Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Soylent Bars: Literal Toxic Masculinity

Description: Cartoon of a white man with eyeglasses wearing a green sweater,
contemplating a glass of liquid.He declares, "Removing my taste buds has
increased drinking efficiency by 4%!" Illustration by Brad Jonas.
Soylent, the much touted "meal replacement" drink substance has gone from mixable pastes to coffee-flavored drinks to its latest offering: a Soylent bar. Soylent's consistency (in both the ingredient sense and in the promise of never having to worry about cooking, preparing or eating something different sense) has been presented by the company and it fans as a feature and key selling point.

Something that's also been consistent has been Soylent being unsafe to eat . In 2013, a documentary by Vice showed rats scurrying around the factory where Soylent was made. Despite repeated claims of commitment to food safety, browsing the subreddit devoted to Soylent shows reports of every few batches released this year have come with an extra ingredient-- mold. And while the recently released breakfast bars haven't had mold, there have been enough consumers of the bar that have reported becoming violently ill, in one case leading to a trip to the ER.

A community manager on the official Soylent forum responded to one users concerns about transparency thusly:

I do tell you info. I generally tell you more info. But i'd rather have all the info before I speak. In this case we are testing bars. We've eaten bars sent to us ourselves. Myself included. All our evidence leans towards people having an ingridient[sic] intolerance.

Okay, so the community manager actually trotted out the "I ate some and I'm perfectly fine defense" but they're just a person on a message board. Surely the actual company in charge of making Soylent wouldn't use the same--

Description: A screenshot of Rosa Labs' statement to the press that reads: "After these reports, we have retrieved remaining bars from our consumers and have personally consumed many of the remaining bars without adverse effects. We have also sent them for further microbiological testing and all tests have come back negative. Based on this we remain very confident in the safety of the bars. A certain subpopulation of individuals may have an allergy, intolerance or sensitivity to ingredients such as soy and / or sucralose, or certain vitamin and mineral sources and should consult with their doctor before continuing to consume these products."
Okay, so the actual makers of the Soylent bar did resort to the "we ate it and we're fine" defense too. And instead of contacting everyone who bought the tainted batches to initiate a recall, they're just telling people to send them in after they get sick. According to the FDA's online database, the current factory where Soylent is made hasn't been inspected since 2014. Then again, the tech-bro founder behind Soylent (which takes its name from the sci-fi movie "Soylent Green" where the titular food was made from human corpses) had this to say about shopping for groceries:
I have not set [foot] in a grocery store. Nevermore will I bumble through endless confusing aisles like a pack-donkey searching for feed while the smell of rotting flesh fills my nostrils and fluorescent lights sear my eyeballs and sappy love songs torture my ears.
Hey was also fined and charged by the city of Los Angeles earlier this year for his "experiment in sustainable living" that was really just an abandoned shipping container and port-a-potty covered in graffiti and trash.

Remember how in Harry Potter they had magic jellybeans that could taste like any flavor, from cheesecake to human earwax? If a melange of misguided libertarian, bro-grammer culture, start-up philosophy, engineer's curse, and insecure masculinity would have a flavor, it would be Soylent.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Quick Shots: Fact-Checking RPS, Arcade Treasure & LoL Pro Pwns Self

Hey all. Feeling pretty awful today, so here's a few quick newsbits instead of something long.

1) J. Walker of "Rock, Paper, Shotgun" didn't just screw up, he lied by omission and follow some twisted logic on top of it for his Review In Progress of Mafia 3. Of  the game's title card, of which he calls "strange... paranoid... odd," he says:

Description: Partial opening card from Mafia 3 that reads "Mafia III takes place in a fictionalized version of the American South in 1968. We sought to create an authentic and immersive experience that captures this very turbulent time and place, including depictions of racism. We find the racist beliefs, language, and behaviors of some characters in the game abhorrent, but believe it is vital to include these depictions in order to tell Lincoln Clay’s story.”
“We find the racist beliefs, language, and behaviors of some of the characters in the game abhorrent, but believe it is vital to include these depictions in order to tell Lincoln Clay’s story.” Which is, well, a pretty odd way of putting it.“It’s vital to include these depictions in order to tell the story of this era of this nation’s history,” would have been equally unnecessary and paranoid, but at least made a lick of sense. Lincoln Clay isn’t real, the city is fictional, and his is not a story that was going untold until some people in a room invented it. 

Aside from ignoring that fiction doesn't take place n a vacuum (and leaving out his bizzarre "I watched Luke Cage on Netflix" tangent), he also left off the full text. Below is a screenshot of the FULL opening card, including the final paragraph he left off, emphasis mine:

“ “ “Mafia III takes place in a fictionalized version of the American South in 1968.
We sought to create an authentic and immersive experience that captures this very turbulent time and place, including depictions of racism.
We find the...
Description: The full opening card to Mafia 3 including the text that J. Walker cut off in his review, which reads: "“Most importantly, we felt that to not include this very real and shameful part of our history would have been offensive to the millions who faced - and still face - bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, and racism in all its forms.” Screenshot courtesy of Nikki Kendall.
C'mon, Walker, get it together.

2) Tim Nichols recently launched a treasure trove of a reference site. If you're trying to fix or restore an old arcade machine, or you're just interested in some classic arcade history, he has over 2,400 arcade cabinet manuals available for free download now online at  Check out this cover for OutRun:

And finally, pro League of Legends gamer Road of team I May has been suspended and fined for harassment and racially charged remarks. Kotaku has the full details.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Tech Sector's Diversity Problem: White People Still Aren't Listening

Description: A bar graph shows a demographic breakdown of employees at tech companies. Apple is 80% men, Microsoft and Google are 83% men,  Facebook is 84% men and Twitter is 90% men. Continuing the demographic breakdown, Apple employees are 54% white, 21 percent are Asian, 6 percent are Hispanic, and 3 percent are black and 165 are other.

The above graph from a Mother Jones article about diversity in the technology industry in general and the Rev. Jesse Jackson's outreach work in Silicon Valley in particular last year showed that for all the publicized diversity initiatives, tech has a LONG way to go before achieving any sort of equality or parity. So, a little over a year later, what's changed?

Not much.

Twitter has historically been the worst of the high-profile tech companies, with an employee workforce that's 90% male, and majority white, with Black employees making up just 1 percent of the workforce.  Janet Van Huysse, who was the Vice President of Diversity for Twitter spoke in 2014 about working to improve diversity. In 2015,  with Twitter no further along aside from very vague plans to increase hiring “marginalized groups” in their US offices, Van Huysse resigned after Twitter's numbers didn't even budge after 2 diversity initiatives and the traditional university graduate application rush.

Van Huysse-- a white woman-- was replaced by Jeffrey Simonoff as Vice President of Diversity. Simonoff is a middle-aged white dude.


It gets worse.

Leslie Miley wrote about his departure from Twitter due in no small part to the racism that went on behind closed doors even as the company benefitted from use by citizens and activists in Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement . An excerpt :
Twitter’s issues with growth and engagement and the issues with internal diversity are somewhat related. The over-reliance on a limited number of schools and workplaces for talent has caused a type of group think to dominate. Any change would be approved by people who all think alike. There was very little diversity in thought and almost no diversity in action. To quote Mark S. Luckie “Without a variety of voices contributing ideas, the workplace becomes a homogenized environment where potential brilliance may never be achieved. Diversity should rightly be seen as a benefit to growth, not an obstruction to avoid.” For some at Twitter, diversity is an obstruction to avoid.
 Once Miley left, Twitter management was left without any directors or vice presidents of color in any of the product management or engineering divisions.

While Twitter may have the most egregious examples, as evidenced by the graph at this article's beginning, it's not the only big-name tech company to have a serious diversity problem. Instead of listening to people of color, though, many tech companies have been hiring teams like "Paradigm"-- a company that “uses social science to increase diversity”... run by three white women and a white man. After some bad PR, they hired one woman of color as a partner, and two women of color as consultants.

This glaring blind spot extends to some of the largest tech events, too-- even in places where ou'd least expect. The annual "Grace Hopper Celebration Of Women In Tech" didn't have any black women speaking or conducting talks. In fact, it was ZERO women of color and a few dozen white men spoke at least year's event! In fact, as this storify link points out:

500 speakers were req'd to buy tickets to conf they're speaking at for a conference heavily targeting students, & of 12,000 people who belong to a demographic that's systematically underpaid.
There are >900 confs for professionals in coding. I know of ~3 that charge speakers for tickets. GHX is one. Pay gap makes that esp uncool. Black women are paid 64% of white men. Hispanic&Latina women are paid 54% of white men. Charging to speak ENSURES under-representation.
...which is what prompted last year's NOTGHC counter-conference, organized by disaffected women engineers of color. Yeah, that's right, the whiny baby attitude of "oh, if you want diverse things, go make your own" has extended to engineering conferences, and once again when people of color DO make their own thing, they get the backlash of everything from being "not organized enough" to "being too exclusive"! GHC still charges speakers to pay, by the way.

Fellow white people, if you think that this lack of diversity only matters in boardrooms and doesn't affect people's real lives, think again. Last year at Dragon*Con, which is a sprawling nerd convention that lasts for days and temporarily takes over most of city downtown, automatic soap dispensers wouldn't detect black peoples' hands. The CEO of the soap dispenser's parent company had to admit that they never really thought to adjust the infrared sensors beyond a certain range. And if you just found out about this now, from me, a white dude? That's part of the problem!

The effects on health runs deeper than un-soaped hands. Erica Joy wrote about the effects tech culture's isolation and alienation of her as a black women impacted her health:
The stress and isolation I mentioned have really taken their toll on me. Long term stress is known to cause health issues. Not long after I started working in New York, I developed heart problems (PVC’s). About 3 years ago I started to get acne, something I’ve never had in my life. I always thought it was hormonal but now recognize that it happens when I’m stressed. The isolation and resultant loneliness have exacerbated the stress, leaving me in constant fight or flight mode… I know this: I am not my job. I am not my industry or its stereotypes. I am a black woman who happens to work in the tech industry. I don’t need to change to fit within my industry. My industry needs to change to make everyone feel included and accepted.” 
She's right, of course. Cameron Glover said it best:
Without consequences and more nuanced understanding of different perspectives and cultures, we’re left with a tech culture something akin to a leech: the best parts of marginalized workers are taken, and we are left feeling like victims and stripped of our power.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

VOYA: Youth Advocates, Unless The Young Woman Is Bi

Description: The character Beetlejuice wagging his index finger derisively at the
camera, with the caption "Ah! Oo, oo, oo, ah, ah, ahh! Nobody says the 'B' word" beneath.

Librarians across the country rely on Voices of Youth Advocates Magazine (VOYA) as a professional journal for young adult librarians. It's rutinely cited as a valuable publication in advancing advocacy of young adults, and the promotion of young adult literature and reading. Its reviews have a lot of influence in what Young Adult (YA) section librarians stock on library shelves and the magazine champions itself as " of the earliest and... strongest advocates for intellectual freedom and equal access to information for teens". Which is why a recent review of the YA novel "Run" by Kody Kepplinger is all the more troubling, and VOYA's response to the backlash against it very worrisome. Here's the review, (emphasis is my own doing):
"Agnes is legally blind, and leads such a sheltered life that she cannot even take the bus home from school or attend parties. Bo Dickinson has a drug addicted mother, an absent father, and is rumored to be the town slut. Although opposites, they become good friends through their kindness and acceptance of each other. Bo’s cousin Colt is almost a brother to her; they have grown up together and are part of the family “you steer clear of because nothing good can come of getting mixed up with that bunch.” Agnes has a different problem; her parents hover over her and limit her activities so it is impossible for her to be a normal teenager, until she begins sneaking out to go places with Bo. When Bo hatches a plan to leave town to find her father, Agnes decides to go along, thinking she and Bo will live together. They steal a car from Agnes’s family and begin their road trip, along the way visiting Colt, with whom Agnes has a sexual encounter. When Agnes discovers that Bo intends to live with her father, they separate and she gets in touch with her parents, leaving Bo to a disappointing meeting with her father, and an eventual return to the foster care system. The story contains many references to Bo being bisexual and an abundance of bad language, so it is recommended for mature junior and senior high readers.–Rachel Axelrod"

Yup. Not only is a character talking about her orientation eye-rolling mentioned in the same breath as cursing, it also means that it can't be recommended for anyone below junior or senior level in high school. Even though, like yours truly back in the long ago, there are bi youth that exist and know they're bi long before junior or senior year. As much as I'm angry at the biphobia in this review's attitude, I have it a little better than most. I'm a bi man. The form of biphobia that surrounds bi-women is even more pernicious and damaging.

When the reviewer uses the word mature, it's a commonly understood meaning in YA book context that means "sexual content". And there's a common element where bi women are hyper-sexualized just by exisiting, We live in a society that acts that women that are bi, use the word "bisexual" to label themselves and are out about it are on the same level as sex acts. This attitude also floats around in a social climate where bi women face intra-group discrimination and increased percentages of harassment, violence and partner abuse. Plus, you don't see a similar warning like "this book contains many refences to being straight, so it's only appropriate for juniors and seniors" because straightness is see as the "default" or "normal".

Well, maybe there's a sex scene with Bo, and that's what makes it mature, maybe? Nope. As the author herself pointed out on twitter:
The irony? (And this might be a spoiler so beware:) There IS a sex scene in the book Between the STRAIGHT characters. Not Bo, the bi M[ain] C[harcter]. But Bo's sexuality - Bo who doesn't have a sex scene while her straight co-narrator does - is the one considered "mature." 

The review doesn't think to warn about a sex scene, but does think to warn about a character talking about being bi! VOYA is super influential in the young adult literary field. Booksellers and librarians rely on these reviews because no one person can read all of the thousands of YA novels published every year. VOYA's own mission statement reads "Young adults have rights to free and equal access to information in print, nonprint, and electronic resources, without infringement of their intellectual freedom due to age or other restrictions." and this review's note runs counter to that. Author Tamina Wright points out that "These types of reviews, in addition to being insulting and harmful to actual queer teens, hurt queer books because they could be passed over. Queer books, by and large, don’t get the big advances or the huge marketing budgets so they depend on word-of-mouth, hand-selling, and libraries. Being in a library could quite literally make an author’s career."

The topping on the sundae of crap that is this VOYA review? It was released during NATIONAL BI VISIBILITY WEEK.

When Wright wrote an email to VOYA, pointing out that this attitude is harmful to bi youth in general, and herself in particular as both a bi woman and parent of a genderqueer child, a VOYA editor responded with the non-apology of "sorry if you were offended", claimed that nothing was inappropriate about the review, and then personally attacked Wright for "revealing your child's sexuality to me" (which the author didn't even do) and said that because it was Bi Visibility Week, all Wright wanted to do was "find and destroy your enemies in a public forum" (even though Wright sent a private email). FOR REAL. The screencaps of the emails are here.

There was an outcry from queer youth and authors and librarians. SO VOYA did the logical thing... and printed Wright's email and the editor's response as a special "Letter To The Editor Column" on its website that has since been removed. Bi author Hannah Moskowitz, whose YA work VOYA has reviewed favorably in the past, wrote a scathing response to VOA's actions, which she shared on here twitter here.

Literary agent Barry Goldblatt-- who is a big name YA lit agent-- publically announced he was pulling all agency ads from VOYA in response, and encouraging his contacts in the publishing industry to do the same.

Author Peggy North dug through old VOYA back issues and found that the magazine only seemed to warn about f/f romances. NO similar warning for straight ones, and these reviews were all written by different staffers. Meanwhile VOYA doubled down on social media:


It gets better. And by better, I mean worse.

VOYA finally apologizes. Sorta. In the most flouncy, pouty way possible. See, it's the "LGBTQ community" that has "taken offense" and "demanded" an apology! So, there's a ham-handed apology, but it's a start, right? Surely VOYA would start listening to authors and others and try to improve?

Nope. They then deleted all mention of the controversy from their official twitter and FB accounts, and began blocking anyone that spoke to them about it. Including famous writers. Successive attempts at apologies from VOYA have started out better but quickly careen into defensiveness.

Let me share a resource with you that shows YA stories with bi protagonists that don't have weird, unnecessary bi-phobic warnings.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Overwatch: FPS, PVP and WLW

Description: In a style parody of the cereal box for "Cap'n Crunch Oops! All Berries",
Tracer from Overwatch appears in place of the Cap'n, bearing the name "Oops! All
Lesbians" with the tagline "All the time, forever" beneath it and the legend "Contains all
women loving women".
For most of its history, the first person shooter (FPS) genre has been dominated by male protagonists. Doom Guy, Master Chief... even Valve's team-based FPS Team Fortress 2 has nine class characters and all nine of them are men (yes, even Pyro, according to the series trading cards). Conversely, of the 22 character's in Blizzard's Overwatch, 9 of them are women. Unlike the cookie-cutter grizzled white guys or male-gazey fantasies of other games, each woman in the game has wildly different identities, roles, and even body types.

So perhaps it's not much of a surprise that Blizzard's foray into the team based FPS field has garnered lots of attention and devotion from a large fanbase of women. Especially prominent has been the large, joyful and vocal fans pairing up the game's women in various couples, across fanart, fan music videos, animations and fan fictions. My personal favorite power couple name is PharMercy, a pairing of the two healers Phara and Mercy.

However, all the of the women loving women content has been made by enthusiastic fans only. In an interview with Kotaku, director Jeff Kaplan had this to say:
The only stated relationship actually that we’ve even ever mentioned in the backstory is between Amelie who is Widowmaker and her husband who was brainwashed and assassinated. That’s the only reference we’ve ever made to a romantic relationship. It’s not that our characters don’t have romantic relationships and don’t have sexual identities or whatever, but the stance that we’ve sort of taken on the team is that we’re not going to talk about that stuff just to pander to the topic that when it comes out for game play or story reasons, that’s the right time for it to come out.
Tumblr user hattersarts, creator of the Sapphic Overwatch fanzine, had this to say about the idea that explicitly saying a character in Overwatch is gay is pandering:
“There is the problem where people say ‘Well, we don’t want to make it about them being gay.’ Well no, we want that, if I’m honest. I want to know they’re gay! I want that, I want you to shove that down people’s throats. Until we get to a point where the world doesn’t care, I want it. We need to care.”
Blizzard's coyness on the issue might be more than just well-intentioned fence-sitting. In a discussion of recent talks from DC Comics writers about Wonder Woman's sexuality on Metafilter, user rokusan had this to say:
 I've been involved in (the periphery of) Hollywood projects working from source material featuring characters who are either straight or of unspecified orientation, who are then deliberately cryptoqueered in the adaptation. They're not made gay, explicitly, but there are deliberate attempts to both raise and muddy the question just enough ... It ends up possible to see the character(s) both ways, or multiple ways...

But it's not a social agenda effort, clever or offensive or otherwise. It seldom comes from the creatives at all. Rather, it's a calculated marketing trick from on high... The logic is that by toeing such a line, they can attract a wider audience, each of whom uses some kind of identity consumerism to see the thing they wish to see in the character(s). Double the sales, the thinking goes.
What do you think, readers? As long as fans keep up the shipping, does it matter what Blizzard says? Or are unambiguous acknowledgment of gay or lesbian characters in Overwatch just as important for fans looking for representation and the series lore?

Monday, October 3, 2016

Bringing Roguelikes Into The Future: Improv FMV?

Wayfarer, a 3/4 perspective 3-d roguelike in development
The rouguelike genre gets its name from the game Rogue, a computer game released in 1980. What set it apart from dozens of swords and sorcery games for computers at the time was the way it guaranteed that no two players would play the same game the same way twice. It used a technique called procedural generation to randomize each dungeon level. This core element of Rogue has influenced games for decades since, from Nethack to Dwarf Fortress and even platform adventures like Spelunky and top-down adventure games like Don't Starve. Often, fans of roguelike games become developers themselves.

The largest celebration and gathering celebrating the roguelike happened just last month, and I found a great write-up from speaker and attendee Josh Ge. In it, he also talks about his experience participating in what very well could be the future of the roguelike-- a game experience called "Bad News".

In an overview of the history of the roguelike, Gamasutra writer J. Bridgman talks about how one game will be blending procedural generation, improvisation action, FMV and the American Old West with Bad News, and it sounds really interesting:
“Bad News is set in a small American town in 1979 that has undergone a century of procedural world generation in the vein of Dwarf Fortress, complete with hundreds of residents who have formed subjective (and potentially false) opinions of the others in the town,” adds Ryan. “The player takes the role of a mortician’s assistant after the discovery of an unidentified body. Set with the task of finding the next of kin to inform them of the death, “the player explores the town and converses with its residents to discover the identities of both the deceased and next of kin, as well as the current location of the latter. Whenever the player encounters a town resident, an improvisational actor performs the non-player character live, adhering to the character’s generated personality, life history, and knowledge. This actor is Ben Samuel, whose earlier professional work includes Hulu’s original series Battleground.”
What do you think, readers? Is this sort of thing part of the roguelike's journey into the future, or is this a digression down a dead-end path?

This Could Be Yours If You're A Supporter!

See the above picture? That's going to a patron this month who is supporting my work at the "Surprise Mystery Care Package" level. I make a custom surprise care package every month and send it out.

The Code is helped by the patrons I just thanked. In addition to geek ephemera and escotericaI use this blog to focuse on marginalized voices and perspectives and advocates for more inclusiveness in media fandoms and sub-cultures.

I also create experimental electronic music and art prints & apparel under the name lowercase t and perform improvisational readings with the Overly Dramatic Readers.

I also help people! 
  • I co-host several charity fundraisers with The Munchausen Society every year
  • Advocate for strong anti-harassment policies and safe spaces at conventions
  • Organize public relations, media outreach, recorded an audio book & designed the website for a disabled dad's panel on disability for Bronycon; it was so successful he was invited back 2 more times!
  • Write personal essays on being a male survivor of abuse
  • Make business cards for everyone from artists to computer engineers 
  • Ghost-written over 200 articles for Textbroker clients

I want to keep doing this work, and working with & helping people and also be compensated for my time and effort. My ultimate dream is to be able to offer a bi-monthly podcast along with a blog updated every day of the week. I know times are rough for a lot of people, so I've set this campaign to pay monthly-- 
no matter how much I do or produce, you'll only be charged the amount you chose once per month.

I have rewards for every single support level I offer, too!

$1 a month:

You'll get: 

  • My thanks & gratitude
  • Your name listed in a special "Thank You" post on The Code every month
  • Access to Patron-only posts and updates
  • One free Patron only exclusive download each month

$3 a month

You'll get:

  • Your name listed in a special Thank You post on The Code
  • Access to Patron-only updates
  • Free Patron only exclusive download every month
  • Monthly link/plug to whatever you want-- your website, a project, your YouTube channel-- you name it!

$5 a month

You'll get:
  • All rewards for previous tiers (thank you post, Patron-only update access, free monthly Patron only download, free plug on The Code)
  • a free music download of a track of your choice from lowercase t every month!

$10 a month

You'll get:
  • All rewards for previous tiers 
  • A special Mystery Surprise Care Package made just for you mailed to you EVERY MONTH. It'll be a CARE package stuffed to the brim with fun stuff like novelties, toys, magazines, surprises and a hand-made postcard from my pal at Blue Boi Studios.

$20 a month

 You'll get:
  • All previous tier rewards (including the Monthly Mystery Surprise Package)
  • Every month you canrequest a post on The Codeon a topic of your choosing or get a free music track made just for you based on a title you make up!

Patreon Thank Yous

Description: A fountain pen writes the words "Thank You" in flowing script
It's time for my monthly Patron Thank You Post!

  • Cargo, who had nothing to link to, but is a great dude! Thanks, Cargo. 
  • Daphny Drucilla Delight David! Her Patreon is here and her blog is on the blogroll! 
  • Fluffy! Check out their stuff at
  • Hillary Gross
  • And a warm welcome to newcomer Gabriel Gentile!

Share This Post