Spare ideas

(GeekStuff, Personal)

2013-06-08 14:17
Comment [1]

Was reading the Pathfinder (a tabletop RPG) book on game mastery, browsing their world-building stuff, came up with spare ideas.

I tend to have lots more ideas than time to do anything with, so, here’s a batch of spare ideas in case anyone needs them.

  • They pointed out that nomadic people tend to be lower-tech than non-nomadic people. What if it were the other way around? So there are wandering nomads who come to cities, where the people of the cities trade them high quality simple goods for fancy things like clocks that are too hard for the city people to make. (Why? I dunno. Magic maybe. Maybe mana is a limited resource which regenerates slowly, and running things like clocks uses it up, and you need more than that to make them, so you can’t do this in cities. Maybe it’s secret technology that the nomads jealously guard. I have no idea.)
  • They pointed out that the usual structure of feudal societies had nobility tending to be knights and such, with serfs being non-combatants. What if you had one feudal society in which swords were nobility, and mages were serfs, and one the other way around, and they were neighbors?
  • Moon-based magic. This presumes something similar to the D&D “spells are used up and then you get more”. So magic is based on the moon; you don’t get new spells for the day when you sleep, you get new spells for the day when the moon rises. But wait! There’s three moons. Different casters are aligned with different moons. Key war strategy: Attack at a time when your heavy-hitters will be able to unload most of their magic right before moonrise.
  • A technological revolution could make a really interesting fantasy RPG, although it’d be pretty far from the usual range of D&D.
Peter Seebach

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Comment [1]

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Getting hit on in MMOs

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2013-06-03 13:20
Comment [1]

So, last night, there was hilarity. There was this guy, in Rift, who was… well. First off, I believe he was about 14. So he was being generically homophobic, as a lot of young teens are, and people were teasing him about it. And he responded, as 14-year-old boys often do, by trying to be abusive and sexually harass people with female names. Whereupon he asked Katrinka (aka me) to “show me your milkshake”.

What followed was probably the most hilarious three hours of my MMO gaming career. I persistently refused on the grounds that I am not interested in felony charges. He explained that this meant that Katrinka was:

  1. A lesbian.
  2. Actually a guy.

Ooookay. So he continues to assert these simultaneously, and then it starts getting weird. For one thing, while I admit I don’t spend enough time hitting on lesbians to really have a strong feel for the strategy, my initial impression is that an obsessive focus on how disgusting you think gays are isn’t gonna be a winning strategy.

But it has not yet gotten weird. At one point, I observed that I had been married longer than he’d been alive. His response, “pregnant bitches need lovin too”, manages to somehow encapsulate the essence of the conversation; it’s pretty much incompatible with both of his other claims.

Furthermore, he put a great deal of effort into establishing that he was not actually a teenager. He never asserted a specific age, but he did tell the story of the time he and some friends did “oxycotteen” and had sex in a hot tub. Later, he referrered back to it, asking us how many 12-year-olds said they’d done that. (Note: I don’t think anyone else had mentioned 12; I was sticking with 14.)

The whole thing was just sort of surreal. At one point, when I’d been off actually slaying dragons and stuff and not bothering to chat, he said “where did katrina go?”, a question to which at least two people responded with variants of “New Orleans”. He didn’t get it. (This sort of suggestts to me that 14 is on the old end of likely guesses; I would expect a 16-year old to remember a massive natural disaster from 8 years ago.)

And really, “he didn’t get it” was the night’s theme. In response to his misspelling of oxycontin, I told a story about people who had tried to steal painkillers from a veterinarian’s office, and ended up with a large amount of oxytocin. I think I got that from This is True, where the tag the writer gave it was “… suspects are middle-aged males with sensitive, enlarged, nipples.” He didn’t get it, and pursued for some time the question of how the hell you’d use that in a line-up or something.

We made comments about his obsession with “queer assholes”. He didn’t get it. Puns were made; he didn’t get any of them. When he did something particularly offensive and entitled, it was observed that if the Massengil people found him, it’d cover their production needs for three years. He didn’t get it. And throughout it all, he persisted in trying to hit on Katrinka, while observing that she was a lesbian and also really a guy.

And it really did turn out to be sort of creepy, even so. Particularly creepy was the part where he started talking a whole lot about milkshakes, and then announced he had to go for “a smoke”, then stopped posting for a while, and when he came back he was suddenly less sex-obsessed for a while.

Couple of take-home lessons:

  1. This stuff really does still happen. Guys still hit on people they think might be girls, and call them “lesbians” if turned down.
  2. It’s really creepy.
  3. It’s also, at least in MMOs, now pretty much a target for open mockery because the vast majority of the player base knows better.
Peter Seebach

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Comment [1]

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Critical theory in a nutshell

(Politics)

2013-05-27 13:37
Comment

I once encountered someone who asserted that all men, without exceptions, were rapists. Not as hyperbole, but as a flatly literal claim. And when I pointed out that this was pretty sexist, she explained that, according to “critical theory”, there was no such thing as sexism against men, because men are a privileged group.

I have run into this a few more times, and it appears that there’s a wonderful little game going here. You take a term — say, sexism. You assert that some of the things it refers to are more important than others, and then redefine the term to refer to only those cases, then assert that since the others don’t match this definition, they’re not sexism at all. And then do those things, gleefully, while asserting that this is in no way bad or harmful, because you have a definition saying it’s not sexism.

I’d like to propose that we extend this to environmentalism. As you are likely aware, pollution is a significant problem. But wait! The vast majority of this ecological harm is done by large industrial operations, which are run by corporations, so I’m going to propose a new definition: “Pollution” shall be understood to be “the introduction of harmful chemicals and materials into the environment by corporations.”

The rationale, see, is that now if we want to talk about social policies to reduce the harm done to the environment by corporations, we don’t have to use qualified terms, we can just talk about “reducing pollution”. See how useful that is? How vital it is to effective discourse?

So, what are the implications? Say I hate people who go fishing, and I want them to die. I can go dump mercury in the local fishing pond. This isn’t pollution, because I’m not a corporation. Therefore there’s nothing wrong with it, and it is not harmful to the environment, because we already know that stuff which harms the environment would be called pollution. Since we’ve improved “pollution” not to refer to things individual people do, this can’t be pollution, therefore it can’t be stuff which harms the environment.

Same deal. (Distressingly, I posted this example once, and got a helpful note from someone who insisted that any thought whatsoever about non-corporate activities was useless for environmentalism. This is why we can’t have nice things, people.)

Peter Seebach

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New personal best: 13 years.

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2013-05-26 13:01
Comment

So, you know that thing where people say they’ll get back to you, but they don’t? I had one of those pending from a programming conversation. I finally went back and tracked it down and sent a followup message. It’s been 13 years.

Luckily, I still don’t understand the clever algorithm the guy was showing me, so it’s still topical.

Peter Seebach

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On being made out of meat.

(Personal)

2013-05-14 16:55
Comment [4]

We are, by and large, made out of meat.

This has implications. For instance, we get sick. We die. Sometimes, we get something of a vote in the matter; we can, for instance, respond to getting sick in ways that make us less likely to die.

Angelina Jolie (an actress) is also human, and is also made out of meat. Edit: I thought she had cancer, but no, just an 87% chance of getting it due to genetics. She decided to go for the treatment most likely to result in living for a while, which is a double mastectomy. Thing is, she’s an actress. And because she’s an actress, her breasts are not really hers to dispose of if she’d rather live than have them. No, they belong to the millions of random strangers who are expressing horror and outrage that she would rather live than give them new masturbation material with lots of cleavage in it.

Y’all, this is sorta fucked up. Pretty sure that the married woman with the kid does not actually need to get your permission before she decides between your future fantasy life and how much time she’s likely to get with the husband and kid. Just… no. Seriously, this is not okay.

I’d try to draft some kind of “how to talk to your idiotic coworkers and friends about this” thing, with a list of talking points, except that fundamentally it’s so crazy I can’t even comprehend how someone could get to a position where they need this explained.

Peter Seebach

Comment [4]

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Dear Ms. Scott: I believe you misunderstand the term "heart-breaking".

(Personal, Politics)

2013-05-13 13:31
Comment

Peggy Scott’s heart breaks for the state of Minnesota.

Thing is. Okay, yeah, maybe this is a divisive issue. But the fact is, the people pushing for gender-neutral marriage laws are not the ones who started that; it was the people at the ironically-named “Minnesotans for Marriage” and their political allies who started a major push to try to raise awareness of how horrible gay people are and how damaging it would be to our society to treat them like consenting adults, or admit that they exist in front of our children.

And that was what was divisive. All that hostile rhetoric? Divisive. A state in which whether or not you are legally kin to the person you’ve been with for twenty years and raised kids with depends on what’s in your pants? That’s divisive. Fixing it? People will complain, but then they’ll discover, as David Frum did, that actually the fears about gay marriage are baseless, and life will go on. And we will be less divided.

No, Ms. Scott, this isn’t heart-breaking. This is repairing a thing which has been heart-breaking all along, only it’s only been heart-breaking to people who aren’t like you enough for you to care about them or their lives.

You want heart-breaking? This is what heart-breaking news about marriage equality looks like. We’re moving away from that. If it breaks your heart to imagine that we would move away from these sad things and replace them with happy things, well. That’s more about you than it is about the rest of this.

I do note that we’re still seeing a lot of rhetoric about “Biblical” notions of marriage. When I hear these coming from someone who considers it valid for a man to kill a 14-year-old girl’s entire family, then take her to be his wife whether she wants to or not (but she has to be allowed to mourn them for a while, and cannot thereafter be sold into slavery), I disagree with them. When I hear them from someone who doesn’t consider that valid, I consider them offensive and frankly blasphemous. It is not your place to impose American ideals of the 1950s on the Bible.

Peter Seebach

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The mirror test and cats

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2013-05-03 11:52
Comment [4]

One of the standard tests for self-awareness is “the mirror test” — put dye on a creature in a place it can’t see but could see in a mirror, give it a mirror, see whether it investigates the dyed spot. Cats, in general, fail this.

But I’ve found a test they pass using a mirror. Well, that one cat passes.

My cat is consistently surprised if touched from behind. Touch the back of her head, and at the very least she twitches her ears.

Do it while she’s facing a mirror, and she is completely unconcerned.

I hypothesize that she can tell that the thing in the mirror is me-holding-her, and that this means that she knows I am about to touch her, thus, isn’t surprised. Further science is called for. I require a large number of cats, some mirrors, and an NSF grant.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [4]

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The bat: Nature's temporary pet!

(Personal)

2013-05-02 16:49
Comment

Now available for limited time trials: The bat, nature’s temporary pet!

Your new bat will provide minutes to hours of enjoyment before leaving you. It’s the pet you don’t have to take care of^SM^.

Your bat has many amazing talents and abilities.

  • Can fly frantically in circles for hours!
  • Can acrobatically dodge mid-air obstacles you can’t even see!
  • May not be able to dodge walls.
  • Don’t worry about your bat being stingy with infectious diseases; if it has rabies, it brought enough for everyone!
  • Your bat will be fanatically loyal, and will definitely not fly out through any open doorways or windows during its time with you.
  • Not even if you are waving a broom at it or something.
  • Your bat may make noises! If you’re over 20, you’ll never know either way, though.

Goodbye, Mister Squeaky! We hope you remember us fondly now that you are back in the great outdoors.

Peter Seebach

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Living in Minnesota

(Personal)

2013-05-02 01:01
Comment

So, last week, we had a brief bout of freezing weather and snow, with rumors that temperatures would rise. And they did, fast enough that about a day after the snow, I installed a window air conditioner in my bedroom, since I have trouble sleeping when it’s warm. And then we had three consecutive days where it was warm enough that I ran the air conditioner so I could sleep.

And it’s a good thing I installed it then, because it would have been a real pain to try to install it today, what with the six inches or so of snow we just got.

Peter Seebach

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Defining "proceeds": Harder than it looks

(GeekStuff, Personal)

2013-04-30 15:19
Comment

So, there were bombs in Boston recently. You may have heard. And there are people in Boston, and a lot of them feel that this is sort of a thing which affects them. It may in fact affect them significantly. And if they run, say, a company, one of the obvious things to do would be to collect some money and donate it to a charity.

One such company is Turbine. They make MMOs, most notably Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online. I play DDO. It’s a fun game. And they’re doing some stuff pertaining to the bombings, like donating to the One Fund.

But there’s an issue. See, Turbine’s primary way of selling things isn’t dollars. It’s “Turbine Points”, or TP. You can buy TP for dollars; the conversion rate depends on how many dollars you spend. Sometimes there are sales where the conversion rate is different. Sometimes there’s deals where, say, buying a particular thing entitles you to buy TP at a particularly good rate. If you maintain a “VIP subscription” to one of their games, you get additional points over time. And, perhaps most interestingly, you can generate the points simply by playing the game. As your hero makes a reputation in the world, you are occasionally given small additional pools of points. (I’m told that people have worked out a way in which you could unlock all of the “premium” content by playing the content you get access to for free.)

So, they are selling in-game “ribbons”, at a price of 100TP. There’s a coupon to get them free if you want, but if you don’t use the coupon, you spend 100TP.

Now, obviously, the intent is that the proceeds would go to the charity, right? Only. We don’t know how to define “the proceeds”. If I spend 100TP on a ribbon, how much is that in dollars? I have no idea. I don’t think the question is well-defined. And I suspect the charity would not be particularly happy with a donation of “100 Turbine Points”, because they’re not a very negotiable currency.

Consider the simple case: I go to their store, I spend $20, I get 1,550 points. I buy 15 ribbons. I’ve clearly spent most of $20 on ribbons, right? Okay, now say instead I spend $200, and get 23,000 points. I buy 15 ribbons. 1500/23,000ths of my $200 comes out to about $13.04. Have I spent $13 on ribbons? Probably.

Now, what if six months ago I spent $50 on points, so I had 5,000. Since then I’ve picked up 3,000 points that were given as bonuses from my $10/month subscription, and I bought a $10 expansion pack code that included 500 points, and I’ve been adventuring a lot and my characters have earned me 750 points, and I’ve spent 6,000 points on stuff in their store. So that’s 3,250 points left. And I spend 1500 of them on ribbons.

How much was that in dollars? I have no idea.

One simple approach: We sum all the expenditures, and assume that’s the cost of the points. So that’s $120 of spending, for 9,250 points. Only the subscription and the expansion pack thing both contained things other than points. And I don’t know what those things are worth. And it gets more complicated.

Let’s look at an easier case. I spend $200 on points, getting 23,000. I then spend 22,000 points on various in-game shinies. I have 1,000 points left, which cost me roughly $8.69. Now I spend another $50, and get 5,000 points. I now have 6,000 points left. I have spent $250 on points, getting 28,000 points — 112 points to a dollar. But the points I have right now are 6,000 points which cost $58.69 — only 102 points to a dollar.

Which is to say: There is no way to make a sensible decision as to what the “proceeds” of such a sale are. No definition is unambiguously correct.

Turbine’s solution is to admit this, and say that they are making a donation out of their own funds, and they are not trying to exactly tie the amount of that donation to the sales of ribbons. And a lot of customers are mad at them for this, because they want to know where their money is going. And I don’t entirely blame them for wanting to know, but… It’s not possible. So I’m gonna go with “I think these people care more about this issue than they do about trying to cheat their customers.” And probably buy some ribbons.

Peter Seebach

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