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Eleven reasons why It (2017) wasn’t scary for me

  1. No giant spider.
  2. It’s really a demon-thing, but doesn’t even require a +1 weapon to deal damage to it.
  3. It a clown that gets it’s ass handed to It more than once by a small group of loser children.
  4. Whenever It gets hurt by the loser kids, It usually retreats, or else flips out twitching and jerking for a few seconds. It’s kindof a wimp.
  5. It bites Georgie’s arm off. Real scary, right? But there’s almost no pain reaction from him, I guess because he’s in shock? But this recalls the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “Tis but a scratch! I’ve had worse!” Apart from when Henry Bowers uses his knife on New Kid Ben, I didn’t get any sense of horror from the gore in this film.
  6. Any time It’s around, there’s red balloons. I guess they’re supposed to be threatening and creepy, but they’re really just a giveaway: OK there’s another balloon get ready for It to try to scare us again. Get ready to not be surprised! Literally every single jump scare foreshadowed.
  7. It doesn’t seem to be capable of hurting anyone unless they’re scared. Literally the only thing they have to do is stand up to It, or realize that It’s mind-tricks aren’t real. It’s hard to be scared of something that isn’t real, or is only real in your head.
  8. When big brother Bill encounters It (in the guise of little lost Georgie) in the basement, and It starts repeating “we all float down here” and turning “scary”, I’m thinking “OK he’s just glitching out. Someone needs to file a bug report, and then we can patch it.”
  9. It mostly likes to scare people by turning ugly. Deformed, decaying walking corpses, and that sort of thing. But years of informal sensitivity training has enabled me to empathize with people who have severe appearance deficits, rather than feel repulsed by them. I want to help It feel accepted, as though It too is capable of being loved.
  10. The creepy house at 29 Niebold Street. Hey, it’s not like that place doesn’t scream “haunted”. It obviously put a lot of effort into decor. But did It really have to go with “late 19th century cliche American Victorian?” It’s literally the most obvious place in town It could have picked to make It’s home. Send in the crack team of loser kids!
  11. We have a much worse clown in the White House, and he’s threatening to destroy the world in a nuclear exchange with North Korea. What I wouldn’t give for there to be a supernatural demon that only eats a few children once a generation. Literally every single day in 2017, the news is worse than a statistically abnormal number of missing children.

Overall I enjoyed It, for the acting and the casting, and especially the humorous/lighthearted moments when the kids are just being kids. The children who act in the film look and feel like real children. That much, was great. But I didn’t feel scared. The teaser trailers made it seem like It would be a lot worse than it was.

Recipe: really good very cute boyfriend stir fry

When I’m cooking at home, I like to do stir fry dishes in my wok. Recently I have been doing this, and have been finding that I have been feeling extra-well, and more energized on days after I have the following for dinner.

So maybe it’ll help you too. It is easy to make, reheats well, and you end up with an amount of food that you can turn into about four or five good meals.

really good very cute boyfriend stir fry

Ingredients:

  • rice
  • tofu
  • broccoli crowns
  • white onion
  • green onion
  • canned water chestnuts
  • canned baby corn
  • snow peas
  • crimini mushrooms
  • baby bean sprouts
  • sesame oil
  • teriyaki sauce
  • hoisin sauce
  • soy sauce

Equipment:

  • Rice cooker
  • Wok
  • wood spoon
  • large pot with lid

Preparation:

Rice.

Start the rice first, because it takes the longest. Depending on the type of rice you use, it will take a varying amount of water and cook time, so I can’t get too specific on this. Just watch carefully the first few times you’re cooking the rice and learn what works with a specific variety.

Some people say you should soak and rinse the rice before cooking. I don’t really bother with that; just a couple minutes of soaking, while I’m chopping the vegetables, and no rinsing.

Press tofu.

Take the tofu out of the container, and press it between two plates with a weight on top. This will squeeze out excess water, resulting in firmer tofu. After pressing for about 20-30 minutes, you can cut it into cubes. You can get away with less press time if you want, but less than 10-15 minutes is not recommended.

Chop vegetables.

Chop the different vegetables up into bite-size pieces. If you want you can save some time by buying pre-sliced vegetables. I usually get pre-sliced mushrooms, water chestnuts, and baby corn.

For the green onions, you just want the pieces to be about a quarter of an inch long.

The water chestnuts and baby corn come pre-sliced in cans, but you’ll need to strain them.

Cooking

Note: With a few exceptions, I don’t really bother with measuring ingredients. Learning to cook isn’t about following precise steps exactly every single time. It’s about exploring and experimenting and being observant and understanding.

Measuring makes it easier to repeat a result, but only if the ingredients are constant. The thing with vegetables and other ingredients is, they’re not very constant. They vary depending on season and freshness.

So the amount of oil or sauce or temperature or cook time that might be good for one session might not work for another, or according to your taste.

You develop a feel for this over time. Vary and experiment until you feel like you know what you’re doing and know what works for you. Use your eyeballs and your head. Use your tongue. This recipe will tell you what I look for when I’m cooking and how I estimate, not how to be scientific and rigid with your cooking method.

  1. Start the rice cooker about 10 minutes before you start cooking the rest of the vegetables.

    I’ve found the type of rice I usually cook takes about 20-25 min to be done, and the wok items take about 10-12 minutes or so to do.I use a rice cooker that I bought at a drug store for $10 like 17 years ago, nothing special (but it’s a really well made and well designed appliance and I’m happy with it).

    Some people use super fancy rice cookers made in Japan, that cost $150+ and use sophisticated sensors and computer programming with AI and fuzzy logic to do perfect rice every time with no fuss. There’s nothing wrong with that. At all. The Japanese know WTF they’re doing with their rice. Someday maybe I’ll buy one myself.

    With my rice cooker, it just has a setting for “warm” and a setting for “cook”. It’s supposed to switch automatically to “warm” after the water boils off. I’m not sure how it knows to do this, I expect maybe it’s by weight but who knows.

    But usually it’s wrong, so I have learned to watch it and flip the switch manually. I just need to keep an eye on it, checking on it after about 15 minutes to see how much water has evaporated.There’s a narrow window (maybe a minute or two, tops) between the water boiling away and the rice at the bottom of the pan starting to burn. That’s what you watch for. When the rice is done, the water should be boiled away leaving moist steamy grains of rice that may stick together or not depending on the variety and whether you washed and rinsed it.
    Sometimes, I see little holes in the rice, that look almost like someone took a bunch of chopsticks and stuck them in the rice, then pulled them out when the rice firmed up enough to stick that way. These holes are created by the streams of steam bubbles coming up through the boiling water. You don’t see them until toward the end when the rice is ready, and they don’t always form. But if you do see them it’s a good sign that the rice is ready.

    My rice cooker has a second stage to it, a basket that goes on the top of the cooking bowl, which you can steam vegetables, dumplings, or other food in. I put the broccoli in here. If your cooker has this feature, you can do that too, if not just stir fry it in the wok.

    Broccoli is done cooking when it is still bright green and stiff and crunchy. It is overdone when it starts to wilt, turns a darker green with a brownish tinge, or gets mushy. Basically, you just want the broccoli to be hot, not to break down the cells of the plant that make it crunchy and crisp.

    Fortunately it takes about the same amount of time to steam the broccoli as it does to cook the rice. But you may need to pull the broccoli a little early. Just lift the lid and check on it after about 10 minutes and see if it looks good.

    I don’t put anything on the broccoli while it’s steaming, just let it steam on its own. After it’s done steaming, I’ll throw it in the wok for a few seconds to a minute, taking care not to overcook it, to get some flavor from the sauces and oil.

    As soon as the rice cooker is set up and going, I turn my attention to the wok and the vegetables.

  2. Throw some sesame oil into your wok, and ignite the burner under it. Gas stove top is the only way to fly here. A “splash” of oil, enough to coat the cooking surface and leave a slight puddle is sufficient. You’re not deep frying, so you don’t need to cover the ingredients in oil, you just need enough to keep them from burning to the cooking surface of the wok. As you run through adding the different ingredients, you may need to add a little more oil at times.

    Tilt the wok so the oil flows over the entire inner surface, as close to the edge as you can get without spilling the oil. Then put the wok on the burner and let the oil flow back down to the center and get good and hot. If it starts smoking, it’s ready, but it’s also ready before then. It only takes a minute or so to heat up good and hot. Woks are made from thin metal that heats up quickly, and don’t retain the heat very long. It should be hot enough to start cooking very quickly.

  3. Now, cook the vegetables and tofu in the wok. Wait, tofu’s a vegetable too, right? Whatever, just cook the vegetables.

    Starting with the thickest, sturdiest vegetables, working my way down to the flimsiest, I cook each ingredient with a little bit of teriyaki and hoisin sauce, and throw on a little soy sauce as well.

    The sauces help flavor the food as well as keep it from drying out while it’s cooking in the oil. Oil heats up much hotter than the boiling point of water, so it can really dry out food from the outside in and turn it crispy. That’s what deep frying is all about — drying out the surface of the food, making it crispy. But with stir frying, you want to preserve the moisture in the food, and just give it a light coating of oil so it won’t stick to the wok. The oil helps transfer the heat into the food. But you don’t want it to dry out or it will burn. So you add a little sauce to help balance moisture and add flavor.

    It’s easy to use too much sauce, but there’s no strict guideline on how much to use. When I first started my wok experiments, I used too much, and my food didn’t taste like the food it was, all I could taste was the sauce. Now, I use less, and it flavors the food, the sauce doesn’t mask the food and become the entire flavor.

    You don’t want a deep pool of sauce at the bottom of the wok that the food is boiling in; you want a coating of sauce that you can stir the food in.

    Soy sauce is the most watery of the three, and adds moisture to the food while also adding a salty flavor. Teriyaki is sweet. Hoisin is sweet and a little hot. I find these blend well together, but you can experiment with other types of sauces. Fish sauce, oyster sauce, sate sauce are all worth looking at, as well as others.

    If you want to you can also toss in other spices, such as ginger or dried chili peppers, or whatever else you want. These can add even more flavor. But resist the temptation to overwhelm the dish with these flavors. Strong spicy dishes can taste great, but if you dial back and let the spice accent the food flavor rather than smother it, it’s even better.

    I know lots of people like to flip and toss and catch their food with the wok, and this is considered the correct way to use a wok, but I don’t find this to be all that necessary. I just stir it with a large flat wooden spoon/spatula thing, and it works just as well, without risk of spilling the food or straining my wrist. If you enjoy flipping the food around and being a showboat, knock yourself out.

    The purpose of stirring the food is to move it around so it doesn’t stick to the wok and burn. Also it helps even out hot spots so that everything cooks to an even temperature. Also it helps distribute the spice and sauce over the whole surface of each piece of food. Also, it helps the food flip over so it gets cooked from all sides, not just the side it happened to land on when it landed in the wok. And if you’re cooking more than one ingredient together, it helps them to mix. That’s it.

    As each ingredient is cooking, I sample a piece every now and then to see how it’s doing. Once it’s done how I like it, I transfer the food from the wok to the pot, and put the lid on it to keep things warm. I work my way through the ingredients, doing the thicker, sturdier foods first, and cooking them longer, and the lighter ingredients last, cooking them briefer. Items like baby corn, water chestnuts, onions, mushrooms, and tofu all take longer, several minutes, and can be done together if they fit in the wok, or done separately if there’s too much. Broccoli takes long too, unless it’s already steamed, in which case it just needs a short bath in the sauces. Items like spinach leaves, green onion, and baby bean sprouts don’t take long at all, and can be thrown in toward the end for a minute or less.

    Tofu is done when it starts to brown on the edges and develop a bit of a skin. If it’s not pressed enough to remove enough moisture, it may not brown on the edges or develop a skin, so keep that in mind. If you want to, you can do meat instead of tofu: chicken, beef, shrimp, or something else. Be sure to cook chicken thoroughly.

    Once all the ingredients are done, mix them up in the pot and then scoop it out and serve with the rice.

The death of (open) Instant Messaging?

Instant Message services were a Big Thing in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Everyone seemed to use them, and all the wannabe big players on the internet were offering some form of instant messaging. AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Google, you name it, everyone had a service. It was a great way to contact friends, as well as continue conversations started in real life with recent new acquaintances.

There was much competition among the providers to see who could get everyone to use their client and their protocol. Users understandably didn’t want to have to install and run a half dozen different clients to do the same exact thing with all these different services, so naturally they rebelled and gravitated toward open source clients that supported multiple protocols, perhaps not with all the bells and whistles, but well enough to conduct basic text-based instant messaging with their contacts.

Many of these were closed protocol services, meaning that they were intended to work only with a proprietary client, which (tried to) force users to connect to the service with the official client. There were numerous open protocols competing for users as well, and open source multi-protocol clients, which mainly promised a better user experience (with no advertising) and often better privacy, and other useful features such as chat logging and a plugin framework that allowed greater customization and extensibility. gAIM, initially an open source implementation of the AOL Instant Messenger, later morphed into a multi-protocol client that rebranded itself pidgin, to avoid confusion with the AOL-trademarked AIM. There were also Trillian and ICQ which offered similar open source clients with multi-protocol flexibility.

For several years the closed services fruitlessly tried to lock out these open source clients, forcing people to update frequently to keep compatible. Eventually service providers relented and gave up the arms race to lock out the open source clients, and things settled down and became peaceful for a time.

Then came Facebook. The rise to dominance in the social media sphere resulted in a decline of other messaging services. For the last however many years, I’ve mostly used Facebook messages, because that’s what everyone seems to use anymore. Social applications go where the users are, and facebook has the users. I can’t remember the last time anyone has attempted to contact me through my AIM account, and I’ve never really used YahooIM or MSN Messenger, although I technically have accounts because they came for free with a Yahoo or MSN or Hotmail account. I also use gmail chat sometimes, but also with diminishing frequency.

So, when I bought a new laptop back in March, it wasn’t a high priority to set up my pidgin accounts right away. I only got around to trying it just this last weekend. I do a lot of fb chat on a daily basis, but I just used the desktop website for that, and didn’t really notice anything missing by not logging into the other services.

All of a sudden, I can’t use most of my accounts through pidgin.

  • My AIM account has an SSL error when I try to connect through pidgin.
  • The Yahoo IM service is being shut down soon as part of Yahoo’s continued decline into irrelevance.
  • My google accounts warn me that the login is insecure, and recommends that I not allow it. I take my google account security seriously, so I heed this warning. I’m unclear if there’s a way to use pidgin to connect to gTalk securely, but I haven’t really looked into it as yet; if I need to I have the Google Hangouts app installed on my phone, and I can use the gmail web client to chat with people. It’d be nice to have everything in one place, and I’d like that place to be pidgin, but at least I can still access the service.
  • Facebook seems hellbent on closing off instant messaging services to Messenger only. I’d rather never talk to any of my friends ever again than be forced to use Facebook Messenger. The only other reliable method of messaging through Facebook remains the full desktop website; mobile crashes when I try to use it for messaging from an actual mobile device. And FB nags me to try Messenger whenever it thinks to. On my smartphone, Facebook wants me to install Facebook Messenger, which I DO NOT WANT. They started locking out mobile website users of their messaging feature, such that my browser crashes if I try to access the feature through m.facebook.com. I switched over to Trillian for Android, which worked for a few weeks, and now it too has issues. At first I noticed that I could not receive incoming messages that had hyperlinks or images. Now, I can’t even send plain text, although I can still receive it. Hopefully this is something the Trillian developers can work around, but it is looking like FB has resumed the arms race to lock out independent clients from accessing the service.
  • Livejournal has always embraced openness with its messaging, using XMPP for its protocol. So it works well with pidgin still, and out of the accounts I accessed through Pidgin it seems to be the last one standing. But it was never a popular IM option even when LJ was one of the top social media sites, and LJ has been a ghost town for years.

My assumption is that proprietary services want to force you to use the official clients so they can shove advertising down users’ throats, and so they can completely control the user’s client-side experience, including sideloading non-optional unwanted software (what we’d normally just call malware if the purveyor wasn’t a big corporation who feels entitled by EULA/TOS to do whatever they want to their users).

And so it goes with the way of all things, that they fade and die as time goes on. It’s a little bit sad to see the old mainstays fading to irrelevance. But mostly annoying that the protocols that are still going strong have been pulling away from the open clients.

The Decline and Fall of the The Walking Dead

[Editor’s note: I started writing this post shortly after the last episode of season six aired, back in April… then promptly forgot about it, until season seven started last week. In light of the outpouring of fans and critics complaining about the season’s first episode, I decided to finish up and publish.]

I’m thinking about this season’s last episode of The Walking Dead. The big season ending cliffhanger in which we’re finally introduced to Negan, and he brutally beats (likely kills) one of the central cast members, and we’re left to wonder who until next season.

My feelings on the show are pretty mixed. I definitely like TWD, overall, and moreover, I am predisposed to like it. But I increasingly find myself wondering why as the show grinds on. Mainly, I think, it comes down to the characters that I’ve grown attached to: Glenn, Daryl, Carol being my favorites. They’re played by great actors, and viewers have grown very attached to them over six seasons. But what really hooked me was the strength of the writing in the first season, and the realism of the situations that the survivors faced, and the realism of their responses to it.

There was a serious external threat represented by the zombie outbreak and the collapse of civilization, but also internal struggles as people who probably would ordinarily never cooperate or interact with each other were thrust together by circumstances and forced to cooperate for a chance at survival. Disagreements and conflicts and strained loyalties. And the choices the characters made had real, life or death consequences. People died on the show, just about every episode, and they were often characters who you cared about.

But also, there were the pragmatic, immediate matters of survival at hand. What tactics work against zombies? What about a huge number of zombies? Forgetting about zombies, how do you do basic survival when civilization has collapsed — how do you eat? Stay warm? Take care of your health and hygeine?

As the show has worn on, though, these things that made it interesting have been replaced or receeded into irrelevance. It’s taken for granted that they know how to survive. They are shown foraging, farming, and scavenging, but we never really see them starving, or shivering, or too weak to go on. They’ve gotten competent with fighting and know anti-zombie tactics so well that zombies are no longer a threat unless the show decides to make a stealth zombie come out of nowhere for a deus ex machina kill. Death spares the central cast, making it tame and predictable.

[[PUT SOMETHING HERE ABOUT HOW THE SHOW AT ONE TIME GAVE A FALSE HOPE OF FIGURING OUT WHAT WAS CAUSING THE ZOMBIE OUTBREAK AND STOPPING IT]]

For a time, the series dangled some hope of answers and a resolution. We might find out what caused the zombie apocalypse. There might even be a way to cure it. But those hopes were blown up in a memorable episode a few years ago, and since then, apart from a false hope in the form of Eugene’s story that he needed to get to Washington, D.C., there really hasn’t been any sense of direction. The cast have not been on a quest to go anywhere or accomplish anything, it’s just been an endless sequence of running into people, running into zombies, running into people, running into zombies, and most everyone they run into ends up dying before too long, but the central cast had started to take on an aura of invincibility.

Encounters with the living follow a formula: Either the other group is brutal and threatening, cannot be trusted, ever, and must therefore be destroyed; or, the other group is soft and weak, cannot be relied on, and must be exploited until their inexplicably stable pocket of civilization is overrun by either zombies or stronger people. We pick up a few new cast members who have the potential of making it with the protagonist group, but these people are all marked for death, and the idea is that we’re supposed to start to develop feelings for them before the show rips them from us, usually in some meaningless, almost accidental incident that is there mostly for its shock or horror value, which due to the contrived and predictable nature of the setup, is always diminished and weaker than intended.

Because there’s not enough time to allow for meaningful character development at the pace the writers want the show to take, we mostly don’t get any. There’s hints of possibility that go unexplored as the main plot hurtles past at highway speed. In many ways it feels like what makes it to broadcast is the “digest version” of a larger, richer story that we’ll never get to see. I guess that’s why the book is always better than the screenplay production. Yet, it’s frustrating. And if they could simply choose to take the time, you know they could make the show 10 times better than it ends up being. Essentially every character’s arc is left unfinished, or truncated. This could be the tragedy that we crave if it’s in full development only to be cut short by an untimely, horrible death. But despite the cornucopia of death that the show loves to present to us, almost none of it seems to hit us that way — the recent death of the doctor character just as she’s starting to come into her own being one notable exception, but all the more glaring due to its singularity.

Also, the central characters are so safe that the show’s writers are forced to have them make stupid decisions for no apparent reason. Carol’s most recent apparent death wish and her decision to leave the group again, for no real good reason, being the latest example of this. But we see it again and again, and it feels like it’s only an excuse to put a central character in danger, only to have the show pull its punches and spare them from harm.

Now, with the Negan kills ????? cliffhanger, the show is promising us a bloody, brutal end to one of our favorite characters. I’ve admired The Walking Dead for its willingness to kill characters, as TV shows so seldom often do. It was far more interesting to watch TWD knowing that it would not pull punches and spare a character just because they were a fan favorite. But this cliffhanger, I think, is too much for me. It’s like the show is using the spectacle of execution as entertainment. Death on the show wasn’t for entertainment, at least not for me, it was there to illustrate that TWD was a different sort of show, where, just like in real life, death doesn’t play fair, and that made me feel like characters were really in peril whenever there was danger.

I haven’t watched the first episode of Season 7 still, and after reading a lot of people’s responses to it, I’m not sure that I want to.

I won a contest

Last month, a youtube channel I follow called The No-Swear Gamer had a contest to win a knitted Space Invaders hat made by SETXNerdery. I went over to NSG’s facebook page, entered the contest, and to my surprise, I won!

The hat arrived in my mail on Friday, and I have to say, I really like it. Even if I don’t especially like winter.

31ca2261-8dac-4a8d-8522-3416e880b3cb

The acrylic yarn is soft and the hat is warm and fits on my head pretty well. SEXTNerdery has some other hat designs that are fun if you’re a retro gamer, so give them a look.

No Swear Gamer does a nice job of reviewing classic games for the Atari and other retro consoles, and provides a lot of detailed information, including some secret information like easter eggs. He has a good knowledge of his subject and doesn’t rely on stunts or gimmicks to attract viewers (aside from the occasional hat contest) — just solid information and opinion.

Spoiler etiquette

There are two annoying things about spoilers: spoilers, and people complaining about spoilers.

There’s really a few basic rules that should cover it:

  1. If you care to avoid spoilers, make an effort to see the thing as soon as you possibly can.
  2. If you want to talk about the thing you saw, disclose a spoiler alert before you go into it.

Give people fair warning, and it’s their fault if they read on. And if they don’t take it on themselves to see the thing in a reasonable amount of time, that’s their problem.

There will always be people who haven’t seen the thing yet. That doesn’t mean that the world should sit silently and not talk about the thing forever. How long should people wait before talking about the thing? I think it’s fair to talk about the thing immediately. But if you want to do it without being a jerk, check to make sure the people who can hear you care about spoilers, and then give them a chance to mute before you launch into them.

There’s also people who deliberately spoil in order to be a jerk. Right, these are the ones who aren’t talking about the thing because they are excited about the thing — they’re the ones who are looking for people who haven’t seen the thing yet so they can tell them about the thing and ruin the surprise and suspense that the creator of the thing invested in the experience of the thing. These people suck and deserve a good beating. Even though spoiling is not a crime, and beating people up is. The law kindof has it backwards on this.

In summary, the arts are to be enjoyed, and a huge part of enjoying them is talking about them. People should talk about them. They should be mindful of people who haven’t yet had the experience they’re about to talk about. They shouldn’t remain silent forever, but they should give people who care to avoid spoilers fair warning and an opportunity to bow out before gushing about the thing.

Fibonacci Tartan and Kilt

Some time ago, Youtube channel Numberphile posted a video on a tartan based on the fibonacci sequence.

Inspired by this, I’ve created a fibonacci-based tartan of my own:

Fib7-7

Isn’t it beautiful?

My design is based on the first seven numbers in the Fibonacci sequence: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13. It uses one thread of yellow, then one thread of red, two threads of dark green, three threads of navy blue, five threads of red, eight threads of dark green, and thirteen threads of navy blue. To scale up the size of the sett, I will be multiplying these numbers by seven. I call the tartan, Fibonacci-7.

I just started a crowdfunding campaign to register the tartan with the Scottish Registrar of Tartans, and have a kilt made with it. It will cost an estimated $2250 to have it produced. Once registered, the tartan will become available to textile manufacturers to produce cloth and garments in this tartan.

If you are interested in math or just love a beautiful tartan, please consider donating to the cause, and spread the word. If every visitor to this site donated just $1, we’d have funding within less than one month. So if you’re a regular reader of this site and have found my articles on GameMaker useful, please show your appreciation by donating what you can. Thank you.

Color Is Everything: a Ludum Dare 31 Post-Mortem

Originally published here.

Play Color Is Everything

Preconceived notions

Going into this weekend, I knew I wanted to make a game that would serve as a statement about the intolerable state of civil rights in the present-day United States. It seems like almost every day there’s another story about police using excessive and all too often deadly force, often unnecessarily or for very little provocation. We live today in a police state where citizens rights are routinely denied, due process and the right to a fair and speedy trial have been forgotten, and out government doesn’t merely seem unwilling or incapable of doing anything about it, it refuses to do anything about and then punishes those who speak out and demand it — as evidenced by a mockery of a Grand Jury investigation into the police shooting of an unarmed 18 year old named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last month, and a 12 year old boy in my home town of Cleveland, Ohio that happened just as the news hit that there would be no trial in the Michael Brown shooting incident. No trial, and then force used to break up peaceful demonstrations which turned them into riots.

One of the finalist themes was Color Is Everything, and I thought that would work perfectly if it was chosen, but for some reason I didn’t expect it to — I just never feel that lucky, I guess. So I looked at the other themes and considered how I might fit my protest statement into a game that satisfied the other themes, and I thought that I could use “Entire game on one screen” if it came up, but I never expected that it would. When it did, I was surprised, but happy because out of all the other themes it was the one that afforded the most freedom of game concept, so long as I could fit everything on one screen.

Design

In designing the game, I focused almost exclusively on the message that I wanted to send, and the actual game play was secondary. I wish I could have spent more time on refining the game, because as it is I don’t feel that it plays very well. But I needed to be very careful about the content of the message. I’m not sure if I got it right or not, but I tried as best I could to come up with a statement that I could put into a game that I could create in under 48 hours.

Early on I choose to sacrifice graphics, and go with a purely abstract game. I did not want to sensationalize with blood splatter, and after briefly considering creating animated anthropomorphic figures, but worried that whatever I might create in a short timeframe would be insufficient and might resemble offensive stereotypes. I decided to go fully abstract and use simple squares of symbolic, literal black and white to represent my people. While it was very easy to make, it afforded me time to consider how to put the message I wanted into the game. I wanted to drive home the point that you can’t tell whether a person is a criminal based on their appearance, that it is their actions that make a person a criminal. Although, really, crime is almost incidental to the reality I’m depicting — the game is really about a dystopian society where police who are sworn to protect and serve the public are allowed to get away with killing people because a corrupt system looks for any excuse to look the other way when they happen to be black.

I had a basic idea that you’d be a policeman, and you’d just patrol around on the screen while people stood about or walked around, and you’d have to figure out who among them is a criminal, and then try to arrest them or, if you wanted, you could shoot them. I gave the game three ending conditions: if you run out of bullets, if you are killed, or if you kill an innocent (white) person. And I implemented a scoring system which I felt reflects the real-world valuation we place on white and black citizens. Arresting or killing a black innocent has no consequences in the game. But arresting an innocent white person deducts points, while killing an innocent white person ends your career in an instant.

Keeping score

I struggled quite a bit with figuring out how to value the arrest and kill scores for black and white criminals. In the end, I took a base value of 100 points, because it’s a nice, round number, and then I adjusted it to reflect the bias in the legal system. I don’t know how well I did, there, but here’s how I came up with the point values: Using wikipedia, I found an article dealing with race and crime in the united states. In it, I found that the data presented in the article was fairly messy, taking numbers from different years, etc. but it said that the incarceration rate for black males is 4749 per 100,000 — about 4.8% of all black men in this country are in prison — while the incarceration rate for white males is only 487 per 100,000, or about 0.5%. I also needed to adjust for the proportion of the population that these groups represent. According to the 2010 US Census, the population classified as white represents about 63% of the total population, while blacks represent about 12%. Multiplying these percentages together, I got 0.63*0.05 = 0.00315, and 0.12*0.048 = 0.00576. Dividing these two numbers into each other, I got 0.00315/0.00576 = 0.546875, and 0.00576/0.00315 = 1.828571428571429, which I rounded to 0.5 and 1.8, respectively. I took those numbers and multiplied them by the base point value of 100, to make a black arrest worth 180 points, and a white arrest to be worth 50 points. Coming up with these numbers gave me a sick feeling.

Killing a person scores much 100x as much points as arresting them, to reflect that ending a person’s life is a higher stakes proposition than simply arresting them. Perversely, this creates incentive to shoot people, if you’re going for a high score, and for the highest score, to preferentially seek out black targets.

I never tell the player that they ought to try for a high score, but I allow the structure of the game to suggest to the player that this is what they ought to do. I expect that most people will try to play this way at first, and perhaps if they think about what the game is telling them, they might try not to shoot as much. It’s possible to play with a strategy of only arresting people, although you will score much slower, you can play longer as long as you manage to avoid being shot yourself by criminals. If you don’t care about arresting the wrong people, you can probably survive indefinitely, and in the long run the extra points you get for arresting black criminals will outweigh the penalty incurred for arresting innocent white people. In thinking about this more, it makes me question why I gave the population equal proportions of black and white people, and criminals and innocents. It might have been a more accurate simulation to give these populations the same proportions as the census and crime statistics show. But while the census figures are less likely to contain institutional bias, the crime numbers really only track incarceration, not criminality, and I don’t know where to find numbers that would reliably measure the proportion of a population that are criminals, broken down by race. So, it’s a limitation of the design, I suppose, but I’m not sure how to do better there. If I had done this, though, it would have pushed the bias toward targeting blacks much higher, because white criminals would be very rare, white innocents would be very common, and blacks would be the only safe targets for arrest and/or extra-judicial killing. This might need to go into the post-compo update, if I continue developing the game.

To provide the player with a bit of incentive to use their gun, I gave the criminals guns as well, with which they can commit murder, and some of them will try to shoot you, so there is some of the self-defense and defending the lives of others in the game, just as it is talked about in the real world whenever one of these shootings takes place. If I had to do it over again, I’d probably use the crime statistics tracked in the game to penalize your score, so that you would have a bit more direct reason to try to identify and stop the criminals. This will probably be addressed in a post-compo version as well.

The Play Experience

My process in coming up with this design was slow and meditative, so I probably spent more time thinking about the design, what it implied in terms of the message it would send, and then carefully creating a design that imparted the right message. Comparatively speaking, I spent very little time actually playing the game, and I think that shows in the play experience. I’m not really satisfied with how the game plays. The AI is extremely rudimentary, and if you allow the game to continue spawning people and don’t wipe them all up by constantly arresting or killing them, very quickly it gets to the point where there’s too much happening on the screen, and you can’t take it all in, which makes your decisions and actions less meaningful. As well, when the screen fills up, very quickly you end up accidentally colliding with people who are walking around oblivious to you, and obviously that removes the aspect of intentionality from the act of arresting them, detracting from the game’s message.

I think, if I did the design over again, I’d try to make the game slower, so that the player would be able to think about their actions and decide to do them, rather than react in a twitchy manner. Perhaps I’d reduce the number of people that can be on screen at one time (there’s currently no limit, which is bad), and I might also slow down the action so that only a smaller number of people are actively doing anything — I considered making the AI’s move in a turn-based fashion, so you could have time to monitor each individuals actions and try to figure out if they’re a criminal or not, which would give the game more of a detective-y feel to it. I’d definitely like to improve the AI a bit more so that it would make the game less random.

Overall, I’m not all that satisfied with the game as a play experience, I think it could be much better — but working on the project allowed me to work through my feelings on the current events. And, working through those thoughts was a more necessary thing for me this weekend. There’s a lot that is wrong with our country right now, especially in government and law enforcement. Reform is badly needed, and seems like a remote possibility at best. It seems like the system of checks and balances, and the rights that we are all guaranteed exist only on paper right now.

I got 99 technical problems

I have an aging Samsung Galaxy SII that I bought a couple years ago. Physically it’s still in good condition, but for the past several months its performance has been terrible. I don’t want to drop $500-700 on a new phone right now, so I’ve been trying to figure out whether the performance problems have a solution. This has been an epic time sink, probably costing me the $500-700 in time that I didn’t want to spend in cash, easily.

To recap:

A few months ago, the phone started getting really slow and laggy, and would lock up and need a hard reboot or would sometimes reboot itself spontaneously. This came on gradually, and got worse over time. It was particularly aggravating when attempting to use the phone as a GPS.

Then, one day the phone started pulling down updates for various apps, and informed me that there was no room on the internal SD memory, so no more updates could be installed. I have a 32 GB external SD which is where most of my downloaded apps reside, so it was baffling to me why my internal memory would be full, so I investigated.

Somehow or other, I discovered an app called Clean Master, which found a ton of junk on my phone and cleared it out. Mostly this was cache files, some outdated .apk’s, etc. After running Clean Master I freed up something like 1.3 GB of data from the 2GB internal SD, and the phone not only could take updates again, it became fast and responsive again, and stable, and felt like a new phone.

Unfortunately this lasted only a couple of days, and then went back to being slow and laggy again. Not as bad as before I ran Clean Master the first time, but still quite bad. I’d just run Clean Master again, and it would seem to help, although it didn’t seem to make as dramatic a difference on subsequent runnings, and needed to be run several times a day, every time the phone got slow. So it didn’t seem to cure the problem, although it was capable of treating the symptoms and allow me to manage the problem.

Then one day I got a notification from the Lookout Security app that came bundled with my phone, warning me that there was an unpatched vulnerability in the default browser on my phone, and to uprgrade the browser I would need to be running Android 4.2 or later. T-Mobile has never released a newer firmware update than 4.0 for the Galaxy S2, so I had no official support options.

I could have switched from the default browser app to Chrome or Firefox, but I preferred the default app because of its font sizing and zoom made it easiest to read web pages with. But given all the problems I was having with the phone, and that my phone is already rooted, I decided to try out an unofficial firmware for the first time.

Not knowing much about this, I did a little googling and stumbled my way through the process. It wasn’t too bad, although I did end up getting stuck in a reboot loop which took a couple hours of troubleshooting to overcome.

Next, I had problems logging into my google account on the phone, so I couldn’t access My Apps and get them installed for a bit. I eventually figured out what was causing that problem and fixed it, and was able to start downloading all the apps that I’d installed under the previous firmware.

Most of those apps came down, but there were a couple that were missing, two of which were apps that I use the most: Simple.Facebook and the default browser. I figured the default browser might not be available on the new firmware, since it was a baked-in app on the stock firmware. I can’t find Simple.Facebook in the Play store, so I guess it must have been discontinued. I replaced it with a similar app, Tinfoil for Facebook, which seems to be an acceptable alternative and works maybe even a bit better than Simple.Facebook did. And the alarm clock app that I’d been using on the old firmware also is nowhere to be found in My Apps. I gather that when an app is pulled from the Play store, it just disappears from My Apps, although remains installed on the device. LiquidSmooth has its own alarm clock app, which has equivalent functions, so it’s not as big of a deal.

Overall I liked the new firmware, it seems to run fine on my phone and is nice and fast, and the LiquidSmooth people did a good job creating it. But I still have a few problems, some of them quite major.

  1. ACR Call Recorder doesn’t seem to work now, leaving me without a call recorder. Call recording is an extremely useful feature to have when dealing with companies who are not always competent or honest, or someone who is harassing or threatening you.
  2. Launcher shortcuts disappear from home screen after a reboot. At first when I started researching I thought this was a problem with the Google Now Launcher, but it seems to be a problem with any launcher I’ve tried so far. This is a major annoyance.
  3. Battery life has been horrible. I’m starting to dive deep into this because I didn’t know that much about it. I’ve always felt like the S2 drains battery at far too fast a rate, but since the switching to LiquidSmooth it’s been unbelievably bad. If I’m actually using the phone, it seems to drain about 25-35%/hr. Even just a few minutes of use will drain 10% in almost no time at all. Idling off battery it’s like 10%/hr. I am chained to power outlets. I disable everything I can when I don’t need it, and it doesn’t help. I run apps that supposedly help you save battery, and it doesn’t help. A friend of mine who is working on a book on this subject sent me some information, so maybe I’ll figure a few things out.

Today’s homily

I’m at the Ohio Game Developers Expo in Columbus, Ohio this weekend.

After Scott Foe’s talk on “Big Problems” I really had to pee. I could have talked to him after I left the auditorium, but I REALLY had to pee.

So did a lot of people. There was a line of people waiting to pee. While standing there, I noticed a ladybug on the sink countertop, on it’s back in the middle of a droplet of water, kicking like mad to right itself, but unable to because the water’s surface tension was gluing it to the countertop.

Ladybugs fall into the classification of “non-gross insects” so, without hesitation, I helped it get on it’s feet by lightly brushing it with my finger until it flipped over. It began walking around on the countertop, too heavy with water to fly.

A few seconds later, a urinal freed up and it was my turn to pee. So I stepped up and took care of what I was there to do.

When I went back to the sink to wash my hands, the ladybug was gone. I don’t know if it hid somewhere, not that there was a lot of places for it to go, or if someone did something to the ladybug.

The morals:

  1. Take care of what you need to do.
  2. The cost of doing what you need to do in the immediate term can be great in the long term.
  3. If you see someone struggling, stop and help them, even if they seem insignificant. The cost of solving problems that are truly insignificant to you is often negligible.
  4. You can’t do everything for them, but do what you can.
  5. You can’t control what happens to them or what other people will do, but try to help them anyway.
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