This is patently absurd because "space marines" are a common trope that were used in science fiction novels (Heinlein and Doc Smith among others) as far back as the 1930s.
It's also funny because, if you go through the original Warhammer 40k Rogue Trader rulebook you'll find obvious shout-outs to Star Wars, Alien, Terminator, Lord of the Rings, Dune, Jugdge Dredd, and probably lots of other stuff. It's a kitchen sink setting of derivative sci-fi and fantasy tropes, made by fans for other fans to enjoy acting out whatever media-inspired scenarios they wanted. And that's great! But how hypocritical is it that after building their company on the freedom to remix common genre tropes, they try to deny the same freedom to others?
40k today is barely recognizable as the same game as that first version - the setting became more defined and unique, it stopped using a referee, they retconned out most of the fun silly stuff, and everything got super GRIMDARK. And of course, little plastic men became a hugely profitable business for them, so the lawyers moved in and took everything over.
This wasn't the first time Games Workshop has acted as a legal bully - they've been known to shut down websites where people posted game stats, even just for discussion purposes.
I'm feeling pretty good about my decision to stop supporting Games Workshop. (Even though my decision was more because the game stopped being fun than because of their corporate policies.) Besides legal bullying tactics, I've also heard GW is quite terrible to their low-level employees. Plus their stores have that weird cult-like atmosphere where everybody's giving you the hard sell.
A couple months ago I boxed up all the Warhammer 40k stuff that was collecting dust in my garage and started selling it on eBay. I've got $900 so far and I've still got the Tyranids to sell. (I love you, eBay!)
Wait a minute... I think I've heard of them. Back in 1993-94 I saw some magazine article about how they were going to revolutionize gaming by fusing Hollywood with Silicon Valley and bringing cinematic storytelling to games, or some buzzword-laden hype like that.
It's fascinating to read the inside story directly from the CEO responsible for this fiasco. He admits his hubris led to their destruction. Rocket Science thought they were hot shit because they built cutting-edge video compression tools to stream FMV off of a CD-ROM faster. They spent millions of dollars building a cool office in San Francisco and hiring all these hotshot Hollywood scriptwriters and cinematographers. But nobody was in charge of game design. It's like they didn't even know game design was a thing. The CEO never even asked to see the gameplay of the games they were making!
He obviously didn't know the first thing about video games, and from his retrospective it seems like he still doesn't. He can barely conceal his contempt for gaming and gamers (neither can the author of that Wired article). He talks about gameplay like it's just some button-mashing to be grudgingly included in between their beautiful video clips. Everybody involved had this attitude that gaming was a terrible adolescent boy pastime about mindless violence and they were going to come in and elevate it with their highbrow focus on Story.
It certainly provides some insight into why the CD-ROM game craze of the mid-90s happened, and why most of the games so quickly ended up in the bargain bin; they were funded by people riding a hype bubble who didn't particularly want to be making video games at all and lacked the curiosity to try to understand what they were making.
If your prime directive is "must use all these video clips" and nobody's in charge of game design then you're going to turn out rail shooters and Myst clones by default (two of the shallowest, most boring, most mindless game genres).
A company that's 100% focused on the technology gimmick they're trying to push and 0% focused on what their potential customers actually want from a product will, unsurprisingly, make things that nobody wants.
I'm hugely in favor of this change. At Mozilla I often argued in favor of blocking all third-party cookies, and just as often heard the objection that it would "break the Web". This more limited cookie blocking seems like a good compromise. A third-party cookie from a site you've never visited is almost by definition going to be a tracking cookie set by an advertising network in order to make ads follow you around the Web. (Like this ad for GRE prep services that I started seeing everywhere after I signed up to take the GRE.) If you've ever looked at a Collusion graph, these are exactly the cookies that make up the nefarious center of the spider-web.
So I'm extremely happy that we're going to start blocking them. There are some issues to work out, but today I dropped by the Mozilla office to talk to some of the privacy/security guys about how I can contribute to the patches to help make sure this happens.
The short version: I wrote a Thunderbird add-on to make the email interface I've always wanted -- one that helps me remember to stay in touch with people I really care about, instead of always distracting me with the newest incoming trivia.
About a year ago, I wrote a post about how much I hate email. I was frustrated that the few relevant messages from people I care about quickly get buried under a flood of distractions and nonsense. Not spam, even; just trivia.
There's a saying that "Life consists of what you choose to pay attention to."
Software encodes values, biases, assumptions, often unconscious, of the people who create it. The more that software becomes our filter on the world, the more that the unconscious biases of the software determine what we pay attention to.
There's one bias that's so prevalent it's invisible - noticing it is like a fish noticing the water. It's the assumption that the newest thing goes on top.
Twitter! Newest thing on top. News website! Newest thing on top. Blogs! Newest thing on top. Email! Newest thing on top. RSS feeds! Aggregators! What's new! what just happened now? I don't care about that thing it's so 20 minutes ago, get that off the front page.
The newest thing usually isn't the most important. It's usually a distraction from what's most important. Obsessive focus on the newest thing is a sickness in our culture. Not just the culture of software developers, but modern 21st century culture as a whole. Software didn't create distraction, but its bias towards showing you the newest thing is contributing to the constant distraction of modern life.
If life consists of what you choose to pay attention to; and what you pay attention to is increasingly not a choice you make consciously but is dictated by the software lens that you see the world through; then you are giving up control over the contents of your life to decisions made by that software.
And if the software is always focusing your attention on the newest thing just because it's newest, then you're allowing what your life consists of to be decided by who's noisiest.
Does that horrify you? It horrifies me.
Meanwhile, the stuff you don't pay attention to gets pushed out of your life.
Email is the way I talk to more people more often than any other technology -- more than telephone, more than face-to-face contact.
My email interface should be helping me remember to stay in touch with old friends and distant family. But instead, email buries the important conversations under a flood of auto-generated GitHub and eBay notifications, political mailing list ACTION ALERTS, charities begging for money, etc. etc.
Maybe I opened my email interface with a thought in mind about what email I wanted to write. But my thought is soon lost as the interface bombards me with distractions -- all the newest, unread stuff.
Meanwhile that thoughtful, in-depth conversation from an friend I haven't seen in years is down on the third or fourth page. I didn't respond right away because it deserved a considered, crafted response. I starred it, sure, but... I guess I star a lot of things, most of which rapidly lose their relevance.
Unless I make a concerted effort, that conversation's going to get buried forever and I'm gonna forget about it. Now I'm gonna die with regrets because my email interface focuses my attention on what's new instead of what's important!
So I decided to do something about it. I started hacking around with an idea for an email client that would put that conversation with the old friend front and center of my interface, keeping it in my attention.
I built it as a Thunderbird add-on. Since its purpose is to help me stay in touch with the people I love, I named it "Lovebird".
Since it's people I care about, not messages, the Lovebird UI is built around a list of people, not a list of emails.
Everybody thinks they have the right to take up space in my inbox, but not everybody gets in to the Lovebird interface. It's a privilege, not a right. No mailing list or notification-bot should ever be allowed in the Lovebird list. Humans only.
And you only get there if I explicitly add you. I don't want my computer trying to be too smart and guessing who should go in the Lovebird list. That creates the wrong kind of feedback loop.
For everyone else, I can still check my inbox. Lovebird isn't meant to replace the inbox entirely.
I can have Lovebird sort my list of people in a couple different ways, none of which are based on putting the newest stuff on top. The default sort order shows me who's been waiting the longest for me to respond to a conversation. Whatever I've been procrastinating about writing becomes the top item in my interface. Hopefully this will make it harder for me to forget to answer people.
I can also have it show me who I haven't talked to in the longest time, even if they're not expecting a response from me. Maybe I just want to reach out to them and ask about their lives.
I've been hacking on Lovebird, on and off, for the past couple of months. If you've read an email from me lately, I probably sent it to you from Lovebird.
I've been sick for a week now, and as if the rest wasn't bad enough now I've got some kind of pinkeye too. Every time I think I'm almost over this thing, it mutates and manifests delightful new symptoms.
I'm bored of lying in bed! I want my life back dammit.
My friend Ben Beaty gave me a sweet Lego set a while ago (he works at the Lego company and can get awesome sets for cheap). But I hadn't had time to sit down and put it together.
This weekend, I was sick, so I didn't have the brain power or energy to work on coding or anything else ambitious. Finally, the perfect time!
I had some Adventure Time DVDs to watch, too, a present from Sushu.
Here's to sitting under the kotatsu with a mug of tea, a box of tissues, and a DVD remote, and not coming out until this pile of Legos* looks like a race car. Huzzah!
About seven hours later...
Thanks, Ben! |:-D
* (Ben says that at the Lego company they are not allowed to say "a Lego" or "some Legos"; the correct nomenclature is "a Lego brick" or "some Lego bricks". But I don't work there, so I'm gonna keep on saying it the way I've always said it.)
After a week and a half of holding out against the flu epidemic, I finally succumbed on Friday.
Or did I? My symptoms aren't nearly as bad as what Sushu had, or what other people have been describing. I just feel like I have a cold, not the flu-of-doom.
Sushu and my mom both reported that after they got the flu, they got better, but a week later had a relapse.
My theory is that there's a milder cold following around in the flu's wake, taking advantage of people's weakened immune systems, like Turks following the Mongol Horde. And I avoided the flu, but then let my guard down and caught the cold.
On Friday, we had dinner at a not-very-good Indian restaurant (it's called Tava Indian Kitchen and it's like somebody was trying to make the Indian food equivalent of Chipotle).
After that we stopped at Trader Joe's to grab bananas and maple syrup. Cashier asked how I was doing and I said I felt like I was coming down with the flu. Then the conversation got very weird.
He said the flu was really bad this year, but "they're making it worse" by distributing flu vaccine shots, which are really a evil plot to GIVE people the flu, and nobody should get flu shots ever.
Yes, he was one of those anti-vaccine guys.
I was feeling too sick to argue, so I just told him that last year I got the vaccine and did not get sick, and this year I did not get the vaccine and I did get sick, so it works for me.
He backpedaled: "Oh, well, you're probably in the right age range and healthy enough to resist it, but they shouldn't give it to babies and old people"
Then I just paid for our stuff and peaced out. If I had been feeling better I would have argued with that idiot, because anti-vaccine hysteria really pisses me off.
Like hey, you ever notice how our generation was lucky enough to grow up in a world without deadly smallpox epidemics? How, if you live in a first-world country, you probably don't know anybody who died as a kid from whooping cough, or was permanently crippled by childhood polio?
All of those are because vaccines fucking work. They are a miracle of modern science.
And there's a very disturbing trend of people not wanting to vaccinate their kids because they heard it caused autism, and they're not only endangering their own kids, they're making it more dangerous for everybody else too by weakening the herd immunity. So I feel like pushing back against anti-vaccine hysteria is pretty important.
Alright! Time to overcome my shyness and record myself singing.
"At The End Of The Day" isn't my favorite musical number from Les Mis, but it does have my favorite melody (especially the part where it changes from F minor to F major) so this is the one I decided to learn.
I cheated a bit by multitracking this -- recorded the accordion part, then listened to it on headphones while singing into the mike. Much, much easier that way. I don't have the multitasking skills built up yet to sing and play at the same time. Plus this way I can adjust the balance and so on.
But someday I want to be able to perform live and sing at the same time! This is just practice.
I LOVE Mega Man games, especially 2 and 3. Mega Man X is pretty great too.
I wasted way too much time recently reading this forum thread about level design, which goes through every Mega Man game in great depth analyzing what makes each level fun or not fun. Since the Mega Man games are so similar in basic mechanics, the level designs (and weapon selections) make all the difference. You can learn a lot about very subtle points of game design from analyzing the level designs.
Key among these is the difference between a difficult-but-fair challenge and a "cheap shot". A cheap shot is when the game hits you with something you had no way to see coming. Either it's not dodgeable, or it's dodgeable only if you died to it once already and you know it's coming up.
The latter type of cheap shot is no fun because it makes the game into an exercise in memorization. When something's not dodgeable without prior knowledge, it feels like the game is cheating.
I want to examine that feeling, because it gets at a sort of implicit "social contract" between the player and the game designer. The feeling that the game cheated means that we as players feel a rule has been violated, even though that rule is not written down anywhere. What would that rule be? Obviously there's an implicit assumption when we buy a game that the game is completable, otherwise it's broken. But more than completable, an action game such as Mega Man should be completable without damage, at least theoretically. Every danger should be dodgeable with enough skill. A hypothetical infinitely-skilled player should be able to complete the game on the first try without getting hit.
We want that to be the social contract, because somewhere in our minds we want to feel like we could, if we practiced enough, become that perfect player.
The Mega Man games uphold this contract reliably enough that the exceptions really stand out. (E.g. I think the last boss of Mega Man 7 is technically impossible to beat without using an E-tank.)
When that contract is being upheld, you get hit and go "Oh, that was my fault, I should be ready for next time I see one of those". It makes you want to get better at the game so you can take less damage. When you get hit with a cheap shot, it breaks the spell a little. You go "Hey, no fair! How was I supposed to dodge that? Why am I even playing this game if it's just going to cheat?" It makes you care less about playing.
A lot of the fun in games comes from improving your skill (Raph Koster's theory is that fun is intimately tied to learning). So it's important to always hold out the hope of improvement to the players. Show them a path to improve. Give them a situation that says "this looks hard now, but if you were a little bit better you could be totally awesome at it".
For that, there must be the promise that the game is playing fair, and improvement is always possible. Challenges should never be designed just for the sake of making the game harder! (You listening, ROM hackers?) They should be designed to give the player the thrill of victory when they are at last overcome.
The application to educational game design should be obvious.
My aunt has recently been into an alternative medicine practice called "earthing". It's apparently based on the idea that you'll be healthier if you keep your body electrically grounded at all times.
She asked me, since I know something about electricity, whether there's any scientific basis for it.
"Earthing" advocates talk about the ground as being a reservoir of free electrons; they say your body needs these electrons to neutralize free radicals, and they say that wearing rubber-soled shoes insulates modern man from the ground, cutting off your electron supply.
There's something psychologically appealing here - the modern world does make us feel cut off from the earth, so along comes a claim saying that being cut off from literal physical contact is literally damaging your health, for reasons that sound vaguely scientific. So I can see why people would fall for it.
Look, I totally believe that people who walk around barefoot outside a lot are healthier. But they're healthier because they're getting exercise and fresh air and sunshine and feeling carefree and feeling connected to nature, not because they're electrically grounded. Grounding yourself isn't going to hurt anything, but it's not going to give you "more electrons" than you would pick up from touching random objects all day.
If you're worried you're not electrically grounded, just touch a metal doorknob and you'll find out pretty fast! Getting the electrons you need to neutralize your charge isn't some gentle field of healing energy - it's literally a shock. That's all being grounded means: you're prevented from building up a static charge. In a circuit that uses A/C power and/or delicate electronics this is an important safety measure. But there's nothing special about the earth in this regard; it's just a large neutrally-charged object. Saying that the earth contains a limitless supply of free electrons is technically true, but that makes it sound like an energy source, which it isn't. (If it was, we'd be getting free electricity by plugging into the ground, not burning fossil fuels.)
And finally, if your body contains free radicals but is neutrally charged overall (which it is!), you're not going to pick up any extra electrons from being grounded. (As if extra electrons in your the skin of your feet could somehow find the free radicals in your body to neutralize them, which is extremely unlikely.)
There's a thorough takedown here which points out that neutralizing free radicals isn't even necessarily good for your health.
Earthing fans claim that it's been scientifically shown to reduce blood viscosity, but the abstract of the research paper shows a sample size of ten and it's not clear they even used a control group.
The people pushing "earthing" appear to be profiting from the sale of sleeping pads that plug into a wall socket so you can be grounded while you sleep. So yeah, this is yet another pseudoscientific fad designed to sell people expensive stuff that does nothing (see also crystals, magnetic bracelets, "orgone energy" emitters, homeopathic medicine, etc.)
The lesson here is that anybody can take any random harmless activity and claim it has health benefits, and as long as the claims are vague enough ("reduce aches and pains, sleep better, have more energy") the placebo effect will be enough to convince some people it's working.
And I'm mad at people who peddle this shit, because they're rip-off artists, taking money from people who don't know enough science to be skeptical.
But you know who else I'm mad at? The United States health care system. For failing so many people so badly that those people feel like they're better off believing in fucking magic than in modern medicine. If our health-care-slash-insurance-company system wasn't such a huge, uncaring, impersonal, bureaucracy, if it treated people as individuals deserving of empathy instead of interchangeable parts on an assembly line, maybe fewer people would be driven into the arms of pseudoscience.
The Largest structure in the known universe is this 4-billion-LY-long mass of intertwined quasars. The existence of something this large poses a problem for the theory that the universe should be relatively homogeneous in every direction. And discoveries that pose problems for theories are what makes science interesting!
It only made sense when I realized that "temperature below absolute zero" statement is not based on our intuitive definition of temperature, nor is it based on the definition of average kinetic energy of particles. They're using an entropy-based definition of temperature. Because entropy increases as energy flows from a hotter body to a colder body, you can redefine "temperature" by the relation between energy flow and entropy increase. Apparently the entropy of their quantum gas increases as colder objects give up energy to hotter objects, which makes its temperature-by-the-math negative. (Here's a clever analogy for understanding it)
So they may not have gotten colder than absolute zero in the sense that a layperson would mean, but they DID create an exotic state of matter with very interesting energy properties, so this is still a pretty cool discovery.
Detective Dee himself is apparently based on a real person, as is the Empress Wu, Chinese history's only official female ruler. She lets Dee out of jail to send him to investigate a series of mysterious murders that might threaten her coronation. So far so good. But the murder weapon is that all the victims somehow spontaneously burst into flame when exposed to sunlight. OK, it's a kind of alchemy, I can suspend my disbelief on that for the sake of a good story. It's CSI: Tang Dynasty, with kung fu battles, I dig it. But then suddenly everybody starts taking orders from a talking deer who they call "The Chaplain", and at that point I'm like whaaaaaaaaat theeeee... what am I watching? When did this turn into a Narnia movie?
There's a bit where the detectives are going to look for a dude named "Donkey Wang" in a black market called the Phantom Bazaar which is built around an underground river beneath the city. One of the detectives, an axe-wielding albino martial-arts master named Donglai, warns them to be on their guard, and we get my new favorite piece of questionable translation as the English subtitles say:
"Watch out. The Phantom Bazaar is a spooky pandemonium".
A spooky pandemonium! I love it!
Anyway, if you like weird movies, it's quite entertaining. Check it out sometime.
I haven't posted too much tabletop-minis-game-related stuff on this site up until now, but hey! I'm getting real close to painting completion on my Circle Orboros army (for the game Warmachine/Hordes) and I wanted to show off some of my work. WARNING turn back now if you don't want to read extreme levels of miniature painting geekery.
This is Megalith. I just finished painting it few days ago. I tried out several new paint techniques that I haven't used before, and I'm quite happy with how it came out.
The story is that he's a construct of wood and stone, magically brought to life by the druid Baldur The Stonecleaver. The vines and branches that make up his body are still alive, so he regenerates damage, he can put down roots into the soil to avoid being knocked down, and he can create an area effect of undergrowth that tangles up enemies. He also channels his controller's magic, and crushes things with his Rune Fists.
In short, he's totally awesome in-game, the linchpin of many tactics, and he deserves a cool model to match. The default Megalith model is OK, but he's got his arms up in a pose like he's doing the YMCA dance. I decided to make some modifications.
So step 1 was to repose his arms, which was not easy, because he's made of metal, and only designed to go together one way. But a lot of hacking with a tiny saw and drilling with a Dremel tool let me get his arms down. It left a lot of gaps that had to be filled with greenstuff (epoxy putty). I tried to sculpt texture into the greenstuff to match what was already there; luckily, wood grain/vines/rope are among the easier textures to sculpt with a pointy stick.
I also sculpted greenstuff roots to extend out of his feet and spread across the base, representing the idea that he's sinking roots into the ground. The "rocks" on the base are just pieces of bark I picked up from the backyard.
The kit came with an awkward twig piece which is supposed to stick out of his back, but it looked wrong. Too abbreviated. So I extended it with some branch pieces I clipped off a Woodland Scenics brand tree armature (made for model train layouts) to make my Megalith into a proper tree-monster. Took some more pieces of the tree armature and had them growing out of the roots on the base, like new plant life is bursting up out of the ground wherever he walks.
Of course if I glued all that on permanently, he would be too tall to fit in the foam bag I use to transport my minis to games. So I made the tree assembly removable, with a pin that plugs into a socket on his back. Disguised the join as best I could.
I use a desert color scheme on my Circle Orboros; forest-themed druids have been done to death, and besides, every ecosystem probably has its own druids looking after it. Druids know that the desert isn't just a barren wasteland but a fragile and intricate ecosystem that needs their protection.
I basecoated him using a Tamiya "light sand" color spraypaint that I got from a Gundam model shop in Seattle. I love this color; it's the perfect desert-tan color that I've been trying to achieve. My only regret is now I want to touch up the tans on the rest of my army to match it better.
After the basecoat, I used an old toothbrush dipped in wet paint to splatter a fine mist of brown, black, and white dots randomly over the model. They don't show up individually but the idea was just to give the stone surfaces the illusion of a rough, stony texture. It's a subtle effect but I'm quite happy with it.
Next I mixed up a shade color to wash into the recesses to give the model more definition. Usually I would just use a darker version of the base color, but I decided to add some hue contrast as well, so I mixed green and orange to make an ugly greenish-brown. I really like the warm/cold contrast it adds and the hint that moss has been growing in Megalith's recesses while he was standing around.
I drybrushed GW Bleached Bone, always stroking down from the top, to apply a subtle highlight to the sun-facing raised edges.
The runes and crystals are all done with GW Hawk Turquoise, a color I use throughout the army; I chose it to complement the desert yellows and reddish-browns while serving as the "sky" of an earth-and-sky theme. For the runes, and the eyes, I just mixed the turquoise with a lot of white, watered it down, and let it flow into the crevices. For the crystals on his fists I tried a bit of an optical-illusion effect: i.e. that's not a reflection, it's just various shades of turquoise paint with a dot of white paint at the top.
I used mostly inks and drybrushing for the wooden parts. If I do any more work on this model, I would want to add a little more contrast to the wooden parts, maybe make the vines stand out more from their background.
After all the paint was dry, I ripped up some clumps of Woodland Scenics synthetic foliage and glued them onto the branches. I drybrushed the clumps with GW Camo Green to give them a bit of color variation.
The last new technique I tried out on this model was painting a freehand vine pattern along the front edge of the base. (To avoid any ambiguity about which way your models are facing in a game of Warmchine/Hordes, you're supposed to mark the base to indicate the 180 degrees of the model's "front arc".) Usually I just do two lines on the edges of the front arc, but I wanted to try something a little fancier. Not sure if I'm going to keep doing it; I like how it looks up close, but from a distance it just turns into a blur.
It was very sudden. Tuesday morning she was fine, Tuesday afternoon when I came home from teaching she was too sick to get out of bed. She's getting better now, but she had a 103 degree fever on Tuesday. I had to write a bunch of emails to her school to ask other teachers to sub for her. Cooked her a lot of soup and oatmeal, while trying not to catch it myself. I was very worried about her. If her fever hadn't been mostly gone this morning I would have taken her to the hospital.
This year's flu is really bad. Get shots if you haven't already.