de-termination

Up til this point, I have felt okay with my level of participation in the political process. I spend at least an hour or two every day reading the news, trying to learn stuff. I post links. I write my little essays. I vote. I try to stay informed on the issues that matter and share that information with my friends and family. What else is there to do?

But this election has changed the way that I think about the future. I already knew that progress was not guaranteed. But I still figured it was likely. There might be setbacks, but they would be temporary.

I no longer feel this way. There is no hard floor to this descent. There is no inevitable march forward. It will be far easier for this administration to burn bridges than it will be for us to rebuild them. It may take decades to rip down the walls that he builds in a few years.

The point of this being, I think you are going to see me getting a lot more political in the coming months and years. My now perpetual state of anxiety dictates that I take action and do whatever I can to subvert the incoming tidal wave of xenophobia and racism. I cannot abide my own existence if I am not actively working towards a future that doesn’t suck.

I am going to keep pondering what, exactly, this looks like. I know relatively little about law and have a lot of reading to do before I can hope to meaningfully change a system I do not understand.

I will be looking for ways to get involved with my local government so that I can see how the system works at the lowest level. I will be sketching out ideas of tools to build that can alleviate the major pain points in our system. I will be searching for ideas and inspiration wherever I can find them.

And, of course, I will keep writing, trying to improve my grasp on the slippery eel of social media that I have never felt comfortable with. But it is clearly a necessary tool of the trade, now, and I will learn whatever necessary to be an effective actor in this system.

crying wolf

One recurring thought for me is that what most of us feel right now must be similar to how Trump’s base felt when Obama was elected.

This isn’t to say that the feelings are equally legitimate. But an entire sector of our media was devoted to painting Obama as the antichrist. There was endless FUD about FEMA concentration camps. Or that he secretly hated America as evidenced by his refusal to wear a flag pin for a few days. Or that he was a black supremacist. Remember the whole thing with death panels? And, of course, the birther movement. A lot of people believed all of that to be true.

Now we have someone that really is what the media says he is. There’s no hyperbole when we express fear that he would deport millions of Americans or begin racial and religious profiling en-masse. He truly does think that climate change is a Chinese hoax. He actually sees nothing wrong with sexually violating women. The fires of bigotry, sexism, racism, and xenophobia have been stoked by this election, and minorities throughout the country are justified in their terror.

How can you make clear the difference to someone who really thought Obama was a terrorist? What words are available to use when we’ve already been running on maximal hyperbole for nearly a damn decade? Is there any possible phrasing that would bring home the gravity of this mistake? Or have we been screaming for so long that we’re just deaf to one another?

nightmare

So. Here we are.

First off. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. I love you no matter who you voted for. Trump built his campaign on demonizing the other, and if we have any hope for the future, we have to build on the premise that we’re all human beings with legitimate needs and desires. But my choice to love my neighbors unconditionally does not mean I will not speak my mind.

We’re staring down the barrel of the most malevolent and incompetent government ever devised. A government that runs the world’s largest military, the largest economy, and a huge nuclear stockpile. A man who cannot be trusted with his own twitter account will soon be handed the keys, and none of us can get off this bus.

I don’t have any hope of impeachment. If Trump’s base was not dissuaded by the infinite catalog of horrors that spilled out during his campaign, I see little reason to think that he could ever do anything in office that would meaningfully change his image. We are stuck for at least 4 years.

Furthermore, downballot was a disaster. Simply put, we are not going to see progressive legislation for several years. This doesn’t mean that every good thing we know and love is at risk – the nature of Congress hasn’t been altered and significant legislation of any kind is still near-impossible to pass.

But stagnation is no comfort. The status quo means that gerrymandering and voter restrictions will continue to increase. This means that his 4 years are more than likely to turn into 8 years. We should not hold our breath and wait for this to dissolve.

This is not the time for despair, for self-pity, to wallow or to embrace nihilism. We have work to do, friends.

outrage loop

The interaction between modern social media and democracy seems overwhelmingly toxic.

More than any previous year, Facebook and Twitter have played a central role in every step of this election cycle, possibly to everyone’s detriment. Facebook shoves breaking news about world events in between wedding photos and clickbait listicles. Everything is competing for our attention.

Modern journalism is enslaved to view counts and there is no room for nuance or depth. Headlines are carefully selected to make people upset, because when we’re upset we click and share. Everyone’s screaming into echo chambers, recursively amplifying outrage.

Our memory seems to grow shorter and shorter. Scandals and tragedies constantly flow through our feeds, but never stick around long enough for the full story. We’re left only with hyperbolic headlines that reinforce our pre-existing notions and biases about the world.

In this environment, it seems that lying is optimal. If what matters most is spreading headlines, then Trump has demonstrated the winning strategy. The man’s tweets are pure, uncut viral gold. Liberal outrage over his nonsense may very well be the fuel for this eternal dumpster fire. We broke one of the basic rules of most internet forums: don’t feed the troll. But we’re way past that advice, now.

It remains to be seen is what lessons other politicians take from this debacle. If we can’t divorce ourselves from this model of news that makes us so susceptible to these loops of outrage, I fear that November 8th will not be anywhere close to the end of what we’ve been experiencing for the last year and a half.

purityrannosaurus

Most people know that I grew up very religious.

(here, I take a deep breath and type very slowly)

In person I’m happy to bring this up and talk about it, because it’s so much easier to gauge the other person’s feelings on the topic. I usually know when to back off or shut up, when someone wants to hear more, and how I should phrase my experiences so that I’m not transmitting any judgment or disrespect. Hopefully, anyways.

Writing about this is far more difficult. Being honest while still showing love and respect is hard enough in most areas of life, and this is people’s raison d’etre. All that’s to say: I dearly hope I can manage to explore this topic with the utmost respect and sincerity, whatever beliefs you (you!) might have.

My religious past is something that strongly informs my worldview. I know what it’s like on both sides of the fence. Usually, that means reading any mainstream (secular) writing about religion is purely obnoxious. The people who feel most compelled to spout are usually those that have no real familiarity with what being part of a church community is actually like. So, it was with a little bit of surprise that I encountered this very decent article on Joshua Harris and the purity movement of the late 90’s early 2000’s.

This was quite the read for me.

As a teenager, I went to multiple purity seminars where I signed my name on a heart to give to God. I went to a bible camp every summer where there were 2-3 sermons every day, half of which were about sex and lust. Joshua Harris was frequently mentioned by folks in these circles and at church – the article does not exaggerate his prevalence in this movement.

One of the core tenets of this ideology of purity is that by having any kind of lustful thought or desire, you are sinning against God. For me, this meant I was in a constant, unending state of sin.

Have you ever wronged someone you love – intentionally or not – so badly that there is no amount of apologizing that would make a difference? The kind of harm that you can only hope that the other person will forgive you for…eventually? You know the way that guilt hangs so heavily from your heart, makes you want to sink to the bottom of the ocean? That is what my guilt over my sin felt like.

It was relentless, inescapable, and all-consuming. For years, I prayed regularly and earnestly for God to take away my lustful thoughts and dreams. I wrote about it in my journals, on my blog, and took up hours and hours of my mentors’ time to anguish about it. And this is as someone who didn’t start having sex until 19 (right around the time I left the church). I barely dated in high school.

Hopefully now you can imagine the strength of my feelings on this topic, having gone and done all of the things I swore not to do, to find that very little of what I was told turned out to be true:

You really can fall in love more than once. There is more than one possible companion out there.

It is possible, and often necessary, to talk openly, without shame or judgment, about past relationships with someone you’re dating.

Sex can be safe. Birth control works. STD tests are accurate. It’s possible to fully trust someone on these issues without being married.

People have wildly different desires and expectations from relationships. Not everyone needs the same thing. For most people, your virginity is not important.

There is no platonic ideal of sex. Sex can be a lot more different than you might imagine and still be perfect.

If you’re with a good person, you will not be loved less for your past mistakes.

Sex is not inherently ethereal, transcendent, or magical in any way. It is made fabulous by passion and creativity.

You might indeed lose parts of yourself through some of your relationships. But this will not dilute you. You will also walk away with a piece of them, too. What they leave with you will make you a far better person than you were before.

These are a few of the things I wish i’d heard as a teenager. What the purity movement gave me was the exact opposite.

I hope that Christianity can embrace sex-positivity, some day. But I’m not holding my breath.

some cow’s pasture

I haven’t written about a game in quite a while, but I definitely felt inspired after spending my week with No Man’s Sky.

I don’t tend to get excited about upcoming games. That feels like a depressingly adult thing to say, but building up expectation when disappointment is so likely seems like a masochistic way of life.

No game taught me this lesson better than Fable. As a kid, I vividly remember reading a now-infamous interview with Peter Molyneux, where he was hyping up Fable. He talked about how the whole world responded to your actions. Knock an acorn to the ground and come back years later to see a fully grown oak tree. Become evil and knights in shining armor would try to hunt you down, or be righteous and fend off bounty hunters and crimelords. Build houses, get married, raise a family, rule the land.

Fable had none of those things. The spirit of the game that was described – an open-ended journey full of countless, unique possibilities – was not present in the slightest. It was a cramped museum of strict and compromised designs. It wasn’t a bad game at all, but it was nothing like what had been promised. It utterly failed to capture the spirit of its promise.

Right around this time was when I first encountered the word procedural, one of the buzzwords that has seen a resurgance alongside No Man’s Sky. In this context, it refers to a world that is generated by formulas and processes, rather than explicitly designed by a human. I heard of this when Will Wright delivered a brilliant GDC presentation on Spore. The game he laid out in that talk was genuinely incredible. He shows a thoughtfully populated universe at several distinct scales, continuously filled out with player creations, crafted by incremental choice, guided evolution. Where Peter Molyneux talked, Will Wright demonstrated in precise detail.

At that time, I was like 15 and had no way of knowing how outrageous the game’s many promises really were. By the time the game came out – a full 3 years later – it was clear it had become mired in development hell and irrevocably damaged by the production process. The game that was released was, like Fable, nothing akin to the vision that had been laid out.

I talk about these games because No Man’s Sky has similarly excessive ambitions. It has an awe-inspiring trailer that immediately generated huge amounts of interest. There’s been countless interviews with the lead developer where he clumsily evades questions while simultaneously stirring up visions of a grand universe with complex interactions and infinite possibilities. But unlike Fable and Spore, No Man’s Sky actually does some justice to this goal.

First, let’s get the negative stuff out of the way. Because for me, getting to the pearls in this game has meant swimming through oceans of hot garbage. Swim with me for a minute, if you will.

Far and away, the most common thing you will spend your time doing in this game is moving piles of exotic sand between inventories.  To worsen matters, the interface for managing your sand collection is just no good.

the antichrist of UIs
the antichrist of UIs

As someone who earns his salary designing and building interfaces, I cannot tell you how little this differs from getting punched in the nuts by each and every member of the 2016 American Olympic team (that’s 558 people, in case you were about to check).

The focus on collection and crafting with this space dust is oppressive. In a game whose soul is all about exploration, to find yourself wedded to the act of vacuuming up shit particles everywhere simply feels wrong. In any other game this might be considered a novel or satisfactory piece of gameplay, but this is No Man’s Sky. There are quintillions of planets begging for exploration, but there you are, unmoving, unthinking, as you squirt lasers on a pillar of galactic fartrock.

Lastly, it must be mentioned how hilariously insufficient – perhaps even inappropriate – the aliens are. Hundreds, if not thousands, of these off-brand Walmart humanoids populate every planet and solar system in the galaxy.

ugly
ugly as goddamn sin

They’re grotesque, poorly animated, and devoid of personality. Most of them are apparently chair-bound, born with an Ipad strapped to their right hand, which they idly peck at before delivering a completely arbitrary multiple choice question. It’s a feature of the game so breathtakingly vanilla, yet somehow so incomplete, that one can only wonder what the developer’s intentions might have been.

It forces you to think of the game as actually being empty, simply devoid of intelligent life. That’s a meaningful distinction, too. If there are no larger civilizaitons or structures waiting out there in the universe, what can this universe really show you? What is the drive for exploration?

The answer to that, for me, is the phenomenal variety of planets. Let me break this down a bit, because this has been a huge part of the sense of awe I get from this game.

Blasting around in a solar system feels great – they nailed the scale and speed of it all.  Planets feel huge and distant, but you still feel fast.  There’s a bit of magic in getting jumped by space pirates and dogfighting among asteroids with a whole planet as your backdrop.

nms15

It’s taken for granted that you can enter a planet’s atmosphere from any direction, but think of any game you’ve ever played – you’re always going through explicitly defined entry and exit points wherever you are. In No Man’s Sky, this experience, which would be a blank loading screen in any other game, is genuinely fun.  All the alarms go off, everything shakes, there’s a lovely halo of plasma, and the features below fade into view.  You can start to make out some of the features – gray soil, purple grass, green oceans. Garish, but still kinda badass.

You cruise around for a minute until you find a landmark that interests you.  It’s a little hard to see from your cockpit, so you spin your ship so that you’re flying sideways and can see the terrain a little better. You fly really fast compared to how you walk, so you have to slow down and start pulling tight circles until you think you’ve got it right. Your ship slowly lowers, and now you get a sense of the scale of the hills you saw from above, which now loom all around you.

This planet has giant mushrooms three times your size, there’s little crab-squid things galumphing around on the ground, and apparently it’s lightly raining acid. There’s a new type of tree you’ve never encountered before at the top of a big hill, so you decide to head that way to take a closer look. On the way you find a species of butt-faced dinosaurs that try to kill you but they can’t quite path around some tentacle flowers so you laugh at them and move on. As you crest the top of the hill, you see a sky filled by a neighboring planet and contrails left by alien spaceships. The view below is a canyon filled by a lake, filled to the brim with platypus-like squiddies and mushrooms with wavy tendrils. The sun starts to rise behind you, and the landscape changes from being heavily tinted green-blue, to a softer orange-red.

If this sounds awesome, that’s because it is. No, not every planet is that great. Many of them are shitty. Some of the patterns in generation become more obvious over time. The interest in exploration goes down once you don’t need to collect resources or upgrades any longer.

The fact remains that No Man’s Sky contains so many stunning compositions of colors and shapes, intermingled with all sorts of comedic and bizarre creatures. No designer sat down and created any one of them specifically, yet many of the environments in No Man’s Sky are far more beautiful than anything you can find in any modern game. I would go as far as to suggest that this is one of the most intrinsically beautiful games ever made.

nms16

There are moments in this game that genuinely made me feel like Darwin visiting the Galapagos. I could imagine his excitement at finding all these new and fascinating kinds of plants and animals, trying to piece together a narrative about why they have these sorts of claws or that sort of beak. That’s the heart of exploration, and No Man’s Sky captures that in a way that no other game has.

This kind of novelty is why procedural generation holds such promise. Games should create unique experiences that were hitherto inaccessible. They should be able to show us things we haven’t yet imagined. No Man’s Sky manages to keep itself together just well enough to do that.

complicated sharing

Vulnerability and sharing are tricky things with social media.

It’s been oft-observed that most people choose to share the positive, exciting parts of their lives here. Vacations, weddings, births, and all the various accomplishments we encounter in life are the meat and potatoes of what people reveal online. They’re safe, they make us look good, they give off the impression that we’re living happy and fulfilled lives.

Certainly, not all negative things get hidden. I see a lot of people sharing their grief over death, especially over time. I remember it being less common in the past, but perhaps we’re getting comfortable as facebook becomes more of a fact of life, in combination with its slow support for varied reactions (until recently, I never felt comfortable liking an announcement of a death).

But there’s so many things that never show up here. It’s not very often you’ll see someone announce that they’re suffering from crippling depression. People generally don’t feel comfortable saying they lost their job, dropped out of school, or failed to achieve one of their dreams. But if you pay attention, you can often tell when something’s up.

We’ve probably all had those moments where you stumble across someone you haven’t kept up with for a while, and the tone of everything they share has changed. They moved. They’re alone in all their pictures. Wait, weren’t they married — oh my god they got a divorce. It’s these moments that remind us how much of our lives remain obscured from most of the world.

Of all the aspects of life that are shared asymmetrically on social media, relationships are probably at the top of that list. It’s universally cool to express your love and affection here. No birthday, anniversary, or wedding dare go unannounced. Even the saltiest cynics will gleefully post every picture with their loved one. But you never see the other side.

It often seems that no one wants to hear about how painful it is to go through a break-up. You won’t find nearly as much support if you want to talk about how much it sucks to be single, how lonely the world can feel without a companion, the emptiness that comes with parting from someone who fundamentally understood you, or the way that memories of past relationships can haunt you at random moments throughout your day.

Admittedly, it’s tricky stuff. Assuming you care about the people in your life – past and present – you have to take so much caution with what you let slip out. Oversharing can damage more lives than just your own. The safest option is often to say nothing at all, to grit your teeth and bear it.

But for myself – and I have to assume for many others – so much of my life experience is wrapped up in my past relationships. I learned so much. There are beautiful memories. intense pain, embarrassment, frustration, lessons learned, time lost, and wisdom gained.

It feels like such a dishonesty to say nothing about these things, but I lack any notion of a healthy way to broach these topics through this medium. I don’t know what the solution is, or if one exists at all. Perhaps facebook will never be a place where that kind of honesty is truly safe.

It seems a grave tragedy that the parts of our lives that would benefit the most from community support, open communication, and honest discussion, are ostensibly the most taboo. How many marriages would benefit if we were more willing to discuss the thorny, complicated realities of long-term relationships? Could we not all learn from each other’s mistakes? Don’t we all have lessons that we wish someone had shared with us earlier in our lives, that might have made us better partners, better human beings?

awarewolf

One of my ponderances of late has been how our exposure to the news shapes our perception of the world.

I read at least 100 headlines a day, knowingly or otherwise. I scroll through facebook, reddit, twitter, and my RSS feeds a few times a day. It’s all filtered through the people and organizations I like or trust, building into some vague sense of what the state of the world is, what the nearest possible futures look like. But that whole sensation of knowing what really goes on in the world is just a complicated lie, a house of cards built from countless availability heuristics.

I try to counter that by searching for data and statistics, but this is just a fart in the hurricane. For instance, there’s no way to test the idea that global xenophobia is actually getting worse; I can only make a guess based on the number of bigoted statements that make it into the headlines over the last month. And the certainty of that guess is always haunted by the very plausible notion that the world is the same as it has always been, and I just happen to hear about more of the awful things that occur.

What is the true value in this increased awareness? There’s so much anxiety to be found in keeping up with the goings-on of humanity, but I feel a responsibility to keep trying, lest I unknowingly perpetuate the sins of my ancestors or participate in the errors of my own generation through my ignorance.

Some of these matters, I tacitly know that I lack the discipline to contribute to the solution. Knowing full well the horrors of industrial farming, I really do just love beef, even the stuff they dole out at Taco Bell. Meanwhile, my outrage over racial injustice seems to be limitless. My heart ached in very literal pain and anger as I read of the latest shootings last week, even though these incidents are total deja vu.

There is a temptation towards nihilism as I add all of the latest crises together. There are so many, and none of them can be considered unimportant or irrelevant. Is it possible to care about everything that much? Can our hearts stretch infinitely so that we become capable of empathizing with all the important goings-on of the world? Or are we forced to pick our battles and hope that, between the lot of us, someone else cares enough about the other problems – climate change, education, sexism, poverty, health care – to take care of them? Don’t most of these problems require effort and attention from everyone to truly solve? Is humanity really capable of solving its own problems, or have we built a society more complicated than our meager brains can manage?

Happy Monday, friends.

party for two

Preface: I love you no matter who you vote for. Even if it’s Trump. I don’t think there is much progress to be found in ostracizing or villainizing those who make poor decisions, whatever those decisions pertain to.

When Bernie first announced his campaign, I was on board. I had known about him for a long time prior, and I was immediately excited, even if doubtful. I felt the bern. But by the time the NY primary rolled around, I ended up checking the box for Hillary. Admittedly, I stood in the booth for a solid 10 minutes as I weighed that choice, but that’s where I landed when the time came to pick.

I’ve not mentioned this to many people, as I’ve had a genuine fear of what my more passionate friends would think.  I don’t want to lose their respect.  I hope they’re able to understand.

I made that choice out of pragmatism. It was very clear, at that point, that if Bernie had a real shot, he needed to win South Carolina months prior. He got trounced there, and while he had respectable showings in many states thereafter, he was always losing ground. So, it was my desire to see his campaign wrap up and move towards reconciliation with Hillary so that we could secure the election against Trump.

As Bernie’s campaign has winded down, Jill Stein has picked up many people of the #bernieorbust attitude. This is not surprising, of course; a significant fraction of Bernie’s base were independent voters that only registered as Democrats just to vote for him. So it should be expected that there would be some people returning to that. But there are some basic facts about the democratic process in America that make voting third-party an unwise decision.

Continue reading party for two

groundhog day

I want to talk about guns, but let’s talk about hate first.

We do this thing, as a society, where we start calling someone a terrorist, and that makes it really easy to think of them as some kind of alien.  A terrorist materialized in our midst and caused great suffering.  In our lexicon, terrorist is basically the antonym of American.

But the majority of these shooters are Americans, born and raised.  Most of them white.  They speak English.  They had jobs, cars, phones, bills.  They lived in our society for decades.  Often we hear every variation on the phrase “we never would have suspected” from friends and family.  And I bet most of them weren’t lying.

We’re so hung up on ISIS and Islam.  But maybe this guy, and the guys before him, just followed the lead of our culture, the examples of our role models and aspiring leaders.  We had 29 years to talk this guy out of it.  He spent his life in America.  Maybe he learned his hatred from us.

Can we not find daily examples of homophobia broadcast across all channels of life?  This last year has seen the campaigns of Cruz, Rubio, and Carson – people actively denying basic truths about sexual identity and promoting draconian ideals about gender and sexuality. More explicitly anti-LGBT laws have been proposed in state legislatures this year than ever before.

Why should we be surprised when someone takes to heart the messages from our society that some people are less deserving of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Continue reading groundhog day

abundance is everywhere

Littered in my sketchbooks are outlines of a modern progressive epistemology, where I try to detail each of the core tenets of progressive politics and ideology. It’s a fun thought experiment, but when I try to flesh it out into paragraphs and pages, it grinds to a halt.

I ask myself who I’m writing this for.

It can’t be for myself – dreaming up political theory in a vacuum is a gross cocktail of narcissism and solipsism.

Who, then, is it meant for?

Providing support for progressives that already agree? Eh. The world doesn’t need more preaching to the choir.

Attempting to sway centrists or conservatives? Most progressives wouldn’t read a modern conservative’s epistemology, nor would most conservatives have any interest in my treatise. Another poor tool for effecting change.

So, I put to rest this notion, but there remains an urge. Change requires unity. Unity requires shared understanding. Everywhere, I see a lack of shared understanding.

Discord seems to be growing in America across all spectra. Demagoguery is on the rise. Tensions are building. Sure, it’s election season and maybe things will chill out in 2017. I tend to doubt it.

How is that even possible? Regardless of what the future looks like, we live in a time of the greatest abundance in the history of mankind.

There is, at this very moment, enough food to feed everyone on the planet.

The most common deadly diseases can be cured, treated, or vaccinated against – globally.

We have enough labor and materials to provide shelter to everyone.

Knowledge has never been more widespread and available.

But we’re still fighting over basic goods and services.

Given dire enough circumstances, humans will do just about anything for survival. That’s a pretty uncontroversial fact. It’s the premise of most post-apocalyptic stories, but history gives us a pretty good picture of this as well.

For most of history, humanity has had little control over those dire circumstances. A year of drought could lead to mass starvation. Disease could swoop in from a few rats (or gerbils) hanging out on a wagon. Our margins for error were a lot thinner. That’s in societies where more than half of the population were farmers or directly involved in agriculture, and they still struggled to feed everyone.

A War on Poverty would not make sense in ancient China, medieval Europe, post-revolutionary America, or any other point in history. Eliminating poverty wasn’t an achievable goal until the mid-20th century. Class and caste systems inherent to many past civilizations are a direct response to that. There’s no point in hoping for a better life – you were born into poverty, best just to accept it as your lot in life and hope for better luck next time.

Scarcity changes everything.

But we don’t live in a time of scarcity.

If there’s one idea that I think needs to spread, it’s that we are in an era of overwhelming abundance. There are enough resources to meet everyone’s needs, without qualification or exception. This is a fact.

That doesn’t mean it’s an easy task; the logistics of distributing resources are intense. Our economies might not be configured for the task – but that can be changed with less difficulty than we might imagine.

Many of our current political schisms seem to be premised in the notion that not everyone can be prosperous and not everyone deserves to prosper. But if the first notion is false – we have the abundance to provide basic necessities universally – why is there any need to determine who qualifies for help?

Abundance is everywhere. Everyone can prosper.

legacy

I’ve been following with some interest the story of Facebook’s Free Basics endeavor, which was recently shut out of India.  The notion is that Facebook would offer free but heavily limited internet access to developing countries, the rationale being that something is better than nothing in a country like India, where internet penetration is still only at 15-20%.  I will now write briefly about why this is a terrible idea.

Continue reading legacy

practical pragmatism

I have a hard time imagining a more interesting presidential race than what America is faced with in 2016.  The Republican end of things is, of course, both fascinating and troubling in ways that no one could have foreseen, but the Democratic primary presents a deeply meaningful choice to voters that care about the issues.

Is it better to have an effective president who offers slim, but guaranteed gains for progress?  Or to have an authentic president who will pursue the most progressive policies currently viable in the country, with a significant chance of complete failure?

That, to me, is Hillary versus Bernie in a nutshell.

Continue reading practical pragmatism

income, basically

Finland recently revealed that it would be embarking on an experiment with universal basic income. This has sparked a fresh wave of mainstream interest in the idea, although it’s been growing steadily in the last decade.

Here goes my attempt to explain and justify basic income in America. Many others have done this before, but these are the components of it I find to be most relevant and compelling. It’s become rather dear to me and, at least until research comes out demonstrating it to be a colossal failure, it sits now at the core of my current political philosophy.

Continue reading income, basically

art_work

They say that writing about art is like dancing about architecture.

Just kidding, I’ve never heard anyone say that. But I wanted to record a little formal history of how I started making artwork, explain some of the different kinds of pieces I make, talk a bit about process and such. There will be a smattering of personal details and hopefully very little philosophy about the meaning of art or its practice. There are few questions less interesting than “what is art?” and I do not intend to indulge the inquiry here.

Without further ado, a brief history of my journey with art.

Continue reading art_work

for the greater good

Ran into a flurry of Zuckerberg charity articles and couldn’t resist a drive-by commentary.  High-level social politics, tax law, and whispers of oligarchy?  I am but a moth to the flame.

If you’re not familiar with the baseline here:

  • Zuckerberg and Chan create an LLC where most of their wealth (99% of Facebook shares, currently >$45bil) will be converted into potentially charitable contributions to society, though the legal boundaries on what their money can be used for are pretty lax.  It’s not really clear what they’re planning to focus spending on.  Always a good start.
  • The whole thing is spurred by Bill Gates’ Giving Pledge, an initiative to get the superwealthy to donate the majority of their wealth rather than devoting it to an inheritance.  A surprising amount of billionaires have been on board with this.
But…

It’s hard not to sound like a stale bag of farts in questioning or critiquing a billionaire giving away his fortune.  The ideas here are laudable.  I tend to believe that most people – superwealthy or not – are generally doing what they think makes sense, and even if these actions benefit him indirectly or directly, there has to be some recognition that he could have gone the path of pure wealth optimization.

But the story is not as simple as a billionaire going all-star humanitarian.  There’s 3 major perspectives to consider here, and I’ll follow up with my opinion.

Continue reading for the greater good

chronistic

Here we are, once more.  Familiar ground.  Another long period of neglect and zero writing.  Another blog redesign complete.  Another chance to reflect on this thing which is now legitimately one of the oldest active (ish) blogs on the internet.  I thought it might be fun to do a quick little jaunt across time to see how the design has evolved.

Continue reading chronistic

Time Will Tell


I


One of the most consistent features of getting older has been the changing nature of my relationship with time. It’s not just, as the cliche goes, that it flies by, but the passing of days takes on a very different tone and architecture. I remember how agonizingly slow the world felt as a child. I remember staring helplessly at the clock in school, knowing that the very act of watching the hands tick was increasing my agony.

Tick. Fuck. Tick. Fuck. Tick. Fuck. Tick.

But lately, days blur seamlessly into weeks and months. Some of this is circumstantial; I now work entirely from home, and it is not uncommon that I go weeks without prolonged human interaction, even while I live in one of the most densely populated areas on the planet. I have no commute. No morning or evening routine. I have virtually no interruptions during my day. I work. I read. I might play some games for an hour or two. I watch some lectures or a movie. I sleep.

When I look at the clock, there is no anticipation, nor any dread. Time is just a number to make sure I don’t forget my appointments. Once in a while, it’s a pressure, a deadline, a countdown — but I love my work, so I have no resentment for this aspect.

Memories begin to slip through my fingers more and more as there are fewer landmarks to orient my internal narrative. For perhaps a brief moment recent experiences stay near to me, but it’s not long before they disperse into a vast ocean of thoughts, or become lost inside the dense forest of my subconscious. Though I know these experiences are still a part of me, floating somewhere in the expanse of my cognition, many are no longer retrievable as distinct events.

Continue reading Time Will Tell

A Future Worth Loving

If the Internet is an ocean, I am a fish. This is where much of my life has been lived, and so I have grown to love it, warts and all. It has enabled, for me, that which I love most in the world: endless knowledge and learning. I never went to university — my education has been largely digital, from beginning to end. Some of my earliest memories are of exploring Encyclopedia Britannica, watching animations about windmills and levies. I remember the first day I found Wikipedia — I immediately went on a 2-hour dive through black holes on through retinas and cow-tipping. I just couldn’t believe that such an expansive resource existed. Everything I know about design and programming has been learned online. I’ve devoted thousands of hours to lectures and documentaries. For me, computers and the Internet really are a bottomless spring of knowledge and ideas.

This isn’t how many people see or use the Internet. For a time, this irked me, similar to the way a dancer might feel about someone who’s never danced — something of intrinsic value, perhaps not actually essential to modern life. Today, however, there is no question that the Internet is a central component of so many of our daily routines and exchanges. Watching this growth, that irksome feeling has steadily grown into a deep concern for the ways computers are failing to unite us, or even creating divisions where before none existed. While the Internet opens up rich new channels of exploration and connection, others seem to be closing.

One beauty of the Internet is that you can, at this very moment, go to YouTube and find all manner of skills demonstrated by people around the world. Your Facebook feed is likely sprinkled with photos of various hobbies, projects, and achievements. And it’s all inferior to experiencing things in real life. The online conversations we share about these activities — particularly with friends and family — are often unsatisfying, lifeless and primitive imitations of real world communication.

For some people, their purest and most powerful form of expression is with a paintbrush. For others, it’s a guitar. A basketball. A pen. A sewing needle. A steering wheel. A deck of cards. Pick whatever you want — there’s someone, somewhere who could stun you with their mastery over these inert objects, that could expose you to new thoughts and ideas through the creative expression realized in their demonstration. It’s passions and talents like these that weave the fabric of culture and enrich the human experience. But on the Internet, these skills are worth only their weight in views and likes.

Continue reading A Future Worth Loving

video game feminism

I’m a huge fan of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games series. Although I highly recommend them to anyone with a serious interest in pop culture or video games, the series is quite long. Since this post involves many of its core ideas, I’ll provide my summary of Sarkeesian’s most important observations.

Video games and the industry surrounding them are extremely male-dominated. Games aren’t just being marketed exclusively towards men — games themselves are designed around the assumption that the players are male. They overwhelmingly cater to this group to such an extent that it is actively alienating the players that do not match this target demographic.

Continue reading video game feminism

Hand of Misuse

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

Pro teams are picking up Hand of Midas a lot these days. First, just a brief look at usage over the last year. All stats pulled from datDota.

General Midas appearance and winrate by patch

Here’s the funny thing: Midas was nerfed in 6.79c. Most of the games counted in 6.79 came before that patch, but it was valued much less in 6.78 for no apparent reason. While drafting strategy could explain some of it, it would appear that Midas has become a thriving trend across nearly a full year of use.

Continue reading Hand of Misuse

North American Scrubs

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

Swag Sorceror: Why are NA teams such ass all the time – do we just not promote as much? Who does one even talk to to figure out what would be helpful to make the community grow – get more people to watch and spend money on games?

The reason NA sucks at Dota and League is because of internet cafes. Net cafes have always been and still are way, way bigger in China, South Korea, SEA, and all over EU. Home desktop computers didn’t take off in other countries the way they did in the US, and that’s because of population density. Also, broadband adoption and good connection quality has only recently become ubiquitous here. South Korea had 100mbps connections well over 5 years ago.

Net cafes matter a fuckload because that’s where amateur teams form and competitions take place. Cafe owners have always been happy to host these things because that’s an enormous amount of business for them. Spectators and players and all of their friends come together and trigger the feedback loop that gets everyone amped up about the matches, the tournament, the game as a whole. There’s a reason kids in the Philippines stood outside in the fucking rain to watch TI3. It’s because it’s always better to watch together in one place than separately, alone.

Continue reading North American Scrubs

Mythological Creatures

I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.

Bigfoot, Unicorns, and Non-Standard Drafting

Swag Sorceror: Cranberry Thunderfunk, I’d love your opinion on why non-standard (non just standard right click, basically) carries aren’t more common as a pocket strat in professional. Safelane pugna got thrown into the meta decently heavily during i think 6.80? and that was pretty cool, but not super long lived, but why don’t you see more safelane silencer, carry necro / lesh, or any number of other heroes that can probably carry in ways that I haven’t even thought of, either by forcing a game in the first 25 minutes or whatever.

This is the answer I think most pros would give.

The biggest problem is that they’re easy to gank and easy to focus in team fights. Pretty much all carries that ever get picked have one of these things:

  • a reliable escape mechanism
  • a respectable stun
  • high burst damage

Antimage, Weaver, Void, and Spectre have good escapes. Chaos Knight, Sven (though he hasn’t shown up in forever, for no apparent reason), WK, Tiny, and Slardar have good stuns. Luna and Gyro have good burst damage (also, high base movement speed). All of these make tp support and turn-arounds much more viable.

Continue reading Mythological Creatures

chief

A brief comment on the resignation of Mozilla CEO, Brendan Eich.  In particular, the contents of the quite viral article from Ars Technica are what inspire me to write.  I have one point to make, and it’s a simple one.

Let’s do some phrase replacement with the quotes from the article.

Calls for his ouster were premised on the notion that all [opposition to the Civil Rights Act] was hateful, and that a CEO should be judged not just by his or her conduct in the professional realm, but also by [racial or ethnic biases] he or she supports as a private citizen.

Continue reading chief

label

Is it dumb to love a label and its culture?

I’m just a huge fan of Mad Decent and its culture. Just really different and always tries something new. I feel like I like it and the idea of it, too much.

Do you feel me?

It’s a good question, one that is ripe for discussion.

One of my favorite labels is Kitsuné – I enjoy the vast majority of the artists they sign, and it’s no coincidence that they also happen to make clothing. They recognize that their listeners have a certain style they can tap into. The cynical perspective is to say they’re manipulating sheep into buying a lifestyle, but the fact of the matter is that music correlates to more than just what we listen to, much the same as any other serious passion in life.

Continue reading label