Wow, I haven’t posted here in… like forever. Let’s do a little update.

Vacation. We went on the (now traditional) Texel holiday at the start of October. It was good to get away from it all for a longer time — we hadn’t had any summer vacation after all. The weather was not that good, but most days there were some dry periods so we did get to go outside (and to the beach!) almost every day. One day the weather held up, and we took a long hike over the beach and back through the dunes (which are a national park).
Going out to eat was weird, but kind-of okay. Disinfecting hands at the entrance, being seated away from others… It was probably ok? But some restaurants didn’t want to bother doing all the checks and didn’t want groups larger than two. Most stores were doing well with the COVID-19 measures too, but there was one store where the owner basically told us he didn’t care at all. We wished him well and disinfected our hands thoroughly when we left.

COVID-19. But meanwhile, the number of cases has been skyrocketing here in the country. The “hands-off” approach and lack of stern measures gave the predicted effect, and we’re back in the stage with strong measures — probably stronger than before. But of course some people are being idiots about it, so the measures were made even sterner in response.
I cancelled a face-to-face RPG session with local players, and some of the reactions I got were… not good. Not very motivating. We’ll see what happens with that going forward.

Work. So that also means that I’m still working from home, which suits me fine. (And my boss tested positive for COVID-19 a week ago, and I’m glad we haven’t had any face-to-face contact recently…) I’m getting more and more into my role, and I’m enjoying it. Colleagues are friendly and helpful, and I’m starting to understand more and more of the product and our market(s).
I also heard that one former colleague, who got fired in the same reorg as I did, will start in his new job on Nov 2nd. Really happy for him!

Gaming. I don’t think I’ve skipped a single day in Animal Crossing ever since it came out on March 20th. That’s half a year now… But we’re basically in a ‘maintaining pattern’, and we’re not undertaking any large-scale renovations. There are a lot of things I don’t really care about, such as getting all of the bugs and fishes for our museum, and I’ve stopped putting time into that. But I still want to get all the photos of all the villagers — and once we both have the photo, the villager can be rotated out for someone new. Yes, we have a spreadsheet to keep track.
As I wrote earlier, I’ve gotten really deep into Dauntless. It’s a lot of fun and kind of relaxing to queue up a hunt, spend about 15 minutes furiously hacking away at a virtual monster and then be done. I’ve put some money into it (it’s free-to-play so I didn’t have to) to get more load-out slots etc. It’s entertaining, and the makers deserve to get some compensation for that.
We also played through the demo of the remake of Pikmin 3. A lot of fun to discover the game together — I might just get it. We also tried out the co-op play, but that was confusing so we gave up on that very quickly.

RPGs. It’s been hard to get into the mindspace to work on my second D&D scenario. But I’m still running two groups through it, and it got better because of that. Maybe I’ll do some more writing this weekend.
I ran the ‘free RPG day’ scenario ‘Pellenicky Glade’ for the Root RPG, based on the boardgame. It was fun, but I was not impressed with the combat system. And someone chose the ‘mad arsonist’ playbook, so it ended like you’d expect. I rushed the ending too, because we were running out of time and I didn’t think the situation warranted a third session. It was a lot of fun, but I’m not sure I want to get the full game.
I’m reading through “Against the Darkmaster”, a modern variant of Rolemaster, the first RPG I ever played and that I love, warts and all. “Vs. Darkmaster” should give a smoother play experience with some modern subsystems added to it. Would perhaps be fun to run an old Middle-Earth RPG module with this ruleset to see how it compares.

The New Normal

We’re starting to get to grips with our new normal. On one hand, it’s been easy on me, but I also miss certain parts of my routine that I do not have an equivalent for at home. I only live ten minutes away from the office, but that bicycle ride back and forth always gave me the chance to clear my head, get out of ‘work mode’ and into ‘home mode’. That’s now missing, and it’s been taking its toll on me. I’m very sure I’m not unique in that, and I need to develop some kind of ‘ritual’ to set my mind.

Animal Crossing continues to be a delight. All decisions about the setup of our island are made by the both of us. Like always, we always agree on what the next step is. We’re going for a park-like environment, with lots of (fruit-)trees and flowers. We also installed an outdoor bath (though sadly you can’t get in it — missed chance here, game!). Apparently you can get up to ten animal inhabitants on your island, but it’s already pretty full with the five we have. There’d be no place for all our trees if you get that many houses!
And yes, we did get the online option for the Switch. The family membership is not that expensive, and we’ve had lots of fun playing together with friends. Visiting their islands, showing off ours, and exchanging materials for crafting and sending those along has proven itself to be a lot of fun.

At work, we’re trying to keep being social and feeling connected. The company Teams and Slack channels are used extensively for this. One group has a daily challenge: show your pet (or the pet you wished you had), show your nerdiest T-shirt, etc. One day, the challenge was to show your favourite book — and of course my favourite book is the one I wrote: my D&D scenario! Immediately, I got interested reactions. And so I’m going to run the scenario for six players (spread across four countries), and four had never played before! I’m really looking forward to it.
And with people having more time on their hands, online RPG’ing is really taking off. I’ve played in a two-session game of the Dragon Age RPG with a group I used to play with a lot. But then we kind-of drifted apart what with the demands of work and family — but now people have time to game again!

So far, we’ve been adjusting pretty well, but even for complete homebodies like us, we still had to adjust. And I’m not sure we’re all done with adjusting just yet.

Social distancing

I’ve read people stating that it should be called “physical distancing” because we’re keeping our physical distance but keep being social. But you’d also say that we’re distancing ourselves but in a social way…

Anyway, I’ve been working from home for more than a week now. Last week Thursday the Dutch government, in a rare moment of vision and statemanship advised people to work from home. This was late in the afternoon, but the next day our whole team was working from home. The team in Denmark had been at home for a few days before.
It’s been relatively painless. I work for an international software company, and we’re already used to remote cooperation. My boss is in Germany, a direct colleague is in Denmark, the programming team in Russia — for them, it doesn’t really matter whether I do the video-call from the office or from home. And we have a terrific home office: I have an electrically adjustable desk, so I can either stand or sit, and my deskchair at home is better than the one I have at the office.

And I love it: I love having lunch with my partner, I love being able to give the cats headscritches, and I love having all my stuff at hand. There’s not much time savings for me for not going into the office: it’s only 10 minutes by bicycle, so that doesn’t matter much. I love being able to focus on my work.

Another thing I love is how everything is moving online and the creativity that brings. People are finding new ways to work together, to teach, to learn, to be social. Meetups I would not be able to attend because of the travel involved are now becoming viable for me to attend.
And I wonder what this will mean for the future of the way we work and socialize. Now that we will learn that remote work is a viable long-term solution, how will that affect the way work is organised?
Teachers and nurses and delivery people got the short end of the stick in regards of salary and job prestige — but right now they are heroes. How will public opinion have changed when this is over? Will people realise that emergency socialism could become everyday socialism if we chose that?
Things could change for the better — the opportunity is there.

“Fun” spaces

One thing that I noticed with most streamers with a large audience that I watch (mainly CohhCarnage, Sacriel and P4wnyhof) is that they have a rule to not engage with “politics” on their channel, because they want their stream to be a “fun space” that we can get away from all of the stuff that’s happening outside of our door. And I get that — you’re providing entertainment, you don’t want to set off a flame-war in your chat. And for professional streamers, your income is also dependent on the continued support from your community: every month, your subscribers can decide to take their support elsewhere. So you don’t want to be too controversial, I guess.
But refusing to talk about politics is a political stance in itself. It normalises (and therefore reinforces) the status quo. And that makes it automatically less inclusive, because the current state of things is far from balanced. That is extra problematic when you look at the streamer demographics: most are white males in their 30’s — a most privileged group. It makes sense: streaming equipment doesn’t come cheap, and you have to be in a place with a great internet connection too. And in the case of people trying to make it as a professional streamer, you also need a support network — you need time to grow your community, during which period you won’t earn any income off of it. Only people who are already nicely set up can do so.

So they’re all in their bubble of privilege, and if they are aware of the plight of others, they make a point of not making a point out of it — because it’s not “fun”. That reasoning is also used as a weapon to exclude others. “I don’t want gays in my entertainment, I’m just here to have fun, not to get all political!” is one of the things that were commented when Paizo introduced homosexual NPCs in some of their modules. In other words, this commenter doesn’t want non-heterosexual people to be in that space and enjoy the same things they enjoy. It’s used to exclude people, and if you want to discuss this (or even mention it), you are accused of bringing in “politics” into a “fun space” — it could even get you banned!
This is also how people who have suffered abuse are punished by bringing it up: they are harshing the mellow of the “fun space”! But if you have an abuser in your space, then that is the problem, not that someone is pointing it out. Alas, it seems that not everyone has realised that fact.
I’ve had a shitty white dude (somehow, the shitty people in this context are always white and always male) shout at me because, while he was ok with a world literally created by the dreams of dragons, having a female mayor for a farming village was somehow “unrealistic”. If you’re ok with fantasy but somehow not ok with gender equality, then realism is not the problem there…

When someone mentioned the repeal of the 8th amendment in Ireland, CohhCarnage told his audience that he definitely had an opinion, but that he was not going to share it on stream, because it is so “political”. And sure enough, abortion is of course a hot-button issue for a lot of people. Do you really want an 11.000-person flamewar in your chat?
On the other hand, he could have just answered the question that was posed to him. Because in his channel, he is in a position of power, and he had a chance to speak out to his viewers, and thereby move hearts and minds into the right direction. And he didn’t take that opportunity. None of those big-name streamers do.

That disappoints me. It really does. I think a position of privilege gives you the moral obligation to try and be more inclusive. It is certainly something I keep in mind when deciding who and how to support the streamers whose content I enjoy.

Now, don’t get me wrong: none of these streamers will tolerate bigotry on their channels. Racial slurs, homophobia and other things that bring other people down will get you banned in their channels. I’m not saying they are bad people — they are not. It’s just that they actively dodge the chance to make a positive difference.
Luckily, there are also streamers that are explicitly inclusive — but their audience is a lot smaller. Take for instance AdamKoebel: he is explicitly queer and advocates for minorities at every chance he gets. But he has 40.000 followers, and CohhCarnage 962.000… There is a definite difference in impact.

(OK, this has turned into more of a partially-coherent rant than I had intended, but this is all that I have to say at the moment.)

Most of you probably don’t know who Frank Mentzer is. He’s one of the original old-school writers for D&D, and thus is somewhat of a celebrity in RPG circles. He currently has a Kickstarter running for a setting he’s going to write.

And he is a Weinstein-level creep, as you can read in this Twitter thread.

The pattern is familiar: a white man is using his credits in an industry (RPG in Mentzer’s case, movies in Weinstein’s) to pressure and intimidate victims of his sexual assaults and harassments into silence. The old “I’ll make sure you never work in this industry again!” ploy. And it’s not simply hollow threats (in general): 75% of the victims of sexual assault in a corporate context face retaliations for reporting, while the perpetrator gets away clean. So it’s quite brave for victims to speak out about what has happened to them, and as bystanders we are required to undertake appropriate action.

Everything is political, and your entertainment choices matter: they help shape the culture and the world we live in. If you continue to spend money on things that Weinstein or Mentzer did and do, you are maintaining their power in their respective spaces. You are helping them to be in the position to credibly threaten people into silence. You are directly helping them to sexually assault other people. You just can’t separate the person from their work.

As a white man working in technology, the lack of diversity in our companies is of immediate concern to me. And I know that there are ‘bro-grammers’ who seem to think women aren’t fit to work in tech, and I just don’t want to engage with idiocy like that.
Normally I wouldn’t even write an entry about it, but today I found this excellent post which expresses my exact sentiments with such clarity.

Top highlight:

By the way, if you are one of those people who still thinks that the memo was “perfectly reasonable” or “made some good points”, and we know each other, please get in touch so that I can re-evaluate our relationship.

There will be no law made in the US to curb gun possession — that genie is out of the bottle, and nobody can get it back in. Americans love their guns, and the “legend of the gunslinger” is so strong that anything that goes against that will be summarily rejected. But it is exactly that ‘legend’ that gives rise to these shooting sprees. For some reason, the US, as a country, does not succeed in keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally instable.

Here’s a great proposal to change gun culture: make the NRA’s rules for responsible gun ownership into law. Surely they can’t object to this — and surely responsible gun owners won’t get hit with these laws because they follow these rules all the time already, right? Following those rules would not have prevented all the shootings, but it would have made it possible to go after some people who facilitated them. Giving a gun to your mentally unstable son, who then proceeds to shoot up his school? Under current law, you go free. Under the NRA laws, you’re complicit…
Those laws might change gun culture, and that may make shooting sprees less common.

It makes an awful lot of sense. I think it would be a great idea. And that’s probably why it won’t happen.

Clever restaurant trick

We went into the city centre of Den Bosch today, to do some shopping and to enjoy a stroll through a beautiful city in the nice weather we’re having this weekend. We walked past a small restaurant, and I saw a really clever trick they had.

They had very small lockers in the entrance, each outfitted with a wall socket. You could charge your phone there while you dined! Obviously you would have to keep it locked up, because they are directly accessible from the street…
That means that you won’t be using your phone in the restaurant, but you’ll have a full charge when you leave. A very clever way to offer an incentive for getting those phones off the dinner tables!

I haven’t read the book myself, but I read a review of Reamde by Neil Stephenson. One of the commenters said that he likes SF and that he selected the book because of that, but that it felt more like a modern thriller in the vein of Tom Clancy.

This is because reality has overtaken cyberpunk, and all novels that deal with information-as-a-commodity, with the growing gap between haves and have-nots and with networks/systems of information (in my mind key characteristics of cyberpunk) — they don’t need SF components anymore. Everything is already here. You do not need to invent technology to tell a cyberpunk story anymore.

William Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition”, published in 2005, posits technology that allows one to ‘see’ virtual objects at a certain place, determined by GPS coordinates. He describes mobile computers and video googles. And then GPS-enabled smartphones happened, and stuff like Layar implemented that precise technology, except less bulky.
His latest, “Zero History”, published last year, is also a very cyberpunk story, but it does not have to invent any new technology in order to tell the story. There are a few unlikely things thrown in (such as The Ugliest Shirt), but it’s not a whole new technology that’s needed for the plot.
It is also interesting that “Pattern Recognition” is the first book in a trilogy, with “Zero History” the last. One of the characters indeed remarks how her iPhone now does what she previously needed all that specialty equipment for.

So basically, we are living in an SF story. Specifically, a cyberpunk story. Not in the “Neuromancer”-sense, but in the sense that most of the concepts in cyberpunk have become reality in one way or the other. (And “Neuromancer”, which was published in 1986, does not have cell phones. Some younger readers think that’s a major plot point, but it is merely because there were no cell phones back then, and Gibson had not thought about then.)
No, we don’t have brain implants to ‘jack in’ to computers, but we do have brain implants that allow a blind person to see or a deaf person to hear. We have augmented reality in the form of smartphones or even Google Glass. It’s just that we understand these technologies, and that takes away the ‘magic’ of SF. Cyberpunk has indeed become a genre of the modern thriller.

I only wish that certain other aspects of cyberpunk had not become a reality too, such as the ubiquitous surveillance, the increased power of corporations and the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

This evening is Sinterklaasavond, St. Nicholas eve, a traditional festivity in the Netherlands when children get presents. Sinterklaas is accompanied by a group of helpers, “Black Pete”. And in the past months, there’s been quite the kerfuffle about Black Pete: some people pointed out that the figure of Black Pete has racist roots — racism that persists to today. Other people had a knee-jerk reaction and denied there’s any racism, and concluded that if a person of color has a problem with Black Pete, they should go back to their own country.

It is undeniable that Black Pete does have roots in racism. The figure of Black Pete is depicted like the African slaves that rich people held, clothed in the colorful garb in the colors of their masters. But historically, St. Nicholas bought a slave and gave him his freedom, and the ex-slave decided to stay with him as his servant. Some of the lyrics of the Sinterklaas songs are also… problematic.

This is a real problem, and I fully understand that people of color have a problem with white people dressing up as African slaves for a children’s festivity.
And the problem does not go away by denying there is a problem. The problem does not go away by inviting everyone who identifies the problem to leave the country. The problem does not go away by pointing to people of color who have no problems with Black Pete. The problem does not go away by saying that the figure of Black Pete is not intended to be racist.

There’s a good analysis of the question here.

I really like the Sinterklaas tradition. I have fond memories of it, and we celebrate the holiday almost every year (though we do it on Christmas, because then my sister can take days off from her work to visit the Netherlands). Simply abolishing Sinterklaas is unacceptable to the majority of the Dutch — it’s a unique Dutch celebration, and we want to keep it. (But no-one who has given the matter some thought is suggesting that.)
But it is clear (at least to me) that something needs to be done. Listening to the Black Pete apologists did not make me feel proud of my fellow countrymen. The facts are simple and clear: Black Pete has roots in racism, and we should look for ways to take the racism out of Sinterklaas.

I do not have a ready-made solution, unfortunately. But I do wish to point out that there’s a very easy way to change Black Pete into something else entirely within, say, four years.
Children become away of Sinterklaas at, say, two years of age. And by the time they turn six, they are let in on the secret. That gives a ‘generation’ of four years, from beginning to end. That’s pretty short, so any change you make in the mythology of Sinterklaas can become canon within that period. And from then on, you can use the new mythology, because the target audience doesn’t know anything else.
Dutch public broadcasting has been doing a ‘Sinterklaas news show’ every day in the run-up to Sinterklaas, for a few years now. They feature the ‘official’ Sinterklaas (the one in the televised arrival of Sinterklaas in the country) and his ‘official’ Petes. Every year, some kind of complication is scripted to ramp up the excitement (sometimes to the exasperation of parents whose children become unmanagable due to ‘Sint-stress’). And so whatever they script, that’s the truth for all children in the Netherlands.

I would propose that the Dutch public broadcasting invites the relevant parties for a broad discussion on what to do with the racist legacy of Black Pete, and how to move forwards towards a modern Sinterklaas mythology that retains the best of the tradition while adressing the existing issues. The trick is probably in finding reasonable people to have this discussion with — re-stating your knee-jerk reaction is not going to move anyone forward. But hey, we have a whole year to start fixing this.
And then, when a consensus/compromise has been reached, script the news show accordingly. Make gradual changes and take a time-frame of four years. And after those four years, the mythology of Sinterklaas has been changed. Every kid who discovers Sinterklaas will then go with the new mythology because that’s what they know.