blarg?

lunacy

Cuban Shoreline

I tried to explain to my daughter why I’d had a strange day.

“Why was it strange?”

“Well… There’s a thing called a cryptocurrency. ‘Currency’ is another word for money; a cryptocurrency is a special kind of money that’s made out of math instead of paper or metal.”

That got me a look. Money that’s made out of made out of math, right.

“… and one of the things we found today was somebody trying to make a new cryptocurrency. Now, do you know why money is worth anything? It’s a coin or a paper with some ink on it – what makes it ‘money’?”

“… I don’t know.”

“The only answer we have is that it’s money if enough people think it is. If enough people think it’s real, it becomes real. But making people believe in a new kind of money isn’t easy, so what this guy did was kind of clever. He decided to give people little pieces of his cryptocurrency for making contributions to different software projects. So if you added a patch to one of the projects he follows, he’d give you a few of these math coins he’d made up.”

“Um.”

“Right. Kind of weird. And then whoever he is, he wrote a program to do that automatically. It’s like a little robot – every time you change one of these programs, you get a couple of math coins. But the problem is that we update a lot of those programs with our robots, too. Our scripts run, our robots, and then his robots try to give our robots some of his pretend money.”

“…”

“So that’s why my day was weird. Because we found somebody else’s programs trying to give our programs made-up money, in the hope that this made-up money would someday become real.”

“Oh.”

“What did you to today?”

“I painted different animals and gave them names.”

“What kind of names?”

“French names like zaval.”

“Cheval. Was it a good day?”

“Yeah, I like painting.”

“Good, good.”

(Charlie Stross warned us about this. It’s William Gibson’s future, but we still need to clean up after it.)

For about ten minutes this morning I was in a beautiful relationship.

I bike to work in the morning, and I’m pretty aggressive about it. I’m one of the scofflaw cyclists people who spend a few hours every day slowly dying in traffic like to complain about. I move so much faster than traffic, though, that their opinions hardly matter. Off peak hours (whenever those are) you can make a case for driving, I suppose? But in general, in rush hour in this city, nothing is faster than me. Subway, Porsche, Ducati, doesn’t matter.

Today, though.

This morning I’m cranking down the road, not full out but sure not dawdling, when a woman about my age riding with fenders and a pannier – a pannier! Wicker! – blows past me like it’s not even a thing. Whoosh.

This cannot stand, of course; the machismo bullshit is strong with me at moments like this. It’s a rare day and a rare treat for me that I get a rabbit to chase on my ride in, so I can’t miss this; I gear down take off after her.

After a while I catch up, start drafting – the two of us are flying down the road – and then pass her, but I’m not shaking her, oh no. She was not having that. I beat her to a light by about two lengths but she timed it better, got out in front of me again, took a better line around the traffic and started stretching her lead. She was raising her game here, and I did not have an easy time catching up. By the time I do I’m feeling it, and looking over it doesn’t look like I’m pushing her anywhere near as hard as she’s pushing me.

We went back and forth like that for about ten minutes, past everyone, trading leads and drafting around traffic and go go go until finally her commute took her north near where I turned south. I was grinning like a lunatic at the end of it, and she seemed happy as well; we shared a nod and went our separate ways, and that was that.

Whoever you are, that was one of the best rides in I can remember. I hope it was as much of a blast for you as it was for me.

Well done, and thank you.

Your new password must contain a mix of:

  • uppercase letters
  • lowercase letters
  • numbers
  • symbols
  • symbols that are also numbers
  • illuminati symbols
  • hobo signs
  • occult symbols (not illuminati)
  • old girlfriend’s phone numbers
  • hieroglyphs
  • fragrances
  • H.P. Lovecraft references
  • exotic spices
  • descriptions of that favorite sweater you lost in a breakup that one time
  • secret regrets
  • controversial onomatopoeia
  • limericks about a thermostat
  • vaguely sexual innuendos
  • anagrams of a word you can’t spell
  • favorite emoji
  • least favorite emoji
  • turnips
  • shrugs
  • ennui
  • cursory pats on the back
  • long stares into the middle distance
  • moments of quiet yearning for lost love (unrelated to sweater or secret regret)
  • cups of OK coffee
  • sense of resigned inevitability (minimum three)
  • irish setters
  • tweed hats

No repeat characters.

My dentist expressed some concern today that when he pokes my gums with a piece of sharp metal, they’re prone to bleeding.

My observation that almost every part of me has that quality was not well-received. He proposed some treatment for it, but when I told him I’d pay quite a bit extra to have him take whatever that is and dip my entire body in it that part of the conversation didn’t go all that swimmingly either. I said he could hold me by the heel, I know how this works, but no.

Anyway, long story short, apparently dentists have no sense of humour and flossing your entire body won’t make you invulnerable.

Now you know.

This has been sitting around in the drafts folder for a while. I’m not sure why I wanted to finish it off tonight, but I want to get all these half-finished posts done. This seemed like a good way to knock off some of the rust.

Rust Never Sleeps

Occasionally when I’m in one of my darker moods I’ll fire up a game that’s meant to be multiplayer and walk through it alone, crawling around the fringes and corners to see how the game reacts to unexpected stimuli, looking for soft spots and exposed nerves.

I’ve always been a lurker in open worlds games, real life being no exception; I don’t remember when I started looking for the seams, the little gaps where the walls don’t quite line up or the high ledge that offers a long view, but it’s not a thing I can turn off. And when I’m in that sullen loner’s mood, sitting in the dark soloing multiplayer spaces is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two on just that sort of wallhack tourism.

Halo’s Spartan Ops, is kind of fun though not particularly replayable distraction. It’s a neat idea, and I sort of wish they’d done more with the idea of serving up Halo in smaller episodic doses. The environments, though… if you have the right eyes you can’t help but notice that built-for-a-shooter feeling that pervades the designed landscapes of that franchise.

Its not just the trademark gun-litter; whether it’s a forcefield deployed pointlessly in a cave, an otherwise-empty room with one door and twenty or so alien warriors milling around inside waiting to no discernable purpose or an massive structure of dubious architectural merit built by an advanced alien species whose accomplishments include intergalactic teleporters but not doors, you never have a moment to shake off the sense that the world is built entirely around sight lines.

Specifically, as they emerge from you.

This is a pretty niche failure mode, I’ll admit. It’s possible I’m the only person who will ever notice or care about it. But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a space designed for a shooter that didn’t undercut any grandeur and greater aspirations the game might have. It maybe unavoidable; as lush as some of these environments seem at first, how do you evoke that sense of being part of something much bigger than yourself when everything is designed around you?

So much video game architecture fails that test of basic significance, worlds of outsized and beautiful physics-defying structures that don’t speak to any motive beyond themselves. Halo 4 is hardly the worst example, but the scale it aspires to makes this kind of anarrative laziness hard to overlook. This incredibly ambitious backstory, these huge structures and it’s all facade; there’s no “why”, because you’re there with the controller in your lap and you’re the “why” and there is no larger story than that.

“This place once belonged to an ancient and noble civilization, whose might and wisdom spanned the galaxy”, these structures say, “and as a monument to our glories we have built this: a monochromatic rhombus.”

Also I’m not sure how that Spartan Miller guy got his job, but he’s kind of excitable for an ostensibly hardened space marine.

But if you’re the sort of person who appreciates a jetpack – and if you’re not I don’t really see how we can keep being friends – then a lot of these arbitrary obstructions and forced perspectives are suddenly, inexplicably tractable. That extra degree of freedom is enough; in some places – Science Mountain is a good choice here – suddenly you can fly over a gate you were meant to fight past. And the game, of course, doesn’t appreciate being spoken to like that: Halo is on rails, and always will be thus! And you’re frightening the AI and this is just the way things are and I don’t care for your tone, young man. You can’t just leave the rails, that’s why it’s called “going off the rails”, and… hey, get back here!

And in this transgression, of course, Halo reveals itself for what it is.

You clear that gate, mop up a few stragglers and hop back to flip the switch to proceed. Enemies appear, less and listless. Defeat them, and now you’re alone. The next part of the sequence simply doesn’t happen. No-one else appears, no more doors open. Your team never contacts you and you, stoic and silent, never reach out to them.

There’s no meaning, there’s no more, there’s no distraction; there’s just reflection and just you, silently exploring a small corner of a deserted island intended only for you, forever. And there’s nothing to do but look for another seam, another glitch, to allow you maybe possibly move on.

It’s a weird, lonely feeling; kind of what you’d expect from soloing a multiplayer game alone in the dark.

I was in an Ikea last weekend, when their background music system started playing Rage Against The Machine.

I was actually paralyzed for a moment. I found myself looking around, thinking “Am… Am I just old? Is this old-person music now? Or is it finally time? Here? Why here, now?” I felt, briefly, like I was revisiting a scene from They Live, entirely in my own head. Am I the only person who can hear this? Doesn’t anyone else know what comes next?

I took a minute to look around; I expected to see at least one other person trying to decide whether or not it was time to start flipping stuff over and setting it on fire, but nope. Not a one.

UPDATE: A cölleägüe pöints öut thät there ären’t enough ümläuts in this pöst, which I will äddress directly.

A little while ago, the espresso machine in our office broke down. This doomsday scenario is, and I say this without the least bit of hyperbole, the most catastrophically dire situation that can exist in this or any other possible universe. If the intertubes felt slow for you the last few weeks, that’s probably why.

After a while, I started asking a colleague, Sean Martell, to ‘shop up some old war propaganda every few days, to express our dismay.

So, here you go.

We Need Coffee To Survive

It Can Happen Here

We Can Do It

Mercifully it is now fixed, and productivity should normalize in a day or two.

Guys guys great news: it turns out that panicky superstitious people who deliberately misinterpret their shallow understanding of an incredibly narrow slice of a foreign culture they’re otherwise completely disinterested in aren’t reliable predictors of anything at all ever.

Who saw that coming, right?

I like to imagine that for months now somewhere in the Yucatan peninsula people have been saying “Oh shit, man! The white people’s calendar ends on December 31st!!” and then howling with laughter, because somehow it’s hilarious every time.

Well, that certainly took off, didn’t it?

I’ve had some pretty mixed feelings this week; putting a ton of time and effort into a startup that doesn’t take off and then seeing a tiny little side project blow up has had me quietly making Scumbag Internet ragefaces, but I suppose if Internet Fame was going to find me, I’m happy it’s for doing something I’m proud of. Sure beats falling down an escalator on Youtube and then being Youtube Escalator Guy forever.

Here’s a video of the introduction to WindWaker running in Dolphin, with my pronoun patch applied.

So anyway, that Windwaker mod? Huge, and kind of all over the place. The first wave of web coverage started with Hackaday, followed quickly by an unfortunately-titled Ars Technica article before metastasizing to Metafilter, Kotaku, Joystiq, and a bunch of international sites I can almost but not quite read.

One Dutch site declared, “Vader hackt computerspel dochter om van hoofdpersonage vrouw te maken”. I have no idea what that means but if I try to say it in English it reads “Vader hacked computerspells doctor on van hoofed-personage vroom to making”, and how awesome is that? (Update! It’s actually Belgian, my mistake.)

Funny anecdote: I looked all over the place for software that would record from a segment of my screen and capture the audio coming out of my speakers. Quicktime, incomprehensibly, will do video but only record from the microphone or line-in but not audio-out. After trying a bunch of free/trialware that was all garbage, I had one of those embarrassing “self, you’ve been stupid” moments-of-clarity and solved the problem by plugging a male-male headphone cable into both jacks on the Mac. Man, solving software problems with hardware: so gauche.

Dear Quicktime devs: that’s right, I’ve added a missing feature to your software with a copper wire. “Plaatsvervangende schaamte“, speaking of awesome Dutch words, roughly means “transposed shame”; embarrassment you’re feeling on behalf of somebody too oblivious to feel it themselves. I’m feeling plaatsvervangende schaamte right now, and I’m looking at you.

So, a couple of general points, mostly random notes or observations I’ve made in the last week and a half or so.

  • First and foremost: thanks for the positive press and lots of public and private messages of support. There’s been quite a bit of interest in this, and I’ve taken those opportunities to to talk about how women are treated by the video game industry and gamer culture, and how I think things need to change. I doubt I’ll get a podium like this one very often, and I’m glad I feel like I’ve done the right thing with it.
  • If you want to try it out but all that stuff about hashes and patches in the original post was offputting, one commenter has got a thing that will make it much easier for you, for which I’m grateful. Thanks, Daniel!
  • Boy, trying to do anything progressive on the ‘net sure brings out the cranks, doesn’t it? I suppose there’s always going to be somebody out there with the time to tell you you suck, saying “FAIL” and fantasizing about murdering your family while yelling at you to google Ron Paul, especially if you’ve got the temerity to suggest that women should have an equal voice in the world and maybe aren’t property. Brendan Behan once said that “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it themselves”, and while I don’t agree with that every day, that sentence has definitely been rattling around my head for the last two weeks.

    But the ‘net’s usual cadre of reactionary neanderthals aside, a number of white dudes have suggested that this was somehow unnecessary because there are plenty of strong female role models in video games, citing Samus Aran and Lara Croft, and leaving me shaking my head. Truly, those people haven’t been paying attention or can’t read, two problems that may be reinforcing each other; neither of those characters are in games suitable for a child, and both of them have been horribly mistreated in the most recent editions of their franchise, for the most patronizing, misogynist reasons imaginable. So dudes, while you’re making a strong argument there, it’s not at all the one you think you’re making.

    In any case: there were fewer death threats than I expected, but not none. Way to stay in character, purse-dogs of the Internet.

  • Etherpad – and presumably any collaborative text editor, but specifically Etherpad – is so much better than doing interviews over the phone. A bit slower, a bit clunkier if you’re not a touch-typist maybe, but being able to actually have both sides of the interview collaborate, be able to walk away for a few moments without breaking anything, and having something you both have a record of and can cut and paste? So good, and outweighing the alternatives by quite a bit.
  • Even if it still has tremendous reach we all suspect old media is doomed, right? Well, funny story about that, you can sort of tell how doomed various segments of the media are by how they try to get in touch with you. I was interviewed by a couple of people, and how people got in touch with me was informative:
    • Lukas Blakk at Geek Feminism found me on IRC and proposed doing the interview in Etherpad right away. Ok, you’ve got me. I’m in.
    • A number of people who found the article scrolled down to the Contact page, and found me through that. That’s cool, that works; when Skype got a little choppy we could switch to Etherpad, and it worked out well.
    • A smaller number of people – some independent journalists, some larger media organizations – googled me, found Bespoke I/O and contacted me through that; some of those people used Skype or otherwise on voice recordings of their interviews, which is OK even if it seems like a lot of retyping.
    • Nobody’s tried to fax me yet, but two people saw the article and then looked me up in the phone book and left a message on my land line. Doomed, guys. Doooooooooooooooooomed.
  • We all kind of know URL shorteners are bullshit, but you really don’t find out just how bad they are for small shops and the Web in general until you’re trying to learn things from your referrer logs. No joke, URL shorteners are a straight-up theft of knowledge. In fact, I’m wondering if being able to hoard all that redirect info for themselves is the specific reason that Twitter has decided to tell their entire ecosystem to go die in a fire. As an aside, it is such a shame to watch them blow another opportunity – “Become Infrastructure” – that most startups would cut off an arm for, but hey, that’s Twitter. Maybe everything that new guy learned at MySpace will be able to help them hahaha *sob*.
  • It seems a little churlish to complain about media rights, given the nature of the project, but my Flickr feed is flagged “All Rights Reserved”. Among larger media outlets NBC News, Der Spiegel, Huffington Post, Buzz60 and the Toronto Star were noteworthy for actually asking for reprint permission, as were a handful of smaller blogs. Precisely zero of the big-name techblogs – Ars Technica, Kotaku, Jezebel, Joystiq, any of them – bothered to ask.
  • Oh, Today Show… closing out with “Oh, the things a Pop will do for his princess”, really? Go say that in an empty room; listen to the echo. That’s the sound of your being part of the problem.
  • Nobody cares about Google+. For real; I have evidence. Ever heard of Plurk? Yeah, neither have I, and maybe this is some sort of unexpected sampling bias, but Plurk’s numbers destroyed Google+ as far as my referrer logs are concerned. Google actually does run a vibrant, engaging and competitive social network, but it’s called Google Reader.

A lot of people have asked me if I’m going to do this again with some other game, and I started last week saying that it depended on what my daughter wanted and which way her interests went. The amount of pushback I got for it though, the threats and hate mail, have certainly helped me make up my mind.

Definitely, yes.

Today in IRC-as-performance-art news, a friend just had the idea of turning Amazon’s recommendation algorithm into some sort of Reality-TV / Takeshi’s Castle crossover thing.

12:02 <mhoye> My goodness, Amazon's "people who have bought this also bought" is returning some pretty implausible results.
12:04 <mhoye> 500 feet of rapelling cable, an espresso tamper, five knives and a ten-pound box of adhesive googly-eyes.
12:05 <mhoye> I live my life, and somewhere in the world, algorithms learn to fear.
12:05 <mhoye> This is good.
12:05 <colleague> that's actually not a bad mix
12:05 <mhoye> It gives me something to aspire to.
12:05 <colleague2>  mhoye: there's a concept for a show here -- something like "Chopped" but not food
12:05 <mhoye> I need more days in my life where those things are a necessity.
12:07 <mhoye> colleague2: That is a _brilliant_ idea. Some sort of cinema-verite thing where you go over the list of things Amazon also recommends, and then construct some sort of high-intensity scenario where IF YOU DON'T RAPPEL INTO THE ELEVATOR SHAFT, PRY OPEN THE DEVICE WITH ALL THE KNIVES AND TAMP TEN POUNDS OF GOOGLEY EYES INTO IT OR THE CITY IS DOOMED.
12:09 <mhoye> Update: Clicking 'next' has added a book called "The Wisdom Of Whores", a 6-quart slow cooker and five hundred miniature pompoms to the list.
12:09 <mhoye> This might get complicated.

Contrived? Dumb? Absolutely. But also awesome, no?