Trouble Thinking

September 5, 2012

Science is Not Atheistic, Science is Not Theistic.

So I saw a couple bits of fluff about these signs getting taken down:

Yeah, 10 more of these and Christianity will fold.

Look, man. I get it. I get that you’re more than a bit frustrated. Being an atheist in a mostly-secular country is a weird mix of completely uninteresting and incredibly annoying. You don’t really need to change much, but the language and culture kind of presuppose you’re at the least “spiritual”, and that to be otherwise is a bit rude. There’s not really much in the way of direct antagonism because the average religious person is more Christmas/Easter than 3 Mass a week, but people consistently seem to rate atheists as being secretly evil moral black holes. Also, you can’t run for a higher office than dogcatcher in most states. But come the fuck on. This sort of shit isn’t changing minds. It’s not changing minds because it’s not designed to change minds any more than the “Left Behind” books. It’s tribalism. No one has ever successfully evangelized their position by mocking relentlessly the most deeply held beliefs of those they’re trying to convert, pausing only to high five other people who already agree with them.

But again, I get being angry. I mean I just watched this after seeing Dinesh D’Souza in the news for his stupid movie about the President:

This is a reasonably well-respected man discussing intelligent design and not being laughed at. Like, he’s legitimately discussing the possibility that Man did not evolve. I know, it’s not the position of most people who consider themselves religiously observant. I’m not going to tack his stupid bullshit onto every theistic person. But he does hit on something I think Atheists should be talking about instead of simply mocking people for being religious. A hell of a lot of his argument is about how religion answers questions well that science either doesn’t answer or answers poorly. Which is weird, because science isn’t actually atheism.

I know, it seems weird right?  They get said together so often. But science doesn’t relate to the presence or absence of a god or gods. It’s observational. If deities interact directly with the world in a manner that is able to be observed, scientific discussions will eventually note that it appears to be the case that the physical world is acted upon by sentience greater than our own. If deities don’t interact in an observable manner, science will be unable to comment on their presence or absence. The reason people tend to tie atheism in with science is that science does make many conceptions of gods seem less than likely. The standard idea of the ancient pantheon that we tend to have involves 10 foot tall physical incarnations of gods going around legitimately forging lightning or carrying the sky on their backs or tugging the sun across the sky. Scientific progress has made it clear that these events are unlikely. We should be able to see Atlas, he would have to be enormous. Because many people see science as having dis-proven ancient conceptions of deities, they decide that the ball is in science’s court to disprove modern deities! Atheists love to do this too. Ohhh man if only we can get everyone to understand Physics better we’ll totally get them to renounce religion.

But see, we never did disprove ancient religious beliefs. Ancient religious beliefs may have leaned much more heavily on animism and the direct intervention of individual gods, but they sure as hell weren’t honestly waiting for Zeus to come down and shake their hands. Their gods were as invisible and unknowable by direct observation as those worshiped by modern adherents. Religion has not been progressively winnowed by science, leaving only the most difficult to eliminate ones in the modern era. Science and religious belief have never truly interacted. Ancient cultures could understand metaphor too, man. “Of course Atlas doesn’t literally hold the heavens on his shoulders, he’s meant to demonstrate aspects of good behavior you dope” and so on. Attempting to disprove Heracles is more likely to make ancient peoples think you’re dumb than to rock the foundations of their faith. I think both theists and atheists have taken this process of scientific destruction of religious belief as a given and gotten some really shitty arguments out of it.

To put religion in direct conflict with science doesn’t do anyone a service except assholes. People like D’Souza will insist that if science cannot currently conceive of an answer to any given question such as “why are we altruistic” then it should be abandoned, leaving the current religious explanation to take its place for eternity because now he wins you’re not so smart now are you. That robs science of the only thing that makes it useful, which is the ability to continue observing new data and improving upon existing models. I have no idea why we’re altruistic. There are a couple of not very convincing theories floating around, but so far not a lot of concrete evidence. But I am pretty certain that at some point in the future someone more clever than myself will observe certain things and construct a model that provides a reasonably convincing explanation of altruistic behavior. Science is a process. We don’t know any answer to any question, really. We only know currently what is the best match to the data we’ve observed. Replacing this slow process with an eternally fixed explanation because you’re afraid of science turning on your religion is folly not only because that ain’t actually going to happen but because it robs you of potential benefits of a deeper practical understanding of whatever’s being studied.

On the other hand when people like Hitchens attempt to set up science against religion they do atheism a disservice. You’ve heard time and again that “science can’t tell us why we’re here” or whatever the heck. That is indeed accurate! But you know what can do a decent job? Atheism! Atheism is not a religious belief, but it is a philosophy. It does enter into the realm of questions about meaning and man’s place in the universe. It should be allowed to do so! Science will sit and wait and watch and if there is a second coming of whoever’s deity is correct scientists will measure the scope of the holy and atheists will be dis-proven. Science sure as hell won’t be, though. Making atheism the “religion of science” just de-fangs atheism by making every argument come back to the idea that you need to do the same thing to modern religious belief that was never actually done to ancient religious belief. It  also does a huge disservice to science. Science isn’t a weapon against other philosophies, it’s just something you like in addition to atheism. It’s about as relevant to the conversation as your love of baking or model trains. Atheism will evangelize itself effectively by being a good explanation for the sort of questions that science doesn’t address. It will not evangelize itself effectively by putting up signs saying “science proves that your current philosophy is dumb.”

Edit: There’s a good bit from the “opposite side” on Slacktivist, a dude who is evangelical but can’t stand the idea of “believing in theistic evolution” any more than I can stand the idea of “believing in atheistic evolution”.

June 21, 2012

Gaming and Women

Okay that’s an ambitious title I can in no way back up. I can’t really speak to the whole experience of women with games. But there’s been some shit stirred recently that caught my interest and made me slightly frustrated with the way conversations about ‘geeky’ media and feminism go. So first off: the very capable media critic Anita Sarkeesian has been doing this Feminist Frequency thing for a while and it’s quite nice! It’s bite-sized explanations of a lot of shit everyone should probably have a handle on. She likes games, so she decided to do similar explanatory videos about tropes and women in games. Basically, here’s what is meant by “damsel in distress”, here’s why some people take issue with it being a cliche, maybe shape up slightly?

So, she got just craploads of death threats and rape threats and … well one guy said he’d never date her which isn’t really a “threat” per se but suffice it to say her entry into the ‘gaming community’ proper with this video series was met immediately with some pretty harsh fucking words. Now, in a nice countermove here Kickstarter asking for $6,000 got funded for $158,917. So, that’s nice. But the thing is, the fact that the reaction to seeing the word ‘feminist’ next to the word ‘videogames’ got a significant portion of the internet crazy mad is not great. There’s also the fact that a rather large number of people responded to her discussing that with ‘Well that’s just how things are you know? You have to let it roll off your back.’ Which ignores the fact that in a lot of circles being inundated with rape and murder threats is not considered the cost of doing business. And it probably shouldn’t be!

Which leads to this interesting post on the blog of one Foz Meadows: rape culture and gaming. Also, on Pandagon: Geeks, You Have a Problem. Basically, there’s a simultaneous assumption by geeks that we’re too smart to be privileged or misogynistic or racist or whatever but if you want to change a goddamn thing about anything we will cut you. After arguing at a ridiculous length about this for years, I feel like it mostly comes down to people who are nice deciding that means they cannot do a bad thing. Well, no that goes too far obviously nice people realize if they just shot a dude it’s probably bad. But I’ve met a hell of a lot of nice people who don’t find using homophobic slurs particularly bad. It just means ‘stupid’, man! Get over it! It’s different! Anyway point is I will destroy mountains before I stop saying this one word I got in the habit of saying for no reason.

Nice people are extremely stubborn when you ask them to change any behavior that cannot be directly demonstrated to harm another person the moment it happens. Because for fuck’s sake, they had a groove. Now, you’re asking them to reevaluate everything and maybe never do some of the things they’re used to doing. That seems pretty mean! So feminist complaints about gaming culture are reduced to the nagging of shrill harpies who just don’t get us. Look, if you’re made uncomfortable by the unrelenting misogyny on display at tournaments, or the trailer for Hitman and the new Lara Croft game having an attempted rape in it but I’m not it sounds like you’re just a whiner. It often gets shifted to a censorship discussion because geeks feel more comfortable in that arena. But the thing is, no one is interested in censoring a goddamn thing. Ms. Sarkessian isn’t making a series of videos about ‘what games need to be destroyed’, she’s making a series of videos about what tropes exist, why they exist, and what that means for female gamers. The exploration of the concept that things may not be perfect is seen as an attack worthy of a pretty outsized response. And of course, the nice kind good people of the geek community say well that’s just 4chan they’re crazy I would never do that but anyway it kind of sounds like you’re just being whiny I never had a problem don’t censor games I like here’s a few examples of good characters that totally disprove everything they’re just doing what sells! They’re totally on your side they can’t stand those damn commenters either but have you ever thought about how all these weak-ass arguments prove you should shut up?

Look I love Bayonetta, it is the best. But I don’t think the hair-fetish shit was really the reason I had so much fun with it. I’m amazed that in a genre of media so much more defined by mechanics than narrative there’s such push-back against the ideas presented by feminist critiques.

Also worth reading: Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat. One of the pieces I found really interesting talked about how gender-neutral games were until some pretty random events kicked them into being a male-centric thing to do.

Also: Women beat 18-34 men for tech adoption and purchasing power. In case you talk to someone trying out that “just what sells” pile.

March 15, 2012

What the fuck is Deja Vu?

Filed under: Science, Troubled Thinking — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 12:27 am

Okay so I study memory. You may have seen my work slightly fictionalized in “Memento” or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. It’s glamorous and I get to mess people the heck up with magic brain machines. Here’s the thing though: one of the only unusual aspects of memory that I’ve ever directly experienced is “Deja Vu”. And as a brain person who studies memory I feel like it’s my job to know what the fuck that was and why it happens. People come up to me on the street and they beg me to please explain so their nightmare can end. Only, I haven’t found any decent explanations! Wait what is that? You don’t know what deja vu is? Oh well jeez let’s start at the top gosh I’m sorry.

Deja Vu is the intense, awesome experience of knowing exactly how a situation will play out because you’ve been there before. No, I don’t mean when a situation seems “familiar”, and I especially don’t mean when you point out something is happening over and over again. Fuck, that’s the opposite of deja vu. The few times I’ve been lucky enough to experience intense deja vu it felt as though I’d been transported into my own body in the past. I didn’t feel familiar with the situation I was in, I felt as though I could finish every sentence spoken. And the sense of time is amazing, you get a very distinct sensation of not living the same thing twice, but of being in a place you were before, some vague moment a week or a month or a year ago that has dragged you back into itself. In fact, the fullness of sensation experienced has caused quite a few researchers to recommend the term “deja vecu”, because “vu” means “see” but you do more than see. This is evidence that researchers enjoy being pedants when they’ve run out of useful things to do. The point is: I really cannot recommend intense bouts of deja vu enough, they’re lovely.

The second thing you need to know about deja vu is that fucking everyone writing an academic paper on policy or economic research thinks the phrase “deja vu all over again!” is hilarious because they are children.

The first thing any article about deja vu will tell you is that don’t worry it’s totally normal. Thanks guys! It’s good to know you’re not officially calling me crazy, but I don’t think anyone in history has experienced deja vu and immediately checked themselves into a mental hospital or anything. It’s pretty well known, guys. In fact, the earliest mentions of deja vu seem to be from St Augustine, talking about “Falsae memoriae” conveniently choosing to write in the type of Latin that is basically silly English for ease of comprehension. But the actual term deja vu wasn’t coined until almost 1900, by a man named FL Arnaud. Apparently he didn’t like the fact that it was being referred to as “false memory” because maybe that wasn’t what was occurring.

So, you know what it is you know it isn’t a sign of madness and you know to stop saying “deja vu” when something happens twice. Now, what causes it?

Hahaha well we’ll get back to you on that dude. Turns out the reason a registered Ultra Brain Scientist didn’t have a clue what caused it is because yeah basically we don’t have a good theoretical or practical idea of what causes it. In fact, a couple papers dedicated any words to “parapyschological theories” like telepathy and astral projection. The weirdest part is how half-assed a lot of these are. I mean obviously Freud tossed out one about how you want to fuck something and your current situation is causing you to recall a repressed fantasy… which makes total sense! That’s why deja vu only ever occurs in situations that anyone would fantasize about and not in completely unremarkable ones. God it’s like he didn’t even finish listening to the description. There are a couple psychodynamic theories like that: it’s a defense mechanism, it’s dream residue, it’s wish fulfillment, etc. None of them make any actual testable predictions or in any way explain the reasoning or mechanism beyond saying it kind of sort of makes sense sometimes if you think of it like that. Good job Psychodynamics!

There are a few decent-ish proposed explanations from other areas of psychology that take themselves slightly more seriously. It could be that deja vu is some form of disturbance of time perception, causing things that were just seen to be mislabeled as having happened some time ago. Of course I’m pretty sure that theory is just as useful as the one proposed since the beginning of the fucking phenomenon. Time perception having some thing to do with deja vu? Oh wow, awesome job. The one that’s gotten the most support in my opinion is the idea that deja vu occurs when for some reason the mind simultaneously “records” into memory and “reads” out of it. I put those words in quotes because I’d give great odds that there’s not anything remotely like “record” and “playback” in the brain and this is just a slightly more useful shitty analogy. There are also a couple papers suggesting that deja vu is associated loosely with better memory function. Which again sort of makes sense but is also disappointing as an explanation. I guess it rules out some possible explanations like a faulty memory that accidentally wrote to bad sectors or something like that. The thing is, there are more than a few of these explanations but they all amount to “some processes that are supposed to be in sync are out of sync for a bit”. Replace “some processes” with whatever it is the authors are flogging all over the place. No one seems to actually be engaging with the phenomenon so much as explaining it on the way to other research.

There are a few neurological examinations of deja vu that are a little bit better about explaining it but still nothing groundbreaking. Basically it’s been noted that it can occur frequently in people experiencing some form of pathological mental disorder. There are frequent reports of deja vu experiences in epileptics, and because epileptics are one of the few groups of people whose brains we can jam electrodes into in the name of science, there are a few reported findings of induced “dreamy” states that are similar to deja vu during some stimulations of the temporal cortex. Of course, it’s entirely possible that these deja vu-like states experienced in pathological patients bear only a surface resemblance to actual deja vu, in the way that visual hallucinations aren’t caused by the same phenomena as actual vision.  Then there are more of those asynchronicity explanations, only with “neurological pathway” replacing “process”. At least these have some better surface validity though, I can see where it’s possible that two pathways for sensory information might split into a sort of double vision. Of course, that explanation doesn’t match the subjective experience at all, because people experience all sensory perception during deja vu as occurring simultaneously as normal. The “two pathway” explanation loses a lot if it becomes the “12 really intricately timed pathways” explanation. They’re all so frigging general though! “Slowed transmission” “something going wrong during a seizure”, etc. So again, yes maybe the function of the brain might affect an experience we have somehow good job guys.

Explicitly memory based theories of deja vu are many and varied but they share a lot of essential elements, basically whatever general theory of memory someone has is applied inexpertly to the phenomenon. So you know if memories are stored, then a prior memory is “slightly activated” and gives a feeling of undue familiarity. If there are two memory processes, one is out of sync. Etc etc, none of these are particularly noteworthy because they just repeat the general theory and make slight attempt to explain the phenomenon. The last category of possible explanations involves attention, basically that you pay slight attention to a scene and then rapt attention to a scene and the slight attention you paid earlier gets somewhat but not entirely overshadowed. This then makes you think you’ve seen it before. You’ll notice this doesn’t really make any goddamn sense because that’s not remotely close to the subjective experience.

Really the issue here is that experiments are what informs science, and there just haven’t been a lot of experiments dealing with deja vu. Because here’s the dirty secret of science: we are all lazy. Hard experiments fall by the wayside because why bother? There are dozens of other phenomena that are easy to reproduce in a lab and study. I know I can’t think of a way to produce deja vu in a lab environment, and I can’t think of an experiment that would get to the heart of the phenomenon. That’s not to say we’ll never understand it, but it is to say we’ll probably get to it last, or accidentally.

So there you have it. Science tells us:

Deja Vu exists

Don’t worry it’s normal

Happens more often in young people

It might be two things of some sort working out of sync, or it might be nerve problems of some sort, or it might be memories activating badly somehow, or it might be you paying weird attention.

And it’s really fucking hard to investigate so stop bugging us about it it’s just some weird thing jeez.

September 22, 2011

Why Can’t Games Scare Us?

More silly than terrifying. Especially the 40th time.

Horror games are pretty tense right? You’re sprinting through the ruin pursued by Elder Things that are nipping at your heels  if the portal closes the world will be plunged into a dark only the Old Things survive, and they will sup on our souls for eternity! Super freaky.

Until…

Until you die. Or get stuck. The moment you hit “escape”, load a previous save, or are thrown back to a checkpoint. Even games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which recommend special care be taken to enjoy them in the proper spooky environment (lights dimmed, headphones, etc.) are palpably straining not to kill the player. Because the moment you die that atmospheric scramble through the ancient ruin becomes an exercise in getting from A to B.

Scary games have a unique advantage: interactivity. Other media has to collapse possibility into a single event quickly. The chase scene begins, and with each second it becomes more definite that this will not be the death of the protagonist. A game allows you to shoulder that burden and removes the feeling of certainty. Maybe this is how it ends.

Games also come with a unique disadvantage: gameplay. The fact is, there’s nothing inherently terrifying about interacting with a computer. No matter how effective the setting, you’re still interacting in an understandable, even comforting manner. Death loses the power to frighten when you consider something “a game”. You die dozens of times in Mario and manage to soldier on without wetting your pants. As a gamer, your inclination is to figure out what’s best and do it. Games, even bleak ones, still offer you this comforting goal. Kill the zombies, escape the city.

So how do we maximize the terror that comes from interactivity while minimizing the comfort factor? Focus less on scary settings and more on scary, unfamiliar gameplay elements. Failure needs to be more than a quick trip across the Styx. And yet, only a few games explore the idea of drawing terror out of gameplay.

The Void is a scary game not because of how difficult it is to survive, but because of how impossible it is to do right. What’s brilliant about Void  is instead of placing you in a comfortably deadly situation with simple goals, it threatens you with being unable to ever understand the world well enough to make things better. You watch as every decision you make ruins another corner of the world because you are simply unable to put a puzzle together correctly.

Eversion takes a different tack. The gameplay is simple sidescrolling. But it introduces slipping into different dimensions or “Everting” to solve puzzles. As you progress through the game, “Everting” takes you to more discomfiting places. It uses your drive to finish the game as a way of forcing you to open that creepy door to the basement, so to speak.

Games shouldn’t scare us by aping movies. They should scare us in ways that only they can, because they can do it better.

June 8, 2011

Shortcut Science: Being Controversial Rather Than Replicable

So about a week and a half ago, someone named Satoshi Kanazawa published an article that was called “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men” in his blog on Psychology Today called “The Scientific Fundamentalist”. From a brief look at the blog, it’s mostly focused on various attention-grabbing BS claims like “Beautiful People Really Are More Intelligent” and basically anything that is easy to defend because it’s a “hard truth” that just happens to track perfectly with common sense and the fears and cultural baggage of the average person. I haven’t checked but “A Bigger Penis Makes You A Better Person” is probably in there. In fact, the tagline to the blog is “A Look at Hard Truths About Human Nature”.

Any time anyone tells you they’re going to give you a Hard Truth and Not Be PC they are trying as hard as they can to explain that with no bias they’ve discovered everything is exactly the way their gut intuition has always told them it was and woah woah woah don’t go there this is just what Science or Common Sense or Common Science says not them. The fact that their Not Being PC or Being Tough happens to conform precisely to the prejudiced notions they hold is a happy accident.

I’ve heard this so many times in so many different contexts and it’s always infuriating. “IQ testing is completely right, even if they don’t want me to talk about it because it will make people sad to find out that certain people [who happen to happen to be from a group that I don’t belong to] are inherently dumber!”

Not “I have spent a lot of time devising a clever and replicable experimental proof of this interesting aspect of human nature.” Just stating it’s controversial, as though people being unreasonably opposed to a potential experimental proof that you’re too lazy to actually provide is somehow an airtight case.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no there is not actually any reasonable way to interpret the data Mr. Kanazawa gathered as indicating that black women are rated as less attractive “due to testosterone” as he winds up concluding. Not that he gives any actual reasons as to why testosterone would create a less attractive person. He basically seems to just imply that black women are mannish and black men are hyper-male, and woah isn’t it weird how that just happens to reinforce long standing prejudices I dunno maybe you just can’t handle the truth!

From a Scientific American article that’s way more thorough than me, damn:

Kaufman and other bloggers also address Kanazawa’s painful contortion of factor analysis, which I agree is laughable. He looks at three measurements of the same test taken at three different time points and creates a one-factor model, with the one factor being “objective attractiveness.” This is, of course, founded on the principle that an attractiveness rating handed out by interviewers in a study on adolescent health and well-being is actually measuring something that we can agree is “objective attractiveness.”

He then says that by merging these three measurements for each interviewee into one factor, he can use factor analysis to get at that “objective attractiveness” while minimizing any error. This is just plain false. Factor analysis cannot get rid of measurement error. If it could, we’d all be using it all the time, and we’d get rid of all measurement error, and scientific studies wouldn’t need to be replicated.

Basically, the jackass claimed that through a reasonably simple statistical trick, factor analysis, he’d managed to completely eliminate any error, and therefore get “objective” attractiveness. That’s not what factor analysis is for. Factor analysis is a method of testing for the likelihood of a lot of different observed variables being explained by a single unobserved one. So like, if you notice that during the summer you sweat more, wear fewer clothes, and use more energy all of those things could be explained by different variables, or they could all be related to things being generally hotter. Usually factor analysis is used to take a bunch of random variables you’ve gathered and just poke around to see if there’s a simpler explanation for the changes in each of them.

Notice at no point does factor analysis magically transform things into objective measurements of subjective human experiences. So his basic method of working toward a conclusion is just straight up stupid from the get-go.

Then there’s the conclusion itself. It turns out that actually, black women may have lower than normal levels of testosterone on average, from the same article:

Kanazawa surmises that Black women’s lower attractiveness might be due to low estrogen and high testosterone. Yet, high estrogen levels and low testosterone is a leading cause of fibroids, which significantly impact Black women, especially Black women who are overweight. Also, Black women have been found to have higher levels of estrogen in a study on breast cancer.

Oh, and it turns out that during the 4th out of four measurement phases, in which the participants were adults, black women were not rated as less attractive. He threw that out though, because well I mean it’s an outlier! Or something.

I mean, I could go on (read the rest of that Scientific American article for even more shit about this) but the underlying factor is what’s important here. This article got a lot of press for being both exceptionally stupid and exceptionally controversial, but this whole method of not-investigation needs to be let go. If your work is controversial, it’ll be controversial. If you make replicable experiments and provide useful avenues of exploration eventually people will come around and learn something interesting no matter how insane they thought it was at first. The truth will out.

If you chase the controversy that comes with truth instead of actual understanding, you wind up like this jackass.

October 4, 2010

My YouTube Problem

Filed under: The Internet, Troubled Thinking — Tags: , — Chris @ 4:07 pm

I have a confession to make, a confession  about a lie I have lived with for far too long now, and can no longer stand to keep silent.

My name is Chris, and I can’t watch YouTube.

Let me rephrase that. I can watch it, in the literal sense. It runs perfectly fine on my computer. There is no stuttering, no loading problems, nothing. YouTube runs like a dream—it’s just a dream my brain hates, and encourages me to avoid at all costs.

If you know me, and have ever linked me to a YouTube video, I haven’t watched it. I probably acted like I watched it. I said that was funny, made some comment about the guy who uploaded it, but that was all just a smoke screen; I was completely and totally full of shit. At best, I just read the title and description, maybe watched the first couple of seconds. Only enough so that I could spew the necessary amount of bullshit in your direction to enable me to change the subject away from the fact that I am never, ever going to actually watch whatever the hell it is you just linked me to. I’m not talking about once or twice either—I have done this every single time. If I saw www.youtube.com in the web address, I did everything in my power to avoid whatever it is you wanted me to see.

I am so incredibly sorry. I am a terrible, horrible person who has refused you even the basic courtesy of humoring you, making no attempt to find entertainment in something that brought you joy. Instead, I lied to your face. Not once, but dozens upon dozens of times. I am a liar, and a jerk, and I am sorry.

But Jesus Christ I can’t bring myself to sit through any of that crap.

Sure, I appreciate YouTube. Before it rolled around, simple streaming video was virtually non-existent on the web. I even admire the breadth of material on YouTube. For every insipid video of a kitten who thinks its people, there are hours and hours of concert footage available of bands which broke up before I was even born, or helpful instructions for simple adult tasks a man-child like myself has somehow managed to avoid learning. It’s all very nice and well and good and a benevolent tool for amateur film makers, musicians, comedians, and the entirety of mankind, but…holy fucking shit dammit, my brain just hates it so much.

The whole thing is irrational, really. The moment a YouTube video opens up in my browser, my mind goes berserk. “What the hell is this?!” it screams. “You don’t have time to watch this! A minute and thirty seconds? What the fuck! What kind of lazy, procrastinating, do-nothing slob do they think you are? YOU COULD BE SOMETHING SOMEDAY! This is a waste of your time!”

Which is hilarious, because if they held elections for lazy, procrastinating, do-nothing slobs, I would be in the running for King. I have wasted hours, days, years of my life looking at pointless crap on the internet. Some days I just cycle endlessly through my Firefox favorites list, despite the fact that I have already read everything there is to read on all of those sites several times over. Do you know how much time I’ve spent reading Wikipedia? Probably not, but I do, and it is too much. All that sits perfectly fine with me, but the second you slap a timer and a progress bar on it, my brain suddenly realizes I could be using this time to make something of myself, and seizures into a full-blown panic attack.

Something about me has decided that my free time is a precious, precious snowflake, and that watching YouTube is like letting it land on the surface of the sun.

So, there it is. For far too long I have lived with this terrible secret, and it feels good to finally get it off my chest. Just, please, don’t link me to anymore YouTube videos. I don’t want to have to lie to you, but I totally will.

September 17, 2010

LoL, or, why I don’t do MM-anything.

Filed under: Troubled Thinking — Tags: , , — Katherine Barclay @ 1:52 am

So … I’ve mentioned before that I’m not much of a gamer. That’s not, actually, really all that true. I was unpacking my shit from a move I did a couple of weeks ago, and when it came to my PS2 box I actually have a decent number of games, most of which I’ve played and enjoyed and not sucked at.

The thing is, they’re all single player, because that’s really all I can do.

Give me a character with a tragic past and an obvious quest, and I’m great. I can swing and puzzle (kinda) and platform (not really) with the best of them, and have an awesome time. But as soon as you get more than three other people in the game, assuming we’re not talking about some hopped-up version of SSB or something like that, I crumble. I feel as though I’ve been teleported to a strange land where the aliens all look the same as I do and can’t understand why I don’t speak any of their languages and insist on breathing oxygen.

I know it can’t be true, but every time I enter an MMO setting, I feel as though I’m the only person in the universe who hasn’t done this before, preferably more times than can be conveniently counted, feeling stupid and clunky and effectively like a waste of space. After dying a few times in rapid succession I always end up feeling that simply by playing the game I’m letting down everyone else in it, probably even the entire server. My space, after all, could have just as easily been filled by anyone else at all, and chances are the person who would have played if I hadn’t wouldn’t have sucked half as badly as I did.

It makes it kind of hard to want to get better.

For the past few days, Durandal has been trying to convince me to play that Warcraftian game he was blogging about, and eventually I gave in – mostly because I wasn’t paying attention, and somehow missed the part where this was exactly the kind of game I don’t play. I played through the demo and a practice round against a few faceless bots, and decided that I probably sucked, but might not have been as bad at is as I was expecting to be. So, I let myself get talked into playing an actual game, and somehow, had a lot of fun. I died way more than I’d wanted to, but I saw at the end that someone else had died as much as I had and killed fewer people, so yay for that, I guess? Anyway, it was epic and confusing, but also satisfying.

Yay, I thought, maybe I can actually do this! (more…)

September 4, 2010

Old vs. New

Filed under: Troubled Thinking — Tags: , , — Katherine Barclay @ 12:25 am

Anyone who was paying attention last week knows that I promised I’d post the rest of my thoughts (of which I assure you all I have many) about Bioshock by week’s end — and since I fully intended to do so, I promise they will come, eventually.

Unfortunately, I’ve spent the last two days in the car with my Dad, undertaking an epic, international, transcontinental voyage from my hometown of Toronto, Canada to the not-so-little cityplace I am moving to in Texas. Aside from a lot of fast food and stiff muscles, this meant some decent Quality Time with the above mentioned semi-estranged father, a chance to sample the fine mid-western radio choices, and almost no internet access.

The iType?

It also meant another chance to observe a phenomenon that I’ve been eying for the past several years as various adults, most easily exemplified by my father, try and fail to survive in an increasingly technological world.

It’s like he’s given up!

It’s like once upon a time, years ago, the forces of People who are Getting On in Years fought a pitched battle against the forces of Innovative Technological Advances, and suffered a crushing defeat, and since then have been paying their tithes to the glorious victors by taking more time and doing everything the hard way, because they’re not allowed to change with the times.

(more…)

August 9, 2010

US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement… Manga Style!

Have you ever found yourself suffering from insomnia, and at 2am wondering to yourself.  “Gee, I really want to learn more about the military and political relationship between the United States and Japan… but it’s so difficult to understand without overly cute cartoon representations of the two countries explaining it to me through metaphor in an appealing visual format!

If you have, then like me, you should seek immediate psychological help. However, while you’re waiting for the men in white lab coats to take you to a better place, check it out!  Our prayers have been answered!

No, I am not kidding you. This is an official publication straight from the US Forces Japan Website

As a man who often thinks of the United States of America as a 5 year old ginger kid with a crazy bunny hood, this publication really speaks to me. The first chapter of a supposedly 4 chapter series on the military alliance between Japan and the USA can be found in it’s entirety here: http://www.usfj.mil/manga/Vol%201/Index.html

The technical term you’re looking for is ” Totally Bitchin’ ”

I can’t read Japanese, but nonetheless I’m astounded as to just how adorable a complicated and sometimes troubled relationship between our two countries really is.  I mean, come on, the little boy’s name is “Usa” and his Japanese friend is “Arai Anzu”. Say it 5 times fast in your best stereotypical Japanese accent, and you’ll get it.  It’s so precious, I just need to post a few more panels:

Who knew policing the world could be so cute?

If the USA and Japan are kids... where the hell are the parents?

I love it. Usa goes around killing all those North Korean cockroaches, and Arai Anzu says some stuff I can’t understand, but probably along the lines of “Thank you so much Usa for keeping us safe.  It’s great that your presence lends us so much political stability; in no way did our prime minister resign recently over controversies regarding his failure to make good on promises to shut down a US military base!”  Precious.

Then again, the more I look at that last panel, the more it looks like the United States is just some asshole kid stomping on bugs and shoving the corpses in girls’ faces.  Hmmmm…. lets not read into that. Moving on.

After this beautiful publication wins us the hearts and minds of every Japanese citizen, I think we need to expand the genre to resolve all of our international disputes.  Just think how much more susceptible Iran would be shutting down its nuclear program if we had an adorable booklet with USA-Iran character analogs explaining the situation in a carefree and non-threatening manner?  Illegal immigration got Arizona all riled up? Make a manga featuring “Mex” the illegal immigrant and “Ari Zona” the cautious but caring family-values oriented American who overcomes her distrust of Mex through a delightful 30 page cartoon adventure that unites the two in the bonds of love and friendship.  I mean, hell, this shit practically writes itself.

Anyways, enjoy the PR masterpiece.  If anyone actually has the skills and inclination to translate this, I’d like to see what it actually says.  I tried searching for a translation, but all I found were people debating which anime sucks the most on military forums. Swing and a miss on my end.

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.

UPDATE: Apparently the good folks over at Manga Fox have scanned and translated this into English. Many thanks to joshuaism for pointing this out!  (People read this blog? Amazing!)

June 23, 2010

Chris Reviews: When a Giant Thunderstrike Simultaneously Knocks Out Your Power and Wakes You the Fuck up at 3:30 in the Morning and You Have to be up at 6:30 for Work but it’s Hot as Hell and You Can’t Sleep Because Your AC is Out and Your Windows Are Shut to Keep Out the Rain.

Filed under: Troubled Thinking — Tags: , — Chris @ 7:08 am

It’s not great.

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