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May. 18th, 2016

down to business

An open letter to Senator Simcha Felder regarding the NYC "Bag Tax"

Senator Felder, I respect many things that you are working toward, and have signed petitions and voted through nysenate.gov on issues where you have called attention to them.

However, I do *not* support the effort to stop "the bag tax".  Plastic bags are harmful to the environment, unsightly as they pile up in our trees, stoops, railways, and fences, and are dangerous to wildlife and human children alike.

It's not hard to carry a single cloth bag or even to stuff a few plastic bags that you already have into a purse, backpack, or car pouch.  Dog owners do this all the time ... and will still be able to get plastic bags where they, like myself, want to support a pet.

I don't understand the argument that this will place an unfair burden on lower-income New Yorkers.  We are already paying the cost of these bags, but the cost is hidden in the city taxes we pay for cleanup and the visual degradation of Brooklyn.  This will give poorer residents an alternative to that cost.

Cities such as Seattle have gone beyond the step of a fee for bags to an outright ban on them, and have done well anyway.  I would argue that they have established a better baseline awareness of what it means for a community to live together in their place in the world, respecting each other and the land they own and share.  The tax, rather than a ban, will make people consider their bags, but also still make them available.

Please reconsider S7336, and let the "bag tax" happen.


Further info:
Here's the NY City Council's Bag Tax bill itself, approved by the council and awaiting the Mayor's signature.
Here's my senator's bill against the "Bag Tax", where he's going over the city's head to the state senate - like the bathroom bill in NC did.
Here's a fairly balanced article, presenting arguments from both sides but slightly in favor.
Here are the main arguments against the Bag Tax.  I think most of these are blatant straw men that sit confusingly close to the real issues, as I don't argue any of them, nor have I heard them argued.
Here is a petition for the Bag Tax.

Dec. 22nd, 2015


The Sputtering Propeller of the Singularity

In my last Emergence devlog entry, we started talking about what might delay a technological singularity, might make it sputter like an airplane propeller getting started.  So let's play that out.
I think that non-scientific major crises could do it - war, or ecological disaster, anything that significantly diverts the resources needed for technological advancement, especially since that advancement has typically come as part of improving (global) communication and trade.  So, say we hit peak oil and everyone freaked out about petroleum products and they became prohibitively expensive.  It would take a while before we could continue advancements.
I think there could be a punctuated cultural version of that, too.  Just as the Cultural Revolution gutted China's universities, branding a lot of inquiry as taboo and 'counter-revolutionary', I think that a significant cultural backlash could make certain technologies go underground.  This would now be hard to get at a global level, but it could happen locally.
The most likely delaying factor, though probably not fully preventative, seems to me to be amistics, to use Neal Stephenson's phrase.  That is, technologies that we declare, culturally, to be taboo.  It's rare, but I think that in some ways we've done that with atomic energy, or else we'd probably have relatively safe miniature reactors all over the place.  I think we also did it with eugenics - we've had the ability to run brutal, brute-force eugenics for over a century now, and every time genetics research gets close to enabling more subtle eugenics, we have a pop-cultural meltdown over it.  And that'll probably continue until we find culturally acceptable compromises: sure, eliminate what feels like clear dysfunction, but stay the hell away from 100% sure-fire, deterministic prescriptive or even creative manipulation.
And then there's always the Dark Ages scenario, where a sufficient social collapse leads to a loss in either the information or the supportive infrastructure for high technology.  One thing that I like about the Zones of Thought setting is that transcendent technological advance is just kind of a known thing.  If your civilization is in the right place, eventually it'll happen to you.  If you're stuck in the "slow zone", then you'll probably advance and retreat, develop and collapse, with the idea that the technological height of a civilization is cyclical.  Dark ages happen, which isn't something that I've seen Kurzweil allow.

In Emergence, I'm taking a bit of each of those. Technology in the setting gets really close to the Singularity via nanotechnology and Generalized AI/SI.  As it gets close, the relatively small (population) civilization freaks out and declares both technologies off-limits. Society fractures in the paroxysm around 'banning' those technologies, with some parts going "back to basics" and deliberately leaving high technology, Amish-style; the rest loses the infrastructure to continue advancement.  I need that sort of on-the-cusp setting because I'd like both of those technologies to linger, hidden and nascent in places, albeit undeveloped and taboo.  Then, much later, they can come back as nascent magic, and be developed and considered from a very different angle.  Honestly, it's kinda Pernian.

Dec. 13th, 2015


Something I don't get about Singularity theory

I'm reading Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near,  and there's something that I don't get about the theory of exponential growth, or even exponentially growing exponential growth.  And that's physical or historical flukes.

This cycle of machine intelligence’s iteratively improving its own design will become faster and faster. This is in fact exactly what is predicted by the formula for continued acceleration of the rate of paradigm shift. One of the objections that has been raised to the continuation of the acceleration of paradigm shift is that it ultimately becomes much too fast for humans to follow, and so therefore, it’s argued, it cannot happen. However, the shift from biological to nonbiological intelligence will enable the trend to continue.
Kurzweil, Ray (2005-09-22). The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (p. 28). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

So what I don't get is that this is tracing trends at a very, very high level, which seems to ignore the effects of chaos at the individual level, even when that is significant.  In the aggregate, advancement was slow long ago, and much faster now.  Part of that is individual processing --how fast someone can think and how much knowledge they have access to-- but part of it also is communication between individuals, especially in an era of distributed and federated intelligence.  I seem smarter, am smarter, when I have access to the internet.  Without it, I would be hard-pressed to build a shack to live in or make clothes for my body.  Without the larger distributed-intelligence of civilization, I'd have a real hard time with the clothes problem.

So where that comes back to singularity theory is that the theorizing assumes that once something has happened somewhere, it's everywhere.  That once it's invented, the race has grown.  This ignores that technological advancements took decades or even centuries to spread in the past, and that historical events, flukes, could erase the advancements entirely or set them back for a long time.

So as advancement within the individual becomes much much faster, the cost for losing that individual, of their particular intellectual wandering, becomes that much greater.  What if the Singularity met a natural disaster?  What if communities with substantially different lines of inquiry were light years apart with no communication?  What if nanobots weren't accessible for a particular population?  Couldn't that disrupt that exponentially exponential progress pretty substantially, slow it down?

Dec. 7th, 2015


(no subject)

Recently my friend pts described what I'm trying to do with Emergence as a "rogue-like narrative," and I think that's an interesting place to start.  Rogue-like games have bits and pieces of moment-to-moment gameplay that are stitched together by programming into a seamless, more straightforward game experience.  I am looking to do that with Emergence -  to have bits of narrative and RPG play, stitched together algorithmically into a more straightforward RPG experience.
What are you even.Collapse )So what does a roguelike rpg narrative look like?Collapse )Get over yourself, authorself.Collapse )

Nov. 30th, 2015

doombunny, gaming_db

Armello: a pretty great digital anthro boardgame

I spent a chunk of this evening playing Armello, and I'll admit: I'm intrigued. I played the tutorial, which takes quite a while, and then played one game as a regular player.  I won, though partly by luck, and therefore I like the game.

It has a lot going on.  It has more mechanics than an F-1 race.  There are four or maybe six win conditions, with one for each of the four archetypal character classes, and a couple that anyone might get.  There are four basic stats, and four basic resources.  There are limits on your equipment, and followers, and different terrain types.  Crossing all of these are the basic facts that the four players are each trying to bring down the King and to do so in the way that's best for them.  So the corrupt King, his retinue of guards, and the corrupted monsters that they are fighting and draw on are two other factions crossing the players.


All that set, the art is gorgeous - good 2.5D boardgame visuals, with luscious 2D illustration anywhere it matters, and Lisa Gerrard (of Dead Can Dance, Gladiator Soundtrack, and much else fame), and flavor text throughout that all fits together really well.

I'm amazed that it all holds together, and builds off each other.  The game has several timers built into its design, and they make sense narratively as well as mechanically.  They all work with the anthropomorphic animal races, too.  And the flavor text ... when you're looking at a card, of which there are many, the default view is the game mechanics.  Hit a button, though, and you can see the flavor text for the card ... and the credits for who designed the card and did its art.  As a developer, I love this and applaud the developers.

Anyway, I'm enjoying it and am eager to see what multiplayer is like with people that I know.  Forget the anons, randos, and people who play the odds well enough to write the Steam Guides.  I would like to play with you.  I'm emsariel there as well as here.  Want to play?

Nov. 29th, 2015

tinderbox, hypertext

New versions of old hypertext tools

So as I've started to assemble the bits, the unusual lexia, of this game that I'm working on, I've been checking back in with hypertext tools that I haven't used in some time to see which might be up to the unusual story structure that I'm aiming for.  Do you have any recommendations?
Hypertext tools getting upgradesCollapse )
Well, and so.  I have run out of time for writing this and not gotten into the shape of my own narrative.  But I did catch the tools!

(As a sidenote: how did no one yet have the name Mnemoscene attached to anything cool?!  Now I have the domains and am very excited.)

Aug. 29th, 2015


Mnemoscene: JRPGs and WRPGs

Sure, today I went to work and progressed my projects there, I am mostly recovered from the crazy muscle spasm that laid me out yesterday, but what I want to write about is progress on Emergence.  Or, rather, progress documenting it, I suppose.

At the risk of protesting too muchCollapse )

On about the gameCollapse )

Modeling those independent actions (with player influence) and the relationships that predetermine the PC ... there's my challenge, but one I'm exploring deeply now.  I can't stay up any longer to write about it, so I'll leave this here: Card Shark and Thespis.

Aug. 28th, 2015

tinderbox, hypertext

Mnemoscene: back to the wikis

I mentioned, in the last entry, that I'm working on a digital RPG.  Well, for me, world-building happens through wikis.  Arguably, I think in wikis ... or, rather in hypertext.  I appreciate how deciding the size of the lexia helps give a concrete border to the atomic size of an element.  I like how forging links pushes me to consider what object best defines a phrase.  And it's so easy to see the loose ends, and to pick them up later, in the form of links that go to as-yet-undefined pages.

So tonight I installed Dokuwiki, an old favorite wiki engine, on grendel.org.  I ported over the last wiki that I made with that engine, which covered the world building and game log from the last D&D game I ran, now over 10 years ago.  I set up a namespace and a few pages for my new project, and directed the domain names there: mnemoscene.com and mnemoscene.net (How were those names not taken despite the SIC?)

I'm excited to dig into it, to get my scattered world-building notes out of Evernote and into a proper hypertext.  To start stubbing out links to follow up on.

Aug. 27th, 2015


Adventures in 5e

Hey, this journal still exists!  I can post to it!  LJ has gotten savvy to, you know, mobile devices, and I stand a chance of posting this without my head exploding (even from a desktop machine).  So hello, journal, from the far side of the LJ Lull.  No services have yet replaced you!

This year (being 2015, and early on at that) I have resumed playing D&D with 5th Edition.  I'm a player, not the DM, and enjoying that quite a bit - I would rather not commit the time and creative energy to DMing right now, even if it would be probably be good for me.  I'm playing a tiefling paladin and enjoying it immensely ... especially now that, at 5th level, I can finally stand and fight with the mildly-optimized warlock in our party.  (It has been humiliating to be a fighter class and to be consistently outgunned by a low-level spellcaster.)  Since no one wants to hear about your RPG character, I will leave it at this: I am enjoying 5th Edition's balance, and that established by our excellent DM, between tactical combat and role playing.  I think that Wizards of the Coast attempted something bold with 5th Edition--bringing in the best of editions 2-4 and pleasing the players who'd checked out--and I think they may have been successful.

Instead for my creative outlet, I have begun a digital RPG, my first personal, from-the-ground-up digital game.  It's daunting and there's nothing to show yet (c'mon, it's an RPG!), but I'm excited for what feels: a) manageable, as following enough genre mechanics and tropes that I can start with RPG Maker VX Ace and not feel hobbled as I make tremendous progress quickly, and b) innovative, as said software can be extended with Ruby to, I hope, add the mechanics I'd like to add.

I'll write more about that here, I'm sure, as I'd like to keep something of a dev journal, but for now I'll leave it there.

Jan. 24th, 2015

tadaa_party, party

Steven Universe, just ... wow.

The Cartoon Network show Steven Universe just keeps not merely surprising me, but overwhelming me.  For the last five episodes, I've choked up a little at something that it has depicted either really well or astonishingly depicted at all:
[Whoa, Nellie, the spoilers. (click to open)]

  1. In the latest episode, Steven fails the test given but passes a much greater, unintended test.  He realizes, as we all do at some point, that his 'parents' don't have all the answers.  That when they did something hurtful to him, they did it because they care deeply but don't know the right thing to do.  He responds to this with, sure, some anger, but ultimately with compassion and humility.  I think that test will end up being very relevant to the ultimate narrative of the show, but that's another story....

  2. In the previous episode, two pre-pubescent kids who are best friends magically fuse in a clear allegory for sex, and have really mixed feelings about the whole thing.  The whole episode is about how awesome, and scary, and weird it is to share like that with someone.  And via the allegory, the whole thing is incredibly sex-positive and arguably intersex/transgender-friendly. This quote, advice from a parent-figure, encapsulates it: "You are not one person.  You are not two people.  You are an experience.  Make sure it is a good one.  Now go have fun."  THEY DID THIS ON CARTOON NETWORK, PEOPLE.

  3. When, partly because of negotiating space with his kinda weird stand-in parents, Steven is wondering about the mother he has never known, the Lion that his mother created starts being really clingy.  The lion 'gives' him a videotape that his mother made for him in which she describes how she feels about becoming a mother: "Steven, we can't both exist. I'm going to become half of you. And I need you to know that every moment you love being yourself, that's me, loving you and loving being you. Because you're going to be extraordinary. You're going to be a human being. Take care of them, Steven." Yes.

  4. Another recent episode begins with Steven seeing something that the other (adult, mature) figures don't see, and them not believing him.  While this is a pretty common story in kid-oriented media, it's really well-written.  Steven struggles like a kid does, and the Gems patronize him like adults do.

  5. Okay, it just goes on.  Five was kinda arbitrary, though there was a moment like that in the fifth-most-recent episode.

I've known for a while that some messiah stories really appeal to me: Steven Universe, Madoka Magica, Princess Tutu, Dune.  Many, many messiah stories don't appeal, or when I like them it's despite the messianic plot: ATLA, Star Wars.  I'm realizing through these moments in Steven Universe that what appeals to me in the "good messiah stories" is how universal the hero and their struggle is.  It's when the story is less about how Destined and Special (inhuman) the hero is, and more about how the hero struggles with things that we all do, and their special-ness is the result of their particular struggle in common circumstances.  Stories that focus on that are also more often about two sympathetic but opposed sides being reconciled, rather than about a relatable Good defeating an inhuman/unsympathetic Evil.

Steven Universe not only keeps busting out these poignant plots, but writing them well and relatably.  And it looks like it's going somewhere really cool.  Hooo, I need some air.

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