(no subject)

I have started watching Bones. I greatly enjoy Bones (the show). Except I hate Bones (the character).

She's so obtuse it's actively painful. She doesn't learn. She barely thinks. Her personal life is important, her staff's isn't. She constantly assaults people who touch her on the arm. And her actress keeps mangling the language (this show has more mispronunciations than any other show I've ever seen, and 90% of them are her). Oh, and we're meant to care about her lack of contact with her emotions.

On the bright side, this means the show annoys me enough it doesn't distract me, so it's great as background noise. I guess that's a good thing.

On friendzoning

Friend-zoning has become rather condemned. I am torn, because while I see definite problems with many of the situations where people complain they've been friendzoned, I think they're using the term outside its original concept.

"I don't want to damage the friendship"
To me, friendzoning is about asking a girl (or guy) out and being met with this response. I have a friend who has been told by several of his female friends that they like him, but they won't date him, because they don't want to damage the friendship.* I find this deeply confusing. I can think of a variety of good (and bad) reasons not to date my friend, but the fact that he is a friend shouldn't be one of them.

After all, what is the goal of the dating process? I think it can be fairly abstracted as "find someone you feel deep and abiding affection for, who you are physically attracted to, and with whom you can spend a mutually agreeable amount of time."

Apparently, these women are more willing to try and do that with semi-random strangers than to risk their friendship with my friend (who has logically accomplished at least one of those). Which, I think, just makes it more clear that they should date him, since the thought of losing his friendship is evidently enough to drive them out into the cold and snowy romantic wilderness, to see what beasts may come.

There would seem to be two different conclusions here: either they're lying to him, or they're behaving in a way that's at least a little irrational. Either way, it's OK
to be upset. And considering the fact that it happens with some frequency, I think it's fair to come up with a sarcastic term for the phenomenon.

And thus, when I think of my friend, I think it's OK to shake my head and say, "Damn, he's been friendzoned."

* I am fairly sure they mean this, and it is not just shorthand for "I don't want to do him." I could be wrong.

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There is one trend in modern academia I cannot stand.

No, not Marxists pulling down six figures. Not moral relativists claiming that it's wrong to judge other cultures with a remarkable lack of irony. And not business majors just being business majors.

It's BP. Before Present. Leaving aside that other cultures have their own dating systems, and aren't about to find ours less oppressive just because we file the serial numbers off it, I despise BP. Oh, not because it's throwing our mighty Christian heritage under the bus. CE is fine, though I find the irony of the practice of history unironically censoring itself a little funny.*

But BP means BEFORE PRESENT. As in before right now. I am informed by Wikipedia that the present is apparently 1950,** but I have seen it used interchangably with BC/BCE as well. And neither of these uses accords with the meaning of the words.

It's very frustrating.

*I also find it pointless, since as soon as someone asks "What made it the Current Era?" you're back where you started.
**BP: the official dating system of the Republican Party.

Why the Movie Avatar is Vile and Wrong

Many science fiction fans loved the movie Avatar. They're all wrong; and I shall tell you why.

First, let's talk about what makes someone a science fiction fan. To me, at least, science fiction fans like the future and technological progression (if you don't, you would seem to not like the vast majority of science fiction, which would put you in a tricky position). They may have various moral beliefs about how this progress should take place or about what's important, but generally they see the iPod as a good thing and exciting.

Science fiction fans will also often hope that people will become somehow 'better' in the future - less prone to war, more physically attractive, more intelligent, more moral (whatever those morals may be); all of these can be found in various high-profile examples of science fiction.

Finally, I think, most science fiction fans are excited about space. Even the most eager pursuer of the Singularity remembers what Sinclair said in Babylon 5:
"We have to stay here. And there's a simple reason why. Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics, and you'll get ten different answers, but there's one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won't just take us. It'll take Marilyn Monroe, and Lao-Tzu, and Einstein, and Morobuto, and Buddy Holly, and Aristophanes…[and] all of this…all of this…was for nothing. Unless we go to the stars."
Leaving aside that our Sun will consume the Earth long before it goes out, he's still right.

Now let's look at Avatar:

Avatar features a race of bigots who refuse to consider that their way of life may not be the best way to exist and who are incredibly dependent on their relation with things indistinguishable from magic in order to succeed at what they do. Some humans are also there. But, really, the fact that both sides in Avatar are rather jerkish isn't what makes the movie something a science fiction fan should despise. What makes it something a science fiction fan should despise is what each side stands for.

The Na'vi are primitives. It's that simple. They are parochial, they are close-minded, and they have no interest in changing their existence. Their existence is hardly horrific (though I do wonder about their lifespans), but their society possesses no engine for growth. If anything, the character of Jake Sully reinforces that: the Na'vi do things in the same old way, even with him leading them. The Na'vi win through remaining what they always have been: close-minded nature worshippers. This is, the movie would have us believe, a triumph.

Meanwhile, why do the humans want the unobtainium? So they can go to the stars (and because they're greedy dicks, but the greedy dicks want to go to the stars). Human society, while hardly perfect, is growing, developing and changing. Yes, greed is causing them to destroy something that would probably be better left undamaged if at all possible. But that destruction is taking place in the service of interstellar travel (the dream, or at least recognized inevitable necessity, of virtually every science fiction fan). Yet the destruction of the Pandoran mining operation is, the movie would have us believe, an unambiguous victory for the forces of righteousness.

This is not to say the humans in Avatar are the good guys (far from it!). But the movie, and the fans, seem to gloss over the fact that behind the cartoonish moustache-twirling is the exploratory drive toward the stars that is probably what made most of them want to see a movie about cat aliens on another planet in the first place. And honestly, I ask myself whether people who cheer for the triumph of parochial primitivism over interstellar exploration really get this whole science fiction thing.

Thoughts on point systems in wargaming

A post over on quirkworthy got me thinking. Many of the oldest guard in gaming criticize point systems as encouraging a competitive mindset, limiting imagination, encouraging gaming the point system rather than the game, and simply being incapable of ever accurately encompassing all the factors in the creation of a wargaming force.

They're all wrong, despite the fact that they're right.

Newer players will explain that point systems allow players to have games without the effort of creating a scenario or arranging matters beforehand, that they can be balanced much more than the oldest guard expect, and that a competitive mindset is not necessarily a bad thing.

They're all wrong, too, despite the fact that they're right.

Why are both groups wrong, and only I stand as a beacon of sanity and correctness in the wastelands of this debate? Because the first group doesn't see why point systems are critical, and the second group doesn't see why they encourage stagnation.

Why scenarios are inferior
A wargaming scenario will offer two (or more) sides, a set of circumstances, and some victory conditions. A good scenario tends to offer each side a roughly equal chance of victory. They allow for unique and interesting possibilities, facilitate wildly disparate forces and goals, and often encourage entertainment and exciting hijinks even when one side gets utterly curbstomped. They also provide both players with a target for wrath if things seem to be going unfairly - it's the scenario's fault. The importance of this last cannot be overstated.

Nonetheless, they have problems. First, their creation can be work intensive, and requires a certain level of knowledge of the game system, which places significant limits on how many can be produced (this would have been even more of a problem before the Internet). Second, they tend to require specific terrain and armies. This can involve both budgetary concerns and the practical problem that a player may not be able to use their beloved units of choice in the scenario. Very sad. Third, outside of historical games, creating scenarios tends to be even more difficult because of the relative lack of relation science fiction and fantasy wargames have to their media of choice compared to the relation historical wargames have to theirs. A generic historical ruleset will still attempt to bear a relationship to history. A generic science fiction ruleset can be drawing on dozens of different sources, and may bear little or no relationship to any individual one. Interpretations of power armor alone can vary from "makes you invulnerable" to "makes your corpse identifiable". Similarly, fantasy can vary wildly on the power of magic, just how wonderful elves are, and just how much fire a dragon can breathe.

As sci-fi and fantasy wargaming grew in popularity, it thus became more and more important to come up with alternatives to scenarios. Point systems were the method of choice.

Why points systems are better, but inferior
Point systems offer a lot of advantages over scenarios. It's easier to create a reasonably balanced game between two players, it's a lot easier to have a pick-up game, players have a lot more choice in the forces they will use, and scenarios can be a lot less detailed and thus a lot more generally useful ('have two 3000 point armies' is a lot simpler than 'have the British line of battle at Waterloo').

Point systems also, I think, encourage an attitude that probably creates better rule systems. Many old-school game designers will rely heavily on the good nature of the players and people playing the game in the way in which the designers intended it to be played. This is acceptable when trying to encourage wargaming amongst small groups of friends. For everything else, it sucks. Point systems encourage people to take a colder view of rulesets. From a design perspective, this should be a good thing - if designers look at their rulesets from a perspective of "how can I break this" and "what is this unit worth", the rules produced will probably do more to direct people toward the strategies, tactics, and units the designer intended to reward.

But, of course, point systems carry their downsides. People take game balance more seriously, and often game results. Games often stagnate into "equally-sized army vs. equally sized army". People begin to attempt to optimize their armies, and may often end up playing the army building system instead of the actual game (the number of people who would build outrageously broken custom mechs in Battletech then blame the game when it got dull would boggle your mind). And, of course, they are quite simply insufficient to the task of costing a wargame army in a completely accurate fashion (which does not mean we shouldn't try, of course).

Recently, many gamers (especially of Games Workshop's games) have begun to complain about the ascendance of a 'tournament mentality', and push for a more casual attitude toward the game and the point system. While their motivations are pure, I would suggest they're pushing in precisely the wrong direction.

Why scenario construction systems are the logical future and hope of all gaming
The answer to the imperfection of point systems is not "take games less seriously" or "accept that points aren't perfect". Both of these things are necessary for a happy life, mind you. But point systems offer too many advantages for us to abandon them, and so the problems of point systems will continue to be encountered so long as they exist. Indeed, I would argue that being more cavalier about point systems will end up creating the worst of both worlds.

By using point systems, but not pushing to create the best point systems possible, both groups of players are hurt. More competitive players are hurt by a lack of balance and by being told they're playing the game wrong, and less competitive players are hurt by the retention of the limits of the point-based system. This also appears to allow game designers to hide behind the whole "oh, you're not playing it right" defense while still avoiding the energy of coming up with a lot of scenarios. Screw that.

Instead, the obvious thing to do is to incorporate elements of scenario design into the point system. Heavy Gear Blitz!, for example, does this with it's priority levels. Priority Levels limit what units are available in armies (and require other units). At lower priority levels, you need to accomplish fewer objectives. At higher levels, you need to accomplish more. The system is imperfect, but the concept is very sound, and suggests even more possibilities.

Allowing the purchase of fortifications, or particular terrain features, or the selection of objectives, and providing limitations that facilitate certain things are all effective ways to encourage more unique and varied playing experiences through a well-designed point system. Taking various elements of the scenario and moving them into the army selection process gives players more control over what they want to play and gives game designers more control over what players can play. It allows for many of the strengths of scenario-based play, such as asymmetry and varying goals, while still maintaining many of the advantages of points-based systems.

In short, the solution is not to regress back to scenario-focused games because point systems aren't perfect. The solution is to make the point system do more than just choose the forces involved, but to also choose elements of the objectives and battlefield. If such a system can be balanced (which is admittedly a difficult task), then the result would be superior to either a system of scenario construction or a point system focused simply around army construction, since it would allow a wide variety of players with a wide variety of goals to interact, play, cooperate, and sing in perfect harmony.

They might even buy a Coke.

Why I Hate the Word Networking

Why I Hate the Word Networking
I hate the word networking. Networking as in "we'll go out to the party and network" not "we'll go the the party with our XBoxes and set up a network".

I hate the term because of what it implies about the person using it and their attitude toward people.

First, it implies that this person has spent too much time around business majors. This sort of thing is lamentable. Business majors are what is wrong with the world (for reasons I will not get into here), and reminders of their existence are deeply tragic events to be avoided whenever possible. Not only does it imply the person is familiar with business majors, it implies that they're comfortable with them - a state of affairs even more disturbing than mere association.

But it is the second point that is most important. It implies that the chief goal of meeting people is to arrange matters so they can later be of use to you. And that's wrong.

The question is why? Why is it wrong to go out and meet people with the express intention of making contents for later professional benefit?

I don't know. I've always looked at social interaction as something to be done for the sake of the people, not something to be choked down so you can wring benefits out of it later. It's discomforting to think that the person on the other end of the conversation is hanging in there because I may turn out to be important some day (not, of course, that I'm not already important now).

I want to spend my time with people who want to spend their time with me (or, at least, who aren't opposed to doing so). 'Nnetworking' says that the person I'm talking to wants pretty much the exact opposite.

And in that case, I don't want to spend my time with them.

A thought on immigration

The National Post did a story on Chinese immigration to PEI, and a comment caught my eye.  It went on about how the Chinese were colonizing us, and how we'd all be swept away 'neath a tide of Mandarin and tea.  There was peril, here, of a distinctly yellowish nature. 

That is, of course, the great fear with immigrants.  That they way they reshape the land and the uses they will put it to will not be to our liking, and that our children will not be like us (or, at least, will be less like us than they have to be).  Spectres of Ancient Rome loom in the backs of our minds - civilization dragged under by a tide of barbarism and funny food. 

At times like these, I like to remind myself of a story from rural PEI, where I grew up (or, at least, spent a lot of time getting older).  PEI has had immigrants before, you see.  The Scots perhaps most notably (names such as Gowan Brae and New Perth are quite common).  Indeed, the father of the local grocery store owner got his first job (at a local grocery store) because he was bilingual.  

He spoke Gaelic and English, you see. 

The Tartan Peril had PEI in its iron grip back then, and the world seemed to be reshaping to their needs.  What hope was there for a proud English PEI?  Would we all rise in rebellion and try to proclaim the Stuarts come again?  Was endless complaining about the perfidy of the English a sad inevitability?  

Fast forward to today. 

There are perhaps a hundred thousand Gaelic speakers worldwide, none of whom speak it as a first language.  There were people left in Souris who spoke some when I was very young, but most of them would be dead by now.  Other than two thousand-odd people in Cape Breton, the language is effectively dead. 

China is rather more vibrant than Scotland, at least for the moment.  But the point is the same.  Immigrants may want to hang onto their language and culture.  Their children may.  Even their grandchildren might.  But sooner or later, unless they try very, very hard, they are subsumed into the general population, and the culture of their ancestors becomes a surname, an occasional sense of internal conflict over certain sporting matches, and a general, not particularly deep affection for a particular corner of the world. 

Which, life being what it is and people what they are, is usually the wrong one. 

Then again, perhaps that's rather the point. 

On the shame of reading licensed fiction

For some reason, I'm far more embarrassed to read licensed sci-fi or fantasy than I ever am to read non-licensed sci-fi or fantasy.  And I figured out why this is. 

It's not that it is necessarily of lower quality (there are plenty of perfectly capable authors who have, as Howard Tayler once put it, "polished the swingsets at Lucasland", or who have jumped at the opportunity to play in a universe they have a soft spot for).  Alan Dean Foster seems to produce more tie-in fiction than anything else, and he's perfectly capable.  Stephanie Meyer operates entirely in her own universe, and that earns her remarkably few points. 

Nor is it necessarily that I'm embarrassed to be associated with the media in question (well, generally, anyway).  I like Battletech, and I like Star Wars, and I like Warhammer 40,000.  Such is life. 

It is because reading tie-in works somehow implies that I'm not reading the book for the quality, but that I'm reading the book because of the universe it's set in.  I'm reading fanfic, and (perhaps most damningly) I paid for the privilege.  In some ways, this is a derivation of "it's lower quality".  It's not that it all is.  It's that enough tie-in literature is bad (or dismissed as bad) that I am uncomfortable reading it because I worry people will assume I bought it because of its cover and not because of its content.  

Except, oddly, this is perfectly respectable under other circumstances.  Finish a series because you started it?  Buy everything by a particular author, even though he lost his touch years ago?  Read a book because Oprah told you to?  All fine.  Look like you're reading a book because it involves characters or a universe you like?  How silly.  

It's very strange. 

(no subject)

Editing is a tricky thing. 

The difficulty lies not in the spelling, or the grammar, or in ensuring citations conform to a proper format. 

The difficulty lies in figuring out how to tell someone, "I'm sorry, we can't publish your article because you can't write and we lack the time to fix it."  Or, alternatively, "I'm sorry.  We can't publish your article because you're clearly deranged." (Crazy people do not take kindly to being told they're crazy.  Nor, interestingly, do sane people.  This leaves the responsible editor in a bit of a pickle.)

One alternative is to engage in blatant and obstreperous lying.  However, this can tarnish the soul.  And, of course, if you pin the blame on some problem that isn't the real reason for your rejection of their work, there is a risk they may come roaring back having fixed that issue. 

Another is to offer a generic rejection.  However, considering we solicited submissions (albeit generally), that seems a little flat. 

It's a bit of a tricky one.  My preferred solution, at the moment, is to lean as hard as possible on "doesn't fit the focus of the issue", leavened with occasional "we don't have time to edit it."  But I'm still not sure. 

(no subject)

In my time in law school, I have come to the conclusion that there are three concepts on which the entire common law hangs.  Everything else is decoration, meant to conceal that law isn't necessarily that hard or justify these rules because we feel uncomfortable with the uncertainty some of them provide. 

The first concept is "everything's negotiable".  What will happen is negotiable.  The law itself is negotiable.  Everything can change, if you do it right.  Nothing is certain - it is only for the moment. 

The second concept is "no dick moves".  The law shall punish dick moves wherever possible.  Where the dick move cannot be punished, the court shall be contemptuous. 

The third concept, and perhaps the most important, is "I know it when I see it."  So much of jurisprudence is meant to conceal this fact from the masses, in hopes that they will not discover that the justice system is totally winging it.  But really, every test and charge boils down to this. 

Armed with these tools, a complete understanding of the legal system is not only possible, but inevitable.