Facebook surveillance PS (Post-Snowden)

Anyone ever downloaded their Facebook data? I did that a couple of days ago and the zip file was around 100 Megabytes.

I’ve skimmed through the data dump and there’s nothing surprising in my posts and whatnot. When I signed up for Facebook I was a grad student researching online communities so I was always reading about how Internet messages can come back to bite their users in the ass. One must always be careful what one puts out there for public consumption. There are entire folders in my data download that are empty thanks to me having gone data paranoid a full decade before most people did. I think I set Facebook to maximum privacy settings in 2007 and have kept it there ever since, plus I use ad blockers like crazy.

I was, however, reminded that Facebook was a lot bitchier about hiding messages and that there were a few from people that I didn’t see until years later (mostly people I met overseas while backpacking so I guess they thought I was being the bitchy one and ignoring them).

The part that had the most surprises was the section outlining which advertisers know about me (around 50 groups). Some of them I can figure out – the California Republican Party, for example, probably got my email from my conservative relatives in the US – but there are others that are just mysterious.

Why, for example, are there like 10 different Turkish musicians that have my info? It’s possible they learned about me through Spotify, but I don’t think I’ve ever listened to Turkish music on there, or ever. I guess I could email those people but I’m almost positive the individual musicians themselves don’t know what’s going on and it’s their marketing company that’s responsible. Plus I don’t really want to read machine translated PR speak. Anyway they’re wasting their time since my ad blocker means I get zero ads online.

I also requested a download of all my Google data, which comes to 9 Gigabytes. This is unsurprising considering how tightly I’m enmeshes in the Google data ecosystem. I think skimming through this will be a project of several evenings and weekends.

A fantasy anime that doesn’t suck

Coronation of the emperor in Record of Grancrest War, which clearly takes after Jacques-Louis David's The Coronation of Napoleon
Yes, they styled this scene after David’s Coronation of Napoleon

Say, Record of Grancrest War is actually a pretty solid fantasy show. The promotional material made it look like yet another crappy harem show where the main character shits himself every time an under-aged girl tries to give him a handjob but it’s not that at all. I can’t remember the last time an anime had two people who liked each other get together without any idiotic drama.

My biggest criticism is that it moves through the material a bit too quickly. Okay, there’s a world at war, aristocrats who drain magical powers from the rivals they defeat, vampires and werewolves and plucky allies and exotic locations and massive battles where actual characters die. Can we maybe have some time to dwell on each thing before we move on?

I assume this is because the anime is based on a light novel series. The studio probably was trying to squeeze as much as possible in.

But the animation is nice, the main characters are interesting, and it moves along decently. It’s a competently entertaining anime and it just recently ended so you get a complete story with no cliffhangers whose endings depend on the studio securing funding for a second season. I recommend it for your fantasy action fix.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Sheesh, when it’s laid out like this then the parallels are just ridiculous:

– living five adults to a two room apartment

– being told you are constructing utopia while the system crumbles around you

– ‘totally not illegal taxi’ taxis by private citizens moonlighting to make ends meet

– everything slaved to the needs of the military-industrial complex

– mandatory workplace political education

– productivity largely falsified to satisfy appearance of sponsoring elites

– deviation from mainstream narrative carries heavy social and political consequences

– networked computers exist but they’re really bad

– Henry Kissinger visits sometimes for some reason

– elite power struggles result in massive collateral damage, sometimes purges

– failures are bizarrely upheld as triumphs

– otherwise extremely intelligent people just turning the crank because it’s the only way to get ahead

– the plight of the working class is discussed mainly by people who do no work

– the United States as a whole is depicted as evil by default

– the currency most people are talking about is fake and worthless

– the economy is centrally planned, using opaque algorithms not fully understood by their users

Age of Wonders

Screenshot from Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic showing the game options available for a player controlling an elven army attacking undead foes

Remember when computer games had crappy voice actors? I do, because I’ve been playing Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic. I got it for like $2 on GOG a while ago and it really does deserve to be listed there, as it actually is a good old game.

The whole thing is kind of like Civilization in a fantasy setting, or maybe a turn-based version of Warcraft. Like Civilization you pick a certain people to play as, you go out into the world, build outposts and cities, gain allies and make enemies, conquer villages, and massacre entire races.

Unlike Civilization, heroes play a big part in the game thanks to its fantasy roots (specifically Dungeons and Dragons with the serial numbers filed off). The player is not some disembodied will directing the manifest destiny of a nation, but instead you are a mighty wizard leading your chosen race to victory over the untermenschen of the world.

I assume you can play as evil races like trolls and stuff but I’ve only done one of the starter campaigns and the story was entirely told from the perspective of the do-gooder elves and halflings. Anyway, your wizard is a unit on the map that you move around, they cast epic spells that can change the face of the world, and they can get their asses killed if you screw up in battle. The best thing to do is probably to stick your wizard in a tower and have them cast their spells from afar.

The race you pick also determines your technology and units, but again with a fantasy spin. The technology tree also deals entirely with getting magic spells that are unique to each race. Elves can get spells to summon unicorns and fairies, for example. Elves also have archers and their higher units are nymphs and druids, while humans have crossbowmen and knights.

The fantasy RPG setting also puts a pretty fun spin on maps because you can send your armies into the tunnels of the Underdark to assault your enemy from the rear, or travel into the Shadow Plane and flank their armies that way. It’s also fun to find random fantasy stuff on a map, like a hidden elf city in a forest you thought you’d already explored or a dungeon you can clear out or an inn where you can recruit a hero or a city that will switch to your side if you rescue them from the demons that besiege them.

Voice acting aside, the game is actually a lot less clunky than you would expect for something from the 90’s. I don’t really notice the interface most of the time, which is pretty much how it’s supposed to work. It’s easy to get sucked in while you’re playing – for instance, I almost missed a social engagement over the weekend because I told myself I’d just finish a map before getting ready to leave. The game is just fun to play and being like 20 years old it’ll run on anything. I say check it out if you like this sort of thing.

An Introduction to Manga

Front cover of Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics showing a collage of various manga covers

Thanks to the Japan Foundation, I’m reading Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics by Frederik Schodt (and if you want to know what the Japan Foundation was like I tweeted about it here). It was published in 1986, well before the manga boom of the mid-90s. Or was it the late 90s? I can barely remember a time when manga wasn’t the default comic book format for the majority of readers, at least in terms of sales.

So the book was written in a time when only specialists in Japan and the most dedicated of comic book hipsters knew anything about Japanese comics. It therefore explains manga from the ground up, going through its history and providing examples of manga of each era and type (mangas from the 50s, boys’ manga, girls’ manga, etc). It does the same thing that many comic book histories do in locating the origin of this mass market disposable entertainment in antecedent forms with greater cultural cachet but weak connections to the medium (i.e., I’ve seen people arguing that the Bayeux tapestry is also comics in that it combines pictures and words to tell a story). I understand why the comics historians do it, they’re trying to impart greater respectability to their medium by connecting it to older and more respected media, but I dunno, I think it’s more productive to define the medium by its relations of production and it stops you from going down ridiculous formalist arguments about whether magazine cigarette ads count as comics.

Moving on, I hadn’t realized I knew so much about manga as I’d already heard of quite a lot of apparently obscure works, or at least they were obscure back in the 80s. Time marches on and Rose of Versailles, for example, has an anime that I watched on streaming a few months ago. And of course there’s the scanlation community, which has probably done as much to spread knowledge of manga as any official initiatives from various industry groups.

The last chapter deals with manga’s future and in hindsight it completely failed to anticipate the explosion of overseas interest in the medium just ten short years later. In fact, it basically says that manga will probably remain a mostly Japanese thing, instead of something French schoolkids save their allowances for and whatnot.

Anyway, it’s an interesting snapshot of a specific moment in time in manga’s history.

How not to write fantasy

Still from the opening of Record of Lodoss War where the party of balanced RPG cliches are surrounded by several dragons looming overhead

I’ve been watching Record of Lodoss War today and am halfway through. It’s obviously based on a tabletop RPG campaign since the main characters, despite having differing agendas, keep sticking together for no damned reason. I mean, why did the elf even join them in the first place? The protagonists also keep getting into dangerous situations at convenient intervals and their antagonist seemingly does nothing else besides obsess over the heroes and send low level minions to attack them, despite obviously having the power to crush them in one blow.

I guess it’s neat to see all the fantasy stuff that you have to imagine when you’re playing Dungeons & Dragons, but this show kind of just goes from encounter to encounter without a main plot that holds it together well enough. It’s okay if you’re doing afternoon drinking on a long weekend (Happy Victoria Day!) but it’s not really something to watch for a compelling story or anything serious at all.

Did I mention I’m part of an anime podcast?

Because I am.

I know I said so three years ago, but this is my feeble defence against charges of laziness during my blogging hiatus.

See, I was doing other stuff: I tweeted! I edited! I edited audio! I even blogged! I did not just play video games until I put my health at risk!

Also I did kickboxing and took up indoor rock climbing and whatnot. But yeah,  I did podcasting also. Check it out.

He’s Back

Yeah, I’m back. I actually haven’t spent the last 6 months playing Skyrim. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve spent a lot of time playing that damn game – yesterday I was icing my thumb thanks to mild tendinitis from playing for eight hours straight – but my disappearance is due just as much to technical problems I’ve been having with the blog. I kept saying I’d figure it out over the weekend, then before I knew it several months’ worth of weekends passed.

This is really too bad as I’ve had all kinds of hot takes I’ve been unable to share. Remember Wonder Woman? Remember Black Panther? I’ve written paragraphs on both on other places online but I wasn’t able to put them up here. Ah well.

Anyway, it’s just as well since I’ve been wanting to revamp the blog once again. I’ll keep tweaking it, but for now, thanks for coming back. I promise I’ll be bloviating again before you know it.

Goodbye world

Male Dragonborn glowering in an intimidating pose and decked in a fanciful horned helmet

God help me but I’ve started playing Skyrim.

I got 100% achievements after 400 hours played on Oblivion, though, so I think I’ve got the completist experience already covered as far as the Elder Scrolls series goes. I don’t really need to be the top baker, hooker, and air conditioner repairman in all the land (along with my day job of adventurer).

Things I will avoid: alchemy, blacksmithing, fugly people. This should cut down on the number of quests I’ll need to do. Here’s hoping.

All You Need is (Sisterly) Love

Promotional still of the anime shamelessly ripping off the Abbey Road album cover by showing the characters crossing a crosswalk in single file

A Little Sister’s All You Need reminds me a fair bit of Oreimo (a.k.a. My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute) in that watching it reveals unexpected depths that are not captured by a mere plot synopsis or trailer. The bare facts are as follows: this comedy tells the story of a 20 year old light novel writer with a strong and irrational sexual fetish for little sister characters. He – thank god – does not have a little sister, but a teenage step-brother, a very small handful of friends, and an editor who rides his ass about meeting his deadlines.

Unlike Oreimo, the show does not even offer an incoherent defense of the protagonist’s turn-on. Every single character tells him that his fetish is disgusting. Despite that, they still associate with him anyway. I suppose he’s decent enough when he’s not loudly bemoaning not having a little sister to have sex with, plus of his three friends, one is a fellow light novelist who’s envious of his talent, another is also a light novelist with the same publisher who is an extreme fan of his work (enough that she’s very frank about wanting to sleep with him), and the last is a former university classmate who probably has a buried thing for him from days gone by. Which is to say that there are plausible reasons for this group of people to be hanging out and this setting is not an aggressively stupid harem anime setup.

Anyway, it’s hard to articulate what this show is and even harder to say what about it appeals to me. I had assumed it was just the latest nadir the anime industry had sunk to (a show about a guy who writes creepy stories about having incestuous sex with younger sisters), but there’s something there beyond the occasional chuckle the show gets out of me. There’s an undercurrent of unrequited longing – not necessarily sexual – that runs through the relationships between this circle of friends. Each of them wants something that they can’t have, and I’m hopeful that the show can continue playing out the trial of Tantalus in the context of Japanese twentysomethings going through life feeling that there’s just one thing missing and everything would be better if they just had what was lacking.

This is what I hope the show will be about, but I don’t actually know if that’s what the show will be focusing on as there were only two episodes up when I watched last night. In fact, I’m still not even sure what the show’s really about. What does it want to say, beyond that it wants to show what happens in the lives of this group of people? I have no idea.

So this is not a ringing endorsement of the show, but a qualified FYI. I think there could be something there and I hope I’ll be proven right.