What the hell, Fox?

So, Fox owns a lot of the rights to Firefly.  That's kind of sucky.  But as long as they leave the Browncoats alone, it's not that big a deal, right?  I mean, it's not like Fox is responsible for the premature death of a defining sci fi show of a generation or anything. So, yeah.  They screwed the community very nearly from day one.  The least they could do is just leave us the hell alone.  But apparently not:  they still want to make a profit on Browncoats.  Io9 reports, Fox is shutting down independent makers of Jayne hats, so there's no competition against their mass-produced version.

io9 writes,

Recently, Ripple Junction has licensed the fan apparel and obtained the rights to mass-produce the product. And in return, Fox is shutting down all the mom and pop Jayne hat makers. Which is ridiculous because the very point of a Jayne hat is to own a mangled handmade orange monstrosity that warms your noggin, not something churned out on an assembly line. But now that Fox has sold the licence, they now have to shake down Etsy members who are lovingly knitting their Firefly memorabilia.

ThinkGeek have something to say for themselves, too:

Browncoats, we hear your concerns about the cease and desist on Etsy Jayne Hat sellers!

We weren't involved in that process, but we have reached out to FOX and we've heard what you've had to say. As a result, we've decided to donate the profits from all Jayne Hat sales on our site to Can't Stop the Serenity, a Browncoat charity dear to ThinkGeek's heart that raises funds and awareness in support of Equality Now. We'll continue making that donation until we run out of stock.

We hope the Hero of Canton himself would approve.

Yellow dots

I learned something creepy about printers today.  It turns out, most major printers add pale yellow dots to every page, which encode the date and time of the printout, as well as a serial number tying the paper to a specific printer.

It's called "Printer steganography."  According to Wikipedia, Steganography is "[T]he art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message[.]"

Now that I'm aware of this, I'm having trouble thinking of anywhere I could print out a document without making it obvious where I am.  I can't do it at home, because duh; I can't do it in the newsroom at school because I'm one of like 10 people who can get in, and they[1. "They" being any powerful or well-connected person or group that either has something against me or makes any kind of mistake that leads them to believe they have something against me.  Or someone less well-connected, but with a serious vendetta against me and access to, for example, the above-linked EFF site where the Xerox printer dots are decoded.] could compare the time on the stamp to the times that computers were in use;  I can't use the computer lab at school because they make everyone sign in... I can't remember how the computers work in the library, but I do know I have to pay for copies.  Maybe they don't log people's names.

Not saying I have anything particularly sensitive to print out, and as far as I know nobody hates me enough to track me down by stealing pieces of paper I might have printed, but the whole idea totally creeps me out, anyway.

Amanda Marcotte on the Friend Zone

Apparently "Friend Zone" is going into the Oxford English Dictionary, and Amanda Marcotte has some great commentary on it, in her article on Slate, Friend Zone Goes in the OED, and Women Give Up Trying to Let You Down Easy:

In the past, the English language had its fair share of terms to describe the state of being infatuated with a person who does not return your feelings. There was unrequited love for those who prefer more flowery language or crush for those with a more casual flair. Alas, these terms failed on one front: They assigned responsibility for the situation to the person having the feelings. They even went so far as to imply that the object of the affection has no obligation whatsoever to return the feelings (or have sex with someone as a consolation prize). Thus, the angry dudes of the Internet came up with the termfriend zone, which shifts the locus of responsibility from the subject to the object of the crush. It implies that, as the object is at fault for "putting" her admirer into the friend zone, it is her duty to do something to remove him from it, preferably by getting naked.

Unsurprisingly, the masses are fond of this new term. (And let's be honest: While men and women of all sexual orientations get crushes, the friend zone is mostly a straight-male phenomenon based on the widespread sexist belief that straight men can never truly be friends with women without having an ulterior motive.) It’s so popular, in fact, that it is now being put in the Oxford English Dictionary, a sacred tome widely believed to be both a better dictionary and a better step stool than, say, Merriam-Webster.

After that, she says some mean things about Bronies and Reddit users -- which isn't totally unfair -- and encourages women to keep an eye out for Friend Zone style self-pity and shut it down hard.

Since "Friend Zone" is getting acknowledged by the OED, I'm glad someone's pointing out that there are ways to say "I'm bummed out that someone I like isn't into me," without saying "and they're wrong for feeling that way."

Lost-in-the-woods phone

Rob Beschizza at Boing Boing writes about the new Nokia 105, a $15 phone that features a flashlight and an FM radio and a battery that lasts a month on standby.  Engadget writes that they're designed to target the low-end of the cellphone market, to be sold in less industrialized countries:

While the Windows Phone brand is still the company's primary point of focus, it doesn't mean Nokia isn't still cranking out millions of basic phones for emerging markets around the globe. With that in mind, the Finnish phone giant has outed two such handsets at its event at Mobile World Congress. Sure, they aren't much to look at, but Nokia feels it's still an important element of its strategy to dominate the lower-end market segment.

As Rob points out, they're also a great choice for keeping around in case of a blackout or natural disaster or zombie apocalypse.  But the place I'm most eager to see this phone is in a horror movie -- I want to see a writer figure out how to give her protaganists useful, reliable phones that retain at least some functionality outside the range of cell phone towers, and keep the movie scary.

Incomprehensible science

Samuel Arbesman at Slate writes about the likelihood of computers doing science so effectively that the answers they come up with about the universe will be demonstrably true, but beyond the comprehension of any human. Apparently, this has already happened with math.

A computer program known asEureqa that was designed to find patterns and meaning in large datasets not only has recapitulated fundamental laws of physics but has also found explanatory equations that no one really understands. And certain mathematical theorems have been proven by computers, and no one person actually understands the complete proofs, though we know that they are correct.

The article is very clear, really cool, and contains an awesome Issac Asimov quote about relative truth:

“[W]hen people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

Bridges for wild animals

Mental_Floss has an awesome short article about Wildlife crossings, which doesn't just mean those signs that warn you that deer like to jump out around that part of the road.  Wildlife crossings are these often incredibly beautiful pieces of architecture over highways that save wildlife the trouble of getting hit by a truck:


That and more pictures are available at The World Geography.

Mental_Floss writes,

Wildlife crossings help all kinds of animals get around, including salamanders, panthers, bears, and badgers. These pieces of infrastructure save not just wildlife, but also money: Drivers in the U.S. spend $8 billion annually on wildlife-related damage to cars.

Wikipedia points out that these projects are trivial in cost, especially when compared to the gains, both environmentally and in property damage to people's cars:

The benefits derived from constructing wildlife crossings to extend wildlife migration corridors over and under major roads appear to outweigh the costs of construction and maintenance. One study estimates that adding wildlife crossings to a road project is only a 7-8% increase in the total cost of the project (Bank et al. 2002). Theoretically, the monetary costs associated with constructing and maintaining wildlife crossings in ecologically important areas are trumped by the benefits associated with protecting wildlife populations, reducing property damage to vehicles, and saving the lives of drivers and passengers by reducing the number of collisions caused by wildlife.

I talk a lot about liking the urban world more than the rural, but I'm not sure it always comes across that this is a big part of that -- finding ways to cooperate with, and share our spaces with, animals native to the sites of our development is hugely important.

And, it just generally makes the world a more pleasant place.  Seeing a deer on the highway during a drive can go two ways:  it can either be terrifying, because you're afraid it's going to jump out at you and you'll get into a horrible accident, or it can be pleasant, seeing a cute animal safely away from your car.  Among everything else, these crossings sound like one of the millions of ways we can make lots of peoples' lives a little bit less shitty, which is how you make the world a nice place to live.

a sexist narrative in the entertainment industry

I had no idea there was a rumor that Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence hated each other.  But I'm not surprised -- as this article on Slate points out, it's not an unusual narrative:  two women pursuing success are cast as in competition against each other, rather than against everyone else in the business, or -- even better, and more true -- both pursuing success in a field they hope will grow enough to accommodate as many brilliant people in it as possible. Chastian shot the rumor down on Facebook:

I find it very sad that media makes up bogus stories about women fighting in this industry. Filming The Help was the most amazing experience and yet, that is the film Im most asked about in regards to "fighting on set". Why do we support the myth that women are competitive and cannot get along? I think all of the actresses recognized this year have given incredible performances. But more important, they've all shown themselves to be filled with generosity and kindness. I've done two photo shoots with Jennifer Lawrence over the years and have found her to be utterly charming and a great talent. I've told her how beautiful her film work is. Please don't allow the media to perpetuate the myth that women arent supportive of each other. Everytime an actress is celebrated for her great work, I cheer. For the more brilliant their performance, the more the audience demands stories about women. With support and encouragement, we help to inspire this industry to create opportunities for women. And as we all know: a great year for women in film, is just a great year for film xxjes

Transitions from knowledge to literacy (as regards Comic Sans)

I just watched the new VSauce video about Comic Sans, which made a lot of points I already knew (like that Comic Sans is incredibly readable on aliased screens) and a lot of points I didn't (The British Dyslexia Association recommends Comic Sans for children who struggle with making out letters.[1. I checked out their Dyslexia Style Guide, I'm doing pretty well here, I think, but there's room for improvement.  I will keep it in mind next time I make changes to the website design.]). One of the things he talks about is that Comic Sans hate might be a symptom of increasing design literacy following the digital revolution, the way there was increasing regular literacy following the invention of the printing press.

This inspired a wild speculation that I wanted to expand on here:

Every time new types of media come out, there are people who complain that it's going to ruin knowledge, because people who write things down will stop bothering to remember them / people who watch TV are going to forget how to read / people who get all their entertainment on the internet have no attention spans anymore.

And, in fact, there's some science to back some of that stuff up.  Not all of it, but some.  The Google Effect, for example, describes a tendency for people to not bother remembering things they believe they can easily find out online.

My thought is that, as humanity's knowledge grows, and our base of understanding progresses, we do start to forget the earlier layers of stuff.  Rather than trying to know everything that an individual would need to have known a hundred years ago -- stuff that's still important, but that not everyone needs to pay attention to -- instead we learn a system for acquiring that information, and entrust it to our civilization to continue to provide the infrastructure that backs those skills up.

And that's what I mean by literacy -- it's a systematic replacement of specific knowledge with a general method for acquiring that sort of knowledge.

Now, I think there's a lot to be gained by having a lot of stuff in your head.  But there are types of things that are easier to leave to Google, and types of things that are better to store all together in your mind.  You often learn the first chunk to move on to the second -- learning who various politicians are in order to understand a political system -- but if it's not part of your everyday job, it's okay to just understand that system, and be ready to Google a name you know you recognize but you can't place.

I really like the idea that we're acquiring design literacy as a civilization, because it means that individuals are taking into their own hands the responsibility of making their lives and their world beautiful -- which is, like, super-important.

The dark history of Monopoly

A few years ago I worked at a game store, and during that time, I learned a lot of interesting trivia.  By far my favorite piece, though, was that Monopoly, the most notoriously unpleasant game still mainstream, was actually invented by a communist, and was designed, on purpose, to suck for everyone except the one player who ended up with all the power. A few details of that story are wrong.  Elizabeth Maggie Phillips, the inventor of Monopoly, originally called it The Landlord's Game, and she was a Georgist, not a communist.  Georgism is, according to Wikipeida, "an economic philosophy and ideology that holds that people own what they create, but that things found in nature, most importantly land, belong equally to all."

According to Mental_Floss,

Magie believed The Landlords’ Game would show the world as it is, and might hopefully inspire reforms. “Let the children once see clearly the gross injustice of our present land system and when they grow up, if they are allowed to develop naturally, the evil will soon be remedied,” she said two years before she patented her idea.

So, if you've ever wondered why Monopoly sucks so much, now you know.  It's designed to.

Text book prices: What can you do?

In my sociology class today, my professor discussed the price of the textbook.  She said, and I'm pretty sure I wrote down the quote correctly,  "I know, book's expensive, but what can you do?" I didn't say anything, because a.) she's obviously just using 'what can you do' as a rhetorical phrase, not an earnest request for input, b.) discussing theoretical class structures isn't a good use of class time we could otherwise be spending on the material everyone in the room is paying for, and c.) I figured it would probably just annoy her and make me look pedantic.

But I wanted to answer the question, and this is my blog, so this seems like the best place to do it.

Here are some things you could do:

  • Teach us using direct-source studies of the sociological issues we're discussing; teach us how to use the school library to access original research, and how to read that research to learn about the history and the present-state of sociology.
  • Use Wikipedia for the stuff we're only covering shallowly, and read the articles yourself, and go over in class whatever points you think might be lacking or imperfectly put.
  • Look for public websites that present the information, and build lesson plans out of collections of URLs rather than a $100+ book that can, after all, be substituted by an internet connection.
  • (I realize this one is demanding a lot more of the teacher than it's strictly fair to expect, but) write up some of your own material, and release it under a Creative Commons license.
  • Ask past students who wrote particularly good papers for permission to use their work as classroom material for future students.
  • Teach us using mainstream books, that are subject to the price constraints of free market competition, and are likely available used or through a local or school library.

I'm not angry at my teacher for using a textbook.  Everything I suggested above is probably more work, and gets no additional income.  Especially writing her own material -- which she could then publish as a textbook, assign, and actually make money on.

It would help, though, just to acknowledge that you can teach most classes without textbooks.  That doesn't require that you do anything.  All that does is turn 25 people in the class who are resigned to paying for their books into 25 people who have a little bit of motivation to look for ways to overturn the textbook system, and let all the other teachers at the school know that there's at least someone else there who would support some or all of the above efforts, in theory.

Although, maybe the school requires her to assign a textbook.  That might be the case, I'm pretty sure that's a thing that happens.

Oh well.  I'm not buying the book.

Concord, Massachusetts bans plastic water bottles

inhabitat.com writes:

Cities across the country have already worked towards banning plastic bags, and now Concord, Massachusetts has become one of the very first communities to ditch the single-use plastic bottle. The result of a three-year effort by local activists and an effective Ban the Bottle campaign, the new bylaw would make it illegal to sell non-sparkling, unflavored liquids in single-serving polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles of 1 liter or less. With exceptions for emergencies, a first offense will garner a warning, the second infraction incurs a $25 fine, and the third transgression earns a $50 fine. Concord’s Health Division is in charge of enforcing the ban starting the first of this year.

(emphasis mine.)

So, this ban doesn't touch soda, or gallons of water, or large-ish bottles of water.  Just the little ones -- like those tiny, part-of-a-serving bottles that are barely even worth drinking.

According to Ban the Bottle, single-serve plastic bottles take 17 million barrels of oil a year to produce, enough fuel to power 1.3 million cars a year. In 2007, Americans used 50 billion bottles, recycling only 23% of that amount. In 2010, the EPA estimated that the US generated 31 million tons of non biodegradable plastic waste. Banning plastic bottles in cities across the country could go a long way to reducing our petroleum footprint.

Altogether, this sounds like an awesome plan to me.  inhabitat.com points out the criticism, though:

Some critics of the ban question the usefulness of the law, observing that those who want to buy single-use bottles can travel a short distance to neighboring cities to purchase them. Some businesses have also taken advantage of a loophole by selling 20 oz bottles, since the legislation only focuses on sizes 1 liter or less. Even so, it is encouraging to see a community make strides towards reducing its impact on the environment and help keep its citizens hydrated and healthy.

Reasons this criticism is nonsense:  Virtually everyone will choose to buy larger bottles or drink tap water rather than drive to another town when they're feeling like an impulse-buy of water.  Furthermore, most people don't stock up on bottled water in tiny, tiny containers.  Also, selling larger bottles isn't getting around the law, it's the intended effect.  That way, any given individual wastes substantially less plastic per unit of water consumed.

I think this is a great law, and I hope it spreads.

Are class schedules really necessary?

(via Dangerously Irrelevant) Shawn Cornally at www.good.is has written a great post about totally restructuring the way that schools organize education -- getting rid of the schedule blocks, and just giving the kids goals and teachers.  It sounds like an awesome idea to me.  (I think I would have done a lot better in the chemistry labs he describes.)

What if we removed the passive course-to-course drudgery of the school day? What if there was no schedule? What if students were left with a list of coyly worded benchmarks targeted at creating quality humans, and we just waited to see what they could do? What if teachers were seen as mentors for projects designed to help students meet those benchmarks? What if the students initiated these projects and the teachers spent their time recording TED-style talks that would serve as inspiration and help students generate benchmark-related ideas?


A very creepy article about credit scores

Amanda Marcotte at Slate posted today about an article that went up on the New York Times website yesterday, called Perfect 10?  Never Mind That.  Ask Her for Her Credit Score.

As she nibbled on strawberry shortcake, Jessica LaShawn, a flight attendant from Chicago, tried not to get ahead of herself and imagine this first date turning into another and another, and maybe, at some point, a glimmering diamond ring and happily ever after.

She simply couldn’t help it, though. After all, he was tall, from a religious family, raised by his grandparents just as she was, worked in finance and even had great teeth.

So, this is the kind of article we're talking about -- the kind where a pretty date renders a woman unable to think about anything other than marriage.  The whole tone of the article reminds me of advice columns that dwell on differences in weight, idiosyncrasies in fashion choices, the wrong perfume, the wrong kind of smile, ordering the wrong food.  I guess, now, we have that kind of fear-mongering about financial inadequacy, too.

The article argues that one's credit score has become such a major consideration in dating that it's common for people to ask about it on the first date.  The NYT writer cites a website, datemycreditscore.com, which has a comment on the front page suggesting that people stop kidding themselves -- "can u truly love someone with a 500 credit score? [...] the answer is no,[1. sic.]" writes jbubbly, the only person whose comments are featured in the recent activity, last updated 22 months ago.  (This website totally captures the zeitgeist, right?)

Marcotte's article in Slate points out the many ways in which this article is not representative of a real reality, it's just a paranoid inflation of fringe, antisocial behavior by a handful of people reacting to an oppressively financial culture.  Marcotte writes,

Of course, a trend story that relies heavily on interviews with a mere 50 online daters does not an actual trend make. While there does seem to be an uptick in Americans piously telling each other to focus on the pragmatic and financial when dating, most people—including Mitt Romney—reserve the right to priortize love when it comes to their own living rooms and bedrooms.

Cards Against Humanity's surprisingly humane financial decision

Cards Against Humanity, the mildly evil card game, had a Christmas sale, where they released a season-themed booster pack at $pay-what-you-want. After the sales all came through, and they paid for production and expenses, they donated all the profits -- all of them -- to the Wikimedia Foundation, best known for being Wikipedia.

"From the outset we decided we wanted to give all the proceeds to charity and that made it more fun for us," said [co-creator Max] Temkin. "We weren't really worried about the bottom line, we were really able to do it as an experiment and do it in a great way."

After covering an assortment of costs including manufacturing, shipping and development they were left with $70,066.27 in profit, of which every cent was paid to the Wikimedia Foundation.

"We wanted to pick something we thought the users of our game of had heard of and believed in and used and we felt like Wikipedia is pretty unique in terms of having universal appeal," said Temkin. "It's something that helps a lot of people of all different classes and levels of education in different places all around the world … We also support the social mission of Wikipedia."

(Bracketed notes mine, unbracketed the Guardian's)

I still haven't gotten the chance to play Cards Against Humanity, and I'm still not totally sure I like its hipster-awful ethos, but I absolutely approve of this decision.

Guns in the US

There was an ad before a YouTube video I watched earlier today,  unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to save the link -- I think it's safe to assume that they would have already paid for the advertising, that they didn't (a.) throw up the ad after hearing about the shooting this morning, or (b.) have the ability to pull it from airing for a respectful period of time.  My point isn't that the ad was in poor taste.  Just that it exists. It was an ad for a company in California, that sells kits to assemble guns at home.  The ad featured (in fact, entirely consisted of) a man explaining that it's not illegal to buy the parts of a gun, even if you can't buy the gun itself, how to machine those parts to create the gun they're parts of, and in what ways you can avoid registering the gun.  Apparently, registration has to happen at the point where the gun is sold, at least in California, so if you make it yourself, nobody has to know that you own it.

It's not hard to qualify for a gun in the United States.  But apparently, that's not enough -- there are also companies whose business is helping people who don't qualify get around the law with loopholes, so they can have guns without letting anyone know.

I'm angry.

I'm angry because I know how many times in the next few weeks I'm going to hear people say that this couldn't have been prevented.  And because I know I'm going to hear that, even if guns were substantially more controlled, this kid would have gotten them anyway.  Or that he would have done just as much damage if he had some other weapon.

After the Aurora, CO shooting, PolitiFact responded to Facebook claims that the United States has the most gun violence in the world:

According to data collected by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, several other countries had more gun homicides than the U.S., and perhaps 17 countries had a higher rate of gun homicides than the U.S. when population is factored in. However, when comparing the U.S. to its most direct equivalents -- affluent nations in Europe and Asia -- the U.S. has far more gun homicides than they do. We rated this one Half True.

Emphasis mine.

So, we have less violence than countries like Somalia.  We're outdone in gun violence per capita by the nation states who are constantly at war with themselves and each other.

And I'm angry that people will say "If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns."  First of all, because it reduces a complex legislative discussion to all-or-nothing, and secondly, because other developed countries clearly illustrate the reality that more gun control means less gun death.

The UK is widely acknowledged to have some of the strictest gun laws in the world.  Wikipedia has a list of world nations by firearm related death rate.  The United States is twelfth, at 9 deaths per 100,000 people annually (data 2008-2010).  The UK is sixty-fifth, at 0.22 deaths per 100,000 people annually (data 2009).  That is, eleventh from the bottom of the list.  That is, about 41 times more gun death in the US than the UK.

And to the point about people just finding other ways to kill people, the US rate of murders per 100,000 people is 4.2; the UK's is 1.2.  As for the discrepancy with the numbers, a lot of gun death in America is by suicide.  The American suicide rate per 100,000 annually is 12.  UK; 6.9.

Now, correlation does not prove causation.  But it offers a fracking big hint.  And this correlation absolutely disproves the premise that more gun laws = more gun violence.

Plenty of people will say that we shouldn't make this political.  That it's a tragedy.  That we have to wait a respectful amount of time before we start the argument about gun violence.  They said that after the Aurora shooting.  And the shooting before that.  And the shootings before that.

We didn't ever get around to changing the rules last time.  We won't, this time, either -- if we pretend that gun control legislation is somehow irreverent.  There may not be a sufficiently respectful amount of time after this shooting, before there's another one.

Since (and including) the Columbine shooting in April of 1999, there have been 31 mass shootings in America.  That's close to two and a half per year.

We're over the average so far in 2012, at 3, but there are less than 20 days left this year.  Is that a respectful amount of time?

Thanksgiving is weird

I mean, I get the sense of having a thankfulness holiday.  I don't think there's something wrong with that.  And I get why it's a feasting holiday, because winter and harvests and starvation and stuff.  Not totally sure why you do it with your family, but whatever. I'm not saying Thanksgiving is bad.  But it's really weird.

Mike at Idea Channel posted a quasi-video about the weird aspects of going home for Thanksgiving, and the weirdness of the idea of going home in general.  That's a big part of it -- it's always weird visiting family, because the social structure of the US has changed so much that keeping up with the rituals that made sense when you lived in the same town as your family for your whole life has become sort of alienating.

And even though we're at a point, with our available technology, that we could, each individual family, organize our own Thanksgiving style reunions around the calendar -- just like we could organize our own gift-giving holidays and collective celebrations of the passage of time -- we stick to the existing rituals, the existing food traditions and the existing dates.

As a result, we have massive clogs of airports and highways on particular days every year, and we have events like Black Friday, the formal beginning of a whole season in which everybody buys everything for serious though.

There's a weird sort of doublethink about keeping it to the same day.  On the one hand, if you said "Get rid of Thanksgiving," people would insist that it's important to have a day when you get together with your family, that letting yourself feast for real one day a year is important and life-affirming, and so on.

On the other hand, if you said people should organize their own family holidays, start their own traditions, most people would look at you a little funny.  There's something apparently implicitly wrong with trying to start a ritual, in the same way that there's something right about keeping up with old rituals.

I think it's similar to the way that dates go way better if you go out for coffee or dinner, because you can't just agree to go and hang out with someone in some chairs and talk.  There has to be some sort of concrete preoccupation.

Anyway, this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for the internet, for Google and YouTube and Boing Boing.  I'm thankful for the Vlogbrothers and the open source movement and for Wordpress.

I'm thankful for the good relationships in my life, and I'm thankful for the technologies that allow me to find and maintain them -- I'm thankful for OkCupid, for introducing me to my partner, and I'm thankful for the combustion engine, which allows me to see her regularly, and I'm thankful for language, which allows us to share a deeper relationship than just procreation and pair-bonding.

And I'm pre-thankful for the hypothetical future when social engineering allows us to organize important events on a rotating schedule so that the rest of the world can function more-or-less normally when any given group of people is having a party.

A job coming back? Rumor about Foxconn coming to Detroit or LA

Via TechCrunch DigiTimes reports that Foxconn, the Chinese company that does a lot of Apple's manufacturing, is looking into setting up plants in the US, specifically "conducting evaluations in cities such as Detroit and Los Angeles".   I don't know much about DigiTimes's credibility, but TechCrunch doesn't appear to put a huge amount of stock in their predictions:

We can obviously take Digitimes with a grain of salt here, but the prospect of having a plant in Detroit could revitalize old plants that are currently rusting away at the city’s core.

Foxconn is possibly best known for having working conditions so horrible that they had to put nets outside their buildings to minimize employee suicide.

During the second debate, Romney talked about getting jobs back from China.  I wonder if these are the jobs he's talking about -- I prefer Obama's position, some of the jobs aren't coming back, and that's good, because they're terrible jobs and Americans should have better.

Gender-swapped Legend of Zelda

Ars Technica writes about an awesome father's total rewrite of the text of Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker to refer to Link as a woman rather than a man in every instance, to give his daughter a good female hero to look up to.

The modifications proved a bit tricky, since the new female-oriented wording had to be a byte-for-byte alteration of the original; even throwing in "she" in place of "he" would mess things up. So Hoye got creative, using words like “milady” in place of “my lad” and “master."

“Sentences need to be changed or reworded just because 'young lady' is one character longer than 'young man,' line breaks need to be in about the right places, that sort of thing,” Hoye told Ars via e-mail.

This is demand: here's hoping the game industry sees it as a reason to supply.  A good first step would be taking games like Legend of Zelda, where it wouldn't be that had to pass off the main character as female, and adding a settings feature for a gender-swapped version of the script.

I like the idea of gender neutral games too, but it's harder to make them work as genuinely gender neutral -- people attribute maleness to them.  It'd be nice to see gender neutral games with pronoun choice sets for dialogue.  He, she, them, it, xe, etc.

Still looking forward to Anita Sarkeezian's series, by the way.  Haven't heard much about it, but she generally goes a while between updates and I'm sure it's going to take a very long time to play through all the games she committed to.  Those videos are going to be awesome when they come out.

Some thoughts on my selection of role models

In a recent SciShow video, Hank Green pointed out that only four women had ever won a Nobel Prize.  One of them, the woman he was featuring, Elizabeth Blackburn, was inspired by one of the previous winners, Marie Curie.

The video got me thinking about representation, and role models, and about why it's a problem that women aren't represented the way men are in most fields.  Because even if there weren't huge cultural biases implicitly pressuring everyone who isn't white, cisgender, heterosexual and male, that there's something wrong with them, the absence of representation would still be a huge problem.

I'm confident of this, because I remember what it was like as a kid and a teenager, looking at people I admired and developing a sense of what I felt like I could accomplish.  There was, as far as I can remember, no element of my role models' lives that I didn't think was relevant to their success, and that I didn't think said something about how likely I was to succeed.  Like, the fact that Edwin Arlington Robinson got published and then fell into obscurity for a while before getting famous again is still one of the most reassuring pieces of information I know.

It was hard for me to find inspiring people to motivate me, to make me feel like I could be successful.  And I have loads of privilege and representation to start with.  I'm white, male-bodied, American, not incredibly poor -- but I've been insecure about just about everything else.  Height, weight, hair and eye color, face shape, personality, reading speed, the location of my school and the hobbies of my friends, and so on.

No one role model helped me get over all those insecurities.  Like, knowing Tom Cruise is 5'7" helped me get over a previously strong insecurity about being only average height.  Tom Cruise is a role model for literally nothing else to me, and I can't think of anyone else who reassured me about that particular thing.

The huge variety of successful, visible white men gives me and other white, male-bodied people a library of options for ways to feel better about our shortcomings.  But to a large extent, that range just isn't available for women and people of color.  Fewer are recognized for their success and brought into the spotlight for it, and those who are frequently represent tokenism or stereotype, suggesting to their potential admirers that if you're a person of color or a woman there's some very narrow slot within which you can be successful.

Self-driving cars

In his most recent talk, Cory Doctorow talks about the likelihood of the existence of self-driving cars in the future.  In it, he points out that humans are awful at driving.  We kill ourselves and each other in cars all the time. I spent some time thinking about that this morning, and thinking about the way people get squicked out by new technologies that do something for them which they were used to doing for themselves.  It occurred to me that there would probably be way more outrage about self-driving cars killing people than people killing other people with cars, even if there were far fewer deaths by self-driving cars than human-piloted cars.

And there would have to be less.  There's no way a self-driving car would make it to market if it were only as good as humans at driving.  It would have to be far better at driving, at adapting, at dealing with bad roads and reckless drivers, than the average human.  It would have to be comparable to a stunt driver in capacity, so that it would be comparable to a very good driver when piloting a badly damaged car -- because who maintains their car as well as they really ought to?

But, still, humans would hate it.

I think the reason is that there wouldn't be someone to blame, when people died.  The amount of death caused by cars used to horrify people -- I remember once hearing it referred to as genocidal in scale.  But we got used to it, and we built a comfortable narrative in which it's always someone's fault.  The drunk driver, or the reckless driver, or the person who shouldn't have run that light, or the person who didn't take care enough of their car.

If the cars are self-driving, there won't be that excuse.  It won't be easy for people to talk their way out of caring about accidents.  So, at least until we adjust as a society, people will be horrified at every death by a self-driving car.

Apart from that, it likely won't be the same people dying.  Drunk drivers will be dramatically less a problem.  The same with people who text while driving.  The people killed will be random, or will be based on the quality of the roads they're driving, or the quality of the maps their GPS uses.

I hope that none of this is a problem, because I hope that we shift to comprehensive public transportation before we have cars good enough to drive us.  I know the latter will be within my lifetime, so I hope the former will be, too. Public transportation will cut down on deaths even more, although I imagine people will still be more afraid of it -- people are more afraid of planes than cars, so it stands to reason people will be more afraid of vacuum tubes and buses, as well.