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Archive for Commentary

Dudes? Feminism is for you, too

First, a caveat. My language below may not be elegant or use the proper scholarly terminology because I’m not formally educated in these subjects, but I have some things to say and I hope I say them well enough to convey my message, which is a simple one. My message here is more specifically for my male peers: gamers, nerds, and geeks.

Over the past few years, I’ve witnessed a lot of guys my generation or younger who believe that feminism is something it isn’t, or have taken some extreme form of it to stand for the whole thing (much like people often confuse radical religion factions to stand for a broader religion). These men (not necessarily full-blown Men’s Rights Activists which I won’t even get into here) believe that feminism has nothing to offer them. Ignoring the fact that you’re kind of a jerk if you can’t support something that doesn’t directly support you, I find this really sad. Most of us don’t conform to the traditional notions of masculinity much at all!

Feminism, I’ve come to learn over the years (perhaps embarrassingly late), has its sights set not just the societal structures responsible for women’s so-called “gender norms” but also the ones responsible for toxic masculinity. When it comes to my male peers, not one of us has escaped harm by toxic masculinity.

Ask any of us to describe what a man should be, and I will bet we’d most often describe gruff, taciturn men who never cry and spend their days drinking beer and fixing cars. Real men don’t have much in the way of feelings you can hurt. They fix things. They certainly don’t play games because they’re too busy doing home repairs or replacing engines in cars. I still have this mental picture.

Me, I don’t conform to that notion in the slightest. I’m a geeky, sensitive nerd who would rather play board games than rebuild a car engine. I barely trust myself with a hammer as I’m more likely to break something with it than I am to fix it. And when I wrote “sensitive” earlier, I felt a strong urge to write “overly” in front of it. That is toxic masculinity in a nutshell.

And do you know why I don’t feel any less than a man? Because feminism has taught me that being a “man” doesn’t mean conforming to any of these things. In general, I don’t feel any need to police what makes a person a man or what doesn’t. Especially not myself. You feel manly? Great. Gender norms are bullshit and I believe you should be who you want and do what you want (provided you’re not hurting anyone). It’s a pretty basic rule that I think most people agree with generally. I don’t know why this particular issue trips people up.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a man for myself lately because it’s entangled with my notions of what it means to be a father. I find myself emulating my own Dad more often than I like. I struggle with how I react, in particular, to my son crying. My bone-deep instinct is to encourage him to stop crying at any cost, to tell him he’s not hurt, etc. But of course he is! When I catch myself doing that, I feel a lot more shame than I ever did for not being able to change the oil in my car or whatever.

I feel like none of my peers really like gender norms much. If you don’t like them, then I believe you need to acknowledge the role that feminism has in attacking all gender norms. You’re more free to be the person you want to be because of the hard work of feminists.  Feminists aren’t working to just make the lives of women better; they’re working to make all lives better, even yours.

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Why I am Quitting Facebook (Or Attempting to)

If I were to describe my Facebook habits to pre-Facebook me, he would be intrigued and more than a little horrified.  I suppose this makes me a bit of a Luddite these days, to question the value of something that has become so omnipresent, but I have serious beefs with the role that social media has started to take in my life.  I’ve spent over a month tinkering with things, trying new filters, and ultimately I’ve decided that Facebook has to go.

First– I’m not here to convince you to quit Facebook.  If you’re getting more out of it than you put in, and you’re happy with the volume of energy that you’re dedicating to the platform, then please don’t let me change that.  However, if you suspect that Facebook might be bad for your mental health or eating too much time, then perhaps read on and see what I have to say here.

Facebook, when it comes down to it, is too easy.  Prior to this week, I had it on my phone, my iPad, my work computer, and my writing laptop.  Whenever I was using any of these devices, my awareness that Facebook exists was there in my head. There is an endless stream of links, opinions, and general “water cooler talk” available over on the platform, merely a touch or click away.  You want to see aww-cute animals?  Facebook’s got it.  You want to feel outrage? Oh boy, do they have that too.  Do you want to feel soul-crushing jealousy at acquaintances living far more exciting lives than you?  Yep.  Facebook has you covered.

It’s not all bad.  It can make you feel more connected. It helps us keep informed on the lives of people that we would probably not stay in touch with as well without it. It definitely plays a role in informing people and sharing knowledge.  But as a “social” tool, I think its flawed, at least for me.  “Wow,” sometimes I would think. “I have so many amazing and cool friends all over the world.”  But I really examined this, and I realized that I didn’t really know how most of these people felt about me.  I don’t talk one-on-one with most of them, and I don’t really have a relationship to them. I have a relationship to a platform that mediates all of my interactions with those people.  Facebook chooses what you see, and no amount of tinkering can strip away that algorithm, I found.

It got to the point where I would be around friends in the actual physical world but I would spend part of our time together reading social media.  We’ve all been at meals where everyone stares at their phones, and this is the great damage that Facebok has done to me.  Because of that endless scroll, you almost feel obligated to keep up.  Afraid that you might miss something that will deliver a good little dopamine hit in any of those categories above.  I don’t want to make any weak drug analogies, but I definitely began to use Facebook in an addictive way. Wake up, check Facebook.  Check Facebook all day.  Read Facebook one more time in bed.  Repeat.  And the longer I went without checking it, the more uncomfortable I felt.  I was missing out! The world was moving without me if I wasn’t there, reading and reacting.

Being wired in to the action helps paper over feelings that my own life isn’t going places as much as I would like.  As a Dad, I get out and interact with the real world a lot less often than before, and working from home all day doesn’t help. Ultimately, instead of easing feelings of loneliness, Facebook seemed to be exacerbating them.  Or, to be more accurate, the way I was using it was.

I want deeper, more personal connections in my life.  I don’t need a large number of them, but I also don’t want a third party involved in those connections, shaping them in invisible ways.  I want to get to know you, not the you that you project to the public on Facebook. What I’ve come to realize is, my truest friends are the ones that I communicate with regularly outside the mediation of social media.  The rest just began to feel artificial, a cheap facade, and I was spending ever-increasing amounts of time on wishing it to be more solid than it was.  Far too much time.

It has not been uncommon for me to spend three hours a day reading social media and responding to it.  That’s time that could be better spent playing with my kid, reading, or writing. And reading, that’s really what has suffered.  I used to read endlessly, but it began to feel like a chore in comparison to the easy quick fixes of social media.  I read most often on my iPad, and there was always that siren call of “what’s going on in the world? What am I missing while I’m reading this book?”

My habits around social media developed with no thought to the consequences–no thought about the opportunity costs.  For every activity you devote time toward, there are dozens more that you don’t. That’s opportunity cost, and I’m not comfortable with them right now, especially not comfortable making them without careful consideration. I don’t like it when habits form unintentionally.

So here I am, trying to break the habits and form new ones. It’s not made easier by the fact that I’m unable to delete my profile due to some developer apps I have set up for clients. I’m allowing myself to continue to use messenger because that’s one-on-one interaction that I want to foster. This means that I do open Facebook still.  And if I’m not careful, I start scrolling and clicking reaction buttons like I never quit. (This explains why you may have seen likes appear and disappear from me lately.  Quitting is a process.)

One immediate impact from trying to remove Facebook from my life has been an increase in blogging.  Remember blogging? That think we all did before Facebook and Twitter came along to chop up our thoughts into even tinier increments?  Even that seems like it was a fad, as everyone makes 20+ long tweet threads that are a pain in the ass to read on a micro-blogging platform.  Even I do it, for the simple reason that probably 12 people read this blog, but several hundred (at a minimum) see my tweets.  There’s always that dopamine hit of people liking and retweeting.

I like blogging, too–I like taking more space and time to think and share my thoughts. Most importantly, this is a choice I’m making.  Less Facebook.  More books.  More blogging.  Deliberate choices instead of accidental habits is the theme of my life right now as I attempt to develop a much healthier lifestyle.  I’m choosing what I eat more carefully, and carving out at least 30 minutes a day for exercise.

I want my head space back. I want to spend my time in the real world, being more intimate with it and the people that matter most. I want to live in the now and in my immediate space. I want to get to know my own thoughts better.  Doing so can only make me a better writer, and hopefully a better person.

So that’s why I’m quitting Facebook and why I’m limiting how much time I spend reading on Twitter.  It’s possible that one day I’ll let myself use the service for a few minutes every few days to keep up better with extended social circles (I do care about you all, honest). If you think of me as a close friend, or would like me to become one, I hope you’ll get in touch with me via email or text or phone–any direct method of communication is alright by me. I’ll be reaching out to some of you myself as time allows. If all goes well, I should have more of it on my hands very soon.

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Futuristic Foods and Where to Find Them

I learned over the holiday weekend that my story “Taste the Singularity at the Food Truck Circus” made the Tangent Online recommended reading list.  It received two stars out of a possible three. My posting this news is not a tacit endorsement of Dave Truesdale or any of his behaviors.  Anyway, I’m proud of this story and its reception.  It came out during WorldCon in Kansas City and a lot of people mentioned enjoying it to me, which made me really happy.

Speaking of future food, io9 has an article today called “Eight Futuristic Foods You’ll Be Eating in 30 Years” which, see above, is a subject that holds considerable interest to me.  I think the list is kind of disappointing and arbitrary, but I do wish I had done more with bugs in my story.  I do there there’s interesting material there.   What about you?  Would you eat bugs or food made from processed bugs? I think this may be one case where the processed version is preferable to the natural form.

This next bit of news has absolutely nothing to do with food — I have a new story out today on Drabblecast called “Garen and the Hound.”  This story is another Garen the Undreaming story — the first appeared in last year’s Swords v. Cthulhu.  It’s a short short, an easy read or listen.  I’m hoping to write another, longer Garen story later this year.

Finally, a personal note from me to you.  I am glad that you survived 2016, and I wish you the best of luck in 2017.  I hope to have some interesting things for you to read in the coming days.  2017 is gonna be the year of the blog comeback. I’m calling it now.

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Luke Cage Made Me Uncomfortable And That Taught Me Something About Systemic Racism in Media

Netflix’s latest Marvel series, Luke Cage, left me feeling somewhat uneasy in the first episodes. I wasn’t really sure why. I’d enjoyed all of the Netflix/Marvel series to degrees, but none of them had left me feeling quite so discomforted in the early part of the story. It was somewhere in perhaps the second or third episode when I finally began to put my finger on what was making me feel so strange watching the show. That led to even greater discomfort.

Why was I having trouble? I didn’t always get the cultural references being made. Some of the slang was unfamiliar as well, and I couldn’t identify with a lot of the life experiences of the characters. And then that last matter: there were very few white people on the show. Almost none in those early episodes. That couldn’t actually matter, could it?

My first reaction with myself was to get defensive. Why should that bother me? I’m not a complete stranger to that experience. I lived in Kenya for half a year in college, and it wasn’t uncommon for me to be the only white person around in my travel there. There were times when it was fine, and times when it was uncomfortable, but this felt different. I aim to not be or act consciously racist, although I know I struggle with innate bias like many do.  And so on the thoughts went.  Basically, the boiled down to “I’m a good person, I’m not racist, the problem isn’t with me, it must be with the show.”  Yawn.

If I stopped at that level of introspection, I wouldn’t be writing this post. Thankfully, my thinking went a little bit deeper. As I explored the feeling, it suddenly struck me: oh. Wait a second. What if this is what people of color feel when they watch 90% of American televsion, rarely ever seeing themselves represented, and when they do, it’s a stereotype, a caricature of a real person? Oh my God, it must be something like this. It must be like this with nearly every single show, movie, book. Day in, day out. This is what it feels like to not see yourself represented in the media.

Holy shit. 

I was supportive of the cause of more diversity and representation in our entertainment, but I didn’t understand it very well until now. I hadn’t walked a few episodes in the shoes of a person of color, so to speak. I hesitate to even make that analogy, because my short, weekend experience can’t begin to compare to a lifetime of that. I gained a little perspective, that’s all. But it helps me understand and empathize better, to connect with the words I’ve been hearing and reading for so long, but never fully understanding.

My discomfort passed quickly. I found I enjoyed the show even more for the fact that I was witnessing many things and viewpoints new to me. Ultimately, I think the character of Luke Cage is my favorite of the Netflix heroes. More than any of the others, he personifies an ideal, a struggle. To be good and do good for others. Honestly… he makes Daredevil look like a self-obsessed jerk.

All that said – nothing else I could say about the show really matters in light of that little glimpse I received, I think. You could very easily say that this isn’t a show for me. And you’re probably right that in some sense that this show was made perhaps to let people of color feel like  get to feel with nearly every damn show on the television. My experience is secondary to the primary experience. But I thought it worth mentioning. And I hope more white geeks like myself have a similar experience. It was eye-opening for me. And I really want to read about how the show made people of color feel. I can’t wait to listen to their thoughts and experiences with the show, so I can understand all of this even better.

In the future, I hope we get a lot more shows like Luke Cage. I hope they make me uncomfortable in exactly the same way. I eagerly look forward to watching them. As for my own writing, I know that I will take the lesson seriously. It’s going to change the way I think about some things. How exactly remains to be seen, but I am determined not to squander the perspective I gained.

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Stepping on Acorns

I go on a lot of walks. It’s the only form of exercise that doesn’t leave me feeling like death, which probably means it is barely exercise at all, and my expanding waistline supports this notion.  I suppose it would expand a lot more quickly without the walks, so they do serve a purpose.   I walk, I listen to podcasts, I think.  And at a certain time of year, I step on acorns.

This is absolutely not a metaphor for any other hobby or professional pursuit.  I really do this.

You might be asking, why would I want to step on acorns?  The right acorn, stepped on in the right way, is practically an orgasmic experience of textured vibration and sound.  The perfect acorn crunch is like the best bubble wrap pop times one hundred.  Really, why does anybody do anything?  It’s pleasurable, and there’s satisfaction in a stepping done well.

I’ve collected below a few tips and tricks to the practice that I think would be beneficial to the beginner.

First, you have to go on walks in places where there are acorns.  A treadmill is no good.   Indoor tracks or malls, no good.  You miss 100% of the acorns you don’t see.   Find the acorns, and walk.   A nice neighborhood full of mature trees like the one I live in is a good option.  If you live in a place without trees, such as the desert, I’m afraid this activity might not be for you.  There’s almost certainly some other kind of local analogue you can take up.  Let me know what you find.

Next, you have to keep your eyes open and scan the ground ahead.  You have to know where the acorn trees generally are, and generally the season of the year in which acorns litter the pavement.  You can walk randomly, sometimes accidentally stepping on acorns, but for the best results, step with purpose.  Over time, you’ll find that you’ll develop a sense for acorns as you walk and it won’t take so much effort.

The actual stepping can have a variety of outcomes:

Sometimes, you miss the acorn entirely.  There’s not much sense in altering the rhythm of your steps to get that acorn that’s fallen out of your path.  Sometimes, the acorn falls on the grass, and you can’t crush an acorn into the soil.   Sometimes, you step for the acorn, misjudge the distance, and you come down hard on empty air.  Them’s the breaks, no pun intended.  You have to let go of the acorns you miss.  There will always be more acorns.

Sometimes, you step down on an acorn and it’s all rotted out, mushy, and it makes no satisfying crunch. It just kind of… deflates.  It’s a disappointing when a step goes awry in this way, but it’s basically out of your hands.  The acorn went bad through no fault of your own.  You came to it too late, alas.

Sometimes, you step down on an acorn and it doesn’t crunch at all. It’s a hardy sort, and mostly just hurts your foot, even through the soles of your footwear.  That acorn wasn’t ready yet.  Hit it up on your next walk.  Some acorns, you can’t crack for days.  You might come to enjoy the challenge.  You might just kick the acorn into the storm drain out of frustration.  Who knows, maybe that acorn was destined to be a tree, and there was nothing you could do to stop that.  Wish it luck and move on.

The worst feeling is when you step on an acorn and you realize it wasn’t an acorn at all– it was a snail.  Acorn crushing is harmless; each tree drops thousands of them, and most people don’t want a forest in their front lawns.  When you step on a snail, you get the same satisfying crunch, but it comes at a terrible cost of guilt and grief, not to mention an agonizing and instant death for the snail.  Sometimes, this happens because you’re not paying enough attention.  Sometimes, you step on a snail accidentally, because of poor lighting or bad eyesight.  I don’t have any really good advice to avoid this, except to try not walk where you have seen snails in the past.  Best to avoid those regions entirely and apologize sincerely to the snails.  You can’t take back the pain you’ve caused, but you can try not to do it again.

When your steps are just right, when the acorn’s fallen in the right patch of concrete, and when you walk with purpose, setting your sights on the right nut–you get the perfect crunch.  It happens maybe one out of every ten, twenty acorns.  The sound, the feeling of it under your foot, it’ll be a mix a pleasure and the satisfaction of a job done entirely right. Nothing beats that, and you can do it a dozen times a day.

To recap: stepping on acorns successfully requires a mixture of planning, intent, practice, and luck.  But I know that if you dedicate yourself to the process like I have, you too will be doing it at a professional level in no time at all.

This is definitely about a real thing.  But it might also be a metaphor about other things.

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Geeks Dudes, You Need to Learn to Withold Your Opinions Sometimes

I have a 12 year old nephew who I’ve somehow, accidentally on purpose gotten addicted to Magic: The Gathering.  I tell my sister that I did her a favor. I crack out the old chestnut, “It’s a good thing, sis!  If he’s into Magic, he’ll never have money for drugs!”  For me, the only downside is, at any and every family gathering, he wants me to play, and I was never actually very good at Magic.  This is all background information for a little incident at our FLGS (friendly local game store, for short).

The nephew mows our lawn, and sometimes afterward, he asks me to take him to an FLGS to get cards.  Today, the mower was dead (battery issues) so on the way to taking him home, we dropped into the store.  He has never really bought singles before this, and was unclear how it worked.  Magic singles in this particular store are put in large card binders that you must flip through.  The particularly juicy cards are stored in the glass counter case.

As he was flipping through the binders, a couple of guys in their mid-20s came in and began to look around.  One of them decided to look at Magic singles also.  This guy decided to strike up a conversation with my nephew.

“What kind of deck are you building?”

“A blue/red aggro thing.”

“Like, with spells, or creatures?”

“With creatures you get out fast and pump up to make more powerful.”

“Blue/red? There aren’t a lot of good cards for that.  That won’t work.”

And with that,  gamer dude moved on to looking at board games, not realizing that he’d just shit all over the deck ideas of a twelve year old.  The nephew was a little disheartened, but he tried not to show it.  Eventually he gave up, bought a couple of cards, and we left.

On the drive back to his home, I told the nephew how Magic: The Gathering was in the early days when I started playing.  Not very many people had the internet back int he early 90s.  There were no deck lists, and there were really only a small handful of sets to draw from.  The weird codified rules of Magic hadn’t come to be yet, and you didn’t see the same decks consisting of the same powerful cards over and over again.  We often played with 200-300 card decks–sometimes every card we owned.  We were free to experiment and try different things.

I said: “I want you to know that when people try to give you advice like that, you don’t have to listen to them.  They may be older than you, but they’ve forgotten how to just have fun when they play this game.  All they care about is winning at Friday Night Magic. Remember that the most important thing about Magic is to have fun.”

I encouraged him to keep making his own decks, and to keep experimenting.  “If everyone played Magic like those guys, nobody would ever invent a new deck again.  There are a lot of different card combinations out there to be discovered.”

I’m sure that guy thought he was being helpful, but it’s people like him, and play styles like that, that drove me out of games like Magic: The Gathering.  If the collective idea of fun is limited only to winning, and not diving deep into the game’s many possibilities, then a game loses a lot of its luster for me.  The same thing as happened with the X-Wing miniatures game for me.   It’s ruled now by specific lists and specific play styles codified by “top level” players somewhere else.  Where’s the inventiveness and creativity?

You’re welcome to your play styles and your obsession with winning over all else, but hey, maybe don’t put that on a kid?  A kid who might crack the code and make the next championship deck if he keeps his mind open.  You never know.  He certainly won’t do that if he listens to people who tell him to keep “coloring within the lines.” (Is that a Magic pun? Oh well.)

In general, geek dudes, myself included, tend to be full of all kinds of opinions about how games and our hobbies are meant to be enjoyed.  It’s one of the many things we debate amongst ourselves as part of the hobbies.  However, these attitudes and behaviors do not play well with newcomers.  We do a lot of harm to our hobbies when we act like we own the goddamned things, when we project our opinions unsolicited onto others.  My nephew did not ask for advice on his deck ideas.  That girl browsing the graphic novels did not ask for your advice on which book she would like the most.  And so on, and so on–the internet is full of anecdotes like this one of much greater seriousness.

I’ve seen so much policing like this take place in hobby stores.  I’m certain I’ve even been responsible for incidents.  I’m sure my intention was to be helpful, but you know what they say about intentions.  You can bet after seeing the impact things had today on a kid’s enthusiasm, I will be much, much less likely to do so in the future.

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Thoughts on Augmented Reality Gaming and Pokemon Go

maxresdefaultI’m completely hooked so far on Pokemon Go, the latest augmented reality game from Niantic.  For those that don’t know (the internet is saturated with people talking about it this week), Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game that you play in the real world. Using GPS, the game spawns various pocket monsters that you can capture and add to your collection. Supposedly, different types of monsters spawn in different areas.  For instance, water-type pokemon are found near rivers and lakes (although my limited play time has not supported that idea).

Instead of sitting at home to play, you must walk or bicycle (the game detects if you are driving by speed and will lock you out for safety reasons). When you go to capture a monster you have encountered, your camera shows the real world around you and the game projects a 3D monster into the scene. You throw pokeballs at the monster with your finger to capture them.  It’s a very basic mechanism, completed quickly, but very immersive, and makes the little monsters come alive in a way they never have before in the dozens of previous Pokemon games.

In addition to the monsters to hunt and discover, there are two types of permanent locations on the overlay map. There are poke stops, which you can visit every 5 minutes to receive in-game items like potions to heal your monsters and poke balls used to capture the monsters. There are also gyms, which is where the main competitive element comes into play.

When you get to level 5 with your character, you are asked to join one of three teams. These teams then compete to control the various gyms around town. You use a team of your monsters to attack monsters installed in a gym. If you win, you take it over for your team, and each day you control a gym, you get rewards to make your monsters better.

There are more intricacies involving monster evolutions and power ups and such, but I won’t bother digging into those here. The main thing you do is walk around, capturing monsters, getting stuff from poke stops, and attacking gyms to take them over for your team.

The launch has not been without problems.  The company making the game, Niantic, has struggled put up enough server infrastructure to keep up with demand.  They previously made another augmented reality game called Ingress  The game chews through your phone battery like nothing else I’ve ever used.  There are crashes and hang-ups galore in the game.  But none of that is anything more than a mild inconvenience.

This blurring of reality and gaming provides all new incentives for activity and socialization.   Reddit’s subreddit for the game is full of stories with people getting in trouble at their jobs for playing, nearly having accidents, making new friends, and even making dates.  Because it’s a massively multiplayer game in the real world, as you wander around traveling to the locations, you will encounter other players in the real world.    And then there are the odd-ball stories like the girl who found a dead body in Wyoming while playing the game.

Augmented reality gaming is not just a technological phenomenon; it’s also a sociological one.  It will be fascinating to watch how it impacts the lives of the players over time, especially as the game becomes more stable.

I live very close to a small college campus, and there about 8 poke spots (corresponding with important historical markers, public art, and buildings) and three gyms within my usual walk circuit. I’ve taken to making a loop to hit things up and catch monsters along the way. Maybe adds 10 minutes to my walk time, and seriously boosts my step count on the fitbit. Being distracted helps me tolerate the heat, too. I’m sweating horribly, but I don’t notice.   I was already walking regularly, but this has added at least 3000 to 4000 steps a day to my counter since release.  I am busy looking around for new places around town to walk so I can expand my collection.  I’ve not talked with any other players, but I see them everywhere, and it’s only a matter of time until I end up in a conversation with them, exchanging tips and talking about our best monsters.

As a science fiction writer, I’m (of course) speculating about how these experiences will change with improved technology.  Even with the clunky interface and overlay of a camera phone, the game really triggers a sense that there’s a hidden world of creatures all around us.  I’m imagining how much more immersive this experience will be when we do not need a phone to provide the visuals, and instead wear special glasses.  Google Glass, only way better.  Microsoft’s HoloLens would probably be an example of the next step in interface.

Virtual reality, to me, presents a large number of difficult-to-solve problems involving basic biology and physics.  Augmented reality circumvents a lot of the spatial problems by using real world space.  No need for virtual walls or struggling to overcome nausea with higher framerates.   Augmented reality will present its own unique problems, too, of course.  Especially this:  what are non-players going to think of those who are playing in public spaces like Pokemon Go encourages?  There will likely be some backlash, and soon, at least temporarily.

Ultimately, if you’re interested at all, you can download Pokemon Go from an app store.  It requires a pretty new phone–with Apple, at least an iPhone 5.  It remains to be seen what kind of longevity the game will have, although Niantic appears committed to developing deeper game mechanics and general improvements.   Even with the problems now,  I’m finding it to be incredibly entertaining.  Give it a try if it interests you at all.  This could be the next stage of something pretty big.  And if it helps you stay fit? Even better.

 

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The Climate Change Conundrum for Me as a Writer

At least in my fiction, I’ve recently decided to stop addressing the climate change problem in and of itself.  That is, I’m not writing stories about trying to “solve” or “prevent” climate change.

I think we’ve passed the point where we can prevent a significant change.  From my reading lately, the global temperature increases are worse and faster than previously thought.  I recently read a report that said we may see a 5 C increase over the next 100 years.  And it’s possible we will find that to be a cautious estimate as well as we learn more and more the chain reaction of consequences of the warming we have already experienced.

Policy makers are still debating a 1.5 C change limit, but it’s clear to me that we’ve missed the chance of making that a reality.  In my fiction moving forward, I’m expecting that we will see 2-5C increase, unchecked before real actions are taken, if any.  Why so much?  Permafrost.

How will the future look with a middle-ground 3 C change?  Famine, global refugee crisis, and urban heat waves, for starters.

How will the future look with a 5 C change? It’s something all near-future SF writers should be contemplating.

My science fiction moving forward will be about dealing with the change itself, and mitigating their impacts.  You could argue that this is a pessimistic outlook and it could detract from the public will to take action, but from my perspective, the public will is nil.  Maybe more detailed and accurate depictions of the alternative in our genre and media could spur at least some preparation.

I wish I had cause for optimism on this matter, but I just don’t see any lately.

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“Complain About Bad Pranks” Day

This is not a gag or a prank.  This is just a few assorted thoughts about the phenomenon of April Fools.  Or as I previously called it,  “Don’t Believe Anything Online” day.  Today, I’ve started calling it the name you see in the headline above.

I get the urge to prank–I do. There’s something intoxicating about pulling one over on other people, of convincing them of some small white lie.  I think the pleasure of that is what lies at the heart of the faux-holiday.   I can still remember my first April Fools prank ever.  I told my little sister there was a spider on the wall behind her.  There was no spider.  When she reacted with terror, I laughed and laughed.  April Fools!  She was maybe four years old.  But I got her good, right?  What a fool for trusting her big brother that something terrifying was right behind her!

When I was in college and the internet was still a new thing, the general attitude towards April Fools was that it was a fun, goofy thing.  Sometimes you’d forget the date and get taken by a gag, ha ha! All in good fun.  Over time, bigger and bigger companies got involved.  As the internet has grown in importance in our life, April Fools has grown too, until it has become something that many of us no longer look forward to;  I’d say we actively dread it now.

Google added a “mic drop” button to Gmail last night that allows someone to post a goofy Minions gif in an email and then stop receiving follow-ups.   Gmail, used by millions, if not billions, for communications of various importance, put this button perilously close to the send button.  The results have been somewhat predictable.

If you’re wondering why long-term users of the web feel a little exhausted by April Fools, it’s items like this that hold the explanation.  And when the Internet was just a side show to our regular lives, the gags were funny and hard to take seriously.  But now, it’s part of everyday life.  It’s part of our jobs and our personal lives.

Does it really make sense to have a day where every company, every bit of software becomes strangely unreliable?   Maybe we should scale it back a little, Google? Maybe “Do No Evil” should include “lay off the dumb pranks.”

That’s one perspective, and one for which I have a lot of sympathy, but I also would like to argue that April Fools enhances a powerful mental condition:  a state of general disbelief and incredulity.  You know how, when you remember the date, you read everything online with a grain of salt?

Perhaps we should be reading everything that way the other 364 days out of the year too.  If we practiced incredulity more often, we could cut down on the disinformation that populates Facebook and Twitter in an election year like cherry blossoms in spring.

It’s difficult to be on guard all the time, though.  Maybe the best we can hope for is April Fools being the one day where nobody believes anything they read.  I’ll at least harbor a hope that within a hundred years, we can stretch that out to two or three days of disbelief every year.  We could use a hell of a lot more of it in our lives, online and off.

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