Thank you, Clickhole

I don’t read Clickhole regularly, but I acknowledge that when this absurdist satire of clickbait articles is on point, it is on point. Sometimes I have trouble breathing from how much I’m laughing. My latest favourites:

Making A Difference: These Barely Legal Teens Got Together And Cleaned Up Their Local Park

Whether they were pigtailed petites with daddy issues, all-natural Latinas, or twink teen boys, every single one of them showed up bright and early to make a difference. No matter their background, these barely legal teens united to clean up over 100 pounds of waste and install a new plastic play structure, and Modesto residents took notice[.]

Think Bullying Is Okay? So Do I. Let’s Be Friends.

Remember: By doing nothing, you are personally contributing to a culture of bullying. You are complicit. And that’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about, because I actually don’t really care about whether or not I’m part of the problem.

Quiz: Will You Make A Suitable Bride For Oscar Isaac?

This last one is a brilliantly bizarre fairy tale disguised as a Buzzfeed quiz. I don’t know who writes these things, but they’re goddamn geniuses.

Russia’s department of trolls

Your reminder that we’re living in the 21st century:

The Agency

From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid “trolls” has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet — and in real-life American communities.

Around 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 11 last year, Duval Arthur, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, got a call from a resident who had just received a disturbing text message. “Toxic fume hazard warning in this area until 1:30 PM,” the message read. “Take Shelter. Check Local Media and columbiachemical.com.”

St. Mary Parish is home to many processing plants for chemicals and natural gas, and keeping track of dangerous accidents at those plants is Arthur’s job. But he hadn’t heard of any chemical release that morning. In fact, he hadn’t even heard of Columbia Chemical. St. Mary Parish had a Columbian Chemicals plant, which made carbon black, a petroleum product used in rubber and plastics. But he’d heard nothing from them that morning, either. Soon, two other residents called and reported the same text message. Arthur was worried: Had one of his employees sent out an alert without telling him?

If Arthur had checked Twitter, he might have become much more worried. Hundreds of Twitter accounts were documenting a disaster right down the road. “A powerful explosion heard from miles away happened at a chemical plant in Centerville, Louisiana #ColumbianChemicals,” a man named Jon Merritt tweeted. The #ColumbianChemicals hashtag was full of eyewitness accounts of the horror in Centerville. @AnnRussela shared an image of flames engulfing the plant. @Ksarah12 posted a video of surveillance footage from a local gas station, capturing the flash of the explosion. Others shared a video in which thick black smoke rose in the distance.

Dozens of journalists, media outlets and politicians, from Louisiana to New York City, found their Twitter accounts inundated with messages about the disaster. “Heather, I’m sure that the explosion at the #ColumbianChemicals is really dangerous. Louisiana is really screwed now,” a user named @EricTraPPP tweeted at the New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Heather Nolan. Another posted a screenshot of CNN’s home page, showing that the story had already made national news. ISIS had claimed credit for the attack, according to one YouTube video; in it, a man showed his TV screen, tuned to an Arabic news channel, on which masked ISIS fighters delivered a speech next to looping footage of an explosion. A woman named Anna McClaren (@zpokodon9) tweeted at Karl Rove: “Karl, Is this really ISIS who is responsible for #ColumbianChemicals? Tell @Obama that we should bomb Iraq!” But anyone who took the trouble to check CNN.com would have found no news of a spectacular Sept. 11 attack by ISIS. It was all fake: the screenshot, the videos, the photographs.

The end of the world and what happens after

Archive of Our Own recently discussed something that I’ve never given much thought: what happens to our online presence after we die.

Okay, say you get run over by a bus. Hard luck, but death is that greatest of levellers which brings low the mighty and the weak. But there’s that Facebook account, the Gmail address, the blog, that thing of yours on Tumblr, the YouTube Let’s Play videos you’ve uploaded, and all the rest of the digital works that you leave behind as an online reminder that the world once contained you. What happens to all of that when you’re gone?

Nothing consistent, that’s what. Different sites have different policies, and it is likely that they won’t match exactly what you would want to be done after your death.

Well and good. This is the 21st century, after all, so why not write a social media will? Your executor will need to do all sorts of things that you’ve instructed them, after all, so why not include a few lines about your Facebook account on your will?

But there’s the rather sensitive sticking point of fanfiction. Maybe your executor isn’t someone you want reading your embarrassing works, which you were only comfortable sharing with anonymous people online instead of the aunt who knew you when you were in diapers. Even if you’re not leery of having the person responsible for selling your possessions handle your Transformers fics, they won’t necessarily be a fan of the same things you were and won’t understand exactly what to do with your stuff.

Enter the fannish next of kin. They’ll understand which fics you wanted deleted and which fics you were okay with leaving for future generations to peruse (and maybe laugh at). It’s a nice idea, and it’s one I’m glad Archive of Our Own came up with.

For myself, as someone who’s studied history I say preserve my fics until the heat death of the universe. I admit that they aren’t great literature, but there’s something to be learned even from the most unassuming of writings – linguistic quirks, the zeitgeist of a specific era, how ideas are propagated, and many more things I am unable to imagine.

Enjoy my fics, future people. I poured my heart and soul into them, once upon a time.

Our enemy is our lack of funding

You may know that Studio Trigger went to Kickstarter to fund a new installment for their anime, Little Witch Academia. It seems other studios have followed in their wake, with Under the Dog being the next anime to join the crowdfunding ranks.

I’m cautiously optimistic about this turn in the industry but not overly enthused. There’s a chance that studios will end up marketing to ever smaller niches, for example.

Of course, there’s also no guarantee of quality or originality. This Under the Dog thing is apparently about child soldiers drafted by the UN, for instance. I’ll wait until the reviews come in, but I’ll keep an eye out in the meantime.

How Crunchyroll works

So, Crunchyroll: you pay the subscription fee and you get to watch the shows in the catalogue that are licensed in your region, right? Simple enough. But how exactly is your money divvied up among the different studios whose work Crunchyroll streams?

Apparently, your subscription fee is allocated according to the anime you watch. Quoth Crunchyroll’s CEO, “[T]he money is split proportionately among those shows depending on which ones you watch the most”.

What this means for me, personally, is that I’ve paid money to support right wing military porn, a show about Lovecraftian monsters if they were teenage lesbians, and one where antisocial shut-ins prove their superiority as leaders and as human beings.

Sorry, everyone. I’m the reason the industry sucks.

KISS discovers anime

Via Crunchyroll, it seems that Gene Simmons of the obscure indie band KISS has discovered anime. Specifically, he discovered LoveLive!, which seems to be about high school girls forming a pop group to save their school from dissolution. The particular screenshot which piqued Monsieur Simmons’ curiosity was from an episode where the characters dress up as a certain group of white-faced leather queens.

Gene Simmons tweeting a screencap of the characters of Love Live in KISS makeup asking,

Of the anime I have nothing to say, as I’ve never seen it and I’m getting moe* vibes from the summary. I do find it hilarious that when Simmons asked Twitter where a screenshot of the anime was from, one smartass gave him the name of a pornographic direct to video series about underage male crossdressers.

We now return to your regularly scheduled program.

*Moe: slang term for a subgenre of anime and manga. I would define it as the fetishization of female helplessness, which is exactly as off-putting as it sounds.

The language of Narcissus

Two warriors cleaving a goblin in two in Dragon's Dogma

So I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned I’m into Dragon’s Dogma. I’m at that particular stage of video game obsession where when I’m not playing it, I’m thinking of playing it.

A related obsession has sprung up for me, though, and that’s the obsession of posting screenshots. You can take and upload screenshots directly from the game. This is not such a big thing for computer players, but trust me when I say this feature is fairly novel for this generation of video game consoles.

See for yourself how much I’m uploading to the official video game website (the answer is several pics everyday). It’s fun to document your fictional adventures and put them up for strangers to view. It’s fun even when no one sees your pics, but it’s even better when random people on the Internet actually compliment you on them.

I did notice, however, that the majority of the screenshots posted are from Japanese players. Not only that, but the uploaders often write a short blurb to which other players respond. I can’t read Japanese but it’s obvious that there’s a community of Japanese players carrying on conversations and connecting with each other through their enjoyment of the game.

However, there is no similar community of English speaking players on the game website. There are anglophone players, but compared to the number and visibility of the Japanese players they’re a drop in the bucket.

It’s not as if the narcissism of the screenshot is unknown outside of Japan. Do I even need to mention that the word “selfie” exists?

I would theorize that the dominance of Japanese players is due to a couple of reasons. The first is that the Japanese Internet is more centralized than that of other linguistic communities. A gigantic amount of Internet traffic in Japan goes through one website, 2ch. It’s my understanding that it’s basically an old school BBS with a few modifications and apparently still has that terrible web design from the 1990s that oldsters might remember. Even if they’re not on it, a Japanese Internet user will at least have heard of the site.

No equivalent website exists for the English Internet. Players would be on several different message boards, blogs, and gaming sites, so one single service would not dominate.

Of course, the Dragon’s Dogma site is integrated directly into the game, so players should at least be discovering it that way. Thus, the second reason I would say that so few English speakers can be found on the game site is due to is popularity – namely, its popularity with Japanese players. An English-speaking player might share a few screenshots and go to the game site hoping for some discussion, then discover that most of the existing conversation is in another language. They might make a few attempts at connecting with other English-speaking players, and a few die hards might stick around, but the majority will retreat to their own gaming forums or even just give up on connecting at all.

There might be all this rhetoric about the Internet allowing one to connect with a yak herder in Nepal, but in truth the Internet is a very segregated place. Users talk mostly to people in their own country. This does make sense, after all – how many Korean TV shows are shown in the USA, for example? Who else would Korean fans talk about their favourite TV show with but with other Koreans? Of course, there are languages with international reach and emigrant diasporas, so there’s still a bit of internationalism online. But not as much as all the ads back in the 90’s would make you think.

The Roll which Crunches

As should be obvious, I’ve subscribed to the anime-streaming service Crunchyroll. I hadn’t realized it but having so much anime available the instant you turn on your TV turns you into a complete binge-watcher. Remember my project to count how many books and whatever I watched in a single year? Well, I’ve extended it to the end of 2013. Anyway, from August 2012 to August 2013 I watched 427 episodes of TV. However, in September – the first month of my Crunchyroll subscription – I watched 131 episodes of TV.

The subscription has really changed my consumption patterns. Anyway, right now I’m running through some anime in my back catalogue so I’m watching Durarara, which I really like. Basically it’s about a suburb of Tokyo, the people who live there, and the way that their lives intersect. It’s kind of like the movie Crash except not dumb. At the very least you should give the opening a look, the song is pretty catchy (and why the hell is YouTube not allowing embedding of any videos of the Durarara opening, anyway?).

However, I’ve only seen the first five episodes of Durarara. Contrast this to giant robot anime, which apparently turns me into an undiscerning nine year old. I watched the entire first season of Valvrave the Liberator in one day; some weeks before that, I marathoned Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet. That’s twenty-six episodes in total over one weekend.

I completely admit that the stories in both series were insipid and unoriginal. Valvrave has something about space vampires and Gargantia has a crashed mech pilot trying to make a living on Waterworld Earth. The plot for both isn’t really important or distinctive but I still kept sucking down episodes. I suppose they’re deliberately designed so as not to engage higher brain functions – perfect for binge watching, in other words. The need to think while watching is probably the reason I haven’t seen anything but the first episode of Orange is the New Black. I like the show but there’s this psychic weight hanging over it.

Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse would have been another binge watch except it’s of the “pendulous and gratuitous tits” school of anime which is almost unwatchable for me. Dammit, if I wanted porn I’d get porn, I don’t need some Maxim-style softcore shit to get in the way of the story.

But do you know what’s unequivocally good? Squid Girl, a show about a dim-witted anthropomorphic squid who invades the land to punish humanity for polluting the sea but almost immediately gets tricked into working as an underpaid part-time waitress for a beachside restaurant. The narrative structure is very Azumanga Daioh in that it’s short vignettes about the main character’s everyday adventures. Highlights include when Squid Girl discovers umbrellas and when she finds out she’s an idiot savant at math. It’s very much a show about nothing, also like Azumanga Daioh, essentially being Seinfeld if the main character was a teenaged female cephalopod. Also like Azumanga Daioh, Squid Girl is so cute and sugary that I feel like I should brush my teeth after watching. Still, I’m laughing my ass off at every episode so far.

Be like water, my friend

I’ve just had to find a new video link for the trailer for The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, which I discuss on the post linked. The original uploader apparently set the video to private, meaning I had to see if someone else posted the same trailer to Youtube. It’s easy to forget how ephemeral stuff online is but when big stuff like the deletion of Geocities happens people get a big kick in the pants reminding them that uploaded stuff is always in danger of disappearing. Good thing the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine exists, we sorely need their help if future generations are ever to understand the history of the Internet.

The hidden price of cheap online dildos

I just read this eye opening piece from Mother Jones about the inhuman working conditions to be found at the logistics firms that run the warehouses which ship the online gewgaws that we swim in. It’s shocking to find out about the hidden costs of being able to order cheap dildos on the Internet.

The annoying thing is that I really shouldn’t have been so surprised. I’ve written about Taylorism and scientific management – I defined it as “a discredited management philosophy organized around getting the most productivity out of workers and damn their health and comfort” – and I know perfectly well about the dire labour conditions to be found in states with right-to-work laws, which severely curtail the power of unions, and I also know about the demand towards timeliness with Just in Time shipping which has companies do their level best to turn their workers into unfeeling cogs who don’t pee or get sick.

I knew all that and yet I didn’t connect those things to the free shipping that Amazon and almost every other large online retailer provides and the guarantees towards getting items fast which are always shouted out in giant letters on a company’s website. Really, though, I’ll pay for the damn shipping and even wait an extra couple of days if it means workers won’t get fired for attending the birth of one of their kids.

Still, the article is about American third-party logistics firms so I wonder if I can still order stuff online in Canada with a clear conscience. I know at least three things different between Ontario and this unnamed state west of the Mississippi:

  1. Minimum wage is $10.25 an hour, well above the $7.25 those poor slobs were getting;
  2. Mandatory overtime is illegal;
  3. All residents would be on the provincial health plan.

Just to be safe, though, I think from now on I’m going to buy stuff in person whenever I absolutely can. All those trucks driving around delivering stuff can’t be good for the environment, anyway.