Cory Doctorow and Alex Jones

Cory Doctorow is Alex Jones for the left.

Stay with me, this isn’t hot-take as it looks right now.

Rage is a valuable meta-currency. Attention is money, and rage is the method to get that attention. Cory Doctorow is a business owner, speaker, “blogger”, “sci-fi writer”, “advocate”, and a master at aggregating attention. His website takes interesting things from the internet, puts a snarky one line at top, and publishes it. Think one of those @dora type retweet accounts, except for the news. It’s quite popular.

He’s an influencer for the generation that’s too old and smart for influencers. His life is a carefully curated and well balanced meal of heart warming kittens, uplifting stories of people overcoming difficulties in order to achieve middle class mediocrity, and endless endless rage at white inconvenience.

What are the most important problems of the world right now? Lucky us, he just gave a talk so I can pass it on. Picture him standing there, slightly short but with good poise, shaved head that admits a baldness but accepts it with grace, the indie rocker’s black rim glasses: chic yet vulnerable, the common man’s pants and shirt but with designer jacket before we all deserve to treat ourselves. The presentation is flawless. The voice clear, fast, smooth, he never stutters or loses train of thought. There are no tangents or digressions, this is not conversation or a stream of consciousness, this is a performance. He’s not a huckster pretending to be your friend, he’s a professional, an artist, and preacher. The matching slides are flawless too: they follow the speech patterns with practiced ease, popping up with comedic timing as punchlines, then turning around and giving us the perfect backdrop to our anger at the next issue brought to our attention.

So what were the issues? As of today, Wednesday June 13th, the Lord’s year 2018, they are: net neutrality taking effect soon, user data-collection in Europe, and incompatibility between the new generation of internet-of-things devices.

Now, is he wrong? Are those bad things? Yeah, they are. All of them. They’re definitely a certain type of bad thing, aren’t they though?

Cory isn’t Alex Jones. Alex Jones can’t exist for the left. We’d never let him. He’s uncool, uncouth, and so easy to see through. The fake angry rants almost comical, the fake tears genuinely comical, and the cash grabs so blatant. I mean he sells supplements. He’s a literal snake oil salesman. He yells about freedom, he cries about freedom, then has the gall to turn around and say he wants to sell us a vitamin. It’s vile, and I mean that with full sincerity. It’s vile.

No, here on the left we need someone who would respect us. Respect our intelligence. That’s what makes us progressive, after all. Don’t tell us how to feel, instead just point out that our personal annoyances are in fact a direct attack on all human rights. If you think about it, me not being able to read any document I want on a ebook-reader-thingy is exactly like an insulin pump failing. And that insulin pump owner is quite possibly poor, maybe even a minority. Information wants to be free.

Is it wrong? No, not really. The DRM law in question is the same for the ebook reader and the insulin pump. Does concentrating on the closed-source nature of the insulin pump ignore every single other issue facing the person with it: the causes of the condition in our society, the effects it has on them getting and holding a job, the question of insurance covering the cost of the insulin, etc? Yes. But dealing with those issues would inconvenience a certain type of white middle-class person who’s looking for something to pay attention to, while that DRM one would certainly be convenient. I’d love to see easily put any book I have on my PC on my ebook reader thing. I really would.

Oh, and the left wing Alex Jones can never do anything as vulgar as ask for money. In fact, they should ask that the money go to charity. Something white and upper-middle. EFF for instance. Because internet rights are human rights. A true altruist. The small fact that our eyeballs are monetized being ignored for now. It’s not coming from our wallet, and frankly they earned it.

And Cory really did earn it. He’s not even wrong in what he says. Sure what he preaches is internet woke objectivism 2018, but at least it’s internet woke. And the this role of rage merchant must be filled. Better that it’s someone who’s hair-brained schemes are of the harmless variety like infiltrating motherboard design companies and installing secret-backdoor in BIOSes that only cool people have access to so that with a magic key combination he can use library computers without being traced by the government (Doctorow, DEFCON Q&A 2009) or forking the HTML5 video codex code so that a flag can be added on all websites that will do look ahead in the stream and disable flashing in case the viewer has epilepsy (Doctorow, Fluent Keynote 2018).

They both would be great to have. I hope to be on secret list of people who are given the 3-button key combo for the library computers. I’m white and contribute to open source a bit.

I asked him about that BIOS backdoor idea today, btw. Without missing a single beat he gave a great answer on why open-BIOSes need to happen so that we can trust the computer is preserving our privacy. The exact opposite of what I asked. “Answer the question you want to have heard, vs the question you hear” is a classic radio talk show technique. Well done.

The main point of this isn’t some “snipe at Cory from the left”, or an attempt to out-virtue him. It’s to point out that hollow rage merchants are everywhere, on all sides of every issue, and always perfectly designed to harvest our lives for personal gain. Cory isn’t how we get past privilege. Cory is privilege in a Trump world. Every single one of our cravings is now altruistic and comes with a topical meme. We will never recognize people manipulating us. It’s right there in the definition. That’s why they’re the people manipulating us and not the people trying to manipulate us and failing.

I lied in the second sentence. I guess it kinda stayed a hot-take. It’s alright.

Alex Jones is a perfectly designed machine that creates emotions in a white middle class audience by portraying them under attack, puts himself up as a warrior in their corner, and hangs on to their attention. Cory Doctorow is a perfectly designed machine that creates emotions in a white middle class audience by portraying them under attack, puts himself up as a warrior in their corner, and hangs on to their attention. Jones is evil, Doctorow is less so. They’re very different, and I mean that genuinely. I much prefer Doctorow between the two.

Oh, and putting “sci-fi writer” in quotes in paragraph three was a cheap shot. He did in fact write books. They’re terrible, preachy, stilted, and painful to read, but they do in fact exist so he is in fact a writer. He’s written things.

– –

Don’t quote me on that DEFCON thing being 2009 for sure. It was 2009+-2, but I think it was 2009.

Deep Learning Is Not Empowering Us

I see articles that keep pushing how it’s important that every programmer (if not everyone) learns deep learning algorithms and that it will to a democratization of power.

This is stupid.

A deep learning algorithm is worthless without big data. There’s a reason why Google and Facebook spend so much effort giving you free webspace, email, and search engines, and it’s to collect the data. Access to that data is very not-free. Without data of that magnitude all your deep learning algorithm will do is make another ‘hilarious’ list of new vegetables named “plueberry” or w/e.

The reason these articles exist is cause salaries are too high for good NN programmers and the companies need these devs to be as abundant as web devs are now, to keep costs down.

Everyone who says they want to empower you is lying to you. The only thing no one will ever, ever simply give you is power.

Google Writing Drone AIs

Re this: https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/4/17199818/google-pentagon-project-maven-pull-out-letter-ceo-sundar-pichai

I’m of two minds on this story. On one hand, I get the that the programmers are unhappy about it, but on the other that algorithm will get written no matter what, so people who are good at implementation may have some sort of obligation to minimize civilian casualties by making sure it does its job well.

That and they’re working for Google. It’s not like they really have some sort of moral high ground just because what they do is starting to feel viscerally wrong as opposed to just wrong in the abstract.

Yeah ok, I’m not really in two minds about it as you might tell, I just said that to try and be less antagonistic about stuff. People just blanche when they can see the results of their actions clearly enough to make it impossible to deny them away. Shut up and write the war machine, Googlers, it’s probably the least damage you’ll do humanity all day.

Neural network generated list of neural network generated lists

People have been creating little text neural networks that take things like band names and make lists of more band names that are all a little off. I think this is delightful and not at all getting boring by now so I designed a neural network to design lists of things designed by neural networks.

Here's the best of the neural network designed lists of things we used a neural network to make lists of:

april fool’s bands
death trump children
final catholic saints
mega man lyrics
catholic mistresses
anime super twilight novels
linkin park linkin park songs
start ups villains
death metal board games
lies
neural network designed neural network designed lists
rick and mortiis

Algorithmic Failures in Health Care

Verge has a really good story on it.

It's yet another preview of our future. While these are expert systems vs neural networks, but the issues are similar: the algorithm says that you shouldn't get health care and no one can explain why cause the math is a trade secret and no one understands it even when it's revealed. Then, when finally read out, it turns out that it was written by unqualified lowest bidders and contains 900+ errors in implementation.

Two quotes:

Most importantly, when Idaho’s system went haywire, it was impossible for the average person to understand or challenge. A court wrote that “the participants receive no explanation for the denial, have no written standards to refer to for guidance, and often have no family member, guardian, or paid assistance to help them.” The appeals process was difficult to navigate, and Eppink says it was “really meaningless” anyway, as the people who received appeals couldn’t understand the formula, either. They would look at the system and say, “It’s beyond my authority and my expertise to question the quality of this result.”"

There was also no way to effectively challenge the system, as they couldn’t understand what information factored into the changes, De Liban argued. No one seemed able to answer basic questions about the process. “The nurses said, ‘It’s not me; it’s the computer,’” De Liban says.

They always said that learning programming was important, and I suppose they weren't kidding.

Space Ninja, review

Slightly obscure review today: Space Ninja from the English-language friendly Japanese company Group SNE.

The box art is way more violent than the game

The game is a worker placement, your workers are agents placed onto various planets in order to influence their individual politics. At scoring time, they earn you points based on who controls planets: player with most agents getting one point for every ‘civilian’ living on the planet, second place getting half that. In case of ties, the earliest agents win.

The heart of the game are the different planets available. 

The game comes with 6 though not all of them are used in each game, and they are very unique. They all follow the same basic format:

  • an area for the population to live on, with a maximum size
  • a row for the player owned ninjas to line up on
  • the effect that happens when you place a ninja
  • and the effect that happens at the end of the row

Most of the planets involve a ‘programming’ mechanic where placing ninjas gives you a say, either by moving populations to voting areas, or paying off officials to pass legislation, or rolling a dice to determine what the fate will be unless someone else shows up and rolls as well. I’m making these sound kinda plot driven, but they’re very euro in practice, heh.

Which leads us to the core mechanic: more population is more points, but only up to the limit. If the population ever crosses over it, the planet ‘explodes’. Half the people die, and more importantly, half the agents die, oldest first. This means that the game is an endless balancing act between the people earning points trying to keep the population high but not too much so, and the players whoa aren’t earning points who are trying to either crash it, or grow it over the limit. And with the complex actions possible on the planets, predicting which is easier is non-trivial.

Programming example: the mandarin planet is set to export a pop counter-clockwise, then shrink their own population while giving everyone a free ‘placeholder’ ninja. Meanwhile, Enlil in the back is at it’s final state where it grows slowly and kills of pops in the neighboring planets.

Btw, did I mention the game is very low luck? Two planets involves a die roll (one to determine the population limit, one to determine how it will behave at turn end), but generally speaking you have a very good idea of what will happen at the end of turn and the only difficulty is predicting the actions of your fellow players. I definitely would not recommend this at 2p since I have a feeling it’d turn into an AP fest.

A very good game, recommended. It takes us about 2 lunches to get through the full 4 rounds, but well worth it if you like the more experimental Japanese euro-game scene.

Mystic Vale, short review

We got to play the upcoming Mystic Vale at Kingdom Con in San Diego. A cool entry in the tiny field of ‘card builders’.

Mystic Vale. Tough to avoid glare on this one
Mystic Vale. Tough to avoid glare on this one

The gimmick of the game is the translucent card fragments. You start the game with a hand of cards which will never grow or shrink. Onto each card you then build up more and more effects which all fire whenever the card gets played. Spend those effects to gain more and better effects and acquire points. The one to finish with most points, wins.

So what’s the details? Each card is a little envelope with a single starter ‘background’. Some are blank, some contain an effect. All the starting ones are either a standard “gain 1 gold” or a red icon. The red icon is the other clever bit of the game: you draw cards until 3 of those are visible. You can then press your luck and draw more. No red symbol? Add the effects on the new card to your hand. Red symbol? Bust. Lose this hand, but gain an extra gold for next turn. Adds a nice extra dynamic to the early game especially.

The card ‘stacking’ works really well; it’s visually very much like Gloom. They’re easy to read and clear, though they don’t photo well. One mistake that’s happening in the photo above is I’m overlapping the cards on the right. I learned not to do that cause you can miss some of the trigger effects that don’t have a visual icon on the left.

The feels more like a deck builder then not: you set up combos, you hope they fire in the right order to let you best use the market. The lack of card shedding gives it a different feel obviously, but it’s familiar to make sense quickly.

My only complaint is that the game would probably feel shallow after a few plays, as you explore the range of cards. I fully expect there to be a few expansions that will help with that. Also, I’m now approaching my 200th game of Star Realms with just 1 expansion, so I personally don’t think a tight well balanced deck/card builder has anything wrong with it.

Looking forward to the final release of this. We’ll be picking it up.

Kingdom Con Loot

No game purchases at Kingdom Con this year, but we did get a nice bag for carrying stuff, and these mini adventurers for Lords Of Waterdeep

Aren't they adorable?
Aren’t they adorable?

Actually makes it feel like you hire guys instead of shuffling cubes around.

BuzzFeed-style board game meme list

Made a stack of buzzfeedy board game memes.

 

When you’re sneaking up on a science victory in 7 Wonders and no one noticed

 

When they try to connect their big meeple to your farm in Carcassonne

 

When you roll 3s even after going to two dice in Machi Koro

 

When every single one of your units is webbed in Neuroshima Hex

 

When in Tragedy Looper you enter last loop and don’t even have a theory

 

When someone publishes a paper in Alchemists and you know it’s wrong

 

When you start 1830 and first action they buy SV

 

When you solve TIME Stories on first playthrough

 

When in Game of Thrones you play Lannisters and the Greyjoys attack both you and the Starks turn 1

 

When he goes for the Scholar’s Mate against you

 

When you get a third Monster Surge in a row in Arkham Horror

 

When you’re trying to explain Mottainai

 

When in Takenoko their quest are the same as yours but worth more points

 

When you’re one point short of winning a seven hour TI3 game and the guy with 3 points suddenly has decision paralysis

 

When you banish someone out of Dead Of Winter and next turn the supply is sabotaged again

 

When literally anything happens in Robinson Crusoe

 

When they first turn gambit into a MegaHauler in Star Realms

 

When no one crashed the market for your goods in Planet Steam

 

When in in an 18XX the bank runs out of 5Ts before you can buy one

 

When you’re given a 0-clue in Codenames for the first time

 

When you’re not the Fake Artist but you don’t know what the object you’re drawing looks like

 

When in Sheriff of Nottingham they’re about to open the saddlebags before you have a chance to try to bribe them

 

When you take down a wyrm with two clones in Nexus Ops

 

When they successfully coup a 4-stability country in Twilight Struggle

 

When someone uses a Guard to guess you have the Princess on first turn in Love Letter

 

When everyone but you forgot to keep a pudding in Sushi Go

 

When someone offers to trade their wool near end of game in Catan

 

When you get at least half of these

Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia review

We picked this guy up from our anniversary purchases. I’m quite fond of it.

Euphoria. Legitimately beautiful board.
Early play in Euphoria. Legitimately beautiful board.

Euphoria is a dice placement eurogame with a great theme and a bunch of interesting twists. You play a middle manager in a world crushing dystopian society and you’re just trying to get your job done. To do so you use your worker dice, and the larger the dice score, the better the dice works in some jobs, but if they get too smart then they will make a break for it and run away from the dystopia. Then you gotta go spend resources to birth new ones from the tanks.

The game also includes 4 factions. All buildings have allegiance to one of them, and every time you use that building it gives that faction a bit more strength. Players have employee cards, active employees give let you use those buildings more efficiently.

Your goal is to put down all your stars onto the board. Doing so requires building markets and trading ancient artifacts (from before the dystopia) in those markets. Getting those requires trading with the Icarites (the sky faction), or digging tunnels to allow some factions to steal from the other factions.

The final tier of dynamics are the aforementioned markets. They’re set up so that not all players can contribute to their building, and once they’re build everyone who didn’t help has a new game rule placed against them until they donate some artifacts.

You should start to get a feel that this game includes lots of things happening at once, and I can vouch that that’s in a good way. First you want to ride the balance of most use you can get out of your workers without losing them cause they got too smart. Second, you want to advance the factions you have employees with so that they get more efficient. Third, you want to make sure to be early to contribute to market building so that you don’t get locked out of game benefits, again for maximum efficiency.

There’s also a nice natural narrative to the game, sort of nice in a euro. The game goes through distinct phases of first general start and dice generation, then a digging/building phase, and then a maximum speed race for artifact generation and placement. This helps prevent the sensation of sameness that occurs with some euro games.

Euphoria, top down
Euphoria, top down

I genuinely like this game. Great theme, great art, great tokens, and most importantly genuinely interesting gameplay. My only quibble is that the box and board feel just a bit light and it makes me a bit worried whenever I move it, but it’s a really really minor concern and in no way makes pulls me away from recommending this game fully.