Category: Geekery

Mayday, Mayday…we are under attack

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This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…we are under attack…main drive is gone…turret number one not responding…Mayday…losing cabin pressure fast…calling anyone…please help…This is Free Trader Beowulf…Mayday….

Got home late tonight and found a package on the front porch.



1, 2, 3


Battlefoam Learns Why Legal Threats Can Be Dangerous

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The Streisand Effect is one possible bad consequence of a legal threat designed to remove content from the internet.

But it's not the only possible bad consequence.

Battlefoam makes storage containers for miniatures used in wargaming. If you don't know what that means already you'll just be irritated if you try to find out, so don't bother. Battlefoam's exec Romeo Filip was angry at some things someone wrote at a site called The Blood of Kittens Network. That site is "devoted to spreading a heritical understanding of the Warhammer 40k universe to neophytes and devotees alike." Again, if you don't know what that means, you very likely don't want to know. Just nod your head and move along.

Anyway, Battlefoam and Filip got some Arizona lawyers to write a very blustery cease and desist letter. It's not the worst cease-and-desist I've ever seen — it does some things to avoid the Streisand Effect, like specifying particular statements that Battlefoam thinks are false — but its language and demands are extravagant. It also offers a short drop-dead date for capitulation.

Lawyers offer short deadlines hoping to convey seriousness and determination. Sometimes it works. Other times, it conveys "there's no point in negotiating with these people."

As followers of The Oatmeal saga will recall, a subject of blustering legal threats need not stay on the defensive; there are offensive options as well. That's exactly the approach Blood of Kittens and its owner, Nicolas Hayden, took. They siezed the initiative and filed a strong declaratory relief action in Northern California, seeking a court determination that the posts about Battlefoam and Filip are protected by the First Amendment. They are being represented pro bono by First Amendment badass Marc Randazza and his colleague Gil Sperlein, also a notable First Amendment practitioner.

Now, unless Battlefoam can get the action dismissed or moved, Blood of Kittens has chosen the forum, the time, and the framework of the litigation, and is represented by two exceptional First Amendment practitioners.

Had Battlefoam's lawyers written a less blustery, less demanding letter, this might not have happened. They could have written a polite but firm letter saying they wanted to discuss resolution of concerns about false statements. They could have avoided purple prose and demands for things they could never get in court. Then Hayden might not have been able to attract two of the nation's best defamation defense attorneys to work for him for free. He might not have attracted anyone to file a declaratory relief suit, and indeed the grounds for such a suit (the clearly presented immediate controversy) might have been unclear.

But Battlefoam's lawyers decided to please their client with a take that type of letter.

Hey guys. Was it worth it?

Edited to add: Thanks to a commenter, I see that Romeo Filip did a podcast yesterday. At about the 60 minute mark he talks at length about the litigation, demonstrating that he doesn't understand declaratory relief, attorney fees, or the law. Plus, in a case in which he says it is defamatory to say he physically assaults critics, he shrewdly jokes (Kind of — I think) about punching critics in the face. Genius. Sheer genius. I presume his attorneys didn't know he was making their job so much more difficult. If he has meritorious claims — if Blood of Kittens posted false statements of fact with the requisite intent — he just significantly reduced his chance of winning. Clients.

Confessions of a 43-Year-Old Gamer

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I have been playing video games since Pong. I learned some rudiments of BASIC on the Commodore 2000 just to program incredibly rudimentary "games." I was video-game-obsessed. It was my main hobby. My father once barked at me "THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN PAC-MAN." (I said something very similar to my son on the streets of Seoul and could hear my father laughing in my head.) I enjoyed video games to the detriment of studies and social relationships.

But . . .

Now I am 43 and married with kids and a job and a mortgage and pick-ups at soccer practice every weeknight and soccer games every weekend and errands and making a gesture towards helping around the house and so forth.

Leaving aside games like Civilization V which I can "finish" by virtue of winning a scenario, I can't remember the last video game I "finished."

Now that time is a much rarer commodity than money, I buy games and barely start them, let alone finish them.

I frequently plan to take a serious shot at a game, only to drift off into idly surfing the internet, or watching Netflix.

Where I used to be intimately familiar with the leading games in my chosen genre (rpgs and Civ-style turn-based strategy), I haven't played most of the "big" games for years.

Increasingly when I look for games, I am looking less for graphics or gameplay, but for a feeling — the feeling games used to give me. That's why I often get the most pleasure not from big-budget heavily-promoted releases, but from obscure indies with 25-year-old graphics.

But my quest may be fruitless. There are many beautiful and innovative and genuinely artistic games coming out, some with improvements on classic gameplay. But it will never again be 1983. I will never again be playing Ultima III on my Apple IIe, windows open to let in a summer breeze smelling of honeysuckle and suntan oil, without a care or responsibility in the world, gasping as I found my way into the treasure trove in Devil's Gulch.

u3chestsScreenshot courtesy of the fabulous CRPG Addict.

Origin of the Pirate Resignation Letter

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As far as I've been able to tell through clever googling in my favorite search engine, the renowned and much beloved Pirate Resignation Letter was written by Chris Castle and delivered to James Bear (deceased), former managing partner of Knobbe, Martens, Olson & Bear, LLP.

After using the letter, Castle shared it with his friend, user "Otter Von Pop" of the (now defunct) forum, and that user posted it on 17 October 2003 both as a forum post and as a Word doc attachment.

Later that morning, Chris Castle, posting as "The Bartender" confirmed the story and reported on the (first ever!) recipient's humorless (or brilliantly funny!) reply.

Harvested from the past and hosted right here on Popehat is that original forum thread:

Original Pirate Resignation Letter Thread

Enjoy this bit of net.history! And if you have anything to add about the people or circumstances, please share what you know in the comments.

UPDATE: There's a new pretender to the helm!

No Shit

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Former Diablo 3 Director Jay Wilson discusses Diablo 3's Auction House

He thought they would help reduce fraud, that they'd provide a wanted service to players, that only a small percentage of players would use it and that the price of items would limit how many were listed and sold.

But he said that once the game went live, Blizzard realized it was completely wrong about those last two points.

No shit.

That, said Wilson, made money a much higher motivator than the game's original motivation to simply kill Diablo, and "damaged item rewards" in the game.



"I think we would turn it off if we could," Wilson said during his talk.

no shit sherlock 2

Blizzard, Wilson said, doesn't want to remove a feature that lots of players will be unhappy to see go. But he did say that the team is working on a viable solution, without giving any other details about what that would be like.

Buy Torchlight 2.

Reddit's Doxxing Paradox

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You might recall that popular social media site Reddit doesn't like doxxing — that is, the public identification of online speakers and revelation of their personal information. Gawker's public identification of vile Reddit creeper and troll Violentacrez was controversial to many Redditors, condemned by Reddit administrators, and has led to some Reddit mods engaging in a long-term ban of links to Gawker media sites.

So — Reddit's culture is strongly against doxxing. Right?

Well — sort of.

Last week, the online community briefly thrilled to the outing of a bad actor — a St. Louis pastor named Alois Bell who wrote a snide and obnoxious message on a receipt to a server at Applebee's. Another server posted the rude receipt — including Bell's legible signature — to Reddit, and the game was afoot — Redditors promptly identified Bell, her tiny storefront church, and her congregation. When Bell doubled down and successfully demanded that Applebee's terminate the waitress, she made herself more famous; Reddit was flooded with threads about her.

So, I have a question for the Reddit community:

Why is identifying Bell acceptable to your community, but identifying Violentacrez unacceptable to your community?

Both engaged in vile behavior. Bell was entitled and nasty to a server (remember what Dave Barry says — someone who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person), and later vengeful to someone less powerful when called publicly on her behavior. Violentacrez was a purveyor of creepshots, racism, and gleeful trolling. Why is it right for Reddit users to identify Bell by name — inflicting real-world consequences on her — but wrong for Gawker to identify Violentacrez, inflicting real-world consequences on him?

Is the idea that Violentacrez' behavior was "only online," and thus somehow qualitatively different? That strikes me as an archaic viewpoint. A startling percentage of modern life is conducted "online," and the view that things that happen "online" are somehow consequence-free or morally neutral strikes me as difficult to defend.

Is the idea that Bell — who acted in public and signed her receipt — had no expectation of privacy, but Violentacres did? Again, I find this unconvincing. Bell probably didn't expect that her credit card receipt would be published — but she acted in a way that allowed it to be. Violentacrez might have hoped that nobody would identify him — but he left the clues and crumbs that led Gawker to him. Both must contend with the truism that people have an urge to identify and shame bad actors.

Is this a mere crass "one of us, one of us" thing? Do Redditors merely feel that members of their community deserve protection, but outsiders do not? Is there an element of contempt for the religious in the mix?

I don't know that there are any easy answers. I don't know that Reddit admins, or the diverse Reddit community, could justify the difference. I've been writing for a long time about how the internet makes a big world like a small town — how the internet can counteract the anonymizing tendencies of a vast, complex society by subjecting the occasional notable miscreant to village-square shaming. It's like getting struck by lightning — there are too many miscreants and too few hours in the day — and we're still grappling with whether it is "fair" or "proportional" or "right." Colorable arguments can be made for or against the phenomenon. But I'm skeptical that Reddit can make colorable arguments that "it's cool when we do this to outsiders, but not cool when outsiders do this to us."


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We have a Facebook page, which like the gym, the kids, the dog, the cat, the taxes, the rent, and Mom (as she never ceases reminding us) we've neglected.

But we're considering reviving it.  The thought is, Facebook may be a good home for other things we've neglected, things that suffer under the weight of Ken's walls of text, things too delicate for Patrick's sarcasm, things that burn under David's glare. Things like this:

Popehat on Facebook

This will be a supplement to the blog, something like an Island of Misfit Toys, in which things that don't quite make it in will be given attention. It will not displace our Twitter feed, which is mostly devoted to announcing new posts, conversations with other twits, and the inevitable schizophrenic battles between Ken and Patrick, each of whom has access to the account and neither of whom pays attention to what the other has written.

Expect the painfully geeky. If you'd like to follow it, search for Popehat on Facebook, and you'll find us.

Better Call Galactus

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Not everyone can take the preposterous and examine it through the lens of the practical. Doing so for comic effect is the The Onion's gig, but those guys are old pros. Larry Niven did it for both comic and scientific effect in "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex", but most of us aren't Larry Niven. (Geek-life brag: I once talked to Larry Niven about that column at a concert of Star Wars music.) Too often the "what would happen if [extraordinary character] encountered [mundane circumstance]" shtick falls flat, like a Usenet flame war or a tiresome Saturday Night Live skit.

That's why it's impressive that attorneys James Daily and Ryan Davidson have pulled it off so flawlessly in the educational and fun "The Law of Superheroes." Their publisher sent Popehat an advance copy.

The book introduced me to the authors' blog Law and the Multiverse, which I shall now follow. The book concerns the same subject: how would the law treat the sorts of things that happens in the comics?

Is Batman a state actor? Does the newest Robin inherit the old Robin's assets or liabilities? For that matter, is Robin liable when Batman goes nuts and kills someone? How, exactly, can you expect to testify wearing a cowl? Are mind-readings admissible? All those buildings that get knocked down — who pays for them? Should the Avengers have a charter with an arbitration clause, and will it be enforceable if they do? What's better, tax-wise, for the Fantastic Four — a corporation or an LLC? And everybody in every Alan Moore comic should be in jail, right?

Those are the sorts of subjects Daily and Davidson tackle. They apply constitutional, criminal, and civil law issues to comic book heroes and villains, from the familiar to the (to me) obscure.

There are so many ways they could have handled this wrong. They could have been too serious about comics and not serious enough about the law, or vice-versa. They could have written the book in to much detail, like a law review article, or too little, like a comic book. They could have assumed too much of their readers' legal acumen, or too little. Instead, they did it just right. "The Law of Superheroes" is both entertaining and informative. People who aren't lawyers or law-geeks will learn something about the law, and lawyers and law-geeks will be thoroughly entertained at the application of familiar principles to comic extravaganzas. (This means, of course, that I disagreed with some of their legal analysis, and thought about how I would have explained it better. The book would have been intolerable had that not been the case.)

I gripe a lot here that the media does a terrible job at explaining the law to the American public. "The Law of Superheroes" shows that it can be done clearly and directly and effectively, even if you are talking about people in tights who have mood issues and talk funny. It's an enjoyable read; I suspect I'll return to it. Recommended.

Get to Know Your Authors: Arch-Nemesese Edition

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The Power Puff Girl Blossom, or possibly Sun Tzu, said "know thine enemy".  It turns out that you can also get to know someone by knowing their enemy.  Or enemies, as the case may be.  Here is a rare peek inside the secret world of Popehat.

Patrick's arch-nemesis is Emperor Grog.  Emperor Grog is a hyper-intelligent male silver back gorilla.  Possesses exceptional strength for a male of the species.  The list of horrors he has perpetrated over the years is too long to detail here, but can be read further at [REDACTED].  Emperor Grog was most recently active in New England.  Intel suggests he was actually there to bring forth [REDACTED]; it is not known how this was prevented.  Grog was not captured and his  current whereabouts are unknown.

Ken is currently lacking a "heavy weight" arch-nemesis.  David suspects the endless string of Gomers who try to take up the mantle are in fact the results of an elaborate prank being played by one of the other authors, likely [REDACTED].

David's arch-nemesis is the idea that Art can only be understood by the few, or is cheapened when accessible by more.   There is some evidence, however, that in fact Time is really pulling the strings.

Grandy – my arch-nemesis is, as ever, physics.  Gravity in particular.

Marian Call is on a Quest

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Marian Call Adventure Quest

Photo by Studio Valette,

A Kickstarter quest! Back in 2010, with help from her many fans, the charmingly geeky Alaskan songstress Marian Call managed to pull off a tour of all 50 states and a dash of Canada. In the wake of her album Something Fierce, Marian is now aiming to play Europe.

She has the music. She has the armor and weaponry. She has the kickstarter video (see below).  She has the adorably dorky Adventure Quest game by means of which the supporters of her kickstarter may unlock cities across Europe (i.e., bring her to them to play). She has a FAQ. She even has the publicly accessible thumbnail budget, whereby she establishes herself as the most open administration in history.

All she needs is support! The initial kickstarter amount takes her, and her guitarist, to England and Wales. Resources above that level unlock other countries, as shown on the game's map. Especially if you're a Popehat reader in Europe and a fan of Marian's work, please follow the links and see whether you'd like to play her game: (The kickstarter) (The game, rulebook, loot inventory, and adventuring opportunities)

Longtime readers of Popehat may recall my coverage of Marian's music– especially her lyrics– here (shallow) and here (deep).  I'll be supporting her quest, even though it means sending her far, far away to gives shows I won't attend. If you like her way of making, funding, spreading, and sharing art, then I invite you to join me!


Click to envidify!

June 28, 2012: History In The Making

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On February 12, 1999, physicist and cyberethicist Robert Newsome (Ph.D., D.Sci.) measured the amount of internet rage, channeled through email, listservs, and websites, on the day of Bill Clinton's impeachment acquittal. Dr. Newsome quantified the total internet-expended rage of that day as one KHAN. (The measurement is always expressed in full capital letters).

Since 1999, the KHAN measure has been exceeded on a number of occasions, most notably December 12, 2000, the day the United States Supreme Court decided to reverse a lower court in Florida in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 121 S. Ct. 525, 148 L. Ed. 2d 388 (2000).

It was on that day that Dr. Newsome was forced to revise his scale to accommodate the growth of the internet, as well as the breakdown of social inhibition caused by prolonged internet usage, to record the world's first GENGHISKHAN.  A GENGHISKHAN, according to Newsome, is exactly One Godzillion KHANs of internet rage.  Dr. Newsome's team measured the aftershocks of Bush v. Gore at approximately 1.4 GENGHISKHANs.

Our correspondent Ezra sat down recently with Dr. Newsome, who is on sabbatical at the University of California Berkeley, to discuss his work and predictions for the future of internet-based rage.  He was kind enough to share this interview for publication:


Coming Up: My First Podcast Interview

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I just got off the phone with Eric Kimball from the Webcomic Newscast, who interviewed me about the Oatmeal v. FunnyJunk saga. Eric is a good interviewer, and we talked about the Streisand Effect and how to avoid it, the etiquette of cease and desist letters, the promise of anti-SLAPP statutes, and what interested citizens can do to promote free speech. My favorite moment: not knowing how family-friendly the podcast is meant to be, I decided on the fly to refer to the Greater Internet Fellow Theory.

So: if you ever wanted to confirm your suspicion that I sound like Kermit the Frog on a nachos-and-Lortab binge, this is your shot. I'll drop a note when it's scheduled for release, hopefully later this week.

Your Friday Afternoon Brings A Smile To Robert Heinlein's Ghost

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One hesitates to suggest that there could be a good higher than threatening to bomb one's political opponents, but human survival off this planet, indeed, human expansion into and conquest of the galaxy, may be one of those things.

As I type this, the SpaceX Dragon capsule has just docked with the International Space Station.  And you can watch it on the internet.

This is one small step for free enterprise, one giant leap for mankind.  The government won't ensure that humans escape this planet before the comet hits, giant tsunamis strike, the core reverses polarity, or the Daleks arrive.  The government couldn't find a clue if Colonel Mustard was appointed head of Homeland Security.

Private enterprise will save us, even if it has to destroy the earth to do so.

Icelandic Parliamentarian Moves For Protection Of Elves; Dwarves Outraged

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According to the Iceland Review, Icelandic MP Árni Johnsen has taken steps to protect a family of elves by relocating a thirty ton boulder. Johnsen explained that the boulder was home to three generations of living elves.

It appears that Johnsen, of the Icelandic Independence Party, was not motivated by purely altruistic purposes. A source revealed to the Review that in 2010 Johnsen was involved in a single car auto accident, in which the MP's vehicle was destroyed. Johnsen, however, escaped from the collision unscathed. It is speculated that Johnsen's miraculous survival, from an accident which would have killed most men, was the work of elven magic. According to the Review, while Johnsen admits that a number of elves, "from all neighboring settlements", were present in the aftermath of the accident, the parliamentarian claims that his salvation was solely attributable to the intervention of one Ragnhildur, a previously unknown entity which Johnsen described, in conflicting statements, as  a "large being" (a term taken by many outsiders to refer to a minor god of the old Norse pantheon), and, after controversy arose, a purely benevolent "protecting spirit".

Despite Johnsen's efforts to portray what many believe to be the extension of unfair privileges to the Icelandic Elf community as an act of goodwill, many outside observers were unconvinced, noting that Ragnhildur, the Norse godling or protective spirit, goes unmentioned in all but two of the Icelandic sagas, and is relegated to a mere footnote on page 542 of Edith Hamilton's Mythology.

Authorities on Icelandic politics say that while it is not unusual for legislators and executive officials to have dealings with elves, Johnsen's efforts on behalf of the Old People, such as  moving a thirty ton boulder for the sole benefit of one elvish family, are extreme even by Icelandic standards. At present Johnsen is not under official investigation for what even his supporters admit has the appearance of elvish favoritism, but many outside the government speculate that pressure from Iceland's dwarves and trolls will lead to such a probe as parliamentary election season approaches.

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"THE TIME WOULD BE EASY TO KNOW, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom."

As is often the case, the game sounds more enjoyable than the reality.