[Plura-list] Cyberpunk conference call for papers; Lockdown CO2 and structural roots of the climate emergency; The Making of Prince of Persia

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sun May 3 12:14:29 EDT 2020

Reminder: For May the 4th, I'm doing a panel tomorrow with called "Fair
Use Under the Galactic Empire" with the Scum and Villainy Cantina,


Today's links

* Cyberpunk conference call for papers: Inescapable cyberpunk futures
bleeding into the interstices of our present.

* Lockdown CO2 and structural roots of the climate emergency: You can't
personally recycle your way out of climate change.

* The Making of Prince of Persia: A halcyon moment of forgiving slack in
the tech industry.

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2019

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🎩 Cyberpunk conference call for papers

You've got one week to submit papers and proposals for the Cyberpunk
Culture Conference, which will be held online (naturally) on Jul 9/10.


The conference's defining vision: "we are living in inescapable
cyberpunk futures bleeding into the interstices of our present, and
these cyberpunk realities intersect with our mainstream culture at every
possible angle."

The related topic that most interests me is the way that the marketing
materials and boasts of the personal computer industry, games industry,
and online service industry inspired the OG cyberpunks, who were largely
not working in those industries.

And then how the cyberpunk literature they created inspired customers
for those industries, as well as creators/programmers/founders in those
industries, and a new generation of (post?)cyberpunk writers who came
out of those industries.

It's a nifty and weird bit of self-fulfilling prophecy, but a prophecy
that mutates in unpredictable ways.

In a new episode of Henry Jenkins and Colin Maclay's "How Do You Like It
So Far?" podcast, Bruce Sterling and Jasmina Tesanovic really dig into
what post-cyberpunk writers and stories are like:


Specifically, they declare the end of the Hacker Cowboy, because the
cowboy hero always disappears when the "frontier" turns into a state
with railroads and land barons.

And they laud the era of sf about movements creating social change,
replacing the Heinleinian competence-porn hero who unilaterally Invents
a Thing That Changes The World.

While noting that the writers who produce this work are far more likely
to be involved in industry, politics and academics than their forebears

I found the whole episode fascinating, in that slightly uncomfortable
way that a good Sterling rant always evinces.


🎩 Lockdown CO2 and structural roots of the climate emergency

About 4 billion people are in pandemic lockdown, but the forecast drop
in CO2 emissions for 2020 is about 5%; to head off a global temperature
rise of more than 1.5C, that number needs to be 7.6%.


As Murtaza M Hussain wrote, "This suggests emission levels relate less
to individual behavior than larger structural factors only addressable
through regulation."


Emergencies have a well-known leftist bias, which is why the right has
such a hard time dealing with them, despite its worship of "rationalism"
and its belief that "reality doesn't care about your feelings."

Take Charles Koch: he became a billionaire by making a ton of long-term
investments in hydrocarbon extraction and processing technologies with
really long amortization schedules, and grew the business he inherited
from his father a thousandfold.

People like Koch are the subject of endless right wing worship that
singles out his patience as a kind of natural gift that suits him to
rule - the market gave Koch a lot of money because Koch has the
foresight and reason to allocate capital well.

It's why there's so much fetishization of the "marshmallow test," which
purports to show that poor people are, by dint of some intrinsic
deficiency, incapable of the mature foresight that is needed to govern
themselves wisely.

(of course, reality is very different - poor kids "fail" the marshmallow
test because experience teaches them that promised opportunities rarely
materialize, and the smart money is on seizing any chance you get rather
than waiting for jam tomorrow)


You know who *really* fails the real-world marshmallow test? Charles
Koch. Mister Long-Game can't see the value of taking a short-term hit to
retool for renewables, even if the cost of failing to do so is
civilization l collapse and a possible end of our species.

That's the root of idiocies like the Mayor of Las Vegas insisting that
she can declare her city open and the "free market" will produce safety
guidelines that keep people from dying.


And it's why the right has to tie itself in knots with ideas like "state
capacity libertarianism" to figure out how to preserve its ideological
purity without being roasted alive by climate change.


Human beings have a shared microbial destiny, a shared world, and a
shared climate. Selfishness is not pareto optimal, especially when it
comes to commons.

Indeed, the "Tragedy of the Commons" was a fraud designed to justify the
seizure of commons and the subjugation of their users as a preferable
alternative to not being selfish.


The climate lesson of the lockdown is that climate change is not a
matter of personal responsibility. Even if everyone does *nothing*, just
sits as still as possible and buy as little as possible, we will not
head off the crisis.

If you had any doubt about whether diligent recycling, ditching your
car, and never boarding another airplane could save the world, now it
should be dispelled.

We need structural change: to how we generate power, how we grow food,
how we transport goods.

The role for individuals to achieve that change is to band together in
movements that demand the investment of capital and resources in
refashioning our built world so that it continues to sustain human life.

If the survival of the human race is beyond the reach of individual
choices and market transactions, that doesn't mean that the human race
shouldn't survive. It means we should find new tools to manage our
resource allocation.

The Cowboy Economist has a great analogy about the doctrine that holds
that if markets can't do something, that thing is immoral and shouldn't
be attempted: he likens this to a carpenter who refuses to use
screwdrivers, and only uses hammers.


"Sorry, fella, I'm a hammer guy. That thing you want built needs screws
and screws are WRONG, so you're wrong for wanting one."

Markets are tools for capital allocation, not moral arbiters. They can't
solve all our allocation problems, especially these existential threats.


🎩 The Making of Prince of Persia

From an early age, it was clear that Jordan Mechner was extraordinarily
talented. While he was a Yale undergrad, he created the game Karateka,
which Broderbund published and which went to #1 on the Billboard
software charts.

But it was Mechner's followup game, Prince of Persia, that cemented a
place in game history for him once it became part of the canon of games,
inventing and popularizing many of the tropes of modern sidescrollers
and puzzle games.

In "The Making of Prince of Persia," Mechner reproduces three years of
personal journal entries describing the trials and tribulations that
went into PoP.


It's a genuinely delightful book, even if you don't care about the
history of video games.

First, because of the ingenuity of the technical tricks that Mechner
invented to create the breakthrough graphics in the game.

Mechner was a multi-talented kid: a visual artist, a gifted programmer,
and a would-be filmmaker. To get the fluid movement that redefined the
look of video-game characters, he filmed his kid brother (a budding Go
champion) doing acrobatics.

Then he did all kinds of crazy things to turn that motion into a
rotoscopic basis for his hero, like photographing the frames with a
still camera (bought from the old Whole Earth Store!) and scanning them,
then turning those scans into pixel art.

To read Mechner's contemporaneous logs of his wrestling with his tools
and his machines is to take a journey back to a heroic age of games
authorship, when even programmers affiliated with industry-leading
studios like Broderbund were making tools to make tools to make games.

There's also a sense of living in a dynamic moment, when really
different new computers were shipping regularly, each with radically
different capabilities and limitations, and how that played into the
calculus of a hacker wrestling with optimizations for just one platform.

But the book also works on entirely different levels. It's also really
fun to peek inside the head of this driven, smart kid as he graduates
from Yale, moves to San Francisco, arriving with a major success under
his belt to take up a position at an industry-leading giant.

He's brash and smart, and really observant and insightful about the
dynamics of the people around him - Broderbund was incredibly
dysfunctional - while at the same time, he was just a kid, making stupid
mistakes about his life and the people around him.

So that even as you're rooting for this bright prodigy, you're also
cringing at his self-destructive work habits and worrying about how far
out of his depth he's gotten. It's got a hell of a dramatic arc.

And finally, this is a snapshot of a moment when the tech industry had
an enormous amount of *slack* in it - despite the long hours and high
stakes, the industry was made up of lots of different people trying
different things.

It was an industry that grew when new people showed up and did new
things - not like today's growth model: giant companies buying little
companies and killing or co-opting the ideas that might grow to threaten
their dominance.

It was an industry where you got a second chance, and a third, and a
fourth, because there were lots of magazines that might review your
game; there were lots of new platforms were players might discover them.
There were lots of different retailers who might stock them.

Countries had their own computers and their own retail channels. There
were multiple distributors bidding for products, hungry and coming up
with new ways to make them into hits.

And that is the true story of Prince of Persia! Because the game was a
giant flop. The original Apple ][+ version *tanked*. Mechner scrambled
hard to get a DOS version out, betting everything on it, and...that
failed too.

Indeed, the last 20% of the book is just a series of journal entries
wherein the young Mechner is collecting these rave industry reviews,
using them to get PoP launched on another platform, and then having his
hopes dashed.

Until, eventually, the game became a hit. It didn't become a hit because
Mechner had some incredible new insight or lucked into a brilliant new
tactic. He just got a ton of shots, and eventually, he got lucky.

Luck is key to every success (of course). You can improve your odds by
doing something amazing (as Mechner did with PoP), but the other key way
to improve your odds is to get more chances.

In the decades since Mechner created PoP, endless rounds of
consolidation has led to a denuded, monopolized world where all the
chances are hoarded by the winners - the ones who are getting bailouts
during the crisis - and the rest of us get one (or fewer) chances.

THAT'S the lesson of Mechner's diaries: that, in the absence of more
chances, there are countless significant, breakthrough works created by
brilliant, unsung prodigies who labor over them with heartbreaking
intensity that just...disappear. They get one (or fewer) chances.

Mechner's success begat a long, fruitful career that brought delight to
millions. He's had moderate success with the screenwriting and directing
that obsessed and distracted him while he was creating PoP, and has
created some stunning graphic novels.


He's someone who was very good, very lucky, and who got lots of chances.

BTW: back in 2012, he recovered and posted the original PoP sourcecode:



🎩 This day in history

#15yrsago Boy Scout badge in Intellectual Property

#15yrsago Brazil rejects Bush's faith-based AIDS money

#10yrsago Skin-tone-matched hospital gowns make it easy to spot

#10yrsago Terry Pratchett: Doctor Who isn't science fiction

#1yrago "Smart" doorlocks have policies that let landlords and third
parties spy on you

#1yrago Fentanyl execs found guilty of racketeering, face 20 year prison

#1yrago Chinese urbanization has left 25 million vacant homes in rural

#1yrago In 2008 "synthetic CDOs" destroyed the global economy, and now
they're back https://www.ft.com/content/9c33cea0-6ceb-11e9-80c7-60ee53e6681d

#1yrago Strange codes from the International Statistical Classification
of Diseases and Related Health Problems


🎩 Colophon

Today's top sources: Beyond the Beyond
(http://www.wired.com/category/beyond_the_beyond/), Murtaza M. Hussain

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 558 words (10850 total).

Currently reading: Facebook: The Inside Story, by Steven Levy.

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 01)

Upcoming appearances:

* May 4: Fair Use Under the Galactic Empire, Scum and Villainy Cantina,

* May 7: The Collapse, Re:publica https://re-publica.tv/de/session/collapse

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book
about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here:

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
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provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
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*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

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