Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Science YouTubers' Tribute To Hamilton

No, no, not not the politician Hamilton-- the scientist Hamilton. They do use a pretty awesome homemade acapella cover of the first song from the play Hamilton to do it, though. It's arranged well and diversely cast, too, Check it out!

So what did William Rowan Hamilton discover? He discovered quaternions, which are an extension of complex numbers: rather than just one number (i) that equals -1 when squared, these use thee (i,j,k). Also in that formula, multiplication is no longer commutative (the order in which things are multiplied matters, so a times b is not the same as b times a). They can be used to represent rotations.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Spec Fic's Systemic Racism & What To Do About It

Text: Out of 2,039 stories published in 2015, 38 were written by black authors.
Speculative fiction can be a gateway for aspiring authors, above and beyond getting a pay-day or seeing your work in the SF/F anthology of your choice. It can also be the first step to greater access to agents, a fanbase, novel deals and more. Over the past few years, there has been an increased push for publishing a diversity of voices, but in a recent study, Fireside Fiction outlines that out of all of the speculative fiction stories that were published last year, only 1.9 percent of those stories were written by black authors. To put those odds in perspective, they do some math to point out that:
...the probability of the 1.9% average occurring by random chance is 3.21x 10^-76, or
For comparison’s sake, the odds of winning the New Jersey Pick Six lottery are 7.15x 10^-08, or 0.00000714%
Author Mikki Kendall wrote in a companion essay, "Opportunities Lost", that it's not a matter of talent or lack of stories, but a lack of initiative on the part of publishers:

Race matters at every step of the publishing process. Including who gets out of the slush pile and onto the page. The myth that Black people don’t read science fiction or fantasy has been thoroughly debunked. And despite any claims to the contrary, Black writers of speculative fiction have been producing amazing work since the genre’s inception. The real problem isn’t one of a lack of stories or a lack of talented writers, the problem is a lack of outlets willing to publish stories that don’t center white characters.
New York Times best-selling author Tobias S. Buckwell points out that this lopsided figure doesn't even reflect the current makeup of the United States in his essay "Boldly Going Nowhere":
I don’t remember the first time I was told there were plenty of diverse writers in the field, and had the same few names repeated to me over and over again... the same four names—“Hopkinson, Butler, Delany, Barnes”—as a list of writers of color when I would point out the whiteness of the science fiction field. With some 1,500–2,000 members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, in order for our field to just match the demographics of the USA that meant SFWA should have had at least 150–200 African-American writers because twelve percent of the US population was African-American. 
To match the U.S.A’s demographics, there should be about 200 members of SFWA who would choose African-American on a census bureau questionnaire. 90 who would choose Asian-American. 18 Native-American. 54 like me, who would choose two or more races on the census questionnaire.Basically, every time you go see a bunch of writers, in person or in print, about 30% of them should be something other than white. Just to reflect demographics.
Fireside Fiction is not above pointing out that they have failed at this goal as well, but editor Brian White posted an editorial that, among other things, showed he was willing to put his money where his mouth is:
  • We’re working with the developer of our submissions system to add in an optional, anonymous form for people to self-report their demographic information when they submit to Fireside. This way, we can take a much closer look at what is going on in our submissions pile.
  • We are going to change our submissions process. Once a year, we will still have one big submission period open to everyone. But several other times a year, we will have targeted submissions windows, each targeted toward a specific marginalized group. So black writers, writers of color generally, LGBTQA writers, women, writers with disabilities, etc. We’re still working out the details on this, but all the dates will be publicized well ahead of time, so that people who don’t have the leisure time to whip up a submission on short notice can get their work ready. 
  • We also want to hear from the black writing and publishing community about what else we could do better. You can email me directly at brian@firesidefiction.com or talk to us on Twitter.

Readers, what else do you think can be done to fix this problem in spec fic? Sound off in the comments below.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Are Hardcore Gamers The New Right Wing Conservatives?

Description: Stephen Colbert, dressed in a business suit &
seated at a desk, raising a pitchfork. the caption reads "Unleash
Nerd Fury!"
 In the mid-to-late 90s up to the the early 2000s, there was a lot of sound and fury and fear about censoring video games, worries about the resultant effect on free speech and the possibility of strangling video games as an art-form before it even left the cradle. There were Congressional hearings on video game violence, pundits bloviating in newspapers, magazines and online, and reactionary conservatives seemingly pinning blame for video games on everything from the Columbine massacre to the collapse of the nuclear family. But for all the sturm und drang, all the worries about legislators attempting to legislate morality... nothing really came of it. As the Houston Chronicle's Jeff Rouner outlines in "Have Gamers Become The New Religious Right?":
However, though there was a lot of talk about official censorship there was never really any serious chance it would happen in America. Video games were declared free speech by the Supreme Court in 2005 in a 7 – 2 decision, and Nintendo had given up their dream of completely family-friendly entertainment by 1994. Mature content became a badge of honor to the gamer community. It was proof that the medium couldn’t be stopped by moralistic thugs determined to protect us from ourselves.
So what happened?
Journalists like Leigh Alexander and Mattie Bryce as well as YouTubers like Anita Sarkeesian began looking at game content, both narrative and mechanical, and examining what that content said about us. It was not, as a lot of gamers like to claim, a call to censor or ban that content. It was just looking at it in a more thoughtful and nuanced way. With games now protected by all the power of the First Amendment, you would think that discussion over them could flourish more freely since they were in no danger of being taken away. 
That’s not what happened, though. Organized retaliation against the concept of conversation and dialogue in the form of 4chan ops and GamerGate happened instead. Sarkeesian’s videos were constantly flagged on YouTube in an attempt to take them down and online campaigns to have various journalists discredited or fired became a new way of life for anyone who dared deconstructing games from a social justice perspective... Criticism of the status quo, no matter how mild, is felt like an attack on a person’s morality. Religious people in the ‘80s who were comfortable with traditional gender roles took the idea of someone else rejecting those roles as a judgment. Likewise, players who are perfectly happy with a white, male-centric, violent, heteronormative status quo in gaming feel judged for that happiness when marginalized people and their allies speak up about how it affects them.
How bad has it gotten? A couple worked together for a year on a game called "That Dragon, Cancer" as a way to help process and explore their grief as well as the boundaries of games as an interactive medium. And hardcore gamers howled with outrage. Over a game a couple made born from their experiences of watching their infant son wrestle with cancer.
Unfortunately, Feminist Frequency gave the game a good review, and so of course the horde has descended on Steam to flood the forums with cries of “feels-marketing” and saying the Greens immoral for not donating profits to cancer research. Bear in mind, none of these people have actually played That Dragon, Cancer. They just hate it because a bunch of other people they normally pick on all got together and said it made them feel something.
So readers, I ask you: what are moderate gamers to do? Sound off in the comments below.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Bitcoin Developer: 'Bitcoin Has Failed'

Description: A screenshot from the cartoon South Park showing a white man in
a gray business suit with a blue and white tie sitting at a desk with the caption:
"We have put all your money in Bitcoin. And it's gone."
Nike Hearn, a Bitcoin software developer for over 5 years wrote about the success- or lack thereof- with the virtual crypto-currency Bitcoin in an essay last week:
I’ve spent more than 5 years being a Bitcoin developer. The software I’ve written has been used by millions of users, hundreds of developers, and the talks I’ve given have led directly to the creation of several startups. ...From the start, I’ve always said the same thing: Bitcoin is an experiment and like all experiments, it can fail.
But despite knowing that Bitcoin could fail all along, the now inescapable conclusion that it has failed still saddens me greatly. The fundamentals are broken and whatever happens to the price in the short term, the long term trend should probably be downwards. I will no longer be taking part in Bitcoin development and have sold all my coins.
Heard then goes into just why Bitcoin was a good idea that flopped, and flopped hard:

It has failed because the community has failed. What was meant to be a new, decentralised form of money that lacked “systemically important institutions” and “too big to fail” has become something even worse: a system completely controlled by just a handful of people. Worse still, the network is on the brink of technical collapse. The mechanisms that should have prevented this outcome have broken down, and as a result there’s no longer much reason to think Bitcoin can actually be better than the existing financial system. Think about it. If you had never heard about Bitcoin before, would you care about a payments network that: Couldn’t move your existing money, had wildly unpredictable fees that were high and rising fast, allowed buyers to take back payments they’d made after walking out of shops, by simply pressing a button, is suffering large backlogs and flaky payments, and in which the companies and people building it were in open civil war?

Heard goes into each of the failure points in more depth in his essay. One of the more interesting things was seeing the Bitcoin project itself slowly being eroded by the same petty disagreements and flame wars that tank tiny, obscure open-source projects.

What do you think, readers?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Video: Diversity Makes Cooler Games For Everyone

Youtuber MrBtoungue took a break from his usual fare to expound upon the biggest complaint had had about gaming in 2015: it wasn't diverse enough. How did that affect him, a dude who described himself as "a comfortable cis white male with a lump of coal where my heart should be"?

Part of the reason is that two of his favorite games of the year, the Witcher 3 and Bloodbourne, could only have happened as unique products of their respective developer's times and culture. As he puts it, diversity is an asset:
I see something like an undiscovered country's worth of talent. Right here, within our own borders, a country full of people who want to make and play games-- and would be making and playing games in greater numbers if we didn't keep throwing obstacles in their path. I always wonder over the years how many From-Soft's-worth of talent we've driven off by us constantly asking to see their tits. How many projects' worth of creativity have we driven off with behavior that's racist or homophobic and transphobic or just generally abusive?
The cost of unequal representation and games is not only unfairness but wastedpotential.
You can watch the entire video below:

Monday, January 25, 2016

Make The Web Better In Under 5 Minutes

Description: Close of of a computer keyboard. Just above the
"alt" key is a blue rectangular key with rounded corners labeled
"Accessibility", with the International Symbol For Access next to it.
Folks, I'm gonna put on my web develop hat for a moment here. One of the biggest barriers to making the web accessible for everyone are lack of accessibility features. People with disabilities deserve to access the web as much as anyone else. Features that can make websites accessible for people with disabilities are often simple and involve minimal labor or cost. These features typically have either no impact on the web experience of non-disabled people at all, or else improve the experience for everyone using the web. Right now, the law requires businesses to make their websites accessible. But most businesses ignore this obligation, in part because the U.S. Department of Justice has delayed the release of regulations that spell out exactly what accessibility features websites must have.

"But Shawn, I don't have a disability, why should I care?" some might ask. Well, if empathy won't convince you, how about self interest? In the disability activism community some people use the term "temporarily able-bodied" (TAB for short) to refer to people that don't have a disability. Why? Well, odds are that as you age, you will experience declines in vision, movement, motor function or cognitive functions. You may be able-bodies NOW, but you won't always be. So consider web accessibility as a way to "future-proof" the web and its vast resources, if nothing else.

Meow The Force Be With You: Star Wars & Cats

Chances are if you use the Internet or consume popular culture, that there are two things you can't get enough of: Star Wars and pictures of cats. Illustrators Griz and Norm Lemay have now combined those two things to bring you a series of illustrations depicting Star Wars heroines and droids with cats.

The series sort of works with the idea that owners and their pets seem to eventually resemble one another. For example, at left is an illustration of Star Wars-era Princess Leia with an adorable white Maine Coon kitten. Also featured in the series are Rey, R2-D2, Queen Amidala, and BB-8.

Also, since I have mentioned Star Wars and cats in a single post, I am pretty sure this means I am required by law to also post the following video: Cats Fighting (With Lightsabers Added In). Enjoy!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Make Cool & Weird Game Stuff With No Prior Experience

So you have been inspired to want to make your own video game, You saw something artistic or cool or weird, or maybe you want to try a new way to make art... but you're feeling intimidated. Or maybe you've been making art but want to incorporate that into a game with no idea how.

Well, today is your lucky day. Bronson Zgeb and G.P. Lackey of the artist-run gaming studio KO-OP have created a step by step guide with easy to follow and understand instructions. As they explain in the introduction:
This tutorial is about empowering people who feel constrained by their lack of experience. For example, programmers who feel like they need artists to make cool things, or artists who think they need programmers to make cool things, or even people who are neither of those who want to make cool things. 
The tutorial is written for folks who have no experience with Unity or 3D modelling.
So what are you waiting for? Go check it out! Maybe make something cool, or weird, or meaningful!

Jonathan Blow (Maybe) Peed In A Jug To Make A Point?

(or: Jon Blow, You Know Nothing)


So, noted indie game developer Jonathan Blow (whom you may know from the game Braid, from the movie about indie games ) took to twitter today and posted a picture that thanks to Blogger's Terms of Serivces I can't re-post but I can describe. With the tweet "Here is another thing I helped make, to help finish The Witness" he attached a picture of a clear jug with a tube attached at the top that was either his actual pee, or something faked to look like he'd peed in a jug. Twitter collectively reeled in shock.

Why would he do this? Was it making a point about how dedicated he was to finishing The Witness (even though he's just a consultant)? No, apparently it was to make a point that we are all shocked when a grown professional adult posts a picture of maybe-a-jug-of-his-own-urine instead of being shocked at the plight of indie game studios.

No, really.

Description: screenshot of a series of tweets. The first two, from Jonathan Blow, read: "Wow this tweet seemed to upset people. I meant it as a joke, but...it is also kinda true, you know? If y'all were as interested in new indie games as yo seem to in that picture I just posted, more indie developers would survive!" The 3rd post, re-tweeted by Blow from the user bombsfall reads "But once you recognize the secret reason for the pee bottle, you will be ashamed for your words and deeds".
Now bombsfall was referencing another tweet by a famous developer responding to criticism: Hideo Kojima responding to criticism of sniper the Quiet's male-gazey design. All kidding aside, does Mssr. Blow maybe have a point?

No, not really.

Friend of the blog Daphny (full disclosure: she's also linked on my sidebar, contributes to my patreon, sent me homemade muffins and is my friend) addressed this in a great blog entry titled
"IF JON BLOW WAS INTERESTED IN HELPING PEOPLE SURVIVE WE WOULDNT HAVE TO JOKE ABOUT HIS PISS" and while I'm tempted to let that mic drop and call it a day, you should really read the whole thing. Some choice excerpts:
[Jonathan Blow has] said on twitter if you dont have 100 dollars to spend on greenlight your game isnt worth being on greenlight, and in an interview with kotaku australia said that its *~*~HARD FOR HIM TO THINK*~*~* ABOUT SOMEONE HAVING A HARD TIME COMING UP WITH 100 DOLLARS which displays his lack of awareness of what its like to not have 100 dollars to INVEST because all of your money is going to IMMEDIATE survival needs (food, shelter, bills)...
his indie fund is such an insular money making scheme, indie fund pours TONS OF MONEY into huge boring investments instead of paying smaller projects for actual ambitious and unique creative work. of course this isnt ALWAYS TRUE but they gauge what they fund on GUARANTEED SUCCESS not ARTISTIC POTENTIAL. its not a fund for people who are breaking out, its a fund for those who want to GET RICH. thats a fine goal to have, but the lack of transparency with indie fund should really set off any outsiders red flags
Seriously, go read the entire thing. It's short, devastating, hilarious, and has two Vines.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Libraries Have Reference Books, So Where's The D&D?

In theory, Dungeons & Dragons and local libraries are a perfect fit. Both libraries and D&D attract people who love reading, imagining new vistas, poring through books, reading and creating stories, and looking up lore. In fact, the earliest D&D game books directed readers to libraries for research and recommended reading. Many libraries even have extensive graphic novel sections, comic book clubs, or provide meeting space for tabletop gaming groups. In practice, finding D&D rulebooks-- or any sort of tabletop gaming resource is well-nigh impossible, even though Dungeons and Dragons have influenced an entire generation of today's writers. Why is that?

Edward Schneider is a professor who studies how media and information is used and how it's organized. Brian Hutchison is not only a lifelong Dungeons & Dragons player, but also an librarian and information specialist. They were fascinated by the disconnect between the potential fit between D&D in libraries and how thin on the ground the availability was, and decided to conduct a study tracking role playing gamebooks in libraries around the country. The study, entitled "Referencing the Imaginary: An Analysis of Library Collection of Role-Playing Game Materials" was recently published in the journal The Reference Librarian and Schneider explained a little bit about the study in an article for Gizmodo:
The most commonly held book was the 2008 edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, with 327 copies worldwide — almost 50 fewer copies than the sequel to Snooki’s opus! If you like irony, there are 70 copies of the world’s most depressing cookbook,Microwave Cooking for One, on library shelves, and 21 copies of Heroes of Horror.Heroes of Horror is the Dungeons & Dragons book that allows you to play as an Archivist — a magical librarian. 
...There is no sign that popular interest in fantasy and science fiction is subsiding. Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, HP Lovecraft, and Star Wars all have direct links to the role playing game genre. An increasing number of universities offer video game design and development programs, and Dungeons & Dragons has been extremely influential in the history of video games, especially in Japanese RPG’s. D&D games are natural tools for libraries to use in community building in public libraries, but they also belong in academic libraries; the academic study of games has steadily increased.

We heard many different reasons why libraries might not stock these materials widely, but none of them made much sense.
The materials were not more prone to theft, not more or less checked out or circulated then comparable volumes, and had plenty of positive reviews from a variety of sources. So why the scarcity? The author theorized anti-D&D hysteria from the 80s and 90s, as a possible idea that has taken hold. What does this mean for the future of these resources and local libraries, though? Schneider is hopeful, concluding that there was
...a huge opportunity for librarians to connect with a different part of their community. Librarians seek to serve their patron communities, and it is time they considered adding more from the RPG genre to collections... I encourage genre fans to talk to their local librarians. A few vocal patrons can make a big difference, give your local library an excuse to collect and display these materials. Give them some friendly guidance, and make sure to speak up for your favorite publishers!

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