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Jun 10 2014

The state of the atheist “movement”

The atheist movement, represented by the stylized red A crying and wearing a trilby hat.

What a nice guy it is. If only those bitches would give it a chance. Forever friendzoned!

With apologies to the clipart I stole to build this monster.

Jun 09 2014

Why I distrust Apple, in one short video

Okay, seriously. I know that WWDC is a sales pitch moreso than a tech demo. But this supercut of superlatives tweaks every nerve I have as regards manipulative language.

There’s not a lot of actual innovation in their new iteration, that I can see, just a nice coat of paint slapped on the same old stuff. “This changes everything” was true when iOS first got introduced, but now it’s all “this keeps everything the same except for a prettier wastebasket.”

Jun 02 2014

Why are YOU here?

I’ve had this question rattling around in my head for almost a year now: why am I here, in the skeptical and atheist communities? Why do I include the labels “skeptic” and “atheist” in bio blurbs, and why do I cover topics and follow discussions associated with those labels? Why, given how little commonality I have with many of the folks who work full-time in these communities, given that some of the causes I care about the most are derided by vast swathes of the people with whom I’m expected to break bread, should I spend my time and effort on parts of my identity that I don’t find assaulted on a daily basis?

And more importantly, why are others in these communities? What do their reasons for being here say about the makeup of these communities?
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May 24 2014

Viewer discretion is advised

Trigger warning: I’m going to talk about trigger warnings. If you’re the type of person to flip your shit about people using trigger warnings, you might not want to read this post unless you have the resources to attack me for defending the use of trigger warnings.

That opening paragraph is at least half serious. Guess which half?

Recently, much has been made about a recent request that college courses provide trigger warnings for those courses that might contain discussion of racism, violence, rape, etc. And by “much has been made”, I mean that, once again, a great many people are arguing against straw dummies and complete misunderstandings of the topic at hand.

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May 13 2014

The video game that would REALLY keep you up at night

I’m no stranger to losing sleep over video games, though usually in a positive context, e.g. that the game is fun and I don’t notice the time. But what if I was to tell you the story of a video game that was literally designed to steal your ability to sleep… among other things? Sounds far-fetched, right? Read on, gentle reader.

In 1981, Atari had created an extraordinarily innovative video game called Tempest. This game, originally imagined as a 3-D remaking of Space Invaders, had players pilot a spacecraft on the near end of a “tube” that extended into the distance on a display, using now-primitive but then new and innovative colour vector-based graphics (as opposed to raster-based graphics, the more traditional pixellated, hand-drawn art). Vector graphics weren’t new at the time, having been used for other games like Asteroids, but the addition of colour with Atari’s “Color Quadrascan” shadow mask technology, developed to compete with raster games, was a significant step forward. The game also featured differing playing boards at each level, with different geometric shapes making up the “tube”, rather than the usual incremental difficulty increases on an identical board that video games til then had used to ratchet up the pressure on players as games went on. And it even featured the ability to choose your starting level based on performance in a previous game, so veterans wouldn’t necessarily have to play through the initial levels over again while attempting to cause the game to roll the level or points counts over. This marked the first video game continue option — though a later raster game called Fantasy implemented it in its more traditional form.

This post isn’t really about Tempest, though. I’m really just setting the stage for what the state of the art was in 1981. If you’ll believe the urban legends, the US government, at about that time, teamed up with a German developer named Sinneslöschen (loosely translated: “Sense Erase”) in an attempt to turn the nation’s Pac-Man Fever into something a little more useful for the empire: mind control. They created a video game that kids would become addicted to, would play at every opportunity, until the mind control would kick in and they’d lose the ability to sleep or even lose their memories.
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May 04 2014

The Legend of Ben

The Legend of Zelda is a game franchise that is much beloved, has sold millions upon millions of copies franchise-wide, and has sixteen-plus installments spanning the rough time-frame such that people prone to creating ghost stories — teenagers to young adults — have grown up with these games making a large part of their childhood. It’s honestly no surprise that a creepypasta — an internet ghost story — was created out of the game series, and in fact it seems that it was just a matter of time.

The statue of Link created by playing the Elegy of Emptiness. It's not a particularly faithful representation of Link.

The statue of Link created by playing the Elegy of Emptiness. It’s not a particularly faithful representation of Link. To people familiar with this story, this is Ben.

One game in the series, Majora’s Mask, is already incredibly dark and unusual in the series. It is one of the very few that does not take place in the Kingdom of Hyrule (or what would eventually become or once was that kingdom — there’s actually a very involved canonical timeline that connects all the games in the series). It is one of the very few games whose chief antagonist is not Ganondorf or a god, but rather, a recurring character who’s gained access to some specific magic. It is also the only game whose chief motivation is preventing the destruction of the world through the manipulation of time, attempting to forestall a natural disaster that’s about to occur — the moon is falling on Terminus, and the Skull Kid, having stolen the magical artifact called Majora’s Mask, is both the impetus for and in possession of the only way to prevent this disaster. In this game, Link has fallen into a doomed world and needs to prevent this doom; as the Mask Salesman tells him, he’s “met with a terrible fate”.

Today’s ghost story involves someone discovering that a young boy named Ben, a boy who’d once apparently owned a bootleg copy of Majora’s Mask, himself met with a terrible fate: he drowned. But then he went on to haunt this bootleg copy, and subsequently the poor hapless 4chan Paranormal board denizen who found it.
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Apr 29 2014

Ghostcraft; or, how Minecraft can really be used to build anything

The extraordinarily popular building/survival game Minecraft by Mojang has revolutionized the very concept of a sandbox game. With its popularity, with its community, comes all the little things that enhance or corrupt society built by society’s own members — including myths and ghost stories.

Minecraft has been described as “LEGO for big kids”, a gigantic sandbox filled with materials that you can collect, and use to build whatever you’d like — a dirt hovel, a series of traps and defenses, a sprawling mansion, a plain old House, an elaborate train system, even relatively complex circuitry (at relatively macro scale). There are no real rules, only a gigantic overworld filled with procedurally generated trees, forests, oceans, lakes, caves and even abandoned mines and dungeons. There are two other realms you can travel to, and there is in fact a way to “win” the game, if that’s your cup of tea. You can travel to the Nether, the Minecraft equivalent of a lava-filled hell, and you can travel to The End, a strange realm from whence the Endermen enemies spawn, and you can do battle with the Ender Dragon to complete the game.

Most players just build things, though. Given the choice between playing in a sandbox, and doing battle with the neighboring town’s dragon, I can understand why the sandbox is a significantly less stressful objective. And there’s always the collaborative aspect of playing with other players on the same server — you can all work together to build great works of art, or you can compete for resources, destroy one another’s work, and steal what resources the other players have accumulated.

Given that aspect of the game is not for everyone, there’s always the option of playing a game entirely single-player, so nobody can undo all your hard work.

Except… was that another player off in the distance? He looked just like your player skin… only his eyes were entirely white. And when you went back to your home base, your accumulated treasures were missing, and all your torches replaced with redstone torches.

You thought you were alone here? Think again!
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Apr 27 2014

The ghost in the Pokémon machine

In 1996, the Pokémon franchise hit the scene in Japan with its first two games for the Nintendo GameBoy: Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green. They were released at the same time using the same game engine, but with different monsters and plot; the idea was that players of the different games could trade monsters with one another, and it was necessary to trade with someone in order to collect all 150 Pokémon. (Mew, a 151st Pokémon, existed in this tier of games but was only given out as prizes for Nintendo Power competitions and other such promotions, or could be unlocked using a Gameshark or through a glitch near Lavender Town — coincidental to today’s video game urban legend.)

Lavender Town in these games was a sort of “graveyard” town, where Pokémon are put to rest in a Tower and hauntings by restless spirits of Pokémon are apparently relatively common; and it’s central to the myth that hundreds of Japanese children committed suicide in a spike in 1996, when the games were released, but only once they got to Lavender Town in their games. The myth has come to be known as “Lavender Town Syndrome”.
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Apr 26 2014

Diggers find E.T. in New Mexico — no, seriously

As skeptics, we’re prone to doubting those stories that are told and retold over long periods of time, often taking on mythic proportions. The video game world has its own share of such urban legends, though few as impactful as this one.
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Apr 24 2014

The Constitutionality of Abortion Policy in New Brunswick – PDF

A few people wanted it in PDF form, so here’s Tia Beaudoin’s thesis, reformatted and polished up in a nice, easily distributable PDF file.

Took me all evening to build this. Hope it serves someone well!

The Constitutionality of Abortion Policy in New Brunswick

If you’d like to read it in blog format, here it is:

Cover / Works Cited
Introduction
Chapter 1: A Social and Legal History of Abortion in Canada
Chapter 2: New Brunswick: Openly Defying the Canada Health Act
Conclusion

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