Punctuation wrangler and orthographic enforcer, feminist, atheist, glutton, geek, scatterbrain, and Seattlite.
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  • “Delete key is where the heart is” (insert robot overlord joke here)

    Wednesday, February 16, 2011

    Have we witnessed history this week? Watching Watson play Jeopardy! was amazing. Seeing its top three answers and its confidence in them was fascinating. It came up with quite a few odd ones, including considering “delete key” as an answer to “it’s where the heart is” on a computer keyboard. Interesting how when it got questions wrong, it got them really wrong. Kinda cute in a pathetic way. Still, Watson is impressive and I can’t wait to see the applications of this. One thing that really caught me in this post, “Why Watson on Jeopardy is AI’s Moon Landing Moment” (Tor.com) is this:

    […] but when Watson must understand a phrase such as “[this US city’s] largest airport is named for a World War II hero; its second largest, for a World War II battle”—no Google search for “world war II airport” is going to suffice. (Try it.)

    Seriously! How would you find that on Google if you didn’t know the answer? Would you have to search US airports and compare them to names of WWII heroes and battles until you found the right city? (Or is my Google-fu just really bad?) With Watson—at least in the case of the numerous questions he did get right—you just ask.

    Futurama: Bender from Bender's Big Score wears sunglasses and a gun charged with purple lightning.

    Here’s some more Watson reading from the week:

    IBM’s “Watson” Jeopardy! computer: it’s all about the digits (Boing Boing)

    Jeopardizing Valentine’s Day (Language Log) “Who knew you could find a comprehensive archive of previous Jeopardy questions and answers?”

    AI vs. IQ: IBM’s Watson takes on the meatbags on Jeopardy (Boing Boing)

    Watson Dominates ‘Jeopardy’ but Stumbles Over Geography (NY Times)

    Weekle Quickles VI

    Sunday, February 6, 2011

    It’s that time again! Time for me to prattle on in poorly formed thoughts about what I’ve been up to this week!

    TV

    Rocky & Bullwinkle: I’ve been sick as hell since wednesday, but I still feel just the same when I watch R&B while not-so-sick. Season 4 reduces the fourth wall to dust and tatters. It might even make Arrested Development roll its eyes. Anna and I were in tears at one point; something about a man in a giant bagel… Skipped some segments because they were just embarrassing 1960s racefail. Don’t even get me started on Peabody. I watched this all the time as a kid, and I watch it even more now. Actually, I find it hard to see how a child would understand the show. It’s obviously meant for childish adults.

    Games

    My plan was to spend the weekend in the RIFT and Wakfu betas, because I like to be helpful and report bugs and all. The plague I had said otherwise. I managed to spend a few hours in each, but not long enough to be able to get any sort of impression on the games, obviously. I will say (I think I’m allowed to) that RIFT is, to Trion’s credit, both UI-overload and really intuitive. There’s a lot on the screen and a lot to fiddle with, but it hardly got in the way of actually jumping into the game, to my surprise. And Wakfu is cute as all hell. I think the boys are actually cuter than the girls in that game, I guess because both genders look like anime girls—just one wears clothes. RIFT is pay-to-own (~$50), subscribe-to-play (~$15/mo is standard for MMOs?) and Wakfu is free both ways. The effects of either business model is one of the major debates in the industry nowadays. I’ll just say that, knowing as little as I do about both games, I’ll be returning to Wakfu. Feel free to chime in here on that whole issue.

    Magicka: I finished adventure mode this week. I mean I beat it, conquered it, whatever old-school term is appropriate for this game. There’s just something about the game that makes it so fun… like after you’ve figured out the best way to splatter your enemies across the floor, you can still make one mistake and queue up the wrong element… and you explode. Typos kill, people. It doesn’t really matter whether the game is unbalanced, or that they give you an automatic rifle early in the game that pretty much removes any unarmored foes as threats. This game is oddly balanced around being unbalanced. Still haven’t tried multiplayer. Still planning proper review. Watch this space.

    Bioshock: Okay. I am no longer embarrassingly bad at this game. I replayed my progress in Neptune’s Bounty and no longer stand still and cycle through all the wrong weapons when I see someone who wants to shoot me. I played that level last night and half of today, just getting familiar with my plasmids and messing around with the Big Daddies—fighting them one-on-one, turning the environment against them, and pitting Big Daddies against each other. Highly lucrative. I now believe I have rolled my lazy ass over the learning curve and can keep up with your average newb. Here’s a screenshot I took of two people reenacting Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung”:

    Bioshock: A Little Sister takes the hand of a Big Daddy.

    I also played bits of Guild Wars, Master of Mana, and that old classic Heretic.

    Geekery

    The internet continues to burn from the Dickwolves controversy. Some diligent citizen has been keeping this handy-dandy timeline of it all: http://debacle.tumblr.com. Where it stands now is that death threats were made toward Mike’s family—very bad and not what anyone would ever hope for—and a blogger was stalked to her home and harassed (likewise very bad). This prompted pleas from Mike and Jerry that everyone just forget about it and move on. But you can’t tell someone with PTSD to “move on and forget”—that’s one of the defining characteristics of PTSD. This is the real issue, not whether “The Sixth Slave” is funny or appropriate. And for what it’s worth, I still can’t imagine myself going to PAX in September; the misogynist trolls still think Mike is on their side and he hasn’t said anything to the contrary. Perhaps he thinks it should be obvious, but it’s not. It’s troubling. PAX is no longer an all-inclusive convention.

    Geek Girl Con, however, is. Yay!

    EDIT: A question I haven’t seen talked about too much has been brought up: What do you want to happen?. I heartily agree with each of those.

    Weekly Quickies V

    Sunday, January 30, 2011

    Magicka: This game was released Tuesday and was full of bugs and unplayable for many. I guess I was lucky because single player worked well enough for me. My only gripes were about things in the actual design of the game. I have a real review post in the works, so more on this later. I’ll just say that this is one of the funnest games I’ve played in a long time. I’ve enjoyed the hell out of it.

    Magicka: Four wizards wearing colored robes in mid-battle. One chains lightning between enemies, catching one other wizard. Another wizard stands over his fallen ally.

    Guild Wars: Not much. Did a Faction mission or two with my monk.

    Champions Online: Apparently I developed a superhero itch that needed to be scratched. Must have been all the DCUO coverage everywhere. Anyway, I’m not prepared to pay a subscription for any game, so I turned to the free demo of Champions Online. As it happens, the game also went free-for-all this week. I probably spent 80% of my time playing around in the character creator. That was really all I needed. The creator is pretty versatile. I made a sort of androgynous-looking lady with tentacle hands/feet and the mind spells. The game itself wasn’t too exciting. It had all the tedium that I find in most MMORPGs. Also the graphics didn’t scale down well to my machine, so it lacked much of the stylized flare you see in trailers and screens.

    Guild Wars 2: The guardian profession was revealed this week, which is big news. The guardian incorporates two of my favorite professions from Guild Wars: the ritualist and monk. It’s geared toward party support and enemy control, which is where the fun is.

    Guild Wars 2: A male human guardian viewed from the side. He is in full armor and holds a mace and shield.

    Characters don’t need to be overtly sexualized to be feminine

    Sunday, January 30, 2011

    There was a very refreshing discussion in this week’s Guildcast while the hosts, Rubi and Shawn, gave the rundown on Guild Wars 2’s guardian profession, newly revealed last week. One of the screenshots included in the release showed an asuran guardian in heavy armor:

    Guild Wars 2: An asuran guardian in heavy bronze armor, a winged helmet, and holding a shield and scepter. Blue light radiates behind her.

    They commented that the asura’s femininity was apparent without being overly sexualized. I’ve transcribed two parts of the podcast that made me very happy to hear:

    ~13:30

    Rubi: I love the way that ArenaNet has done the art for the females characters, like with the female charr. Because they’re not, you know, like a big-breasted curvy cat woman. It’s just a charr and it’s just an asura. But there is a very subtle, feminine appearance that you can’t miss, but there’s not even anything… it’s like her features are a little bit finer and maybe a little bit smaller. It’s not anything you can put your finger on and say, “okay, she has 1, 2, and 3—she has this.” But you look and it’s a very feminine appearance, even with this little asura in heavy armor. To me it’s very clear that she’s a female and I love the way the art is done on that.

    Shawn: Yeah, I have to agree. I do like that too. There’s no overtly, you know, what you would think of… it’s not like a superhero Champions Online or DCUO kind of over-the-top female avatar. It’s exactly like you said. You know I almost think it’s in the eyes. I think when you look in the eyes you’re kinda like… you can tell. But yeah I think that’s an interesting perspective.

    Rubi: Yeah, it really is. Actually, with the eyes, like you said—now that you say that, that’s kind of the core, that’s where you see it first. But I don’t need an asura with an hourglass figure and a D-cup—

    Shawn: (chuckles) Sorry, I was just imagining that.

    Rubi: That is a horrible—! (laughs) Wouldn’t that— I mean— Think about that! Yeaagh!

    ~15:30

    Rubi: But anyway, the point is you can make these characters overtly feminine, and this picture of the asura guardian makes it very clear: she is obviously feminine, and we don’t have some gross buxom asura.

    Shawn: Yeah that’s cool. I like the way they do that, and they’re kind of like in tune with how that can work.

    Rubi: Yeah, I love that so much. We don’t need a— It doesn’t need to be overtly sexual to be feminine, and that’s one of the things I love about how ArenaNet’s doing this.

    I agree that ArenaNet looks to be moving in a good direction with their non-human character art, not to mention that the rest of what we’ve seen of the game’s art is beautiful. If Shawn and Rubi are pointing to the eyes as the surest indicator of gender—and the eyes aren’t even the long-lashed, heavily shadowed, Disney-esque sexualized eyes—that’s promising. I wouldn’t single out the eyes as such; they’re just another subtlety contributing to the whole. Still, what Rubi said is worthy of repeating. QFT.

    Guild Wars 2: A charr elementalist roars, bearing her fangs. Her fur is light brown and tan and she wears a blue jacket with gold embroidery.

    Deciding whether to boycott PAX just got a lot easier

    Sunday, January 30, 2011

    Trigger warning for discussions of rape.

    A couple days ago the dickwolves shirt disappeared from the Penny Arcade store. The shirt provided PA the opportunity to make money off of a running joke they have about rape survivors, so its removal was a commendable action. (See this post and the links therein for more background.) Today Mike Krahulik, AKA Gabe, offered up the reasoning behind the shirt’s disappearance in a forum post and later a news post on the PA site:

    It was a small group of very vocal people. Not tens of thousands by any stretch. More like a couple dozen. BUT they were very upset and taking the shirt down made them happy. I would never remove the strip or apologize for the joke but if not selling the shirt means I don’t have to fight with these people I’ll do that.I’m not super happy about it but it was the path of least resistance.Source.

    It’s true that we have decided to remove the Dickwolves shirt from the store. Some people are happy about this but a lot more of you are upset. You think we’ve caved into to pressure from a vocal minority and you’re not entirely wrong. let me at least break down why we did it though.

    First of all I would never remove the strip or even apologize for the joke. It’s funny and the fact that some people don’t get it, or are offended by it doesn’t change that. People complained about the strip and that’s fine with me, my response as always is “if you don’t like it don’t read it.” It is very easy not to log on to Penny Arcade and read our bullshit. We’ve always made offensive comics and that’s not going to change anytime soon. If jokes about violence,rape,aids,pedophilia,bestiality,drugs,cancer,homosexuality, and religion bother you then I recommend reading a different webcomic.

    PAX is a different matter though. We want PAX to be a place were everyone feels welcome and we’ve worked really hard to make that happen. From not allowing booth babes to making sure we have panels that represent all our attendees. When I heard from a few people that the shirt would make them uncomfortable at PAX, that gave me pause. Now whether I think that’s a fair or warranted reaction doesn’t really matter. These were not rants on blogs but personal mails to me from people being very reasonable. It’s how they feel and according to them at least, removing the shirt would make them feel better about attending the show. For me that’s an easy fix to the problem. I really don’t want to have this fight and if not having it is as simple as not selling a shirt then I’ll do it. Contrary to what they might think I’m not a complete asshole.

    Now for some people removing the shirt isn’t enough. They don’t want to come to PAX or support PA because of the strip or because they think Tycho and I are perpetuating some kind of rape culture and that’s a different matter. First off it assumes a lot about us that simply isn’t true but more importantly it’s not something I can fix. I’ve gotten a couple messages from people saying they are “conflicted” about coming to PAX. My response to them is: don’t come. Just don’t do it. In fact give me your name and I’ll refund your money if you already bought a ticket. I’ll even put you on a list so that if, in a moment of weakness you try to by a ticket we can cancel the order.

    So there you go. It’s not a simple decision. No matter what we do we’ll have people mad at us. If you want to talk more about it we can chat at PAX.

    -Gabe out

    Source.

    “Not tens of thousands by any stretch” likely refers to this tweet. The passive aggression of the forum post is stunning. He was in no way censored and removed the shirt of his own will. And he did a good thing. But he makes it very clear that it was not his decision and makes sure to blame this so-called “vocal minority” (AKA “these people” and “some people”). He is making full use of the First Amendment: No one has the right to censor you, so you are completely free to be an utter douchebag.

    I’m not upset about the fact that PA makes offensive jokes. I stopped reading it long ago because, even though it has keen and clever commentary on the games industry, it is plagued with the frat-boy humor Krahulik clings to as if PA were nothing without it. As if his jokes weren’t the kind of rotten filth you could find anywhere. The dickwolves joke crossed a line for many, prompting the PA writers to post a comic in which they took the opportunity to repeat the joke, belittle those triggered by it by insisting the rape in the joke was only imaginary, and demonstrating their total lack of understanding and empathy for victims of sexual abuse1. Krahulik mocked trigger warnings in a news post. They later started selling the shirt.

    His news post explains how removing the shirt is “an easy fix to the problem,” the problem being (a) it might make people feel uncomfortable—and it is perfectly believable that this is a new fucking concept for him, and (b) pressure from people important enough (not the “rants on blogs” (very important for him to point that out) or presumably the couple-dozen-or-tens-of-thousands). He’s just like a little puppy, learning that shitting on the rug is bad not because humans don’t like to step in it, but because he’ll get tapped on the nose with a newspaper.

    Now, I’m a straight white cis-male who has never been the victim of sexual abuse. The token rebuttal I hear most often is “what right do you have to be offended for someone else?” Well, I do it with my powers of EMPATHY. I’m that infrared “& Friends” wavelength of the LGBT spectrum. The second to last paragraph applies to me more directly: “My response to them is: don’t come. Just don’t do it.” Let me summarize what he is saying: If you object to our mockery of rape victims, you are not welcome at our convention.

    PAX is fantastic. I had a wonderful time last September wandering the floor and chatting with game developers. There is little that can compare to hearing them gush about how much they love the game they have made. It is indeed “a place were everyone feels welcome,” especially compared to other conventions for the reasons Krahulik mentions. Why on earth he would suggest someone doesn’t come, even offering them the convenience of a refund, because of their objection to his sickening behavior is baffling. It’s just as baffling as why people go out of their way to defend their right to cause misery for others with their words, even as far as to claim victimization. Mike, it is not for you to decide what offends other people; it is your duty as a decent human being to apologize and better consider your behavior in the future.

    Here’s the totally-not-cream-cheese-frosting icing on the cowpie:

    @Cozmicaztaway: @cwgabriel If people already have the shirt and wear it to PAX, then what?

    @cwgabriel: @Cozmicaztaway I’ll be wearing mine to PAX.

    Source.

    “Contrary to what they might think I’m not a complete asshole.”


    UPDATE Aug. 21, 2011

    So, PAX. I’m still not going, but looking back on my blog post on the subject, I don’t feel I explained my position well. The post is ranty and reactionary and I’m not all that proud of the tone. So let me just clarify a few things.

    If you’re unfamiliar with the controversy, here’s a summary: http://debacle.tumblr.com/post/3041940865/the-pratfall-of-penny-arcade-a-timeline

    Krahulik and Holkins never showed any indication that they understood why people were upset. Their attempts at an apology were half-assed and disingenuous and made it clear they were just waiting for everyone to shut up and let the issue slide. That’s what happened under very horrible circumstances, when Krahulik’s family received a death threat. So people did stop talking about it, or at least it left the public spotlight. I had begun writing emails to my favorite game developers, asking them to make it known that this was not the games industry we want; I dropped the effort after the death threat because the public conversation had changed dramatically. Yet, the painful thing about the issue being silenced is that silence is rape culture’s greatest ally.

    So where the issue stands is that the creators and personalities behind PAX have supported, actively in some ways and complicitly in others, the culture of sexism and harassment from which their convention hoped to be a haven. Not to mention that Krahulik threatened to blacklist anyone who objects to their handling of the issue. Regardless of whether PAX truly is a safer, more comfortable place (if harassment happens, it happens—and it happens), what now sets PAX apart is that its most visible personalities have played a part in promoting the culture of harassment.

    What good is there in my not going? None. I’m missing out on some really exciting things, specifically the Guild Wars 2 panels and chance to attend a party at ArenaNet HQ. That’s my choice though. I don’t believe that I personally am under any danger at all of being harassed. I don’t believe that my not going is any sort of effective protest (my talking about it is, but I could do that and still go). I do believe that by going, I could help contribute to the atmosphere I (and Holkins and Krahulik, I really believe) want PAX to have. In that way it’s selfish of me not to go. But given the words and actions of Holkins and Krahulik, PAX is even more tailored to the privileges of heterosexual men, at the expense of those who don’t share those privileges. When I consider going, enough of me feels complicit that I’m disgusted at the thought. That part of me feels that, if I went, I’d betray the people I know who have been assaulted.

    1. The following is quoted verbatim from Kirby Bits’s blog post of her reaction to today’s drama:

      “Something you may not know about Mike Krahulik – he actually has some feelings he can’t “choose”. (The subject comes up around the 8:00 mark.) The quote that I found extremely moving was, and still is, ”There’s things that happen in your brain, like, connections, that you just don’t have any control over.” That’s Mike, talking about his feelings surrounding drug use/abuse. His description is pretty close to how I’d describe my (rarely triggered, thankfully) PTSD. That came out in May, 2010.”

      Source. []