dmilewski: (Default)
Sometimes, TV surprises you. "The Perfect Pear" was one of those episodes. A children's TV show has no right producing an episode this sweet and heartfelt. This was one of those scripts that a producers rarely gets, one that must have floored them. I showed it to Jenny, and I found that the episode held up on rewatching. It's a reminiscing style story, with the story of the missing Apple parents being told. It should have come out too stilted or too saccharine, or a little too perfect, so that you don't buy it, but this scripts sails between Charybdis and Scylla, delivering us to the Golden Fleece. It really is an impressive little piece of TV, down to having a catching song, with just enough sweet to be darling and joyful, but down to earth enough so that it plans your feet even further into the story.
dmilewski: (Default)
Here's my definition of a dink:

A dink is a person who uses their knowledge of facts to increase social status among their peers. For them, knowledge is social competition, so for them to lose any conflict about that knowledge represents a measurable loss in social status. This myopic focus on facts leads them to lose any sense of context, and at its extreme, leads them to measure everyone by that knowledge.

Not all knowledge experts are dinks.
dmilewski: (Default)
Michelle Shocked's song "Come a Long Way" is full of musical references. Many I get, but most I don't, and looking out there in internet land, I can't find a good reference. I'll write down what I catch, but I'm afraid it's not much. The worst part is that I half-get so many more references, but I don't quite recall where or what they are.

Through the sweet green icing of MacArthur Park
"MacArthur Park"

All along the Watts Tower
"All Along the Watch Tower" by Bob Dylan

Watched my ship sail in, watched it sail away
A clever turn of phrase on having your ship sail in.

At one point, I had more, but I've forgotten. 
dmilewski: (Default)
I got into a bit of a discussion this weekend as to whether Rey is a Mary Sue. I say obvious not, while they said obviously was. I'll skip the details and propose a framework for determining whether a character is or is not a Mary Sue.

Getting a true Mary Sue into a film or video is nearly impossible as so many hands touch a film. When it is done, its almost entirely done on purpose.

What follows is a tool to help you think about a character. The tool is an aid, not proof.

1. Can you easily fix the problem in the script?

Position: Rey is a Mary Sue because she hops into a starship without being able to fly it. 

In order to fix this particular problem, we only needed a line of dialog, anywhere in the script, saying that she knew how to pilot, or at least pilot this craft in particular. As the fix is just a bit of dialog, and not a problem intrinsic to the character, the problem lies in the script, or in the editing room, not in the character.

In general, scripts have setups and payoffs. Scripts establish bits of information or objects early, and then they don't seem random later on when they matter. Sometimes this is necessary, like when a character is a brain surgeon, and sometimes it's not, like when a skill is so widespread as to be generic, such as driving a car. In the Star Wars universe, flying a ship is such a generic skill that it can easily be assumed. In fact, we see multiple character fly with no in-film explanation. (Yes, outside of film there are explanations and meta-explanations. I am limiting the argument to film here.)

2. Does the character suffer reversals?

Hero and lead character do amazing stuff all the time. That goes with the territory. They also suffer setbacks all the time because an action film without setbacks has no tension and tends to be a very short film. Reversals in fortune are the stock and trade in such films. Mary Sues tend to succeed and see no reversals in fortune.

Does Rey see any reversals in fortune? She gets paid badly. Somebody tries to steal her droid. When TIE fighters attack, she runs for her life. The freighter that she's escaping in gets captured. She pulls the wrong part when trying to close the doors on the freighter, letting out the horrible monsters. She gets kidnapped by the First Order.

That's enough reversals in fortune to make me think that she's not a Mary Sue.

3. Does anyone else succeed beside the character?

Mary Sues are the engines of success. Often, they are the only source of success. Is this character the only engine of success, or does the character share success with others?

Rey is one engine of success. When escaping in the Falcon, she needed Fin to fire the guns. They laugh when the fight is done, congratulating each other on their successes. Clearly the character don't think that they each succeeded on their own. Poe blows up the planet. Han gets to the planet and Chewie blows up the thingies. Clearly there were more successful characters than just her. 

4. Is the character opposed by forces as strong as herself?

In this theory, a character's power is measured in their opponents. This is why many Mary Sue like characters aren't Mary Sues, because their opponents are as influential as the lead character. They may be Mary Sue's when measured against us, but when measured against the all powerful superbad, they're going to need all their Mary Sueness just to survive.

Rey is opposed by circumstance, by being abandoned by her parents. Later, she opposed by the First Order. Finally, she's opposed by Rylo Ken, an up and coming Sith. That's a mighty impressive array of opponents. Given that the First Order is pretty much an unstoppable force in this film, you have to be similarly unstoppable to oppose them. 

5. Does the character bypass the universe rules too much?

All heroes bypass the rules. We get that. Yet, there are some rules that even heroes don't get to bypass. When that happens, the audience cries foul, or at least wonders where the hell that came from.

In the film, Rey suddenly uses very powerful force powers and fights well with a lightsaber. I'll concede on this one. When it comes to the force, she comes to it all rather too easily compared to the other films. In this particular case, I lay the blame not on the character, but on the screenwriters attempt to satisfy audience expectations that there should be force-power stuff and lightsaber fights. We have a case for why the bad guys should have force powers, but because the good guys have no force powers, the only one who can possibly show them is Rey because Luke isn't in most of the film. Because of this decision, it then becomes inevitable that Rey will show too many force powers too quickly.

We could have had a lightsaber fight where Rylo Ken dominates and shows his superiority, but I don't think that the audience would have enjoyed that. 

6. Are challenges reduced to trivialities?

In order for a film to have tension and excitement, there needs to be stakes and threats. Stakes are what's at stake, and threats are those things that threaten the stakes. The bigger the stake, the more prominent the problem gets. 

A Mary Sue will reduce a high stakes problem to a triviality. A Mary Sue will remove tension and excitement rather than enhance it.

Does Rey remove tension? I don't see that, but I'm open to discussion. She doesn't defeat the First Order. She doesn't defeat Starkiller Base by crawling around its guts and disabling their gun. She does get a job offer by Han Solo, but that'a job offer by Han. Do you think that's going to be a great job? She does sort of skate through the film, but is that the Force at work?


I don't think that Rey is a Mary Sue as she fails to satisfy most Mary Sue criteria, but I made up the criteria, so I could be biased. However, failure to be a Mary Sue doesn't make Rey a good character. A bad character is not the same as Mary Sue. Rather than point my finger at a character, I think that pointing your finger at the script makes far more sense. 

Bonus: She gets without earning.

A character getting something, like success, without earning it is a highly problematic criteria for detecting a Mary Sue. Context here is everything, and so is opinion. I think that this criteria is too subjective, too open to personal opinion. Film, in general, is constantly using sleights of hand to move the plot along, to get the audience to pay attention to one area while sliding around another. If you spot those sleights, you'll realize how much tomfoolery happens.

For Rey, I think that much of her paying for it happens before the beginning of the film, showing the audience how she lives a hard and hopeless life. She also fixes the Falcon and gets a job offer from Han Solo. Did she earn that? We know from the film that she literally works and literally lives in machinery. It's her living. The idea that she's great at knowing how things works is well telegraphed. Yes, she knows much more about how the Falcon works than Han does, but has Han ever shown great expertise is repairing the Falcon? His mechanical skills are a joke through the films. Chewie is the better mechanic. So for all her mechanical and technical feats, I think that the film does a good enough job to let the audience buy in. (It could have done better, but you already knew that.)

As for getting the Jedi powers without earning them, where Luke needed training, yeah, that stretches the continuity. For escaping, it would have worked better if they had just locked her into a room, and the she had used her mechanical knowledge to bypass the lock somehow. As for the light saber fight, that was just a hopeless cases. No mainline Star Wars film getting made could have skipped the "light saber fight" checkbox. Unless you got Luke, there was simply nobody who could credibly do that fight.

Because the film approached Rey's force power as a surprise, the film couldn't set her up properly. Seeing her use a few force powers earlier int he film, learning how they show up under stress, with her not understanding them, would have gone a long way to setting up a better ending. That makes me lay the blame at the script and the direction, not the character who was tasked with doing too much, too fast.
dmilewski: (Default)
With so much physical work over the weekend, I had lots of time to think.

Let's talk SCA. My understanding is that the organization is on the decline, and I'm here to offer a few not well researched observations and suggestions, along with slaying each and every sacred cow that I come across.

The SCA exists in four parts: historical reenactment, recreating historical European arts (including martial arts), role playing, and politics.

Every organization has politics, so we can't eliminate that.

So the SCA's first and biggest problem is deciding what it is. Decades ago, it was the only medieval game in town, and everybody played it. Now, there are competitors for that medieval game, and they offer far less headache for each group. For role players, there are dedicated LARPs, for artisans and martial artists, there are dedicated clubs, and for reenactors, a world of reenactment. The SCA is now competing against each of these specializations while bringing along all the penalties of the other two interests.

For those wanting to learn weapons, there's HEMA, and that comes without any of the formality of the SCA. It also comes without all the rules. This makes it far easier for a young man (or woman) to get into the club, start learning, build their kit, participate in tournaments, and do that one thing that they're interested in doing.

Likewise, LARPs offer very interesting long-term games on a variety of times and subject, ones that don't require so much organization and setup, where a new individual can make a difference, as opposed to the SCA, which is so large that you're bound to be another nameless face.

As for reenactment, the SCA isn't a reenactment except where the participants want it to be a reenactment. For those who want to be historical, the organization offers as much frustration as advantage. Recreation groups are often better off splitting off, creating their own group. This is more work, but offers the advantage of being more focused, especially as the internet now allows entire forums dedicated to niche subjects where people worldwide can interact. 

So, what's the solution to this? I don't know, but the SCA will need to change in order to sustain itself. Something in there has to change. Some sacred cow must die. Some part of the SCA must surrender to failure. Being all things to all people means that it will eventually succumb to being nothing to nobody. 

In its way, the SCA reminds of churches that have seen a decline. How do you bring people back in? It's the same problem. The pressure that once washed people through the door is gone. The easy part is over. Now recruitment will take work, buy what is it that you're offering recruits? Do they value what you have? Do you have anything of value?

Community is the SCA's biggest asset and worst impediment. "Come and join the SCA and do things our way." Most kids these days aren't impressed and don't want to do things your way. The numbers tell that story. If you want young folks joining, you need to look at their wants and needs and provides for those wants and needs. That means changing what you provide, and I don't know what that is or what it could be.

In my opinion, I do not believe that the SCA can solve its problems. 

I do offer a few humble suggestions, some of which are self-contradictory. Excuse me if my ignorance shows.
  • Identify unnecessary barriers to accessibility and remove everyone one that you can.
  • Separate role playing from politics. While nobilities are great symbolic roles, the real running of the organization, from the bottom to the top, must be far more democratic and accessible.
  • Groups should be named after real world regions and localities. Help, rather than hinder, people finding each other.
  • Fighting should adopt best HEMA practices.
  • SCA should host HEMA style nationwide tournaments.
  • Focus on fun. Not your fun, but the newcomer's fun. What's fun for them?
  • Examine which groups are growing and learn from them.
In the end, its not what I think, or you think, it's what's effective at bringing in folks.
dmilewski: (Default)
I've been thinking more about my earlier conclusion about binaries. I believe that I concluded, "Sexism is not a binary." That is, reducing anyone down to a binary, to single label, is fundamentally inaccurate, if not disingenuous. Binaries are a way of stripping away the humanity of people, of reducing them to pre-interpreted stereotypes. Binaries take one thing that's true about a person and presents that as the only thing that's true about a person.

This brings me to Joss Whedon. Who is he? And what about Kai Kole? Who is she? Is he really a terrific guy or a louse? Is she a crazy ex or is she an injured woman? What binary should we apply to them? None. That's the binary that we apply. None. Joss can be a terrific director, a great friend, a feminist, an amazing lover, and a terrible husband, all in one fell swoop because he's a person, not a binary. The same goes for Kai. The same goes for anyone no matter how wonderful or horrible. What we've learned about them doesn't replace what we knew, it adds to what we knew.

When presented with binaries, I will do my best to reject them, but I won't always be successful because I'm just a person, as much a hypocrite as anyone else.
dmilewski: (Default)
Ah, Joss Whedon drama. He says that he's a feminist, yet he cheats on his wife. That's supposed to make him a hypocrite.

There has never been, and should never be, a moral litmus test on being a feminist.

If a feminist woman was to cheat on her husband, and got caught, would she stop being a feminist? No, that would be stupid. Well, the same applies to Joss. His poor behavior towards his relationship does not constitute the abandonment of a philosophical position.

Think of it this way: a bad artist is still an artist, and a bad feminist is still a feminist.

If we reserved feminism only for the morally worthy, feminism would be in dire trouble. Just about everyone would get kicked out, because we humans are a bunch of lying hypocrites who can't keep our pants on. If feminism becomes the bulwark only of the morally worthy, then feminism loses. Quite the opposite, feminism is the bulwark of all women and men of all moral standings, because moral standing is used as a weapon by oppressors against basic equality. Not only do the morally bereft deserves their place in feminism, they might comprise the majority.
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In some of McCaffrey's later Pern books, she introduces a group who call themselves the Abominators. They object to the new/old culture of Pern, and want to roll things back. This position, being against what the primary characters are for, makes them villains. But it needn't make them villains. Their position raises interesting questions about self-determination, culture, and agency, none of which are even touched upon in the books, mostly because touching upon them would legitimize them, and that would remove them from the realm of villains.Rather than examine the genuine and understandable conflict that arises out of their changes, all the new and brilliant changes gets labeled "good" while all the backward thinking gets labeled as "bad." 

What the Abominators raise are very interesting questions, ones that deserved examination rather than villainous dismissal. In this act, McCaffrey missed a grand opportunity.

Pern has existed for many centuries, operating under its own evolving system. Using their self-determination, they have drifted from the original charter to create something that works for them in their circumstances. Should a document from the past be able to simply nullify their developments? If we discovered a 2500 year old document telling us what our political system should look like, would we accept it? And if we do change, how do we approach it? Should any document be accepted as whole, or should the political system accept the best parts of it? Should all new things be accepted uncritically, all embraced, or should they be examined in order to better understand the good and bad that will come out of them?

Anne's Pern addressed none of these issues, which is a shame, because these are the issues of modern humanity, and their exploration, at that point in Pernese time, is the heart of the story. What will Pern be after its transition? What will be gained? What will be lost? 
dmilewski: (Default)
I got to thinking about why animals are drawn onto cave walls, and I've decided that the magical maintenance explanation doesn't work for me. Why go through all that trouble to get into deep caves just to do something ordinary? Why choose hunting scenes and draw wonderfully rendered creatures?

To me, you do that only when you're having a problem. The magic here is to make the ordinary ordinary again. The magic here is to show a hunt, and how the hunt looks. The magic here is to show what sort of creatures need to be showing up, because you need to get the right things. They are going down to these caves because there is a crisis, either because they've overhunted the animals that they need, or because environmental changes are making the creatures less available. Either way, survival is a work. 

So my theory is that cave paintings were created during times of stress when the tribe was suffering, using depictions to show gods or spirits what a hunt looked like and what needed to happen. These images were created in an effort to fix what was going wrong.
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I was just playing the Alchemist today on Talisman Digital Edition and I've already concluded that it's overpower, and that's without taking into account any of the city hacks. 

The Alchemist never has to travel for maintenance. He converts gold into life, fate, and spells, at will, even in the middle of an encounter. The same is true of turning objects into gold as needed. He has the ability create and deploy resources in a completely flexible manner where every other character has to hunt down health, fate, and spells. Spells and abilities that improve these attributes are finite, either in amount (Glass Guardians or the Healing spell), or utility, such as the Runesword which requires that you find and fight opponents.

In my opinion, that setup is too good. Mind you, that's without any of the good combos. While you can have whatever you want on a single-player game, for multiplayer, it means that the Alchemist gets to escape most practical limitations integral to the game.

For example, an alchemist can go into a battle, use a magic sword, lose, alchemize the sword, and heal lives, all before damage is applied. He gets both the advantage of the sword during the battle and as gold and as life all in the same round. That's why this ability is too good. 

Here's a few possible nerfs.

For the most part, most players don't get more out of having more gold. There's a point where gold is a useful insurance policy, but isn't any sort of game breaker. The alchemist runs on gold, so we need some other way of introducing brakes. The few items or such that give gold if you have no gold become way too good in an alchemists's hands.

1. Can alchemize once and drink one potion only at the beginning of the turn. Because the alchemist can only alchemize and potion at the beginning of the turn, the alchemist must think about what will be turned to gold, and cannot get multiple advantages out of an item in the same turn.

2. Alchemizing and drinking potions takes a turn. Now that getting benefits loses time, other players have more opportunity to get advantages.

3. Start the alchemist in the village. This way, he can still get to the city quickly, but the trip is not guaranteed.

There are still some problems, but this brings the character more in line with the median.

That much said, the Alchemist has an even bigger problem than being overpowered. The Alchemist is boring. How you play the game changes very little. You cast as a caster and fight as a fighter and move like everyone else. That really makes the character's power inventory management. Not exciting. In my opinion a good character design fundamentally changes the way in which you play, changes how you see advantages and disadvantages, and the risks you're willing to tackle. The alchemist becomes "how much gold do I want to spend this round?"
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I've been throwing my brain into the wayback machine, thinking about my senior year in college hanging about with the folks of the VTSFFC (the Virginia Tech Science Fiction and Fantasy Club). I had been meaning to find them for years, but I had just never made the effort until I was a senior.

Looking back, I remember the folks fondly, and wonder why I hadn't ended up spending more time getting to know everyone. Digging back further, I got past the rosy nostalgia and into who I was back then, and who they were, and the imperfect people that we all were.

For me, there was awkward. There was lots of awkward. And anxiety. Immense, tidal, oppressive anxiety. It may not have been visible, but it was there as the single strongest emotion.

How could I be awkward among already notoriously awkward people? Well, I secured that achievement through two different avenues.

First, I'm lousy as integrating with social groups, even ones with the same seeming interests. I still am, just less lousy, but still lousy. With being exposed to everyone in their college expressiveness, they were all overwhelming and I couldn't figure out how to get even the most basic grip. I ended hopping into in a comedy RPG (Teenagers From Outer Space) for that year and had a grand time. But me, being me, I only got comfortable at a snail's pace with the feeling of people zipping past me. 

I recall attending a Christmas party, which I think was the very first Christmas party that I'd ever attended (yes, for real, because I didn't get invited to parties), which proved too much for me. The townhouse was full, which was hard, because there were too many people. I knew too few people, which raised the anxiety. The expected exchange of gifts left me feeling utterly irrelevant and alienated, because I, of course, didn't know the culture of Christmas parties, nor did I know what to expect, nor did any of what was happening include me and I didn't know how to solve that. I wound up sitting outside for a while, just to cool down and de-stress. I'd love to say that a girl followed me out and a great conversation ensured, but no, it was just me out there and too many twisted feelings.

The other reason that there was awkwardness was more complex. I wasn't part of con culture. I was more of a tourist there, never bound to become a native, and I think that everyone there knew it. For simplicity sake, I'll split the club population into two groups: those who enjoyed SFF as part of their life, and those for whom SFF was their life. I was most definitely in of the former, not the latter. I had wider interests than the ones displayed in the club, and usually had other things to do on Saturday night, such as doing laundry or staying in and reading.

For those who lived for SFF, they found schticks, running with them to get attention, using them to make their place, to create their little fishbowl where they were the big fish. And me, I didn't have that thing, that one clever trick to make me stand out. I didn't see how I could do the same thing, and I knew that I would never match them, so being unable to match, I was doomed to remain an outsider. It's a variation of that phenomena where who go to extremes wind up driving away the majority that don't because we know that we can't match the extremes.

Funny thing is, I think that my ability to walk away gave me more admiration than I ever realized. I didn't garner fan cred, but I did garner human cred. I garnered human cred because I could walk out that door and still have a life, where for others, that was the only life that they had.

I'm not sure that any of that makes any sense.

A third thing that now strikes me is that I walked in as a senior, so everyone just assumed that I knew what was going on. If I had walked in as a freshmen, everyone would have assumed that I didn't know what was going on, so would have made assumptions about what I knew, would have introduced me to fan culture rather than presumed it. In fact, I knew nothing of fan culture, so I was always at sea on that point.

When I look back on the folks who I liked the best in that club, it was the other folks who didn't hadn't to any extremes to make their place. For that little while, we all got to be human together. As to the folks who had their big thing, the thing that made them stand out in little ponds, I never did get fond of them, never did develop anything resembling a basic friendship. I understand that they were perfectly decent people, but something about them just missed me.

In the end, I was never family. One year wasn't enough for that. I was more like an exchange student, one who everyone knew wouldn't be staying. 
dmilewski: (Default)
Anne McCaffrey isn't fantasy. Take her off your fantasy lists.

Why? That's a good question.

If you ignore the dragons (and also fire lizards) for a moment, what's fantasy about Pern? I'm hard pressed to find something that's fantasy. There's glow baskets and a few psychic powers. The glowing plants show up in SF and psychic powers show up far more in SF than fantasy. There was an invading warlord, but that's not fantasy. Medieval style weapons by themselves aren't fantasy.

So, the entire argument for Pern being fantasy, from my perspective, seems to be the presence of psychic dragons. As already established, psychic powers are usually SF. Dragons may usually be associated with fantasy, but there's no assertion anywhere that their powers come from a magical source. If anything they are creatures that appear dragon-like and are named after the mythical creatures rather than being actual dragons.

In all other ways, the books hew far closer to SF than fantasy. That argues strongly for SF, especially as the author took the series into an exclusively SF direction.
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I separated from Facebook a while ago, about six months. Since then, I've reduced my level of stress and gotten to think about how I'm interacting with people, not just on Facebook, but in real life. It's been good thinking.

Importantly, I've realized just how much noise Facebook had become. When I had first joined Facebook, I saw people, what they were doing, and what they were up to. By the time that I walked away, I saw mostly politics and empty yakking and constant link reposts, which wound up hiding and distancing people far more than bringing them to me. Rather than feel closer to people, I increasingly felt angry at them. That wasn't good. I was going to start burning bridges if I didn't walk.

Now, I see how many bridges are burning. This social civil war is taking its toll on my communities.

There is no victory in this culture war, so now we must relearn civility. That's not going to be easy, because that requires seeing our opponents as people, with legitimate issues, who desires issues for their problems just as earnestly as I seek them for me.

Weekly, I still poke about Facebook, but I've lost the thread of conversation. I no longer have context. I am accepting of that. That's how life used to be, before this infernal social feed revealed this level of madness before us, this direct tap into our social brains. Turns out, we all need a reason to think before we type.
dmilewski: (Default)
I just read an amusing article about how you should dump PC apps for web apps.

In my experience, which is considerable, so I may be using the voice of authority fallacy, web apps and local software are not equivalent. In every case, the local apps are more complex, more nuanced, and more stable. The only reason to move off them is because there's an advantage to working with a lighter, connection-oriented package. The reason to not switch to the web is because their disadvantages outweigh their advantages.

For example, most people moved to the web for mail because mail assumed a connection and combined that with an online archive. The advantage was identifiable. Devices that have gone whole-web in their interaction, such as smartphones, still maintain a local cache because that greatly adds to speed and because connectivity isn't always good.

People gain an advantage from web-oriented software when they frequently change computers. In this case, they get their operating environment wherever they go, decreasing their hassles and headaches.

Many pieces of software gain no advantage from being on the web. Big games don't work on the web because they're just too big. Software which generates big data also doesn't work well with the cloud, for the same reason. 

Unlike the early computing era, many apps are now installed, by default, with the operating system. These all run locally by default, and you're unlikely to find web versions because there's little need for them.

Local software lets you choose and app and stick with it. As long as you don't touch it or need something more from it, you can keep the same version for years, possibly decades. Compare that to web apps that like to change around.

What I'm not saying is that one strategy works better than the other. Better is in the eye of the beholder. The cloud and the web were created to solve problems, not to nullify existing solutions. They both have advantages and disadvantages, and those disadvantages are real. No matter what you choose, you will be affected by those disadvantages.
dmilewski: (Default)
AI has fundamental limits. The first limit is that humans have to see value in the AI to design the AI to do a job. If there's no value to some human, they won't design and implement an AI.

Rule #1: The AI must promise enough value so that someone develops it.

Developing an AI isn't cheap. That sort of software takes time and expertise to set up, test, and iterate until the AI works as intended. This process isn't necessarily a straight line. When an AI is going into a new area, it requires development, which almost always requires working with unknowns.

One could design an AI washing machine, but as current washing machines work well enough, and the washing machine market is competitive enough, such innovation will likely result in little to no return. 

Rule #2: The AI must provide more value than it loses.

We could, for instance, create an AI that assembles Legos for children. For those who love Legos, this would would provide no value. However, I can see some entrepreneur using this to speed up assembly for his pre-assembled kit business. (It's a real thing.)

You can see from the example that one group would see value out of such an AI while a second group would lose value from an AI.

The same is true of cars. Some people would gain, such as those who want to own their own taxi, especially if they aren't otherwise independent. Taxi companies would gain value by cutting payroll. However, car enthusiast would lose value because they want the driving experience. People on a low income would lose value because the cars would cost more to purchase and more to maintain. 

Rule #3: Value must be verifiable

It's not enough to claim value, value must be demonstrable. A claim that an AI manages money better, predicts weather better, or find patterns better must be measurable or you don't know whether it actually does something better. Better may mean more accurate, or it may mean shifting through more data than a human can in only a fraction of the time. Better is a metric used by the customer.

Facebook has had AIs that failed to regulate news feeds. They failed this task because the AIs could analyze the new feeds, but they had no practical way of measuring the results. Especially where humans are concerned, analyzing what we want and giving more of that to us can be too accurate of a mirror on ourselves, or lead to provably false notions running amok. The problem here is measuring truth, which nobody has ever successfully accomplished.

Many AIs fail, not because the of the technology, but because the project doesn't have well defined goals. "Do it better" is not a well defined goal.

Rule #4: There must be no cheaper or more effective alternative

Just because an AI is possible doesn't mean that there isn't a cheaper or better alternative. Humans are clever beasts, and while moving the goalposts is bad in a logical debate, doing exactly that can be extremely lucrative if you're the one who moves the goalposts.

Galaxy Zoo was famous for having no budget, but when they asked people to help them identify galaxies, the public gave them so many hours worth of work that they accomplished their huge tasks in two weeks at a fraction of the computational power.
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I think that we are heading towards a self-driving car apocalypse.

Well, may not quite an apocalypse as a problem.

Once we get self-driving cars, the demand for them will spike upwards during rush hour, then dwindle downward at off-peak hours.

Where will we keep those massive car fleets parked when they aren't in use? Individuals will continue using their driveways, which means that the general number of cars on in service won't drop. That's great for the individual, but poses problems for the ever increasing number of cars on the road. Traffic will only increase. Presumably some hours will get so crowded as to become self-driving only times.

For rental services, where will they keep all their cars when they aren't busy? Because there will be such a spike during rush hour, they'll want to station their cars close to the action rather than remote lots. Will they rent driveways or parking garages? Will they build their own parking garages? Will they park on streets, taking up places that people want? (That's  most likely as it's the cheapest.) These self-driving cars can even move themselves every so often to escape parking issues, trading off spaces with each other, shutting humans out of parking.

Paying for street parking will mean new parking meter technology. Those cars will eventually need to pay electronically. 

What's obvious here is that the need for mass transit won't simply remain, it will grow.

Self-driving will get onto the mass-transit bandwagon. Cars will begin hauling multiple passengers on purpose, presumably giving you some sort of fare discount. Car pooling reinvented. Presumably AIs will begin making schedules, maximizing passenger movement between known destinations, in essence creating a second and competing system to the municipal bus system.

Then there's all the pulling over and stopping traffic that will happen, which is bound to get abusive or contentious, which means that laws will happen. When and where you can be picked up and dropped off will grown increasingly complex. 

I can see some places going the opposite way around. You'll go to Disney world, buy your tickets, and get picked up by Disney's own self-driving cars, never needing to park in the parking lot, getting dropped off in an efficient and pleasant way. This will help Disney smooth the masses coming into their parks, reduce their need for parking lots, and provide a better experience for their customers.

I can see malls taking this approach. "Make it an outing. We'll drive you here and you have fun." The economics for such places aren't as clear, though, and certainly all couldn't do this.

I can also see Disney using the self-driving car system to help casual moving around. Hop in and it takes you to the park that you want. This will still generate lines, so you'll pay more to move up quicker. The monorail won't go away because when it comes to moving lots of people economically, mass transit still rules.

In the end, while I think that self-driving cars will go great distances in changing how the world interacts with cars, they inherit all the problems and limitations of the automobile system. 
dmilewski: (Default)
Here's my short list of ways to improved your fantasy novel writing. These are exercises for developing particular skills, not for applying to novels.


I know that this is crazy for an action-adventure style genre, but learning to write this style of novel without a fight scene forces you to broaden the scope and vocabulary of the rest of your scenes. Writing with no fights scenes means that you must set up and resolve conflict in entirely different ways, meaning that you can set up conflicts between allies and friends that don't have to result in death and dismemberment. Then, when you do have fight scenes, you've set up multiple layers of conflict solvable multiple ways.


Writing a story where you provide the reader with no world info develops your skill at providing information in ways other than back story. It also demonstrates that exposition isn't really needed most of the time. You'd be surprised at how more vivid a scene can get when there's insufficient information. This exercise teaches you to think about the conflict and motivations here in this story, where it matters.


Simply not using the word "magic" forces you to think about what magic is, how it looks, and how it interacts with your characters.

I admit that I used #3 in my own writing. I've now written twelve novels without using the word "magic" despite the rampant use of magic. The great thing about this technique is that the characters themselves get to be in doubt about the magic being used. Doubt equals tension, and tension drives a story.
dmilewski: (Default)
As a fun exercise, let's make a MLP and Talisman mashup.

Twilight - Always has at least one spell.

Rainbow Dash - Rolls two dice for movement, taking the better of the two.

Rarity - Any wearable object does not count against her object limit. Telekenesis, instead of moving, can bring any unclaimed wearable object to her space.

Fluttershy - Never attacked by animals. May charm animals so that they act as companions. May not move onto or through a square occupied by a dragon (except the dragon king). +3 strength when fighting dragons.

Applejack - May build a raft when in the woods or forest. Need not discard a raft. When eating apples, gains health rather than heals.

Pinkie Pie - May draw a card to replace the card that she's just drawn. No carry limit.

Substitute apples for cupcakes. Apples can heal anyone or can be used as payment.

Caste = Canterlot
Village = Ponyville
City = Manehatten
Tavern = Donut Joe's
Chapel = Library
Graveyard = ?
Everfree Forest = the Glade through the Warlock's Cave (Zecora's Hut)

Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are now missing, held by the Dragon King. Now it's up to the brave ponies of Equestria to quest until a rescue can be found.
dmilewski: (Default)
My wife has been asking herself some good questions about cultural appropriation and storytelling. She's quite the storyteller.

This brings up two questions for me:
  • Is storytelling cultural appropriation?
  • Can you culturally appropriate stories?
In my mind, which is the only one that counts here for this blog, storytelling is cultural dissemination by definition. The job of storytelling is to spread culture rather than take it. Storytellers usually introduce a story, tell a little about who created the story, give enough context to understand it, then they relate it. In other words, by attributing the story, they seek to give the original culture both context and power, seeking to have that story from another culture speak for itself.

Given that context, that a storyteller seeks to spread the story of another culture, they raise the voice of that culture. They give voice to the other culture beyond the normal reach of that culture. A storyteller breaks the narrative of the dominant culture by bringing in the story of the oppressed culture. Isn't that what you want?

How can a subjugated culture get its voice heard if it can't get its stories told?

Would it be better for someone of that culture to tell that story? Yes, that would be best. That would also be ideal, and we don't live in an ideal world. So what's more important, for a subjugated culture to tell all its own stories, or to have its stories spread so that more people know its stories?

But are all stories meant to be spread? Are some stories private? Are sacred stories not meant for others, but only for the originating culture?

I have no answers for that. 

So storytelling is a problem. It both disseminates the stories of a subjugated culture that they want spread, while also spreading stories that they would prefer not be spread. 

To my mind, a large chunk of cultural appropriation is, do you pose yourself as something that you cannot pose yourself? That which exists at a community level is permitted and recognized by the community. Only the community can permit those things, such as its religious and political leaders.

To make matters more complicated, other cultures have differing standards, which makes cultural appropriation rather relative. There can be no firm definition as there is no one culture.

In the end, I think that cultural appropriation poses an irresolvable problem. As a member of the dominant culture, I am damned to cultural appropriation because of my cultural membership. I cannot move lest I culturally appropriate, which is impossible, because humans cannot make themselves static, so I must culturally appropriate. 

I think that I'll add cultural appropriation to the list of death and taxes. It's unavoidable, but avoiding it is generally a smart idea.
dmilewski: (Default)
If I had to wear a sword for self defense, what would I wear?

I would wear a small sword. Most sidearms are never used, which is why in the 1700's swords got shorter and lighter, developing into the side sword. If I'm going to get stuck wearing a sword that's usually of no use, and otherwise gets in the way, I want the lightest possible annoyance possible, which is the side sword. In addition, the side sword is thrust only, which means that I can thwap people with the bunt blade somewhat safely, giving me a non-lethal recourse should I need to defend myself. The knuckle bow can even be used to punch should the need arise.

What I would prefer even more than a sword is nothing. In today's age, if I was to go about wearing a sword, it would garner attention from well meaning but ignorant people, which would lead to problems. Too many would want me to draw it, to spar, or to see it for themselves. They would play dangerously. This is the sort of thing that leads to accident. They might not be deadly accidents, but they wouldn't be welcome. Because I was wearing a sword, I would actually wind up less safe than carrying nothing at all.

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