CONvergence 2015: my Skepchickcon schedule

So I am on some panels at CONvergence / Skepchickcon, July 2-5th!

Can you guess the theme of CONvergence this year without looking at their site?

I will also, as always, be helping out at the FtB party room, adjacent as always to the Skepchick party room. There will be snacks, there will be glow in the dark booze for those of age after 8pm, and there will be plenty of good conversations to be had.

Technology Won’t Destroy Us – Thu 5:00pm – Plaza 1
Renate Fiora, PZ Myers, Heina Dadabhoy, Dan Berliner, Jason Thibeault

Paranoid predictions about the technological downfall of mankind abound in media, but technology has also made human lives immeasurably better. We’ll talk about more realistic portrayals of tech, science, and human improvement.

Sci-Fail Returns – Thu 7:00pm – Edina
Christopher Hunter, Rebecca Watson, Jason Thibeault, Raychelle Burks, Ryan Consell (mod)

We’ll review the most egregious examples of Hollywood mangling science over the past year. Watch experts pass from denial, to rage, to sobbing as they are reminded that the budget for each film exceeds the global research budget of their field.

So You Want to Rule Dystopia – Sat 8:30pm – Plaza 1
Jennifer Cross, Jamie Bernstein, Jason Thibeault (mod), Heina Dadabhoy, Steph Montgomery

From 1984 to the Hunger Games, dystopian worlds are defined by their evil governments. We’ll discuss the different flavors of political systems that rule dystopian worlds and advise you on ruling your own dystopia.

Dystopian Video Games – Sun 9:30am
Donavon Indovino Cawley, Michael Black, Dani Price, Michael Carus, Jason Thibeault

Wasteland, Bioshock, Fallout, and more. What makes them fun and interesting?

Actually, let’s talk about ethics in Watch_Dogs

Let’s all say it: Ayden Pearce is morally repugnant. Errant Signal does an excellent and thorough job itemizing exactly why.

I had been interested in this game, and in the concept of hacking-as-superpower, but when it turned into yet another white-guy-does-whatever-he-wants story, where every moral decision boils down to “shoot the guy or blow up the guy”, where you’re given tidbits of information about the lives and dreams and desires of each person you’re systematically murdering, where you’re essentially obligated to spy on and not intervene in situations where you could actually legitimately make a difference because they’re just cut-scenes inserted for flavour, I couldn’t bring myself to play.

It’s like all the power they give you is misdirected, where you can’t fix the system but you can take advantage of it for your own gain. Where you become judge, jury and executioner for crimes that haven’t yet been committed, and you let other grievous crimes go entirely unpunished because you, omniscient privileged douchebag, cannot be moved to actually do anything. And when you DO do something about an injustice, it’s the wrong thing entirely, against the wishes of everyone around you. Where you’re both the cause and the violent solution to the problems in your life. Where your actions are supposed to be good but your opponents’ actions are bad, despite the fact that you’re doing a thousand times objectively eviller things as a matter of course.

If we’re going to talk about ethics in video games, this is ultimately a Douchebag Hacker Empowerment Fantasy simulator, and it doesn’t remotely touch on any of the things that need to be discussed with regard to the disturbing surveillance culture we’re in. I can get empowerment fantasies in far less problematic worlds than this, without feeling like I’m railroaded into the Evil playthrough of a game like Infamous where the moral choices are approximately “save the box of kittens, or stuff them with grenades and throw them off a building indiscriminately”.

The bad logic of “Good People Can’t Be Sexists”

One of the things that makes me averse to getting into deep conversation lately about morality and about people’s sexist and racist behaviour is that we appear to be hard-wired to think the whole conversation is binary — you did a bad, objectionable thing, therefore you’re Evil. You are criticized for doing a bad, objectionable thing, but are generally good, therefore you’re being hounded by Feminazis and Thought Police. Any nuance in the conversation is smashed out by our resorting to binary thinking again and again.

In mathematical terms, the problem is that good and bad, sexist and not sexist, are absolutes. When we render them into pure two-valued logic, we’re taking shades of gray, and turning them into black and white.

There are people who are profoundly sexist or racist, and that makes them bad people. Just look at the MRAs involved in Gamergate: they’re utterly disgusting human beings, and the thing that makes them so despicably awful is the awfulness of their sexism. Look at a KKKer, and you find a terrible person, and the thing that makes them so terrible is their racism.

But most people aren’t that extreme. We’ve just absorbed a whole lot of racism and sexism from the world we’ve lived our lives in, and that influences us. We’re a little bit racist, and that makes us a little bit bad – we have room for improvement. But we’re still, mostly, good people. The two-valued logic creates an apparent conflict where none really exists.

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Mock The Movie: God’s Not Dead transcript

Superman and Hercules square off in a battle of who can be the biggest asshole straw-atheist in this blockbuster that likely resulted in no appreciable increase in text messages despite the imploring at the end to text all your friends.

We watched this on April Fool’s Day. Yes, that was intentional.

Oh yeah, and dude from Duck Dynasty is in it because… uh… JEEEEZUS
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What is Winnipeg?

It starts out poorly enough, with the column of Canadian Cities the last remaining set of clues on the Jeopardy! board, clearly a tower of fearsome trivia. It gets worse from there, as the militarily outfitted Randy loses eight grand on the category by seemingly rattling off every Canadian city name he could think of at random.

For shame, contestants. Poor showing indeed. Moose Javians… Winnipeg? No wonder Canadian Alex Trebek was so affected.

War never changes, but it gets a bit more saturated

FALLOUT 4. Now in Technicolor! It’s going to take place in Boston, because we don’t have enough New England as yet in the Fallout lore. *snrk*

I am so happy this is not an MMO. That would have been a monumental mistake, I think. And I really hope they don’t fragment the content the way Rocksteady just did with Batman: Arkham Knight and the pre-order bonuses.

For the uninitiated, the Fallout universe is not, actually, about an alt history with the Cold War resulting in the apocalypse, believe it or not. It sure looks that way, though, with its 1950s arrested development. Instead, in this universe, nobody invents the transistor during WW2, and instead we invest all our tech development on the vacuum tube. The Great War happens in 2077, over resources, because humanity never gets away from the larger and more resource-consumptive technologies. For some reason, culture is slowed drastically, and by the time of the Great War, America is roughly in the 1950s, only with a Mr. Handy helper robot in every kitchen. After the apocalypse — when India, China, Russia, North Korea and America all nuke the living fuck out of each other (and everyone else, for funzies) — the only survivors are those who went underground into Vaults. They emerge to a wasteland that is populated by mutants, ghouls, raiders and the very dregs of humanity.

I’m happy with this incarnation of the Wasteland. It is significantly closer to Fallout 1 and 2 in looks than 3 ever was, and at the moment, during my replay of Fallout: New Vegas, the only way I can stand to look at it for any length of time is with the Imaginator plugin that offers different colour palettes. (I am presently using the Trek Vaseline Cam palette, which makes the Mojave look a lot like that planet where Kirk fights the Gorn. You know the one.) So I’m looking forward to scavenging the wastelands with more varied landscapes, and with my dog inevitably named Dogmeat at my side.

The only way they could have made this better — at least in my mind — is to have the generic character at the end be a woman, because it’s *just* a generic character, and there’s nothing holding you to picking that specific dude they showed. Could you imagine the outrage from certain quarters? The only way I could think of to make hateful antifeminists lose their shit more than that, though, would be to force the character creation to only allow you to create women. In either case the resultant rage could power me for centuries.

My obligations.

Recently, Hemant Mehta has implied that I have an obligation to apologize to Ben Radford because with the settlement of the lawsuit he brought against Karen Stollznow, her original claims — which I’d detailed and scrupulously withheld judgment on the merits of, going so far as to expressly forbid “playing the villain ball” to explain any aspect of the case even in the comments — have been proven false. That I have an obligation that, because I’d given “near-daily updates” on the case when it broke, I should have been up to date on it as soon as the news broke and should have immediately posted and decried Karen’s lying liar-ness as far and wide as I’d discussed her original allegations.

I have no such obligation.

(Here’s Rebecca Watson’s excellently titled response, since she, like me, has nothing to apologize for either. Here’s also Stephanie Zvan’s devastatingly succinct point form reply to Mehta’s demands. They are both far better reads than this post, or Mehta’s.)

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The Riddle of Randomness

Cross-posted at Geek Girl Con’s blog!

Last year at Geek Girl Con, I had the privilege of participating in the Do-It-Yourself Science Zone teaching kids about probability and randomness.

GeekGirlCon 2014 at Washington State Conference Center in Seattle, Washington, on Saturday, October 11, 2014.

GeekGirlCon 2014 at Washington State Conference Center in Seattle, Washington, on Saturday, October 11, 2014.

However, being The Riddler, I had a secret agenda in mind while doing my demonstrations — I have a trio of ten-sided dice that I use to gamble with my fellow super-villains, and I wanted to figure out which of them, if any, had a bias for or against any particular number. What better way to find out, than to offload the boring task of rolling those dice over and over again onto unsuspecting passers-by?
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