Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

SMART (and Mass Transit in Metro Detroit As A Whole) as It Is Right Now Does Not Work But The RTA Millage Would Go a Long Way to Helping It Get There

So Mark Hackel and L. Brooks Patterson's solution to regional transit is to essentially expand the SMART BUS system, which on its face doesn't sound like a bad idea except ... SMART is kind of broken. It's not the institution's fault. From where I sit a lot of the problems associated with SMART are caused the by the opt-outs and the lack of resources that those opt-outs cause which these two fellows are absolutely stuck on.

All the same, I can't get behind the idea that SMART as exists right now works. That is that it does its job of efficiently and cheaply getting people from place to place in a timely manner, which by the way is something that I consider essential.  We have to make this work. We can't just keep shrugging and dusting it's failings under the rug.  Don't get me wrong it's better than nothing but if we really wanted to (i.e. supported the RTA) we could do better.

So here is a list of long-standing gripes big and small I have with SMART many of which, though not all, the RTA plan explicitly seeks to fix





P.S. As it is the RTA plan is dependant on SMART. So we actually need both SMART and RTA millages to pass in order to actually enact that plan. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Case Against L. Brooks Patterson

So if you haven't guessed already I am in favor of Warren Evans' transportation plan as I was also in favor of the original 2016 RTA plan.

Right now the main obstacle from keeping it from happening isn't so much that people are against it, though they very well might be but rather that Macomb and Oakland County executives Mark Hackel and L. Brooks Patterson via their representatives on the RTA Board of Directors essentially have veto power over any attempts to even put it on the ballot.

Which is to say I kind of hate those guys right now.

I don't know Mark Hackel but not counting college I've lived in Oakland County my whole life. L. Brooks Patterson is my guy and has been since childhood. And that thought makes me want to bang my head on a desk.

Despite that and my own personal fortunes, I have to admit Oakland County as a whole is in a state of relative prosperity.

But I would also argue that a lot of that prosperity is the direct result of white flight from the City of Detroit which Patterson directly encouraged. Which is one of the most frustrating things to me about this.

Patterson's rationale for not "giving" "Detroit" (for the record those are irony quotes, the money the RTA millage would raise would in no way be under his stewardship except maybe via his representative on the board of directors and the REGIONAL Transportation Authority as its name suggests is a regional body that encompasses not only Detroit but also Oakland County and as mentioned I for one as a resident of Oakland County would very much like a functional mass transit system which right now we do not have.) is that the city is politically dysfunctional but from where I sit at least some of that dysfunction though admittedly not all of it is his fault.

P.S. I also have beef because he continuously advocates for the widening and expansion of highways which have historically, especially before his time, been to the detriment to the neighborhoods of the city.

Oh. And the bus integration thing... WHY IS THIS GUY STILL IN CHARGE!?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

I am The Darkest Fear of Grover Norquist and the Koch Brothers... A Tax and Spend Marxist



So this year there are a lot of local millages coming up in the Detroit metro area. Part of me wants to talk about the importance of taxes and my hatred of the current anti-tax environment both nationally and statewide but after some thought, I realize I might have the blinders on. The past two, if I'm being honest eight years of my life, both politically and personally has been a laundry list of things I want and need not getting done because the money isn't there so I have a natural bias towards the shiny new policy proposal that could change my world save for the lack of funding.

Indeed, it is easier to tell people what would make me oppose a tax rather than what would make me support it because supporting taxes is my default position. My baseline is that the government does a lot of important stuff and in order for it to keep doing all that important stuff, it needs money. "Starving the beast" is a very bad no good horrible idea.

Accountability
I know everything I just said. But taxes are still essentially "the people's" money regardless of how necessary I think they are. There are lots of reasons Donald Trump bugs the hell out of me but this is one of them. Even if you think the amount of graft in the administration is negligible compared to the size of the actual federal budget, which it is, the graft degrades trust that tax dollars will actually be spent on the missions of their departments which is something citizens are absolutely in the right to expect and be upset about when it does not happen. That graft is making every conservative right when they complain about the inefficiency of the federal government. And I hate it. 

Transparency
Part of that accountability is having a clear, understandable, and accessible purpose for each dollar the government spends. And honestly, I do think government budgets are a bit too complicated. Not so much that the government itself should be paired down but in how they are prepared in presented to both lawmakers and the public.  Budgets are more than a bunch of numbers but practical records and mission statements of the priorities of their organizations. If you want to know what the government actually does rather than what it says it does look at the budget

Progressiveness
Notice I didn't say tax and spend liberal in the title. I have drunken from the fount of Engels and Marx. Capitalism is inherently exploitative but we have so oriented our society around that system of production that replacing it would require radical revolution: cultural, economic, and political.

... But Communist revolutions don't exactly have a great track record of advancing the interests of the proletariat. 

Apart from throwing off the oppressive yoke of the bourgeoisie, ... a progressive tax along with services aimed towards helping poor and middle-class people (and maybe universal basic income)  is about the fairest and most practical means of the wealth re-distribution needed to create a more equitable and egalitarian society short of the alternative.

Which is to say I am tired of hearing rich bastards bitching about taxes while gutting worker pensions and arguing against raising the minimum wageI do not like the republican party right now.

And  I wish they would knock it off before I give up the pretense of respecting property rights and show them what a real pinko commie bastard would look like rather than the limp center-left policy advocates that pass for socialists/communists in their heads.

I have family that works for the local energy company. Seizing power plants would go down great at the family barbecue.

(For the record that was sarcasm. Seizing power plants is a very very bad idea that I do not support. It was just an idea of something a hard-line old school commie would want that nobody is seriously suggesting. The mainstream left is pretty far from out-right communism or even socialism right now, despite the fever dreams of Fox News, Breitbart and whatever crazy Youtube talk show host is in my suggestions this week.)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

April 26, 2018 RTA Detroit Community Meeting




On April 26 2018, the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan held a community meeting at the Detroit Historical Museum to educate the public about the Connect Southeast Michigan plan.

Friday, April 27, 2018

April 25, 2018 RTA Birmingham Community Meeting


On April 25, 2018, the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan held a community meeting at the Baldwin Public Library in Birmingham Michigan to educate the public about the Connect Southeast Michigan plan.


More information about the plan can be found at http://www.connectsoutheastmichigan.org.

Southfield April 24, 2018 Board of Education Meeting



An agenda and related documents can be found here.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Opioid Town Hall



On April 11, 2018, a town hall meeting was held on the Opioid Crisis at the Southfield Public Library in Michigan.



The town hall featured remarks from:

  • 46th District Court Judge, Debra Nance
  • State Representative, Jeremy Moss
  • Oakland County Commissioner Janet Jackson
  • Oakland County Sheriff, Michael Bouchard
  • Southfield Police Chief, Eric Hawkins
  • Fire Chief, Johnny Menefee
  • Oakland County Health Network, Christina Nicholas
  • Attorney, Mark Bernstein


Also, the presentation included a clip from a speech from Sam Quinones, Author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Let's Talk About Digital Labor

So two things happened at relatively the same time making it hard to talk about one without the other but also the importance of each also overshadows the other to the point it's nearly impossible to talk about both at the same time.

YouTube Headquarters just got shot up by a disgruntled vlogger. And before I continue I want to apologize to them. I want to start a broader discussion about digital media, labor and yes monetization, but the moment somebody chooses to try to have that discussion with violence it ceases being a discussion and turns into a threat whether I want it to or not. And believe me I don't want it to be. That's not how society is supposed to work. And I don't just mean that regarding this issue. I don't care if somebody has a perfunctory line in their "manifesto" I agree with. Murder is murder and attempted murder is attempted murder.

That being said something else happened last week that makes it more difficult for me to wait until the dust settles to have this discussion.

Former Channel Awesome Producer released a Google Doc of long-standing complaints they had against the company. While Channel Awesome didn't start on YouTube they were and a lot of their producers still are pioneers of the current web video landscape. I want acknowledge that that Gooogle doc was also mostly written by disgruntled ex-employees of the company, but I'm also inclined to believe them.

Why?

Because there are plenty of other online media companies that have been under fire for similar scandals to the point where I have to wonder, is this just want it means to work in online media. If it is that's a problem we need to fix because it means the internet and the economics behind it are fundamentally broken. Digital media as it exists right now is inherently exploitative. And considering it's ubiquity that's a big damn deal.

New Yorker article that came close to trying to make sense of YouTube producer issues in the context of the shooting but I felt missed mark. Later I found an Ars Technica article that describes those issues better but I also understand how it could be seen as glorifying the shooter.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Time Is My Enemy

Last time I didn't give people a heads up and in retrospect, I feel that wasn't the right way to go about things. I only have enough money in the till to keep recording and posting city council meetings for about another month and a half.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

So You Want To Be A Teacher



So a family member who I haven't seen in a while has told me they're going back to school to become a teacher. And I have thoughts. My experience as a sub has pretty much soured me on the idea of kids, teaching and all of it but WE NEED TEACHERS and I didn't want to be a buzzkill.

This person is an adult past college age and has lived a life and even worked in positions that involved kids so if they want to do this I have faith they can and even should. Let me repeat. WE NEED TEACHERS!

So let's pretend I didn't fall completely out of love with teaching and give in to my advisory role.

College

First off before I get to the other stuff I also want to acknowledge that I'm kind of jumping the gun This person needs to get a degree and certification.  Again I have faith in this person but personal experience tells me the transition to college life is difficult.  It's been so long since I've been in college I don't know if I should give out free advice on the subject but I will.

I am jealous of college students because even 10 years ago there just were not the digital tools available today. Evernote didn't exist. Youtube was just getting off the ground. Smartphones were just coming around and were super expensive. There is so much I would do differently if I could do it now instead of then.

I don't have enough knowledge about the subject matter this person wants to teach or the University itself to give much other advice so I'll give that advice. Learn about the school and learn about your professors. For better or worse I didn't take professors much into account when choosing classes. "I needed x course and these were the sections available that fit my schedule" That was a mistake.

For the longest time the most difficult classes I were taking in my academic career were the classes where I learned the most but every now and again there would be a course that was hard AND I wasn't really learning much. Almost everything I read up until that point about school and there are some good books, stress never to blame the professor if you do poorly in a class.

That is horrible advice. I understand it. Going up to someone and telling them, "You are bad at your job" is one of the easiest ways to get them to dislike you and you need your professors to like you.  But sometimes you will get stuck with a poor professor and you need to be able to recognize that and on occasion even avoid it. "Koofers" "Rate My Professors" and "College Confidential" are really good websites for this given you keep a few things in mind.

Ignore the ratings themselves and look at the comments. Different students prioritize different things. Some students are taking a course to fill out their schedules and think it should be an easier course than it is. Others will get mad if they feel a professor isn't adequately preparing them for the industry. Read the comments.

A brief aside: something to keep in mind is that some courses will be designed for majors and some for non-majors. That is important information to know.

Also, to be fair to profs, there are some very good reasons why they may be bad at teaching students. It may not be their primary job, especially in STEM fields at research universities. That being said it is useful to jump in with your eyes wide open. They may have been tapped to teach lower level material that they themselves may not have engaged with in a while.

Take it as my first advice on actually teaching, almost every subject being taught to a student simplifies or even ignores complexity and edge cases. And if you are somebody who HAS to be aware of them ignoring them can be a hard mental hurdle to jump.

Beyond avoiding bad professors, you also want to be on the lookout for really good professors. I barely scraped through my college years and I honestly do think that the difference between me graduating and not is I had a lot of good professors at exactly the right times offering encouragement or opportunities to gain incite outside of class.

One of the reasons why I stuck J-school out is because MSU had a lot of good journalism professors who were willing to interact with students outside of class, even willing to be pulled for interviews on stories.

Teaching Requirements
Different places and even subjects have different teaching requirements. Be aware of those as you are going through a teaching program.

Opportunities Before Graduation
I am actually opposed to people without certification "teaching" (Note the first paragraph.) but the State of Michigan is in the middle of an education crisis. Right now there are lots of opportunities to get your feet wet. This person has already made clear that ultimately they probably won't be sticking around in the state permanently but they will get their degree here. If they want to gain experience outside of an educa.. you know what I mean they can.

 After about college 90 credits or about 2 years, they could sub. I do not recommend substitute teaching unless you are serious about going into the profession. The pay is too low and stress is too high for that job to function as a job. It helps to think of it as an industry-specific paid internship. (Isn't that what student teaching is for.)

Also, schools are desperate for teachers right now so they have crazy bonuses for people who may commit to getting those things and sticking with the school.

Let me repeat. THESE ARE THINGS I THINK ARE MAKING THE EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM WORSE!  I quit subbing for lots of reasons but the worst was the feeling (I don't have data) there were more long-term substitutes than certified teachers.

Happy Miles. Positive Miles.

Next even early on it might be a good idea to show up at the local school board meetings. It's free and open to the public. Anybody can go.

The school board essentially acts as the boss of your of your boss and understanding their logic is extremely useful even if it's not the specific school board of the district you end up teaching.

Fun fact my middle science teacher for a while ended up as the superintendent of the District. Having a broader view of how the system works is useful.

Charters vs Public Schools
Ehghghghghghgh

It's political and I have my opinion.  (One of the charter schools I subbed at is in the middle of a huge lawsuit that may or may not go to the Supreme Court, another cheated teachers out of paychecks,  and another was headed by a scam artist. See the first paragraph!)

Happy Miles. Positive Miles.

But even so in this day and age if you are going into education you need to at least know charter schools are a thing. Right now about half the kids in Detroit aren't being taught in traditional public education and love it or hate it you can't pretend it's not a thing, especially considering the charters have lower starting requirements.

Regardless of whether or not you prefer to teach public school, there is a very good chance that your first job will be teaching in a charter school.

Team Work

In a school, you can not cowboy out. There are too many moving parts. It is really really easy to screw up somebody else's job even without realizing it. I repeat do not cowboy out. Even as a sub there was too much for one person to do in managing a single class. You need all the help you can get.

Students (A primer on classroom managment) 


As a student, the worst experience I have had by far in a classroom was in a class where the students were in open mutiny against the teacher. They hated her, she hated them.

To quote some famous guy. If you have to choose it's better to be feared than loved but never be hated.

The reason why this case sticks out to me is that these were kids who wanted to learn. It was an AP class and most of these students were acutely aware that doing well on the AP exams could save them hundreds maybe even thousands of dollars. And that money may be the difference between going to the school they want and not even if they were already accepted.

And they were hitting brick walls.

As a sub one of my goals was to avoid that situation, where it's not just kids getting off task, or getting a little lazy, or a little rowdy but where they openly want you fired.

And I have sympathy for the teacher. She wasn't originally supposed to be teaching the course. There was a beloved physics teacher (he was great at his job) who's wife got another job in another place and he decided to go with her, and the district struggled to find somebody else to teach AP physics and in desperation went to the department head... who was a better department head than a teacher.

You'll notice this happens a lot if you go to school board meetings. The parents and students want something to happen and the administration just can't find or keep a teacher for a certain course or activity and it either has to go away or they have to make due.

Anyway. Recognize when a mutiny is happening and cut it off. Regardless of age or size if 25 people disagree with you they and are absolutely obstinate probably will have their way whether you like it or not.   I don't know the best way to do that but a way is to it designate a first mate. You need to be subtle about it. because being a teacher's pet is an easy way to get the other kids to hate them and everybody knows this. But having another student or two who can advocate for you to the rest of the class in their terms is extremely useful and can help you know when you need to bend a little before order completely breaks down.

Almost every teacher is going to hear about "classroom" management. That's my starting advice. I was horrible at classroom management. Kids do not respect substitute teachers. There are lots of "good" reasons for this. But one of the few things that did work was to actually let the kids have what they wanted. They aren't dumb and especially if the (practical) negative consequences are short-term and immediate they'll get it.

For instance, teachers would tell me they hate noise in the halls so I would have a rule that the kids couldn't leave the room for lunch or recess until it was quiet. If they were late they had themselves to blame and a lot of them got that and understood it and would actively try to help me get the line quiet.  I had a rule that kids could only go out to the bathroom one at a time. If one kid held up the rest of the class by basically skipping they only had themselves to blame and the rest of the class would enforce the rules for me ideally (though not always) making my job easier.

Parents
How involved parents are in their student's school lives is going to vary. You may have parents who literally sit in on classes and you may have parents that are nowhere to be seen but in either case, they will be a factor. Even early on I was mostly just trying to collect a paycheck so I was horrible at interacting with parents after hours but sometimes it would come up.

Be cognizant that their interest in you is their kid. People go a little crazy over their kids. It can be annoying but expect it. Moreover. Good involved parents are invaluable. The reason why kids don't respect subs is that they know it takes a lot of work on my end that I may or may not want to do in order to hold them responsible for their actions. I may be there for one day. I don't know anybody's name. And most of all they may never see me again in their lives. And I get this. I understand this. It is what takes the social pressure off me whenever I feel like I am in danger of being a robot.  It's not always a bad thing. But it did make my life hell for a while. You know who they will see, who they have to deal with? Thier parents.

Other Teachers

I have different thoughts about different times in my academic career but in terms of how the system was set up, I actually like middle school the best. See in middle school they sort of did this thing where they sorted all the kids into a sort of "house" for lack of a better word. The kids had mostly the same schedules with the exception of electives, with most of the same teachers. and that fact let the teachers work with each other behind the scenes.

For instance, the math and science teachers could say, that a big project was actually for both classes and act accordingly letting the students work on big complicated projects in both classes with both experience pools to draw on. I really like that idea because of no matter how you slice it the kids outnumber you.

Even when they are on their best behavior there are going to be situations that demand you be in two places at once. For instance, when I was subbing I was under instructions to NEVER leave the kids by themselves. But there was one student who had to use crutches and just couldn't keep up with everybody else and so another teacher was fine watching the class for the five minutes or so I could watch this kid who had to move up a level in the school (I don't remember if it was stairs or an elevator).

And dear god bathrooms. When I first started subbing I would get all of these reports that kids were horsing around in bathrooms but bathrooms are segregated by gender. It was incredibly useful to coordinate bathroom time with a female teacher so I don't have my logic circuits shorted anytime there is a situation that demanded an adult in the girls bathroom.

Non-Administrative Staff (Be nice to the custodian)


While I complain about how crappy people (especially in this state) treat teachers, they treat the other staff in school worse. And we need these people. Be nice. Try not to make their jobs any harder than they have to be.

The worst of it a cleaning staff. When I was subbing my model for how I wanted to run a class were my teachers. And the biggest hurdle to that is the kids would destroy the room where it was almost unrecognizable as a classroom.  Most of my prep hour went to just cleaning the room. I have a profound respect for the cleaning staff in the school. They can be the difference between a school physically being a school and it not.

These guys are underpaid and have to manage the entire building. Ideally they should be able to get away with cleaning each classroom once a week.  These kids could destroy a class in an hour.  (And every time they did I died a little inside.)

Furthermore, I was a contractor to a subbing company and they didn't really train me. Like I said I suck at classroom management. But a lot of these guys knew the school, knew the teachers, knew and new the kids and occasionally even knew the parents.

I may have felt like I was eaten alive but without the cafeteria personnel and the custodians and the paraprofessionals, I would have had a nervous breakdown.

They could tell me when a kid was lying or not and that was incredibly valuable to me.

Office Staff
Information makes or breaks me and generally speaking the folks behind the office desk are the most knowledgeable about how the school actually runs. Whose in charge? What does the schedule look like? What does the Callander look like? How do you get supplies? Where are the copy machines? Did anybody not come in today? Are there any parents running around?

They know this stuff.

... And as a result, they are incredibly busy. If you piss them off they can make your life hell but if they like you dear god do they make the trains run on time.

Department Heads
I don't really know what they do.  I know they do something. A lot of my teachers over the years doubled as department heads. But I never got entrenched enough in the system that I got a first-hand look at what they do.

The District Board and Administration
One of the most direct ways parents have of holding schools accountable is electing the school board. They can literally fire the people in charge of the schools if they want. Which is amazing to me. Ain't democracy grand.  My view of what both the superintendent and the rest of the administration do is execute the desires of the school board and by extension the parents.

Moreover, the board and administration are responsible for the allocation of resources, which is important.

Classroom Management 

As stated I was horrible at it.  There are some good books out there but I haven't really read them well enough to recommend them. Just know that if you are struggling there is help out there for you.



A Word on Curriculum and Supplemental Materials

So again I'm speaking as a sub, not a regular teacher. I was never in charge of curriculum unless something bad had happened. And most teachers aren't. That's not exactly right. Teachers can craft lesson plans but teachers don't have the absolute control over curriculum most people think they do for a lot of reasons. 

The most obvious reason is standardized tests. All sorts of things are tied to them some of which are by law, such as funding or closure of a school so teachers often "teach to the test.  It gets even weirder in high schools where students take tests that aren't mandatory but can still have huge consequences. Remember my AP example. 

Beyond that there is money, supplemental materials cost money and teacher salaries are crap. For instance, it is very hard for an English teacher to get a classroom set.   30 books X 10 dollars per book = $300 That is a significant amount of money. 

Next of course is the pacing of the class. Teachers have some leeway of "okay I think you guys need an extra week on this subject"  But teachers get excited by the subject matter. they want to expose kids to lots of books or ideas or whatever and time is finite especially with those tests looming over. Textbooks are generally paced better than making things up on the fly, though that is one of the things that comes with experience. 

Experienced teachers are better at figuring how long it's going to take the class to "get" something.  

Regardless teachers out of necessity rely on the materials the school board approves. Those materials set the template of the curriculum. And the state and district school boards have a lot of control over textbooks. 

Also, most schools require the principal approve lesson plans allowing them to veto stuff.  

P.S. Even if you are a male teacher it will be useful for you to take a female sex-ed class if you teach middle or high school. There were a few situations where stuff was happening and I didn't know because as a guy never needed to know and the students were not going to tell me. And I made a situation a lot more embarrassing than it had to be.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Medium Is the Message



So I went to a journalism panel. I liked it, but walking in one of the things I was afraid of was that the panel was going to bash the internet, and for the most part, they didn't but I still think it's worth talking about.

See I graduated from MSU J-school in 2010 and the overall conversation regarding journalism back then was "Oh dear lord the internet is going to eat us!"

It feels like journalists have moved on from that line of thought but with the proliferation of fake news I have this fear that the journalistic establishment will backslide, and for obvious reasons, that's bad for me. I've pretty much spent the last 7 years of my life trying to prove David Simon wrong. There are times when doubt the wisdom of that choice.

But as a guy who uses his computer as a second brain, I disliked how the internet was viewed as an inherently negative force. Good journalism is good journalism and bad journalism is bad journalism regardless of how its delivered to its audience.

I don't know how much I deserve credibility but I want to be judged on the merits of the work rather than the medium by which I choose to communicate.

That is not to say I don't have problems with internet media. I suck at marketing and advertising and even if I didn't CPM is horrible.

But beyond that what I feel was left unsaid 10 years ago is the medium is the message. That a lot of what distinguishes internet content from say film or television developed because of technological and production limitations; the run time of videos, jump cuts. Even the content itself is shaped by the fact that a huge chunk of the audience will be interacting with it not on its original page but on their Facebook and Twitter feeds.


Pursuing the News in the Era of Social Media, Divisive Politics and Declining Revenues



A Journalism Panel Held at the Southfield Public Library on March 7, 2018

Moderator: Maureen McDonald

Speakers:

  • Eddie Allen
  • Matt Roush
  • Jennifer Cherry Foster
  • Ed Garsten

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 12, 2018 Southfield City Council Meeting







An agenda and related documents can be found here.



For more content like this please visit www.cypheredwolf.com and please support me on Patreon.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

It's Long Time We Reexamined Dot Hack



I am an isekai apologist. I love Sword Art Online and all of the knock-offs it inspired but when I listen to people give their point by point breakdowns on why they don't like it I can't really disagree with them. All of that stuff is true. But I also believe that the core conceit of being stuck in a video game has a lot of interesting possiblities and SAO does deliver on enough of them to be engaging.

That being said even I'll admit that season after season the genre gets more and more watered down and hard to like as it copies more and more of the elements that didn't work in SAO.

... Our jaded programer protagonist who kind of hates MMORPGS because they are his job and actually kind of made Death March To Parallel World kind of interesting for 2 episodes is getting a harem ... with slave girls. Yaaaaaaaay.

And I think okay if I were to use all commentary, all the critique to fix SAO, to make it a show beyond otaku instant gratification what would it look like?

What if they made it so Asuna spent more time doing guild stuff and could show off how badass she was?  What if they made it so that instead of fawning over him Kirito's harem actually did plot-relevant stuff? Heck what if instead of just saying he has trouble dealing with people ... while having nearly every female character want to date him Kirito actually did have trouble dealing with people and all of his friends had lengthy discussions about why they hang out with this guy who can't help himself from pissing them off?  For that matter what if he actually had a personality that made him act in ways that weren't a just generic hero stuff? What if there were a character in the story specifically designed to do all the crazy hacker stuff required to solve the plot rather than the 15-year-old kid hero whose primary qualification amounts to being really good at playing video games? What if the story focused a lot more on the existential horror and dread of not being able to go back to the real world and why that was happening rather than spending a bunch of it's time in a log cabin in the woods playing house?

I would probably end up with something that looked a lot like .Hack specifically .Hack//Sign the first anime iteration of the franchise.

That's not to say that .Hack is perfect. Even //Sign which is both arguably the best of the .Hack franchise and the one that least requires knowledge of the property as a whole ends in a way that requires you to play the games... that were released on PS2.  And yes for a fantasy show ostensibly about an action-heavy video game it is very talky.

Also I want to differentiate between isekai or trapped in another world stories and what I'm going to dub cyber isekai or trapped in another world stories where the world in question overtly runs on video game rules.  Trapped in another world stories have a long history even in anime and I dislike that everybody pretends like it started with Sword Art Online which by the way is kind of why I'm writing this. Heck even if you just wanted to stick to dude stuck in a vaguely video gamey world Digimon has you beat.

All the same rather than saying SAO is the progenitor of modern (cyber) isekai I would say .Hack did it first and better warts, and all.

One of the biggest problems people have regarding .Hack//Sign is especially compared to modern stories it doesn't feel like it's about video games. It's not fun.  No. No, it's not.  It's a story about the segregation of offline and online identity and communication and how that divide is an illusion. About how even in a game whose entire purpose is escapism these characters, these miserable saps,  can't run from who they are in the real world. Because more than an isekai story or even a fantasy story .Hack is a post cyber-punk story.



Thursday, February 8, 2018

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Southfield January 29, 2018 City Council Meeting



An agenda and related documents can be found here.
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I'm Going to Pick On the Financial Diet



So I have money problems. And I have spent the last 7 years doing the same thing I always do when I have a problem I can't seem to wrap my head around. Go to the internet for advice. And there is no shortage of places to go to for financial advice on the internet.

After spending years trying to figure out ways to reorganize how I spend money the only conclusion I can make is that I simply need to make more money. No amount of cost-shaving or budgeting is really going to change that.

Yet that's most of the (not obviously a scam) financial advice on the internet.

For simple shorthand, I'm going to use the Financial Diet. They give good advice... if you already have enough money to do the things you need to do and live comfortably. But what if you don't?

I don't blame the Financial Diet for that. They do what they do well. It's just that I don't see a lot of places giving the other type of advice. Realistic advice like how to get a job in your field after college, or how to avoid multilevel marketing scams, or how to gauge whether or not you are getting paid too much or too little for your work, or how to figure out if you can survive on your salary with the cost of living in your city, or how to accurately gauge the value of potential purchases.

This, by the way, is why I love John Oliver. He is the only person I really see in the mainstream even close to giving this type of advice short of actual journalists.

And then I think about why.

Giving that type of advice requires a little bit of cynicism. A little bit of acknowledgement that yes to a certain extent the system and the individuals who profit from it are out to keep you down and bilk you for everything you're worth and the remedy is to make it your chief goal in life to become smart enough so you can cut 'em off at the pass and even then the odds aren't good.

That requires a certain type of worldview or at least a certain amount of openness to it.  And that worldview does not sell well.

Regardless more and more I'm getting the feeling that the places I've been looking aren't the places to get the advice I really need.

...So I'm getting more cynical as I get older.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Let's Talk About Player Generated Content (I Really Want To Play Ark)


So yeah I've been jonesing to get back into video games for years and have a list. And on the top... 10 of that list is Ark. And it's on there for a specific reason. Ark at least, in theory, fulfills a promise games have been making to me for a long damn time.

Let's talk about player generated content.

Okay if I had to guess I'd say I got into RPGs around 2001 for the same reason everybody else got into RPGs around 2001.




People do not know how much that movie effected media in the early days of the new millennium. Sure it's easy to point to all of the movies that were trying to be the new Lord of the Rings and how everything after was trying to be a trilogy but books and video games were trying to take the fantasy crown.

Anyway, it showed that there was a market for sword and sorcery and rejuvenated the video game industry in regards to role-playing games. Specifically role-playing games with a western methodology.

Not counting Bioware and maybe if you squint Blizard there just weren't as many western fantasy RPGs coming out as JRPGs. And that matters because in general especially at the time, JRPGs were much more story based often restricting player choice for the sake of the narrative. 

While the much of the core of western RPGs was allowing players to customize their characters and how they played.

To this day this is a core difference between the two types of RPG.

In general, western RPGs have a much more open-ended feel where players are offered much more freedom. And the zenith of this was having a game where multiple players were plopped in a world together and essentially told to use each other to make their own fun.



Yeah. I played a lot of MMORPGs. In retrospect, a lot of them don't hold up not because the ideas sucked (don't worry I'm writing this whole thing because of you Shadowbane my whole hope is that ARK is a better you.) but because the technology just wasn't there. What are you going to do? Everybody still had dial-up and lag was terrible for most games.

But the few that worked really did open the door to the idea of players as content. Rather than using NPCs and scripted events to create believable yet still fictional worlds MMORPGs did so organically via player interactions.

And the next logical place to go after having players build the world is literally having players build the world.

And MMORPGs have been trying to figure out how to do this for a while.

But in almost every game I tried with the exception of Minecraft it tends not to work. And I really really really really want it to.

The question almost always comes down to how much control and how many options to give the players.

Regardless, to me, Ark seems like the game that might have actually cracked the code and I want to see it.

Note: It's not the same thing but one of the earliest examples I can think of where putting players in charge of an area actually worked was Lineage II's siege system. Since that game is still around I thought I would note it.  

Monday, January 29, 2018

Favorite Fantasy Anime Shows



So the reason why I'm jonesing so hard to get back into video games is at least partially because Overlord is back and is heavily leaning on classic old-school RPG and fantasy tropes. But it airs once a week so... here are my other favorite sword and sorcery anime. And just to keep things fair I'm going to try to avoid talking about stuff I put on my other list.  And I'm going to try not to discuss shows I only know by reputation. Sorry, Yona of the Dawn,  Slayers, and Record of Lodoss War. Also while I've seen everything on this list and have tried to differentiate it a lot of my memory was jogged by My Mother's Basement's "Five Fantasy Anime You Probably Missed" video. 

Sorcerous Stabber Orphen

 Let's start old school. For better or worse most anime of the 90's didn't take themselves all that seriously. The dub voice acting specifically was seldom dramatically ambitious. The tradeoff is that a lot of them are really fun and funny and Orphen is one of those. There is a dramatic plot. You will not care you'll just love the journey.

Claymore


For a lot of reasons I hope they remake Claymore eventually. It has interesting characters and good story but it was produced at a time where the focus was more on action and there it delivers. If you want gore, gore it has. But I feel that this incarnation of it was kind of a wasted opportunity.

All the same. I really do like Claire as a character. It's relatively easy to convey hot anger, but getting cold anger across on screen takes skill. And Claire is the anime epitome of cold anger. And the entire story is about making her realize how truly pissed she is and calming her the hell down before it kills her.

Avatar the Last Airbender & The Legend of Korra


It's anime. Fuck you, fight me. Most of it was animated in Korea and nobody gets there nickers in a twist debating whether that stuff counts as anime. Furthermore, the show along with its sequel is just too good to leave off a list of my favorite fantasy shows animated or otherwise. especially with how Last Airbender ended. If I had to make a list of best finales that show would probably top it.


The Heroic Legend of Arslan

It's the most ambitious fantasy show I've seen in some time, with epic battles and huge production values.

Beast Player Erin
I'm a sucker for stories that follow a single character throughout their life and Beast Player Erin is one of those. But beyond that. It has a strong message (these animals are not pets) that it gets across by showing rather than telling. Specifically, the entire story has a tension regarding the use of tamed and domesticated animals, and it's just really intriguing watching wondering how they are going to resolve it.


Moribito: Guardian of the Sacred Spirit


You've got your action. You've got your drama. You got your intrigue. There is something in this show for everybody. That said it kind of switches gear in the middle, becoming a different show until its ends.  Oh and hey it looks like they made a live action version that was up for an Emmy. WATCH THIS SHOW!

Spice and Wolf

Hey, who wants a crash course in currency markets. Eh, Spice and Wolf was just really refreshing. Most of these stories are about a warrior on a quest. This one is about merchant trying to make bank while not going bankrupt.

And a lot of it is him talking his trade and trying not to get swindled by other merchants.

Resturant to Another World

Again sometimes you want the traditional, "I be strongest warrior I go on quest to save village" but...it's been done a million times and occasionally I want something different. And Resturant to Another World is that. It's a fantasy anthology more or less centered around a restaurant.  Because it's not so concerned with EPIC narrative it can get away with telling smaller more atmospheric stories I rarely see in sword and sorcery largely because they wouldn't add anything to a larger story unless they were the point in and of themselves and here they are.

That being said don't watch it unless you're prepared to be hungry by the end of each episode.

Scrapped Princess

Talking about what makes Scrapped Princess good would be a spoiler. But it is probably one of the best anime I've seen that does what it is trying to do.


Snow White With The Red Hair

I have a thing for post-modern reimaginings of fairy tales. And this is a great one. It's not Snow White if that's what you're looking for but it's a story that draws on it for inspiration and is one of the most charming anime romances I've ever seen.



Maoyu: Archenemy and Hero

It was a casualty of how we watch anime these days. It had a decent time in the spotlight before everybody moved on. But still, I think did what it was trying to do pretty well. Which again was get past the "I be strong hero. I save village" thing.

The Twelve Kingdoms
I lied. I couldn't resist putting this on here. For a really long time, it was my favorite anime. And I just couldn't keep from mentioning it even if I did put it on another list. GO WATCH THE TWELVE KINGDOMS!


People Should Give The Windows 95 Sampler and Entertainment Packs More Credit


... So I'm jonesing to get back into PC gaming. (And create a killer tech set up in general... Someday.)  While I'd honestly like to return to my pupal stage of "coreness" I'm not there and won't be for a long time. And free to play games (with some notable exceptions) have not been able to scratch that itch.  To be fair most of the free to play games I've tried have been browser or mobile based because right now I just can't afford the type of hardware it would take to play anything more but all the same it's just not happening for me. Most of what I play has basically been skinner box stuff while waiting to eventually have fun.

And the combination of that and the brokeness has been causing me to reevaluate free or cheap games I liked and played before I became "a hardcore gamer"

The games that came on the demo disk for Windows 95, as well as Microsoft's Entertainment Packs, don't get nearly enough credit as they deserve in the history of PC gaming.

I love consoles. Can't afford them right now but I love and always had loved the general set up of a big screen and a controller to relax with that they afford. But again they're essentially expensive toys and always have been. I'm not calling anybody who loves games juvenile, god no.  Just acknowledging that console gaming is expensive and on the list of financial priorities is pretty low as a fun luxury for most people and always has been.

But computers have always been a more justifiable expense with many people needing if not a desktop, some form of a computing device for work and daily life. And especially in the early days, those games set the standard for what casual and even occasionally hardcore PC gaming would look like for those people.

I Would Prefer an Upfront Price ... But That's Not the Way The Market Works



 I am a gamer.

I like playing video games. Have as far back as I can remember. But I haven't played many recently. My computer is the sort of junker that makes playing anything made past 2012 force me to hurl things at it. And being super broke with a mountain of debts I can't justify spending half a grand on consoles that are still essentially toys, luxury items for me to play with.

Still to me playing video games is one of the fastest ways for me to actually enjoy myself. I am really hoping for the day when I am just able to get back into the game. As such I try to stay current on games I might like and the general conversation occurring around the medium.

And for the past year, it's been microtransactions. microtransactions, mictrotransactions.

But this week Extra Credits put out a video explaining things from the industry side with an interesting argument.

Video games should not cost $60 anymore.

Now for me, it's a bit hypothetical. I don't have the money for new games and haven't for a while. But if I did somehow earn that dump truck of stupid money and could do whatever I wanted would I have a problem paying $75-100 for new video games? Do I feel that that would be a fair price?

Sure.

What annoys me most about microtransactions and even day one DLC, again I'm dealing hypothetically here, is that they obscure the real price of the game, how much money it takes to get a fully enjoyable experience.

I feel like right now a lot of these games are essentially lying to consumers telling them the game will be enjoyable to them at the $60 mark when it's been developed from the ground up not to be.

Furthermore, without a set price or even guidelines, these games can feel downright predatory, extravagantly bilking their customers regardless of what it does to their lives. Sometimes you got to know when to cut 'em off.

But here is the thing. A price hike on games would require a first penguin. It would require a major studio being willing to be the first and take all the slings and arrows that implies. They aren't living in a vacuum. It hurts me to say it but there just isn't the variety there used to be in AAA games as there used to be, at least from where I sit. If Activision were the studio to do it (they won't be) with Call of Duty, EA would be sitting in the wings selling nearly the exact same game with a sticker price of $20-40 less.

Moreover. Even though I don't play games this conversation seems kind of "hardcore" (maybe I haven't been keeping up with the conversation as well as I should have been) and dear god I know how that sounds. But hear me out. I understand the frustration with microtransactions. Heck, I WAS RAISED ON MAGIC THE GATHERING! But a parent who doesn't play games buying their kids Star Wars Battlefront II for a birthday present might not. They're likely to just see a lower price on the shelf not realizing what it means. As I said in the beginning. As much as I would like to get into the game they are still essentially expensive toys.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Vikings' Real Problem... The Last Kingdom

So I love me some dudes with swords. So you know I've been all up in Vikings. But this season has been off. I don't hate it, but its hard not to feel like the show is spinning it's wheels, especially when somebody points out how much Viking Civil War feels like a giant waste of time.

I can only speculate as to why the writers don't just focus on the conquest of Wessex, but my guess is because both narratively and historically the most logical place for the show to go is The Last Kingdom.


Since really the death of Ragnar my biggest question with Vikings was how they were going to essentially tell the same story as The Last Kingdom when they caught up to it. When it came out The Last Kingdom in a lot of ways was Vikings: The Next Generations.  And then Vikings had that time skip and it became evident that the show actually did intend to tell the story of The Great Heathen Army

There are a few notable differences, Vikings is from the Danes' point of view. Though they aren't exactly unsympathetic in The Last Kingdom they are well established as the series antagonists and I was looking forward to a different perspective especially considering the dueling religious outlook of the factions. Both shows dip a toe into magical realism but Vikings more so and dealing with that would have been fun.

And then there is Bjorn. I'm not caught up on the second season of The Last Kingdom. But the first was notably Bjornless and Bjorn is my favorite character. It was going to be fun seeing what he was up to around this time. (We only got like three episodes in the Mediterranean when I was hoping he we would spend the entire season over there kicking ass.)

Regardless it was going to be a hard needle to thread. Before they actually showed up if you wanted to flash forward to "The Sons of Ragnar Lodbrok" The Last Kingdom was the place to go.

But more and more it seems the show is uninterested in retreading The Last Kingdom, thus The Viking Civil War.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Southfield January 9, 2018 Board of Education Organizational Meeting







  • Election of Officers

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January 8, 2018 Michigan 11th District Congressional Republican Debate


Cook Rating of District 
R+4 

Date
January 8, 2018

Place 
Novi Emagine Theatre
44425
W. 12 Mile Road
Novi, MI 48377

Republican Candidates 

  • Lena Epstein
  • Kerry Bentivolio  
  • Kurt Heise 
  • Klint Kesto 
  •  Andrew Raczkowski 
  • Kristine Bonds 


Democrat Candidates (Not Debating)

  • Tim Greimel
  • Dan Haberman  
  • Fayrouz Saad 
  • Haley Stevens 
  • Suneel Gupta


 Moderators 

  • Scott Hagerstrom
  • Thayrone X 
  • Meshawn Maddock 


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