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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bechdel test and Magic: the Gathering

Warning: Do not treat this post seriously.

Bechdel test is a famous test for female presence in movies, but it can apply just as well to any other work of fiction.

So I had this thought - Wizards of the Coast has pretty good reputation when it comes to gender balance in their storyline, but how well would actual Magic: the Gathering decks do at passing the Bechdel test? So here's the equivalent test for decks:

  • It contains cards representing at least two female characters - creatures, planeswalkers, or spells clearly featuring female characters in name, art, and/or flavor text (multiple cards representing the same character like Chandra, Pyromaster and Flames of the Firebrand only count once); the character does not have to be named or human (but it should generally be some kind of humanoid at least)
  • which interact with each other
  • and the interaction is not about some man (like both counting as devotion to the same male God)
And let's now evaluate a bunch of decks.
The deck is one big sausagefest - all of its creatures are either male or monstrous and of unspecified gender, and their only interaction is being devoted to Erebos, God of the Dead and his Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

The only female presence in the deck is an occasional Pharika's Cure sideboard, but that card doesn't really count since it actually shows Solon, (male) acolyte of Pharika, and even if it did it won't be curing any of course creatures.

Score: Fail. (and its Bg and Bw variants aren't any better)
The central character in the deck is Thassa, God of the Sea, and some of her supporting characters like Tidebinder Mage and Hypnotic Siren are female as well, and between their devotion, and Thassa making them unblockable and helping them with her Bident, interactions are pretty strong.

Score: Pass.
This deck depends on the build. The deck is very light on creatures, and central two characters are Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Jace, Architect of Thought. Other popular characters are Aetherling, Nyx-Fleece Ram, Mutavault - none of them female.

The deck occasionally plays sideboard Archangel of Thune, and Elspeth's ultimate sort of interacts with her, or Archangel's ability can help Elspeth's soldiers (but not Elspeth herself). This could count if Archangel was a common mainboard card, but it feels too weak.

Score: Fail (some builds arguably weak pass).
The deck doesn't feature them directly, but Chandra and Aurelia both feature in art of many cards.

Cards in the deck rarely interact with each other, other than by all burning opponent's face, but Warleader's Helix bringing back Chandra's Phoenix from the grave technically counts. 

Score: Pass.
People were totally obsessed asking if Domri Rade is a boy or a girl, but word of god is that he's a he - it would have made matters simpler if they decided otherwise, since Domri interacts with every creature in your deck, but let's look at the rest of it.

Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix seem female, as far as I can judge plant and centaur anatomy, and Caryatid can tap for mana to cast Courser, which is a fairly weak interaction.

Looking at sideboard, the deck sometimes features Nylea's Disciple, Vraska the Unseen, and Chandra, Pyromaster. Nylea's Disciple interacts with all your green cards via their shared devotion to Nylea, God of the Hunt, and Chandra's synergy with Courser of Kruphix is just amazing.

These interactions aren't very strong or involve SB-only cards, but there's lot of them.

Score: Pass.
This deck is just filled with creatures but except for Thrill-Kill Assassin (also knows as Massacre Girl) none of them are women.

Score: Fail.
The deck features Bassara Tower Archer and Gladecover Scout, but the very point of the deck is that they're hexproof and don't interact with anybody ever. They only make exception for Ajani.

Score: Fail
The deck generally includes Pharika, God of Affliction, and all the creatures in it are devoted to her, and she returns the favour by turning their dead bodies into poisonous snakes... People can be weird like that sometimes.

Some builds try to work without Pharika, and while there are some minor interactions, I'd say they generally fail the test.

Score: Pass (for Pharika builds).


Of decks I checked 4/8 passed. That's honestly a lot more than I expected.

While I was checking various decks another thing became clear - while other colors have decent cast of female characters, black seems to be very heavily male-dominated. Think of it what you will.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Gain more time by consuming media faster

TJ by mag3737 from flickr (CC-NC-SA)
Pretty much everybody spends inordinate amount of time consuming various forms of media. In the era of TV and paper books you had very little choice about the pace at which you can consume the media, and they were designed with low speed so that even people who process things more slowly (like all the old people) could handle it.

Fortunately we moved way past that era, and now you can simply speed things up.
  • For podcasts / audiobooks, your mp3 player (here's one I use) probably already has a function to speed things up. Use it.
  • If it doesn't, or it provides insufficient control, you can also use external utilities to adjust speed. I wrote a really simple one for OSX / Linux. 1.4x speedup is a sensible default for me.
  • For youtube videos, first download them (also saves you all the time waste of youtube UI), then play them in any video player which supports faster playback, like mplayer. For artsy stuff like movies 1.2x is probably the most you want before it starts to derail artistic intend, for informational stuff like news and let's plays 1.4-1.5x is fine.
  • If you want to watch on your phone, there are player for that too. (YMMV here, DicePlayer did some crashing for me, so feel free to recommend any alternatives)
  • Ebooks are typically faster to read than paperbooks due to less physical manipulation necessary.
  • Audiobooks might not be as fast than paperbooks/ebooks, but there's a lot more time a typical day when you can't really read a paperbook or ebook, but can listen to something, which is another way to increase your media consumption speed. Make use of all the commuting / shopping / waiting for tests to finish time. A big problem with that kind of segmented time is that books which were not designed for it might be really difficult to keep track of what's going on, since you're basically reading a few pages at a time. Most podcasts, lectures, and other nonfiction work perfect, as does quite a bit of fiction depending on writing style.
  • If you spend a few hours a week doing low/medium intensity exercise (as recommended by the doctors etc.), it's often possible to setup some audiobook or (for stationary exercises like treadmills) some relevant video to keep your mind engaged. Even if you exercise in the gym and not at home you can probably bring a tablet and wireless headset with you - something which was not realistic even just a couple years ago. It depends on what kind of exercise that is, and if it requires high intensity or high focus just stick to music for your safety. 
  • Speeding up video is straightforward and doesn't cause any issues. Many simpler and older methods for speeding up audio alter its pitch, which takes some getting used to, but is really not a big deal. Mplayer speeds up any audio or video without altering pitch - you'll still hear some distortion at 1.5x or faster speeds.
That's going to save you so much time which you'll be able to use to do amazing things you never had a chance to, right? Well, not quite... You're most likely just find a lot more new fun media to consume instead, ending with as little time as you had before, but once you speed things up going back to "normal" speed is like going back to Internet with ads on it.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Medieval 2 Total War Concentrated Vanilla on github now

Caithlin resting by Finn Frode (DK) from flickr (CC-NC-SA)
I did a bunch of fixes to mod builder:
  • The mod builder searches in a few standard locations for game installation in addition to checking Windows registry
  • included cheri gem manually updated to work with Ruby 1.9/2.0 syntax, so it's now compatible with new versions of JRuby
  • concentrated_vanilla.reg file included so you can tell Steam launcher about the mod even if mod builder doesn't work for some reason
and uploaded it to github together with all the history.

The mod itself didn't change in any way.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Why I'm not voting in the 2014 European Parliament elections

Snow White helps out (2012), 5 by Finn Frode (DK) from flickr (CC-NC-SA)
All the choices are unacceptable, and there's not even a protest vote option.

Pro-euro parties guarantee Eternal Recession

Polish mainstream political establishment (all the way from far-left to center-right) is pro-EU to the degree that everything EU does is thoughtlessly accepted as amazing - and completely ignores all the genuine problems EU suffers from like creation of eurozone and lack of any real democratic accountability.

Euro was the single biggest mistake in the history of EU, and either abolishing euro or replacing ECB with something less disastrous are the only ways EU can ever exit its eternal recession and return to healthy economic growth.

In case you need the background - unlike most other central banks which are changed with keeping the whole economy in good order, European Central Bank has single mandate of "price stability", and by design is meant to ignore everything else about the economy. To make matters worse while "price stability" was traditionally understood to mean core (excluding highly volatile prices like food and energy) inflation of about 2%, ECB reinterpreted it to mean "as close to 0% inflation as possible". The last time core inflation was over 2% was in 2003, so ECB was not doing its job properly long before the crisis, and since then it's been a total disaster.

Such single-minded focus on inflation is a recipe for turning any kind of economic difficulty into an endless recession with ever-increasing debt levels and massive unemployment (which by unemployment hysteresis becomes pretty much permanent), which is exactly what happened.

Regardless of their mandate, all other central banks in the world have some kind of democratic accountability - if they're screwing too hard their mandate will be adjusted or central bankers replaced. This occasionally resulted in politicians intervening in monetary policy directly, so central banks typically balance this with some degree of operational independence, but ECB got the level of independence so extreme that they are completely unaccountable to anybody - it's just a dictatorship by committee deciding the fate of European economy.

Eurozone is also a horrible as an optimal currency area - without local currencies or capital controls capital flows freely between banks of different countries, which would be perfectly fine if some kind of banking union existed. Instead governments of each country implicitly guarantees private debt of all banks within their territory, with even a suggestion of creditor haircut considered a heresy.

This is a recipe for exactly the kind of disasters we've seen during the Great Recession - German banks lend ton of money to banks in eurozone periphery with no regard for risk, then when things got tough periphery countries became accountable for 100% of these risky loans (with their citizens never being consulted on any of that - if there's one thing EU bureaucrats hate the most, it's any kind of genuine democracy), which required massive austerity, which together with massive capital outflows led to the level of economic deterioration which made debts completely impossible to repay.

Any kind of common sense relief - like banking union, fiscal transfers, bond haircuts, accepting higher eurozone inflation, bonds guaranteed by all of eurozone members, letting insolvent banks fall without government guarantees etc. - are all instantly rejected by the EU bureaucracy, and EU bureaucracy has absolute control over eurozone monetary policy, voters be damned.

The only countries which came out relatively well out of recession were ones outside eurozone like Poland and UK, and ones who basically used it to steal money from the periphery countries like Germany did by forcing them to guarantee private banking loans.

And imagine that - half of Polish political parties want Poland to join euro. Even if this recession ends somehow, and so far nothing suggests that it ever will (Japan's lasts over two decades now with no end in sight), current structure of euro pretty much guarantees another, most likely even worse.

It would make some sense in Latvia maybe - 20% unemployment is not so bad compared with Russian tanks, but for Poland adopting euro would be an unrecoverable disaster.

Anti-euro parties are all basically crazy

Between Smoleńsk and Korwin... OK, that was a cheap shot, but the right wing side of Polish politics took a massive turn into crazy direction lately. Even Korwin used to be a useful voice of dissent in early 90s back when he was just a low-government libertarian instead of going basically full neoreaction.

Even ignoring the crazies and the nationalists, the only people who don't think everything about EU  are ones who want to pretty much dismantle the whole thing, and kick out all the foreigners while they're at it.

There's nobody who wants to turn EU into something workable - which at a minimum means ditching euro in its current form, and introducing an order of magnitude more democratic accountability than it currently has.

Does that mean I'm never voting again?

Not really. It makes sense to vote in elections to European Parliament based on policies parties have towards EU issues, since that's what they'll be doing. In national elections, domestic issues matter a lot more.

Not voting is a totally legitimate choice in any elections. When all choices are horrible, and my vote matters very little (since European Parliament has very little power), there's really no point in endorsing one or another of the horrible choices by voting for it.

To double check my decision I took the quiz on Latarnik Wyborczy website - and it seems I disagree with every single political party pretty much equally. Give it a try as well, maybe you care about other matters and don't consider euro or Smoleńsk as nonnegotiable issues like I do.