Tags: essays


engineers by day

Rob and Anna Kirkenhof are definitely worth a post in themselves.

At first glance they appear to be your typical late thirtysomething, upper middle class Bay Area engineer couple. Anna creates, designs, and tests medical devices--defibrillators and other such lifesaving machines. Rob does metrics, scam detection, and all sorts of other crazy math stuff for an adult dating site--one you are likely already familiar with if you have ever sent received a file via MegaUpload or Rapidshare and been startled by a short video of a leggy blonde in a plaid short skirt, loudly welcoming you and any friends and co-workers within earshot to a site that is, um, clearly not MegaUpload or Rapidshare. I think they are both Harvey Mudd grads. Like most engineers I've met, they are staid, easygoing, rational people, the kind of folk you'd make small talk with around the water cooler, always up for some interesting conversation about mathematical theorems or the effects of vitamins on your diet, occasionally voicing their frustration with bureaucracy or other vocational obstacles. They live comfortably in a fairly large Pacific Lodge-style house (affectionately known as Alpine Butterfly Lodge, or ABL) with their friends Dylan, a PhD student, and Dawn (Cormac's girlfriend), another health care technology engineer. To many people, undoubtedly, they are just Rob and Anna from work. In their affable confidence they seem no different from the plethora of other technocrat post-yuppies who made some smart career moves early on and now enjoy a pleasant, comfortable yoga-and-organic-vegetables lifestyle.

Which is pretty much the impression I had of them until I wandered into their home library, browsing through meticulously labelled hardwood shelves filled end to end with fantasy and sci-fi novels, and saw the naked Harry Potter photos.

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spawn more overlords!

Game industry, I love you, but you're bringing me down.

Do you remember when the Xbox 360 launched at $400? And the PS3 at $500? It never crossed my mind to buy either of those consoles at launch. Not because the launch titles were disappointing (promises of then-distant Lost Planet, Halo 2, and Gears of War for Xbox and Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBigPlanet, and Mirror's Edge for PS3 would have been more than enough to justify a purchase), but because those price tags were so out of my range that, lifelong passion aside, it was inconceivable that I could ever drop that kind of money on something that wouldn't get me through school or kept me fed and sheltered. Collapse )

the founder of democracy negotiates with pirates

Sometime in 2008, Cliff Harris, former Lionhead Studios programmer and current head of small-time developer Positech Games, got absolutely fed up with seeing software pirates eat up a huge chunk of his revenue. He logged on to various well-known Internet forums and flat-out asked gamers why they pirated his games. This was, needless to say, an extremely ballsy move, and one that from a typical cynical industry perspective was absolutely pointless. (It seems obvious, really. Why pay $60 for a game when you can get it for free?) But the response was overwhelming, and surprisingly insightful.

The best part of this story is that Harris actually listened. He's been offering longer demos, lower prices, more original gameplay ever since. (Just look at Gratuitous Space Battles, holy crap--and the Democracy series is to the future leaders of the world what Oregon Trail, Civilization, and SimCity were to our current ones.) And he's apparently doing quite well! The great thing is that as an independent developer, with none of the terrifying Hollywoodesque overhead hanging over him like it would at a typical triple-A studio, he can get away with taking risks like this. The downside is that since he doesn't have that overhead paying for Best Buy distribution, eyeball-incinerating graphics, Hollywoodesque interviews on the GameStop in-store channel, all that stuff that overhead is actually good for, you've never heard of him. He's got banner ads on facebook, his games occasionally get mentioned in Electronic Gaming Monthly sidebars, and Penny Arcade once dropped him a shout-out, but, well. His is the kind of name that draws puzzled looks even when dropped at those industry bar things I am apparently always going to.

And, well. It's not an isolated act of courage--the guy is very outspoken about game design and the current state of the game industry, in terms of both the casual market and triple-A titles. His comments on Farmville, support forums, and EVONY COME NOW MY LORD PLAY FREE FOREVER are spot on. This guy is so used to speaking truth to power that I imagine he's a bit of a pariah by now...

So...if his ridiculously awesome award-winning games aren't reason enough to buy from him (and they're like $15-20 each), well, now you have another reason. Unsung heroes like him make me a lot less apprehensive about trying to battering-ram my way into this industry.

I might get around to reviewing Democracy 2 here, once I get around to reviewing anything at all again. (Actually making games, and working on the website that pays my bills, is kind of eating up most of the time I'd be spending on that.)

Also, I know most of the people who read this journal aren't gamers, but...would you guys like some casual game recommendations? I play a lot of them, and you're their target audience more than I am--they're generally cheap, fun, and easy to pick up, and they don't require delving into the deep, bizarre abyss of gamer culture to enjoy them.

citizens united v. federal election commission: a call to reason

Disclaimer: IANAL butt. (I am not a lawyer but. Actually, no but. I do not have a deep enough understanding of the legal system for you to take my opinion seriously, at all. But I hope I will at least get you thinking about this issue on your own.)

Last Thursday, in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled that limits on corporate spending for political campaigns are unconstitutional. My first reaction, as was many bloggers', was WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK, DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA IS DEAD.

Unlike the rest of the blogosphere and most of our news media (both of which are currently foaming at the mouth like shampoo models with rabies), however, I eventually calmed down enough to look up the ruling and actually read the damned thing. And after mulling over the ruling a bit, going over the Wikipedia article, and Googling for information about the ruling published before the press leapt on it, I eventually managed to sift through all the furious IT IS BECAUSE YOU PEONS ARE SO COMPLACENT THAT YOU ARE NOT ALREADY OUT THERE WITH THE SIGNS AND MEGAPHONES and WHAT THE FUCKING SHIT WERE OUR IDIOT SUPREME COURT JUSTICES THINKING, PISSING ON THE CONSTITUTION BLAH BLAH BLAH rhetoric and discover that, you know, the ruling actually makes sense.

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it is human trafficking awareness day

A global problem with domestic implications, for virtually every country in the free world. As one of America's few simultaneous first- and second-generation immigrants, this is an issue that hits pretty close to home for me. The experience of being moved to a far-off foreign country against your will is upsetting enough when you have legitimate resident alien status, travel as comfortably as you can reasonably afford, will enjoy moderate affluence in your new country, and are guaranteed return to your homeland in a few years. I can barely imagine what it would be like to make the journey across the ocean in a fucking metal shipping container, only to be sold into debt slavery and/or prostitution the moment you get off the boat. And that's in America. They tend to go to the more geographically proximate countries first, like Australia, and dear goodness you don't want to know how they treat illegals over there.

In 1993, a merchant ship called the Golden Venture ran aground off Queens, dumping its hidden cargo of 286 illegal Chinese immigrants into the sea. Ten drowned trying to swim the last 300 yards to shore; many of the rest had to be rushed to local hospitals for hypothermia and malnutrition (they were literally starving to death). For over four years the remainder were held in prisons throughout the East Coast, in accordance with aggressive legislation meant to keep Mexicans from sneaking across the border into the U.S., while the courts processed their petitions for asylum. (Why haven't you heard this story before? Well, aside from a couple of ethnic communities and a handful of bleeding-heart liberals, no one in America gave a shit, because frankly, those illegals had snuck into our country to Take Our Jorbs and those minimum-wage Chinese restaurant jobs belong to Real Americans!) President Clinton eventually had them released at the end of his first term in 1997. The release gave them their freedom, but not asylum. 110 were deported, one of whom was given a forced vasectomy by local Chinese authorities on his return because of the One Child Policy (he had three kids).
A few of them reentered America illegally, and are again facing deportation.

In 1961, Elaine Chao, the eight-year-old daughter of a prominent Shanghai businessman, would be brought in the passenger cabin of a merchant ship to Long Island, a subway ride away from where the Golden Venture would end its ill-fated voyage 32 years later, to accompany her father as he expanded his business into America. She would enjoy a life of incredible privilege, buying her way through one of New York's most expensive private schools, going to Mount Holyoke and later Harvard, and ultimately becoming the trophy Asian wife of a prominent U.S. senator. A familiar face among the Republican old-boys club, it surprises no one when she becomes Deputy Secretary of Transportation under George H.W. Bush and later Secretary of Labor under George W. Bush. Her contributions to the people of the United States as Secretary of Labor at the beginning of the 2008 recession include photo ops with her husband, fudging the numbers on the cost of outsourcing government jobs to private contractors, and twiddling her thumbs while the unemployment rate breaks records. In 2008, the year the recession hits, Chao gives an incredibly banal speech about how you white people can't possibly understand how hard it is to be a Chinese immigrant in America but how you too can be an American By Choice (tm) if you learn to make the same difficult sacrifices her incredibly wealthy, legally immigrated father made for her. Liberal commentators in academia cry foul with accusations of white privilege, inexplicably. (Perhaps they take the concept of racial color-blindness too literally? Or perhaps they have forgotten that "white" is an actual American ethnic identifier as well as a synonym for privilege, so that the dissonance required to separate those concepts outside the neatly color-coded Western sphere of racism discourse would cause their heads to explode. What an adorably domestic way to look at an international problem. But I digress.)

In 1996, 14-year-old Deng Chen works off the debt of his passage to America at a series of Chinese restaurants, lost and alone, without money, family, schooling, immigration papers, or even a rudimentary grasp of the English language. Several times the triad gangs that brought him over let him talk to his parents, only to have them anxiously beg him to pay off the debt quickly because the triads have threatened to kill them off if he does not comply. Nine years, special attention from a U.S. senator, and a heart-wrenching article in the New York Times later, he is still wandering across the East Coast from Chinese restaurant to Chinese restaurant, trying to pay off his debt.

In 2009, I overhear an elderly (wealthy) first-generation Chinese immigrant on the subway talk to his son in Mandarin about the illegals trapped in debt slavery by the international triads in Chinatown, and aiyaaah loudly, see, son, this is what happens when you are too lazy to fill out your papers. The two Fujianese guys (not wealthy) in restaurant smocks across the train pretend they don't understand him, and whisper sadly to each other in Cantonese.

Later that year, I bring a visiting Chinese immigrant acquaintance to Chinatown, and she harrumphs and says, "No, show me where the real Chinese people are. These are all peasants and migrant workers..."

Guys. We've got an awful lot of work to do.

jesus the christ has a posse

From their ideology, you'd think Christian anarchists were a bunch of delusionally idealistic, paranoid, hypocritical, theocratic, close-minded, solipsist crackpot zealots who oppose the state to the point of moral neglect.
From their ideology, you'd think Christian libertarians were a bunch of principled, devout, well-read, concilatory philosopher-kings who understand the realities of human nature and attempt, perhaps misguidedly, to reconcile it with the necessity of the state in a rational way.
Somehow, each side of the theocratic small-government camp has ended up with the other side's followers.

(For the record, I am neither.)

In a perfect world, Christian libertarians would behave like Christian anarchists, and Christian anarchism would have little reason to exist.
Alas, both philosophies are predicated on the existence of an imperfect world.

There's no questioning, however, that Christian anarchists have more impressive iconography.

This is the logo of Jesus Radicals, a site devoted to "challenging the church's involvement in the idols of miltiarism, capitalism, and the state." Yes. Your eyes do not deceive you. That is indeed the anarchist raised fist with a hole through the wrist.

Jesus in the style of Che Guevara, subverting the historical roots of anarchism and socialism with popular iconography of the Passion. From The Jesus Manifesto, which is far too sane and open-minded (and astonishingly free of kookery) to be a real radical leftist site. Their title banner is pretty clever, too.

Image from The Jesus Manifesto's current front page article Letters From A Common Sense Atheist series, which contains--unabridged--an exchange of letters between site owner Mark Van Steenwyk and Common Sense Atheism's Luke Muehlhauser. The letters are posted on both sites, and the debate is astonishingly respectful and insightful, with each participant intelligent, well-read, and well-informed about the other's side--none of the dewy-eyed naivete of undergrads discovering their side's viewpoints for the first time, or the typical befuddlement as to why anyone would think differently. A refreshing change from the usual exchange of insults, personal attacks, and canned arguments that dominate 99.98% of all Internet debate. And it's weirdly appropriate that their names are Mark and Luke.

Not only am I amazed that Steenwyk and Muehlhauser present each others' letters so candidly on each other's sites, I'm impressed by Steenwyk's humility in choosing this pastiche of the Sistine Chapel ceiling to represent their dialogue. It's a little insulting to his own point of view but it dramatically frames the context of their conversation. The digital wristwatch on the atheist's wrist is a nice touch.

An increasingly popular Christian anarchist symbol, which repurposes the Spanish Revolution circled A to be an alpha and an omega. (This and other Christian anarchist icons at Squidoo.)

...okay, even I agree that this one makes no sense.