What I Watch

Kind of a quick side note of a post, really.

If there's anyone stopping by here who's particularly interested in anime or manga, this might be of interest to you. Yes, I finally discovered MyAnimeList and went ahead to create a profile there. I don't really have any idea as to how well-known that side is among the general anime community, but then that's probably because I have very little connection to any kind of greater online community when it comes to anime.

So if anyone was curious as to what anime or manga I have an interest in, well, now you know.


Lost Logia Halo chapter 6

Finally got around to posting a new chapter of my Nanoha/Halo fanfiction crossover story, Lost Logia Incident Report: Halo Array. That link will take you to the beginning of the story; the newest chapter is here:

Chapter 6: Assault on the Control Room

Ugh, I feel like crap for dragging this out as long as I have, only to tell people that I'm going to drag it out more... And I let this sit for way too long just essentially shuffling words around in the author's note, too.

I might or might not have more to say about this particular chapter. In all honesty, I actually wrote it so long ago that I've mostly forgotten what was going through my head when I committed it to... well, "paper". If I do end up writing notes for this chapter, it'll probably happen either within the next few days or not at all.

Anyway, if you're interested, check it out, and let me know what you think!


Tests of Ideology

So, the sequester is definitely a thing that's going to happen now. And I suppose the messaging from the Republican Party is at least acquiring a new consistency; from what I can see, they're starting to adopt the idea that from their point of view, the sequester is a flat-out win for them. Smaller government is going to happen, and it's going to happen through spending cuts. Aside from the defense cuts, what is there to dislike from the conservative side of the argument?

Anyone familiar with the things I usually write here on this blog could probably guess, then, that I absolutely despise this entire idea. To me, this is going to mean a reduction in the government's ability to function. And in all honesty, that's not really up for debate! Of course less money is going to mean that the government can't do as much.

The question is whether that's desirable. In the article I linked, Speaker Boehner characterized the dispute thusly: that the debate was "how much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government." That's not how I view the matter.

I look at what the government does with its money - with the majority of the federal budget going to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Cuts to these programs reduce the resources available to members of "the American people". These are the people least able to make up for the shortfall. These are the people who we've made commitments to when these programs were created. And the programs that help them are solvent for at least the next several decades.

Then there's defense. I think there are very definite benefits to continuing military development, ensuring that the United States has the most powerful military force in the world. I think that the presence of weapons does not imply their use, and I think it's a very good idea to be prepared for the case (however unlikely) that someone in the world decides to use force against us. I don't think it's in the interests of "the American people" to have a substantially weaker military thanks to defense cuts.

The last category of government spending? Discretionary spending. If people really think it's productive or useful to go through that list item by item, picking individual bits out as unnecessary, be my guest, I suppose? But I don't see how it will produce a smaller government to pull out million-dollar line items from a federal budget in the trillions... and this is the category that includes things like infrastructure and education, things that are absolutely essential to any semblance of a comfortable life for "the American people".

And you know what? Then there's the personal level. I see people lined up for furloughs and layoffs, as the government is forced to cut back on budgets everywhere, including personnel. That's members of "the American people" that now have less money, that are forced to find new jobs (or forced to do less of the jobs they have) because this sequester is going through. I'm sure those people are quite pleased that the government is... now denying them the money they otherwise could have had...?

If there's a simple way to sum this up: every cent of government spending is designed to be a benefit to the American people.

I'm open to having a discussion on that! Perhaps some government spending doesn't actually provide any benefit. Perhaps in six months we'll find that very little harm has actually been caused to the American people as a result of the sequester (although heaven only knows how we'll even make that determination). If that actually comes to pass, I'll definitely need to do some rethinking on how much government spending is necessary or desirable.

I just wish there was a way to have that discussion and conduct that test of ideology without actually screwing people over if things end the way I expect them to.


Still Waiting for an Awakening

Over the last few days, I've been thoroughly sucked in by the newest Fire Emblem game, for the 3DS, called Fire Emblem: Awakening. For the life of me, I have no idea what Awakening has done to me that Sacred Stones or Path of Radiance didn't manage. My only guess would be the support system, but it's not like that's new to Awakening! Perhaps, then, it's not the support system itself but the characters and the conversations within it that have captured my attention.

For anyone completely unfamiliar with the Fire Emblem series, the support system is designed to define relationships between characters and grants combat bonuses to characters that are close to one another. As characters spend more time fighting together, their support rank increases; from C rank up to a maximum possible of S. On top of that, characters start out completely unranked with all others; even C rank must be earned.

And every time characters gain a rank, a conversation occurs between them, showing how their relationship is developing. It would not be an exaggeration to say that those conversations and the relationships between my characters that I'm seeing in those conversations is a huge part of why I'm playing Awakening as much as I am - perhaps even the only part!

But, as perhaps might be expected, characters are restricted in who they can build support ranks with. In theory, I don't have a problem with that. I think it reflects real life to an extent in that some people have their own preferences, and that maybe this character just doesn't want to get to know one of their companions that well. Awakening reflects this by making it impossible to build support ranks between some characters at all.

There is, however, one huge problem that I have with Awakening's support system. Because there's one more element left to be mentioned: the fact that the game also locks some characters out from reaching the highest possible S rank with certain other characters. Again, in theory, I don't have a problem with this. It's not like it's possible in real life to be intimately familiar with everyone you meet!

But, the way Awakening did this... well, if you can build support ranks between two characters at all, you can build them to A at least. And you can only build an S rank relationship between two characters of opposite gender. Which doesn't mean you can always build an S rank relationship between characters of opposite gender, but so far the only time that it's been limited to A rank is when the relationship in question is between family members.

To put it mildly, this is somewhat of a disappointment. In this day and age, it seems like such a pointless restriction! I defy any and all readers of this to give me a good reason why heterosexuality is the only possible option. Heaven knows I can't think of a single one. (I have thought of some flawed reasons, and if I was writing a paper I'd go into them and explain why they aren't good enough, but this blog post is shaping up to be massive already, and a lot of the reasons are fairly spoiler-heavy. I'm happy to talk about it in comments if there's interest in that.)

It's worth noting that this is not something that's going to make me put Awakening down and stop playing it. I am disappointed, but I do still enjoy the game a great deal, and I do want to see the relationships that are in the game. What I want even more, though; the opportunity that I think Awakening missed? Is for a game to give me a relationship system that's as progressive as possible, something true to life and effective at inspiring emotion. Because that's the kind of relationship system that will engage me even more deeply and be even more rewarding for me than the one Awakening actually has.

Essentially, I want my games to provide engaging and compelling experiences. And there are a lot of ways that games can do that! Aside from the support system, Awakening is a tactical combat game that has provided me with enjoyment on that level as well. (Although Normal is too easy and Hard is too difficult... *sigh*)

However, one thing that I keep searching for in the games that I play is an enjoyable relationship system. Fire Emblem is hardly the only game to provide a system of that nature; Mass Effect springs to mind, although I've only played ME1 so far (and my experiences there would be a whole separate post). I have no doubt there are others, although that's the only one I can come up with off the top of my head.

I do believe, though, that Awakening has come the closest of any game I've yet played. And if it didn't completely ignore any intimate relationships outside of monogamous heterosexual ones, along with mostly ignoring the possibility of limiting some relationships to the "friend" level regardless of sexual orientation...? I think that would have been a major step forward, if it had happened.

I suppose that is an awakening which the gaming industry has yet to fully embrace. Developers take note: there are a lot of gamers out there that are eagerly waiting for it to happen. If only because this, too, is how we change the world.

(Commenting note: When discussing either Awakening or any other game, I'd appreciate it if people could try to minimize spoilers and mark any spoilers that they do feel are necessary.)


Lost in Translation

Along with a lot of other people, I am a huge fan of Bad Apple, the one Touhou song that you've probably already heard about if you know anything about Touhou at all. And if you don't know anything about Touhou, well, that's what Wikipedia is for. It doesn't really matter for the rest of this post, but it's certainly interesting in its own right.

Needless to say, given the popularity of this song (sure, it's no Gangnam Style, but three million views is still a lot), numerous different translations have been made. There's a good example of that if you look at the full version of the song; the subtitles there are noticeably different in places, aren't they?

As it stands, I prefer listening to the full version of the song, but I tend not to notice the translations, because oddly enough there was actually a point to me spending years studying Japanese. I have no real interest in throwing my hat into this particular ring - to be fair, the prior existence of other translations hasn't necessarily stopped me before, but I simply don't have the interest in trying to translate Bad Apple. Not when I can understand it myself and can point other people that need the translations to the already-existing ones.

But, as long as I'm thinking about it I might as well share my opinion of the existing translations. And on that note, there's one more "translation" of the song that I'd like to take a moment to highlight: the semi-official (mostly by virtue of Internet acclaim) English version of the song, sung by Cristina Vee.

It's a very different translation when compared to the other options. I mean, it's clear (or at least it should be) that the dry questions "Is there a future for someone like this? / Do I belong in this world?" creates a very different effect when compared to "Will tomorrow ever come? Will I make it through the night? / Will there ever be a place for the broken in the light?"

This does set up one question, though: which translation is "better"?

The answer is complicated and definitely depends on what the translation is intended for. There's a great deal to be said for the value of being as literal as possible; there are several points in the English version that just have no analogue in the original song, and adding details that didn't exist in the original seems to defeat the purpose of translating that song. At the same time, while the more literal translation works as a subtitle displayed on-screen to help people who don't speak Japanese, trying to communicate it verbally causes it to lose a great deal. I've tried to essentially "read" some of the translations I've created for songs, but that always seems entirely insufficient and indeed very awkward.

In short, I think the former option is the superior choice for a subtitle, but the latter is preferable if you're reading or singing out loud in time with the music. Attempting to read the former out loud highlights its total lack of the poetic or metrical elements of song lyrics, while simply printing the latter as text on a screen makes the differences between it and the source text obvious.

If there's a broader take-away point, try this: it's important, when translating, to have a clear idea of what you're trying to accomplish and how your translation will be conveyed to others. Failing to do so means you lose that much more in translation, and we usually lose entirely too much as it is.


League of Legends Championship Series

I'm usually optimistic about my ability to change even something as broad as the culture and society we live in. It helps, of course, that I live in a time when I can watch that society change right before my eyes. Little changes, perhaps - maybe the concert features a purely computer-generated singer, instead of a live person, and still draws major attendance in cities across the country from the actual concert (yay simulcasting). Even if it's a little thing, it would have been unimaginable ten years ago.

Or, you know, maybe an online video game kicks off the start to a league that draws hundreds of thousands of viewers on its opening two days of matches.

The League of Legends Championship Series (or the LCS for short) is, perhaps, not that much of an innovation. These kinds of leagues have existed in Asia (particularly Korea) for years, to my understanding. It is most assuredly something new in the United States, if nothing else. And speaking as someone who (currently) lives in the United States, it is quite definitely exciting. (There's also a new European league, for people on that side of the Atlantic.)

I think it's certainly been the case that video games can have somewhat of a bad reputation outside gaming circles. Indeed, anything that takes place online or uses a computer can be negatively defined as "not real", as if something requires physical form to be counted as "real". I should probably back away from the philosophical minefield that I'm about to step into, but suffice to say that I don't think Miku is any less "real" for being a computer construct, to take one example.

And this kind of bias against online society as somehow less than face-to-face interaction is very much alive and well today, in case you were curious. "The online, social media stuff does not matter because it is behind a computer", you say...?

These people in the LCS are making a living off of video games. They are professional sports players, in a very real sense, although perhaps less well paid than some sports stars. We live in a world where the definition of the word "sports" is changing before our eyes - to accommodate this idea of "e-sports", the arrival of video games on a professional stage.

Don't tell me that it can't be done. It's being done as we speak.

(Oh, and in a development as critically important as any of the above, my favorite team kicked major butt, going 3-0 in the first week. Priorities!)


Unwarranted Assumptions

I stopped by the mall today, mostly because I needed to kill time and didn't have any better ideas. While I was there, I was accosted by one of the people manning a stall in the center of the hallway. I do sort of mind that, because I always have such a hard time saying no when someone's aggressively trying to get me to buy something - or at least, say no in a final enough way to get them to listen to me.

(And yes, the idea that I can say no and not be listened to is part of a much larger problem. It's one that this post isn't really going to get into.)

Interestingly enough, this particular stall was selling, effectively, makeup. That's probably not the best word for it; the stuff that he was trying to sell to me was designed to make one's fingernails look better, and was comprised of several things including lotion and... I guess something kind of like a fingernail file? I wasn't exactly paying too much attention, since I was trying to find a way to extricate myself from the sales pitch without just flat-out saying "go away". Either way, though, damn if it didn't actually work. I have one very shiny fingernail now!

And yet, even though the guy went through the effort to use my fingernail as a demonstration, even when his own fingers provided ten more examples of the stuff he was trying to sell me... he wasn't really trying to sell this stuff to me.

The conversation began with him asking if I am married. Then if I had a girlfriend. Both get answers in the negative. He pointed out that Valentine's Day was coming up. When he showed me the results of his little buffing tool, he asked me if I thought my mother would like that effect. When I wasn't inclined to buy the full set of products he was selling (even after three or four discounts on the price) he started asking which one I thought my mother would use.

Through the entire conversation, he simply assumed that I had no desire to buy this thing, and that he would have to sell it to a family member or friend of mine by proxy through me.

This is not an unusual incident or a coincidence. While it's the first time that I've seen an obvious example in my life, this happens all the time (more often to women trying to buy something that isn't feminine enough, I would guess), and it's one of the more irritating displays of gender stereotypes in society.

If I express interest in your product, unless I specifically mention buying it as a gift, you damn well better believe that I'm buying it because I want it. And if you're coming after me to sell me something? Before you try to convince me to buy your product, you should probably convince yourself that I want to buy said product first.


Final notes for Midchildan Music

Well, in case anyone missed the memo yesterday, I finally got around to actually updating one of the stories I had started writing. In this case, Midchildan Music was first posted to fanfiction.net in December 2010, meaning it's been over two years from story start to completion - and this is a work that tops out just over 25k words, when I can and have pounded out twice as many in a month.

The short version of that paragraph? I may have some issues with procrastination when it comes to things like this.

Part of that has to do with my personality, I think. I tend to be fairly... anxious about putting my writing on the Internet for all to see. (As an aside, that applies not just to fan fiction, but to blog posts and comments as well.) What happened with this final chapter of Midchildan Music was that I had it essentially finished and ready to post - and then stopped to re-read it. Theoretically to make sure that it was free of errors and that it was what I wanted to post. Then I re-read it again. Then I went to bed, deciding to sleep on it before I posted it. And then, well, it kind of slipped out of my "immediate concerns" pile and didn't find its way back into said pile for around a year and a half.

To be fair, I did make some edits over the past few days to the chapter that I had written back then. So perhaps it turned out better for the delay? I doubt it ended up better enough to justify as long of a wait as it was, but who knows.

Anyway! Chapter 5, Miku Append. Spoilers ahead! Go read the chapter itself first.

Of all of the Vocaloids, Miku is and probably will remain my favorite - and as far as Vocaloid costumes are concerned, in my opinion Miku Append wins hands down, at least as far as "general purpose" is concerned. Then again, I didn't title the chapter entirely on that reason, considering that the Miku in this chapter is very much an evolved form from the Sergeant's first Intelligent Device creation, just as Miku Append in the real world is to some extent an "upgrade" for the original Miku Hatsune.

There are two major goals that I was aiming for in this chapter. The first is to finish the Sergeant's change of heart. Meeting Miku has affected him. He started this story in a very uncomfortable position as someone who was very inwardly focused on his own goals, and very narrow ones at that. He ends it as someone who cares a little more about the people around him - not only Miku, but he demonstrates in the letter he sent to Haruko that he recognizes the mistakes he's made in ignoring the world around him before Miku showed up. Or at least, that's part of what I was trying to get across.

The second was to give the Sergeant and Miku a chance to finally win something. And to show off some of my favorite Vocaloids songs as battle themes. The fights are short and sweet, but I hope they are sufficiently awesome all the same. I also enjoyed the chance to link the magic he was using to some particular songs that I enjoy, and I would encourage people to go give a listen to both Disruptive Diva (yes, the one line in that song was entirely responsible for calling the spell Prelude to Destruction) and Love is War.

That wasn't the only thing I got out of the second fight with Fate, though. I highlighted the Sergeant's change of heart, as well. He's no longer focusing on sheer and overwhelming power, but on using what he has and what he knows to "defeat" a foe that is (still) far superior to him in raw combat ability. And it works out very well for him in the end.

Anyway, I should probably cut this off here before I write another several thousand words. I hope everyone that read Midchildan Music enjoyed the ride! And hopefully I'll be able to polish up and properly finish the sequel that I started working on for last year's National Novel Writing Month...


Midchildan Music chapter 5

Well, I finally got around to dealing with my fan fiction stories again. Yay!

The next (and final) chapter of Midchildan Music, my Nanoha/Vocaloids crossover, is up.

The beginning of the story can be found here. Feel free to let me know what you think either here in comments or through Fanfiction.net's review system; I'll try to post a longer kind of author's notes here sometime within the next day or two.


Managing Elections

Honestly considering the 2012 election, I think it's pretty clear that the Democrats won just about everything that we could have honestly expected to get. Sadly, control of the House was never really on the table, but we cut into that majority somewhat, won several major Senate races (although not enough for the 60-vote cutoff, that was also never really on the table) and of course re-elected President Obama. It's pretty obvious that the Republicans lost that election quite severely.

Needless to say, the Republican Party commenced with a great deal of soul-searching and after-action analysis. Why did they lose the election? What can they do next time to win? I have only a passing interest in such discussions, because as far as I'm concerned the only plan that will actually work is to reform the party entirely so that the numerous intellectually bankrupt ideas they hold aren't treated as gospel anymore. Of course, a GOP that accepted the economic evidence against their orthodoxy (see: anything Paul Krugman has ever written) and the weight of history bearing down on the progressive side of the social debate wouldn't really be the GOP anymore.

So the question is, how can the Republican Party win an election without changing the viewpoints that make them the Republican Party? I would prefer it if the answer to that question was "they can't", and heaven knows I'll be trying as hard as possible to make that happen! But some state-level conservative governments have come up with a different answer: change the way electoral votes are handed out at the state level. Give out electoral votes by congressional district rather than state.

I may not entirely agree with the idea of calling it "cheating" - it's already law in Maine and Nebraska, and it's certainly constitutional. It does, however, lock in the one big problem with the Electoral College: it ignores the will of the people. It's abundantly clear that had this system been in place in 2012, Romney would have been elected president, with 62 electoral votes going the other way. Despite President Obama's 51.1% of the popular vote, to Romney's 47.2%.

I don't like the electoral college system, and I'd be happy to see it reformed... so long as that reform makes the system more responsive to the desires of the people of the United States, not less. And to the Republican Party, in Virginia and Pennsylvania and Michigan and wherever else they might try to enact this, I have only this to say: if you want to win the 2016 presidential election, you might try convincing a majority of the electorate to back your candidate. If you can't manage that, it won't be the Electoral College that dooms your hopes for office.


Verbal Abuse, Online and Off

As with any other online game, League of Legends has its own forums where people can go to discuss the game. The community on said forums is about as pleasant as the in-game community, which is to say it's absolutely not. I mean, probably most of the discussions on there are perfectly civil and productive, and it's nice to read the things that the developers are saying, since they come and post on the forums regularly, but it's still aggravating sometimes to have to wade through the racism and elitism that comes with it.

Recently, though, I stumbled across a thread on the League's General Discussion forums that I actually ended up participating in. One of the common threads on there, you see, is the "how do we react to verbal abuse" thread, which revives itself in a new form fairly often. Inevitably, it devolves into a flame war between two separate camps: on one side, the decent people who want to try and improve the community by getting people to stop spewing abuse at their teammates and/or opponents; on the other, the not-decent people who complain about how the entire community's made up of thin-skinned babies who can't take a joke.

No, that's obviously not an even-handed summary of the arguments, but I stopped caring about presenting this "debate" fairly a long time ago. The thread itself is here, for the curious, although I would be very cautious about following that link given some of the decidedly not-safe-space invective that some of the people on that forum were resorting to. My personal participation in that argument began on page 9 and concluded on page 14 (just the two posts on those two pages) if anyone wanted to see those specifically.

But, if there is actually anyone reading this who thinks there's a viable debate here, allow me to set the record straight: "just toughen up" and all variants thereof are horrible advice to give someone who's having to deal with abuse or harassment. At the very least, I can say it did not help me. It didn't actually do anything to address the abuse itself, which continued unabated. And even if it "worked" in the sense that it helped me "ignore" the abuse, it did so by forcing me to conceal my emotions and identity - not a price that anyone should have to pay just to get by in society.

Maybe the rules are different enough online for it to work. Maybe the faceless nature of the Internet is enough to make ignoring abuse a viable strategy. I honestly don't care, because I see absolutely no reason to go with a "maybe" when I have a much better option to offer. It's a simple option, too - all you have to do is say three words.

"Cut that out."

It does make a difference. Even if you're only on League of Legends. It will matter to the person who's being abused, tell them that they're not alone and that they have support on their team. It will put the jerk in question on notice that they are being watched and will be held accountable by the people around them. And it's a much better idea than spreading advice that has caused real harm in the past.

If you actually want to do something about verbal abuse, whether the online abuse in games like League of Legends or the offline that continues to be a problem in schools today, don't tell me to toughen up so that I can ignore the abuse. Tell them not to say abusive things in the first place.


A Tribute to Aaron Swartz

This blog's Internet tag serves as a useful way of getting at everything I've ever written about online society. Shocking, I know, the tag serving its stated purpose! More importantly, in light of recent events, it is an excellent way of reading everything I've ever written about... well, what I have called "piracy" in the past, but what the subject of this post would probably not describe as such.

Yeah, I know, I'm a good three days late. Whenever it comes to writing about major events, this always seems to happen...

I digress. In case anyone wasn't already aware, Aaron Swartz committed suicide a few days ago, at 26 years old. I was only passingly familiar with his work and his ideas, despite the connection that I had to his family (one which I won't describe in detail, in keeping with my tradition of not discussing personal matters in this forum). Indeed, I don't feel informed enough even to provide a summary of his life; I would encourage people to follow the link to the Wired article for that.

Although, given some of the things I have found online in the wake of this tragic loss, I can safely say that I can add one more person to the list of people with whom I would love to meet and talk to in person... or rather, the subset of that list that is made up of the people for which that will never again be possible.

I am too late to discuss his ideas with him in person, but thanks to the Internet which he valued so highly, I have been able to read (some of) those ideas now. And more importantly, I've re-read the things that I've written - about SOPA when that was being considered, about Megaupload when that site was taken down, about the ways the American community watches anime.

I do believe that some of those ideas still stand. I believe that content creators should have the right to determine how their work is shared with others, whether that be posting to the Internet under a Creative Commons license or a DVD collection that costs a staggering three hundred and seventy dollars.

And yet, focusing on that (as I have done in the past) has caused me, in some major ways, to be guilty of missing the point to an almost staggering degree. Re-reading what I've written and what Aaron Swartz has argued for in the past has forced a rethinking of my own thoughts on these issues. Indeed, forced a rethinking on how I reacted to the "crime" which played a major role in this saga, Aaron's downloading of multiple different articles from JSTOR and his intention to make them widely available, although that reaction is one that I never discussed publicly.

To an extent, those reactions have been shaped by my concern over the way society functions now. My desire to play by the rules, and a personality that considers intentionally breaking the rules to be usually unjustifiable. This, then, was my failing: to discuss the issue as if the rules we play under today were inviolable. As if society cannot change. It is a failing that is all the more unbelievable considering the way I react to "society can't change" when the subject is misogyny. A failing that is frankly absurd considering that the rules in question, that led to federal prosecution for his actions, are ones that need to change.

Let this mea culpa, then, stand as my personal tribute to Aaron Swartz. If it were possible, I would beg his forgiveness, in that it had to come to this before I gave his ideas the attention they deserved... and I will work to ensure that I do not continue in the errors that have characterized my thinking on these issues.

My condolences go out to his family and friends, and I would encourage people to visit the memorial website that they have set up in his memory.

May you rest in peace, Aaron Swartz, knowing that your work will not go unfinished.