Update Schedule

This blog updates irregularly.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

"Project: Spiral" - Chapter 3 (part X)

If you are new to Project:  Spiral, then click here to read the Prologue, or click here to read from the start of Chapter 1.  Otherwise, welcome back!

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Chapter 3 tangent:  Pannych's Pursuit

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

"Project: Spiral" - Chapter 3 (part 3)

If you are new to Project:  Spiral, then click here to read the Prologue, or click here to read from the start of Chapter 1.  Otherwise, welcome back!

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Saturday, November 24, 2018

"Project: Spiral" - Chapter 3 (part 2)

If you are new to Project:  Spiral, then click here to read the Prologue, or click here to read from the start of Chapter 1.  Otherwise, welcome back!

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Thursday, November 22, 2018

"Project: Spiral" - Chapter 3 (part 1)

If you are new to Project:  Spiral, then click here to read the Prologue, or click here to read from the start of Chapter 1.  Otherwise, welcome back!

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Chapter 3:  Fite Nite

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

"Project: Spiral" - Chapter 2 (part 4b)

If you are new to Project:  Spiral, then click here to read the Prologue, or click here to read from the Chapter 1.  Otherwise, welcome back!

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Chapter 2 fork:  Package Pilferer

Saturday, November 17, 2018

"Project: Spiral" - Chapter 2 (part 4a)

If you are new to Project:  Spiral, then click here to read the Prologue, or click here to read from the start of Chapter 1.  Otherwise, welcome back!

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Chapter 2 fork:  Pseudo Psamaritan

Thursday, November 15, 2018

What I Learned About Leadership by Playing World of Warcraft (part 2)

Last time, I talked about how I got a guild started in World of Warcraft, and a little bit of what made us different from other guilds.  This time, I'll be finishing that conversation, and talking about how it all fell apart.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"Project: Spiral" - Chapter 2 (part 3)

If you are new to Project:  Spiral, then click here to read the Prologue, or click here to read from the start of Chapter 1.  Otherwise, welcome back!

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Saturday, November 10, 2018

What I Learned About Leadership by Playing World of Warcraft (part 1)

This has been on my mind lately, so I'm just going to talk about it.  The short version, so you can know if you want to stick around, is that I joined World of Warcraft in year one and founded a guild which went on to become the largest and oldest on our server (it was a roleplaying server, this isn't much of a big deal).  I had a chance to put into practice some of my ideas about leadership, and got results, and it eventually all fell apart due to shenanigans and chicanery.  In the process, I learned a great deal about real-world leadership, but I don't talk about it with people because, in the first place, if they care about my leadership experience then they won't care about a video game I used to play; and second, if they care about a video game I used to play then they won't care about my leadership experience on a roleplaying server.

IMAGE (fork?  dilemma?  horns?)
Caught between the two horns of a dilemma.  Grooooaaaan.

Not a whole lot of sources today, hence the "rant" tag.  Any real-world connections to administrations past or present are left as an exercise for the reader.  Something something upcoming mid-term something.
CUT
World of Warcraft came out right about the same time I put my undergrad degree on hold, due to a crisis of What The Fuck Am I Doing With My Life.  During this time, my life was basically Work-WoW-WeekendsWithFriends, as all my friends were at college.  I had been hyped about the game since playing Warcraft III and really biting into the lore - the "good guy" Human Alliance was pretty racist and prone to infighting, driven as they were by fear and vengeance, while the "bad guy" Orcish Horde was a coalition of misfits, driven by the desire to overcome their literal demons and a history of subjugation.  There's a lot of purple prose, cliche, and overused tropes I'll forgive for a story as social-justicey (SoJuicy?) as that.

Humble Beginnings

I started a guild basically as soon as I could, but I was a naive MMO virgin (virgin to MMOs, not sex - I got into D&D and MMOs well after popping my metaphorical cherry which is not how that works at all actually but this isn't the point right now).  Consequently, I didn't go around begging for the ten signatures needed and then immediately boot them.  Instead, I focused first on recruiting the right people:  I'd party up with strangers, play with them for an hour or two, and then talk with them for a bit if I liked the cut of their jib.  As an intermittent insomniac prone to bouts of mild mania during periods of excitement, I found a fairly diverse group of English and Spanish speakers from around the world.

Thing is, most guilds are about power, prestige, and profit:  winning PvP matches, doing world firsts, making money to buy gear to do the first two, bragging rights on the forums, that sort of thing.  I wasn't about any of that - I wanted to start a family.  I would watch how others played, how they interacted with other strangers, how they responded to loot, and build an idea of their moral compass from that.  If I thought they were reasonable to a first approximation, I'd talk to them about guilds in the abstract, and then we'd decide whether or not to team up.  I wanted people who were in it for the long haul, and I got:  bilingual people from around the world; a couple who wanted a chill guild that wouldn't make huge time demands; people with children searching for a guild where real life comes first; and my second-in-command, a disabled veteran in search of the belonging he no longer got from the military.  A motley crew, no doubt, but I'm the kind of person who recognizes that diversity is strength just because it avails you of insights from multiple perspectives.

I ran my guild with one driving question:  "Is this a guild that I would want to be in, at any level?"  I hadn't the words then, but I was after a Rawlsian veil of ignorance.  I couldn't demand too much of the noobs in return for the prospect of advancement, because I wanted leadership to be fairly stable and not top-heavy; I couldn't demand too much of leadership, because burn & turn is a terrible way to run any organization; I also couldn't give too much power, because then I'd attract the kind of people who want power, whom I deeply loathe.  So every aspect of the guild was tuned to fostering community, camaraderie, and cooperation, especially the mandatory weekly guild meetings:  we met in an un-used arena in the corner of the orcish capitol, gave brief announcements and shout-outs, then held our initiation rites.

Every aspect of this built loyalty, even though I didn't know it explicitly at the time:

  • The meetings were mandatory because I knew they wouldn't otherwise happen.  If you weren't physically there on time, you partied up with me or an officer who could watch your position on the map to ensure you were en route.  If you were offline, then no sweat; but if you were on, you were here.
  • The meetings were in the Horde capitol but in an unused corner because many people had never seen the inside of this building before - it was an arena tucked away in the corner and no quests brought you there, so it was like a little secret, hiding in plain sight.
  • The meetings were brief because I didn't want to sit for a bunch of annoying crap, and assumed nobody else did either.  It was strictly need-to-know information like policy changes and web site updates, as well as shout-outs for good deeds done by the members and/or upcoming events.
  • The Rite of Initiation was a gang-style naked beat-in right outside the city gates:  the initiate and a senior member would remove all their gear and duel unarmed.  You didn't need to win, you had to participate.  But soon enough, initiates could be seen grinding the unarmed skill in the week leading up to their initiation, just to put on a good show come clobberin' time.
  • The only requirement to be initiated was to attend one guild meeting.  You'd see it was quick, important, and best of all, followed by ritualized violence.  And then you were truly one of us.  We got many a new member from our initiation rites, just curious people running into town who wound up being good fits (or not).
Up-front token effort, reasonable demands, reasonable payoff, ritualized violence, and insider knowledge - the ingredients of any successful fraternity, minus the toxic masculinity.  I was completely unprepared for how well it would take off.

The Big Long Middle

We grew slowly but steadily for the first two years, quickly reaching a growth-rate plateau and holding steady at that rate for a long time.  My second-in-command set up a web site, opening up out-of-game communication channels; this also resulted in a lot of asynchronous roleplaying, further fostering community and group identity.  I actually listened to my guildmates, recognizing good ideas when I saw them and instituting them.  I delegated when I couldn't find the time or interest for a worthwhile initiative - and if nobody stepped up for a needed role, then we let it ride until someone willing did.  I didn't start arguments, or even end them - I moderated them, providing a venue to work out disagreements and find common ground.

By and large, I didn't put my foot down on much of anything (barring some notable exceptions to be discussed shortly).  I was a leader, not a boss - I wasn't in it for the glory or the power, I was in it for the community, and it so happens I just had to build that community myself.  More precisely, I created a space for the community, and then the people who were naturally attracted to this kind of community (after some intense up-front effort on my part) went and built it of their own accord.  It happened organically, too, with as little top-down direction as possible (except to say consistently that the guild should be built from the grassroots up).

This brings me to the one matter where I did repeatedly put my foot down:  what kind of guild should we be?  For the uninitiated, here is a quick breakdown of the general kinds of guilds you'll find in World of Warcraft:

  • Player-versus-Player:  PvP guilds are like PMCs, focused on the various kinds of competitions between players of opposing factions and the rewards accrued thereby.  In general, a PvP guild respects cunning, battle prowess, and adaptibility - while there most certainly is a meta-game, those with the skill and time to experiment with it can constructively innovate in this area.
  • Player-versus-Environment (Raiding):  Raiding guilds are like corporations, focused on the endgame content of building 40-person coalitions to take on the game's most demanding dungeons.  In general, a raiding guild respects consistency, battle prowess, and obedience - while there is room for flexibility, the overarching point of any PvE guild is to make steady progress through the endgame content in pursuit of a more or less predictable reward.
  • Roleplaying:  RP guilds are focused on the characters in the guild and their relation to the world, in a way creating their own character-driven content rather than relying exclusively on the developers.
  • Casual:  Casual guilds don't have a driving principle beyond hanging out and enjoying the game.  While less focused, they are also less prone to infighting and drama (though that can happen anywhere).  However, the lack of unifying purpose also tends to reduce the guild's cohesion and longevity.
While our guild was described as an RP/casual guild, because that's convenient shorthand, I really thought of it as a "community building" guild - but explaining that requires more or less this entire post, whereas the RP/casual description communicates sufficiently what the guild both is and is not.  So, fine.  The structure of the guild was also set up such that leadership was more public service than power hierarchy.  You got into leadership by showing a drive and desire to support and mentor those around you, not by putting in dues and then accruing authority.  We certainly did our share of PvP events and even a little bit of raiding, but it was more in the manner of a hobby within the game than the point of the game.

This is getting pretty long, so I'll divide it up into two posts.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

"Project: Spiral" - Chapter 2 (part 2c)

If you are new to Project:  Spiral, then click here to read the Prologue, or click here to read from the start of Chapter 1.  Otherwise, welcome back!

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"Project: Spiral" - Chapter 2 (part 2b)

If you are new to Project:  Spiral, then click here to read the Prologue, or click here to read from the Chapter 1.  Otherwise, welcome back!

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"Project: Spiral" - Chapter 2 (part 2a)

If you are new to Project:  Spiral, then click here to read the Prologue, or click here to read from the Chapter 1.  Otherwise, welcome back!

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

"Project: Spiral" - Chapter 2 (part 1)

If you are new to Project:  Spiral, then click here to read the Prologue, or click here to read from the start of Chapter 1.  Otherwise, welcome back!

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Chapter 2:  Destined Heroes


Saturday, November 3, 2018

101 Interesting Things, part fifty-seven: Color Vision

A long-standing question in philosophy is whether the red I see is the same as the red you see.  The engineer's answer is that of course it's the same wavelength, and in accordance with the tradition of engineer answers, this is technically accurate but supremely unhelpful.  However, there is an answer, and that answer is clearly not, sometimes.

Pictured:  BULLSHIT.  (Not really.  Image found at Quora.)

For one thing, some people are colorblind.  But it gets so much cooler, and so today I'm writing about color perception!

You may have heard of the rods & cones in our eyes, and the short version is that rods help us detect brightness while cones help us detect color.  Rods are older, evolutionarily speaking, and much more responsive insofar as they take fewer photons to activate.  But cones, in helping us see color, allow us to distinguish predators among busy backgrounds and detect the ripeness of fruits.

Also found on Quora, but for a totally different conversation.

Interesting Miscellanies which You Prolly Know but Maybe Not

Most human beings are "trichromatic," having three kinds of cones:  red, blue, and green.  These respond, logically enough, to those corresponding colors of light.  This means that the only reason the RGB breakdown works is because it corresponds to our machinery, not because that's how anything "really" is.  But in some people, one of those sets of cones doesn't work, and they can't distinguish colors so well.  And there is of course more to it than that, but most people know about colorblind folks and it gets way more interesting than this so we are rolling right along!

On the opposite end of the spectrum (so far) are tetrachromats, people who have four kinds of cones in their eyes and can see not 33% more colors (as one might expect), but many times more colors than us measly trichromats.  This is because tetrachromacy doesn't "just" tack on another "kind" of color, but adds another dimension of color.  So on top of all the R values that can be mixed with all the G and B values, there's a fourth set of values that can be mixed with all of the previous.  But there's still more interesting to go!

The mantis shrimp sees our two to four color receptors, and raises:  they've got twelve to sixteen color receptors, on top of each eye being trinocular and thus independently depth perceptive.  Moreover, they can tune some of these receptors at will, and I don't even know how to imagine that twist on this thing I already can't imagine.  The mantis shrimp's eyes are truly a thing to behold, and I really wanna know what it's like to have them, and The Oatmeal made an amazing comic about it so just go read.  But even the mantis shrimp has to take a backseat to the very most interesting bit about color vision, and how we know sure as dammit that some people's red isn't the same as other people's red.

The Most Interesting Part of All!

Color perception is also influenced by culture.  Yeah, yeah, talk about the wine-dark sea and hair being compared to blue stones in Ancient Greek literature all you want, but this is some present-day go out and check now science.  Sadly, the video is now down, but it was explained in a BBC program and the episode was entitled "Do You See What I See?" (because of course it fucking was).  So some scientists found a tribe called the Himba and investigated their color terms and then devised a test:  show twelve swatches of color in a circle, eleven of which are identical, but one of which is different by a small but measurable RGB value.  We'll circle back after a brief tangent.

Us Westerners, with our internet and fashion industry, have pretty regular color terms (among present-day Western cultures, that is); this leads us into the trap of thinking they're objectively real and universal.  Our science of color perception has noted that cultures first develop terms for black and white, then red, then yellow (just like the TooL song), and so on; this leads us into the further trap of thinking that other cultures' color terms are deficient or primitive when they differ from ours.  But it turns out that other cultures can have color terms just as nuanced as ours but still different.  We can test this because we can make objectively different RGB values and then interrogate people for their subjective color distinctions.  I don't mean like Randall Munroe's color survey where clearly different colors are given the same name, I mean when actually different colors are perceived by us as the same color.

Not this, in other words.  But this:

(Top image from xkcd, bottom from PetaPixel's write-up of the documentary.)

Getting back to aforementioned test:  the image on the right has one swatch that's slightly more blue than the others, and the image on the left has one swatch that's slightly more yellow than the others*.  I bet you, being an Internet Person, are able to quickly & easily distinguish the odd one out on the right, but not on the left.  However, the Himba people of Namibia are the reverse from us:  they are able to distinguish the left set just as quickly & reliably as we can the right set, but they guess on the right set just as unreliably as we guess on the left set.  This is because the Himba distinguish more greens/yellows than us, but we distinguish more greens/blues.

Go ahead and take another look at those circles above, if you haven't already checked out the note below.  If you can't tell which one is different, SPOILER ALERT it's the same position in both circles.  /SPOILER  If you try real hard, you might be able to see the difference, now that you know - but would you really bother to single out that one square if asked whether they were all the same or if one was different?  If someone told you that the squares on the right looked all the same to them, would you say OK or would you call them colorblind?  In a way, this should be no more surprising than the fact that fashion industry professionals distinguish more colors in general than most of us (how many shades of grey do you really need, without a professional reason for training yourself to distinguish them?).  But the fact that the Himba so easily distinguish the left circle while having such difficulty with the right tells us, for sure, that what we see as blue they see as green as the rest of the circles - and vice versa for the circle on the left.

Age-Old Philosophical Problem:  solved!  We don't all see the same colors, it's influenced by a lot of things, from biology to culture.

Notes:

* - SPOILERS IF YOU'RE TRYING TO SOLVE IT YOURSELF!  I went & tested the RGB values, and it's a little disappointing because the "basic" green swatches are all 78/186/12, the blue one is 36/194/233, and the yellowish one (same position on the left) is 96/192/4.  Calculating the differences between them, the blue one is considerably more different than the others are from each other.  I went and made one that was "bluish" by the same numeric amounts as the yellowish one, and it didn't look very much different (and I also knew which one it was in advance, making the difference more noticeable to me).  But I was also able to distinguish the yellowish one, because I looked at the one on the right and then on the left and thought it was in the same position, but then I thought maybe it was just an after-image, so I looked at the one on the right and then turned the screen and looked at the left one, and the same one (now in a different position) looked different, so I figured I was right.  Then I tested them and I was vindicated, Hooray The End.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

"Project: Spiral" - Chapter 1 (part 3)

If you are new to Project:  Spiral, then click here to read the Prologue, or click here to read from the start of Chapter 1.  Otherwise, welcome back!

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