More on the purpose of readings

In my previous post (which you may have missed, since FTB was down for a few days), I asked “What is the purpose of a reading?” I discussed a reading of Elden Ring that baffled me. I could not understand the purpose of the reading, other than arguing that it was intended by the authors. And the article didn’t really do anything to convince me of authorial intent.

I wanted to keep things simple, but my thoughts were spiraling outwards from there. So, if you permit, some more scattered discussion.

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What is the purpose of a reading?

In media analysis, we speak of “readings”, or interpretations of what’s going on in a work of (usually) fiction. Readings are not factual, they are fictional, and mutually contradictory readings can coexist. Naive readers often think that there’s just one right answer, which is to say whatever the author intended. However, authors can fail to fulfill their intentions, or else create something that goes in directions that they never intended. This is what’s meant by “death of the author”: a reading does not need to align with authorial intent in order to be a good reading.

But like a work of art, a reading can still be good or bad. And authorial intent is at least sometimes relevant to making that judgment. So let’s talk about a little reading that I saw a couple years ago that baffled me so much that I still think about it today.

In Gayming Magazine, there was an article talking about a queer reading of Elden Ring. I’m already on board, of course. The article started by observing that in a couple endings of the game, the player character becomes the “consort” of Queen Marika or Ranni the Witch. And generally, the game doesn’t really care whether the player character is male or female. So if you have a female player character, you can become the same-sex “consort” of a queen or a goth, and the game doesn’t really treat you any different for it. So that’s neat. That’s not the article that baffled me.

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Reflecting on interdisciplinary journal clubbing

I come from a physics background, but I spent the past three years running the Ace Journal Club, a group that reads scholarly articles from the interdisciplinary field of asexuality studies. While I was never the sort of person who disrespected the social sciences, my experience with the journal club has enhanced my respect and appreciation.

Asexuality studies is a highly interdisciplinary field, mostly within the social sciences. Looking at our monthly public discussion notes, the most common fields are psychology, sociology, and gender studies. But there have also been a few from communication studies, health sciences, and literature. There are a few odd examples from linguistics, library sciences, and I don’t even know how to classify the paper doing quantitative analysis of romance novels.

An important aspect of the journal club is that we aren’t just reading papers–we’re also discussing them. If I were just reading papers on my own, I would be left on my own to seethe about something the paper said that just didn’t make sense. But since I’m discussing it with other people, some of whom have expertise in the field, they can explain why it says that. OR, more frequently, they explain why it’s even worse than I thought, and then we can complain about it together!

How is it that all these complaints about social science articles lead to greater respect of the social sciences? It shows me that the social sciences are alive.
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Link Roundup: February 2024

Bloodless Board Games, Covert Colonialisms | Strange Matters – Kyle Flannery analyzes colonialism in a variety of euro-style board games, from Settlers of Catan to Spirit Island and Root.  Really great article.

We are huge fans of Spirit Island, which is not just a thoughtful response to the colonialism extant in its genre, but is also a top tier strategy game purely on merit.  That said, the game should hardly be the final word on anticolonialism in board games, and has its share of thematic issues.  My husband remarked that because the game is focused on the narrative of an indigenous group fighting back against colonists and winning, it needs to give them tools that they did not have in real life.  In this case, the tool they have is aid from magical spirits (aka, the players).  The natives themselves are left with relatively little agency.  (I do think the article exaggerates how much the spirits actually kill the natives though.  By design, you never want to kill them.)

Was I Rejected from Jury Duty for being too smart? | Rebecca Watson – Rebecca Watson looks into the common contention that critical thinkers often get booted from jury selection.  It seems that lawyers might sometimes block jurors for being “smart”, but rather than being a systematic thing, it’s a strategy they might use for certain cases.  For what it is worth, I’ve served on a jury before, and was surprised by the high level of education among the other jurors.

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Origami: Striped Box

Striped Box

Striped Box, designed by me

Once a year I run a little origami class for kids, for someone I know.  As a self-imposed constraint, I always teach modular origami.  It’s hard to find simple modular origami models that kids can do in a reasonable amount of time!

I’ve wanted to make a modular origami box, and a big one so that it can hold other origami inside.  So I bought some colored A4 paper, and looked around for a simple box design.  None of them were quite to my liking, so I made my own design.  There’s no lid for this box, because we’re keeping it simple.  I have folding diagrams if you’d like to try.

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Let’s Read: Transformer Models, Part 3

This is the final part of my series reading “Attention is all you need”, the foundational paper that invented the Transformer model, used in large language models (LLMs). In the first part, we covered some background, and in the second part we reviewed the architecture of the Transformer model. In this part, we’ll discuss the authors’ arguments in favor of Transformer models.

Why Transformer models?

The authors argue in favor of Transformers in section 4 by comparing them to previously extant options, namely recurrent neural networks (RNNs) and convolutional neural networks (CNNs).

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