That’s a game called StarForge, a kind of minecrafty (but Notch-approved!) farm/build/survive game that looks pretty promising. Trading off the eight-bit charm of Minecraft for a lot of FPS aggro, it looks like a boots-on-the-ground, shovels-in-the-dirt revisiting of classics like Dune II or Command And Conquer.

There’s a moment in there at about the thirty second mark, though, that gave me a surprising amount to think about; it would have been interesting to see a longer buildup to this, maybe with an explanation of the world and some more examination of what the player’s built up, leading up to the alone-in-the-dark moment where the turrets suddenly spin up and start grinding through ammo before the player can even see what’s coming. From a gameplay perspective this is a great demo; you can tell by the way the entire internet is trying to turn his poor server into one of the smoking craters you see in the video. But from a human-experience perspective, there’s a new thing on display here.

We have tools now that can see a lot further into the dark than we can, make decisions about what they find and then act on them immediately, deploying an staggering amount of force with remarkable precision. It’s sudden, and there’s a good argument to me made that it has to be as sudden as possible – the delay of a warning, a supervising authority or even just a human interaction might be an unacceptable delay, a burden the selection pressure of a technological arms race will quickly discard. Often, in fact, the best-case scenario there is that these tools leave enough of an audit trail that a complex situation might be understandable in long hindsight. But more often you’ll have a few thousand spent casings, a few dozen empty rocket tubes, the burned out shells of a few smoking buildings, the charred husks of their residents and no way to reconcile that with justice or conscience.

So now there’s this moment, that a human can be alone with their anticipation in the crowding dark, when machines we’ve built whose judgement we don’t really trust suddenly act with incredible violence on things we can’t see for reasons we don’t understand.

It’s really a perfect moment – the visceral panic of survival horror, that existential sense irrelevance that lives at the periphery of monstrously outsized forces, the deep-seated, voodoo suspicion of incomprehensible tech… “Your support tools or personal network suddenly goes insane” is going to be the spring-loaded-cat of the 21st century, I think, and for good reason.

I really need an “overthinking” tag.

Today I learned that “I did your mom” jokes are the summit of cultured humour.

DEMETRIUS: Villain, what hast thou done?
AARON: That which thou canst not undo.
CHIRON: Thou hast undone our mother.
AARON: Villain, I have done thy mother.

That’s from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, of all things.

I miss Nick; he would have looked at me like I was dumb for not knowing this.

Switching Tires


Seen here wearing her favorite Rocket Shirt, this is Maya is helping me change the tires on my car. It’s important to get kids started early on this sort of work, I think.


Noted psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan has an interesting theory about infant development, something called the “Mirror Stage”. The idea is that at some point very early in a child’s development they will, on seeing themselves and a parent in the mirror, look from themselves to their parent back to themselves, in shock and laughter; this is the infant’s discovery of the Self, and the moment of differentiation from the Other, the forming brain’s earliest discovery that they are in the world, and differentiated from the other within it.

Like most early theories about psychological development, it’s bunk; it bears no relation to empirically obtained results, casual scrutiny or even common sense. The congenitally blind, for example, still believe themselves to be individuals and humans antedate silvered glass by more than a few years. But it’s really compellingly-told bunkum, and makes for good stories that are easy to retell; much like Freud, it survives in popular narrative long after it’s been deprecated or debunked by the professional community.

The main reason bunkum like Freud or Lacan’s – the urban myths of the human psyche, really – is stories like the one I’m about to tell you get told all the time.

Coincidentally about a week and a half ago and for no particular reason, I started showing Carter himself in a mirror before putting him in the bath. And in the space of a week, Carter has gone from being a wad of fussy protohuman cookie dough to tracking faces, interacting with noises and just generally acting like the early stages of an actual human. It’s really remarkable how quickly that happens, like (a lot like, I bet) something in his head just finished self-assembling and turned itself on. Carter and I have conversations, now – he makes a noise, and I respond, and he seems – how can I know for sure, really, but he seems – to understand that if we make eye contact, he can make a little noise, and I’ll make one back, and then he makes another. He tracks my face, though with about a third of a second in lag.

I’ve felt that rush of understanding, staring at code; suddenly the pieces all seem to coalesce, and the solution to the problem I’ve been staring at for hours or days is just there, intact. I can’t imagine what it must be like for an infant, to go from random shapes and noises to other people. It must be a hell of a thing.

But that thing with the mirrors is kind of silly, really.

Don't Interrupt

We took Arthur’s Science Fair Trouble out of the library for Maya the other day, and let me tell you: I had always suspected that most of what adults tell you is bullshit, but children’s books live at some horrible Venn overlap of Moore and Sturgeon’s respective Laws where 90% of everything is not only crap but getting twice as crappy every year and a half or so.

I had to go over this book carefully with Maya after I read it, to explain to her why every single part of it is wrong. The description from the dust cover reads:

Arthur has to do a science fair project, but all of the good ideas are taken: Buster is building a rocket, Muffy is growing crystals, and Francine is making a bird feeder. Arthur learns a valuable lesson when he finds his father’s old solar system project in the attic and tries to use it for his own science fair project.

That’s right: Arthur’s in a pickle, because all the good science ideas have been done by other children doing wholly original work. But when Arthur instead decides to update his father’s old solar system project (repainting it) and presenting that he feels, we are told, terribly guilty, finally breaking down after winning first prize to admit the work wasn’t wholly his. He is suitably chastised, of course.

I don’t think Maya understood my rant about why verifying old assumptions was incredibly valuable, not merely per se but particularly in light of Pluto’s redefined status and the inclusion of Eris and Ceres in the “Dwarf Planet” category as well.

I had to explain to her Arthur was explaining the evolution of cosmology by repurposing and updating older (handmade by his father!) demonstration materials, which is not only great on its own, but vastly better scientific and expository work than his classmates’ projects, who were showing no insight into why assembling premanufactured toys might not count as science.

“Maya, the people harassing Arthur for this are lazy, ignorant people saying dumb things to make Arthur feel bad, and Arthur is wrong to feel bad about his work. Building on top of each others’ work is the only reason we have this world of incredible, miraculous wonder we live in, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

I don’t think it stuck, but I’ll keep repeating it.

I was thinking about this today when this quote from Mark Twain on plagiarism started making the rounds:

Mark Twain, letter to Helen Keller, after she had been accused of plagiarism for one of her early stories (17 March 1903), published in Mark Twain’s Letters, Vol. 1 (1917) edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, p. 731:

Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that “plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernal, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them anywhere except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, and which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries and ten thousand men — but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly smail portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite — that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.

Which is all to say: Constant vigilance!

I asked the lazyweb: What’s the preferred SQL diff tool? I’d like to take two SQL dumps and get back an SQL file of the difference.

Sheeri Cabral delivers the answer: if you do your DB dump with the –skip-extended-insert option, you can use regular old diff to get you most of the way there. That doesn’t give you an SQL file you can use directly, but it gets you enough of the way there that it’ll do.