabs the controller away. Discuss.
Aleksa just got Smash Brothers for the Wii. I have always hated Smash Brothers games; my friends always used to play it on the N64 and the Game Cube (holy moly, did you realize we've been playing Smash Brothers for ten years now? Discuss.) and I felt left out of the fun because I couldn't figure out how to really play (half the time I can't tell where on the screen my character is, let alone understand anything else that was going on).
So I resigned myself to randomly mashing buttons just to make Aleksa feel like I was playing with her. But this time, something finally clicked, and I finally figured out how to play and enjoy Smash Brothers. Huzzah, a personal breakthrough!
I think it was because we started out with two-player fights, on simple levels, with no items, which simplifies things down to the point where I could finally grok the basics. Then when we ramped up to more complicated fights, I was still able to follow along. Before, with N64 Smash and Game Cube Smash, I always got thrown into the deep end with huge crazy free-for-alls so I could never cope with the learning curve. I wish I had thought to start with stripped-down two-player matches ten years ago.
(Interface gripe: Smash displays damage as percentages, which is wrong because it's not actually a percentage of anything. Nothing particularly happens at 100%; it's just another number. Thus the percent sign is misleading and makes the game harder to learn.)
Aleksa is disturbingly adept at Smash Brothers, and usually beats me. She plays as Peach, Lucario, or R.O.B. We invited Googleshng to join us in a networked game (the wonders of modern technology!) and did some three-player fights. Aleksa won most of those, too. She's hardcore.
Real-life Smash! Of course we had to act it out. Me and Aleksa, we act out everything cool.
It occurs to me that there's a connection between why kids love acting out their favorite cartoons and games, and the reason kids love holiday rituals like trick-or-treating or decorating a tree. It's this sense of enactment, where you already know how everything is supposed to happen, and you're bringing it to life through some kind of bodily motion. To adults, this kind of activity is boring because there's no challenge or surprises, but kids seem to need to go through these motions as part of learning how to do things.
On Halloween, I made this question block, which I used to hold candy, and this jack-o-lanter, which was made to look like Wario.
A close-up of the Wario jack-o-lantern. I was trying to do that cool thing where you carve away different thicknesses so the light shines through with different colors, but it didn't work out the way I hoped - getting the pumpkin shell thin enough without having the thin areas fall apart completely is really hard!
The camera got moved while it was taking this picture of the decorations on our front porch. The result is unexpectedly awesome.
I recommended Scribblenauts to Aleksa as soon as I heard of it: a game where you can create any object you want by writing the name? How cool is that? I hadn't actually played it myself until yesterday, when Aleksa showed it off to me.
This is the kind of game where, seeing a cat trapped on top of a roof and a girl who wants it back, you can do the obvious thing and make a LADDER, or you can do what I did - light the house on FIRE and watch the cat jump down in a panic. You get credit for completing the level either way.
Scribblenauts isn't much of a game, per se, but it's an amazing toy. There are so many ways to amuse yourself with it, even if few of them have anything to do with completing the stated goals. For instance, you can summon various creatures and force them to fight their mortal enemies in a single elimination tournament: COBRA vs. MONGOOSE, NINJA vs. SAMURAI, VAMPIRE vs. WEREWOLF.
Another popular activity is to try to figure out the most twisted thing that the game will let you summon. You can't summon CANCER, but you can summon EBOLA. You can't summon LEPROSY but you can summon a LEPER. Poor guy.
Coincidentally, I unlocked an "achievement" called BIOTERRORIST. Can't imagine why the game saw fit to call me that...
Aleksa, putting her ultimate power to far more constructive uses, used a RAINCLOUD, KITE, and KEY to re-enact the legendary Ben Franklin experiment. She discovered that if you drop a CAR into the ocean it won't work any more - unless you jumpstart it with a GENERATOR. And that if you GLUE some TAFFY to an APPLE, a MAN will eat the whole thing, glue and all.
She also used the level editor to create an insanely sadistic level where it's nearly impossible not to get eaten by snakes or die in pits of lava, even if you equip yourself with a JETPACK and a MACHINE GUN. I finally decided to take off and NUKE the whole level from orbit; it's the only way to be sure.
Compared to the massiveness of the Scribblenauts noun database, the vocabulary of verbs - how the nouns know to interact with each other - is somewhat lacking. It's impressive that you can use ROPE (or WIRE or, for that matter, FLOSS) to tie things together, GLUE to stick things onto other things, that people and animals can get angry or hungry or afraid or desirous when presented with appropriate stimulus, that you can light appropriate things on fire, blow paper around with a fan, and so on. But try putting a MARSHMALLOW on a STICK to toast over a FIRE, and you just can't - the game has no concept of impaling things or cooking things. It's exactly the same problem that text adventure games have been struggling with since before I was born; feels awesomely open-ended until you run headfirst into the limits of the simulation and are jerked right out of your immersion.