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.

Glenn Beck: enemy of humanity

How else can you explain someone faced with empirical evidence that children are being infected with a preventable disease, thanks to anti-vaccination anti-science, claiming it’s all a hoax?

Damn it all. Maybe we deserve our fate, as a race, to succumb to some pandemic or other humanity-endangering event, because of certain humans spreading misinformation in order to line their own pockets. When the stakes are human lives, how can we as a species continue when we’re willing to throw others’ lives away for our own enrichment?

Timeline of harassment and sexual assault allegations against Michael Shermer

Today’s a big news cycle in movement skepticism and movement atheism. My old timeline is woefully incomplete and drastically altered by new revelations, now, thanks to Mark Oppenheimer’s article on the state of misogyny in the atheist and skeptic movements over on Buzzfeed.

So, I’m pulling out the relevant links and pullquotes and revamping this timeline. It’s going to be largely intact from the old one, only maybe expanded to provide more context to each individual point. As with previous timelines this will be a living document — it’s as likely new links will be added or intermixed as I have time, but you’re more than welcome to contribute links in the comments.

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The sophistry and revisionist history in Skeptoid Brian Dunning’s statement

My understanding of Brian Dunning’s cookie-stuffing scheme is fairly thorough at this point. I’ve read the articles in major news organizations about Dunning and Shawn Hogan’s scheme, and I happen to understand to a very high degree of fidelity the workings of the World Wide Web and cookies. So when I read the statement that he wouldn’t allow copying-and-pasting on, I balked. Not only at the lies, misdirection and obvious con-man level sophistry going on in the post, but that anyone who claims to have pulled off such a job might think that what they claim to have done is actually plausible.

Rebecca Watson has done a thorough job at deconstructing the statement for what it is: a great ball of chaff thrown up to confuse the radars of so-called skeptics who are evidently unable to recognize such tactics. But there’s some nuance I’d like to add, specifically because there are parts that appear to directly reference something I blogged about recently, which has bubbled up to very near the top of search results on the terms “Skeptoid” or “Brian Dunning”.
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The virtual radio silence on Brian Dunning’s fraud

Today, Brian Dunning of the Skeptoid podcast and brand, blogger at SkepticBlog, was sentenced to 15 months prison and three years supervised release.

Barely anyone’s talking about it, though (except, obviously, us Social Justice Bullies who will inevitably be accused of crowing about this news).
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CONvergence 2014 panel audio: It’s (Not) Written In The Stars

This was a fun panel about the cognitive dissonance and shared delusion necessary to believe in astrology despite all of science’s advances. It was a bit raucaus at times, but we had good audience participation and Brianne had some hilarious points throughout, relieving me of my usual role as snarker. With a real-life astronomer and two science teachers — one tenured, one a teacher-in-training — this panel covered all the perspectives. Well, except for the perspectives of true-believer. No wait, Nicole admitted to having been one herself at one point! So it covered all the perspectives! Yeah!

We’ll explore the myths and beliefs of astrology and why some people still find it convincing in the modern age of science.

Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Brianne Bilyeu, Dan Berliner, Matt Lowry, Nicole Gugliucci

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

(or download the It’s (Not) Written In The Stars mp3 – 24.7 megs)

John Oliver does pandering right

Gotta admit, John Oliver knows how to work a crowd, and he doesn’t even have to sell magic beans to do it.

I like John Oliver a good deal, loved his Daily Show run, and empathize with his immigrant status in particular. I hope he’s a step up in sensitivity on some topics compared to Stewart, a fact not yet in evidence, though.

My CONvergence schedule – 2014

It’s gotten so’s I gotta put a year in the title to make it unique! How weird is that.

My CONvergence schedule is a bit thicker this year than in years past — I’m invited to participate in six panels. That’s a record for me! One of them is even my own brain-baby — the Superheroes in our Modern Day Pantheons panel.

And as usual, I’ll be hanging out in the FtB / Skepchicks “party” rooms wherein we’ll not actually be partying, but rather fending off constant attacks from the encroaching Royal Manticorian Army and Klingon rooms. Also, there will be science sandboxes, commisserating with like-minded individuals, and modest amounts of alcohol to lubricate the conversation. I might also provide hilariawful Bible games on the big-screen TV, e.g. Super Noah’s Ark 3D, if I can manage a better setup than last year.

The panels are:

Friday, July 4 • 5:00pm – 6:00pm
Alien Conspiracy Theories

The truth is out there, and we’ll help you find it! We’ll cover a wide range of alien-centric conspiracy theories and discuss the implications these have on individuals and society at large.

Panelists: JD Horn, Jason Thibeault, Nicole Gugliucci, PZ Myers, Scott Lynch

Friday, July 4 • 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Superheroes in Our Modern-Day Pantheons

Nobody really worships Hercules or Thor as Greek and Norse gods anymore, but don’t despair, because now they’re both members of The Avengers. This panel will explore the commonalities and differences between our ancient and modern pantheons.

Panelists: David Schwartz, Jason Thibeault, Roy T Cook, Jonathan Palmer, Ryan Consell

Friday, July 4 • 11:30pm – 12:30am
It’s (Not) Written in the Stars
We’ll explore the myths and beliefs of astrology and why some people still find it convincing in the modern age of science.

Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Brianne Bilyeu, Dan Berliner, Matt Lowry, Nicole Gugliucci

Saturday, July 5 • 12:30pm – 1:30pm
Criticism and Empathy Online

When people abuse anonymity to give hurtful, damaging criticism, is this merely a failure of empathy, or is there something more there? How do you criticize people without triggering a flame war? Should you even TRY to avoid flame wars?

Panelists: Miri Mogilevsky, Jason Thibeault, Wesley Chu, Kameron Hurley, Ted Meissner

Saturday, July 5 • 8:30pm – 9:30pm
Organizing Online to Make a Better World: Do We Need to Tear the Old One Down?

Criticism and even rage blazing across social media has proven remarkably effective in getting complaints heard, but what are the downsides? How do we maintain communities when anger and volume get things done?

Panelists: Miri Mogilevsky, Jason Thibeault, Beth Voigt, Stephanie Zvan, Debbie Goddard

Sunday, July 6 • 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Urban Legends: Myths, Facts, and Half-Truths

From alligators in the sewer to clowns in the attic, urban legends walk the line between total absurdity and being just so outrageous that they might be true. Where do these stories come from, and why do they capture our imaginations so effectively?

Panelists: Jason Thibeault, Anne Sauer, Naomi Kritzer, Bug Girl, Shawn van Briesen

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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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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