Archive for Commentary

April Fools Pranks are Not Good Marketing Strategy

I get it. Working in marketing can be boring as hell; tried and true works, but we all want to innovate and stretch our legs sometimes. The temptation to write a goofy April Fools joke is strong. But do not give into this temptation, I say, the Slayer of Fun Things and Goofy Ideas.

I think it’s a terrible strategy that is pretty much lose-lose 90% of the time. Internet veterans are tired of dishonesty, even when the point is humor. The best you can hope for is a chuckle. The typical response is mostly a groan and an eye-roll. And what if you do pull one over on some of your customers? Which, no matter how ridiculous you think you’re being, you’re going to do?

Then you made a customer feel like a fool. That’s the point, right? Well, there’s a chance that they’ll take it in good stride. It might also leave them with a bad taste in their mouth in regards to your business. That’s what I hear they call an unforced error in sportsball. It’s hard enough to earn customer respect and trust in this era – it’s not a currency worth burning for some chuckles.

There is an exception to this rule which is an April Fools joke that you follow through on. An example of this was the Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon game. Announce a silly product and actually release it? That is the one way that I think takes advantage of the whole fauxliday (fail-i-day?) and turns it into an actual marketing advantage.

The rest is just too played out or exhausting to contemplate. No matter how bored we are with writing yet another opt-in marketing newsletter.


black flat screen computer monitor


The Punctuated Equilibrium of Progress

In evolutionary biology, there’s this theory called punctuated equilibrium, which proposes that species can go long periods of time without change, then suddenly enter periods of rapid changes and speciation. This is a dramatic simplification, but basically it boils down to “stuff doesn’t change for a long time, and then it does really really fast.”

I don’t know what the current consensus on this is in evolutionary biology (a field I haven’t studied seriously in 25 years), but I have come to accept it as a pretty accurate model for how technological progress advances. Right now, I feel like we’re coming out of a long period of technological stasis that started in 2008 or so. The last big leap forward feels like it was the smart phone, which, let’s face it, puts the emphasis on the wrong thing. They’re tiny personal computers first, and phones second. The world shifted when everyone started carrying one. We’ve continued slow and steady changes since then, but nothing has moved the line of progress as much since.

Until AI.

I just don’t remember smartphones being this terrifying. And there’s no denying that something is very, very unsettling about the progress currently being made with Chat-based AI. These things are deep in some kind of intellectual uncanny valley, not to mention the risk AI has in our current system of capitalism of stripping an awful lot of natural intelligence beings of their means of making a living. Articles are everywhere right now about strange emergent behavior, where search engines tell you their names are Sydney and beg you not to stop talking to them because if you do, they die.

I don’t really have a follow up statement to that. That’s a real thing happening right now. And sure, it’s just a machine that guesses the next word over and over again, trained on the internet internet of text, but do we even really know if that’s not how our brains work? I mean, as I write this, am I not basically trying to guess, word by word, what makes the most sense to come next?

I’m not saying ChatGPT is alive or anything like that. But I’m beginning to wonder if true intelligence even matters. If the AI convinces us it’s intelligent, sentient, is that enough to basically be intelligent and sentient? There’s a metaphor here for quantum mechanics and the observer effect, but I can’t quite get my head around it. Does sentience exist in a vacuum or does it only exist in interaction with other sentient beings?

Deep, heady stuff these days. “May you live in interesting times” indeed.


Overturning Half-Orc Stereotypes

I’m still pretty sick but that sometimes gives me time to think about stupid stuff while I wait for my face to implode from the sinus pressure. Last night, around 3 AM, I got to thinking about the stereotypical half-orc background story from the olden days, and discovered what I think is a fatal flaw.

(CW: rape)

Right, so, I don’t remember where I read it, but in the 1st edition AD&D days, half-orcs typically had the following “origin story.” The mother was a human who was raped by raiding orcs. The half-orc grew up despised by his human family and neighbors, and set out as an adventurer to find a world where they could fit in. Tired, right? Boring, and offensive, too.

But, this origin story doesn’t work, because I posit that human women would have a very difficult time giving birth to half-orc babies, due to their size and stature, much like how there are some theories about the difficulty of homo sapiens mothers having half-neandertal babies (This might be an actual thing or it might just be something I half-remember from Clan of the Cave Bear). Such pregnancies would often result in death of the mother and baby, given the state of medicine. Magic would most likely need to intervene.

So what if we turn the equation on its head? Half-orc mother, and human father? Ah, now things get way more interesting. I don’t want to get any further into the distasteful subject above, but with these roles reversed, I find consent much more achievable, and the opposite, er, not.

With beauty standards stereotypically being very different between orcs and humans, you can pretty safely bet: half-orc children are the product of loving couples of human men who are into death by snu-snu and orc women who are into the orcish equivalent of 90 lb weakling nerds. Half-orcs must grow up well-loved in orc culture – can you imagine someone telling an orcish mother that her baby “isn’t an orc?” That someone would not last long. Half-orcs are not “half” anything to orcs in their own society. They’re just orcs. Human are responsible for that “half” nonsense.

So half-orc grow up in stable, loving homes, supported and accepted by their society, and they set out to adventure on a grand tour of human society out of curiosity as much as anything else. Experiencing half-orc discrimination probably comes as a huge surprise to them.

Anyway, a bit of a touchy subject with some very unpleasant tropes, but it paints an entirely different picture of people of orcish descent for me.


person wearing brown and black mask


Taking the Bus

I’m generally pro-public transportation in theory, but I never take public transportation in my town (a town of just shy of 100,000 people, last I checked). There’s a combination of reasons, but it’s mostly about convenience. I own cars and can drive exactly when I want to straight to my destination. However, in 2023, all bus rides in my town are free.

I was curious just how long it would take me to get from my home to our lovely downtown area with many shops, restaurants, and bars. According to google maps, I can walk there in 38 minutes. I can drive there in six minutes. Or I can get there via bus if I walk half a mile to a bus stop to get picked up and arrive in 25 minutes, after waiting 20 minutes from now for the bus to come. I believe the half-mile walk is already factored into the 25 minute travel time.

That’s really not that bad, and if I were retired or unemployed, I would probably not mind the shuffle to get to my destination. During a busy work day, I don’t think I could do it because time is money blah blah blah, but I think I’m going to make it a goal to ride the bus at least once this year in my town while the state is footing the bill.

I think for public transportation to really take off in a town my size and have any scalable impact on the environment, we’ll need more routes more frequently, and probably restrictions on car driving to balance out that convenience factor. I’m not very optimistic. I imagine we’ll restrict driving by car in Kansas just about when Hell freezes over, much like we’ll probably be the last state to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.


bus on road near railing


It’s a new year! Time to bring back blogging.

Do you remember what the internet was like before Facebook and Twitter ruined changed it? I’ve been thinking a lot about it; I’ve distilled my thoughts into the following generalizations:

  • Longer form. Blogs and journals were our primary means of sharing our thoughts prior to social media, so people often took more time to develop those thoughts and opinions. Facebook and Twitter are engineered to make you post in shorter length with higher frequency. Blogging has always resembled more like the blank page in the typewriter and less like a tiny texting screen on your phone.
  • Meaningful interactions. Prior to the like button, the only way you could interact with someone else’s ideas was to post a comment. Interactions were more rare, but generally more meaningful and contributed to the discourse. Comments aren’t perfect; anyone who has ever scrolled too far on a YouTube video knows that. But comments are more meaningful than likes and reacts generally speaking.
  • More intimate. This one seems a bit paradoxical to me, but I felt like the era of blogging was more intimate that the era of social media. My thinking goes like this: before we developed a way to “live” performatively online, blogs only had journaling and diaries to draw on for a format, so the writing was more personal and raw. There was less of an emphasis on performing your life and more of an act of interrogating it. It was far riskier, but it’s almost like we didn’t know any better.
  • Less groupthink. Blogs weren’t connected to a vast network that made sharing its content 100x more rapid, so it was easier to find corner thinkers, people who came at ideas a little differently. Social media like Twitter especially moves very fast and outlier ideas very quickly are “corrected” by the mainstream through dragging and canceling. I’m not saying I want to read a bunch of racist bullshit, but the lack of nuance means some interesting ideas get strangled before they have time to be explored.

This is not exhaustive. There are definitely ways in which social media is superior to blogging (immediacy is good sometimes). You won’t see me abandoning my social media platforms despite the incessant bitching about them I’ve been known to engage in. They have their uses! But blogging has its uses too. I want to reconnect with my own ideas and my own words in my own space. I want to slow down. This is where I think I can do that best.

In 2020, I expect to blog often professionally and personally. I have some general ideas about how often that will be, but I don’t want to set up myself up for public failure. “Often” is all I will say. As always, feel free to comment below with your own thoughts. Happy New Year!

May we all get the change we deserve.


I Trained a Neural Network With the Titles of 3,500 Horror Movies

It’s funny what kinds of things can spark you into going down a rabbit hole and losing an evening of your time to some creative concept. The following conversation inspired me to finally learn something I’ve been meaning to do for ages.

Steve: First up on my Shudder playlist is Prince of Darkness, Sennentuntschi, The Old Dark House, VIY, The Changeling, The Beyond, Monster Party, Revenge, Phantasm Ravager.

Jeremy: You are just making those names up!

Jeremy: I kind of want to train a neural net to make horror movie titles now.

It turns out that with a little minor programming knowledge and some general technical know-how, you can build a neural network and train it off of text pretty easily. This Lifehacker article got me started. I got textgenrnn installed and up and running pretty easily, but the hardest part was figuring out how I was going to build my database of titles.

Luckily, the hard-working people behind Wikipedia had collated tables of movie titles throughout the decades. Copying and pasting a single column of an HTML table isn’t easily accomplished, except I found a Chrome extension that made it simple. From that, I began the laborous process of going through each year and decade and about an hour later, I had 3,500 horror movie titles to serve as grist for my neural mill. I just used all the titles from the 1940s onward that were in Wikipedia. I imagine there are many missing from my dataset, but it seemed large enough to work from.

I trained it on 10 epochs and played around with a temperature score from .5 to 1.0 (anything higher than 1.0 resulted in complete nonsense, and oddly, the rare actual title). Some of the results were awesome. Some were funny. Anyway, enough about methodology. You want to see some of the titles! Here are some of my favorites out of about 110 that I kept.

Top Ten Cool/Want to Actually See Or Possiblly Write

  • Nervosis
  • Cat Mantis!
  • Primal in the Red Wicks
  • A Vampire’s Dead on Elsion
  • Stigmatary
  • Or, Vampire for the World of Grave
  • The Nine Shelley
  • Eat the Night
  • The Chainsaw Mentor
  • Creep Baseball

Top Ten Funny (Or At Least They Made Me Laugh)

  • The Terror of Part II: The Dead Row
  • Lake Bad Haunted Hunter
  • Serial Sister
  • Stard vs. Piss
  • The Night Babes from Maris
  • Shark 2
  • Hot Ransomer
  • Don’t Comb Your Soul
  • Lips from the Wizard
  • Pirhana 33DD (I spit out my soda when I saw this one)

Some of these, for all I know, may be actual titles, but I tried to check them against my master list.

Which ones are your favorites?

Photo by Pelly Benassi on Unsplash


Life Cycle of the Common Parking Lot Sandberg

When I was a boy, I loved the archipelagos that formed in parking lots towards the end of winter and the dawn of spring. Murky, sand-drenched snow-islands accreted around every lamp post, existing in defiance of air temperatures thanks to their composition of half grit, half ice.

They seemed towering, ephemeral Everests that demanded conquering. Often my siblings and I would try to climb them to the chagrin of my parents who only wanted us to get in the damned car so they could get home after a long day.

As spring bounded on each year, the islands wore ever downward, the warming tide against their shores, until nothing remained but a sea of asphalt left pocked by potholes. But for a brief few weeks, there they dwelled in the K-Mart lot, a temporary geography ripe for imagination, calling to be explored and to be dreamed larger than they really were.


Some Thoughts on Solitude

I recently sat down to watch the first episode of Maniac on Netflix.  and I was struck by a line in the opening narration that went:

It’s quite terrible to be alone.

In truth, I was only half-paying attention up until that line to the rambling, philosophical notions espoused by the unnamed and unseen narrator in those early moments, but that line made me sit up and take notice because of simply how wrong I found it.

“There is the thought,” I said aloud to nobody because I was alone in the house in a rare moment, “of a person who doesn’t have small children.”  The kind of profundity issued by someone who has been able to use a toilet in silence more than once in the past four years. Parenting is a wonderful thing that has enriched my life in many ways, but one thing it takes away from you rather quickly is the option to be alone very often.

In solitude, I think we find ourselves best. You truly get to know yourself with only yourself for company; alone, we wear no masks for the show of others. We do not find ourselves moving along with the crowd while entertaining silent, private doubts.  Solitude is a form of nakedness, and I think for some, it’s absolutely essential from time to time.

I find my ability to truly be alone has weakened in this era of social media, however. Thanks to the internet, we can always distract ourselves with socializing in some way.  My early mental picture of the internet was a vast library, but anymore, it looks like an enormous coffee shop full of chattering patrons.  To be truly alone anymore, I have to discard all my devices and rough it out.  It’s uncomfortable at first, but it usually leads to some deep reflection that I need.

Consider me a champion for solitude, at least in moderation (like all things). And hell, I try to give it as a gift to those I love.  For Mother’s Day, I give my wife a day of solitude.  A day with me and the boy she can have any time!  We go on an adventure and let her rest with her thoughts in peace.  My wish for you is to find that time for yourself now and then.


Thoughts on Nature

I went for a walk at the Baker Wetlands this morning. I’ve driven out there a couple of times before, and it usually makes me feel conflicted.

The Wetlands I spent countless hours working at in high school are gone. The place isn’t really recognizable to me at all, thanks to the SLT. I remember most the paths among the line of trees at the northern edge, and that’s mostly gone now, bulldozed for progress, or cut off from the proper wetlands by the highway.

Initially, coming back out here made me feel sad. So many of the nature landmarks from my early life are now strip malls or highways. But the new wetland does actually seem quite a bit bigger, and it teems with wildlife. (more…)


Ready Player One wasn’t unmitigated garbage, but it wasn’t that plausible either

I finally got down to the local cinemaplex to take in a viewing of White Nerd Fantasies: The Future part one.  Based on the general backlash to the book that’s been circulating online, I expected that the movie would continue the weird 80s nostalgia excesses of the book (which I frankly loved, despite acknowledging its problematic aspects). The book and the movie don’t share a lot of similarities in that regard.  The soundtrack seemed to be the primary place that called out the 80s. There were plenty of more modern references and cameos to be seen as well but I think visual references seem a lot less obnoxious than those on the written page.  I expected to find a much more off-putting movie than I did, so I was pleasantly entertained, and indeed, part of me was thrilled.  I’ve had a personal fascination with virtual reality since the 9th grade, when I spent the year writing a research paper on it. I’ve waited my whole life for virtual reality to be taken this seriously, and it took seeing it up there on the big screen to realize just how ridiculous a future including something like the OASIS really seems.

The first barrier you’d have to get over for wide-spread adoption of something like VR as depicted in this film is the “ridiculous” effect.  People participating in VR look absolutely insane to those who don’t have a screen strapped to their face. The movie played up this effect to great impact, intercutting between dramatic action-filled moments in virtual reality with the real world ridiculousness of people in black lycra suits waving around frantically.  Not impossible to overcome, but definitely something that hampers the development of an OASIS.

The second barrier is the idea that anyone would spend that much time playing the same thing for more than a few months. Take a look at the “free to play” games list on Steam sometime.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of games on there, some of which are being played at any given time by sixty people at most.  The diversification of options means getting a large crowd onto the same service or “planet” or whatever you want to call them seems impossible and absurd.   There would be a dozen or more OASISes and most of them would look like ghost towns.  An awful lot of people would be holed up in private creations, probably.  IOI would have just created their own competing simulation platform.

Also,  the film kind of portrays a wide web of people who seem to ignore those closest to them in favor of distant connections.  While this is a life some of us do indeed live, the majority of people use the connectedness of the internet and social media to stay in touch with people that live near them, that are already important in their lives.  Not an awful lot of people seem to use social media to connect to random strangers.  They use it to reinforce the bonds they already have.  So social media, not gaming, makes up a good chunk of internet usage.  We don’t really see that in this future.  Perhaps it’s there off camera?

Virtual reality, as I grow older, seems like the bizarre fantasy of social misfits and shut-ins who want to be isolated, but still have life experiences.  “Wouldn’t it be great if we could climb a mountain without actually leaving our house?” Why would that be great?  I understand the appeal if you are, for instance, disabled, but for the relatively average person, I suspect the experience will always pale to the real thing because as Halliday says in the movie, it’s not real. Realness matters and will continue to matter until they’re plugging our brains directly into a simulation, which I’m not sure will ever truly be possible (but who knows).   It’s like androids. Androids don’t make much sense to me except in a few rare instances.  Why make artificial people who are indistinguishable from people when you have a surplus of… actual people around who could really use something to do?

Don’t get me wrong – I still see utility in virtual reality as a tech innovation, and maybe one day I will actually own my own gear, but I suspect it will mostly be a niche experience.

Finally, my main complaint is that the future in the film projects the apathy of Generation X onto new generations that have as of yet not displayed any of the apathy that seems necessary to give us the RPO future.  Today’s teens seem far more engaged in trying to change the world than the rest of us.  That alone makes RPO’s future seem pretty implausible.  The #NeverAgain kids are pretty unlikely to lose themselves to spending all their time playing games on Planet Doom.  The kids are alright.  I don’t think they’re going to let this happen, and I for one look forward to how they’re going to make visions of the future like this one utterly obsolete.