Free men are not equal, equal men are not free.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Awesome Christian Artists

Jon Del Arroz is posting in support of John Wright's crusade, and decided to highlight nine christian artists he thought worth supporting in the fields of writing, comics, and music. Looking at the list, I realize that I only recognize three of the names. Now, three I don't recognize are in comics, which I'm not as familiar with, but not only had I not heard of Nadine Brandes under writers, but the only musician I had heard of, in passing, was Dashboard Confessional.

I can wholeheartedly recommend anything and everything I've read by John C Wright, and having read Nethereal and just finished Souldancer I will also strongly recommend reading those two as well, as well as trying anything else by Brian Niemeier. The cosmology, the characters, the totally off the rails mashup of magic, technology, and horror of the series is utterly amazing.

Looks like I'm going to be digging into a bit more music.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Drupal, I Can't Even Say I'll Miss It When It's Gone....

I actually tried using Drupal for several projects a few years back and my final thought on it was to walk away and never look back.

Sure, it was insanely powerful and customizable at it's ground floor, but even before Wordpress figured out how to better handle contributions from multiple users and became as much a website management system as a blogging platform, getting Drupal to do some very simple stuff that was effectively baked in for Wordpress was... onerous.

It's not the power - it's everything you had to set up just to get the most basic things done - nevermind secured, backed up, etc.

Yes, I know, editing the actual site layout in WP has gotten more complicated, and if you want your site secure, and backed up, and cacheing for performance you certainly have several plugins to install, but I had investigated Drupal by attempting to replace a hand-coded CMS and site layout that I had previously done - and had no fancy features beyond one page needing to keep a list of image names and associated images, display them in a gallery, and display a larger version of said image when clicked.

Getting Drupal to create the needed tags and structure to accept all those objects, etc. was painful. As in I ended up hand-coding a new front end and wiring it to the old CMS painful. As in further down the road I looked at it and Joomla for a similar replacement, and ended up going with Wordpress.

Maybe it's gotten better in that regard. I don't care.

Despite that, I'm sorry to hear one of the Drupal developers has gotten canned for less than PC sexual kinks, despite agreeing in every other way with the rabbit crowd.
Drupal founder Dries Buytaert expelled Larry "Crell" Garfield from the Drupal community (archive) for his involvement in the BDSM community. Garfield claims this was done at the demand of Drupal Security team member Klaus "klausi" Purer and unknown others secretly pressuring Drupal leadership to have him removed for his private sex life.
I'm not sorry for the project, but the programmer. I don't see a bright future for a developer more concerned with people being "inclusive" than effective.

UPDATE: In the event anyone thought I was kidding, go read the current (as of March, 2017) instructions for setting up Drupal at Siteground. Under initial setup:
There are few modules for Drupal that provide you with very basic functionality that every website owner needs. This is why, we will install those before we actually start creating the content for our sample website. 
Table of contents:
Add a WYSIWYG editor to Drupal
Enable the Image upload module in Drupal
That's right. Before picking a theme, creating a home page, defining a static page (hey, it looks like at least you no longer have to install the content creator kit because they finally rolled most of those functions in...) you have to install a GUI text editor and an image uploader/handler. And you have to define where it's used, and which buttons will be available. And you have to make sure you install the right version because the instructions warn that some more recent ones are not compatible.

OK, you don't have to install TinyMCE or its ilk, but most people using a CMS are not web coders.

Sure, this gives you flexibility to install a different text handler, but here's a suggestion - how about they choose one as the default! The system's modular, so it's still easily swapped out, but effectively everyone installs it, or something like it.

Ditto images. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How To Act as if You're Actually Intelligent

...and not a caricature of what normally think a smart person is (sortof like Colbert used to play a caricature of what liberals thought conservative commentators believed, when parodying what they actually did would have been both more honest and funnier).

Eric Raymond was encouraged to view a clip of the Big Bang Theory, and wasn't impressed:
Bleagh. This is supposed to be a show about geniuses? It’s not. It’s a show about a dimwit’s idea of what bright people are like. The slowest person in my peer group could out-think and out-create any of these sad-sack imitations of “smart” on any day of the week. 
These actors are not bright, and don’t know how to fake it on screen.
Eric, being Eric, wouldn't let something like that slide without at least providing some guidance.
Here goes a list of bright-person behavior signals which, while not universal, are very common…

Bright people have very precise diction and tend to self-assimilate to educated speech norms even if their formal education is minimal. Enunciate as crisply as you can. If the character is designed to have a regional or lower-class accent, dial it down a little. [UPDATE: I may have overgeneralized a bit here. Strongly true of STEM geeks, but maybe not as reliably of other kinds of brights.]

Bright people concentrate. Their casual attention to a task or person is as intense as most peoples’ full attention. So fixate on those targets – not to the point of being glassy-eyed about it, but to the point where stillness and attention dominate your body language.

Bright people spend a larger fraction of their time in an ‘on’ state of mental alertness or conscious thought than non-brights do. This has consequences in visual saccades that are easy to see – with a little practice, you can grade people by intelligence in bank or movie-theater lines by watching eye movements. Look for relatively little time spent in a defocused, half-asleep state – or, conversely, lots of time when the eyes are tracking or making motions indicative of either imaginative activity or memory retrieval. Thus, when you play a bright person, always be looking at something.
 That sounds about right. I'm self-aware of the focus thing, though at first it had to be brought to my attention. I also know that when recalling I usually look at something fairly static or close my eyes so I can "scan" the information. When it came to things like power plant systems interactions it made visualizing the systems and their relationships in my head easier, almost like an overlay. After one qualification interview one of the board members joked that I must have had the answers tattooed under my eyelids because I'd close my eyes for a couple seconds and then, after reopening them, spout off the answer in almost perfect from-the-book verbiage.

Incidentally, this wasn't photographic memory. I had a knack for applying the correct language patterns to describe an abstract concept I understood. Computerese for computer issues, Navy Nuke-speak for technical plant issues, etc. - my memory for lists of things things like safety setpoints or common values for network ports is actually pretty crappy if not continuously reinforced or refreshed.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Victim Blaming

QuQu does another (as usual excellent) video on Internet Harassment.

I've personally been banned from sites/conversations, the first time of which was because I pointed out (early in Gaga's fame, after someone had gushed about a recent single) that yeah, that one was OK, but I really had a problem with the song "just dance" because the behavior of the viewpoint character was horribly irresponsible.

Think about it - drunk off her gourd, lost her phone, purse, wallet, etc., separated from her friends.

Yes, I was driven out for "victim blaming" - especially after I pointed out that, yes, a mugger is responsible for his decision to mug me, but that doesn't mean it's wise to walk through the bad part of town (as most clubs are) drunk, alone, and holding out a wad of cash.

Also see the response Larry Correia and a certain beauty pageant winner have gotten for suggesting women should learn to defend themselves from potential rapists.

Another take on Roland

Covers can be awesome, most are crap. This one I'm torn on. Her voice and style are perfectly suited to the song in a completely different, yet still haunting way, but I really miss the instrumentals, especially the pianos, of the original. Most of the covers were crap, actually, but there are a couple other competent covers, though none I stumbled across had the impact that either the original vocals did, or hers.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Hey, Now Now, Sing This Corrosion

Sisters of Mercy is a band I fell in love with as soon as I head the short version of this song at a club. Bought the album, and learned that the album cut was even more epic and awesome at 10 minutes.

I sometimes joke that every Sisters of Mercy album or Song is but a piece of the same damn song. That said, there really is some variety there, some incredible atmospherics, and some truly haunting work in their music. My eventual favorite on Floodland was "Lucretia", and my next favorite became "More."

In honor of a certain book that was just released:

And if you're interested, the album cut:

Lifting Technique

I'm far from the world's greatest lifter, but over the last few years have come across a few things that seem to make sense. While "Art of Manliness" is a hit or miss site for me, they certainly have provided a few useful insights in the past. Here's a series of vids they did with lifter and coach Mark Rippetoe.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Repeat After Me: "It Wasn't the Nationalism"

Kate Paulk writes at Sarah's place on "the ease of evil" and makes a familiar point:
The various Communist regimes can be dismissed as “not counting” because to the minds of those who do the dismissing, Russia, China, North Korea, and Eastern Europe “weren’t civilized”, and so Communism/Socialism would work just fine implemented by civilized people (they usually point to one of the Nordic nations when they do this). These same people are a big part of why the wrong lesson keeps being drawn from Nazi Germany.

The problem was not nationalism. It was not even the disgusting racial laws. Those laws could never have been passed, much less enforced, without the one big thing Socialism, Communism, and yes, Nazism have in common.

The supremacy of the state.
I think I first made that point over ten years ago to a German engineer I knew while discussing why nationalism and patriotism were so feared in Germany. The problem with National Socialism wasn't the nationalism they shared with everyone they fought against - it was the socialism.

It's evil. Even as nasty as the streak of Prussian supremacy was, combined with their tendency to ruthless thoroughness, it would be helpless without the power of the many - the state - to crush the few.

Congratulations, Larry Correia

Larry Correia is celebrating his 19th wedding anniversary.

He writes awesome books too.

Easy Jerky

I'd looked in the past at how to do jerky, but hadn't wanted to buy a dehydrator, and never had an oven around that could go low enough to not cook the meat.

Well, Quintus Curtius pointed me in a new direction, whereupon I felt mildly dumbfounded that I hadn't thought of it or seen it before.

Basically - all you need is airflow. And salt. Oh, and to keep it away from pets not only to not having it get eaten, but if your dog sheds (huskies, retrievers, etc...).

Here's a few links:

This is the closest I've found to what Quintus was talking about - certainly closer than the "box fan" method:

The box fan method per Alton Brown is explained here: but I don't like it for two reasons - I don't like picking paper/filter material out of my meat, and given what filters cost these days, it's not much of a cost savings. It does tend to deal with pet hair / environmental debris issues though.

More information on meat drying is here:

So why is it safe?

Salt is a preservative. As long as the meat dries fast enough, moisture isn't trapped in the meat, and there's nowhere for bacteria to grow. And you don't need heat - moving air is more than enough. You'll note dehydrators you can buy, which are cheaper than they used to be but still take up a lot of kitchen storage space compared to a couple cookie cooling racks, all have fans. And I've already got fans that can be repurposed for a few hours at a time.

Incidentally, I found Salt: A History to be an interesting book, though I don't recall any jerky recipes.

So racks that expose all sides of the meat to moving air, and keeping it away from critters and people that will eat it or get stuff on it. And getting enough salt in it to preserve it.

I've only tried once so far in a small batch. The thinner pieces were completely dry. I wasn't in a position to leave it out overnight so I decided to try what I had anyway despite the thicker pieces not being dried through after 4+ hours. it was delicious, I'm still feeling great, and next time I'll make sure I have the time or means to leave it out longer. It certainly, even in the thinner, drier pieces, was far more tender than most store jerky.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Still Not The Nail

I first saw this years ago, and found it funny then. Recently came across it again at AlphaGamePlan.

I was still crawling out of a blue-pill existence then, barely purple pill. Looking back, this is a lot more insightful than I had already given it credit for.

No Such Thing

Jim Fear elaborates a bit on his earlier post on hard SF. This paragraph caught my eye:
I view what we're trying to do here in military terms. Maybe I've been listening to Sabaton too much lately, which is entirely possible, but this is how I've been conceptualizing it. There is, as I said, a crumbling edifice that I'll dub Tradpub (yes I stole that from Brian Niemeier shaddap). Tradpub is a kingdom on the decline. It ruled with an iron fist for many years, but now there are many disparate forces that are looking at the jewels heaped inside and thinking, "I'll be damned, but those would look mighty spectacular in my coffers." There are also those that just want to burn the place to the ground to watch the light show. And so, not through any conspiracy but through sheer organic growth, armies formed and began to assail the kingdom of Tradpub. The two we're concerned with are the Superversive Army and the Forces of the Pulp Revolution. [emphasis mine]
 Before I get on with any commentary - there is no such thing as too much Sabaton. Sure, it's nice to listen to Iron Maiden, Yngwie, Nightwish, I even Like Dragonforce, and of course prog rock, etc., but too much Sabaton?


Where was I?

Oh yeah, go read his post.

And since he posted Blood of Bannock Burn:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Cast Iron

I can second every word of this article on cast-iron cookware, including this excerpt:
Since cast iron is made from the same stuff Hephaestus used in his forges for side projects like his automata delivery service to Olympus, you can use it just about anywhere. Stove top, in the oven, out over an open fire camping, cast iron don’t care. It’s the honeybadger of cookware.
 Bought a large - 10" or so - skillet to cook on, and while it gets less use than it otherwise might due to weight, glass cooktops, and elderly family members still trying to help in the kitchen, every word in that article matches my experience.

Yes, it took a few tries to season - with one time me deciding to scour it down with steel wool because of how badly stuff got stuck on it. That said, it only took a few tries, and once I got the "knack" the two other times I retreated it "just because" went very smoothly. Now, I can fry an egg in it with nothing sticking as long as a little butter or bacon grease sits in the bottom of the pan, it takes far more heat for searing steaks than a teflon pan, it can be put in the oven to finish a "bake" dish, and if I can't simply scrub it off with a stiff-haired brush, some kosher or rock salt handily scrapes off whatever baked on. Lightly oil it back up and stow it.

One further advantage of "takes more heat" is "can't mess it up by overheating it like teflon"

Going forward I intend to replace all my teflon with either cast iron, or in the cases of stock/soup pots, stainless.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


An interesting post on the impossibility of utopias at Empire Must Fall.
Every utopia fails. They fail because the consequences of their contradictions finally hollow them out and cause them to collapse, which is exactly how empires falls, and often by the same ultimate event: insiders turn traitors and throw open the gates to hostile outsiders. 
And yes, I do mean every utopia. The excuse is irrelevant; the results are the same: oppression, poverty, misery, and death- lots and lots of easily preventable, avoidable, and often deliberately-inflicted death. Its psychology is that of a willful child, insisting that it has to work despite how many times it previously failed. The politics that demand that Big Daddy handle it all, and make the meanies go away, stems from every last damned utopian scheme and scam ever attempted- and the solution is also the same: Let. It. Fall.
It's been said that Communism would work if all men were angels. The same has been justly said of Libertarianism (though at least that acknowledges individual choice and the limits of scope of knowledge). The obvious corralary has been "and if all men were angels, we would not need government."

I'm not sure that's true.

Even angels can war amongst each other.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Girl Friday - Cosplay

A little something to lighten the mood. A little Chainsaw Lollipop, and a lady who goes by @Xenon_cosplay on instagram. Oh, and Hanna Ferguson.

Sales and Retail : The Seen and the Unseen

Peter Grant makes the following point regarding "Amazon is taking away muh jobs."
Companies who are currently struggling to attract customers, such as retail stores, often have themselves to blame for their predicament.  They stock limited merchandise, employ the minimum number of store staff (many of whom have no idea what they're selling or how it works), offer minimal customer service (and that only because they can't get away with killing it completely), and focus on returns to their shareholders and bloated salaries for their executives, rather than attracting the consumer with his or her dollars.  Funny, stores back in the '60's and '70's got that right . . . I wonder what changed?
On one hand, I'm fully aware that the workers getting displaced, the store chains closing, don't have people at the lower levels who can easily transition elsewhere. Even more unfortunate, it's not entirely their fault. But Peter hits the nail on the head here.

What is one of the most successful, per square foot, in dollar revenue, retail spaces in the world?

The Apple store.

Limited merchandise? Maybe - but thanks to refocusing their product line, everything that apple made was available in every stock option, and even a couple upgraded (added memory, etc.) options, assuming it wasn't sold out because of insane levels of demand. Even in that, Apple developed a way to make appointments when stock was available for the day so you didn't have to make a trip to find out they were out.

Let me get back to that appointment thing later.

The stores themselves are beautiful, and clearly laid out. You can clearly see everything they have on display. While there aren't all available accessories and add ons, you can walk out with at least something good enough. Maybe not the case you wanted, but a decent case. Ditto USB drives, bluetooth headsets, headphones, game controllers, drives, wacom tablets, etc.. And they did this without making the store look crowded.

Minimum store staff? No one staffs more than they need, but there's far more to "need" than a Gantt chart of bottlenecks. Walk in the store, there's always someone near the front to greet you, direct you to your appointment, or to ask if you want to talk to sales staff and hook you up. The biggest limit in people was the "genius bar" staff - and they dealt with that as gracefully as possible as well. Again, more on that later.

Minimal customer service? I - and many of my clients - have rarely found people more willing to go the extra mile to find the right loophole, or push the limits, to ensure people are satisfied. Are there exceptions? Of course. I've worked customer service though, and can recognize a quality setup when I see it. 

I worked customer service at a now-defunct electronics chain for two years in college. Days alternated between boredom (and suffering far too many viewings on the store TV's of the movie of the month on laserdisc) to lines of irate customers backed up 30-45 minutes deep no matter how hard you tried to get them processed quickly, politely, and their stuff verified for issues, written up, and tweaked, swapped, or put in for repair. 

The Genius of Apple was scheduling hard appointments for repairs. Sure, there are edge cases where you would have preferred to simply walk over and wait - and often they could find a late-day opening if you could come back later - but in practical experience heading back over to a store to talk to customer service about broken equipment that needed troubleshooting or repair was something you generally knew you were doing in advance. Getting the appointments set made sure that when you walked in, there was staff ready to talk to you right then, or very soon after. For the waiting you did have to do there was someplace to put down your gear and sit. And of course the aesthetically pleasant store and people walking around.

Sadly, this again, was the Apple of Steve Jobs. Love him or hate him, his focus was an awesome computer, not corporate political posturing. It was also on awesome in the service of long-term business instead of short-term beancounting.

So, the other day, I heard that a standard part of the Apple hiring and training program for their "Geniuses" - their tech support desk techs - is no more. In the past, all of them went to either the Boston or Cupertino campus for an intensive round of training now being supplanted by self-guided training with in-house tools.

I'm a big believer in self-guided training, but as Bastiat observed, there is the seen, and the unseen. Especially for the majority that went to Cupertino, this was a formative experience shared by all of their in-store tech staff. As one podcast put it, selfies at One Infinite Loop were a milestone in their career. They all got to see the mothership, as it were (and the new office building looks an awful lot like one, truth be told). 

The seen? Saved money. The unseen? Lost morale, lost unity of purpose. It's a minor sign, but yet another one that Apple is throwing away that which made them not slip into mediocrity in favor of saving a few pennies here and there.

My First Palladium

Over at Castalia, on guilty pleasures no-one has played:
I’ll always have a bit of a soft touch for Palladium games. I mean… no sooner had I stumbled across a stray copy of the iconic Moldvay Basic D&D set, than I had a desire for something like that, but weirder. And Palladium was right there waiting with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness. After the cartoon and the movies, it’s hard to imagine how freaky that was when it was new. I spent countless hours rolling up characters and daydreaming about the Terror Bears, a twisted take on the then ubiquitous Care Bears. It was just awesome.
I bought TMNT in high school because it just. Looked. Freakin'. Cool. The system was a hot mess, but what a glorious mess. I also ended up buying a copy of the firs Mechanoid Invasion book left laying around, which channeled, in a lot of ways, the same mood as Gregory Benford's Great Sky River

The Palladium games I actually ended up playing any significant amount of were the Macross-based Robotech books they published.

But good lord I loved having them all.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Nope. It's Not Elementary Yet.

Even as I'm listening long-time Apple fanboy Andy Ihnatko take them to task on MacBreak Weekly for what I fully agree is a crappy waste of money in their active function bar, I've been exploring alternatives.

Personally, I'm pretty happy with Mint, but it shares with most linux distros some rough appearance edges, especially in the cursors, though that has vastly improved. I find the changes in Ubuntu an eyesore, and can get around CentOs/Fedora but prefer Debian-style package management to Fedora.

No Suse. Ran OK on a toasterbox, but since decided CentOs or Ubuntu were more my speed on the server side.

Given that the open-source world is experiencing some convergence issues, and the Mint dev team would rather you not use their distro if you don't agree to social justice politics, I still keep my eyes out, and recently decided to give ElementaryOS a shot.

Nope. Not until the next major rev.

Let's leave aside the attempt to force a donation for download (you can manually enter a zero, but they don't provide that as a default option, so IMO it crosses the border from simply and prominently asking for donations as LibreOffice does), or the statement, apparently retracted, that if you don't donate you're cheating.

For me, personally, the Loki release has been a buggy mess. Yes, I'm aware that for many people it's been fast and stable. Yes, I've had a couple odd glitches in hardware support, especially hardware support, with Mint, Centos, and Ubuntu. There's a difference though between "odd glitches" and the mess I dealt with.

First, VMWare. I didn't want to buy a different box, or more to the point, wanted to try it without carrying two computers. First install borked itself - no longer remember why - and second seemed to run OK, until suddenly everything would slow to an unresponsive crawl. Several tries at troubleshooting later I decided to set aside time with a borrowed laptop.

Now, maybe I should have tried an HP, a Dell, or a Lenovo, but I had a Toshiba at hand, and certainly the USB boot environment seemed fine. Took me three installs though and several tweaks to UEFI/legacy modes before the installer - 64 bit - finally was happy in letting the laptop reboot into the installed OS instead of giving me "no OS found" style messages.

For comparison, I've installed Win 7,8,8.1, and 10 across numerous platforms without similar issues, and ditto Ubuntu, CentOs, and Mint. One set of donated desktops did require me to pull the BIOS protection jumpers the previous users had engaged.

What I got seemed functional. It networked, browser loaded, but here comes the second part that pisses me off about eOS/Luna. They hobbled the app installer to a reduced set of approved sources. The steps to go through to get access to using ppa's and .deb packages aren't hard - once you've done some googling - but are not by any sense of the term "discoverable" within the OS or it's settings.

The real kicker though was running the OS updater, and having the entire computer interface freeze up on me beyond moving the mouse cursor, in stages. First, one of the windows full-screened on me, but the closure buttons disappeared. I could still access the file system, but then the top menu and dock locked up, so all I had was the file system window, no icons, but clickable lapels and button stubs. Then that froze up. No keyboard entries, no nothing. In the middle of a core OS update.

Needless to say, after waiting futilely for a couple hours, I finally held the power button for five seconds, and predictably, the machine would not boot after that.

I put my Mint installer .iso on a thumb drive and gave it a shot. It installed, worked fine, ran updates, etc.

So. On one hand, it looks amazing - and other distros should look at it as an example of not necessarily a style to emulate but as an inspiration that aesthetic beauty matters in something you work with constantly. Yes, I'm looking at you, Ubuntu. Ditto the built in mail client, etc.

They also had excellent instructions for windows on exactly how to download Rufus (with a link) and use it to generate a functional boot USB.

But the developer attitude sucks, and the consistency of stability across hardware platforms is not as good as what I'm used to working with.

You Can't Fix What's Broken For Them

While the general point of the article is on a different topic, this paragraph by Scott Adams is worthy of some discussion all by itself:
When I was younger and dumber I thought I could transform unhappy people into happy people by giving them whatever they wanted, or fixing whatever they thought was broken. This approach worked approximately zero times. Once a dopamine addict’s alleged problem is fixed, the addict still needs the next high. So they magnify small problems into big ones just to feel something. Or they create a problem where there was none. 
There are indeed miserable people who - all protests to the contrary - wallow in their misery. It's not just restricted to borderlines and cluster-B types who are nothing but a ball of fear and misery insofar as anyone can tell. The person who is so addicted to the rush of drama they simply have to manufacture some where none exists over the tiniest things.

It's a given among those with experience treating addicts of any sort that you cannot fix them - they have to fix themselves, and they will likely only do so when there is no other option, when they're down as far as one can be. A significant percentage don't before something fatal happens. 

Anything you do to help them out with their self-caused disasters, and eventually even simple human kindness, simply enables them, allows them to avoid their problems and the mess it's causing with their lives.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Two Movies and Climate Science

Scott Adams has been posting quite a bit on the subject recently. All of this of course from a persuasion outlook, and specifically, for calling out BS and when people don't have the answers they claim they do.
Tucker then asked Nye a simple question about climate science. He asked how much of the warming is caused by human activity. Nye’s entire ego depended on knowing whether human activity is contributing to climate change in a big way, a medium way, or a small way. Tucker wanted some details. How much difference do humans make? After all, Nye had said this was settled science. Tucker just wanted to know what that settled science said.

Yes, I'm a "skeptic". Not that the environment changes, nor that people affect it, but that it is being affected to the alarmist degree that is claimed - see an "inconvenient truth", or now-downplayed claims that we would all freeze back in the 70's and 80's - and that it is of course uniformly bad for us - see elderly death rates in cold climes due to freezing, or growing seasons.

One reason why - and one unlikely to change - has been the example of the climate change catastrophists themselves.

Incidentally, this is one set of conclusions Taleb puts for in Antifragile (that AGW is a real problem) that I strongly disagree with, mostly because he's operating at the wrong scope, and because of what I list out below.

Now, I know a fair bit of thermodynamics at an engineering level, and am NOT a climate expert. That said, I'm also a middling-fair programmer though it would take work to get to "making a living at it" levels again.

One skill I do have, beyond where the above apply, and one that almost anyone with sense can apply, or learn how to apply better courtesy of Stefan Molyneux and Scott Adams, is how to detect bullshit.

How do we know the climate scientists and promoters are bullshitting us? They talk like preachers. They cannot tell us basic concrete claims about the effects and how they got there. More importantly, they are not offering their work and their raw data up to be analyzed. That includes: adjustments made - and lack therof - for temperature monitoring stations that are subject to changing heat biases over the years. Assumptions of uniformity of temperature across large bodies of water. Assumptions for water vapor and other gas behaviors in computer models.

Most importantly, they aren't offering up the raw data they've gathered. Why?

Because it might be used against them. Emails hacked and released from Hadley CRU discuss this.

That is not science.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tha Backstory, tha Whole Backstory, and Nothing But tha Backstory, Pt 2

LLoyd Jenkins made this comment to my first post on "backstory" (I promise, I will get around to John Wick).
Hollywood is in love with the idea that the Hero changes during the movie. I get tired of it. What about setting right what was made wrong? I admit the backstory affects the actions of the characters. but that is characterization in my book.
Hollywood isn't the only one. 

In the afterword to Stephen R. Donaldson's The Gap into Conflict: The Real Story, he explains that what makes drama "drama" is that the characters change in nature. In that story specifically, he wanted the characters to change roles - that the bad guy be the victim, that the victim be revealed to be the good guy, and the good guy be revealed to be the villain. 

But yes, it's the standard script. One of the worst things you can do in literary circles is to disparage something as "melodrama." There has to be transformation. Next, someone took Campbells "Hero of a Thousand Faces" and determined that every story had to not only be a transformative story, but be a story about growth of the protagonist. It has to be a D&D story about leveling up and not a Traveller story where you win some, you lose some, maybe you learn, maybe you don't. 

Yes, we have literary snobbery and need for "drama" (and what mental types need/crave constant drama to feel engaged? Narcissists and borderlines...) combined with the easiest possible formula for said drama.

I kid you not that it is everywhere, not just Hollywood. If you go back through the podcast Writing Excuses (even the better pre-Kowal episodes), the heroes journey and hollywood writing formula are explicitly discussed and promoted.

Of course, simply transforming the protagonist, letting him grow wasn't enough. Combine that with post-modernism and nihilism, tearing everything down, and you get character arcs that either end in cynicism, or where all the work and effort are proven futile. 

The latter is why, typical political jabs aside, I generally loathe zombie stories. Generally, all hope is transient and futile, wasted. Sometimes it's funny - Shaun of the Dead, for example - but rarely outside of Ringo's stories and the book version of World War Z, will you find a book on zeds I like.

I'm basically on board with the post on "The Girl with the Bitey Mask" at Castalia House. I'll also add the following - teacher teaching zombie kids is not original. That was in a story I read shortly before giving up on a Zombie-themed anthology. And the title and concept of the movie? About as purely full of hatred for humanity as possible, to even in the title of the work state that the extinction and replacement of humanity was a good thing.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Japan Has Some Awesome SF

Walker has recently had some excellent posts on SF in Anime, including looking at the influences that Votoms, Dougram, Macross, and Crusher Joe have had on, among other things, Battletech. So it's fair to say that there's a lot of evidence that they've not been as susceptible to Social Justice Convergence. They certainly inspired one of my favorite movies, which Jeffro would find refreshingly short on excessive backstory.
As with Star Wars, Japan's long-running pop-culture SF/F franchises are built on pulpy and superversive foundations- despite significant differences in mood, theme, tone, and subject matter. Mobile Suit Gundam, as much as it gets the billing for making "Real Robot" a viable subgenre, has protagonists and antagonists motivated by passion and desire beyond all material drives- something that persists across the franchise. Space Battleship Yamato is a Space Opera that E.E. Smith would approve of, as is Super-Dimensional Fortress Macross. The Dragon Ball franchise is full of this stuff; for all the jokes about a five-minute move taking 30 episodes to execute, the heroes hero because it's right and the villains (for the most part) are evil and don't apologize for it.
There is, and always has been, some great stuff. There is also of course, and always has been, a lot of dreck. Given that my start in anime was a combination of some morning cartoons available in the Boston area and Star Blazers, followed by the release of the Robotech series, I'm not the otaku some are, but I do have a fair bit of perspective. Shortly after Robotech started, I dug in and discovered a wealth of movies, starting - for better or for worse - with Megazone 23, and quickly jumping to more titles than I can remember. Gundam, the Lensman movie, the Iczer series, Bubblegum Crisis, the Macross movie, Golgo 13, the Arion movie, Royal Space Force: The Wings of HonnĂȘamise, Area88, Project A-Ko,  more damn esper movies than I can count, etc.

A lot of it was trading videotaped copies. Having a second or third gen copy off of a laser disk original was worth something.

Once out in the world things took a slump as deployments and obligations cut down on time for cons and getting a hold of material - and we were in that weird limbo before massive bandwidth where some good stuff was starting to show up on the cartoon network like Cowboy Bebop, and the Ghost in the Shell movie, but not a lot, yet. Then netflix and streaming services came along, and while I don't watch much TV, a good chunk of what I do watch is anime.

Positives? Given I haven't watched too many "slice of life" movies - action. Some fantastic art. A lot of genre bending. Off the wall ideas pushed to their limits. Negatives? Well, it's pretty easy to find some very dark and nihilistic stuff - I'm not a huge fan of DeathNote - a lot of "loser is inexplicably attractive to girls" harem series, a number of very angsty and mopy boys, and Dragon Ball is hardly the only series to stretch out five minutes of story.

Take Bleach. Well enough done I ended up watching a lot of it, but the entire "Soul Society" sequence was almost nothing but backstory of every major character and how they got there, with a minute or two of plot continuation, before - finally - wrapping everything up in the last minute or two of the sequence.

You Know That Shortage of Battered Mens Shelters?

The one that made Erin Pizzey persona non grata with feminists?

Meet the solution:
In Canada this week, a Kelowna homeless shelter for women kicked two female clients out and then permanently banned them. The problem? They were uncomfortable sharing a room with a man who identifies as a woman and is in the midst of transitioning.

“He wants to become a woman. I mean that is his choice, but when a man comes into a women’s shelter, who still has a penis and genitals, he has more rights than we do,” Tracey, one of the women who was thrown out, said.

After sharing their tale with the media, the two women were permanently banned.

They told me sorry, if a person identifies themselves with female, then we have to go with that,” Tracey added.

The other woman, Blaine, was also staying at the shelter. As a victim of an abusive relationship with a man, she felt very uncomfortable sharing a room with a man, even if he is transgender. The shelter is described as a women’s only facility.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Very Personal And Gut Wrenching Exploration of Evil

I sat a while on this post from Searching For Dragons called "Evil: is Not a Thing?"

I can't even excerpt it. It is at times vulgar - because it looks at something very ugly. It is gut wrenching, because it turns our attention to the truly vile, and dares us to refuse to believe it exists.

In an excellent recent podcast, Jordan B. Peterson, who has also been on Stefan Molyneux show, mentions something Solzhenitsyn said about the Nuremburg trials. The point he brought up was that some things are done are so awful that everyone who is not a monster knows they are wrong, regardless of culture. Eric Raymond once noted - I cannot find the article - that a trading methodology involving piles of goods, splitting them, moving them, requiring no language, implied at least some degree of universal moral standards, even if the exact details of what constitutes, say, murder, or theft, may vary.

That post? Evil exists.

Just go read the thing.

I will add one observation. One consequence of the postmodern nihilism, of dragging everything into the muck, is that not only do we tear down the good, the virtuous, the capacity for divinity and light, but we provide cover for evil as well.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Vox recently posted on H-1B Visas, and the comment sections are gold.

I've had a couple experiences that are relevant - both in hiring and Indian team for a project, and in dealing with Indian call center tech support. I'll insert my own observations where needed.

First, coding, and lack of comprehension.
True. Every Indian & Pakistani I worked with couldn't program their way out of a wet paper bag. They rely almost entirely on cut & paste from "example usage" snippets. All of their declarations look like this:

   window WindowType; /* window */
   button ButtonType; /* button */
   title TitleType; /* Title */
If there's something I've personally experienced is the complete inability to work "off script". I not only dealt with a web dev project that came in massively over budget and effectively had to be rewritten in house despite being - mostly - some modifications to Drupal, but have repeatedly dealt with the insistence of their tech support staff in following... the... script.

You call them, tell them what you've already checked, and they will ask you step one. "Is it plugged in" , or similar. "I already told you we have power, lights come on, fan spins up, but these diagnostic lights are lit up, and we need the motherboard replaced."

"But did you plug it in?"

*sigh* Yes.

"Did the lights come on?" *headdesk*

In case you're wondering, this has happened within a chat transcript, where a few sentences above the answer to the question is already there. This is in complete alignment with comments I've heard that it's like they hear the words, but do not understand the system well enough to understand what the words mean.

No wonder Dell pulled their business support back into the states. Tell a tech there that you already checked a, b, and d (not thinking to check c) and he'll look at the troubleshooting steps and ask you if you've tried "c" then skip to "e", or ask for clarification in case it's unclear if what you said matches his procedures.

There's also the "we will never admit we're wrong/don't know how" factor. That's what happened on the web project. Factor in lack of comprehension - the inability to build a model in their head of what the code is doing - and it makes it clear why they copy and paste so much.

Yeah, I've done copy and paste myself. I've also either rewritten the code to meet my needs once I figured the code out, or made sure I understood it well enough to be satisfied I knew what it did, and that I wasn't going to do better enough in the time I wanted to spend.
And the Libertardians at the Playdo Institute call this “progress”..and the “free market” at work.
I've noted elsewhere. It's not a free market when only one side is playing free market.
The cultural problem with Indians are legion. The biggest is that in India, your worth as a person is dependent on your birth. A typical Indian work group will have 5 guys who are there because of their family connections, Brahman status, and even birth order, and 3 guys and 2 women who actually do all the productive work. And the Brahmans are generally arrogant pigs, who even if they are competent to do the work, view it as beneath them. They are continually playing dominance games, and look down on literally everyone, especially Americans. 
Indians are the major reason offshoring to India is generally a failure.
Re: "offshoring" - I've already noted people pulling support teams back in house. I hadn't seen much of the above directly, except a few aspects of the arrogance.

I will note that caste-based discrimination is apparently rampant, but rarely brought up in articles discussing what a wonderful and beautiful culture it is, so much better than ours, etc.

Factor those failures in, and why do they do it? Even once it became clear that the cost savings was illusory?

Lack of a long view.
Sadly, the answer is a lot more simple. We have lots of MBAs. They need to prove their worth. If you outsource or hire H1Bs, your revenue stays the same but profit margin increases, thus you get a bonus. 
We have a lot of stupid people with MBAs and jobs at major companies. They make stupid decisions that more than 15 minutes of thought would show doesn't work. With the exception of *some* manufacturing, outsourcing has been a pretty hefty failure. And the quality of H1Bs is almost always a net-negative, but stupid MBAs can't understand that.

Offshoring is fragile. Offshoring makes you dependent on someone else, while deprecating "tribal knowledge". Offshoring has, in practice, and in my anecdotal experience, cost more than the supposed savings. Sometimes in straight cash, but more often in missed opportunities and rework.

But as Bastiat taught us, the seen - the "cost savings" entice us, while the unseens - friction from different expectations, misrepresentations of competence, etc., bite us later.

Of course, some have figured it out:
Luckily some of the H1-B and outsourcing trend has been running backwards in recent years. Some, not a large number, but some employers are figuring out that they were better off with American employees even if they do command higher salaries.  
Some have finally figured out "we can't afford to pay an American to do it once but somehow we can afford to pay an Indian to do it 4 times" doesn't make sense.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Girl Friday

That time of the week again.

It Aint "Realism"

Ben Cheah has an insightful writeup on why ‘Gritty’ and ‘Realistic’ SFF Isn’t. The whole piece is worth a read, but the following puts very poetically something I've told a lot of people in response to "but it's realistic!":
Everybody knows the darkness of the human heart. Open a newspaper and you will see terrorist atrocities, gangland wars, murderers, child abuse and lying politicians in abundance. Evil lurks everywhere in the world. Humans can be beastly, cowardly, bloodthirsty, vicious and covetous creatures. This is reality.

Yet humans can also be noble. Churches have sponsored universities and hospitals, opposed tyrants and freed slaves, and propagated virtues and values. Ultra-rich people give away millions or billions of dollars every year to charitable causes. Strangers have banded together to help people in need. Troops and civilians demonstrate valour on and off the battlefields of the world. This, too, is reality.

Every man has two aspects. One is craven, power-seeking, vengeful, petty, and self-centred. The other is selfless, kind, virtuous, determined and undefeatable. A truly realistic work would reflect both sides of human nature. ‘Realistic’ SFF works shun this holistic approach, seeking only to amplify the former.
As GoT, the Walking Dead, and many other SF&F stories of recent decades strive to remind us, we are horrible, broken creatures, fallen, with redemption but a cruel illusion, slaves to our lusts and desires.

This isn't "realism" or "grittiness". Redeeming the bad guy per Malificent or Wicked isn't giving him an understandable motive, it's sticking your head in the sand to pretend evil doesn't exist. Wallowing in incest and murder and cruelty as GoT does, making out Ned Stark or others with pretentions to nobility as chumps isn't gritty either. It's pushing the pendulum too far in the other direction. It's not an uncompromising portrayal of something unpleasant, it's obsessing over the unpleasant to the exclusion of all else.

There is more to life than that. We are both angels and demons. Life has glory and virtue as well as pain and suffering. Painting the world as only a dark place where light and virtue are illusory removes the contrasts. It turns the production from something that could be vivid to a morally monochromatic mud.

One song that always comes to mind for me when thinking of struggling against the darkness of the world, the contrasts required to see all of reality and humanity, and the nobility we can achieve, is "Eye of the Storm" by the Cruxshadows.
There is no love untouched by hate
no unity without discord
there is no courage without fear
there is no peace without a war
there is no wisdom without regret
no admiration without scorn
there is strife within the tempest-
but calm in the eye of the storm...

The pages of our history
are written by the hand
with eyes and ears and prejudice
too far removed- to understand
and so the heroes of the ages past
are stripped of honesty- and love
to make them seem less noble
and hide what we can become

On a completely different note, he's also got an excellent writeup on why women aren't just men with breasts eviscerating the Rat Queens. I read that comic - or what was included in the Hugo packet, a couple years ago, and this is entirely spot on.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

On a Related Note

Sky Hernstrom comments on Jeffro commenting on a post he shared by Kevyn Winkless commenting yes, yet another article on how the old days of SF hated women.
I'm at the point now where I just don't give a shit. Articles like this come out on a weekly basis. Other movements follow the same pattern. Articles and articles, Grievance + Something Must Be Done. The point is to read it, savor the delicious righteous rage, bonus round, enjoy the feeling of moral superiority. How the fuck as a writer am I supposed to make space at a table? Isn't that horribly patronizing? Here you go little missy!  
Write what want. If it sucks you fail. SFW. 
It comes down to feminists never considering that while they (assuming they are women) may want to write or read science fiction, other women may not, and that interest - or lack therof - does a lot more to explain the relative percentages than anything else.

It's the same in the computer community. At one point I was at least willing to entertain arguments about brogrammers in corporate culture, though thinking - evidence since has borne this out - it was much ado over trivialities. What really puzzled me in my more blue pill days was the argument that men were keeping women out of open source.

I get it. When I grew up, computers were expensive. I was fortunate in that regard to be in an upper middle class family and got exposed earlier than income would not too much later allow. I dug into the innards of the family II+ heedless of static straps, getting the various add-ons working to enable a lower case keyboard and the 80-column graphics card for features that would later become standard with the IIe. I also learned - and have since forgotten - the ascii tables.

But here's what's important. It wasn't just something I spent some time on for games - though there was quite a bit of that - it was something I tinkered with, as opposed to the car, or in addition to plastic models, because it interested me.

Trust me, if we there were more girls interested in the stuff, we would have welcomed them.

These days you can get a computer for a few hundred bucks, less, even, if you're willing to go used, with far more than enough power to run a linux gui and compile software, and this has been true for at least a decade. The only thing keeping anyone from learning computers, and writing software, is a lack of interest in doing so for its own sake, and the willingness to budget a year or less worth of coffee or the cost of a gaming console, if even that much. I've known schools that donate their old machines to needy families, and companies offload a lot of their old gear at auctions - I literally bought a PC perfectly capable of running windows 98 in 2002 for $15. Had to add a $30 stick of RAM and a modem.

There are a lot of places the complaints about brogrammers or men keeping women out ring hollow because all they have to do is show up, and for that, all they have to do is want to enough to set aside the time.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Larry's Storytelling Ethos on Steroids

Larry Correia, much like the rest of the puppy crew, has repeatedly said that it's perfectly OK to have messaging in stories, but that awesome story comes first. He went even further, and stated that art should not be a successful author's first concern, but instead:
My personal philosophy is that all writers need to put GET PAID in their mission statement. All that artistic creative stuff is nice too, but make sure GET PAID is in there (in all caps).
Others have pointed out that Larry's work was "pulp" before there was a pulp revolution, breaking genre barriers as well as PC ones.
Thesis: The writings of +Larry Correia are pure #PulpRevolution.

Let's run through the supporting reasoning.

1 Action Oriented: Larry writes action. Larry writes GOOD action. Larry writes action scenes that blow the top of your head off. In fact, Larry has said that if he goes 5000 words without an action scene, he starts to get twitchy and feels the need to blow something up. (Paraphrasing, obviously.)
So I find it appropriate to look around and recognize the following. The pulp revolution ethos is Larry's storytelling ethos dialed up to eleven. Not only screw worrying about PC checklists for skin color, gender(s), or what not, awesome first, screw genre too.

As Larry's own books,  and the pulp revolution show, awesome knows no genre.

OK, one exception. Maybe nihilistic navel gazing liberal wankery knows no awesome.

A Tour through the Selenium Forest

One of the more interesting tracks I ran into while taking a weekend long detour through prog rock and prog metal was the following bit by a musician called Plini - "Selenium Forest".

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Some Really Sick Fucks Out There

And Twitter, of course, doesn't mind when the "right" targets are the subject of death threats and calls for assassination.

But Milo was "inciting violence".
In case it's erased...

Why Would Non White Non Americans Prefer A White-led West and America?

The Didact was asked why, not being white, nor American, he so was so strongly pro a white, or at minimum, a white-led and dominant America and west. The whole article is worth a read. So is the one he refers to.
I particularly like and appreciate the white folk of America's heartlands. Whether I am visiting towns and villages populated by the quietly unflappable folk of rural and countryside New England, or the courtly and immensely hospitable people of Texas, or the welcoming and charming characters to be found in lovely Vermont, I have always been treated with politeness and civility.

I cannot claim to have such positive experiences in parts of my own homeland.

Now obviously, not every non-white non-Westerner who has spent roughly half his life in Western lands can claim to have had the same happy experience as I have. There are parts of America- the more "diverse" bits, usually, and that is not an accident- where foreigners like me are treated quite badly. But, in general, the reason why everyone and his dog wants to come here to live and work is because white people have made it a great country.

That is true throughout the Western world, and the rest of us ignore this basic fact of life at our own great peril.

For while white Westerners are unusually welcoming of foreigners- I argue that these days they are too welcoming- they are also capable of great and terrible violence against "the other" if they choose. The history of Western culture is replete with examples of xenophobia taken to unhealthy and very violent extremes, and I fear that there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when such violence will flare up once again.

As a general rule, white people are not the problem. White people certainly create many of their own problems, usually through ignorance of history or active stupidity, or both, but they also have a remarkable knack for solving problems too.

That is why Western culture is quite clearly the best. That is why the Western nations have the highest living standards in the world. That is why everyone else wants to go there, or at least send his kids there.

Starship Liberator

I've only started this book but so far, I agree with Rod Walker's review.
The main character of the book is Derek Straker, a mechsuiter for the Hundred Worlds in their fight against the alien Hok invaders. A mechsuit is a gigantic robot battlesuit, and Straker’s neural link with the device lets him wield with fearsome efficiency. After fighting in a catastrophic defeat for the Hundred Worlds, Straker realizes that both the Hundred Worlds and the Hok are not what they seem to be, and he must choose whether or not to knuckle under to one cruel system or another, or find a way to forge his own path.
On a related note, Lastredoubt is always intrigued by how Rod Walker writes of himself in the third person. Lastredoubt couldn't keep that up for very long.

Monday, March 6, 2017

More on tha Backstory

I know in the last piece I discussed mostly how backstory is used to establish character, and since thought of a couple more points I wanted to cover.

One - backstory also is used to establish setting. This is one of the biggest reasons why the opener of The Incredibles  works, but Up doesn't. Where Up starts as a quiet bit that builds to adventure, the short movie that takes over the opening is used to tell us about the character, but nothing that couldn't have been done by stretching out his departure a bit. The Incredibles is an action movie. For us to know the characters, especially at somewhere near their best, before we see them at bottom, we need to see them acting. We need to see what they can be. Starting out with Mr. Incredible beaten down would make for a lousy start. You could imply the fall, but the contrast is far more effective, and starting with them down and out makes for a depressing opener.

Two - just rewatched Guardians of the Galaxy. Good film. Love the funky vibe, the mix of magic and science, the characters.

You could ditch the entire opener on Earth and it would not only not hurt the film one bit (one tiny exception), but would make discovering why he plays the music he does, why the walkman is so important to him, the earth references that are out of place, far more intriguing as we discover who he is. That opener is redundant as hell. One minor dialogue tweak could make it very clear in a vulnerable moment he lost his mom instead of implying it. Maybe, maybe add one line in that scene - where he's explaining why the walkman is so important - that he never knew his dad.  The story makes it clear he was kidnapped - and not delivered as intended. That his father is not of earth. If they took the image of his mom out from the scene at the end they could leave the dialogue in place.

The entire rest of the movie does such an awesome job making every moment do more than one thing in a clear and consistent way that it renders the opener superfluous - and yet the writers couldn't resist.

Tha Backstory, tha Whole Backstory, and Nothing But tha Backstory, Pt 1.

Ok. We've had a number of posts across Castalia, Google+, etc., recently delving into the necessity of backstory, the modern plague therof, and how it's hobbled storytelling. Generally speaking, I agree with the position Jeffro has taken, and a lot of people have weighed in with good things to say on the topic. So why dipping my oar in?

Because, in my opinion, John Wick (have not yet seen Ch.2) is damn near a "perfect" movie - one of the few I put in that category along with The usual Suspects -  and arguably a perfect action movie, and has been held up by Jeffro as committing these sins.

I disagree. I disagree that it commits these sins in any significant way, but also that to the degree it has "backstory", it is utterly necessary and not wasted screen time like so many other examples - other recent big budget movies and even a couple from one of my favorite studios.

Now, before I can comment further on John Wick proper I'll have to take the time to see it again - and maybe even Chapter 2, but there is some groundwork to be laid so that, when I finally put JW under the microscope, I am relying on more recent memories than the three times I watched it in a week a year ago.

Yeah, I liked it.

So, first: Are backstories inherently bad?

No. Sometimes we have to hang a lampshade on a character or provide enough information about their past to ensure that actions in the present make sense, and don't break our believability in the character. "Why the fuck did he do that" is rarely a question you want to have your reader or audience asking. Even if the action was not one they would have expected, an event or revelation earlier in the story needs to have established some trait of character, or something in their background, that the reader or watcher goes "ok, that makes sense". Even when you do want you audience asking "why did he do that" you need to have established enough trust in the character that they're willing to wait for the results to play out, and it still needs to make sense, fitting in with what you already knew about the character, and what you learned since before the "payoff."

One way to do this is to show where the person came from.

As noted, this has become abused - almost the only way storytellers know how to reveal a character (and thus a sign of a crappy or lazy writer). See Conan the movie with Arnie, vs the original stories. Or Clint Eastwood as the man with no name. As has been pointed out - in the books, or the Eastwood character, we aren't shown a long exposition of where each man came from. Instead, we are shown just enough about their character, in bits and pieces, over time, to make sense of what they are doing, but at no point from the beginning of the story do they act in a way that contradicts what we've seen of them, or learn of them by the choices they make and how the people around them react.

In the movie, we get the full blown "and he was a kid, and the bad guy killed his mom and da', and he was sold as a slave, and..."

"But it's an origin story"

*Le Sigh*

OK. Nothing inherently wrong with origin stories either. The Frank Miller hardbound  Dark Knight/Batman Year One holds a place of pride on my bookshelf, and of course incorporates some of the origin story in both. I like the first Burton Batman, and all three of the Nolan movies - I'll watch anything by the Nolans no matter what it's about until they screw up a couple times.

Yet, Frank Miller doesn't just do origin stories (300 anyone?), and the first Nolan Batman movie isn't the strongest or best. Why?

Look. An origin story is a story of growth and transformation all by itself. Yes, stories of moral and psychological growth of the main character are a time-honored type of story that have their own name: bildungsroman. But origin stories are hardly the only way to write growth and transformation. If all you do is origin stories you are a lazy writer who can't imagine other ways to have a "character arc" and personal transformation. You especially cannot answer the question of "where do you go from there?". Thus the Star Trek reboots, the endless Spiderman reboots, and all the other reboots. Because origin stories are a cheap way to provide structure for growth without asking further questions.

These questions can be asked though: the sequel Nolan Batman movies actually had arcs of growth and transformation on Batman's part, on Wayne's part, on Gordon's part. We saw the origins of Robin and Two face, sure, but they were not the main characters here, and occurred as organic elements of the story. The Joker? He was elemental, and never really explained, just wanted the world to burn, and it was the moral quandaries posed that forced Batman to grow. Even the time spent discussing Bane's background, and the background of the real "bad guy" of the third movie was dropped in over time, as needed, and instead we open up with things happening.

It's also why Civil War and Winter Soldier were frankly better movies and stories than the first Captain America. They too had growth and transformation without having to tell the origin story of absolutely everything. You actually have time to explore the character beyond "how I got started".

They didn't need to tell you where Batman, or Cap came from, but their actions were consistent with their character, definable by the choices made from the very beginning of each story even if you didn't know the "backstory" or origin.

You get what you focus on. Origin stories are only one kind of basic structure, and if you keep taking time in the movie to tell the origin stories of everyone, especially the protagonist, you either end up with all origin movies, wasting precious time telling the origin before getting to the real story, or ridiculously long movies with large chunks of the beginning wasted.

Worse, the backstories and origin stories we get these days are so over the top. Or, used to explain why the bad guy isn't really that bad instead of being about growth, or even worse, as L. Jagi Lamplight Wright noted, why they're really the victim.

Or you get a movie where the mar-Rey Sue doesn't even begin to protag until halfway through the damn story, because you spent a whole bunch of time showing off her childhood, watching her mom die, ad nauseum.

So, should our characters not have origins?

Bullshit, there's always a backstory - or at least an archetype, a character. Do you think the man with no name did not have a background? A moral code? If you watched The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises could you have figured out who and what he was, even if you didn't know the story of seeing his parents killed? Conan had one too. We know who these characters are by how they act, what they choose to do when faced with a decision. The "backstory", as I mentioned earlier, is only necessary when needed to provide consistency to bridge what we see with what has gone before, or to better understand a character in a way relevant to the story, and can usually be provided in dribs and drabs as the story moves along.

There's a segment in the red letter media vivisection of the Star Wars prequels where they have people describe characters in the first movie - "A New Hope" - and then try to describe characters in The Phantom Menace without resorting to their appearance or their jobs. Who they were, their personalities. The look of embarrassment as they realized they couldn't really describe TPM characters said more than an essay.

Adding an origin story or backstory at the beginning violates the following rules of writing. Show, don't tell. Every second/word is precious. I've covered those already above, if not explicitly stating it.

It also violates "start the story at the last possible moment before things get rolling."

Of course the story exists in an environment with a history and a future, where things have come together. Yet all too often we waste precious time telling the story of "how things got this way" when we can simply show you by implication, or in bits and pieces, or by how people behave, the choices they make, and how others react.

And of course we need a "setup" to explain what started the ball rolling: what was discovered, or hidden, or lost, or desired. There has to be something to make our intrepid hero decide to stop doing whatever else he would normally do and do something different. At some point - even if it's something beyond their control that would have happened in the course of their normal lives, they have to make a choice to put their feet on the path to awesome.

I'm going to pick on Pixar for an example of "backstory done wrong." Let's take Up.

It pains me to do this because, bluntly, the first ten minutes of the movie is one of the best love stories you'll ever see. It also skillfully shows you why he wanted to go adventuring, why he didn't, why it's in part a memorial to his wife who wished to also, why there's more to the crotchety old man, and why he chose the method he did to break free.

It's a brilliant short story. It would have been an incredible standalone that ended with the house taking off, and a smile.

In the context of the rest of the movie, as much as I liked it, it's a drag. Ten minutes spent that is "I told you this story so I could tell you this other one." Works fine as a Cosby joke, but it's a distraction from the main story. It could have been interspersed through the rest of the movie in hints, or even integrated with him cleaning his house up preparing for liftoff, and shortened immensely.

Compare it to The Incredibles.

We start with a prologue. No backstory, just wall - to - wall action, with a distracting fanboy causing issues in apprehending the villain of the moment. The resulting carnage and collateral damage leads immediately to a quick montage of how the heroes were reigned in. Gods walked among us, but they were not perfect, and they fell. Our next view of Mr Incredible is his absurd straightjacket of a normal job as a worker drone, beholden to the whims of petty tyrants and small men, with a normal car far too small for him, and a family life he doesn't appreciate because what made him awesome, Incredible even, has been beaten down.

And the action starts rolling again. Syndrome takes advantage of what he's already doing to lay a trap for him, Mr. Incredible gets in touch with his inner greatness, and mayhem ensues. The movie is self-aware enough to employ a little meta humor, but backstory? Frozone, Mrs. and Mrs. Incredible, their kids, you discover them all by how they behave. The only character in the whole thing that has any backstory within the movie is Syndrome - and while he had "one bad day" - one gets the strong impression from his neediness and lack of common sense even as a child that if it hadn't been that day, some other day would have thrown him into a loop. He has no remorse, no "I was wrong" moment, no moment where he thinks of what the people around him need. He is a selfish git from day one.

And it's all incorporated in acting as a spoiler to Mr Incredible's prologue. Syndrome's hurt feelz were nothing compared to the persecution the heroes suffered, but he turned villain, and the heroes reclaimed their awesome.

Also look at the marines in Aliens.

The few minutes of screen time waking up, eating together, and working out establish every marine in the group, from seeing their names pop up in the computer screen to the first drop, with just a few seconds of dialog. "Vasquez, anyone ever mistake you for a man? No, you?". You know exactly who these people are.

Cameron used to be a good director.

Speaking of Cameron, the Abyss is instructive. He dragged Orson Scott Card in to write the novel almost directly from the script and actual filmed scenes. Card was so inspired upon seeing the script and meeting the actors that he wrote a backstory for each character the first night. The actors saw the results, and incorporated it into their acting.

The backstory was there. It infused every action the actors took in playing their roles. It wasn't shown.

On the other hand, Card kept that backstory in the book version. It really didn't help. The book could have started from the opening scene of the movie and lost nothing but page count.

So yes, you have to know who your characters are, but telling the backstory is not needed for every character, not even your protagonists, in every case, nor does every movie have to be an origin story.

Next up - a quick look at where all this came from.