Archive for August, 2018

Coyne Can’t Help Himself …

August 31, 2018

he just keeps commenting on free will, insisting that his hard determinism stance is correct and that all other views, no matter how informed, are just plain misguided. So, an awful lot like his views on religion, to tell you the truth.

This time, he’s taking on a 2 minute spiel by Sean Carroll, a compatiblist about free will who was talked to a hard determinist, John Hamill. Hamill says that Carroll schooled him about free will, but since Coyne doesn’t like Carroll’s compatiblism — even as he likes much of the other things he said — Coyne felt the need to show that he really wasn’t. And one of the first things he takes exception to is this:

First of all, the difference between compatibilism (free will is compatible with determinism) and incompatibilism (free will is NOT compatible with determinism) really is semantic, despite what Sean says. When he says “nobody is offering new definitions,” he’s wrong. There are many new conceptions of free will being offered, all to support compatibilism (Dan Dennett has offered a couple, for example). But the different definitions are incompatible with each other! (Some say it’s “lack of coercion,” some say it’s “the complicated input into our brains”, and the list goes on.) Which concept of free will is “right”?

First, showing that there are differing conceptions of free will in no way demonstrates that the difference between compatiblism and incompatiblism is merely semantic. This can be far more easily seen if one recalls that libertarianism is an incompatiblist postion. It agrees with the hard determinist that you can’t have both free will and determinism — ie that “free will is NOT compatible with determinism”, as Coyne says — but thus concludes that that has to mean that determinism is false. That, of course, is not a merely semantic distinction. Now Coyne can reply that that might be the case, but that that doesn’t mean that there is anything other than a semantic difference between compatiblism and his hard determinism. But then the question can be raised over why compatiblism so bothers Coyne. If they are merely saying the same thing in different ways, then why should Coyne worry about it so much? I suppose he could argue that the implications of the words they do either give incorrect perceptions of the world — for example, by encouraging people to maintain dualistic notions instead of the deterministic ones Coyne favours — or else block off certain solutions that he favours, but it still seems odd to focus so much attention on it if it really is a mere semantic distinction as Coyne asserts.

Additionally, it doesn’t seem that the positions really are merely semantic, at least not in how Coyne generally goes about it. In general, compatiblist positions assert that conscious deliberation matters in determining the outcome of a choice, while hard determinists deny that. Coyne himself uses the results of experiments designed to show that conscious deliberation does not determine the outcome of a choice — like the Libet experiments — to argue just that. That’s not a mere semantic distinction. Compatiblists argue that the conscious choice-making process is just as determined as everything else is, not that it’s irrelevant, as Coyne tends to argue.

So either the positions have all the same implications and thus the difference really is merely semantic, or else there is a significant difference in the positions and so Coyne should be addressing that and stop treating it like a mere semantic difference.

But on top of that, offering new conceptions of free will does not mean that they are, in fact, offering new definitions. In general, we all pretty much know what sorts of phenomena we want to explain using free will, or at least that free will was an explanation for. That’s the definition of “free will”. But there are multiple ways to explain those phenomena, and so different people have different hypotheses about how that all works out. Taking the two examples Coyne explicitly gives, the idea that it means “lack of coercion” is not necessarily incompatible with “the complicated input into our brains”. At first glance, the latter looks like an idea about implementation while the former looks like a base requirement for a choice to be free without going into the full details of choosing. But even if they were, these are differing hypotheses aimed at explaining the same phenomena, each of which can be right or wrong (for example, I think that a “coerced” choice is a free choice, and that people who use that definition are conflating the legal notion of responsibility with the philosophical one). Essentially, Coyne’s argument here is like someone denying that there is any phenomena as Dark Matter because there are a number of competing and incompatible hypotheses trying to explain what it is. While ignoring, of course, that his is just one of them.

This also has an impact when dealing with the “folk” definition of free will:

The fact is that, in surveys, most people conceive of free will as dualistic (libertarian) free will: you really could have done otherwise at a given moment. That notion is of course incompatible with the laws of physics. Despite the ruminations of philosophers, that’s what the definition of free will IS to most people. And those people don’t think their choices are governed by the laws of physics. Shouldn’t we be telling them this? If you say “no”, I think you’re misguided.

This is really comparable to the evolutionary standard line of “Humans evolved from apes”, which is also a huge part of the folk definition of evolution. It also lends itself to the rather erroneous claim that “If humans evolved from apes, how come there are still apes?”. This is a bad argument because the folk definition is a useful analogy or simplified statement to get the point across, but those who study evolution in detail know how that gets fleshed out so that when we examine it in detail we know that there’s more to it than that simple principle.

The same thing applies to free will. Coyne loves to harp on the idea that free will really means the dualistic “Could have done otherwise”, but that’s a very simplified notion of what free will really means. What we mean by a free choice — meaning a choice chosen of one’s own free will — is that the choice is a product of our conscious decision-making processes, including but not limited to conscious deliberation. What’s important is that when someone sits down to make the hard decision about which university to attend, or which job to take, or whether to propose to their partner, those ruminations and debates that they have with themselves are, in fact, what determines their choice, and until that process was completed the outcome could have been any of the ones they were considering. This is true even if, at the end of the day, when we look at their beliefs, desires and values, there really was only one rational choice, and so that if we make them equally rational and consider all of the same points, they’d still make the same choice if we “re-ran” the choice later. The idea is indeed that the choice could have gone either way and so that if you replayed the choice the other one might have been chosen, but that’s not critical to the definition of free will nor what people feel they’ll lose if they accept determinism. What people are worried about losing is in fact that their conscious deliberations were impotent; either they are irrelevant as Coyne tends to suggest or else even the deliberations were already determined and so really seem like going through the motions.

And thus if determinism implies that the choice process is impotent and/or epiphenomenal — the conscious things you considered could be completely disconnected from the causal factors that ultimately determined your choice — then that would take away what everyone wants free will for. Merely “could have done otherwise” is a simplified way to expressing that, but in itself doesn’t encapsulate the issue.

Coyne, of course, wants to eliminate compatiblism because, to him, it stops us from really understanding how we need to structure society and so blocks reforms he wants to see:

Regardless, the important issue to me is not what you call free will, but whether you could have done otherwise at any given moment. And here everyone, including Sean, is a determinist. That view alone has enormous implications for social policy, especially in the judicial system. Why, I keep asking myself, does everyone ignore determinism—which nearly all philosophers and scientists agree on—and quibble about semantics? Compatibilism sweeps away a whole host of social issues that need to be addressed—sweeps them under the rug in favor of making people feel as if they have free will, or of formalizing misguided language that everyone uses.

The problem is that most compatiblists — Coel, who used to comment here a bit, is one of the more common ones on Coyne’s site — repeatedly point out that at least hard determinism doesn’t in fact seem to have any such benefits. Coel in that very post comments that you can have reformed justice systems without being a hard determinist because many nations — he uses Norway as an explicit example — have reformed their justice systems without it. So it’s actually quite difficult to find any real examples where Coyne’s view necessarily produces different outcomes from that of libertarians, let alone compatiblists. About the only consistent argument he gives is about retribution, which it can be claimed follows from the idea that someone made the choice to do it and therefore they deserve to be punished for it, whereas if they didn’t make that choice they wouldn’t deserve punishment or retribution. Of course, we can easily sidestep that by pointing out that, as Grammy Flash says “the problem with ‘an eye for an eye’ is that everyone ends up blind.” If you take retribution for any injury done to you, then they will take retribution for that injury you caused them, and so on and so forth, and so it never ends. But we can take an idea of restorative justice, where the punishments are meant to restore what the person took from the other or at least make up for it, and we can take the idea of protecting society from those who abuse it, and we pretty much end up where Coyne does when it comes to the justice system … while still maintaining the idea of choice and free will.

Now, Coyne would still have a point if there were no consequences to his position, but his position sweeps more problems under the rug than compatiblism does, so many that it is in fact utterly untenable in any strong form that denies compatiblisms main philosophical thrust. Coyne asks this:

Even incompatibilists like myself realize that punishment is needed to deterrence, for rehabilitation, and for keeping society safe. It adds nothing to say that the criminal could have “chosen” not to commit a crime; in fact, that corrupts our judgment. Does it improve our justice system if we say, falsely, that someone who pulled the trigger could have chosen not to do so at that moment?

Well, yes it does … or, rather, it improves our justice system to distinguish the real cases where they could not have chosen to do otherwise from those cases where they could have. Now, here what I mean by “could not have chosen to do otherwise” is in line with how I talked about it above: the determination of their choice-making processes was not what determined what action they take. In such cases, deterrence is not an option, because that requires engaging the choice-making processes and the choice-making processes aren’t actually doing the work here. Rehabilitation means removing the thing that overrides the choice-making processes, whereas for anyone else we’d need to correct the choice their choice-making processes make. And you could lock them up for the protection of society if there is no way to correct them, but in general we would consider such a person insane rather than criminal. So these people have to be treated quite differently from people who are indeed acting on what their choice-making mechanisms choose.

We can see this with the example of stealing. A kleptomaniac, by definition, only steals because they have an overwhelming compulsion to steal, and to do so even if they really don’t want to steal. They, literally, cannot choose otherwise, because every mechanism for choice is short-circuited by that compulsion. What we should do for them is remove that compulsion. This is different from someone who steals because they are too poor to afford to live otherwise. What we should do there is relieve their poverty, as they wouldn’t steal otherwise. This is different from someone who steals because they are making a bad choice, thinking that stealing is the best way to achieve their desires. For them, we should fix their erroneous and flawed choice-making processes. This is different from someone who steals because it’s the easiest way to get what they want and they don’t value the things that stealing takes from them. We need to fix their values. All of these distinctions require different mechanisms, and all of these distinctions follow naturally from the choice model that libertarians and compatiblists have adopted.

Coyne can argue that his view can take these into account as well, but it’s hard to see how that can be done without simply building in the idea of choice under another name. About the only way to do so is to classify things by stimulus — including internal stimuli — instead of appealing to “reasons”. But since all the individual stimuli will have commonalities that we will want to lump together for efficiency, we’ll end up rebuilding the exact same categories, and so again he’ll just be replicating reasons while obstinately refusing to call them that. Hardly a distinction that supports his position.

At the end of the day, choices are so fundamental to our experience and actions in the world that they are impossible to eliminate. So, compatiblists refuse to eliminate them, and to maintain that structure while denying that this entails dualism. Coyne doesn’t like it because he feels it preserves too much of the dualistic system, not realizing that any system is going to need those concepts. It is his inability to realize that that causes his enmity for compatiblism and also his inability to actually take their view on fairly, let alone refute it.

Thoughts on Stingray …

August 29, 2018

So, a while ago I signed up for Stingray Retro. I still have it. So what do I think of it?

It works pretty well for what I wanted it for. It provides some decent music and something somewhat interesting to look at should I happen to look up at the screen. This makes it pretty good to have one while doing things like little projects, reading when nothing else is on, or writing blog posts .. especially since my baseball team isn’t doing so well and so watching baseball isn’t of as much interest to me as it used to be (plus the schedule has been running annoyingly into later games lately).

The music mix isn’t or at least wasn’t that varied. At the start, at least, I saw a lot of Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, and oddly enough The Spice Girls, which got a bit repetitive at times, although that seems to have settled down a bit. It does, however do a lot less Kylie Minogue than Vintage did, which is both good and bad, mostly because they don’t play the song I really like, and the others don’t appeal to me as much. The Canadian content surprisingly lacks Bryan Adams — one of the more popular Canadian artists — but does focus a lot on Shania Twain, Celine Dion, and a surprising amount of Glass Tiger, with some Corey Hart and other Canadian bands at times. But it’s a Canadian station, so that’s to be expected. Other than that, the mix is pretty good, and even includes a couple of Rick Astley songs, which I did actually like back in the day and so can still listen to … but, yes, it does mean that the channel effectively rickrolls me every so often.

So, as I hinted above, it’s worked out pretty well. I only listen to one of the three channels that I have but that channel plays the songs that I know and like enough that I don’t really need any other channels. Definitely worth getting, and mostly superior to Vintage, which is what it replaced.

Thoughts on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002)

August 27, 2018

So, I just finished watching the 2002 reboot of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Like with “The New Adventures of He-Man”, it’s interesting to look at this in the context of the new She-Ra series to see if any lessons from it can be applied there. However, it’s also a far superior show than “The New Adventures of He-Man”, so it’s nice to look at what it managed to do right.

First, let’s start with the comparison to She-Ra. One of the things that the show is trying to do — and is driving the change in character models — is start She-Ra and her companions as being younger in order to appeal to a younger audience. Except, when He-Man and She-Ra were on TV I was that younger audience, and had absolutely no issues relating to the older characters in the shows. It doesn’t seem like we really need to have characters our age to be able to relate to them or to the show, and often shows that try that — Wesley Crusher from TNG, the Wonder Twins from Superfriends, WilyKit and WilyKat from ThunderCats, etc — end up with really annoying characters that we’re supposed to relate to but instead take up time that could go to the cooler characters. Add in that they are supposedly keeping the revolution angle and this starts to get a bit incredible.

The 2002 He-Man series, however, did actually do that, by reducing Adam and Teela in age to teenagers. And this actually worked pretty well, because it let them do things that wouldn’t have made sense in the original series with the original ages. Adam, for example, can now be portrayed not as the wastrel he had to be in the original series, but merely as someone who is immature and irresponsible because of that. As he is becoming a man, it also allows them to introduce a deeper conflict between Adam wanting to be the hero and having to become He-Man and have He-Man take the credit. And this only gets deepened by the fact that, as a teenager, Teela is often far more competitive with Adam and far more harsh on him than it would make sense for the original series Teela to be. As they are teens, she teases him, competes with him, and is harshly exasperated with his perceived uselessness and cowardice … to the point of being annoying. And, in fact, teenage Teela is, in general, pretty annoying. She’s harshly commanding at times and often oversteps her bounds and experience. And yet, that’s okay, because as a teenager she’s supposed to be annoying. Moreover, she gets called out for making those mistakes more than the original Teela could have. Man-At-Arms takes a more direct leadership role given the age issue, but Teela still gets to be in charge sometimes, mostly because she’s the daughter of the leader and has his training, which puts her above most of the troops, but she rarely is that strongly in charge if Man-At-Arms is available, which makes it more credible. De-aging her and Adam also sets them apart from the others, allowing them to talk about things in a way that the others wouldn’t necessarily understand and to play and compete against each other in a way that makes more sense. However, since most of the Masters are adults the conflict with Skeletor’s warriors seems more credible in general.

Thus, the message for the new She-Ra show is this: if you are going to de-age them, use it for something. And don’t put them into situations where they are in over their heads just because they are that young.

In general, though, the reboot respects the original while attempting to be its own show. We can see this from the beginning, where the title sequence starts with the classic introduction to the original series, only to be interrupted by Skeletor attacking, which both, to me, shows that they respect the original material and yet are going for a much more action-focused reinterpretation, and thus pretty much reflects what the show was really going to be like. They integrate storylines and items into the show quite often, and also name drop a lot of other things as well, such as the Diamond of Disappearance. They bring some classic villains into the show, upgraded. They restore Evil-Lyn as a mostly self-interested minion of Skeletor and return her snark and disdain for the other Evil Warriors. Skeletor gets his old voice back. But they do all this wrapped around far more detailed fight and action scenes, which the original series couldn’t have done.

It’s not all good, though. Orko is reduced to a complete incompetent who is insanely overconfident and full of himself, whereas he was far more of a helpful sort in the original series, which allowed him to be a sounding board and companion for Adam and He-Man when necessary. Here, only Man-At-Arms can fill that role. Cringer and Battlecat are not voiced, which loses some of the humour they could bring to the show. And the Sorceress is changed from a generally wise and individually powerful being to someone who is more harsh and commanding but does less on her own. Both of the new series did that to the Sorceress for some reason.

The new show also focuses more on multi-part episodes and arcs, which would be good except the focus on action doesn’t really leave room for any kind of development. Thus, the characters generally don’t evolve and the plots end up being simply moving from one place and/or one plot to another. Ultimately, it’s entertaining, but a bit shallow.

At the end of the day, I liked it and will probably watch it again.

Next up, the original She-Ra, Princess of Power series.

Historic Hugos

August 24, 2018

So, recently, the 76th Hugos happened, and contained a historic event: N.K. Jemisin won her third straight “Best Novel” Hugo, having won a Hugo for each of the books in her “Broken Earth” trilogy. Both “sides” in the recent Hugo/Sci-Fi conflict immediately declared victory, with The Guardian declaring that her win “signals and end to the influence of the rightwing “Puppies” groups” — despite the fact that her first win came when they were definitely active and influencing things (triggering a rules change) and her second win probably did as well — while Vox Day declared that that is what victory looks like, because her triple win shows that the Hugos have no credibility. So, with both sides declaring victory and both sides being willing to accuse the other of claiming victory only to avoid admitting defeat — or, as is more likely to be the case coming from Day, that they are too stupid to realize that they actually lost — which side is right? In my view, I think that Vox Day’s side is more right. Why do I say that? Well, as Tony Dunst might say, let’s break it down:

What is responsible for Jemisin’s historic run of Hugo Award dominance? Well, what the anti-Puppy side would like you to believe is that she won that strictly on her own merits: she really is that good. Of course, I read the first book in her trilogy and wasn’t that impressed, but let’s put that aside for the moment and think about just how good she had to be to have this historic run simply on the basis of merit. She has won three straight Hugo Awards in three years, for each of the books in her trilogy. Winning three Hugos in a writing career is pretty impressive: looking it up on Google, Roger Zelazny only won two for Best Novel in his career (although he won a number of Hugos for novellas and novelettes), and none of those were for any of the books in his most famous work, the Amber series. He also was, in his career, 6 out of 17 in terms of winning when he was nominated, while Jemisin is 3 out of 6, which is an impressive win to nomination ratio. So even over an entire career Jemisin would have had an astounding achievement. To win a Hugo for each novel in a trilogy is also incredibly impressive; I don’t think it happens very often, if at all (I’m not inclined to Google to see if it has ever happened before, but again it’s almost certainly very rare). And she managed to churn out each novel in the trilogy in the span of three years, which is what allowed her to win three years in a row. Now, the thing is, writing good novels takes work. Jemisin herself says in her acceptance speech that she “works [her] ass off”. But work does not happen in a timeless vacuum. Work takes time. There’s editing, rewriting, reworking, proofing and a ton of other things that go into creating a novel. More skill, however, reduces this time. So Jemisin was able to shorten down the writing time sufficiently to get them out at a level of quality that trumped all other novels out there, including ones that had taken more time to edit and polish their works to get them into their presumably ideal states. Thus, Jemisin was able to produce works of such high quality while arguably not taking as much time to refine them as others did … three years in a row.

To judge this entirely on merit suggests, given all of that, that Jemisin would have to be the greatest science fiction and fantasy author who ever existed by a huge amount. Sure, to return to the comparison to Zelazny, he had nominations for multiple works in the same years and had nominations for consecutive years, some of which he won in both while Jemisin didn’t seem to do anything else in those years (or, at least, nothing that was nominated this year) but to not have anything else break her streak or to have a downturn in the quality of one of the works, again, would reflect incredible talent. And that isn’t all that plausible, even if you haven’t read her works.

So, another possibility is that while she had merit, the more plausible reason for her success is that there wasn’t really all that much competition. She was good and the alternatives were mediocre, and so she managed to get there because, really, every time the voting came around there just wasn’t anything better, but she shouldn’t really be considered that much of a historic great. This, to my recollection, is what happened with Steve Nash in the NBA. He’s a great player, and deserved to win the NBA MVP awards that he won, and almost did the same as Jemisin and won three straight which would have been historic, but few consider him to be the same caliber of superstar as Michael Jordan or Lebron James or Wilt Chamberlain or any of the other greats, and of the other greats that his winning the MVP award back-to-back places him in the same sentence as. In fact, I recall that when he looked like he might win the award back-to-back-to-back there was consternation for precisely that reason: he was getting it because he was the best available in all of those years, but his winning it would place him in a rarefied position that would imply that he was more of a superstar than he really was in historical context. (Meanwhile, the Hugos seem to be embracing that, definitely trying to imply the first case for Jemisin). But his back-to-back wins were seen as more a reflection of a lack of dominate competition than a straight reflection on his overall skills and dominance itself.

Now, given what I thought of the “Best Novel” nominees for the year she first won, this could be a plausible explanation. Jemisin’s work was good — or, at least, really, really liked by a large number of people — and there was no competition strong enough to overcome that and make it a challenge. This, of course, would not reflect well on modern science fiction and fantasy, and on top of that would mean throwing other authors like Naomi Novik, Anne Leckie, Jim Butcher and John Scalzi under the bus. And I do believe that Novik, Leckie and Butcher are all better at the writer’s craft than Jemisin, at least, even if their works aren’t necessarily more interesting or better overall. So claiming that they just weren’t very good writers or their work just wasn’t up to snuff seems odd; surely someone out there somewhere in science fiction land could write a work that deserved to win and was as good if not better than hers, especially since, well, her work doesn’t seem like that much of an overwhelming classic to me.

So, then, we can go back to the overarching debate and the fight against the Puppies, and come to what I think is the most plausible reason: she won to tweak the nose of the Puppies, and especially the nose of Vox Day. It seems like far too much of a coincidence that the person who came out on top here is the same person that, out of all the candidates, Vox Day most hates. He advocated for no awarding “The Fifth Element” and almost certainly all of the books in her trilogy and nastily insulted her at one point with an insult that he keeps repeating pretty much any time he talks about her. His feud with John Scalzi — who came in second this year — is civilized compared to how he treats her. So it is reasonable to think that a large factor in her wins are people, consciously or unconsciously, thinking about how much it would tick Day off to have her, the one he most dislikes, be the one to win and, presumably, to frustrate all of his designs … at which point he replies that having someone like that win three times in a row pretty much satisfies them, showing that it isn’t talent but politics that determines who wins the awards.

And that’s the real issue here, and why I think that Day’s side is more reasonable in declaring victory. For Jemisin to win three times in a row for all three books in her trilogy simply on merit is something that strains credulity. As her works, to most people, won’t rise above “Okay” — they may rise above that for people who have a personal interest in her themes — people will see this historic win — and everyone is going to want to advertise that historic win — and if they have managed to ignore all of the things that have been going on to this point will decide to try it out, and read these historically good works. This is the result of hype, which anyone trying to sell a product loves. But the problem with hype is that it sets out expectations, expectations that a merely “Okay” work won’t be able to fulfill. And so new people will read it, see that it’s not that historically brilliant … and wonder what was wrong with the Hugos to claim that the trilogy was simply that good to deserve its historic ranking. And thus will wonder what I already wondered: can I trust that Hugo Award really indicates the level of quality that it implies or has implied in the past?

Defenders of Jemisin and of the Hugos want to appeal to the Hugo Awards she’s won as a sign that her works are good, and by extension that, as she herself said in her speech, that minority authors can produce work that can be enjoyed by people who are not minorities themselves and so can be, presumably, marketable. Putting aside that it’s sales that matter there and not awards (I tried be failed to find sales figures for those books), that only works if people think that getting a Hugo Award is really an indication of quality. To elevate Jemisin’s works to such an astoundingly high level of quality that she achieves something that even the greats couldn’t do will hurt that because I think it safe to say that while some people may indeed enjoy them to that level they aren’t objectively at that level. I mean, “The Lord of the Rings” is almost certainly not that good. “Dune” is almost certainly not that good. Zelazny’s “Amber” series is not that good. None of the classic series or authors have ever managed to hit that level, and I don’t think Jemisin’s work is objectively that good. For some, it may be their favourite series ever, but it’s not the sort of series that everyone will agree is a classic above and beyond all other works ever even if they themselves don’t like it. And that’s what the wins imply.

Thus, this will weaken the credibility of the Hugos. Most people will have no rational choice but to conclude that it was some other factor than pure merit that is responsible for her win, because even if they haven’t read the trilogy it being simply that good is too incredible to believe. And then if they know or hear about the political battles — that the Guardian and Jemisin herself are quick to remind everyone of — they will naturally conclude that that was the main factor. And then the Hugos will be seen as politicized as opposed to merit-based. And that’s what both Puppies groups at least claimed was true of the Hugos and what their main gripe was. And if that’s what they wanted, this then would have proved their case.

That sounds like a victory, if not entirely the one they wanted. And I don’t see what other victory the anti-Puppies have that could balance that.

As for me … I have hundreds of books sitting in my spare room to read, along with hundreds more less interesting ones sitting in my basement. I think I’ll stick with them.

That Accomplishment Thing and How It’s Going

August 22, 2018

So, it’s been a couple of months since I started putting a focus on getting some various things organized and listed out and to thus finally finish or do some of the things that I’ve been meaning to do for years. How is that all working out? Let me break it down from the things that are working out the best to the things that are working out the worst:

DVDs are working out amazingly well after some small adjustments. I now have the ability to watch hour long shows and half hour long shows and feel like I’m making progress. Right now, I’m almost done Dynasty and am almost done the 2002 series of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and have felt like I was making progress the entire time. Sure, splitting my watching time between the two means that I take a lot longer to finish them than I would otherwise, but that’s a lot better than looking longingly at hour long shows that I’d like to watch and wondering if I’m ever going to be able to watch them again. The half hour long shows still provide the flexibility I need while the hour long shows still get some play. I, of course have my half hour shows planned out probably through the end of the year while I still have to decide what hourly shows I’ll watch after Dynasty — it is actually, at this point, unlikely to be Knight Rider or Airwolf, and more likely to be the original Beauty and the Beast or something else — but at least the possibility is there to get those in, which makes me feel like buying that stuff isn’t a waste.

But on top of that, changing what I watch while playing games has been a massive improvement. When I was off for a week but after I had stopped trying to watch Knight Rider while playing games in the afternoons, I started watching movies while playing games. This was a revelation. It allowed me to put on a bunch of movies that I in general always wanted to watch at times while not having to pay a lot of attention to them. This also let me start watching a series of movies while eating and then also while doing other things, as long as it was something where having the noise available was good but I didn’t have to watch it in detail. So, in general, for movies that I’ve already watched but want to at least sorta watch again. So I’ve done the extended Lord of the Rings movies, the Star Wars movies — twice — and the Star Trek movies, as well as some others. I think I’m going to watch the James Bond movies I have next, which I haven’t watched in years. Movies work because they’re long enough to cover off a lot of time without my having to really do anything — even select the next one — but short enough that they generally run out at more convenient times than the 4+ hour Knight Rider disks. This lets them be more flexible than the Knight Rider disks were while still being things that I can turn on and mostly forget about for a while, which is great.

Also, the original series of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe proved that I can have an autoplay half-hour series and not worry if I fall asleep during it. All I’ve done is back up to the last episode I was watching and then watch the complete episode the next time I watch. Yes, this sometimes means that I end up watching most of an episode again if I want to see the ending, with the most ridiculous one being one episode of the 2002 series that I watched three times before being able to move on, but for the most part it’s working out well, and so that lets me watch some of those anime series that I’ve never been able to watch (see the list for the details). So this is just working out really, really well after some initial stumbling blocks.

Books are also working out really well. I’ve managed to work my way through my stack of historical books so that there are only two left. Yes, it is likely to take me another month to read “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” in my limited reading time, but that’s okay; I enjoy the book and have the time. As I can see the end of that list, I now can even look forward and plan for what I’m going to read next, which could be trying to get through those philosophical works I’ve been looking to read, reading something like the X-Wing books just for fun, or splitting the difference and reading all of the Ben Bova novels I have. I’ve had some issues with books that I didn’t enjoy, but I know how to work around that so it’s all good. This is working out pretty well.

Video games are, however, a disaster. I suppose I can take consolation in the fact that I did manage to “finish” Persona, but the problem there was that I didn’t particularly enjoy it and that carried over to Persona 2. And since Persona 2 introduced new issues of my having no idea where I was supposed to go to do the next thing and having a much greater frequency of random encounters which was annoying, I wasn’t having fun playing games … and that’s really the main point of playing games. It didn’t help that I was far more interested in playing Persona 3 or Persona 4 again — which were the next games on the list — nor that I didn’t have a good way like I have for books to only play games as an obligation and then move on to more fun games or things nor that after changing to watching movies I could play PC games again, many of which were far more interesting than Persona 2. Persona 2 actually ended up being blocking for me, where on one weekend I barely played games at all because it would require me to play that game. Yes, I ended up being busier than normal and had less time to play, but if I had wanted to play it I would have found the time. That I didn’t is not a good sign.

So, at least for now, I’ve tried to fix the problem by rescheduling Persona 2 for Christmas, when I’ll have more time to dedicate to that without neglecting the other things I want to do. In its place, I’ve moved on to the FeMC for Persona 3, which is a much more interesting game. Hopefully, this will work out, but so far accomplishing things with games has been a disappointment.

The only area that’s been worse are little programming projects and the like. I’ve done nothing with them. My original plan was to do them early afternoons on weekends and video games in the late afternoons and evenings, but my morning work and errands has always run over leaving little time to actually do them, and with the blog itself taking up what little time I could use to advance them anyway. And the only other free time slot is one that gets preempted a lot. And moving games to that other time slot means not playing them, and I still do want to play or finish some of those games, and that’s probably a higher priority for me right now. I have started a little bit of thinking about some of these things, but haven’t really done much yet nor have I really figured out the scheduling issues. I’m going to try to keep fitting it into the existing schedule and try to do it more when I have a spare hour or two, but this is really not going well and might necessitate a schedule change.

So, that’s how things are going. I’m hoping that I can stick with this and thus keep getting the things done that I’ve been wanting to do for ages, and so far it looks like I’m on a reasonable track except for little projects.

Thoughts on “The New Adventures of He-Man”

August 20, 2018

So along with the original series of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and the 2002 version, I also have a few disks that contain the “best” 20 episodes of “The New Adventures of He-Man”, which was supposedly a continuation of the original series that had completely new character designs, jettisoned pretty much all of the Masters and the villains, and even set it in a far off, completely different future. It pretty much only keeps He-Man and Skeletor, although they are completely different as well. While it isn’t really fair to review a series based on 20 episodes — they made 65 — I think it worth looking at it because they’re doing a reboot of She-Ra for a modern audience so it might be worth looking to see where this show went wrong.

Because, boy, did it really go wrong.

The first big mistake is setting it in the far future, because that doesn’t in fact actually add anything to the show, nor does it really add new plotlines or things to explore. The problem is that while the original series seemed to be set in a medieval fantasy setting, it was a medieval fantasy setting that had high technology and so was very technologically advanced. In short, the show itself was already futuristic, so you aren’t bringing someone who was unused to their technology into a world with more technology. All of their technology could have existed in He-Man’s original time, and so He-Man can easily understand and use all of it. This still could have been interesting if the future planet had been radically different from Eternia, like, say, being more of a Coruscant-type planet-city instead of the more open world of Eternia. Except Primus, the future planet that may or may not be Eternia, is pretty much the same sort of planet as Eternia was. So we don’t even get to see He-Man adjusting to a new environment. So … what was the point of flinging him into the far future? You could have had the same story set in the present, even if you wanted to have He-Man separated from the other Masters. All you’d need to do is have He-Man go to a far off planet that’s hard to get to to defend them from mutant attacks — and have Skeletor follow — and you’re done.

And setting it in the far future causes issues, especially since they insist on keeping Adam in the story and not changing his character model. Now, there’s no real reason that He-Man can’t stay He-Man all of the time; as far as I remember they never claimed that in the first series. For the most part, the dual identities exist because their other identities are too important to simply disappear or be killed off. Adam is the heir to the throne, which would cause a lot of issues if he suddenly disappeared and became He-Man all of the time. Adora technically could simply be killed off or disappear, but aside from her being an heir to the Eternian throne the conversion of one of Hordak’s most trusted lieutenants to a resistance fighter arguably can do more to convert people to the cause than all of She-Ra’s victories. Both of them, then, are important figures that it would be inconvenient to have simply vanish or “die”, thus mandating the dual role. Adam, as a completely newcomer to the future, doesn’t have that. So why can’t he simply be He-Man all of the time? You can argue that that would allow the villains to find him and so they’d be constantly attacking him to try to kill him … but they’re doing that as much as they can anyway, and Adam was often targeted in the original series just for being Adam, so that’s not as good a reason.

Especially since it raises an issue for the show: since Skeletor, presumably, is not an idiot and has seen Adam on multiple occasions in the original series and in this show, why doesn’t he get suspicious that Adam and He-Man are the same person? If the show was set on a distant planet, then having Adam and He-Man arrive is suspicious but can be explained directly as both of them being sent to help that planet out. But Adam is not presented as Adam, but as a new person who happens to look exactly like Adam — I think he might even keep the name — who appears at the exact same time as He-Man does. Sure, that can happen, but it’s not very plausible. And, in fact, at one point Skeletor builds a machine to track He-Man’s brain waves, notes that they are coming from a group that includes Adam, and never stops to think that maybe it is Adam. That’s a bit too much contrivance to take.

That being said, Skeletor is also downgraded in this series. In the original, he was menacing and manipulative, but also could be humorous and goofy at times. Here, he’s pretty much just goofy. He’s not even the leader of the enemy forces, but wrangles his way into being an adviser to them, which isn’t implausible and might even be something that it would be interesting to explore, except that he’s clearly significantly smarter than them and so is in general the only credible threat. He ends the series in the subordinate role, despite the fact that he would have clearly trying to take over and, in fact, is skilled and smart enough to do so, so it’s hard to see why he’d stay in that role. And his voice is far more standard and loses the unique menace that it had in the original series (and which they brought back for the 2002 series).

Also, there is no real Evil-Lyn analogue in this series. There is a female character who sides with Skeletor, but it is presented as her doing that because she loves him and not because it is in her interest to, which is how Evil-Lyn is presented. The “love” angle is far less interesting and makes her far less of an equal to Skeletor than the common interests angle does. Also, they had a couple of interesting female characters on the hero side, but as far as I can see minimized one and turned the other from a more academically-oriented character to an action character by the end, which wastes the potential of that character, especially since she was seemingly a love interest for He-Man as well. Pairing him with someone who was smarter and didn’t fight was something to explore, as would setting up a Betty and Veronica type situation where he has to choose between someone more practical and someone more intellectual, but neither were done as far as far as I can see and so it was just a waste.

Also, the new Masters and new villains aren’t all that interesting. The original series based their personalities around specific quirks, which gave them some character, which is mostly lacking in the new characters, so they come across as standard heroic sidekicks and villain minions.

Now, some of these things might have gotten some development or explanation in other episodes, and so it might not be fair to judge the series based only on those 20 episodes. Then again, these were the ones voted the best by the fans of the series, and none of them were very good. Since She-Ra seems to be radically altering the premise of the original She-Ra series, it would be good for them to at least note that if you’re going to change things, at least make certain that you make use of them and don’t let them walk you into new issues, like “The New Adventures of He-Man” had in spades.

Thoughts on “The Storm of War”

August 17, 2018

So, I finished reading “The Storm of War” by Andrew Roberts. In a way, his book is directly comparable to Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, since it seems to recount WWII in a similar way, and with at least a potentially similar dual role: give an explanation for why the various “empires” fell while describing in some detail the events that occurred during it. But, at the end of it all, “The Storm of War” is a much more accessible work.

The biggest disappointment with the work is that while it starts out by claiming that what it is going to do is argue for a reason why Hitler failed, and at times reminds us that it is trying to do that at various points throughout the work, including in the conclusion, Roberts doesn’t, in fact, spend all that much time doing that. Most of the book is a fairly straight examination of the events that occurred in WWII, with little link to his actual thesis, and so most of the time you can forget what his actual thesis is. On top of that, his actual thesis is a relatively uncontroversial one: that the main impediment to Hitler and the Nazis actually achieving their goals was their own ideology, which caused them to not properly exploit the tensions in the Soviet Union by treating its subjugated peoples better and caused a number of other errors. This isn’t all that controversial in and of itself, so to make that interesting Roberts would have had to have given new evidence or new arguments or show how it caused their failures in a new and unique way. But since he gives it so little attention, he never does. This really makes his thesis seem like a “Well, we knew that already!” sort of conclusion. Thus, it’s probably better, if that was all he had, that he didn’t focus on it all that much.

And that, I think, is partly why it works better than Gibbon’s work. Roberts focuses on telling the story of WWII and telling it in an interesting and accessible way. He doesn’t bog things down with too many details — and, in fact, at times he seems to only lightly skim over some events — but that works for the book. If you want to find out the details of various events there are lots of other books that can provide that, but here you get a deeper look than most simple textbooks will give but not so deep a look that it gets bogged down. Without having a specific focus — like, say, “War at Sea” or “The Decisive Duel” have — it can’t really be expected to do much more. Thus, it’s a pretty entertaining and easy read.

Next up is “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” for something like the fourth time. This time, though, what will be interesting is that I’ll be re-reading it right after reading another book on WWII. Will that much WWII end up boring me? Will I notice discrepancies between the two, or will they all generally agree? I’ll have to see when I get through that book.

Thoughts on “House of the Witch”

August 15, 2018

So, I’m continuing to watch the horror movies that I picked up for a relatively inexpensive price whenever I can fit it into my schedule. I do indeed think that I’m going to continue to try to do this, because watching them and analyzing them and picking out common features and issues from them is kinda fun. Unfortunately, it’s also usually more fun than actually watching the movies, as “House of the Witch” amply demonstrates,


Thoughts on He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

August 13, 2018

Yep, the original cartoon. A while ago I purchased a big He-Man collection, featuring the entire original series, the “best” of “The New Adventures of He-Man”, and the entire 2002 series. I had, of course, watched at least the original series and the 2002 series the first time, but that was a few years ago so I decided to watch all of them again and see how they held up.

It’s actually amazing how well the original series has held up.

The thing about the series is that it has what I recall someone commenting somewhere at Shamus Young’s site saying was generally true about the 80s: while it was odd and quirky, it was just so damn sincere about it that it was endearing. While sometimes the plots and even the overarching premise were very, very odd, the series for the most part took that and itself seriously, and yet not too seriously. They mixed in a lot of humour, even from Skeletor himself, which is what made him such a good villain, with the ability to be utterly menacing and yet utterly goofy at times as well. One of my favourite gags was when Evil-Lyn and Webstor stole some critical artifact without Skeletor’s knowledge, but he had seen them bring the thing into Snake Mountain right before He-Man shows up demanding it. He turns back from the window and asks them if that was what He-Men was asking for, they confirmed that it was, and he replies to He-Man “Sorry, haven’t seen it!”.

And the plots did work a lot of the time, even if they weren’t particularly complex. At the end, they dragged because there was only so much you could do with that premise, and some of them — especially in the later seasons — were just plain stupid, but for a half-hour children’s cartoon show they worked really well to provide light entertainment. Which is really all you could expect or want from a show like that.

The characters also worked. Stratos seemed to be the butt-monkey most of the time, but for the most part the characters — including the Attack Trac — were generally quirky but fit their roles well, and most of them even got some time in the limelight. This also included Skeletor’s minions, although by the end they were pretty much just a joke, except for Evil-Lyn, whom I really did like, especially as she allowed for a power struggle behind the scenes between her and Skeletor while making it clear why she would still work with him and he’d keep her around: they both needed each others’ abilities too often to ditch each other. Evil-Lyn also had a bit of a rivalry with Teela, but they both respected each other from the times that they had to work together to get things through. Teela herself is strong without being (too) annoying, which is more than a lot of modern strong heroines can achieve.

People often laugh about the terrible animation of the show, but I didn’t see that as a problem. Yes, the animation was primitive, but when the direction was good things were set up that the action didn’t need complex animation. Things were repeated from show to show and even in-show, but in ways that made sense and so didn’t detract from the action. It was rare that I noticed the animation failures, and most of those were, again, in the later seasons. In the early seasons, things flowed so much that the animation seemed “natural”, even though, again, it was primitive.

Ultimately, the original series was, for the most part, just plain fun. Not over-complicated, and not generally overly preachy, even in the ending “So now you know” sequences. It had some decent characterization and character development — the big one being Teela being the Sorceress’ daughter — but all of that tended to be in service to the show and the fun. Again, while at times it was idiotic in general that only lasted for a couple of episodes before it got back to being fun again. This is definitely a series that I’d watch again.

Update on Elsinore …

August 10, 2018

So I was reading through my archives at one point and was reminded of Elsinore, and since my impression at the time was that the game was almost finished or at least readily playable and since that was over two years ago I figured I’d take a look and see what was happening with it. And the latest update is that almost two and a half years later … the game is finally maybe getting ready for release. They have a Steam page, for example. And their latest Kickstarter update says that they’re working on issues discovered in Beta! So, if you were anxiously awaiting this game, you might actually get it.

Unfortunately, from the original Kickstarter page, the original delivery date was supposed to be April 2016 … or around the time that I posted about it and when Carolyn Petit talked about it. Given that it’s almost two and a half years later, they were no where near a proper release at that point.

And the things they talk about in the update, despite having two more years to work on it, aren’t all that promising either:

While we’re still making steady progress, a release date is still pending as we take time to clean up a big pile of bugs and content issues.

Most of the things we’re working on are back-end housekeeping-y tasks, and don’t make exciting bullet points (hence the relative silence) but here are recent updates we have, many of which involve responding to feedback you gave us during the beta:

Better Tutorials
There are a lot of features to help players manage the simulation of Elsinore, and previously we were just kind of… throwing them at you. Well, no more!

We are have some helpful pointers when each of those feature are introduced to tell you what each of these features do, and some tips and tricks to navigate the game effectively. We kept them brief, too – so they shouldn’t slow down game-play at all!

Furry Friends!
The last of our in-game backer rewards is now actually in-game and functional! All of your cats and great dane-ified dogs will now show up at various locations in the castle!

Two pets show up every loop, so the fact that they happened to be in the same place in this screenshot is actually very, very unlikely.

Why do only two pets show up each time?

Um. Well.

Our lore answer is animals can perceive the time loop and therefore are not bound by it! The real answer is that having 20 cats and dogs running around was very distracting.

A Real Options Menu
By far the most exciting pre-launch task is creating a real options menu. This one is underway. Right now, you only have one option – how fast do you want your text to scroll? Val and Connor learned from Socrates Jones that people care very, very deeply about this.

Obviously, a lot more important things will be put here before release. Graphics and sound options, mainly – if any of you have any strong opinions on what should be here, let us know!

And that’s it for now!
I mean, it’s not really it.There is a bunch of other stuff currently in progress that we’re hoping to get in, but don’t want to trumpet too loudly – we are at the point where we will drop new features if they push us back too far.

We’re hoping to do one more big backer build update before release – we talked about doing them more often, but each update comes with a risk of breaking your save files (Actually, making that less likely is ANOTHER of the big things we’ve been working on. But that only works going forward…)

So, they are dealing with a huge pile of bugs and content issues, which is delaying the release. And that was at the beginning of July, and they’ve said nothing else there since. Also, they needed to add real tutorials – the claim is “better” but the hint is that the tutorials were non-existent — to explain their mechanics. They finally added a backer reward of including dogs and cats in the game — I, uh, really have to wonder how many backers found that to be a clinching reward — but noted that they couldn’t actually put them in the way they originally intended to. Okay, that one might be something left to the end and discovered during beta, fine. They also have to actually add a number of configuration options to the game … which they call updates to the “menu” while admitting that the options weren’t in the game. And they’re even asking what should be in there! That’s … not something you should be doing when you’re claiming to be releasing soon.

So, almost two and a half years later, they are finally prepping for release with a host of bugs and content issues and major standard functionality completely missing. Yeah, that’s … not good. It would also be interesting to see if most of the bugs and content issues are the result of the complex interactions that I thought they’d have a hard time getting a handle on or if it’s more the result of bad or rushed coding. I suspect that it’s a little bit of both.

It will be interesting to see how much longer it takes for the game to be released — to be fair to them, that could be as early as tomorrow — and what state it’s in when it is released. The hope is that the beta testing is indeed finding the issues with it that I noted in my post and so it might not be a disaster at the end of the day. The longer cycle after beta would seem promising if you’re a fan of the game, but I’m not sure that we can trust their assessment of the game given how they talked about it two years ago and that it took them two years longer than they expected to get the game out, and did a beta already in 2016.

At this point, if it comes out on GOG, I almost have to buy it and see how it turned out, out of morbid curiosity and, well, an attempt to be fair to the game. I don’t buy anything from Steam, though, so if it stays only there then I won’t be able to.