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Monday, April 22, 2013

The Meme Transcendant

Sometimes, in a piece otherwise intended to be humorous, some deep truth is exposed. And as all things on the internet are, it is seen by many but then forgotten almost as quickly as it appeared. But because it is special, it remains, buried deep within each of us, until at some future point someone looking for a pithy way to express something dredges it up and turns it into a meme.

I watched such a thing happen today. This piece at Wonkette, while funny in itself, is a callback to one of those great internet things that was both universally experienced and nearly forgotten.

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Onion ran a number of spot-on pieces that captured the anger, sadness, confusion, and absurdity of the terrorist attacks. They were all good, but by far the most touching was this article. I'd say to go read it, but you already have. I just re-read it and it still makes me misty.

The title, plus the emotional weight of the article, made it perfect for memetization - but it was too soon. And "too soon" after 9/11 was a long time. But now, over a decade later and with bin Ladin dead and al Qaeda largely in tatters, a window has opened. All that was needed was for someone to remember - to reach back and pull that headline from the recesses of our national memory back into the daylight. Doktor Zoom was that man,1 and I personally thank him for reminding me of what might have been the best thing to come out of the post-9/11 media storm.

"Not knowing what else to do," is the perfect way to hold up a floundering response to a terrible event for the ridicule (or at least the examination) it deserves. I hope we continue to use it for a long time to come.

1 Okay, the Onion AV Club did this half a year ago, but I didn't see it, and plus, it doesn't count if the Onion does it.

Posted by Dave at 4:31 PM | Comments (0) | Tags: life, media, web

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hathaway

I do not understand why people do not like her. No - let me rephrase - I do not understand why people dislike her.

Not liking someone takes no effort. Indifference is the default attitude towards all things. But actively disliking someone - that takes work. We expend emotional energy to maintain annoyance. It's draining.

So why do we do it? Why do we love to hate? For some of us, for some people, it allows us to feel better about ourselves. We have our own shortcomings. We're not famous, or rich, or successful, or thin. But for those people who are - at least some of them, the ones who seem too happy or confident or for whom it comes a little too easy - we can tell ourselves a story about how they're bad, fake, unlikable people and in doing so we can feel better about ourselves.

It's dishonest. It's pointless. But it's often unconscious. And regardless, people have a hard time avoiding counterproductive behavior even when they know it's counterproductive.

Meh. Maybe I do understand the hate. But it's not rational or reasonable. It comes from a place of our own insecurity; our need to cut others down when we can't (or won't) raise ourselves up. And that's kind of sad when you think about it. Because we should be celebrating others' success and looking for ways to emulate it in our own lives.

In other words, for the "Hathahaters", the problem is not in their star(s) but in themselves.

The worst thing you can say about Anne Hathaway is that she's a thirty-something theater geek who made it big doing what she loves to do. I'm a thirty-something band geek with a successful career (though not in music). I relate. A lot of my friends in high school were people like her. She seems smart, and funny, and relatively nice (in the few real glimpses we get of her). She's professional and career-focused and a feminist who isn't afraid to speak her mind and call people out when they deserve it.

Tell me again what's not to like?

Posted by Dave at 12:57 PM | Comments (0) | Tags: life, media

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Podcast is go.

I Podcast Magic Missile.

We've got eight episodes up and a backlog of 12+ that will go up gradually as I clear it. Most of the start is kind of random, but it's gradually settling down and getting more structure.

Posted by Dave at 12:38 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: blog, console, games, life, media, science, tabletop, web

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Life stuff (good news abounds)

So things have been going pretty well lately. At first, it was really weird because my brain kept telling me it couldn't be right and the bottom was about to fall out, but after a day or two of that not happening (and some encouragement from friends), awesome just seems to have become the new normal. Here's a brief rundown of stuff that has happened lately:

Posted by Dave at 11:34 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: games, life, media, tabletop, tech, web

Thursday, February 7, 2013

How open is too open? (choosing your license)

Just saw this article linked on Slashdot. It says that the majority (about two thirds) of researchers who release their works under a Creative Commons license choose Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives rather than one of the more "permissive" licenses.

Regardless of what the article says, this is a no-brainer for scientific research. A scientific paper has a strict structure for a reason - it has to present a hypothesis, related research, results, and conclusions. Anyone modifying the content risks invalidating some or all of the paper, possibly in a way that implies the original researchers came to different conclusions than they actually did. That doesn't mean that someone couldn't find a way to, for example, visualize the data in the paper in a different way; they would just have to ask the authors for permission to use the results, the same way they would if the authors had used a standard, closed license.

There are tons of different licenses out there, some more "free" or "open" or "permissive" than others, and it's sometimes hard to decide which one to use. But they can really all be boiled down to about four categories - and that includes both licenses for software and for creative works like art and literature.

... Read all of "How open is too open? (choosing your license)"

Posted by Dave at 12:35 PM | Comments (0) | Tags: development, life, media

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Games Workshop and Intellectual Property

I've already commented on this over at Whatever, but it bears printing here, too.

Games Workshop recently took a self-published novel off Amazon because it mentioned "Space Marines". They claim that since "Space Marines" are a trademark within the sphere of board games, they can extend it to all other media as well.1 This is obviously not true; Space Marines figure in all sorts of science fiction, much of which predates the existence of Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 product.

If you want a litany of the company's numerous abuses against its own retailers and fans, feel free to follow the link to my comment on Scalzi's Blog. But this particular incident also speaks to something deeper and darker about intellectual property in the United States.

IP law is currently designed to favor the bigger guy. The way IP should work is obvious: I create something, I have an exclusive period in which I can market and sell that thing. The way IP actually works is that I create something, and then I must defend it tooth and nail against those who would steal it or claim it as their own. What I can defend and what I cannot is defined by byzantine laws that permit Fox and Blizzard to use other people's ideas while at the same time a snippet of a copyrighted song playing in the background of a YouTube video is enough to have it taken down (or at least deny its creator ad revenue). It is also defined by my ability to pay court costs to defend my intellectual property against those who would simply steal it because they have better lawyers and more money.

And that's just trademark and copyright. Patents are a whole 'nother can of worms. It is literally impossible to enter certain markets for computer software and hardware because so much of the available technology - including things as simple and obvious as clicking on something to buy it and pinch to zoom - are patented by the big players. Worse, key technologies are defended by consortia designed to give the big players a permanent oligopoly (e.g. the MPEG LA, which basically holds a patent to all digital video).

Until these laws are changed, companies like Games Workshop are going to have to go after everyone they can, no matter how ridiculous, just to stay afloat. Otherwise they risk losing the rights to their IP or having another Blizzard come along and rip them off. The small authors and creators that suffer as a result are just collateral damage.

1 Alternately, they appear to have a British trademark that applies to written material; not sure how this applies to an American author selling through an American company, though.

Posted by Dave at 9:48 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: games, media, tabletop, tech

Friday, December 7, 2012

Of Steamworks and Colonial Obscura

So, steampunk... It's slightly controversial, and it's not my favorite genre, but there are things I like about it. Here's my, what - defense? I don't know.

People love steam and brass and ornate clothing and little gears and flying boats. So do I - especially the flying boats. I think it comes from growing up playing the Final Fantasy games, where airships always played a huge role in the exploration of the world. Steampunk's appeal, at least to me, is the story of men (and women) forsaking the squalor of crowded, reeking cities for adventure in far-off lands. It's the opportunity of exploring a big, wide, fantastic world filled with unique cultures and foreign wonders in a time well before the internet or even good color printing.

In reality, the Victorian Era was a time when people forsook the squalor of crowded, reeking cities for an opportunity to see other squalid places as underpaid cogs in a vast, oppressive empire that saw strange cultures and foreign wonders as things better to be replaced by the same reeking cities it had back home. Reality is seldom as appealing as fantasy.

And even the fantastic, non-Victorian Earth version of steampunk has at its core something that can come across as a sort of orientalism. The very notion of traveling to see "exotic" lands, peoples, and cultures is an anathema to people who come from cultures once seen as "exotic" - people who don't like thinking of themselves as curiosities to be gawked at by well-heeled Western travelers.

So is it possible to "fix" steampunk? To take away from it the things that made the 19th Century awful for so many people and still leave something of value?

... Read all of "Of Steamworks and Colonial Obscura"

Posted by Dave at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: activism, games, media

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Post Turkey Day Night Notes

First, I'm getting a lot of spam considering I'm a heavily-moderated blog with a custom back-end, and not a single spam comment has ever gotten through my mod-wall. Weird.

Second, I just took almost all of the money I made playing the Oktoberfest gigs up at Mountain Lake and gave it to a bunch of awesome artists (mostly webcomic artists and podcasters) who have kept me entertained with free content for years. I'm finally in a place where I don't feel guilty about our own financial situation doing it, and I certainly don't need money for playing music. The camaraderie (and free food and beer) are more than sufficient.

Honestly, it's a thing I'm really excited about doing, which is why I live-tweeted it all. And if I can deliver one more follower/reader/listener, then I've done my job twice over. I cannot recommend any of these people's work enough.

Posted by Dave at 1:22 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: blog, media

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An ode to things gone and (mostly) forgotten.

Very few things ever really die on the internet. Archive.org's wayback machine even has a bunch of those old Geocities pages you thought were gone forever. But art and media are different. There are space and legal issues, and most people don't want to risk tangling with the MPAA and its army of copyright stormtroopers.

So there's a lot of stuff from the initial explosion of self-produced, syndicated art and media on the internet - webcomics in the early 2000s and podcasts in the mid-2000s - that is likely lost forever. Early syndicators had to find hosting space where they could. Sometimes it was on their personal servers. Sometimes it was on networks and collectives that withered as quickly as they sprang up. Today we have DeviantArt, LibSyn, and YouTube, where content never dies, but back then... one unpaid hosting bill and hundreds of hours of entertainment could be lost forever.

... Read all of "An ode to things gone and (mostly) forgotten."

Posted by Dave at 1:20 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: media, tech

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Donner and Blitzen

So, weird story. It's sort of the opposite of Christmas right now, but the names of the two oddball reindeer have always fascinated me. In the famous song - and in some renderings of the famous poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas"/"'Twas the Night Before Christmas", their names are "Donner and Blitzen". In other print sources, they tend to be "Donder and Blixen". And in the original manuscript, they were "Dunder and Blixem".

As someone who knows a little German, the names from the song make total sense - they mean "thunder" and "lightning". Totally appropriate names for two flying, racing reindeer. So why were the original names so strange?

Well, it turns out they also mean "thunder and lightning" - in Dutch. Our conception of Santa is based on Dutch legend, and Dutch immigrants carried the stories to our shores. The author of the original poem was of Dutch descent (one of two men, evidently, though there's some controversy). So when he wrote it, he used the Dutch (and slightly more awkward) "Dunder and Blixem" rather than the German "Donner and Blitzen".

But since the poem was passed around to a number of publishers and printers, and since outside of New York there are far more Germans in the U.S. than Dutch, the names gradually got changed from Dutch to Deutsch as a sort of cross-linguistic eggcorn. In fact, I have no doubt that if the words for lightning in Dutch and English were similar, the modern version of the poem and the song would simply have the English words.

And now you know. (Thanks to Snopes for the historical background.)

Posted by Dave at 9:29 PM | Comments (0) | Tags: language, media

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