The Siege of Leningrad and Rescue Workers

Vincent Cochetel just gave a TED talk about when he was held for 317 days during the Chechen Wars. The talk was very strong and very touching. In it he asks why we don’t care more about aid workers. I don’t really have much to say about the talk beyond that it is definitely worth watching.

Towards the end of the talk he mentioned a phrase: “No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.” I went looking for the origin of the phrase and found that it can be attributed to Olga Bergholz, a Soviet poet who lived between 1910 and 1975. She became popular during the Siege of Leningrad and wrote the poem that is inscribed on the Motherland monument at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, a cemetery dedicated to those who died during the Siege of Leningrad.

The poem is beautiful and I have reproduced it below.

Here lie Leningraders

Here are citydwellers – men, women, and children
And next to them, Red Army soldiers.
They defended you, Leningrad,
The cradle of the Revolution
With all their lives.
We cannot list their noble names here,
There are so many of them under the eternal protection of granite.
But know this, those who regard these stones:
No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.

Coming Out Sim

Not all games have to be fun. Coming Out Simulator is a game which follows the story of a boy coming out as bisexual to his parents. I can’t really say anymore, except that it brought tears to my eyes. It is really well put together.

http://ncase.itch.io/coming-out-simulator-2014

Microsoft Windows 10 Press Conference

I just finished watching the Microsoft Windows 10 Press Conference, which took place about 40 hours ago. Mind blown.

The entire presentation was incredible and showcased a ton of really cool stuff that will make things way easier on businesses and individuals using Windows. In the past I have read, and remarked myself, that Microsoft will need to reinvent itself if it wishes to stay relevant. It seems that they have come to the same conclusion.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Windows 10 looks pretty great and I am looking forward to seeing it roll out to people. It will be a fantastic upgrade for everyone still using Windows 7. This seems to fit with Microsoft’s history of alternating between pretty good releases and poorly received releases.

Two items in particular I am excited about are the Microsoft Surface Hub and the Hololens. The Surface Hub looks like exactly the sort of thing that I have frequently wished existed within offices and the Hololens is literally incredible. After they showed their trailer video for it I remarked that I’d believe it when I saw a demo; they proceeded to show a demo.

Just wow. Engadget has a recording of the entire event. I suggest you take the time to watch it in its entirety. The presentation is two hours and twenty minutes long.

UPDATE:

I’ve now spent a little bit of time reading up on the reactions others have had, and it seems that I was not the only one whose mind was blown and who is surprised with all of this. The Hololens is a really huge achievement for Microsoft.

Natural Law and Murder

Universal law is the law of Nature. For there really is, as every one to some extent divines, a natural justice and injustice that is binding on all men, even on those who have no association or covenant with each other. It is this that Sophocles’ Antigone clearly means when she says that the burial of Polyneices was a just act in spite of the prohibition: she means that it was just by nature:

“Not of to-day or yesterday it is, But lives eternal: none can date its birth.”

And so Empedocles, when he bids us kill no living creature, says that doing this is not just for some people while unjust for others:

“Nay, but, an all-embracing law, through the realms of the sky Unbroken it stretcheth, and over the earth’s immensity.”

Aristotle

Fighting Online Harassment: Wikimedia and Tor

TL;DR: Lane Raspberry, Andrew Lewman, and I just had a discussion about online harassment and what can be done to combat it. We’ve decided that the Tor Project needs a code of conduct and Wikimedia needs a better one. We also discussed the idea of partnering to contract a third-party organisation to handle harassment complaints. At the moment this would just be to collect data on the problem, but eventually they would act on the complaints as well.

I just finished having a rather productive conversation with Lane Raspberry and Andrew Lewman about online harassment and what Wikimedia and Tor can do about it.

The discussion began with us giving mostly anecdotal tales of harassment we have seen and discussing the general scope of the issue within both communities. Both the Wikimedia community and the Tor community have had a large number of issues in the past. Generally two peoples that we found that were frequently harassed in both of our communities were those within the technical communities and women. Women have long been the target of male harassment online. Many men seem to not understand or not care that what they are doing is harmful. Within the technical community we harassment that stems from the discussion of “religious issues”1 such as choice of security solution or software. Discussion on these issues tend to quickly degrade into harassment and name calling that often out-lasts the original discussions themselves.

We also briefly discussed two specific controversies involving harassment, one within each community. Within the English Wikipedia community there was a controversy that revolved around an editor calling another editor a cunt and then insisting that where he comes from the word is not sexually degrading. Within the Tor community there was a recent incident with a Tor user getting harassed in real live because of her gender and her involvement with Tor. Both of these incidents were extremely disheartening and rather distressing to hear about.

Lane had the idea to try to contract out a third-party organisation to handle harassment complaints. He compared it to how an HR department might handle harassment complaints in a “brick-and-mortar company”. The idea would be that at first they would accept complaints about harassment from Tor users and Wikimedia users. At first they would simply catalog and organise the complaints, but would eventually move into acting on them to try to put a stop to the harassment. We are still in the early stages of discussion of this idea though, so the primary purpose of such an organisation, at least at first, would simply be to collect data. This data would give us an understanding on what the scope and severity of the problem is and allow us to determine how we should allocate resources to combat it.

We are unsure still what forms of harassment are most prevalent in our communities. Clearly there are people who are trolls and there are people whose harassment borders on or is criminal. There is a lot of area between those two extremes as well, and, while it is all problematic, the way that you deal with the trolls is very different than the way you deal with the sustained harassers and stalkers.

We discussed various groups that we might be able to contact about doing this. In specific, we discussed asking the Cyber Rights Initiative or the Ada Initiative to handle the complaints. The Cyber Rights Initiative mostly works to fight against revenge porn and their approach is largely founded in the legal system. The Ada Initiative, while seeming to be a better fit, as they deal with online harassment much more generally, has an already established relationship with Wikimedia that nobody wants to see damaged if this idea doesn’t work out. If the Tor Project goes it alone, they might have some luck in getting the Ada Initiative on-board.

Some numbers were thrown out as to what the Wikimedia Foundation might be willing to contribute financially, but these were just unofficial estimates based on previous projects and the monetary value of lost contributions to harassment, so I won’t go into discussion of them here.

Andrew pointed out that many online communities have a code of conduct. He pointed to Ubuntu, Python, Mozilla, and Apache as having particularly well thought out codes of conduct. The Tor Project currently does not have a code of conduct, and while Wikimedia does have one, it is not as fleshed out as it could be. After a bit of discussion it was resolved that Tor should draft a code of conduct and that the Wikimedia code of conduct should be reviewed. We can use the other codes of conduct that were discussed as starting points for doing this. While I did not bring it up in our discussion, in writing this post, it has occurred to me that this is an area in which asking for help from the Ada Initiative would be useful and likely available.

I think we’ve made a good start. Certainly we didn’t come up with fully fleshed out solutions to the problems at hand, but we only spoke for about an hour and this is a difficult issue to handle. I’m going to bring up the topic on the Tor-talk mailing list and Lane is going to start a discussion on English Wikipedia. I’ll update this post when I have links to both of those discussions. I’m hopeful we might be able to make further progress by including more people in our brainstorming.

Footnotes:

1. This was not the term used in our discussions, but I believe that it is one of the more succulent ways to describe these sorts of problems.

Amtgard Raider Game

When I got into Amtgard originally I imagined that the weekend long events that happen from time to time would be recreations of battles lasting multiple days with skirmishes between camps and someone posted as watch because you were never sure when the next attack might arrive. Having been to several weekend long events hosted by the Kingdom of Crystal Groves, I know that the closest that Amtgard, or Crystal Groves at least, gets to these sorts of games are games of Assassin that last the entire weekend. This was a disappointment to me as I always wanted to participate in something a bit more intense.

Today, while on the field at the Freehold of Gilead, I had an idea for such a game, and I think it would work out well in practice.

Requirements

  • A very large field on which to play
  • At least ten people
  • 9 flags, 2 red, 2 green, 2 blue, 1 yellow, and 2 white
  • Rope
  • Stakes (optional)
  • A set of long range walkie-talkies

Setup

Split the ten players into two teams of five people each. Select two locations to act as Nirvanas. The Nirvanas should be far away from each other; I recommend at least a mile. If possible it should take no less than ten minutes and no more than 25 minutes to walk from one camp to the other. The camps should be out of eyesight and earshot of each other. Use the rope to mark off the two Nirvanas, using stakes to hold the rope in place. The Nirvana needs to be large enough to hold tents, a dining area, and a fire pit for the team. Place a white flag in each team’s Nirvana. Near each team’s Nirvana rope off another small area to act as the flag depot for the team. In the flag depot for each team place a Red flag and a Green flag. Half-way between each camp place the Yellow flag. Make sure to give ample time to each team to set up camp. Two hours at a minimum should be sufficient.

Rules

  • Death Count: 5 minutes
  • Refresh: Every hour on the hour
  • Win condition: Have the most flags when time runs out
  • Lives: Infinite

The objective is to have the most flags at the end of the weekend. Each team may send raiding parties to the other teams camp to steal their flags. The game goes on 24 hours a day and only stops for emergencies. Teams have been provided with walkie-talkies that are to be used in case of emergency, but are not to be used to communicate otherwise. Reeves have also been provided with Walkie-talkies for communication between themselves. Reeves chatter should be kept on a different channel than that used for emergencies.

When picking up a flag the incant, “This flag belongs to us now.” must be said and must be audible for at least twenty feet from the flag bearer. When placing down a flag the incant, “I drop this flag.” must be said and must be audible for at least twenty feet from the flag bearer. Flag bearers may not use any weapons or spells while holding the flag. They may not use the flag to attack or defend themselves. The flag is a game object and not a weapon and must be handled in a safe manner. Flags must be placed into the flag depot when they brought to a base. There will be no hiding the flags in the woods. White flags do not count for points and are considered to be owned by the team that was given them at the beginning of the game. The purpose of the white flag is to allow the teams to signal their intent to peacefully communicate with the other team. Do note though that a white flag does not provide any intrinsic protection to its bearer or his party. It will be up to each team to decide whether or not to use their white flags and whether or not to use them honorably.

No team may enter the other teams Nirvana without permission. No combat or magic is to happen within the Nirvana. Flags may not enter the Nirvana. Arrows and other projectiles that accidentally stray into a team’s Nirvana may be collected by the player that owns them, but care should be taken that projectiles do not find their way into Nirvanas in the first place.

Refreshes happen each hour on the hour. Spellcasting classes may change their spell list at the beginning of each Refresh provided that they are currently located in their Nirvana. All per-life abilities reset at each Refresh provided that the player is located in their Nirvana for the Refresh. Per-game abilities reset each six hours (Midnight, 6 AM, Noon, and 6 PM) provided the player is located in their Nirvana at that time. Death counts begin as soon as a player begins heading back to their Nirvana; Players must still respawn in their Nirvana.

As always, players should take care to play in a safe manner. Reeves have the final word on what is safe gameplay and what is not.

More than two teams

If playing with more than two teams some rules are modified slightly. The number of flags available is increased. Each team will have a Red, Green, and Blue flag. The number of Yellow flags is equal to the number of teams less one. The Yellow flags are to be placed equidistant from the camps and from each other.

TI Calculator Communities

When I was in middle school I used to belong to the community of Ticalc.org. It was the center of what was, as far as I could tell, a thriving scene of hobbyist programmers for Texas Instruments graphing calculators. I had gotten one of these calculators for use in the math classes I was taking at the time, but quickly discovered that you could do significantly more with it than just math. Like most students I knew, I spent some time playing games on them, but I also spent a lot of time learning to program them and how to use them with my home computer.

In retrospect, I wasn’t anywhere close to the guru that I thought I was at the time. I programmed on them using TI-BASIC and never actually took the time to learn Z80 assembly, but I had a good time.

Today I decided to take a look back to the graphing calculator hobbyist community Ticalc.org and found that, while it was still around, it was eerily quiet. Looking back through the archives of the site I have been able to watch its slow decline from the populous place that it once was to what it is today. The mailing lists have died, the newsletter is no longer published, and the Program of the Year awards garner only a fraction of the number of votes that they used to get. The site is no longer what it once was, and this saddens me a little bit. It was a great community full of great people, and while I didn’t post much (I was only able to find one post by me actually), I did a lot of lurking.

It appears that 2006 was the height of the website, and that happens to be right about when I was part of it myself. Looking at the posts that people had made in the community it seems like as everyone got older real life obligations began to get in the way of participating in the community in the same way that they had before. A quote from the related community United-TI (which I was not part of) seems to sum up most of what I have read rather succinctly:

“I must say that all of the original founders of United-TI have moved on to different things. Not only have we all graduated high school in our tenure here, but we all went on and graduated College and have become gainfully employed. Some of us have started families, and most of us work on paid projects for other people, companies, and government agencies. Simply put, we have all left due to life, but it has been a pleasure.” — Justin

It makes me wonder how much of that community was made up of middle school, high school, and undergraduate students. It also begs the question, how many communities do I belong to today that will, with time, fade away as the lives of those who created and belonged to them change? Perhaps in a decade I can revisit this post and look back on what other thriving communities I have been part of over the years have faded away and why.

In the mean time, I’ll be thankful that the communities I am part of today continue to exist and continue to thrive. To any who might be reading this in the United States, I hope you’ve had a good Thanksgiving.

Absurd Quote

Most marijuana smokers are Negroes, Hispanics, jazz musicians, and entertainers. Their satanic music is driven by marijuana, and marijuana smoking by white women makes them want to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others. It is a drug that causes insanity, criminality, and death.

— Harry J. Anslinger

This is absurd.