Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Hollywood Still Way Behind LGBT & Racial Representation

Description: Screenshot from GLAAD study that reads: Transgender
representation was merely one character in "Zoolander 2". The
character, played by Bennedict Cumberbatch, was used as the punchline
to a joke.
Two years ago, GLAAD released a video titled "Hollywood Must Do Better" that  was basically a supercut of the most egregious anti-LGBT moments from major Hollywood films from the past few years. It was a companion piece to studies the group releases every year that rate major Hollywood films on a "social responsibility index" that looks at the representation of racial minorities as well as LGBT characters. "Moonlight" won an Oscar this year, so that must mean things are pretty great now, right?

Wrong. As this year's study shows, Hollywood is still way behind when it comes represention people that aren't white, straight, or male. in a study of 125 major film releases from major film studios, only 23 films included LGBT-identifying characters. That's just 18 percent.

Of those 22 films, 19 had a gay male character. Lesbian characters went from 23% in 2015 to 35% in 2016. 3 films had a bi character. Transgender representation in major Hollywood films last here clocked in at exactly one: a character played by a cis male actor as the butt of a transphobic joke.

Racial diversity in onscreen characters declined as well. From the LGBT characters of the last year, 48 of them were white (69%), nine were Black/African American (13%), four were Asian/Pacific Islander (6%) and one character was Latinx. Eight LGBT characters were identified as non-human.

The study also outlines a great thumbnail guide in looking at LGBT characters in films called the Vito Russo Test. A  film passes the Vito Russo test if:

  • The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
  • That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity (i.e. they are comprised of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight/non-transgender characters from one another).
  • The LGBT character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect, meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline. The character must matter.
Similar to the Bechdel Test, it's a fairly low bar to clear. Sadly, even the above reasonable standards aren't met by most films. As the study says:

Only 8 of the 22 (36%) inclusive major studio films passed the Vito Russo Test this year, the lowest percent­age in this study’s history, compared to 11 of 20 (55%) inclusive films released in 2014, 7 of 17 (41%) in 2013, and 6 out of 14 (43%) inclusive films released in 2012. This is a significant drop from the previous year when just over half of the inclusive films passed. There is clearly much room for industry improvement. More films need to include substantial LGBT characters that pass this simple test.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Record of Fansub Wars: 90s Anime Beef That Shaped North America Fandom

Description: A cardboard box filled with home-made
copies of VHS tapes and fansubs of Dragon Ball Z.
Anime fans these days have tons of ways to get subtitled anime: buying DVDs, subscribing to the Crunchyroll streaming service, hunting through torrent sites, or poking through illegal streaming site hubs. But back in the early 90s, there was only one way for fans to get their hands on anime that hadn't yet been translated and released in North America: fansub groups distributing episodes of anime on VHS tapes.

The way most fansub groups worked was like this: First the group would watch an untranslated episode recorded from Japan, jot down translations, and using a TV-to-computer signal splitter, sync the subtitles to the feed and create a master tape. The group would then make copies of the master by using VCRs that would allow you to play one tape and copy it to a blank tape. These first generation copy owners would get requests from other distributors and end users, asking for up to three copies at a time and including both return postage and video tapes (or the price of tapes). MOst VHS tapes could fit about three or four episodes. So if there was fan demand for something like Fushigi Yuugi-- a 52 episode series-- the entire series run would require 13 VHS tapes. And if your fansub group was the only group translating a series... and you decided to just stop, well... that's were things get interesting. Writing for Vice's Motherboard section, Marc Shaw goes behind the scenes to talk about how a turf war in the '90s over fansubs would go on to shape the Ottowa anime scene:
[Ottowa's Anime Appreciation Society] which would host 20-30 person meetups in a community centre in suburban Ottawa—began watching Fushigi Yûgi, which ran from 1995 to 1996 in Japan... aimed at a teenage female audience, it was considered unlikely to succeed in North America so it wasn't initially planned for release here. 
[A] popular fansub group at the time, Tomodachi, [released] subtitles were the preferred way of watching Fushigi Yûgi because of the special care they took in their translations. 
But in early 1997, a competing group, Central Anime, allegedly made copies of Tomodachi's subs and released them under their own name. This was seen as bad form and a sort of dishonour among thieves. Tomodachi retaliated by refusing to release the show's final 20 episodes, which they had already finished subtitling, to anyone. Even though Tomodachi subs were much preferred, the club would have done anything to finish the series.

Now, I was just starting to become active in the nascent anime fandom in North America in the late 90s, and this refusal was a super big deal. Thanks to Google, we have an archive of what newsgroups of time thought of the Tomadachi debacle.

In addition to fansub demand being cited as on of the reasons Fushigi Yugi was released in North America, it was also the genesis of Ottowa's large anime enthusiast community and conventions.
The AAS put together Konan Koku- a fan gathering devoted to watching the remaining 20 episodes of Fushigi Yugi over one weekend (Konan Koku is taken from the county of the same name in FY). Along with a convention that same year in nearby Toronto, Konan Koku kickstarted the region's anime convention scene. As Shaw notes:
The Ottawa-Gatineau region now boasts its own bi-annual convention, G-Anime, the roots of which can be traced all the way back to the various anime clubs of the nineties. Anime fans of today have the scrappy warriors and fansubs of the nineties to thank.
I do want to take issue with one characterization in the article though: Central Anime was not a tape distributor. What CA was big on was sharing their translated scripts for free so that other interested fans could distribute. Tomodachi didn't want go that route, thus the argument. So Central Anime transcribed the translation, and released the script. I still think that copying Tomodachi's work thus far without permission was a jerk move, but so was Tomodachi trying to act like a de-facto distributor. Man, there's a sentence I never thought I'd being writing almost 20 years later.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Moving On: Side Scrollers, Cameras & Player Experience

Indie game designer Itay Keren recently posted a fascinating in-depth essay on his Gamasutra blog based on a talk he gave all about side-scrolling platformers, how the "camera" or game view works in a few different types of platformers, and what that means for both game design and the player experience. In addition he creates a very useful glossary for platforming and side scrollers out of whole cloth! An excerpt:
Working on my game Mushroom 11, I was faced with many different design and technology challenges. I wasn’t expecting to find references to issues like dynamically changing shapes or vertex animation, but I was quite surprised that camera work, a subject with more than 30 years of history in games, was hardly discussed. I decided to start a journey through the history of 2D gaming, documenting their challenges, approaches and how the evolution of their solutions. Also, since there’s a lack of proper terminology for the many different solutions, I started gathering and categorizing them into groups, providing my own glossary, if only for my personal reference.

For example, here's a breakdown of how the arcade game Shinobi handles tracking the player's movements:

Maybe my favorite classic game, Shinobi, has some very high jumps between multiple platforms. The designers came up with a unique camera system: vertically, due to the many platforms the character jumps between, Shinobi uses a very wide vertical camera window. As always, the window pulls the camera with it immediately. The problem with a wide (or tall) window is that after a small jump, the character could be stuck at the top of the window with very little top-view, as we’ve seen in Rastan Saga. Shinobi simply continuously aligns the camera, slowly, to the Ninja, keeping the focus on the action and in most cases keeping rapid camera motion to the minimum.

Shinobi © 1987 Sega

position-snapping (vert.) -constantly reduce window drift by focusing the camera back on the player
camera-window (vert.)
position-locking (horiz.)

He follows that up with a really neat look at how Super Mario World handles snapping focus to both the player AND the platform. As Itay shows:

One of the many features that Super Mario World introduced was platform-snapping. As with any camera-window, the camera would stay stationary until the character hits the edge. But since mario inevitably lands on a platform, as soon as he does, the camera would immediately snap to its position.

Super Mario World © 1990 Nintendo

platform-snapping* - camera snaps to the player only as it lands on a platform
camera-window* (vert.)
* Where applicable
* Threshold triggered
manual-control* (horiz.)
* Controller provides extra panning

The entire post is a fascinating read. It explains many different gaming concepts in an easy to understand way, is thoroughly documented and has TONS of classic gaming nostalgia, too. GO read the whole thing!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Animated Brain: Artists' Mental Health Resource Needs Our Help

Description: Cover for the book "The Animated
Brain: An Anthology of Mental Health Experiences
In The Animation & Comics Industries"
Kiernan Sjursen-Lien, also known as Zanko, is a writer on BOOM!'s Over the Garden Wall comics and a prolific artist in both the comic and animation industry. They recently announced a new project aimed at helping professionals in comics and animation: The Animated Brain, which aims to be an anthology of mental health experiences and advice for both career artists and those new to the creative field.

Regarding the content of the anthology, Sjursen-Lien said, "It contains comics about mental illnesses from anxiety to bipolar disorder to dissociative identity disorder to some recipes to make when you’re having a bad day. We tried to cover our bases!".

To help make this anthology a reality, they've started a modest Kickstarter campaign.

THey're getting close to the initial funding goal, so they've announced that all additional proceeds aside from the printing of the actual book will go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, Autistic Advocacy, The Selective Mutism Center, and 4 Paws for Ability, who help kids get service dogs to assist with their mental or physical disabilities.

Notorious M.O.M.- How GTAV Helps One Mom Cope

Description: From the game Grand Theft Auto V, a behind
the shoulder perspective of a man firing a machine gun at a gas
station, with multiple fireballs, explosions and plumes of smoke.
Last week, I linked to an article in the Guardian written by Keza McDonald that gave advice for new moms wanting to balance gaming with the responsibilities of being a new parent. This week in the Guardian Sarah Lee Donlan talks about how playing Grand Theft Auto V helps her cope by offering a little escapism:

My daughter’s constant night feeds are keeping me awake, but not awake enough to do anything useful. So I pass the time in my preferred way. I steal aircraft. I take a sleek black jet, fly it over a sleeping city and land it smoothly on a desert strip, narrowly avoiding a wild dog... 
Suddenly faced with a new and overwhelming responsibility that came with a seemingly endless list of dos and don’ts, GTA V allowed me to break the rules, mess about and act in a wildly dangerous manner. 
During the day I was an exhausted new mother making small talk at Brighton baby groups, but at night I escaped to San Andreas, where I lived a life of violent crime and irresponsibility.

One complaint about open world sandbox style games in general, and the GTA series in particular, is that lots of times it's just a lot more fun to mess around causing mayhem or exploring the game world instead of doing the quests that advance the main story. For Donlan, this is part of the game's appeal. After she recounts the effort she undertook to create a gigantic explosion by taking down a jumbo jet:

The amazing thing is, all of this adventure exists outside the plot. To me, GTA V is at its absolute best once the campaign is done. San Andreas is filled with detail, most of which is barely touched upon in the main story.
It has luscious scenery and diverse wildlife. I have been eaten by a shark, swum with orcas and even found a humpback whale singing gently off toward the upper limits of the ocean. I also have my favourite places to find peace: a sea cave on the bottom right of the map and the quiet mountain stream just north of the city. GTA doesn’t just give you permission to be irresponsible, it gives you permission to rest.

How about you, readers? Does this sound like the appeal for open world games for you, or is it something else? Comment below!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Making the Web Accessible For The Visually Impaired

Description of how a screen reader works with webpages.
Courtesy of the National Federation of the Blind, the Amer-
ican Foundation of the Blind, and the Associated Press.
Children's author and key "We Need Diverse Books" boosted a recent discussion between a web developer and a blind web user: what are the main challenges for people with visual impairments when trying to navigate a website that hasn't been optimized for accessibility? user answers:

[A]ttempting to navigate the site will be really obnoxious. There are shortcuts to help navigate screens with the screen reader, and these are used pretty frequently. JAWS, for example, will use H to move from header to header, T from table to table, and so on. If that order isn’t intuitive, an end user can get in an unexpected place - and since there’s no visual context, it can be hard to get back on track. 
Mostly, it’s about being aware that the structure of your code has further reaching impact than just the visual aspects of the screen.

If you're a business, it also ends up costing you sales and loyal customers. By coding a website that is screen-reader accessible with features like properly marked-up semantic structure and labeled links and images, your website will be more easier to be indexed search engines. Web crawlers (also called "web spiders") such as the one Google uses get their information from websites the same way a user employing assistive technology would. By having an accessible site Google can more easily index your site and make it easier to find in search results. And according to WebAim, if a visually impaired customer finds a commercial website is easy to use with assistive technology, they are twice as likely to be a repeat customer.

A site's marketing copy is tailored to bring customers to your website, so it's just good business sense to make sure it’s accessible once they arrive. The American Foundation for the Blind and WebAIM have several tip sheets and tutorials that help make your website welcoming for people with low or no vision.

Ultimately, while making the web more accessible for the blind does immediately benefit visually impaired users right now, it also helps your bottom line AND your future use of the web. As I wrote last year:
"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.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Fan Art Friday #1: Harry Potter and the Chat of Snap

Melbourne, Australia-based illustrator Sas Milledge recently did some amazing fan art for the Sparknotes tumblr that imagined what the kids of the Harry Potter-verse would have been up to had Snapchat and Instagram been around then, and it's AMAZING. Check it out just two of many creative and skillfully composed drawings from the post:

Milledge has also done some great Avatar: The Last Airbender fan art:

Check out the online folio for even more great art, still from animated shorts they done, and more!

Fanart Friday is a now-weekly tradition I'm setting up for the blog. I'm interested in spotting fanworks, of, for and by POC, LGBT artists and if you know of any work you think should begiven a boost, send me an email at shawnstruck@gmail.com or comment below!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Why Are There No Black Family Emojis?

First created by Shigetaka Kurita in 1999, emojis have come a long way. From little unicode-based pictures and ideograms used by a savvy few to what looks to be a thoroughly forgettable animated movie and novelty pillows shaped like cartoon poop, emoji are used millions of times a day. Once broad-based support was added for emojis in 2015, the use of emojis have almost become a language in and of themselves.

Since there are a lot people emojis, there has been a lot of controversy over representation and what is seen as the default. For example, "Family" emojis at first didn't depict same-sex couples, and after outcry and discussion, these options were added to the Unicode standard. It makes sense, after all. If there's a way to show a person, you'd like that person to look like you, right?

So why aren't there options to make black family emojis? Jeremy Burge, writing for emojipedia says:
[O]ther emojis all have a choice of skin tones. Why not the families? The answer is that black family emojis are already possibleUnicode supports the sequences required to make emoji families with any combination of people or skin tones.
In 2016, Microsoft used these ZWJ sequences to create white families, black families, and all kinds of variations in between in an update to Windows 10.
When Unicode 8.0 was rolled out in 2015, in addition to adding in stuff like a taco emoji🌮 , the standards group also added in a way to give the human emojis human skin tones in the following ranges: 🏻 🏼 🏽 🏾 🏿.

However, there is currently no way to apply these to the family emoji-- either as a whole or for individual family members. Instead, the family emojis are displayed according to one standard- that the skin tones be rendered in pure yellow. Superficially it might make sense-- after all the smiley face is the same yellow. However, that sort of falls apart after even some cursory consideration, because whiteness is usually taken as the default, even with the "cartoonish" yellow. Look no further than the Simpsons! And as emojipedia pointed out on twitter:
Over 35 percent of Americans identify as a race other than white and while they can text a single emoji that closely resembles their skin color, they can't use it for couple or family.I don't know about you but "it's so hard" isn't an acceptable answer for not including black families, and it seems more like an excuse that reeks of 💩.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

GamerGate's Lasting Effects & How To Fight Back

As the widespread use of the Internet took off in the late '90s and early 2000s, gamers started to form communities. With those communities were norms and rules both written and unwritten than began to coalesce with what those communities did and did not find acceptable. These were mostly-male dominated spaces, with the norms and rules functioning as gate-keeping tactics-- first to keep out those that might have reminded the gate-keepers of bullies, but expanded to be anyone that could be treated as an outsider or an other. This was especially true for women and other minorities. Trash talking was sen as "part of the game", even when it led to rape jokes and threats, for example.

Harassment of women and the marginalized in gaming communities in specific and online in general didn't beging with GamerGate. GamerGate just gave a collective name to what had been lurking under the surface of gaming culture for a long time. It just was now too big to willfully ignore. As I wrote last year, the more virulent influence of GamerGaters seemed prime to make hardcore gamers the new conservative reactionaries-- and this was before Trump was elected on a wave of dank 4chan memes, racism, and twitter rants.

Writing for Bitch Media, Sam Riedel reflects on the 3rd anniversary of the beginning of the GamerGate movement. She also talks about the effect it's had on her as a gamer, and the frustration that many companies that pride themselves on building gaming communities still stand by and don't seem to do much in her essay "No Girls Allowed: The Lasting Rules of GamerGate and Toxic Misogyny":
[Many of the PAX East] show’s panels that touched on harassment and abuse did so in a way that was only marginally helpful.. The Diverse Gaming Coalition held a panel on stopping online bullying, and concluded that “fixing” people who want to cause harm “is our goal” but is “not realistic,” ending 20 minutes early after focusing primarily on hawking T-shirts and signing up new partners. 
The It Gets Better Project’s panel immediately followed and was even more frustrating... When asked what should be done to fight this abuse, panelist Leslie Pirritano recommended that victims reach out to the Online SOS Network—but when it came to reducing instances of harassment, the It Gets Better panel could only spout platitudes; Huertas referenced Game of Thrones’ Tyrian Lannister, saying victims should “wear [their abuse] like armor.” 
Most disappointingly, it doesn’t seem like community managers... seem that concerned with ending the problem. At a panel entitled “Community Management 101”... Devin Connors of game studio Psyonix said CMs can try to “remold their behavior” but should try not to engage. That sort of corporate non-answer, which prioritizes companies over lives, is especially distressing when you consider that Connors is in charge of maintaining the Rocket League community as Corsair Media’s Global Social Media and Community Manager.
As Riedel points out, women play games just as much as men, but cis men hold the majority of jobs in gaming.
Take a look at the numbers: Even though Pew Research Center finds that women play games just as much as men, and "There are no differences by race or ethnicity in who plays video games," the International Game Developers Association reports that over 75% of those working in the games industry are straight, white cisgender men... gaming culture as a whole is still nightmarishly toxic for people who aren't cisgender men, and even for some who are.
This circles back to my earlier posts on diversity in the tech sector. Those in positions of power need to prioritize marginalized voices, and that means hiring more women and people of color and LGBT+ people-- not just as token hires but with real responsibility, As for those not in hiring positions, but positions of societal power, we need to prioritize amplify marginalized voices instead of talking over them, and when they talk, we NEED to listen.

Why Do Teen Dramas Keep Sidelining Black Characters?

Bianca Lawson as Kendra Young
from the second season of Buffy
The Vampire Slayer
Writing for Vulture, Angelica Jade Bastién, talks about hear love of teen dramas, starting as a teen watching The Craft and shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer when she was a teenager herself. She's remained a fan up to the present day, but she's found that a problem she had with shows in her teens persists in shows today: it's really hard to find characters of color that get as much development in ensemble dramas as their white counterparts. djdjdjdj, :

[B]lack characters are often solely given an arc in relation to the white characters around them... In many films and TV shows, this is also used as a way to discuss racial politics...This may seem radical for the predominantly white filmmakers who work in this genre, but it’s important to remember that black girls’ lives aren’t solely defined by racism. We deal with romantic foibles, desires, and fears just as richly complex as the white leads this genre focuses on to the detriment of the black girls coloring the margins.

Bastién mentions the latest teen drama to start with a promising introduction, only to fall to some of the same problems: CW's Riverdale and the show's introduction of Josie and her bandmates The Pussycats:
K. J. Apa, who plays the remarkably befuddled (and ripped) Archie, is half Samoan. Veronica is Latina. Reggie is played by an Asian-American actor. And most notably, not one, but all of the members of Josie and the Pussycats are black, a change that eschews the tokenization previous iterations of the group have displayed. But as Riverdale approaches the end of its first season, it has reaffirmed some of the age-old problems within the genre... At the least, Riverdale’s Josie, Valerie, and Melody aren’t stereotypes, but they rest in the same troubling space that the black girls in films like Save the Last Dance occupy. They’re not characters so much as they are a vehicle for a Message. Josie and her fellow pussycats are positioned to communicate the message that Riverdale is more modern and inclusive than teen dramas of the past, even though it has yet to prove it beyond its casting.
Heck, in the comics and cartoons, Josie and The Pussycats were mystery solvers. Riverdale ended its season with a murder plotline that's been weaving in and out of the story all season, but Josie and company have been seemingly shunted aside. Bastién name drops The Craft, Buffy and Bring It On-- what ensemble shows do you think dropped the ball with characters of color? Did the writers fix it? What would you like to see, dear readers?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

100 Must Read LGBTIA YA Novels

Signal-boosting a great resource that writer Casey Stepaniuk has compiled a very detailed list of 100 LGBT-focused young adult novels. While it's, by her own admission, not meant to be a complete list, it's certainly an extensive one. Each novel has link to purchase, a synopsis and review and details on its representation.

Regarding the list she compiled, Stepaniuk took care to be as thorough and as inclusive as possible:
As far as I know, I’ve included all the YA books with intersex and asexual content that exist (in English, anyway). I’ve omitted some trans YA written by cis authors that has been flagged by trans readers as problematic but I aimed to include every trans YA written by a trans author. One last thing: this list includes 36 books by and about people of color (there are additional ones that feature characters of color but are by white authors), all of which have an asterisk next to them so you can easily spot them. Those books were EXTRA hard to find. This is my call on the publishing industry to PLEASE consider intersectionality when publishing LGBTQIA books and to prioritize queer and trans authors of color telling their own stories!
Here's the full list.

Co-Op Play: How New Moms Can Balance Gaming & Life

A decade ago, I wrote about how the first generation to grow up with video games was now grown up and starting to raise their own families. And while video games have become even more advanced,  more widespread, and more mainstream, the tension between day to day life and pursuing a hobby is still here. While women make up the largest majority of video game players, there are precious few guides or resources for new moms looking to balance gaming, and the double standard between men and women remains, as Keza McDonald writes for the Guardian:
[W]e don’t expect dads to give up all their hobbies and redirect their energies into sewing bunting or father-baby yoga. Mums shouldn’t have to either... During the first three months of my son’s life, playing video games was one of the only things I could realistically do for myself. They are relatively cheap and you don’t have to spend two hours trying to leave the house.
It’s hard to find the time, though, and this is about the only area of parenting where a cursory Google didn’t throw up 50 articles giving me totally conflicting advice on what I should be doing. So I thought I’d fill that gap.
One suggestion McDonald gives is to make sure the games you pick can be started and put down easily:
Say goodbye to online multiplayer games. Just accept that you are not going to be doing any four-hour Destiny raids at any point in the next year. Anything that requires you to turn up at a certain place, at a certain time, is out (FYI: this also applies to real life appointments). 
Any game you play now will need a pause button, and must not overly tax your tired brain. I found games with gentle, predictable rhythms extremely comforting, so I spent a lot of time with the fantasy farming game Stardew Valley in the middle of the night. I also rediscovered the space ship sim Faster Than Light on my iPad, and enjoyed zoning out with Amplitude, a trippy music game that I’d already spent about 100 hours mastering and could therefore play on autopilot.

Readers, do you have any tips to share on being a new mom and a gamer?

Monday, May 15, 2017

VIDEO: Fan Makes Working Cortana Hologram In Real Life

Sure, you might be a big Halo fan. You've beaten every game in the franchise, have series-accurate battle armor and Master Chief pajamas. You've still got nothing on this brilliant tinker and fan. Microsoft named its virtual assistant program, Cortana, after the AI that assists Master Chief over the bulk of the Halo series. But Micosoft's virtual assistant existed only as a disembodied voice on your device of choice. Until now, because this guy and his wife teamed up and made a freakin' working holographic Cortana! Check it out:

Writer Who Made Captain America Nazi Has IRL Bigoted Past, Politics

Description: A panel from a Captain America story from
the 1970s, As superhero Falcon looks on,Captain America
walks off dejectedly. Caption reads: "This man is now
crushed inside. Like other Americans, each in his own way
he has seen his trust mocked. And this man is Captain
I previously wrote about the asinine retcon that Marvel writer Nick Spencer came up with after his plot twist that Captain America was made into a secret double agent for Hydra, the super powered occult Nazi group he fought in World War II. as it suddenly turns out, that's because in the Marvel Universe, the Nazis had actually won World War II. Captain America was never, ever a good guy. The Allied Powers used the Cosmic Cube to rewrite reality and make it so the Nazis lost, Captain America was a good guy (but somehow the Holocaust still happened) and Hydra never had a secret agent. So Captain America becoming an ally to super-powered Nazis was actually "restoring" him to his true self.

What he hasn't been shy about has been his contempt for critics and his denial about another Nazi Captain American twist: it was revealed that Hydra Captain America was deemed worthy to wield the hammer of Thor. Not only does this have gross implications in-universe... "...that you must be good and worthy person to wield it, Mjolnir has been a moral compass of sorts — and Spencer is already crossing many, many lines with what he clearly thinks is some kind of edgy, potentially iconic imagery. But this isn’t just some subreddit level attempt at being cool. At this point Spencer is literally putting hate symbols into the pages of Marvel’s comics," Rosie Knight says, and explains how Thor's Hammer has been used in recent decades as a symbol of neo-Nazi groups and white pride in the US.

Nick Spencer has taken to twitter over and over over the past year to defensively dig in his heels. He insists that there is nothing political in his writing, that critics of his writing are somehow threatening him, his livelihood and comics as an art form. He says that just because he's defended a real life neo-Nazi who got punched in the face, or that he wrote college-age "social justice warrior" caricatures as bad guys so awful that the Black superhero Falcon later apologizes for ever sounding like them doesn't mean he's a conservative, and that his personal views and history don't inform his writing.

Which makes his personal and political past stand out more. As blogger Kim O'Connor lays out, just a little over a decade ago, Nick Spencer made two failed bids for public office in Ohio as a Republican. He had a website for both campaigns, got some press (local and national), and in 2005 ran on a platform of eliminating all human services in Cincinnati, building more jails and arresting homeless people as "quality of life" issues.  He even wanted the city government to buy up the buildings that housed homeless shelters and get rid of them;
Per Cincinnati CityBeat, Spencer's 2005 campaign blog called on the mayor of Cincinnati to use eminent domain against Mary Magdalene House (a homeless shelter) and the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. 
Here's Spencer: "It's time to stop playing around and get tough here. ... The city must use all of its powers to protect the civic and financial investments that have been made in the area. The glut of social services that encourage panhandling in the district must be addressed." 
You read that correctly. Nick Spencer described organizations dedicated to helping homeless people as a "glut of social services that encourage panhandling."
He also worked for John McCain's campaign. Some may argue that Spencer is just running on a platform similar to many Republicans, so it's not so unusual, right? He's just echoing an official party platform! You might be able to say that about his policy ideas... but not so much about his racist blogging about black people as thugs, drug dealers, and at one point comparing black folks to being worse than stray dogs! As Cincinatti Black Blog covered at the time of Spencer's campaign, he wrote on his blog stuff after a highway shooting like this, emphasis mine:
Lots of blame to throw around here. Let's try this one: Ross Love. To hell with that guy. He owns the WIZ [a local radio station], then tries to walk around town like he's such an upstanding citizen... maybe you should look into that shit you've got on heavy rotation over at your station. You know, like "Ridin' Dirty" a song about drug dealers trying not to get caught by the cops while they've got crack in the car...
And let's give it up one more time for The Ritz ownership [a local club with mostly black clientele]...
I love going to IHOP after we close up the bar, and the place has a big post-Ritz crowd there around the same time... I see stray dogs act with more survival instinct than some of the Ritz clientele.
What Spencer didn't mention was that Ross Love had sold the radio station 5 years earlier, that "Ridin' Dirty" was about police brutality, that "Ridin' Dirty" also aired on a Clear Channel radio station affiliate run by a white owner that Spencer never called out, and The Ritz was a club that directly competed with a bar that Spencer owned at the time. Oh, and the song was never connected to the shooting in any way by authorities. He was also growing increasingly paranoid, convinced that "thugs and prostitutes" were waiting to shoot at him and hiding guns in trash cans.

On his campaign blog, Spencer also talked about how the possibility of The Ritz's owners or clientele moving into his neighborhood meant that either he'd mobilize against it, or he'd pull up stakes and leave:
Bad news... Jump Cafe' space on Main may be leased out to the owners of The Ritz in Roselawn. I'm not kidding-- just when you thought thing couldn't get any worse. The neighborhood is going to have to mobilize in a big way to prevent this from happening... I don't have any hesitation in saying this: if they move in, we go. 
Writer Kieran Shiach, who also did a great recap of Hydra Cap and related issues earlier this year, sums up my feelings on this:

Nick Spencer has been uncharacteristically silent about this on twitter.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Writers of Color & Craft: An Invisible Archive

Neil Atkin-- a great translator and poet in his own right-- writes about an amazing and sorely needed collection project that I wanted to signal boost:
A couple weeks ago I was thinking about how Junot Diaz often comments on the fact he’s almost never asked to speak about craft, and instead always is asked to talk about race, identity, and the immigrant experience. And it’s true — when I think about all the books on writing craft I’ve read or heard about over the years I’m struck by how few POC-authored books on writing I’ve seen. 
Are they really that rare? Or are the books and essays out there, but we don’t know where to find them? 
This list is an ongoing project to catalog what writing resources are out there.
You can check out the compilation he's assembled so far right here.

No More Excuses: 1,000 Women & Non Binary Folks Who Can Speak At Your Next Tech Conference

Last year, I wrote how despite the tech sector paying lip service to the idea of addressing diversity in its leadership or workforce, large companies and influential tech conferences are still big on talk and short on action.

For example, this exchange between tech writer Matt Andrews and EdgeConf's Andrew Betts on every single speaker being male:

When men in charge of tech conferences aren't being defensive, they're being straight up lazy, because finding women doing interesting work in tech is sssooooo hhhaaaarrrd, you guys!

No, seriously, someone said that.

Mike Kuniavsky the lead behind the "Sketching in Hardware" conference actually said in an interview that it's "…often much harder to identify the women who are doing interesting work than the men".

Melanie Ehrenkranz, a tech reporter with Mic.com, put out a call for anyone who was

  • willing to speak at a tech conference
  • doing interesting work in the tech sector, and 
  • was not a cis man
In just under a day, she had a list of 1,000 recommended names, which you can see for yourself here.

Okay, so now there's a list of speakers in tech. That's all we need now, right? Wrong. A list of women and nonbinary people that can speak on stage is just the first step. As Ehrenkranz said, the point is not for men in tech to have a list of people to tokenize;
"We also have to disrupt the idea that the only thing minorities are qualified to speak on is being a minority. The tech experts listed here are more than tokens — they're authorities in their fields. Individuals from underrepresented groups shouldn't have to tediously compile lists and shout into the Twittersphere that they are here, they are experts and they want to speak. Panel organizers need to make a more concerted effort to diversify their experts. Male panelists need to look at their fellow panelists and, if they notice it's exclusively white men, make space for more voices.  
We're not always going to do the work for you."

Note: Originally the title of this post inadvertently didn't mention non-binary people. I have since corrected it.

Monday, May 8, 2017

VIDEO: What The Heck? Nintendo PlayStation Console Brought To Life!

Description: Looking like a cross between a CD-ROM drive and a Super
Nintendo console, the Nintendo/Sony CD-ROM protoype unit was thought lost until a
chance discovery a few years ago. Proof of Sony & Nintendo's ill-fated team up in
the Sony logo in the console's lower left corner.
There's a missing link that connects Nintendo's Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), its successor the Nintendo 64, and its rival console the Sony Playstation: the SNES-CD, also code named the Play Station. The console was supposed to be launched as an add-on for the standard SNES, as well as a stand-alone hybrid console by Sony called the Play Station. The partnership between Nintendo and Sony crumbled, so Sony developed their own solely CD-ROM based console, the Sony PlayStation.

About two years ago, one of the original Nintendo Play Station prototypes was found after it was purchased in a bankruptcy auction of the assets from a software company. The protype was tested, and while the top-loading test cartridge of the unit worked, the CD-ROM drive didn't work, nor did the audio output. Vlogger and console model Ben Heckerdorn, aka Ben Heck, got his hands on this prototype unit in July of last year, and did a meticulous disassembly, tear-down, documentation and reassembly. He was able to get a lot of information on the inner workings of the system and was able to determine that while the Super Nintendo part of the console still worked, but the CD-ROM drive was completely self-contained and seemed to require some sort of boot disc to access the audio output or anything else on the CD. A little while later, gaming enthusiast site Retro Collect announced that an anonymous source sent them the necessary boot disc.

With the final piece of the puzzle in place, Ben Heck got to work, and with a little bit of hard work, a little bit of luck and a lot of engineering analysis, he was able to get the prototype working and even ran a homebrew game on it. Check out the whole video here:

Sunday, May 7, 2017

April Patron Thanks & How You Can Get Free Stuff Too

Here's this month's Patron Thank Yous:
  • 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 beesbuzz.biz
  • Hillary Gross
  • Gabriel Gentile

This month's free Patron-exclusive download: six high quality royalty free drum loops made by me!

What's The Patreon Stuff About, Anyhow?

The Code is helped by the patrons I just thanked. In addition to geek ephemera and the esoterically nerdy, I use this blog to focus 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!
  • And More!

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 (named in the monthly 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 doodle from me.

$20 a month

You'll get:
  • All previous tier rewards (including the Monthly Mystery Surprise Package)
  • Every month you can request a post on The Code on a topic of your choosing or get a free music track made just for you based on a title you make up!
Click here to find out how you can become a Patron for as little as a dollar a month-- that's 3 cents a day.

If you don't want a monthly commitment but would still like to help out, you can send any amount you choose one time only by going through PayPal here, and you don't even need a paypal account.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Bi The Way: Dragon Age Modder Adds In True Bi Romance

Nexus mod user ADHD-Bayonetta has released a new Dragon Age mod they call the "Complete Bi Overhaul". Unlike other mods which just toggle a flag so that women can date Morrigan and guys can date Alistair, the mod author went to great lengths to not just make those relationships possible, but immersive. As a bonus, they've also fixed it so that the Warden won't be misgendered no matter what relationship option you choose. They even went as far to edit dialogue, re-record and edit audio, and even add in a lot of brand new writing. They also undid all game gender restrictions since, oddly enough, the only restrictions that were favored were the ones that made the player character straight. Seriously, check out the feature list:

  • Characters won’t misgender the Warden. This applies to every time the Warden’s relationship with Alistair or Morrigan is acknowledged.
  • Any gendered dialogue has been edited.
  • Added new banter for characters so that they’ll acknowledge the gay relationships.
  • Added jealousy dialogues for Alistair and Morrigan if the Warden is cheating on either of them with the other.
  • Women can do the dark ritual with Morrigan.
  • Women can marry Anora.
  • Men can marry Alistair.
  • Previously dude-exclusive flirting options for Leliana are now open to women.
  • Removed unnecessary gender restrictions on the Warden’s dialogue options.

You can get more details on the mod, as well as some video of it in action and download resources here.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Discord: Inaccessible To The Blind, Devs Won't Budge

Logo for the Discord chat app
Discord is a wildly popular chat application for both desktop computers and mobile phones. It has focused its branding message as an app that helps build communities, and has over 25 million users as of December of last year. Discord also remains completely inaccessible to blind users on any platform. Even Discord for the iPhone-- a platform that has been praised for having very accessible applications and ways to make apps accessible for the blind-- remains inaccessible.

The Discord developers seems keen on keeping its app that way, too. They answer accessibility requests as just a "quality of life" feature and thus not a reason to have to make the app accessible at all. One totally blind Mac user filed a bug report that showed Discord wouldn't work with the Voiceover program-- a screen reader that reads the text out loud. The official Discord response was that he should just use the Zoom program. Zoom is a program that lets you magnify portions of the screen. This is like telling a deaf person letting you know your closed captions on your video aren't working that all they need to do is turn the volume up.

After some push back over several months by visually impaired users, Discord developers said that if this request can get enough upvotes, they’ll consider adding in visually impaired accessibility features.

If you're a Discord user, all you need to do is login, upvote that link, and maybe even leave a comment. It's pretty crappy that a text and voice chat app is inaccessible to the visually impaired, especially an app that talks about building communities.

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