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More stock NPCs for your Dungeons & Dragons game:A hulking paladin voiced in your best Patrick...

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More stock NPCs for your Dungeons & Dragons game:

  • A hulking paladin voiced in your best Patrick Warburton impression who uses the names of obscure polearms as expletives

  • A ranger who aspires to be a fashion designer, and hunts rare beasts to obtain their hides and fur for use in dressmaking

  • What initially appears to be a dwarven runecaster with a badger familiar, but it turns out it’s actually the badger who’s the runecaster, and the dwarf is her personal assistant

  • A compulsively stealthy rogue who insists that all their thievery is in support of a sick relative; it’s not entirely clear whether there’s one sick relative or many involved, as the details change every time they tell it

  • A bard outlawed from their home village after making a pun so terrible that it killed the blacksmith

  • A swashbuckling fighter who enjoys lavish hospitality on account of their fearsome reputation, but is secretly just very skilled at stage combat and can’t actually fight their way out of a wet paper bag

  • A star pact warlock with maxed out Bluff impersonating a cleric of a benevolent sun god

  • A mysterious druid dwelling on the outskirts of town who everyone politely pretends not to notice is actually three dire raccoons standing on each other’s shoulders in a feathered robe
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pavel_lishin
445 days ago
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New York, NY
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United States Map

7 Comments and 13 Shares
It would be pretty unfair to give to someone a blank version of this map as a 'how many states can you name?' quiz. (If you include Alaska and Hawaii, you should swap the Aleutian Islands with the Hawaiian ones.)
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pavel_lishin
1289 days ago
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I wonder how many possible rearrangements there are that still result in a vaguely US-ian map.
New York, NY
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6 public comments
jonathanpeterson
1288 days ago
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Just went and moved the cajuns back to where there were before.
louloupix
1289 days ago
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Interesting work
Celine17
1289 days ago
🤔
zippy72
1289 days ago
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There's a joke here? Or a point, at least?
FourSquare, qv
kazriko
1289 days ago
Not that I can see, aside from making it roughly the same shape with all the pieces moved around.
ktgeek
1289 days ago
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Well, a lot of Illinois people return and move to Florida, so this tracks.
Bartlett, IL
norb
1289 days ago
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Man this is weird
clmbs.oh
alt_text_bot
1290 days ago
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It would be pretty unfair to give to someone a blank version of this map as a 'how many states can you name?' quiz. (If you include Alaska and Hawaii, you should swap the Aleutian Islands with the Hawaiian ones.)

Cookin’ With Coolio

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coolio

This book might be okay if it weren’t for Coolio’s insistence on referring to a tablespoon as a dime bag, and the publisher’s insistence on inserting what they seem to think is “rap talk” into each sentence.

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pavel_lishin
2050 days ago
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We actually have this, and the recipes are pretty good.
New York, NY
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robertdx
2051 days ago
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Chapter 3: Appetizers for that ass
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

It's not that life used to be simpler, or people less narcissistic. It's that you got older

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Parkville'It really was the last time when the world was simple and small," sighed the US television writer Adam Goldberg a while back, explaining his decision to set his new sitcom, The Goldbergs, in the 1980s. What made that era different, he argued, was that the internet hadn't yet erased distance; your world consisted mainly of your immediate family and surroundings. But if you teleported back to Goldberg's world in 1985, I don't think it's his lack of web access you'd notice first. Like me, Goldberg is in his late 30s; in the 1980s, he was a child. "The 80s wasn't 'the last time the world was simple'," one commentator, Paul Waldman, chided on his blog. "The 80s was the last time your world was simple." The hazy memory of a simpler past is enormously powerful in politics: see the Tea Party, or the hate-nostalgia of the Daily Mail. But look closely at the era being praised, whether it's the 40s or the 90s, and you'll frequently find the praise-giver was about seven at the time. Unless you're eight, the world really has changed since you were seven. But possibly not as much as you have.

Only marginally less cliched is the idea that the "millennial" generation is full of narcissists – overgrown children, bursting with entitlement, incapable of sensible decisions about love, work or money, because they're convinced that they're so special. It may be true that today's twentysomethings are more narcissistic than 50-year-olds, but when you analyse the data longitudinally, as researchers did in 2010, you find that's because twentysomethings usually are. Narcissism is a developmental stage, not a symptom of the times. Young adults have been condemned as the "Me Generation" since at least the turn of last century. Then they get older, get appalled by youngsters nowadays, and start the condemning themselves.

One culprit here is how desperate we are to see ourselves as the still, calm centre of the universe – fixed lenses, observing a rapidly changing world, but not changing ourselves. (And not only fixed, but omniscient: when the author Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote an essay attacking millennials for not having produced a cultural equivalent of The White Album, it apparently never occurred to her that there might be culture of which she wasn't aware.) In psychology, the term "consistency bias" refers to the well-studied way we'll retroactively adjust our attitudes to avoid admitting to being changeable. Ask students to rate their anxiety before an exam, then to recall those feelings later, and they'll adjust their memories based on their performance: those who did well underestimate their earlier worry; those who did badly overestimate it.

Goldberg and the anti-narcissist brigade – and maybe all of us – may be victims of a bigger, existential version of this: an unwillingness to concede that "who we are" is something rather unstable. There's nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia. But believing that change happens only to your environment, or other people, makes life harder to navigate: it means you'll always assume it's your spouse, job or city that's not how he, she or it used to be, rather than yourself – thus blinding you to possible solutions when tensions arise. Of course, back in my day, I think most people realised this. But now everything's gone to the dogs. I blame all this newfangled swing music.

[First published in Guardian Weekend magazine. Illustration: Detail from Parkville, Main Street (1933) by Gale Stockwell, photo by Cliff1066 on Flickr.]

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pavel_lishin
2059 days ago
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saving to pocket
New York, NY
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The Big Idea: James L. Cambias

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I can say this with some authority: I’ve known longer than anyone else working in science fiction today that James Cambias is a terrific writer. I know this because when I was editor of my college newspaper, James turned in some fantastic articles about the history of the university and of Chicago, the city our school was in — so good that I was always telling him he needed to write more (he had some degree program that was also taking up his time, alas. Stupid degree program). After our time in school, James made it into science fiction and has since been nominated for the Campbell, the Nebula and the Tiptree.

So it comes as absolutely no surprise to me that James’ debut novel, A Darkling Sea, is racking up the sort of praise it is, including three starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, and comparisons to the work of grand masters like Robert Silverberg and Hal Clement. He’s always been that good, in science fiction and out of it.

Here’s James now, to tell you more about his book, and how one of the great tropes of science fiction plays into it — and why that great trope isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. 

JAMES L. CAMBIAS:

Small groups of people can have a huge impact on history. The Battle of Bunker Hill was fought by two “armies” which could easily fit into Radio City Music Hall together, without any need for standing room.

I wanted to tell the story of a tiny, remote outpost which becomes the flashpoint for an interstellar conflict. But I had a problem: most of the reasons for interstellar conflicts in science fiction are actually pretty lame.

Seriously: who’s going to fight over gold mines or thorium deposits when the Universe is full of lifeless worlds with abundant resources? And even if we find worlds with native life, it’s fantastically unlikely that humans will be able to live on them without massive technological support.

So there’s not going to be range wars, or fights over the oilfields, or whatever. The sheer size of the Universe makes conflict difficult and unnecessary.

Which means a war with an alien civilization has to be about something other than material wealth. It has to involve the most dangerous thing we know of: ideology.

In my new novel A Darkling Sea, a band of human scientists are exploring a distant moon called Ilmatar. Like Europa, Ilmatar has an icy surface but an ocean of liquid water deep below. The humans have built a base on the sea bottom in order to study Ilmatar’s native life forms, including the intelligent, tool-using Ilmatarans.

But they aren’t allowed to make contact with the Ilmatarans, because of another star-faring species called the Sholen. The Sholen are more advanced scientifically than humanity, and have adopted a strict hands-off policy regarding pre-technological societies. A policy which they insist the humans follow — or else.

That’s all very well, but there’s a problem with that attitude. The native Ilmatarans aren’t passive beings. They are curious and intelligent. One group in particular are very interested in preserving and expanding scientific knowledge, and it’s that band of scientists who come across a reckless human explorer. He winds up advancing the cause of science in a very unpleasant way, and the violation of the no-contact policy inflames the Sholen suspicions of the humans.

The humans resent what they see as bullying by the Sholen. The Sholen suspect the humans have imperialist ambitions. Tensions keep rising and eventually explode into outright war — a war fought by two dozen individuals on each side, at the bottom of a black ocean under a mile of ice.

Alert readers may notice that the ideology which creates this powderkeg in the first place is nothing less than Star Trek’s famous “Prime Directive” — a noble ideal and a hallmark of science fiction optimism.

I’ve always hated the Prime Directive.

The Prime Directive idea stems from a mix of outrageous arrogance and equally overblown self-loathing, a toxic brew masked by pure and noble rhetoric.

Arrogance, you say? Surely it’s not arrogant to leave people alone in peace? Who are you, Cortez or someone?

No, but the Milky Way Galaxy isn’t 16th-Century Mexico, either. The idea of forswearing contact with other intelligent species “for their own good” is arrogant. It’s arrogant because it ignores the desires of those other species, and denies them the choice to have contact with others.

If Captain Kirk or whoever shows up on your planet and says “I’m from another planet. Let’s talk and maybe exchange genetic material — or not, if you want me to leave just say so,” that’s an infinitely more reasonable and moral act than for Captain Kirk to sneak around watching you without revealing his own existence. The first is an interaction between equals, the second is the attitude of a scientist watching bacteria. Is that really a moral thing to do? Why does having cooler toys than someone else give you the right to treat them like bacteria?

“But what if they come as conquerors?” you ask. “That’s not an interaction of equals!”

That’s entirely true. And of course an aggressive, conquering civilization is hardly going to come up with the idea of a Prime Directive. It’s a rule which can only be invented by people who don’t need it.

Which brings me to the second toxic ingredient: self-loathing. I’d say that only post-World War II Western culture could come up with the Prime Directive, as that’s about the only time in human history we’ve had a civilization with tremendous power that’s also washed in a sense of tremendous shame. Previous powerful civilizations felt they had a right, or even a duty, to conquer others or remake them in their own image. Previous weak civilizations were too busy trying to survive. Only the West after two World Wars worries about its own potential for harm.

The Sholen in my novel have that same sense of shame. Their history holds more horrors than our own, and their civilizational guilt is killing them. They’re naturals for a “Prime Directive” philosophy. For them, humans are an ideal object for their psychological projection. They see all their own worst traits in humans, and assume the worst about the motives and intentions of humanity. The result confirms each side’s fears about the other.

As to what happens then, well, read the book.

—-

A Darkling Sea: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog


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pavel_lishin
2060 days ago
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pocket
New York, NY
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Uncheck the struggle box

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Next week will be 6 months since I moved to the west coast—the San Francisco Bay area. It’s been eye-opening to see the differences, big and small. It’s got me thinking about the path of Web development since I started almost 20 years ago.

The apps at my current job are single-page interface apps where Node and Rails provide the API to the service layer and Backbone, ExtJS, and Marionette provide the user interface. This technology stack is very typical these days, right? Typical to the point that if you don’t speak at least half of those, or equivalents like Ember and Django, most of the companies around here look at you funny.

As a thought experiment: imagine trying to explain that tech stack to a Web developer circa 1995. Or, I’ll make it a bit easier, how about 2000?

Changing Architecture

If you had come to me in 1995 and tried to convince me that there would be a need to differentiate between a Web server (Apache, nginx) and an Application server (Passenger, Espresso), I probably would have laughed at you and accused you of overcomplicating things. Even as late as 2005, I probably would have said “that’s what load balancing and reverse proxy servers are for”. Those crazy Java propellerheads with their servlet containers were just overengineering things as usual, right?

Developing a front-end app? What in the world is that? JavaScript was cute and all, but there was no way you’d build entire apps in it. Data modeling in JS instead of plain old JS objects? Why would you do that when that one page would just be navigated away from when the user clicked anything?

You might have been able to convince me that MVC was the way to go for Web apps. In 1995 I was writing apps in C/C++ as Apache modules and ISAPI DLLs. It sucked eggs, and I would have been ecstatic to take up anything to make it less of a pain.

Changing Attitudes

Had you shown me a Rails app I would have laughed at you. Convention over configuration? Just put this class file here, name it in this specific way, and include this specifically-named instance method, and poof you’ve got an app? No real Web developer would ever give up that much control. That’s just a toy, right? For kids?

DevOps? Developer Operations? You mean network admins, right? They’re the guys who think I should just put a bunch of files on a network share, or Lotus Notes.

If you asked each of the Web developers on you team if they could telnet to port 80 and type out a legitimate HTTP GET request and get a working response, how many would be able to? What about a POST request? No cheating with curl or wget—you have to do it by hand. But is that even a valuable entry-level skill anymore, what with Firebug, Web Inspector, Charles, Privoxy, etc?

And how long do you think it will be before there are more teams with devs who only know front-end or only back-end than there are who know both?

Changing Priorities

In 1995 (and 2000) the most important attribute you could have as a Web developer, as I asserted while interviewing countless applicants, was an extremely wide breadth of knowledge. You needed to know everything about every aspect of the Web. If you didn’t know it you needed to be able to figure it out, or know where to go for help to figure it out. I didn’t have a need for someone who only knew CSS, or only knew JavaScript, or only knew a server-side language, or only knew this one particular framework. I said over and over again that Web development was different than any other kind of development because we hadn’t stratified to the extent that all those jobs were different people.

In case the writing on the wall isn’t obvious: that stratification has already happened.

You might be working for a company where you’re the one Web person, but if so you’re a dinosaur. An artifact. An endangered species. You just haven’t accepted it yet.

Fifteen or twenty years ago, we needed generalists because the Web was still being invented and you had to be able to cover all the bases. The specialists were those idiots writing IE-only VBScript apps that would only work in that one version of that one browser on that one operating system. But if we hired a generalist we could train them up on the particular combination of technologies we could afford, cultivating them into specialists over years of experience.

It’s probably news to many of the East-coasters, but this has completely flipped on the West coast. The companies out here don’t care about generalists. Generalists can’t help them with this one specific tech stack that has already been chosen. Why train a generalist, when you can get a specialist who is good right now? When you replace your tech stack you can replace your obsolete specialist with a shiny new one—it’s not like there’s a shortage of Web people anymore.

Changing Rick

This year will be 20 years since I got my first email address and wrote my first HTML page. Next year will be 20 years since I got my first paid Web work.

I admit I am struggling with how I fit into today’s Web development world. I struggle against specialization. I’ve got too much perspective to think that tying myself to one stack could ever be sane. And who wants to settle on one thing, anyway?

At the same time I struggle for differentiation. I’m not a kid who’s fresh out of college but has been developing Rails apps for 4 years. I’ve been doing Rails for 6 months—I’m not going to know the perfect collection of Gems for this particular project, but I’m also not going to freak out when someone asks if we can switch out technologies in our stack. (And I wrote my first computer program before that kid was born, dammit!)

I see that I am on the cusp of becoming a dinosaur. It would be very easy for me to wave my hand at the changes in the industry, find some small shop where I can hole up, and do what I can to keep my job how it’s always been. It would be a complete lie, struggling against reality itself, but I could do it.

The scary part is that such a decision isn’t made all at once, but in degrees. I can say that I won’t do it and still find myself inching toward it year after year. Historical inertia is an addiction, just like any other: we want things to go back to how they were when they were good and easy. The best I can do is to keep running—learning and keeping up.

To misquote Kay:

Twenty years ago I knew exactly what I was doing on the Web.
Today I know how much the Web has changed.
Imagine what I’ll know tomorrow.

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pavel_lishin
2060 days ago
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New York, NY
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