Mature Programming Environment

Updating software annoys me.

I like Janie's Red Queen metaphor, a constant chase that gets nowhere, but you have to keep up. Updating software is utterly pointless if the old stuff still works, but if you don't then everything breaks.

If you give a person a program, you will frustrate them for a day. If you teach a person to program, you will frustrate them for a lifetime!

I'd rather like to have one of Vernor Vinge's "mature programming environments", where programming isn't a matter of boiling the ocean by starting over, or fixing code to match new APIs, but finding the parts you need and gluing them together with new code in old, ancient, centuries or millennia-old APIs that Just Work. For quite a while, the NeXTstep/Mac environment was like that, 30-year-old NS programs worked fine. But now everything is broken again.

What I'm Watching: BoJack Horseman

If you think "a dumb cartoon about a horse?", no. This is maybe the best dramedy about depression, success, and failure ever made, live-action or animated (the other contender is Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is about the crushing weight of parental expectations told with giant mecha and alien angels at the end of the world).

Finally finished S4 and now all of S5.

S1 was a funny show about depression. Not all that coherent, still wandering between Simpsons gag format and long series drama.

S2 tries to cover up depression with work and success, and has an epic meltdown. The most coherent season so far, but the least fun. The one that hits closest to me.

S3 is the hangover after success, and then gets real fucking dark. But E4, "Fish Out of Water", is something everyone should see; you don't need a lot of context for it.

S4 spends a lot of time in flashbacks, especially to BoJack's mother who is awful. E7 "Underground", E8 "The Judge", and E12 "What Time Is It Right Now" are fantastic, though.

S5 has been more like S1, dramedy with no real point, Princess Carolyn's flashback and the eulogy both dragged on forever, but E8 "Mr Peanutbutter's Boos" 25 years of Halloween parties was perfect. The meta-show Philbert is a dead ringer for many of the crime dramas I watch.

There's long stretches of BoJack that I find almost intolerably dull, and start zipping ahead 30s at a time to see if the plot advances. I have my own family hangups, I can't be expected to care about BoJack's shitty family.

There's other times when it's the only show that's ever talked honestly about this stuff.

★☆☆☆☆ to ★★★★★ but averaging around ★★★★☆

Rules for the OSR (Old-School Renaissance)

Housekeeping note: I'm still too busy with programming on the new Perilar, and some other things, to get back to my tabletop and/or online chat games regularly, but I'll be moving all my RPG stuff over to this blog from Mark Rolls Dice, I'd like to have one site to maintain which I own.

So, start with basic principles. How do I run games.

I'm a caveman from the '70s and '80s, so my Old-School is literally old and from school, as noted in Five Games. The Old-School Renaissance is my frozen caveman ass being thawed out to do it again.

There's a bunch of guides to how to do this, but they're kind of bullshit. Matt Finch's Quick Primer for Old-School Gaming is close to my view, and has gameplay dialogue examples which can be read in funny voices, but it goes on too long about irrelevant stuff. Principia Apocrypha and a bunch of other bloviating diatribes just go on forever, I started to nod off, make a little hand-puppet with my hand and flap its mouth up and down.

Here's my OSR principles:

  1. Let the dice fall where they may. ( Knights of the Dinner Table's Law )
  2. Be excellent to each other. ( Bill & Ted's Law, the inverse of Wheaton's Law )
  3. The Referee is always right, but the players can choose to stay or leave.
  4. Rules are just recordings of what we've previously done. We can change them at any time.

Like the Three Laws of Robotics, each principle is tempered by the ones previous: The Referee can override new rules. But, be excellent to each other. But, don't cheat and take away risk.

Don't Be a Dick

So, Wil Wheaton ( previously "I Hate Twitter" ) was just chased off the Fediverse (he still has an account on a siloed non-federating instance, which isn't really useful to anyone else). His last statement's pretty clear, so I put that down below.

"Please do your very best to be kind to each other. The world is a terrible place right now, and that's largely because it is what we make it."

I know some of the people doing the harassing. There's no point in even arguing with them: They've decided he's in Two Minutes Hate, perhaps because he has a friend whom they don't like, and won't consider "Don't be a Dick", or having empathy, tolerance, or self-awareness that some of them aren't such great friends to have, for one hot second.

While Gargron has condemned harassment, it doesn't fix the problem, since there are entire instances where 4chan-like behavior is accepted; all you can do is block accounts or those entire instances, and it still poisons the Federated timeline for a while.

I'm not sure any level of moderation fixes this shit.

This is why I highly recommend owning your own blog, and broadcasting that out to other services where people can read it; even better, read this and many other blogs in your RSS aggregator or RSS reader ( currently free! ) of choice. It's OK to put some ephemeral chat on other services, but remember those are owned by other people, and are easily attacked by angry, stupid mobs. If a stupid mob shows up here, I don't approve their comments and it's done. It's the Castle Doctrine of online posting.

Wil Wheaton @wilw@mastodon.cloud August 29, 2018, 3:02 PM https://mastodon.cloud/@wilw/100635779449174251 (will be a dead link soon)
I have been notified by an Admin here that they are getting 60 reports a day about my account. As far as I can tell, I'm not breaking any rules, and I've done my best to be a good person here. But this admin is going to suspend my account.

It's the Admin's instance, so I fully support their choice to eliminate a source of frustration, but something to consider: a person who is doing nothing wrong can be run off one instance by a mob from another instance. That seems ... not cool. 1/x

But it's been made very, very clear to me that I am not welcome in the Fediverse, and I hear you. I hoped to find an alternative to the birdsite where I could find the same fun community that existed over there in the beginning, and it's clear to me that I won't be finding that. Before I leave, I want to just make something very clear, because I've spent most of my life being yelled at by people who don't know me at all, and I want the record to be clear. 2/x

During GamerGate, I was dogpiled and mobbed and brigaded and attacked by thousands of accounts. I started using a blocklist that was supposed to help stop that. I did not know that the blocklist I signed up for also had a lot of trans women on it. When I found out, I did everything I could to remove those women from the list I shared. When there were still innocents on the list, I stopped sharing the list entirely. Despite this, a mob has decided that I'm anti-trans. 3/x

This lie that I am anti-trans, or anti-LGBQ, is deeply hurtful to me (I know it's nothing like the pain LGBTQ people deal with every day, as they simply try to exist in a world that treats them so badly, but it is still hurtful in its own way to me). I just want to make it extremely clear: that is a lie, and the people spreading it are misinformed.

So I'm leaving the Fediverse, which has treated me with more cruelty, vitriol, hatred, and contempt than than anyone on the birdsite ever did. 4/x

I know that I'm well-off, well-known, and as a CIS white hetro dude in America, I live life on the lowest difficulty setting. I know that I have very little to complain about.

But I still have feelings, and I really do care about the world and the people in it. What I see is a lot of anger and cruelty directed at the IDEA of me, from people who I just hope don't realize that it really does hurt me, in my heart, to be accused of being someone I am not, and to be the target of a hateful mob. 5/x

Anyway, take your victory lap and collect your prizes. You've made it clear that I'm not welcome here, and even though I disagree with the action this Admin is taking (banning me when I didn't break any rules doesn't seem right), I respect and support the Admin's decision to run their instance the way they see fit.

Please do your very best to be kind to each other. The world is a terrible place right now, and that's largely because it is what we make it.

Bye.

6/end

Liberation in Art but not in Your Stupid Life: 2112, Real Genius, TRON, and Ready Player One

In which art is not blamed for the problems of the world:

2112

A man in a controlled, music-less dystopia finds a guitar, learns to play, and feels joy. The priests of Syrinx who rule the system in the name of "average" (a la Harrison Bergeron) crush him. The ancients of rock who created the guitar return and liberate the system with a prog rock concert.

Our world could use this beauty
Just think what we might do
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There's something here that's as strong as life
I know that it will reach you

Don't annoy us further!
Oh, we have our work to do
Just think about the average
What use have they for you?
Another toy that helped destroy
The elder race of man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn't fit the plan!

TRON

A game designer dude lives in exile above his arcade, robbed by evil AI & corporate suit. His ex and her dork boyfriend let him into the building, and he goes into the computer world, which the evil AI & corporate suit rule as well. The ancient soul of the machine gives the dork's program access and lets it play Breakout against the AI, and the game designer sacrifices himself, liberating the inner world, deleting the evil AI & firing the corporate suit, restoring the game designer to power in the real world.

Greetings, programs!

Real Genius

A too-young, too-uptight student works for an evil professor, but makes friends with other weirdo students and loosens up. The evil professor and the military trick the weirdos and make a death ray from their work. The ancient student in the closet emerges and the weirdos hack the death ray and turn the evil professor's house into popcorn.

All for freedom and for pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world

Ready Player One

A boy in a crapsack world, literally in a trailer home on top of trailer homes, finds solace in ancient movies and games from a book by an ancient nerd. The corporation which rules the world and the virtual world crushes him and his friends. The ancient nerd's program runs, and gives the boy power and he liberates the virtual world and the real one.

After a long silence she asked, "So what happens now?"

Just Stories

These stories, they're just stories of their time.

2112 didn't end the "Moral Majority" or censors. The PMRC of Syrinx was founded 6 years later to destroy rock 'n roll and rap; the PMRC is gone but Tipper Gore still lives and hates, and music is still censored; remember Fuck You, by CeeLo Green? You probably only heard the censored radio version "Forget You".

TRON didn't end centralized computing, AI, or thieving corporate assholes. Today EA has ruined large gaming, and Google & Amazon make AIs that will probably kill us all.

Real Genius didn't end all CIA/military weapons. Today the babykillers have unmanned drones that can fly anywhere and assassinate anyone (and any bystanders/witnesses).

Ready Player One didn't make the real Internet a "safe space". Facebook, Twitter, or Google can still track you, filter what you see, and give Nazis access to harass you.

This is not a failing of art, it exists for fun or catharsis, and to give you coping strategies. It is not a magic spell to fix everything.

So, you can do something inspired by art; make art yourself; or, if you are completely useless, just whine unreasonably about art and be held in contempt.

TBL Has Some Regrets

"We demonstrated that the Web had failed instead of served humanity, as it was supposed to have done, and failed in many places … [increasing centralization of the Web] ended up producing—with no deliberate action of the people who designed the platform—a large-scale emergent phenomenon which is anti-human."
"While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people—and can be fixed by people."
"You don’t have to have any coding skills. You just have to have a heart to decide enough is enough. Get out your Magic Marker and your signboard and your broomstick. And go out on the streets."
Tim Berners-Lee, Vanity Fair

On the contrary, Tim, the World Wide Web is very human, and these are not "bugs" or "emergent": It's not a perfect crystalline utopia inhabited by rule-following robots reading RDF tags, but instead it's like an organically grown city, with a mix of lovely things and nice people, and also back alleys and skyscraper offices full of predators. There's surveillance systems everywhere because the predators wanted surveillance, paid engineers well to make them, and it's much harder to stop Internet surveillance than spray-painting a closed-circuit camera.

The Internet didn't create spies, tyrants, or marketing scumbags; the Stasi managed to spy on everyone, and they barely used the few shitty Soviet computers they had. Madison Avenue invented scumbag marketing long before they had "data" supporting their psychological manipulations. Of course now the same kind of villains at the NSA, KGB (FSV & SVR these days, same thing), and Facebook are going to use modern computer networks to spy and manipulate. A poster-board sign isn't going to convince them to stop.

"Oh gosh I just realized I've spent my life deceiving people, and that's wrong!", said absolutely no spy ever. (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is fiction)

Getting more people connected is somewhat positive and empowering for the "last billion"; although you, presumably fellow first-world libertarian/liberal/con-but-not-an-asshole-servative reader, may well not like the political and religious programming the last billion have…

But even if everyone has a computer & unfettered Internet access, it's not going to make everyone freer, they're just more entries in Facebook's databases. The only cheap mobile phones are Android, which is run by and for the benefit of Google's surveillance systems. You can release any kind of utopian decentralized system, and people will say "I want Facebook and Youtube… and what are ads?" and many will end up in it by social pressure and marketing.

Some of us do what we can to exist outside of those networks, but don't get too idealistic about it, or you end up crazy or yet another dead martyr.

Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

In a short story called “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Jorge Luis Borges describes the discovery of a strange book. Written in an arcane language, the book seems to be one vol­ume of an encyclopedia of another world, intriguingly unlike the world of everyday reality. The world of the volume rapidly becomes a universal obsession: scholarly journals were de­voted to it, people begin to dress and act in ways suggested by the volume. So compelling are the glimpses of the world revealed by the volume that its reality finally crowds out our own, and the world becomes the world of Tlon.
The volume you are holding in your hands is the volume Borges had in mind.
—Michael Swaine, preface to Dr Dobb's Journal Vol 09

HP Lovecraft's Xenophobia

It occurs to me after a number of rereads (now up to "Dagon") that Ruthanna and Anne there live a callow, sunlit, happy existence, don't really know much of the world, and have never read a history book. "He was as wrong about humanity as it’s possible to be without actually believing that we’re all sessile pebbles"1: No, he was not.

World War I, which informed most of Lovecraft's despair at Human stupidity and imminent extinction, was then exceeded by World War II in every kind of atrocity, and that was exceeded by the Communist states during the Cold War and beyond. There is no depravity or horror to which Humans will not sink given power and the ability to "other" people. "Kindly, liberal, crippled, New Deal" FDR imprisoned and robbed 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry; the Tuskegee syphilis experiment treated Black people as test animals. The KKK was still terrorizing and lynching in the South (still is, if smaller). It's still unsafe to walk or drive or stand around in Starbucks while Black in America. Immigrants and refugees are treated like unwanted vermin in every country. Humans murder each other over minor differences in skin color, birthplace, language, or what name to call some fairy tale god (or for saying it's a fairy tale). No joke, Humans blow up other Humans over cartoons of their prophet. Half of Americans voted for the Cheeto thing that squats and defecates in the White House.

Any notion that Howard's xenophobia is excessive for his time, or even now, is just delusional. He was an asshole about race, and perhaps about gender (very scant evidence, from a time when few male writers wrote women except as objects), but the distinction is that he was more literate and expressive of his bigotry, while the assholes next door just couldn't write about it coherently. If he'd been into politics, he'd have been the William Safire of his time. Somehow he found his way to the weird tale instead.

So when his narrators see the real owners of the Earth, and they're nothing like Humans, of course they flip out. What are Humans going to do when confronted with fish-frog-humanoid things, unspeaking but greater in intelligence, ancient and undying, worshipping gods (or godlike aliens) who provide true power? As in "Shadow over Innsmouth", bombing the Devil's Reef is a minimum possible freak-out. Somehow they pull back from provoking a full-out war with billions of living demigods, and the Deep Ones (being our moral superiors) are uninterested in great conquests of the land.

Howard does have characters who don't flip out at the alien, like the narrator and some other abductees in "Shadow Out of Time", but then when he's confronted with the truth of our imminent doom, he loses it.

I am extremely pessimistic about First Contact, and I expect that true AI will end very very badly for Humanity. Nobody's going to show up and say "You're totally ready to join the Federation of Nice Planets!"; we'll either meet Conquistadors, exterminators, or if we get to a lower-tech species first, victims. Ideally, alien contact would unify Humanity, but more likely every group will seek their own advantage and agenda.

As for the reread, I'm switching to publication order, then see if they or someone else has any commentary for a story. I've previously read some of ST Joshi's annotated books, but his apologies and delusions are just as annoying.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

The movie has something for everyone, a comedy tonight, but I'm actually talking about:

Blogging is sometimes very different from "social networking", and one of the key things is that there are no private conversations. On the technical side, that's basically impossible: A blog post is public, or it wouldn't show up in feed readers, search engines, or micro.blog. And even "private" messaging in Twitter or Facebook is stored in plaintext on the server, where the staff can read it for laughs or social engineering or selling you to advertisers and Russians.

In the socially stunted worlds of Twitter or Facebook, often someone posts, and the first person to respond may feel like they "own" the conversation, anyone else responding is a "rando", and the lack of proper threading makes conversation very difficult so they just hate everyone. There is, I fear, not much that can be done for many of these; they grew up feral in an innately hostile environment, and won't or can't read about how to have longer discussions. Robert's Rules of Order this is not.

Blogging is about people contributing to a public dialogue. As we had in web forums, or USENET, or college dorm halls, or actual forums going back to Rome and ancient Greece. Threading and arguments about ideas are not just OK, but encouraged, just don't hit below the belt.

You may be able to learn from USENET netiquette (somewhat old link, but anything quoting Eugene Spafford is good).

When being sarcastic, if there's any danger of misinterpretation, use a smiley. Excessive sarcasm is often counter-productive and hurts people's feelings, even when it's unintentional.
—a rule I sure don't live by