I like to think that I”m a reasonably empathetic person.  That I can usually see where someone else is coming from and why they are doing what they are doing.  It doesn’t stop me from thinking they are ill advised or making mistakes when they do those things, but I can usually get it.  I do have my blind spots, I admit, but they aren’t that common.

But there’s a whole class of people acting in a way I just can’t understand.  I can’t wrap my mind around what would make them do the thing they are doing, whether they are lying or actually hold the beliefs they espouse, I just can’t get it. It’s alien to me, in the strongest sense of the world: it’s beyond my comprehension.

Okay, that’s vague, so let’s be specific.  And some of this should be marked with a Trigger Warning, although I don’t intent to link directly to that material, what I’m liking to, does.

There’s a woman, named Anita Sarkeesian.  She does a video series called Feminist Frequency.  I find her work to be intelligent, enlightening and entertaining. The series generally looks at the portrayal of women in the popular culture: movies, tv shows, and video games.  She is putting together a series on Video Game Tropes and is Kickstarting it.  (I donated to the project last night, which I’d meant to do earlier, so this controversy helped me remember).

From the moment she started the Kickstarter, she’s been harassed by gamers. There are game forums where the are organizing ways to harass her.  These harassments follow the typical entitled stupid male gamer methods threatening her physically and all the ways in which Courtney Stanton details from her experiences. The Border House had short blog on it, linking to some of the longer pieces by Sarkeesian about what has happened to her.

I get that geeks love things, and they don’t always understand why people don’t love the things they love.  I don’t quite get the idea that things that are loved are above criticism.  Kat has often told me that I complain more about the stuff I love being imperfect than the stuff I dislike being awful.  It’s because I want the stuff I love to be better, and it’s almost there. The flaws stand out more in the awesomeness like an Uncanny Valley of near-perfection.

And I’m really jazzed to hear what Sarkeesian has to say about video game tropes. I’ve probably heard most of it, and it needs saying.  Sure, there are people that don’t want to hear it, but I don’t get the motivation to silence someone. I don’t understand what set of motivations and desires compels someone to act in the way these men are acting.

I can’t wrap my head around it.

So I’ll keep saying things, and doing things like supporting the voices who are speaking out.  Yes, Sarkeesian is still doing this despite all this harassment, and that makes her of remarkable character and strength.  The thing is, you shouldn’t need to have remarkable character and strength to say these things.  But evidently you do, and maybe one day I’ll understand why.


For a moment, something breaks me out of what I’m doing, and I realize that I’m leaning forward, chewing on my upper lip. My right hand is glued to my mouse and my left on the ever-popular WASD keys, which I spent half an hour mapping. On the screen is a horribly pixellated dungeon.  My BattleMage, Zhenette is there, on the first level of Fang Lair.  She’s there to retrieve the first part of the Staff of Chaos, but is resting for a moment, after defeating her first wight.

I’d been following the “right-hand rule”, after the first two extremely large dungeons of Arena, I’d given up on searching the whole thing. Right-hand rule would get me to most of it, and I’d be leaving laden down with treasure, leaving behind quite a lot — and hopefully by now I knew what things to leave behind.

The wight had little treasure, but the two battlemages who showed up while I was resting had armor I could wear.  I hadn’t so much forgotten to buy armor in the last town as run out of money on spells.  I nearly died in the last dungeon because I’d been diseased by some ghouls. Then I accidentally saved over my “safe” savegame, and was just screwed.  I hadn’t found the part of the interface which told me I was diseased, so I thought I was fine, until I tried to travel back, my quest done.

And on the way back I died, and then I died again, when I tried for somewhere closer.  I drank all my potions, not sure what they were, and the last one — of course — was a cure disease potion.  I took the scroll the Queen wanted to her, and she showed me the way to Fang Lair.

I waited a bit, I was getting better at fighting, both leveling and the actual physical skill of fighting — the Elder Scrolls games, particularly the early ones — make this a more visceral, first person experience.  Arena doesn’t have skills like the later games, so it’s your stats, and your mousing that decide how well you hit.

So, I bought some spells, both cure disease, and some fire resistance since I’d heard Fang Lair had lava pits, and that tapped me out.  But finally I was ready.

I was mastering the dugeon pretty well, and it looked like there was this small section that I hadn’t explored.  It was to the left, but things were good.  So I delved into a mineshaft, and headed north.  I popped out in the small room, and something was pelting me with a spell I’d never seen.  And I was suddenly out of spell points and there was a wight in my way.

Heart pumping I swung my sword, heartened that it even worked — I wasn’t sure it would.  Eventually it died or went away (no body I could see), and I was nearly dead.  There were enough spell points for a healing spell, so I cast it, saved my game and rested to recover.  The two battlemages I mentioned showed up, and I killed them quickly.  Looting their body, I finally got some leather armor that I could wear. I healed again, and rested again. That rest was interrupted by ghouls, who promptly diseased me.

At least I had  my spell.  I tried to cast the spell, and it didn’t work — I’d neglected to see how many spell points it cost to cast; I was low on spell points, so if I rested again I might have enough.  I had a save, sure, but that was before I got the armor.  I rested again, and that’s when I realized I was leaning forward, anxious, wondering if this was going to work.

I so rarely have this experience in new games. I think it’s because I trust them.  They’re going to make sure I make it to the end.  There’s probably three ways to solve any problem, just in case, and you can’t ever really screw yourself.  TES: Arena makes no such promises (and neither did Daggerfall or Morrowind; once I got bitten by a rat in Vvardenfell, and I couldn’t move, nor would I ever be able to again.  Load a save, and carry better spells/potions next time were my only options).

Later, after defeating the wights and returning to my right-hand path, I was leaning back, my feet propped up on an old speaker.  I’m confident again, and doing well: the spell had worked, and I wasn’t diseased, and I’d rested fully so I was full health.  Nothing was beating me.  I climbed out of the mineshaft, and four minotaurs surrounded me.  My feet found the floor and I leaned forward.

This might be a hard battle.

There are a lot of people who really want to be published authors.  They’ll do just about anything to be one, and that opens them up to scam artists and other people who desire to take advantage of them.  There are people who pose as literary agents, taking fees from authors to represent them, when in actuality they’re supposed to get points on your book. There are contests that make you sign over your rights to the work, and may not even pay out prizes.  There’s a whole page on SFWA about scams for authors, because the draw there: to be published, to see your name on paper is so strong, it makes people stupid for the chance.

Here’s the thing: if you’re good enough to get published, people will pay you.  That’s how it works: an author writes, and they get paid.  If you’re not good enough to get published, then the scams won’t do anything but lose you money.

Simply put: You should get paid for your work.



QA testing is one of the hardest jobs in IT.  It’s a difficult thing in the first place.  Then add to that fact that if you do that job, you have to go to those egotistical programmers and tell them that yes, again, their code is broken.  The messenger gets shot a lot.  I know, I’m an egotistical programmer.

(I’ve worked in manufacturing environments too, and nobody likes the QC people there, either. It’s their job to find mistakes, and nobody likes being told they make mistakes.)

But smart programmers (even egotistical ones) recognize that QA people make their code, their product better.  The difference between an MMO in beta, and that MMO at launch is QA. And that’s important.

So, like writers, QA people should be paid for their jobs.  But the thing I know is this: some people want to be in the gaming industry so badly that they’ll do anything for it, even falling for scams like this.  Or crappy contests.

And yes, I know the two names behind those links are huge names in the gaming industry.  But QA is hard, important work.  It’s not fun, but it can be fulfilling.  And you should be paid to do the job, not pay the companies who are benefiting from your work.

Frankly I think these two are the same scams, targeting the same kind of people: earnest,passionate people with dreams.  And it makes me a sick.

Get paid for your work, you deserve it.


So, I mostly ignored RIFT because of the Pen and Paper game of similar name.  I was told through Twitter that it wasn’t the same, then that it used a “skill based” system that made it different enough from the other Fantasy MMOs out there, that I decided to sign up for the beta, a complicated enough process that I insulted the game team in my reasons, and forgot about it until they invited me for a beta event.

Everybody has their favorite kind of character to make, and my is a dark-skinned, white-haired Mage, who I usually name “Zhenette”. I had one on WoW, have one in DDO, something similar in Guild Wars, and so on.  She’s not the only kind of character that I play, but I like playing ranged magic DPS, and whatever that is, usually gets a character like that, as much as I can make it.  I even have on in Dragon Age, so there.

I also usually play on the more civilized/order side. Yeah, Alliance on WoW.  I played Order/Light on WAR, although I made characters on the other side, to see what it was like.  So I gravitated towards Guardians in RIFTs, but you know what? I couldn’t make Zhenette on that side. The darkest character I could make had a slight tan.   The first thought through my mind was “They didn’t go there, did they?”

And when I went over to the Defiant side, all the characters and races there are dark, by default, and I realized they had.  I also saw that the Defiant used machines, and Zhenette is often also a mining/engineering type, I settled on them.  I’m glad I did, because their opening story is much more evocative than the Guardians.

The over-story goes something like this: the world was created as a nexus to all the other worlds, which was intended as a blessing from the gods.  Things went well until the dragons showed up and tried to take over.  The gods sealed the rifts, and things were doing okay, but people forgot about it, and then something happened which unsealed the rifts, and things got bad.  I’m not certain precisely what happened, and in fact the opposing sides have different views about what it is that happened, each blaming the other.

The gods then made the Ascendent, special people designed to fight back and fix the problem.  These are what we call “Player Characters” for the most part.  In the Guardian story line, an angel raises you from the dead, and sends you out to fight. In the Defiant starting area, however, you’re far in the future, and the Defiant have finally figured out how to make Ascendents themselves, raised you and through the tutorial area, ship you back into time to when things got started so you can stop it. The Guardian starting area is much more vanilla, with a siege on the city your in, starting just after things went to heck.

So while I don’t like that they’ve racially divided the two sides light/dark, I like that the conflict is one of Religion vs Science. Trust in the Gods to save you, or save yourself, because you can’t trust the gods.  Which means I probably won’t be playing my Guardian Characters during the open beta, because I’m pretty sure I’m firmly in their camp.

I’m setting these posts to start after the open beta is over, and writing them as I go, so my impressions may change.  In the next part, I’ll be talking about how their “Skill based” system stacks up, and how successful it feels to me, with the understanding I’m not deep into it yet at all.

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, and I pledged over a month and a half ago to write a post about a woman in technology and science who inspired me.  I’m a programmer by trade, and inclination; writing is important to me as well, but even that is centered around programming and technology issues. Ultimately, there are four people who inspired and shaped me into the programmer I am.  The first is a man, the remaining three are all women.  Today I’m going to write about them.

Ada Lovelace was the first programmer, and Charles Babbage was the first hardware tech.  I guess its’ fitting that the one man in my list was a hardware tech, and all the women were programmers.  Without them, I probably would have been a hardware tech, but without this first man, I probably won’t have heard of or met two of the women, at all.

When I was about eight years old, I went to spend a summer week with my mother’s father, whom we called “PopPop”.   He was a retired Air Force Master Sergeant, who went back to work for the Air Force as a civilian contractor.  One Saturday while I stayed with him, something happened at his work, and he took me with him.

He worked at one of the (now defunct) Air Force bases that monitored the Russian submarines off the coast of North Carolina.  His job was to keep the RADAR system running, which meant taking care of the computers.  This was in the mid-70s, and these were the first computers I’d ever seen.   They were hulking behemoths, 5 or 6 of them, each the size of a refrigerator.  He set me down at the teletype — the only input/output for the device, and had me play with the software that calculated trajectories.

One of the breadboards — this computer was old enough that it didn’t use integrated circuits, although it was new enough that it used transistors instead of vacuum tubes — had burned out.  There was a civilian tech there, to replace the part, and my grandfather had to meet him.  As if being in the computer center wasn’t thrilling enough to my 8-year-old mind, my grandfather showed me the secret radar room (where they covered the locations of the subs with a curtain so I couldn’t see, or tell), and the radar dish as well.

He ended the tour showing me a computer bug in the trajectory software that made it come out with negative numbers for height when the angle was too high.  So, a good day for my younger self: my first hardware failure, my first bug, and secret anti-Soviet spy stuff, like a geek James Bond.

If nothing else had happened, I’d probably have gone off to NC State, majored in Electrical Engineering, and be designing chips and hardware today.  In fact, I did spend a year at State, following that goal, but several things and people changed and altered that goal, and those are the women I want to talk about today.

Like my grandfather, I was an early riser. I often woke up earlier than most of my family. My father worked at the end of a long commute, so he was often gone by six in the morning, when I woke up.  I had a couple of hours to really wake up and catch the bus, and I spent a good portion of that watching local news, and the follow-on show, Good Morning America.

One morning they had a guest who was all about computers.  She was in the military, like PopPop, and worked with computers like he did.  Her name?Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (Although she wasn’t a Rear Admiral when I first encountered her, it’s the rank she retired with).  I remember a lot of that talk with the hosts of Good Morning America, although possibly they were conflated with other times I saw her.  She struck a chord in me, there was something about her reservedness and formality that contrasted with her sense of humor.

Her description of finding the first “bug” in a computer program (a story about them actually finding an insect which had died on one of the breadboards of a computer they were maintaining)  reminded me of my trip with PopPop to the base he worked on.  She wrote one of the first computer languages, COBOL.  I remember that she had one of her nanosecond wires  (a wire the length that light travels in a nanosecond), and gave it to the host.  It was neat, and I was awestruck.

And she was the one who introduced me to the concept that it’s “easier to ask forgiveness than permission.”  I know I quoted that a lot when I was younger, but I’ve learned that there’s a certain level of excellence required to pull it off.  I suspect Admiral Hopper managed that level of excellence, though.

If I’d had the words then, I’d have understood why she made such an impression on me. She was tough, she was a geek, and she was a woman.   The women in my life were all strong, determined women.  While my mother’s mother fulfilled a more traditional role as a military wife, my father’s mother worked outside the home as a chemist. So it was no real surprise when my mother went to work, and back to school.

Perhaps the thing that surprised me the most then was that she went to school for a programming degree.

I don’t know why it was surprising, maybe it was because she was my Mom, and she was a teacher, and at that age, who is better than a teacher? Now I know she was a teacher’s aide, which is even more thankless and underpaid than teachers are.  While she taught, she went to night school, at the local technical college, and got her associates in computing.

I think at the time, I was still fascinated by the artifacts of computing. Computers were rare.  We had one in my middle school, and the access to that was strictly controlled.  My brother and I saved up for an Atari 2600 and that plus a cheap LED Football game were about the only ‘computers’ in our house.  I still remember the day, though, when Mom dropped her BASIC program.

She’d kept it up on the top shelf of her closet.  While getting it down, she slipped, and the entire thing cascaded down, cards going everywhere.  I don’t remember how long it took her to get them back in order, but from then on, she kept her programs wrapped up with rubber bands.

A decade or so later, I was living with them for a while, and Mom professed to not ‘understand computers’ all that well.  I had to wonder what had changed so much? It bothers me when people denigrate themselves that way, but where was the woman I remembered, the programmer whose biggest problem was an out of sequence card-stack?  I remember more the ambition and learning, and the desire to program that played out in my own BASIC programs, which, thankfully weren’t on punched cards.

I wrote a game during summer camp, and did a lot of work with the Apple ][c, but was still focused on being an electrical engineer, because I somehow naively thought that’s how you worked with computers.  Even then, I knew I wanted to program them, make them do things. I just didn’t now how that was done.

Perhaps because of that naiveté, I didn’t do so well my first year of school.  I came home, saved up some tuition, and we had a family discussion about how I would be going to a local school.  I’d do more what Mom had done, and go to a local school, and take computing classes with a business perspective.  (Mom’s degree had been business focused, as well).

I might do it differently today, but that would have meant that I never met Mrs. Wanda Thies, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be who I was today without that.   I did a search on her, and other than some mention of her church, and that she did a seminar at UNC-Greensboro (where I went to school) in 1989, there’s not much about her on line.

I took four classes with her, COBOL mostly, and we talked her into teaching us assembly language.  Because she was an old IBMer, the only assembly she knew was on an old IBM Mainframe.  We didn’t have one of those at UNC-G, so we mailed our programs to NC State to be run.  They would only run at night, and when there was time, so one of the things we learned was to check our software over carefully, including the JCL that told the computer how to run our jobs.  I had a few problems with that, but so does everyone.

It was the closest I ever got to old-style, punch-cards, time-shared computing. By the time I entered the workforce, client-server development was the norm, and the way we work on the web is completely different. Still, those skills are useful — they’ll cut your time when you’re doing any sort of programming work.

She was probably the best teacher I had at any computing task.  She wrote and ran all her assignments ahead of time, she was efficient and clear.  You never felt like her classes were a waste of time, or that her instructions were incorrect.  She gave you every chance to succeed, but she wasn’t going to hold you back from failure either. Late assignments weren’t accepted, there was no extra credit, and that’s just the way it was.  She was clear about it from the beginning, and her class schedules rarely, if ever, changed.  It was wonderful.

She survived somehow in a world organized around men — the only other female professors in that part of the business school taught the “Office systems” degree, geared to wards administrative assistants and secretaries, in other words more traditional women’s roles. She didn’t even have a Doctorate, or if she did, we were informed she was “Mrs.” Theis, and that’s the way it was. I suspect she didn’t have one, but had a lot of life experience, and a respect for us as students that made her one of the best teachers I ever had.

She spoke one day, in one of the later classes. It was 1989 or so. “Look at this file format,” she said. “Four digits for the date.  Any of you turn in a program that doesn’t use a four digit date, and I’ll fail you. In a few years, you’ll all get jobs fixing that problem, I guarantee you.  But don’t you even think about doing it now, or in your professional career.”

She was right about that, too.

Borderlands plot — at least as far as I’ve gotten into it — is largely non-existent.  I’ve gotten several quests to kill some dudes, and a ghost lady that suggest I should do these quests to kill some dudes.  I’m pretty good at killing dudes, and that seems fun.   Darksiders plot is much more involved, serious, and still involves the developers coming up with some reason for me to kill some dudes.

That’s really a problem, and it didn’t get me very far into the game before I was about to give it up.  I made the conscious decision to return the game on Monday, and that spurred me on to play it a bit more, just to see.   I mean, I wasn’t totally irritated with it, but let’s play the one i’m not keeping for a bit, to eke out the most enjoyment possible.  At least that was my thought, and it’s not the first time I’ve done that.

Now, I was playing it largely because of the buzz from my twitter feed.  Not all of it was good, but the bad stuff wasn’t horrible, and the good thing, the word everyone kept using had me hopeful.  That word? Zelda. In case it’snot obvious from my blog, I happen to like Zelda just a bit.  Not as much as turtles, but hey, everyone has to have priorities.

Saying something is similar to, or reminiscent of Zelda is enough to get me to play it. It’s not enough to get me to gout out and buy it right away, but I’ll play it.  That’s what game rentals and GBoxes are for.

Since I already started talking about the story, let’s recap what I know of it.  Heaven and Hell were fighting a war until another group, the council, showed up and made them stop.  The enforcers of this pact, were the Four Horsemen.   Once they stopped fighting, humans showed up, making for a third kingdom, which would play a pivotal role in the battle.   There’s a typical Armageddon setup, with seven seals after which the four horsemen ride, and Heaven, Hell, and the humans can fight it out.

The game starts with Heaven and Hell fighting, and you, playing the horseman War there to make them stop or something.  I dunno, you fight demons and angels.  You’ve got godlike power… and you’re War.   And the game play is very, God of War. Makes sense, right?

Anyway, you play through a tutorial, and some angels point out that the seventh seal wasn’t broken, so this shouldn’t be happening.  You try to kill the big demon “the Destroyer” and lose all your power in the process.  Then you fade to black.

You wake up in front of the council, stripped of all your power (Don’t you just love games that do this?) and, evidently, the need to redeem yourself for being framed.  Not sure why it matters, as the humans are all dead at this point.  But it’s okay, Mark Hamil will be attached to your wrist, so that you can be annoyed with him.

He’s way way way more annoying than Navi every thought about being in the worst nightmares of Shigeru Miyamoto.  He leads you through a bunch more God of War like tutorials, except for the ones that are like Prince of Persia.  Some of the art looks… very much like Prince of Persia.  I’ve never seen walls with those kinds of gaps in them, but evidently Arabian oases and destroyed metropolises decay in similar ways.  Which is good for people with oversized hands and metal gloves.

Were was I? Oh, plot.

You need to make contact with a demon who will sell you some information for souls. See, the things you kill (mostly zombie-like nothings at this point) drop three kinds of souls.  One is xp, I mean, money.  One is health, and the other wrath or mana.  Hey, but they changed the colors! And they aren’t balls, they’re skulls. Still nothing Zelda-like that I’ve noticed, except for a passageway blocked by ice.

Oh, and a horn, a musical intstrument!  That it took me a good 10 minutes to figure out how to equip and use.  I probably could have summoned up a whiny farmboy, but I was kind of pissed at him, anyway. So I didn’t do that.  My bad, probably. I hated talking to Midna, too.

Well, demon guy sends me after another demon guy who sends me after Lilith.  At this point I tweet about the lack of Zelda references.  Annoying useless helper-sidekicks notwithstanding.  I had no idea that I had a potion that would become an empty bottle if I used it, because I hadn’t.  And I didn’t understand why I couldn’t buy any potions, because I didn’t realize I needed empty bottles.

Darksiders doesn’t call them that, of course; then we might notice, or understand.

Only once I got into the first dungeon did I really see the Zelda bits.  There were things like bomb flowers, and small keys.  I got a boomerang, even, that works just like the boomerang in Zelda, only the aiming is hard and annoying.  And necessary in the first boss fight.  I know how to kill Lilith, but I couldn’t pull it off after several tries.

In the boss battle with Lilith, I was doing fairly well, but screwed up one of the dodges. She then knocked me into one of the bomb flowers that just happened to be nearby, doing more than one “heart” of damage to me. I only have 2 hearts, so I was quickly killed.  I think that’s when I walked away..

I’m really tired of un-fun punishing games.  If you’re going to be punishingly hard, let me feel like I’m learning my way, and getting better.  That’s why Demon’s Souls is in my queue as well.

I’d taken a break from Darksiders, and certainly coming back to play made it seem like more fun.  Maybe there’s more fun deeper in, but I doubt I’ll find out. There’s no point in continuing something that’s refusing to be enjoyable. So it goes back to the GBox today.  So does Borderlands, but it gets added to the GameFly queue for longer-term play.

Transgression in its primary sense is the violation of a moral law or duty.  It can also be more generally defined as “the action of going beyond or overstepping some boundary or limit”, according to one of The Free Dictionary.com’s sources.  The primary sense, therefore, is a specific case where the boundaries and limits are imposed on us by society.

This interests me because first, I’m a geek, and second I’m a member of many sub-groups which define themselves (or are externally defined) by how they transgress from society.   Geeks by nature seek edge conditions. It lets them know the space they live in and, well, the most interesting stuff is at the edges. As a programmer, I spend most of my time dealing with edge-cases, so finding the borders, and knowing where they are is important to me.  Also important is  knowing when to cross those borders and under what circumstances.  In other words, knowing when to transgress.

At some point my geekiness started getting applied to the social rules and norms around me.  I know that as a high school student, I devoured books in an effort to understand the social rules we live by.  I was too embarrassed to admit I might not know those rules, so I had to find them from a source where I wouldn’t be exposed to ridicule or shame.  As a result I taught myself some odd rules, between Tolkien and Heinlein, and everything in between.

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I don’t like making resolutions.  Resolutions always feel sort of wishy-washy and vague, and it’s either hard to do them, or hard to know whether or not you’ve done them. “Write more” as a resolution would make sense for me, but what does that mean, exactly?  Last year (I think it was in March) I made a list of everything I wanted to accomplish last year.

Now, since it got lost along with everything else, it’s hard to know how well I did, but I remember the big points. One of the items was to migrate Sarah, and while that was accomplished, it didn’t happen the way I wanted, obviously, but it did happen. Mail is now handled by Google, and the website by Powweb, so outages should largely be a thing of the past.  Ones I’m responsible for, anyway.  This year, I’d like to finish the recovery process, or triage it and call it done.  I’ve got the old hard drives that need recovery, and if that doesn’t work, I’ve got to manually fix the blog’s theme and a few other small things.

The other items were a bit more successful.

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