The Thing About Orcs

So, there's this piece on Orcs and racism:

And they have a long blog post about Tolkien's racist origins of Orcs & "Eastern Men":

"The Orcs are definitely stated to be corruptions of the 'human' form seen in Elves and Men. They are (or were) squat, broad, flat-nosed, sallow-skinned, with wide mouths and slant eyes: in fact degraded and repulsive versions of the (to Europeans) least lovely Mongol-types."
—J.R.R.Tolkien, Letter #210

Which I agree is pretty horrible, I greatly dislike Tolkien the man, and his post-Hobbit work. The post is kind of a waste of time to read beyond that, I eyerolled 180° at the quoting-white-men-about-racism tone, and denial of other people of colors' different experiences (Jason Momoa in particular). Maybe that's just how James talks, all the goddamned time. Someone should set up a medical research fund. Anyway, I'm only in this to read about the Orcs, shit that happens on Earth is not my problem.

My old solution to the Orc problem was to make Orcs tolerated and playable if they lived in civilization, but so culturally different in their nomadic tribes, that you still had something like the classic Human/Orc war trope. That can be problematic when compared to how the US, etc. treated Native Americans and other indigenous populations, but it cut down on the genocides/"we kill all the Orc babies"; players treated Orcs like a hostile tribe of Humans, warred against them until they stopped being annoying, and made peace.

But then why not just use Humans? That's James Raggi's solution, which technically works, but it's not interesting unless you throw an enormous book of "What do the Saxons believe and why are they so awful?" at the players which you don't want to write, and which they won't read. In history it was pretty easy to tell what culture someone was by their artifacts, dress, and speech; but none of those are easily visible in Theatre of the Mind role-playing.

So in everything I've run or written in the last few years, I solved the problem by replacing Orcs with Beastfolk, humanoids with bestial features chosen off a table of local mammals. They behave almost exactly like my previous use of Orcs, and yet because they're not all green-skinned pig-men, and might even be cute & fuzzy, especially the young ones, suddenly reaction is completely different. It either arouses or annoys furries, neither of which is my intention, but that's a small price to pay for how radically it changes the conversation.

I don't usually want "half-breeds", because that directly leads to racial theory bullshit, but in a magical world full of Owlbears it's certainly possible for species to be crossed, and Edgy McEdgertons always want to be a half-breed Goblin/Dark Elf with a tragic backstory or some such, so unless you want to waste half an hour arguing before the game, just say yes and move on.

LISP Machines

I really wish we had a front-end to software even half as useful as this in the 21st C, but technology has regressed massively since the '80s and '90s. Some of the old IDEs, before they became bloated "enterprise" software (because giant mega-corporations paid for them, not individual programmers, so the IDE makers serve their paymasters), started to slouch towards this kind of usefulness but fast and small. CodeWarrior, Project Builder/Interface Builder, Borland's Turbo Whatever.

emacs isn't the answer, it's an abandonment of the question; "modern" emacs turned away from the LM zmacs model, it's now just a terrible LISP interpreter with a bad text-only-editor front end; you can make tools in it, but nobody sane will want to use them. I'm perfectly comfortable with the emacs editing keys (well, obviously, Macs use emacs keys for all text areas), but the machinery in it is just broken.

I get excited about Chez Scheme having a nice REPL, with history and can edit multi-line blocks in the REPL, unlike the crappy readline almost every other Scheme uses. But it doesn't do hypertext, it doesn't do graphics, it barely has tab completion (procedure names only), it doesn't have any inline documentation & source inspector; all of those were in the LISP Machine.

When I'm working, I have my text editor (BBEdit or Atom mostly), a terminal with the REPL running and I copy-paste to it, 3-4 PDFs open (R6RS, R6RS-lib, CSUG, sometimes TSPL), and a web browser pointed at the SRFIs. If the Internet connection went down, I'd have to search the SRFI sources to figure out what's in there. I really need a better tool for this.

DrRacket can do some graphics inline, and the tab completion shows documentation hints in the top right corner, but as I note every time, it doesn't really have a REPL because it destroys the interactive environment every time you edit code; utterly useless for code exploration. And in practice, Racket is really horrifyingly slow; it does fine in focused benchmarks but real-world use it just falls over drooling.

The graphics part's sort of irrelevant, and sort of not; the way the LISP Machine worked was getting a "presentation" form for an object, which would render as text or drawings or images, and interacting with it sent messages back to that object. That's probably out of scope for anything except a complete new OS and terminal. A simplistic number-tagged hypertext would be good enough and orders of magnitude easier.

So. I'm not sure what to do here, I don't want to just complain about tools and not do anything about them. I could try to extract the docs to make a hypertext doc system; a lot of text processing on TeX source sounds painful, and a one-off job, I want a more universal solution. It may be possible to hook into Chez's completion to call a help system. Or it could be a standalone program that you feed several doc sources into, and it lets you search against them. Dash does that, but it's Mac and C/Objective-C primarily, and does poorly at other docsets.

Animal Crossing: Minecraft Edition

Finally got my town rating up to ★★★☆☆, K.K. Slider to visit, and unlock terraforming! \o/, so I've been digging all day:


day one island map


terraformed island map

Not a huge visible difference, the basic layout was nearly perfect (I would've preferred a mirror image where my mountain estate was on SW corner instead of SE, but I'm fine with it; it's the same layout as my Wild World village), but I moved the river course up against town hall to make a lot more space, added chokepoints (marked with path dots visible on the map) where I can jump across rivers, I'm still thinking about a couple more chokepoints or maybe river stepping stones?. Put a secret passage (covered in paths so nothing'll grow there) out to the north beach where Redd's ship pulls up. The temptation exists to build complex mazes, wipe out all the random character of the island, but so far I'm resisting. A dungeon hidden behind a mountain might be fun, though.

One frustration of this is, you can't change beachfront or the big rocks. I have some very inconvenient rocks in my east beachfront; pulling the cliffs back a couple blocks helped, but it's still not a straight run.

Another is, the entire user interface for building is "press A to do stuff". What stuff happens depends on whether you're 1 pixel forward or back of a grid border. Maybe you'll build up, maybe you'll rip down and create a slope, maybe you'll lower the block. You can't tell until you do it, and there's no grid lines, laser pointer, or undo. There's 14 in-game buttons and 2 joysticks Nintendo could've used to put each function on its own button, but they didn't. Of course, the rest of the interface is Nintendo Awkward, so why wouldn't this be? But it's a long sight from Minecraft (Java edition) where you can instantly hit 1-9 for items/tools, left click to hit, right click to build/place. Maybe they think the target market only knows Minecraft (Pocket edition) which has equally shitty controls, so being usable isn't necessary?

Playing the stalk market (buying and selling turnips) requires a little accounting, so I made a spreadsheet:

stalk market spreadsheet

Blank copy, if you use Apple's Numbers: Stalk Market blank.numbers

Nintendo Switch Friend Code: Kamimark SW-5075-6646-9991

(hello, Twitter, which gets to see my images twice because that's the only way to get them off device, then again when I write a post!)

What I'm Watching: Man From Earth

This is up on 'zon prime, and written by Jerome Bixby, who (very relevantly) wrote the Star Trek TOS episode Requiem for Methuselah.

An apparently 30-something history professor (David Lee Smith) is leaving his job and town, and a few colleagues and friends (hey, the asshole biker professor is William Katt! He looks like shit 30 years since I last saw him, but he's still alive!) show up for a going-away party. They notice some oddities in his furnishings, and he tells them a story, that he's a 14,000 year old caveman, and the things he's seen, people he's met. They react with incredulity, get a shrink in…

The entire thing is shot in and just outside a little cabin, with a fireplace. Mostly one-camera, calm, long shots, actors mostly in character and reacting appropriately. I could wish for them to all speak a little more Howard Hawks, New Yorker speed instead of slow and laconic, I don't buy that some of these people are professors, but you work with what you can get on indie flicks.

The writing's not fantastic; he does question & answer, with often terse answers, not technical or detailed, and often interrupted by snarky people. There's one or two, where he's recalling scenery or people, that get something like actual SF writing. What I would like is long monologues about his people, about life in Sumeria, or Rome, or Paris. There's a Poul Anderson book, The Boat of a Million Years which covers a similar character, which has much longer expositions of the nature of living forever.

He has a story of meeting another unnamed immortal, which he puts in the 17th Century. It might possibly be a reference to Le Comte de Saint Germain, a reputed immortal and courtier, though he did eventually die. This is the kind of detail that would've improved the story.

And then there's a religious argument, with a devout true believer, because apparently one random decade in the Mideast 2000 years ago is more important than the other 14,000 years. I think this argument scene is defective in a few ways. First, the believer thinks the King James Version is a "recent" and "accurate" Bible, when in reality it's 400 years out of date and a known shitty translation, most modern Protestants (the theist here is openly anti-Catholic, which is hilarious if you're screaming "blasphemy!" at someone; a "religion" that splits into reformations every couple years is obviously not divinely inspired) use the New International Version, New Living Translation, or New American Standard Bible (for hardcore Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek literalists). I mostly quote KJV because it's poetic and used in so much English literature of the last 400 years, but I'm absolutely not trying to receive "truth" from it.

And while the voices of reason in the room explain the places where Christianity is copied from prior less-shitty religions, the theist is only capable of denying and crying, can't make any rational arguments. SIGH. Look, I'm an aggressive, mocking atheist, but we should be better about presenting the opposition argument than the Christian God's Not Dead idiots.

But I do like his 100-word New New Testament better than anything Christians have ever written in the last 2000 years. They would all be massively improved by switching to this belief.


There is a sequel, Man From Earth: Holocene, written by the director of the first with no input from Jerome Bixby who was by this time dead, and the comments are harsh: "I've just finished watching Man From Earth: Holocene and this is less a review than a warning." Well. Maybe if I'm angry at myself I'll watch that for punishment.

There's also a movie on Netflix, He Never Died, starring Henry Rollins(!!!), about another immortal, though it's more religious/magical, if played for… not comedy, but funny horror? ★★★★☆ for that.

Forgotten Future Friday Music

Videogame Exploration

Which I've brought up many of these before, but Proteus, Dear Esther, and Bernband especially, everyone should play. I've played and enjoyed most of Connor Sherlock's sims, but they're ~50% half-broken and all very similar to each other; but still great art pieces you can explore.

I need to play Obsolete, it seems.

And more recent than this video:

What I'm Watching: Bosch, Tales From the Loop

I have 'zon Prime for shipping, but the video channel's good sometimes.

Bosch, S6: Hieronymous Bosch (inexplicably, an ex-Marine LAPD pig detective, not a Dutch painter) continues to always be right, thug his way thru cases, and it's an agreeable enough crime drama. This season has 4 main stories:

  1. Sovereign Citizen group is suspected of domestic terrorism, extorting dangerous materials, and being rude to pigs, and so they're portrayed very badly. I can't tell if the writers are aware of how shitty the LAPD is and are using the "308s" to hold up a mirror, or if they actually believe the paramilitary bullshit. Bonus, the cute Feebee agent and some douchebag G-Men are kind of the anti-X-Files; they do not want to believe.
  2. Cold case of a street girl's death, daughter of one of the junkies from last season's drug camp.
  3. Chief Daniels or whatever he's called here running for Mayor but unwilling to play dirty which is an obvious career-limiting move AND is inconsistent with previous behavior.
  4. Jedgar (Marlo Stanfield's actor continuing to amuse me as a cop) spending an implausible amount on clothing for a supposedly clean LAPD pig and hunting down a war criminal from his native Haiti who's now killed cops here.

Which is all a little busy, and then every one of the major cast gets a half-ep or more B-story about them, and I really don't care about a lot of these. A serious editing pass would've cut half the content and treated what's left with twice the detail.

Jedgar's story is by far the most complex, but it gets the least screen time, and the conclusion's mess is going to have to be next season. Bosch's story is sordid, and mostly just him knocking on doors, few firefights like last season's adventure.

There is far less annoying jazz (but I repeat myself) than previous seasons, at home Bosch is mostly listening to lounge singers instead of the whiniest trumpets he can find, which is a great relief to those of us with hearing.


Tales From the Loop

High in the North in a land called Svithjod there is a mountain.
It is a hundred miles long and a hundred miles high and once every thousand years a little bird comes to this mountain to sharpen its beak.
When the mountain has thus been worn away a single day of eternity will have passed.
—Hendrik Willem van Loon, History of Mankind (1922)

And that's what it feels like to watch this show. Nothing happens. Eternity passes. More nothing happens. A magical event is never explained. An old annoying man acts preachy for a moment. The episode ends with no meaning or purpose.

The premises range from "what if time travel, but boring?" to "Freaky Friday, but boring", and on and on ripping off Twilight Zone or Disney movies without the action.