GioCities

blogs by Gio

Atom feed Recent posts

QA On motivation

  • 2 min read
  • Posted in QA

Anonymous asked: What exactly drives you to make pieces such as the big one about the hiveswap fiasco and many others?

This is a big question, so that gives me an opportunity to be self-indulgent. Here are a few things that come to me.

One major part of the answer is serious dissatisfaction with how current social media handles persistent information, but I have a whole article I’m planning to write on that topic.

I’ll talk about Hiveswap first because it’s kind of a special case. My intent when I started writing was actually completely different than what I ended up doing. I had been talking with some relatively new Homestuck fans and realized that there was an enormous amount information I just picked up from cultural osmosis that they just didn’t know. What’s more, most of the original sources for that information (peoples’ blogs, the forums, newsposts) were all out of use, shut down, or intentionally obfuscated.

So my original idea was to dump the whole Hiveswap story as I knew it (because I was there at the time, and actively engaged with the news and development information throughout) down on paper, attach archived versions of the original sources where possible, and fill in all the holes in my recollection while I was at it. Just because I thought it was interesting, and significant, and something people in the Homestuck fandom just ought to know. I… I might have even called it a calling? Not at all a “I’ve got to blow the lid on this whole scandal” calling, because at the time I didn’t know there was a whole scandal. I just realized I was one of only a few people equipped with the information needed to actually save that history.

Now, obviously Hiveswap in particular snowballed from there, as I put things together and realized I had stumbled on something important.

But it’s usually not just “I feel like I know some facts”, it’s usually that I make some interesting connections or observations that I want to point out. YouTube broke links and other life lessons and Twitter Blue is a late-stage symptom are very basic examples of this, where I try to link some real thing going on in the world with the concepts I’m reminded of when I hear about them, but that other people might not be. The same is sort of true of The Sarah Z Video Fallout, where I feel like I have a particular understanding of the story that lets me contextualize the new developments in a way other people might not naturally do. A lot of times, when some tech company is doing something something bad and sneaky, they rely on people not being able to properly contextualize it, which is how they get away with things. So it’s good to contextualize things, and even better if I teach somebody how to contextualize things in the process.

There’s also a strong memex element, where I use articles to organize and connect my own thoughts, and especially connect my thoughts about issues to other writing or videos or papers people have written. Whenever I see something that just strikes me as particularly good or important or poignant, and relates to a topic I’m personally interested in or have a particular take on, I’ll either staple it somewhere near where I’ve written about that topic before or toss in a folder to connect to an article later.

I have this sort of katamari method of writing, where every time I have a thought that seems particularly interesting, or related to a topic I have interesting thoughts about, I’ll write it down and categorize it somewhere until eventually my internal notes reach critical mass and there’s enough there to expand on and write into a real article.

And, on that note, I have a bigger answer to “why write things down” in a draft right now that will continue collecting thoughts passively until it’s ready, and then until it hits the top of my list. So, look out for that some day.

politics Client CSAM scanning: a disaster already

On August 5, 2021, Apple presented their grand new Child Safety plan. They promised “expanded protections for children” by way of a new system of global phone surveillance, where every iPhone would constantly scan all your photos and sometimes forward them to local law enforcement if it identifies one as containing contraband. Yes, really.

August 5 was a Thursday. This wasn’t dumped on a Friday night in order to avoid scrutiny, this was published with fanfare. Apple really thought they had a great idea here and expected to be applauded for it. They really, really didn’t. There are almost too many reasons this is a terrible idea to count. But people still try things like this, so as much as I wish it were, my work is not done. God has cursed me for my hubris, et cetera. Let’s go all the way through this, yet again.

The architectural problem this is trying to solve🔗

Believe it or not, Apple actually does address a real architectural issue here. Half-heartedly addressing one architectural problem of many doesn’t mean your product is good, or even remotely okay, but they do at least do it. Apple published a 14 page summary of the problem model (starting on page 5). It’s a good read if you’re interested in that kind of thing, but I’ll summarize it here.

fandom Polygon’s “Life after Homestuck” (Thread)

  • Posted in fandom

politics Ethical Source is a Crock of Hot Garbage

There’s this popular description of someone “having brain worms”. It invokes the idea of having your mind so thoroughly infested with an idea to the point of disease. As with the host of an infestation, such a mind is poor-to-worthless at any activity other than sustaining and spreading the parasite.

A “persistent delusion or obsession“. You know, like when you think in terms of legality so much you can’t even make ethical evaluations anymore, or when you like cops so much you stop being able to think about statistics, or the silicon valley startup people who try to solve social problems with bad technology, or the bitcoin people who responded to the crisis in Afghanistan by saying they should just adopt bitcoin. “Bad, dumb things”. You get the idea.

And, well.

Okay, so let’s back way up here, because this is just the tip of the iceberg of a story that needs years of context. I’ll start with the most recent event here, the Mastodon tweet.

The Mastodon Context🔗

The “he” Mastodon is referring to is ex-president-turned-insurrectionist Donald Trump, who, because his fellow-insurrectionist friends and fans are subject to basic moderation policies on most of the internet, decided to start his own social network, “Truth Social”. In contrast to platforms moderated by the “tyranny of big tech”, Truth Social would have principles of Free Speech, like “don’t read the site”, “don’t link to the site”, “don’t criticise the site”, “don’t use all-caps”, and “don’t disparage the site or us”. There are a lot of problems here already, but because everything Trump does is terrible and nobody who likes him can create anything worthwhile, instead of actually making a social networking platform, they just stole Mastodon wholesale.

Mastodon is an open-source alternative social networking platform. It’s licensed under an open license (the AGPLv3), so you are allowed to clone it and even rebrand it for your own purposes as was done here. What you absolutely are not allowed to do is claim the codebase is your own proprietary work, deliberately obscure the changes you made to the codebase, or make any part of the AGPL-licensed codebase (including your modifications) unavailable to the public. All of which Truth Social does.

So that’s the scandal. And so here’s Mastodon poking some fun at that.

tech The joy of RSS

  • Posted in tech

During the years when Homestuck updated regularly, I usually had some sort of update notifier that pinged me when a new page was posted. But since Homestuck usually updated daily, I ended up just keeping a tab open and refreshing it. And that’s pretty much how I kept up with other serial media on the internet, for years. A writing blog that posts regular updates? Keep a dedicated tab open and refresh it occasionally. Comic? Tab. To this day, I have a “serial” browser window that’s just tabs of sites I check regularly. (Or imagine I might want to check regularly, at least.)

a lot of tabs please don’t tell anyone how I live

Of course, this is terrible. The biggest problem is browser tabs are expensive. If you have a tab open, that takes up a dedicated chunk of memory, even when you’re not reading anything. CPU too, probably, if the site has JavaScript running on it (which is to say, is either decades out of date, or this one). Not to mention the clutter.

Unfortunately, dedicated browser tabs fit specific use case of keeping up with serial media well. Social media feeds — all of them, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, YouTube — are explicitly “media aggregators”, services that combine multiple media sources into one feed. This is no good for serial media. If you’re following multiple sources, they likely update on different schedules, and updates from the more active ones will bury updates from those slower. Even email updates have this problem. No, you need a dedicated space for each source (but not each update), which a dedicated browser tab will get you.

There is a good system for this, though: RSS.

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a fantastic technology that has fallen out of favour in the mainstream lately. It works like this: the media source puts up a small file somewhere that notes the dates, titles, and (optionally) content of posts. And that’s it. There’s no API, it’s just a file people can read if they want. It’s like traditional syndication, but instead of selling articles to multiple distributors (as with syndicated cartoons), you’re distributing articles to many consumers directly.

gaming Post-Ch2 Deltarune Theories

  • Posted in gaming

As you might know, I have a somewhat complicated relationship with Undertale theories, so for Deltarune I’m kind of forcing myself not to go too red thread board with trying to “solve” things — which sucks, because I really like solving things.

gio irl

So instead of trying to be right about the big stuff, I thought I’d just talk about some fun crack theories. For fun! For fun, I tell myself.

Susie is immune to player input🔗

There’s a lot in Deltarune Chapter 1 that implies that, unlike undertale, player choice doesn’t matter. The character you make in the first sequence is discarded, There’s even word of god that there’s only one ending to the game.

But, if you look at it, most of that involves Susie. You can’t control Susie at all for the first half of Chapter 1, only eventually getting her explicit buy-in after she decides she wants to be nice to lancer. And, of course, at the beginning of the game, she tells you directly

Your choices don't matter

Your choices matter with everyone else, though. There’s a massive branching tree of options during your battle tutorial with Ralsei, you design a thrash machine that carries over to chapter 2, and you can tell Noelle about Susie eating chalk to get an extra item in Chapter 2, just to name a few examples. Hell, your choices matter with Onionsan and Starwalker.

gaming Heart & Slash

  • Posted in gaming

Heart & Slash is a special little game. The whole thing is so aggressively fun and stylistic I can’t help but love it.

laser

It’s a 3D procgen dungeon beat-em-up. It reminds me of a cross between Neurovoider (a game I love) and Tower of Guns (a game I admittedly do not).

What really gets me is the style. The whole game has this beautiful graphical feel, with these semi-low-poly voxel models and sharp flat-shaded pixel art textures. The whole thing reminds me of pre-playstation 3d graphics, and I am here for it.

Menu

Some of that feels low-effort at first, but then you see the animation work. It’s smooth and distinct and gorgeous. Most of the actual animation you see in the game is combat, and that’s not skimped on either. Most of the weapons are actually pretty unique — with their own sets of attack animations — and lend themselves to different playstyles.

The gameplay is good too. Heart has this really interesting floaty double-jump that allows for a lot of maneuverability and midair combat.

I tend to get burnt out on rougelikes pretty easily, but I really like this one. There’s an experience mechanic, where you pick up scrap metal from robots that you can use to upgrade yourself or your equipment. You can also save that metal between runs, so you can stock up and save buffs for when you feel like you’re doing well. The game’s also not too long — getting killed isn’t ever going to feel like you lost a ton of progress, even late-game.

proto

And Heart. He’s a little robot! I love him. That’s the story there.

No, but Heart — and most of the other robots in the game — have this great early PC vibe to them, with big bulky CRT monitors for faces and other components that mirror the graphical era the graphics pay tribute to. The Heart prototype in the screenshot there has a great color scheme that maps to the old rainbow Apple logo (and, of course, the green monochrome CRT head). And I just noticed this now, but his feet have little heatsinks built in! How great is that?

hall

Oh, and the soundtrack. The soundtrack is spectacular. The main theme during the first factory level is ‘I ♥ You’ which… is just perfect. It’s a perfect song.

There’s this bridge at 1:28 where the song calms down for a few seconds before kicking right back into the main section at 1:40 and I love it. It just about perfectly matches the few seconds of relief you get after you clear a room and you navigate for a minute before diving into the next room and taking out another wave of robots.

It’s not the perfect game — there are some obvious graphical issues with z-fighting, for instance, and weapon controls can be finicky — but for $15 this is a fantastic little thing. Again, it really is special.

  • Game (Steam, Xbox, Switch, PS4)
  • Soundtrack (michaelchaitmusic.bandcamp.com)

fandom Homestuck’s Ruse of Authorial Homogeneity

  • Posted in fandom

Somebody asked me about a comment I made online about the odd situation raised by the state of Homestuck^2 and Hiveswap’s authorship. I sent them a long message but by the time I was done I realized I had quite a few thoughts on the issue, and so this is me expanding that out a bit.

Authorial teams🔗

Probably the defining aspect of the “post-canon” Homestuck era has been the deliberate movement away from Andrew’s auteurship and to the form of these nebulous authorial teams. It’s almost impossible to overstate how key Andrew and his personal identity was to Homestuck and its interactions with fandom, and this period represented a deliberate and forced shift away from that.

politics Is (git) master a dirty word?

Git is changing. GitHub, GitLab, and the core git team have a made a system of changes to phase out the use of the word “master” in the development tool, after a few years of heated (heated) discussion. Proponents of the change argue “slavery is bad”, while opponents inevitably end up complaining about the question itself being “overly political”. Mostly. And, with the tendency of people in the computer science demographic to… let’s call it “conservatism”, this is an issue that gets very heated, very quickly. I have… thoughts on this, in both directions.

Formal concerns about problematic terminology in computing (master, slave, blacklist) go back as early as 2003, at the latest; this is not a new conversation. The push for this in git specifically started circa 2020. There was a long thread on the git mailing list that went back and forth for several months with no clear resolution. It cited Python’s choice to move away from master/slave terminology, which was formally decided on as a principle in 2018. In June of 2020, the Software Freedom Conservancy issued an open letter decrying the term “master” as “offensive to some people.” In July 2020 github began constructing guidance to change the default branch name and in 2021 GitLab announced it would do the same.


First, what role did master/slave terminology have in git, anyway? Also, real quick, what’s git? Put very simply, git is change tracking software. Repositories are folders of stuff, and branches are versions of those folders. If you want to make a change, you copy the file, modify it, and slot it back in. Git helps you do that and also does some witchery to allow multiple people to make changes at the same time without breaking things, but that’s not super relevant here.

That master version that changes are based is called the master branch, and is just a branch named master. Changes are made on new branches (that start as copies of the master branch) which can be named anything. When the change is final, it’s merged back into the master branch. Branches are often deleted after they’re merged.

politics Your engine hasn’t earned your rent

YoYo Games announced today that they’re switching GameMaker to a subscription model. You know, I was planning on doing a high-effort article about this some day, but what the heck, let’s do it now.

First, here are the actual details of the GameMaker change. Instead of buying development tools you can use to develop things, YoYo is making its latest version of GameMaker — GameMaker Studio 2 — free to use. You can download it for free, learn how it works, and invest as much time making your game in it as you want. You only have to pay if you want to ship a game. And if you decide you really want to ship your game, it’s a whopping $80/yr for as long as you want your game on the shelves.

Subscriptions🔗

This idea of a company turning a product into a subscription service is probably familiar to you. Famously, Photoshop and Adobe’s other creative products switched from one-time purchases of software to indefinite recurring subscription fees, after having locked in most of the creative industry.

Earlier this year, a very similar thing happened with Buildbox, another “no code” game maker program. Buildbox changed their terms and conditions to demand revenue from all Buildbox games, including games and in-app purchases. In the normal tier, 70% of your total revenue goes straight to Buildbox. Even if you’re in the highest tier, you can’t stop them siphoning your revenue.