Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Who is Aunt Lawrence?

This is (a photo of) a black and white photo, circa 1880-1890, of what is probably a color oil painting dating from that era or earlier--I'd guess earlier due to the clothing--and on the back is written "Aunt Lawrence". I post it online in the hope that it will get indexed and recognized, because maybe someone still has the painting. (I've tried Google's reverse image search.)

The photo is in a collection from George L. Underwood (1831-1920), my 4xG uncle, who was a photographer, and I'm certain it's from his wife's family. His wife was Katherine (Kate, Catherine) Luyster Underwood, 1835-1911?, born Kate Lawrence Luyster. Her paternal grandmother was Catherine W. Lawrence, 1763-1855. CWL's father was William Lawrence, 1729-1794, who was married to Anna Brinckerhoff, 1733-1770, and one of GLU's children, Ethel, gets her middle name from Anna (her 2xG grandmother).

Even with the help of Ancestry.com, I cannot currently determine who "Aunt Lawrence" is exactly.

GLU's line died out in 1977, when the second of GLU's two grandchildren died, although the photos had been in a closer branch of my family due to what appears to be the implosion of GLU's family around 1888-9.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

ESO Trade Guilds

I'm currently doing some interview-survey work on large trade guilds in The Elder Scrolls Online, and it is only working thanks to the awesomeness of the guild leaders I have approached digitally so far. I'm pinging 2-3 each week, and so far so good.

Some work in the past suggested that guilds of about 35 members were the maximum sustainable size in an MMO (specifically, this work was from WoW), but with ESO trade guilds we quite often see 400-500 members sustained over time. (500 is the maximum number of accounts allowed in a guild, ESO does guild membership differently, I have a paper in-progress about that too.)

So, how are guild leaders building and maintaining such large groups over time? Can these lessons be applied more broadly?

If you have played ESO, you'll be familiar with guild recruiting messages in general/zone chat, and a lot of them mention a few common elements, like weekly minimums or fees, events, auctions or raffles, or an inactive policy. Poking around on the web in various places you can get a bit more data about these methods, but I need to actually see what the guild leaders think about it all.

Guild leaders are usually busy enough as it is--running the guild, auctions, bidding on their favorite trader, and maybe actually having time to play the game!--so I feel badly bugging people for their help, but thankfully people often like talking about the things they like, and guild leaders for a guild of 400-500 people had better like it or else they wouldn't be doing it!

I don't play ESO anymore, well not currently. I love the TES single player series, though. ESO is amazingly beautiful, and vast--so vast I felt fairly lost for a while (if you are a long time player, I joined after One Tamriel, if you aren't, the world was leveled like in WoW and EQ2 but they did away with that). I had a hard time accepting dolmen farming/grinding, since that is not at all like in TES, but it makes sense in an MMO and I certainly did it for my 2nd and 3rd characters. I also, in TES, usually made a sneaking ranger-type character (sneak, medium armor, some sword and board, some magic, maybe a bow but aiming in TES is serious business), but sneaking the way it is in TES is completely gone in ESO. You sneak into a delve (small public dungeon), and there are a half dozen other characters in there running around and pulling everything and trains back up to the door until they leash. However, the game certainly does a lot of things right, although some players I've spoken too feel it is too monetized recently.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

PAX Game Writeup List

PAX East 2018 was great fun! Dice (plastic, stone, wood), wooden gaming tables, indie games, big names, tons of non-digital games, t-shirts, hats, plushies, other collectables, a string quartet, eSports, cosplay, just awesome.

I like the indie games, and snagged a few photos and cards for a few. I thought I'd make a post with them for others to see. Some of these might not be overly indie, depends on how you want to define that, but they looked interesting to me (one is definitely not indie). Many are on Steam, some are still in development. I played one that was still in alpha and couldn't figure out how to feed the goats. Here are the ones I noted, in alphabetical order. Alas, some are Windows-only but not like I code actual apps, so, I don't expect every little dev house to make the same thing across massively different platforms. I don't guarantee I got all the OS/platforms correct.

I'm not sure I'll have the time to add visuals to each of these, but keep in mind it was how the games looked that drew me in each time.

Action Squad (Killhouse Games)
     Ok maybe it's "Doorkickers: Action Squad". Steam: Windows.

Airships: Conquer the Skies (Zarkonnen/David Stark)
     Airships! Steampunk! On Steam: Windows, OSX.

Anamorphine (Artifact5)
     Looks beautiful. Landscape as emotion. Steam: Windows, PS, Oculus...

Ancestors Legacy (Destructive Creations / 1C Company)
     Vikings! Squad based. Steam: Windows, XB1

Below (Capybara Games)
     Well, cutest company logo winner. Game looks cool too. XB1

Deep Sky Derelicts (Snowhound / 1C Company)
     No idea, but I love the art, reminds me of an ancient story from Heavy Metal Magazine. Steam: Windows.

Graveyard Keeper (Lazy Bear / Tiny Build)
     MUST HAVE. Steam: Windows, OSX, SteamOS, XB1.
     (They also make Pathologic2 which looked cool. Steam: Windows.)

Omensight (Spearhead Games)
     Cool graphics! Steam: Windows, PS4

Phantom Doctrine (Good Shepard)
     Reminds me of a Tom Clancy game I liked on the Xbox360. Steam: Windows.

Projection (Blowfish / Shadowplay)
     Looks VERY COOL. "Projection: First Light follows the adventures of Greta, a girl living in a mythological shadow puppet world..." Steam: Windows and consoles.

Qube2 (Toxic Games)
     The graphics look cool. Steam: Windows, XB1, PS4.

Semblance (Good Shepherd / Nyamakop)
     Cool graphics, cool physics. Windows, OSX, Switch. (Not Steam?)

The Shrouded Isle: Sunken Sins (Kitfox Games)
     Ok I guess Sunken Sins is DLC for the game, but it looked cool, Lovecraftian. Steam: Windows, OSX.

The Stillness of the Wind (Surprise Attack)
     Wow, the art! Story-based, I think. I actually played some. Steam: Windows, OSX.

Addendum: People have also mentioned...
Boyfriend Dungeon (Kitfox)
Stay (Appnormals / PQube)

Friday, April 6, 2018

Game Homage: Star Wars in Stellaris

People love to play with things, including culture, so we play games and in them we play with culture, especially cultural objects and references we like. I love pointing out in-game homage, here are two from Stellaris.

First, a system named Lando, I'm guessing after Lando Calrissian, from Star Wars.

Next, a quote from the original film (now rebranded as Episode IV), a "hive of scum and villainy," famous word uttered by Obi Wan Kenobi.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Facebook and Cambridge Analytical Screwed Up, But Not How You Think

Facebook: Open for Advertising, Open for Business
There’s a huge kerfuffle over the recent revelation that Cambridge Analytica, a political research and advertising firm, used data from millions of Facebook accounts in order to build behavioral profiles and then, using those profiling models, advertise to people and manipulate their voting behavior.

People are upset over this, but, it’s not for the reasons that most people are talking about, that is, it isn’t that either Facebook or Cambridge Analytica behaved unethically. They didn’t. They behaved exactly as they were supposed to. The mistake they made was that Facebook users were reminded of how it all works.

What do I mean?

Let’s back up a minute, and look at both Facebook’s business model and also how advertising works.

Facebook is a social networking site, where you can connect with lots of people. That’s not a business model—there is no mention of how the rent is paid (salaries, their giant electrical bill, money to buy new servers and replace old ones). The business model is actually a very old one, one that’s been around for decades: advertising. As any old-school American television scholar will tell you, “If the product is free, you are the product.” This has been true for broadcast television and radio for decades. But as television offerings and the idea of “radio” have complexified, the idea “over-the-air” broadcasting has been somewhat forgotten: many people get their local, i.e., broadcast, television via cable, satellite, or the internet. The local airwave component is not part of that picture even though it’s still there.

The advertising industry, for decades, has wanted perfect consumer profiles for each and every individual. This way they can advertise to you perfectly. “Advertise” is just a polite word for manipulate. Yes, manipulate. Not influence, not coerce, but manipulate. It’s behavioral propaganda. Credit card data and frequent shopper cards were a good start, but the internet, once it reached the right scale, was a bonanza of behavioral data. With big data capabilities, perfect advertising may finally be within reach.

Most advertising that we think about is consumer-based, trying to get you to buy a product. Yes, you, buy this. That’s the idea. It is that basic. And political advertising is exactly the same: behavioral acceptance of a product. But in this case, your behavior is voting, not buying, and the product is a politician, not a good or service (that could be argued but doesn’t matter). It’s the same: advertisements try to manipulate your behavior to the advertiser’s desired outcome.

There is one other important aspect to advertising: that you not think about the advertising. And that’s where the failure is for Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. When you think about the advertising and how it really works, you realize you are the product. If you realize your vote, which is supposed to be sacrosanct, can be manipulated, then it throws into question what you might want to think about democracy and free will. (If you do not live in a democracy, this explanation probably seems short-sighted.) Capitalism is triumphing over democracy, and it’s not supposed to be that way.

Except, it is. Facebook thrives on a user-based advertising model where you are the product. All of your data and access to you is sold to advertisers, or, if Facebook can keep your data, Facebook itself can make all the behavioral models and then sell access to you (the advertisers will still need to make the “right” advertisements, but Facebook will provide the “right” people). Advertising works by showing you what will manipulate you into the desired behavior, be it buying or voting—they’re the same, it’s just a selection on your part.

Facebook will continue to make its service available for free to users, and can do so because the users are the product. Again, this is not new. Facebook sells access to its users to advertisers with precision targeting because Facebook has so much data about your behaviors and preferences, and although there are other financial models this is the one Facebook is currently using. Advertisers try to manipulate your preferences and behaviors based on your past preferences and behaviors.

None of this is new. (Suddenly, my media studies degree is looking pretty hot!)

Where they screwed up was that users remembered that they, the users, were the product, and that they, the users, were the subject of manipulation in the political domain where an individual’s voting preference is supposed to be pristine, determined solely by the voter, beyond manipulation and not for sale. Except, that isn’t true. Just most of the time we don’t want to think about it.

Addendum 1: Google's business model is also advertising.
Addendum 2: Zuckerberg's first website.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Google Search and Coffee

Google search, via Google Maps, gives some bizarre results for "coffee", as you can see with these three result sets. (And now Blogger is being horrible with layout, yes, I know, Medium or something, but I started this blog a long time ago, switching costs.)

Here the search is just "coffee", so, obviously looking for somewhere to get coffee (perhaps in liquid form). You see Starbucks, which I am not a fan of, and at this zoom level there is one other name that is showing and a few results where the name of the location isn't shown.

I want something without Starbucks (which is the next search), but also note there is nothing showing in the triangle made by those roads there in the middle/left.

So, the same search, with "-starbucks" which should, I have been told, exclude Starbucks. Except it didn't do that -- it removed all results but one. Although I hadn't zoomed in on that previous search, I can tell you that not all the results were Starbucks. We know at least one result, on the left, was for "Pavement Coffeehouse", which is not a Starbucks. This search result is completely incorrect and thus rather useless. Notice there are still no results in the triangle space there in the middle/left.
So maybe you were wondering, "This is Boston, where are the Dunkin' Donuts!" Good question. Google wasn't showing them, despite Google's description of DD: "Chain known for donuts & coffee". So, right there, AND COFFEE. Yet DD is not a Google Maps result for "coffee", as shown above. (Although the pin shows a fork and knife, not a cup and saucer.)

So, what is going on?

  1. Google appears to have not associated "coffee" with Dunkin' Donuts, which is wrong.
  2. Google seems to think that "-starbucks" means "get rid of all results for things Google thinks are like starbucks", which is also just wrong.
In conclusion, you can't use Google Maps to search accurately for coffee.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Post at Esoteric Gaming

Exciting news, Mark Chen just rolled out the second issue of Esoteric Gaming (along with his team, of which I am proud to say I am one), and I have a piece on EQ2, multi-boxing, and the prison server! Super cool, and all the articles are well-worth reading. You could head over there now!

The articles in the second issue are:

I love the Minecraft/Portal mashup there in that one title.