Humblebrag: My Daughter The Artist

AnimeGirl

Up until about six months ago, my daughter wanted to be a veterinarian. She loves animals to a scary degree, but the idea of having to do…medical stuff… finally caught up to her and caused her to admit that she’s just not mentally fortified to see wounded animals or perform surgery.

In a random tangent, she now wants to be an animator. She’s getting into anime along with her friends, and has been watching Cartoon Network and Disney since time immemorial. Last Christmas, she took all of her birthday and Christmas money and bought herself a Galaxy Tab tablet with stylus and has been using it to hone her artistic skills. Previously, she had been using good old paper for years, but the tablet allows her to be a lot more mobile. Recently, though, she’s been using my tiny Wacom Bamboo tablet connected to her laptop because the tablet doesn’t have the range of powerful artistic software that the PC has.

I really wish I had a progression of her artistic examples at the ready, but I don’t. I do, however, have her most recent work which, if you did have access to her previous work, you’d recognize how far she’s come in her skills.

I’m very proud of her and her dedication to improving her abilities, and I think it’s paying off. She’s only 13, and I’m excited to see how she improves going forward.

Brokers: Moving Data

Brokers move data. Most of the data is stolen, although they also move “data with intent”: information about future events and plans.

The broker system is designed around trust, which is inherently difficult to understand about a system that moves ill gotten gains. At it’s core is a network of people who move data obtained by independent contractors — mercenaries — into the possession of people who want to buy that data.

Data comes to the brokers in one of two ways:

  1. A client approaches a broker and wants to hire a team to obtain very specific data from a very specific source.
  2. An independent team has already completed a run and has data to sell.

Case 1:

Clients (corporations, usually, but also crime families and even individuals) will contact a broker that they know about and will put in a request for a job. They’ll provide information to the broker that’s needed to complete the assignment: the target, any specific information the mercenaries will need to know in order to find what is being sought, etc.

The broker almost always gives the same line: “let me put my feelers out and see what I can find.”

They will then use their extensive knowledge of the “mercenary scene” to assemble a team that has what they believe to be the best skills for the job. They will contact those people (or alternates if those people are unavailable, working, or dead) and finally determine a fee based on the team’s understanding of a non-specific overview of the job.

The broker then contacts the client with the fee, and if accepted, the team engages in the run.

Upon completion, the data is placed into an encrypted online bucket. The client is notified and deposits the money into another encrypted online bucket. This bucket distributes the money to the (remaining) participants, including the broker. Once all of these pieces are in place, all of the buckets unlock: the client receives the data, and the broker and the team receive their payments.

Case 2:

An existing team, bored, makes “smash and grab” runs against random corporate targets. They score some data, and approach the broker in order to sell it.

Brokers convene through a darknet connection. The identities of each broker in this connection is anonymous, even though the brokers no doubt know one another in real life. Each broker who has data for sale lists the goods, and the group decides on the relative value.

All unclaimed goods are placed on the Board, a public darknet that teams and corporations can use to browse what is up for sale. The Board does not provide WHICH BROKER has the data or which team provides it.

Interested buyers can put in bids for the data for a certain amount of time. Once the highest bidder is identified (anonymously), the secure bucket delivery service is invoked and everyone is paid.

The system works for several reasons:

  1. Brokers are known, so as to be approachable
  2. Brokers take no sides. They do not work for corporations, nor do they work for mercenaries. They only bring the two together, and act as a go-between when goods need to transfer hands.
  3. Brokers are not to be messed with. Taking on one broker takes on ALL brokers, and blacklists the individual or client (or anyone associated with the client) for varying periods of time, based on the offense.
  4. All those who approach the brokers are considered equals.
  5. Parties remain anonymous when dealing with one another, including the brokers when it comes time to transfer the data.

Exceptional Situations:

Often times the first party to approach a broker about “random data” — data being sold by non-contracted teams — will be the target from whom the data was stolen. Many corporations will make overtures to their favored broker (or sometimes all the ones they know about) to simply buy out the data at exorbitant prices in a bid to get the data back and prevent it from falling into the hands of their competition.

Brokers almost never entertain these requests because it would put their impartiality into question. As a means to dissuade future attempts to “out broker” the broker, the starting bid will usually be set at whatever price the corporate representative quoted that they were willing to pay to buy out the data.

Brokering is not a job one decides to apply for. Brokers are almost always sociable centers of community which gives them access to thousands of people. They appear to work for the community because they approach mercenaries for work, and are often local business owners (because it allows them to centralize and receive local traffic in a single location).

Brokers who violate the trust of the community, or of the corporations, do not last long. Mercenaries will refuse to work for brokers who favor corporations, and even for those brokers who favor mercenaries over corporations because it shows that the broker is unable or unwilling to deal fairly within the working system. In the same vein, corporations may benefit from a favoring broker once, but will rarely have the same opportunity another time, as that broker will be run out of business due to a lack of supply.

The oddest statute of the broker community deals with the division of payout when a team member dies during the run. Early on, unscrupulous mercenaries might have purposefully killed a member or members of their own team once the run was complete in order to receive a larger portion of the payout. Also, some brokers had been caught hiring OTHER teams to kill the original team in order to keep the lion’s share of the payout for himself.

In order to combat this, the secure bucket system was put into play. It ensures that the client receives the goods, the broker receives his or her commission, and the team receives their payment. Any payment that would have gone to a member who is confirmed dead (through secure reports from the local morgues) is donated to the charity of the broker’s choice. It’s weird, but it works: since neither the broker nor the party will receive the dead member’s share, and since the secure buckets will only unlock once ALL of the agreed-upon participants have claimed their portion, there’s no reason for anyone to betray anyone for money.

Finally, brokers only deal in data; for physical goods, they will refer the potential client or provider to the black market, which they have no ties to.

Welch Network Equipment and the VInE

The largest single corporate entity in the world is Welch Network Equipment. Although the name sounds rather bland, this single entity occupies a unique niche in the late 21st century world.

When the US closed its borders, the Internet was in peril. Because it covered the world, but because its governing body was headquartered in the US, a series of meetings were held to figure out what to do about the global network. It was decided that the Internet would remain as is, but with increased restrictions on general traffic into and out of the US. The governing body, however, would remain impartial and accessible to all nations. The rest of the world wasn’t happy about this convenient exception to US isolationist policy, but short of creating their own parallel network — which would result in confusion, conflict, and years worth of downtime and conflicting protocols — the world reluctantly agreed.

During the period of isolation, corporations used the Internet to keep up with the world affairs that the general population was denied. Corporations also heavily utilized the network for their own purposes. This resulted in two things: increased and better security, and more bandwidth. Bring the primary users of the Internet, and because corporations were concerned about favoritism from network providers, it was agreed (behind the “Star Spangled Curtain”, the world adopted name for US isolationist policy) that control over the Internet should be interred with a single, neutral corporate entity.

The responsibility for this task was given to Samantha Welch, the current head of the ICANN. She and her task force were given broad leeway to create a new self-sustaining, for-profit corporation that would administer the Internet and its infrastructure. Although many saw this as a potential conflict of interest — the Internet was meant to be free of meddling, and a single controlling entity meant monopoly — the only mandate that Welch had was that the resulting structure must provide equal access to everyone around the world. There would be no priority, no degradation, no second or third class access or infrastructure. In order for all corporations to use the Internet, no one corporation could be given more access than any other.

Welch created Welch Networking Equipment and took over the core name servers. With a cash infusion from all major corporations, Welch’s R&D department worked tirelessly to create a new, high-speed class of data routers, modems, firewalls, and switches. They also hired thousands of employees and began the daunting task of upgrading the US network to the latest transmission technology all the way from the network operations centers to the point of termination at the jack where the computing device plugged into the wall.

In an effort to get the rest of the world on board with the upgrade, Welch issued and ultimatum: upgrade your hardware and infrastructure at your own expense, or you’ll be cut off. Some countries thumbed their noses at the mandate, and Welch made good on her promise. Those who scrambled to upgrade were helped along by WNE, and were back on-line as quickly as they could perform the work. The few rogue countries which turned their back on the proposal attempted to recreate their isolated segments of the Internet, with varying success.

The end result was a much faster, more modular, easily upgradable network. It was dubbed “Internet 2.0”, and the world enjoyed faster speeds and more universal access for several years.

As the corporations grew, the original estimates for bandwidth usage seemed overly optimistic. Welch and her team needed to open the floodgates and deploy a technology that had virtually no limit to the amount of data that could be passed. Understanding that the speed of the data transmission had a hand in how much data could be moved through a connection, a freak breakthrough in a fringe technology — quantum entanglement — yielded one of humanity’s greatest discoveries, and that discovery lead to near instant data transmissions through regional hubs.

This was “Internet 3.0”.

Most everyone still connected to the Internet via mobile, tablet, or stationary devices, but working in concert with North Point Biometrics, WNE began experimenting with neural interfaces, citing the “BKAC” — Between Keyboard and Chair — to be the last, limiting factor that slows down the transmission of data. NPB and WNE’s research resulted in “direct neural hijacking”. These implants allowed a user to plug in directly to the Internet to see, hear, and feel data being transmitted.

As this technology improved, became safer, and production and ease of implantation dropped in price to the point where its adoption was a viable option for most citizens, corporations salivated at the idea of being able to pump data directly into people’s field of vision or to pipe jingles into their auditory nerves. But visionaries took it one step further and created the VInE: the Virtual Internetworked Environment. With increased bandwidth and ever increasing processing power, corporations were able to host virtual realities that people could inhabit when jacked into the VInE, complete with a full sensory experience and biofeedback.

Citing its mandate as the controller of all things Internet, WNE took over the operation of the VInE. Previously, its revenue stream was built on selling access, but with the implants allowing people to connect to the VInE wherever they went, WNE needed to supplement their income with an ingenious strategy of “virtual real estate”. Since every device connected to the Internet also had a unique address in the VInE, each connected device — a single location in the virtual environment — was taxed. WNE also rented advertising space, and corporations fell over one another in a bid to buy up what they could. Soon, WNE became the singular, most wealthy corporation on the planet.

Still, WNE’s mandate of neutrality meant that they could never favor one entity over another, nor could they restrict any traffic through it’s network. To this day, WNE remains aloof from the usual inter-corporation feuds and crass commercialism that the corporations espouse. WNE isn’t afraid to leverage it’s position, however. If at any time WNE requires resources, leeway, or compliance, it receives it without question and without argument. Should the Internet and the VInE go dark, the world would descend into chaos.

Arcologies and Orbitals

In the mid 21st century, the US had closed its borders to the world after decades of international fatigue. While the rest of the world was both elated and frightened to see the US abdicating it’s duty to the planet in favor of pure protectionism, the people of the US felt tired of being both requested and reviled in equal measure.

During this period of isolation, corporations based within the US took a stronger lead than they had previously accepted. With the need for the country to be almost 100% self sufficient, the federal, state, and local governments alone couldn’t handle the needs of it’s citizens. With deep pockets and vast resources, many corporates stood up and began diversifying their goods and services to meet the needs of the population.

In the course of this activity, corporations saw ways to subvert the government to become premier players in the lives of US citizens. They were providing the things that the people needed, not the government, and corporations found that they could shift public perception in their favor simply through the adjustment of supply and demand. At first, many corporations overplayed their hand and were take aback by the public blowback in response to their overt attempts at manipulation of public opinion, but most corporations quickly mastered the art of advanced public relations in the 21st century to rally the population behind them and their agendas.

Feeling stretched thin by the scare continental resources, corporations began to consolidate their workforce into regional centers. The early “arcologies” were mostly constructs of convenience. Much like San Franciso or Austin in the early 21st century, companies began to relocate far-flung offices to ring their corporate HQ. This kept their employees close at hand, but also allowed them to dominate the region surrounding their corporate offices which they used to their advantage in influencing local and regional policies through economic power.

As regional control grew, it began to clash with other corporations. In order to solve this, decisions were made to move HQs to more open, currently less populated areas that could be developed totally for the needs of the company. Montana and South Dakota were popular for the first waves of corporations, but eventually as the distance between the entities grew, populated hubs were taken over and rebuilt for corporate purposes.

These new mega-cities — the current arcologies — were self-contained city-states that housed the corporate offices, but also provided their employees with housing, recreational and cultural facilities, schools, restaurants, shopping malls, and other venues that were built so that no one had to leave the corporate campus for anything. People were allowed to do so, of course, but few saw any reason to do so outside of visiting distant friends or relatives, or taking vacations to the “common zones” that were not under corporate control.

Despite their size, their number, and their reach, arcologies could not house everyone in the country. Many millions of people would not or could not work for these corporations, and therefor found themselves relegated to the existing cities that ringed the shiny new arcologies. In the slang of condescending corporate citizens, these cities were nicknamed “orbitals”, since they were hangers-on that orbited the arcologies good fortune and existed only because of the gravitational pull of the new upper class.

People who lived in the orbital cities were a mix of anti-corporate revolutionaries, self-made business people who refused to submit to bland corporate white-washing, and immigrants and forgotten people who had no chance of ever moving up into the arcologies even if they wanted to.

Although corporations focus their energies on maintaining the arcologies, their revenue actually comes mostly from the orbitals. In the late 21st century, the corporations forced a weakened US government to re-open the borders, and sent out emissaries to other nations to establish trade routes and outpost offices, manufacturing, and distribution centers. Over time, arcologies were built on other continents by US companies and by foreign companies that wanted to mimic the success and fanatical loyalty of a workforce that depended on them for everything in their lives. Still, the people living in the orbitals vastly outnumbered those who lived and worked in the arcologies, meaning that the corporations had to tailor their marketing strategies and their products for a class of citizen that was socially and economically far beneath their own experiences. This resulted in major reforms to privacy protection disguised as market research, strong-arm tactics to revise consumer protection laws, and a loosening of advertising restrictions that resulted in corporations being allowed to track and monitor their consumers, charge outrageous prices for questionable merchandise, and to market to all people in any way that saw the best results.

As the influence grew, corporations once again began to butt heads, this time more economically than physically. Demographic targets were many, but not infinite, and while corporations felt that their attempts to put on a reassuring face for their consumers was of paramount importance in building the trust, they had no such compulsion when dealing with each other. Corporations soon began building their own security forces, first to protect their assets, but eventually to conduct raids against their competition in a bid to undermine their projects, obtain their research, and even to poach promising researchers and development staff that opposing corporations did not want to lose. The corporations went to great lengths to keep these battles from spilling into the public sector, but it’s a poorly kept secret. Most of the public agrees that for entities as large as these corporations, powerful security is needed to ensure economic competitiveness and therefor look the other way, but on occasion there’s concern that corporations are enjoying too much power inside the country. Usually, corporations tamp down on these situations with sales and new products, and the populations is once again lulled into a consumerist coma.

No Hard Feelings — Social Responsibility Among Guns For Hire

“No hard feelings”

Among freelance soldiers (”solos”), there’s a code of ethics that have been agreed upon due to their peculiar working conditions.

Solos generally work, as their designation implies, alone. It’s not uncommon for these soldiers to work together as a pair, or as a group, but it’s generally frowned upon as forming bonds with other soldiers can lead to the code coming unraveled.

Any soldier can be guaranteed to work with a rotating party of other soldiers from the employment pool with every job they’re hired for. Working alone, a soldier cannot get hung up on past grudges that might interfere with future working conditions.

Because of this, soldiers who work with a partner or group run the risk of losing their partner or a member of their group to opposing soldiers for hire. Later, should that soldier find himself paired with a soldier who killed their partner or member of their group, it would negatively affect the cohesion of their team. Worse, if such a vendetta were in effect and were to become known, it could jeopardize a soldier’s job opportunities in the future, as the community might refuse to work with that soldier knowing that doing so could jeopardize their OWN employability.

Because of this, soldiers have been known to frequent the same few locations during their down time in order to maintain this policy of “no hard feelings”. While off-duty, confrontations over previous jobs are frowned upon, but happen. Many times other soldiers will intervene if they see two or more soldiers attempting to violently resolve past grudges, knowing that any soldier who ends up in a group with one or both of these soldiers is putting him or herself in danger.

Soldiers therefor work very hard to either remain on good personal footing with each other, or to at least remain civilized when in each other’s presence, or have trained themselves to put logic and business ahead of interpersonal relationships which allows them to maintain an ongoing partnership within the context of understanding that should either one of them be taken out by another opposing soldier, they can’t seek revenge. This sometimes takes the form of pacts of oaths among partners or groups where all members agree that it’s all business; they are all in the same job for the same reasons and assume the same risks knowingly and without coercion, and that the survivability of those left behind relies upon maintaining “good standing” with the solo community.

People are people, however, and grudges usually take the form of competitions rather than vendettas. It’s not uncommon for solos to be cool and standoffish to one another when “off the clock”, but extra-violent and determined to exact vengeance should they find themselves on opposite sides of a job.

New solos are usually given more leeway than established solos. A new solo will generally be left alone, or the last to die, if he or she knows when they have lost the engagement. Later, a more established solo might take the new soldier under his wing to explain the mistakes she or her partners made so as to avoid making those same mistakes later on. A new solo is usually given two or three encounters before the training wheels come off and the soldier is responsible for her own actions and her own fate.

With “no hard feelings” comes the general rule that previous engagements are not discussed. If one team is tasked with protecting a resource in transit, while another team is tasked with stealing that resource, surviving members of the losing team are not allowed to ask about the resulting outcome. This is because it’s never known when the solo is “off the clock” and when she’s just laying low while still being paid to salvage a previously failed mission.

In that vein, solo contracts with employers are very heavily enforced, even with corporations. Because of the professional courtesy that solos share, screwing over one soldier can lead to blacklisting of employers throughout the community. It’s also why solos insist on strict parameters of their mission, which end when one side achieves the goal, or prevents the other side from achieving their goal. The job is done once the players exit the field, and no employer would risk access to the community for incremental gains.

Of course, some solos refuse to play by these rules. They do not associate with the greater community, and prefer to work within their own clique. Hiring one solider hires their group, and even when off the clock these soldiers will seek revenge against other soldiers. Usually the slight against them need to reach a specific plateau, however; simply besting them on a run isn’t enough. It usually requires something along the lines of eradicating their team, or focusing more on decimating the team than they do on securing the hired goals.

Finally, it’s considered bad form to take out aggressions on a solo’s friends, family, or other relations. It’s seen as violating the community trust, and a cowardly way to exact revenge. In cases like this, the community will usually police it’s own, to the extreme, as the perpetrator is seen as a loose cannon who cannot be trusted personally or professionally.

Goals by Strata in Society

The people in the orbitals are basically lower class citizens socially and economically. The majority of them have no agenda strong enough to drive them, so they’ll consume corporate content as readily as anything. They enjoy and talk about corporate TV and tabloids, watch corporate sponsored sports, and obsess over corporate products.

Not all orbitals are alike. Some are fairly affluent, some are lower middle class, but the majority are lower class. Affluent by orbital standards means having a somewhat effective police presence, relative safety in neighborhoods, and single family dwellings, either stand-alone or in high-rises. Lower middle class neighborhoods have a police presence, but it’s often times corrupt and self serving. Things are generally OK during the day, but at dusk it’s dangerous to be outside. Lower class neighborhoods are places where you don’t want to be at all unless you’re a known quantity there. Strangers are instant targets, and there’s almost no police presence unless it’s in full riot gear. Families usually live in dilapidated tenements, sometimes several families to an apartment.

The general goal in the orbitals is safety. The better the neighborhood, though, the more the goals make way for luxuries. Upper class orbitals can think about the latest gadgets and fashions and vacations. The middle class can maybe think about one non-essential purchase per year, per person. Lower class families rarely ever get any luxuries that aren’t stolen.

To make money, the upper class owns small businesses or are lawyers and doctors. Middle class folks work for the upper class folks, and the two strata generally work together well to hold on to what they have, and attempt to become more successful together. The lower class may also work for the upper class, but in a lower capacity such as sanitation or delivery services.

In light of this, the upper class is accepting of the corporate dominance, but believes that there’s room for all sizes of business. Corporations are generic in that they need to reach as many people as they can, while those closer to their communities can provide tailored services. They can also provide services that the corporations don’t bother with, like dry cleaning or mechanic services. The middle class generally are OK with the corporate influence, but are a tad bit more wary. They’re willing to support their local businesses because they have some level of influence over their professional destiny, and see themselves as superior to the white-washed corporate lockstep. The lower class either doesn’t speak the language, isn’t educated enough, or has an overriding distrust of any kind of authority. They prefer to make their own, individual way, which usually means that crime is the only outlet they’re qualified for.

Because of this, the upper and middle classes generally distrust the lower class, and the lower class pretty much as a rule distrusts everyone above them.

Some of the middle and almost all of the lower class have four options for surviving: crime, join the US military, join the corporations in some capacity, or become a soldier for hire.

Crime is the easiest to get into, but the most difficult to get out of (alive). Crime can run the gamut from petty theft to drugs, and all the way from individuals looking for a quick score to organized crime. Most lower and some middle strata citizens start here. In the lower strata orbitals, citizens can’t get away from crime, as it’s either happening TO them, or it’s only one friend away from being accessible at almost any point in time where money is needed. Successful criminals who manage to avoid pissing off the wrong people and who excel at their craft may be picked up by professional crime families or organized street gangs and can actually make a decent living.

The military is an option of last resort. The US military is underfunded and overburdened. It’s a PR tool used by the government to show that they have a strong presence where it’s needed the most. In reality, the forces sent to far-flung regions have low morale, incompetent leaders, and a lack of funding that lead to shortages of everything from rations to armor to ammo. While the government will compensate it’s soldiers, the life of someone in the military is usually short and extremely dangerous. Many soldiers opt to do as little work as possible until they either muster out with a pension, or find a palatable opportunity to defect to the side of opponents who are almost always better funded and more supplied. Beyond the military, few lower strata citizens could pass the most rudimentary corporate application exam for a desk job or a job in public utilities.

Corporations field their own military, in addition to police forces that deal exclusively within their arcologies. Corporations are far more picky about who they take, however, as they need to ensure loyalty and competency for their military. These soldiers are often tasked with black ops, including assassination of opposing corporate figures, extraction of sensitive resources, and defense of corporate property from similar strike teams fielded by other corporations. Among all corporate branches, the military arms are the ones that value the ability for self-sufficiency as the stakes are much higher and the tension is much thicker than in their cubicle farms. Also, their eCorps — the VInE hackers — need to be intelligent and well educated. Most lower strata citizens do not qualify for corporate military or police service.

Soldiering for hire is by far the most attractive option for discerning lower and lower-middle class citizens. It allows the individual to make his or her own rules, work his or her own hours, and determine the workload based on his or her own moral and financial concerns. They work for local concerns — crime bosses, street gangs, individuals with money or convincing enough sob stories — and sometimes for corporations who need an off-grid force to handle an off-grid operation where accountability needs as many layers as possible between the op and the beneficiaries.

The real goal, regardless of strata or avenue, is to build into a comfortable life. While almost anyone can go to work for the corporations and be given a comfortable life in exchange for corporate fealty and all that it entails — mainly a loss of privacy and freedoms — upper, middle, and lower class citizens value the ability for self-determination and, if they’re lucky, the ability to some day “retire” in a manner that will have made their travails worthwhile. It’s fairly easy for the upper strata as they’re reaping the lion’s share of financial security. The middle strata needs to work harder for it, but it’s not impossible. The lower class is rarely ever able to break free of it’s circumstances, though. Most criminals are killed, most of those who enter the military are killed or vanish in the wilds of another country, corporate soldiers are bound by corporate rules, leaving only the guns for hire as the lowest strata’s best option for getting out alive. It’s never a guarantee, but being able to take one’s destiny into one’s own hands gives slightly better odds than any of the other options.

Corporate Guide To Social Media And Complacent Hashtivism

Here’s the first entry under the Writing category. It’s also a “working example” of the kind of post I’ll be putting under this category. 

In this case, I’m starting out with a description of something. Here, it’s social media and one way that it’s used. Because this is filed under the “Cyberpunk” subcategory, the second half is how this modern system is or could be used in the future, written almost in a “handbook of social media dos and don’ts from highly effective corporations” style. 

Again, this isn’t an endorsement or a condemnation of practices, but rather an interpretation of how — in this case — social media might evolve, from the perspective of a cyberpunk universe.

Social Media Now

One of the supposed benefits of social media is that it allows people to address entities larger then them, but also to aggregate their telepresence for a cause. Social media has given individuals the opportunity to broadcast their voices into a void, but to tie their posts together via links and hashtags so that what would otherwise be a single unheard voice merges together with thousands or millions of others in a show of force that is difficult to ignore.

Despite the various troubles that social media has (privacy concerns, pop culture irrelevance, harassment, etc), it is a democratic platform in both design and in purpose.

Social Media Later

The downside to this kind of hashtivism is that it’s only one step above doing nothing at all.

The history of organized movements dead-ended the day that the hashtag was born. Before our ability to reach everywhere on the back of a pound-symbol, human beings had to gather in public in order to make a significant statement. This ranged anywhere from peaceful sit-ins to unruly mobs, but getting on board for something required an effort, which meant that those who actually showed up were really serious about the situation.

Today, it takes almost zero effort to re-Tweet or to sign an online petition. It’s almost a throw-away action that can be done in less time than it takes for a commercial break. Anyone can claim themselves to be on-board with a movement if all it takes is no effort at all, but the best part is that everyone can see you doing it, thanks to the follows and re-Tweets that reach around the globe.

This is beneficial to concerned parties because a pile of Tweets does not an angry mob make, no matter how much sarcasm or profanity is involved. For a savvy organization, be it a corporation or a government,  proper management of hashtivism can make consumers and voters feel that they’re involved in a process by encouraging that they put as little effort into the process as possible.

There’s no guarantee that any hashtags or petitions actually reach anyone who is in any position to do anything about it, nor is there any reassurance that if the aggregated ire is seen by those who can act upon it, any action is taken. Managing the belief that “someone is listening” can be of great benefit to an organization or government because just having that perception that good is being done with a tap is enough to give people a “warm glow” that they’re helping without having to actually get involved with money or time.

The best way to do this is to ensure that the outcome of the campaign that hashtivists are aligning against is pre-determined, to provide a “honey-pot” campaign that ties up the efforts of organizers, or to simply inundate social media with so many false positives that their involvement becomes muddied and meaningless. In any case, the participants may either feel that they accomplished their goals, or they will simply “fire and forget their ire” as they return to their binge viewing and meme generation.

New! Scratch Pad Blog

Same blog; different purpose (kinda).

I don’t usually write stuff here. This is my “non-gaming blog” which is supposed to be for other…non-gaming related topics. It’s not that I rarely have thoughts that are non-gaming related, but I don’t normally want to write about them. Some topics I think about I just don’t want to discuss, which means that this space is usually and intentionally left blank.

So with Nanowrimo coming back around, and since it’s something I have always wanted to do , I figured that I should keep some notes on stuff to write about…somewhere. Having a repository around that I can access from almost anywhere is difficult because while there’s tools like Google Docs that are web-ized, I don’t like their linear flow. The blog format is actually a good one for me, because I can format and organize thoughts by category and tag for future reference

So you’ll hopefully see more posts coming up through here. I’ve created a category called “Writing” which is dedicated to writing of all kinds, whether is for Nanowrimo or other projects. Subcategories will be assigned to keep it genre-organized, although not necessarily by specific project.

Now, these kinds of posts may seem like they’re being posted as regular blog posts. In that light, some of them may be viewed as “controversial” or that I’m espousing a specific position or agenda. If a post shows up under the Writing category, it’s a brain dump for a particular genre or projectI don’t want this to turn into a magnet for argument, nor do I want people to think that I’m represented by anything under the Writing category or any subcategories. People write racist characters without being racist. People write about religion without being religious. This category is for stuff that I might want to set down to use later, and that’s all it is. Feel free to comment, because some ideas may benefit from a massaging, but anyone who decides to “set me straight” on a fictional note-card is going to get banned hard, and then shamed on social networking.

Math Is Why America Is So Fat

So I went to my annual physical (which I hadn’t had since 2011) and I was told that I needed to lose weight if I didn’t want to die of a heart attack at some point in my life (my take-away message). I mean, anyone can die of a heart attack, so the best we can do is manage our chances to the best of our ability. One way to do that is to manage weight. This involves “exercise and eating right” which is what you hear every single health and fitness guru and commercial tell you.

What the hell does “exercise and eating right” mean, exactly? Exercise is pretty simple: get off your fat ass. I bought a FitBit, which has been serving as a totem to remind me to get up and move (I sit at a desk all day). I have been walking the dog in the morning before work, getting outside to do walking laps at work twice per day, and have been using the dust collecto…elliptical machine…that we have at home. FitBit wants me to hit 10,000 steps per day, so FitBit can go fuck itself because even with the regimen listed above (which I can achieve because I’m at work and need to get the hell outside), I’m not going to hit 10,000 — close, but no granola bar. Still, the 9000+ steps I do manage is about 8975 more steps than I was taking previously, so I’m pretty focused on the exercise part.

The eating part, though…that’s a lot tougher, but not entirely for the reasons you’d think. One thing my doctor said that resonated with me was “portion control”. Here in the U.S., we’re blasted for eating unhealthy foods, but what really gets us, I think, is that we’re given so damn much food. We like to eat food because it tastes good, and because we’re on the tail end of the generation that was raised to clear it’s plate before we could leave the dinner table. That’s a pretty bad combo right there, because we end up eating way more than we really should. We’re given more, it tastes good, and we don’t want to feel that we’re wasting food. If you’re a parent, it’s worse when you eat what your kids don’t manage to finish.

Still, our bodies require a certain amount of energy in the form of calories, based on our age, height, current weight, and other voodoo. If we don’t satisfy this need, we go into ketosis which is a scientific term for tapping the fat reserves, although you’ll hear fitness-terrorists refer to it as “starvation mode” because technically it’s what your body does — naturally — if you aren’t meeting your caloric needs.

So we’re supposed to essentially burn more calories than we take in, and that’s “losing weight”. There’s a lot of other aspects of “eating healthy” like fat and sodium and protein, but as far as losing weight goes, it makes sense that for all the calories we take in, we need to expunge an equal or greater amount through exercise.

Which leads me to this:

WTH_Fitness

See, this is my stats from the FitBit site, circa 2:30 PM today. So far, I’ve had breakfast, lunch, some snack, a coffee, and a lot of water. I’ve also walked the dog and completed two circuits around the office park. I’ve burned 1920 calories, and have taken in 1075 calories. Technically, I’m doing well per the logical assessment of how we’re supposed to lose weight, right?

No. Because I’ve got this nagging at me (from MyFitnessPal.com):

WTH_ExtraCalories

Look at that asterisk. I’ve “earned” an extra 490 calories. Out of the aether, I have been granted some kind of cosmic dispensation to take in another 490 calories.

Hold up: I need 2700 calories according to the Mayo Clinic. The meal plan that FitBit has me on wants me to take in about 2225 calories per day to reach my weight loss goal of 14 pounds (1 stone for my international readers). I’ve burned 1920 calories so far today, and have eaten 1075 calories so far today. By my math — fucking math — I need to eat 1380 calories to reach that 2225.

Is that right? I have no fucking clue. FitBit gives me a vague bunch of numbers and graphs in fancy “Web 2.0″ fashion. Another dashboard tells me I can eat another 1150 calories. Add that to what I’ve eaten today and you get 2225, which is on target for my plan. But if I eat 1150 to reach the 2225, my total day’s caloric intake exceeds my current caloric burn of 1920. Making maters worse (in my mind) is that this 1150 they tell me I can still eat is a shifting goal based on my daily need and what I burn. If I hit the elliptical when I get home, I’ll burn more calories, and that 1150 need will increase.

If I’m understanding this correctly, and omitting considerations surrounding other elements (fat, sodium, et al.) I’ll need to actually eat more the more exercise I do. Where in the manual is this actually explained? Nowhere, that’s where. It’s totally counter-intuitive. The platitude of “eat well and exercise” is about as reductionist as this subject can get, and considering the amount of math and sliding scales that exist under the covers, I can totally understand why people may start on the fitness trail and get quickly derailed. It’s also why nutritionist and fitness coaches have to have degrees and certifications.

The best I can do at this point is rely totally on these charts and graphs, logging every food and recording every exercise. As I go, I’ll see what I’m taking in and what I’m getting rid of, and hopefully get a better feel for the rhythm of weight loss. But right now, the numbers and their esoteric calculations are throwing me off. Fucking math.

The Shame Of Losing And The Cult Of Winning

Here in the West, specifically in the U.S., we value winning over pretty much anything. In any contest — sports, academic, military, and even social situations — the trajectory of progress is linear: keep your eyes on the goal, full steam ahead, and don’t let anything get in your way.

That’s what competition is about, after all. Why play if you’re not out to win? Why would you pay money to see a movie if you just plan on falling asleep? Winning at something isn’t really at issue here. Winning, coming out ahead, achieving first place…all inherently noble goals that under perfect conditions push us to do our very best and, failing that, make us want to learn more, train harder, and try again.

Trying again isn’t always an option, though, and that’s the problem. Our culture is so winning-oriented that we have effectively removed all benefit from failure. It’s become a dirty word, and a mark of shame. “You failed”. “You are a failure”. It’s one of the worst sitgma a person has to live with in modern Western society.

On one hand, we lionize winning. Our culture is seeped in messages that winning is everything: “win big or go home”. “Second place is first loser”. All sporting equipment is sold with the promise that it’ll catapult you into the winner’s circle. Watch any championship broadcast and you’ll see orchestrated images of happy winners and dejected losers. Even in the niche realm of PC components aimed at video game enthusiasts, you’ll see ads from manufacturers extorting how their products will allow you to “dominate” and “destroy your competition”.

Failure, then, is no longer defined as the position earned when the other guy did better than you. It’s now viewed as not having measured up, or that you weren’t good enough. Losers are shamed in this environment; it’s not even good enough to win. The amount of accolades a winner receives is directly related to how brutally they bury their opponent. The goal isn’t just to compete, but to brutally massacre the competition to the point where they can’t even rise again to demand a rematch.

It’d be one thing is we were just talking about sports here. After all, we’re a species that figured that putting guys with swords in an arena qualified as a “sport”, so in the Big Picture, creative camera work that highlights the happy winners and weeping losers is pretty benign. Here in the West, when winning means everything, it manages to infiltrate all kinds of places where there shouldn’t be any competition, and where there normally is, it elevates that competition to the level of a bloodsport.

The biggest ramification that I see is that it drives people apart. Everything becomes about winning, and about being right. It means that we can’t have discussions on important topics because each of us has closely held beliefs that we need to defend at all costs. Any potential point of view that could alter our personal world view would prove not that we were not right isn’t seen as an opportunity to expand our world view, but that we lost an argument and that we were wrong.

Being wrong is just as bad as losing in modern society, and the only way we can “be wrong” is if someone else is “right”, and only if both parties (if not more) are aware of it. That results in a social showdown in which one person gets to do a victory dance while the other looks foolish. On the Internet, this is magnified exponentially, and it never ever goes away. Our loss becomes institutionalized in Google’s cached page system, on Facebook, or other social network. So people do everything they can to minimize their chances of looking foolish and being branded a loser by not engaging in discussion, or, if they are pulled into it (willfully or not), the fangs come out and it’s a take-no-prisoners brawl which won’t end until one participant stomps the other into the virtual dirt.

So what are we really losing by demonizing losing? In an ideal world, the outcome of a competition isn’t the extreme polar opposite of winners and losers. It’s most honest representation is a sprint: two runners on parallel tracks, neck and neck, until one pulls ahead of the other. The loser didn’t lose because he or she wasn’t good enough; they lost because the winner was just a bit better. And there’s nothing that says that winning erases poor performance early in the game. Sometimes winning is done in the last moments of the competition, in a “come from behind” style victory we always appreciate. The point is, a winner is only the person who pushed ahead at the last minute. Before that, there’s no guarantee that the guy who’s ahead will win, or the guy who’s behind will lose.

The main benefit of losing is that we get to learn from our mistakes. In sports, performance is a big deal, and athletes take it seriously. They review hours and hours of past performance for both themselves and their competition. They learn from what they did wrong, and what their opponents did wrong, and they try and do better. This is what we miss out on when losing is equated with shame, and when the purpose of winning is to destroy the opposition so that they can’t come back and try again.

Outside of sports, though, one thing that not allowing dignity in losing is honesty. People will go to great lengths to cover the shame of losing by redirecting blame, or doubling their efforts to find an equally or more devastating attack on their opponent that will turn the tides. We aren’t allowed to own up to our mistakes because it makes us look weak and imperfect. When trying to project a persona (especially online to impress, or in politics), we can’t have any flaws. We have an idea that people will only accept us as superhuman constructs that can do no wrong. On the other hand, we’re horrified when we find out that these personas are actually human after all, as if we didn’t consciously know that already.

Most of the arguing on the Internet comes from this unfortunate situation. Being right is valued so much that being wrong is treated like a crime simply so the “winner” can feel superior and appear intelligent in front of strangers in an attempt to gain a virtual pat on the back and acknowledgement that they’re someone with good ideas and above-average intellect. By punishing the loser in a public forum, the winner shows that he’s someone you don’t want to mess with when it comes to arguing on the Internet, because he’ll destroy you and make you look stupid. It’s the modern day equivalent of kicking sand in someone’s face at the beach.