Cold Turkey Writer

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Scene from a recent trip to Newport, RI.

Here’s a thing you must do right now if you are easily distracted like me and can’t focus on writing:

Go to Cold Turkey Writer and download the app. It’s free, unless you like it enough that you want the pro version. What it does is, when you open the app, it opens to full screen, and you cannot quit or minimize it until you reach your wordcount/time limit. And that’s literally it. Either you write, or you don’t access your computer.

In the past I used apps like Self Control, which turned off my internet for a certain length of time (my default was 6 hours). Which was fine, and reduced distractions, except I tended to turn it on and then go do something else for 6 hours until the time expired. Great for doing things like laundry; not so much for getting words done. What’s great about Cold Turkey Writer is that I can’t use the internet, or anything else, until I write the words. And cut and paste doesn’t work, so I can’t just write a bit and then copy and paste it a bunch of times to quickly get to the goal. I have to write.

My routine right now has been to set it before I go to bed. That way I don’t get up in the morning and lounge around reading Twitter and Feedly until it’s time for work, and then get home from work and do the same until it’s time for bed. Instead, I don’t get access to any of those things until I reach my goal, and if I don’t reach my goal, welp—no internet for me.

So if you have problems with productivity, check it out. It might help.

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My only regret in taking this photo is that I didn’t see the unicycle owner ride up.

In other news, I’ve been rewatching the entirety of the Star Trek series. So far I’ve seen all 79 episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series, as well as the first 6 movies. In the past, I’d only ever seen Star Trek: Voyager, since it was airing on TV when I was growing up. (And fuck you with your “Oh my condolences.” I LIKED Voyager, okay?) I already knew the major plot points, but I wanted to see all of it. The television series is entertaining, if fluffy. The movies have been pretty good except for The Final Frontier, which was terrible. (Holy shit, who thought Kirk, Spock and McCoy singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” around a campfire was a good idea?) I look forward to seeing the rest.

 

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Life update

My buddy Aimee Ogden received the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story Award at the International Space Development Conference yesterday in San Juan, Puerto Rico for her amazing short story “Dear Ammi.” Aimee has been letting me read her still unpublished stuff in the guise of critiquing it, as if it even needs it, and let me tell you, this lady is talented. She’s going to be famous soon, mark my words. I can’t imagine a world in which she isn’t. Go and check her out.

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I’d post a picture of me and Aimee, but the only one I have is of us stuffing our faces with crawdads, so instead have this unflattering photo of me in a third person camera rig.

As for me, I’ve been doing my day job (which currently involves many, many hours of building a FileMaker database, and occasionally fixing printers) and getting some writing in. Aimee’s been churning out short stories like a short-story-writing machine, so it’s been guilting me into being more productive. I have a few things I’m exciting about. Oddly enough, this title generator has been the most helpful thing for my productivity. If you’re having any trouble coming up with ideas, just generate a few random titles and then try to think of what sort of story would fit that title. It’s remarkably effective.

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The cat, meanwhile, has been sapping that productivity away.

I’ve started exercising again, and to keep myself motivated, I’ve been trying to catch up on all those classic movies and tv shows that I’ve never seen. So far I’ve seen The Princess Bride, Grease, and Pulp Fiction. Soon to come are Jaws and Alien. I know just about everything that happens in those movies, since they’re so much a part of popular culture, but I never got around to actually watching them, so now is the time. What else should I watch? Labyrinth? The Godfather? Casablanca?

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Also I’ve been baking.

Oh, and I’ve been making music. Or rather, I’ve been playing around with Garageband, which used to be an obsession of mine about ten or eleven years ago. I like playing around with the free loops the app provides and making songs out of them. I set up a Soundcloud account with the songs I made, all under a creative commons license. So use them, if you like! Or at least listen to them. Or not. Whatever.

What else? I’ve been reading the Welcome to Night Vale novel. I’m a fan of the podcast and I bought the book a while ago, but only recently started reading it. At first it seemed a tad…hmm, I dunno, weird for the sake of being weird? But it’s growing on me. And if you enjoy that, check out the Alice Isn’t Dead podcast. It’s a very good story and I’ve had a crush on the narrator, Jasika Nicole, since she was Astrid Farnsworth on Fringe. Oh my gosh her voice is amazing.

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Just kidding! Here’s that picture of me and Aimee eating crawdads. My hair was very red at the time.

So that has been the state of me. What about you? Have you been up to anything interesting recently?

Anyone remember Fallout Shelter?

Hey, remember Fallout Shelter? That free iPhone game that everyone played the week it came out and then slowly stopped mentioning after that? Yeah, that one.

I still play it now and then, mainly as a way to make myself wake up in the mornings. It’s more effective to open Fallout Shelter than hit the snooze button. I’ve gone through several vaults by now, one of which I played through to absolute capacity.

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All the way down to Earth’s core

Continue reading “Anyone remember Fallout Shelter?”

Review: Captain America Civil War

I caught a showing of Captain America: Civil War this afternoon with my writing and movie buddy R.K. Bentley. It was a much better Avengers movie than the last Avengers movie, and frankly I’m glad Joss Whedon wasn’t involved in this one because it was all the better for it.

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Keep your friends close and your enemies so close…you’re almost…kissing…

Marvel is getting itself into dangerous territory, though, with this enormous library of intra-referential movies. Civil War is at its best if you’ve seen Captain America, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Avengers, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Ant Man, and probably a couple of the Spider-Man movies. If you haven’t seen half of those movies—at the very least both Captain Americas and the second Avengers movie—then Civil War is a bit of a confusing mess.

Luckily I’d seen all of those except Ant Man, and I was able to figure that bit out from the context. The movie expects you’ve seen them and doesn’t explain more than the minimum. I pity anyone who’s trying to get into the franchise with this movie.

Spoilers ahead! Continue reading “Review: Captain America Civil War”

Game Review: Rust

Last week, many players of the survival sandbox game Rust woke up to a sudden, surprising change in their characters—half of them were now female. This was a permanent change, and was linked to players’ accounts so it would stay the same across different servers. Previously, the game had randomly assigned skin color and, oddly, penis size as well. The latter actually is an issue because unlike in most games, you start off completely naked and most players stay that way. Since there are extremely few games that require players to play as anything other than mysteriously endowed white men, some players found this extremely disconcerting. Game dev Garry Newman responded in an op ed in the Guardian.

Inevitably, there are people who like it and people who don’t. Some players have praised what we’re doing. Like us, they think that who you are in the game, your race and gender, makes no difference to the actual gameplay – and are happy to have the diversity. Others aren’t so positive. They feel that playing a gender or race that doesn’t match their own is detrimental to their enjoyment.

These articles were enough to make me want to play it, and since I already got a copy of the game in a Humble Bundle, I decided to give it a go. Mostly, I just wanted to know what size my penis would be. Continue reading “Game Review: Rust”

Dawn of Justice: Not As Bad As You’ve Been Led to Believe

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Late in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Jonathan Kent tells Superman about a time when he was a child and the river at the farm was flooding its banks. He says he and his father spent hours filling sandbags to keep the river from flooding their fields and ruining everything. Eventually they succeeded, and returned home as heroes. Except while they celebrated, the diverted river flooded the neighbors’ farm, and the scream of the drowning horses haunted him for years afterward.

That’s the theme of Dawn of Justice—the idea that saving the day has consequences. Continue reading “Dawn of Justice: Not As Bad As You’ve Been Led to Believe”

Game Review: Sunless Sea

Thirty years ago, the city of London was stolen by bats. Now it’s in the Unterzee, that dark ocean below the Earth’s surface, and you’re a zee captain, sailing from port to port.

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Sunless Sea is a Steam game that started as a browser game called Fallen London. You can still play Fallen London for free here. The universe is the same, but the characters you play and the storylines you follow are separate. I recommend you check out Fallen London (why not? It’s free!) and make an account, but this review is dealing entirely with Sunless Sea. Continue reading “Game Review: Sunless Sea”

This is, in fact, a review of ARK: Survival Evolved

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Last August I bought ARK: Survival Evolved, the fun new early access dinosaur survival game, and just barely made it to the character creation screen before having to ask Steam for a refund, since it demanded way too much of my old, laggy laptop. This week, with my new iMac and 24 GB of RAM, I bought the game for a second time and tried again.

ARK: Survival Evolved is set on a 48 square kilometer prehistoric island (apparently called “ARK”) full of dinosaurs. Well, I say prehistoric; there are hints that things are not exactly as ancient as you might think. First, when you wake up on the beach, naked and shivering, you find a glowing crystal implanted in your wrist. This is where you access your inventory and crafting menu. Second, there are massive glowing towers in the distance, and every so often beams of light will descend from the heavens, carrying supplies.

Continue reading “This is, in fact, a review of ARK: Survival Evolved”

Conspicuously absent

Earlier this month, Disney expressed their shock at the #WheresRey campaign on Twitter. Wait, people want girls in their toys? What do you mean, people liked the main protagonist of The Force Awakens? Don’t you want to snuggle with a Kylo Ren cuddle buddy pillow instead? Slip between some Kylo Ren sheets? Maybe wear his mask? Dress up like him? Wear a t-shirt with his face on it? Wave his lightsaber around? Isn’t Kylo Ren such a badass? Finn too, I guess. Maybe Poe Dameron as well, although he didn’t play a major part in the movie. But Rey? Don’t you know she has girl parts?

I’ve spoken with Disney people, and they were completely blindsided by the reaction to the new Star Wars characters,” [Heroic Girls founder John] Marcotte went on to say. “They put a huge investment into marketing and merchandizing the Kylo Ren character. They presumed he would be the big breakout role from the film. They were completely surprised when it was Rey everyone identified with and wanted to see more of. Now they’re stuck with vast amounts of Kylo Ren product that is not moving, and a tidal wave of complaints about a lack of Rey items.”

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From the moment I saw Kylo Ren in the movie, I thought “That’s a man who likes to cuddle”

The [toy industry] insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider.

“We know what sells,” the industry insider was told. “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it.”

Meanwhile Hasbro is releasing toys like the Star Wars Monopoly game, which has every character except Rey, and a set of action figures which doesn’t include Rey or Captain Phasma but does include a faceless Stormtrooper and a faceless TIE fighter pilot. Maybe you can pretend there’s a girl under that helmet?

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 7.36.38 PMA spokesperson said that Rey wasn’t included in the Monopoly game to avoid movie spoilers, in a game that’s ostensibly about buying up real estate. Meanwhile, “The board also features Luke Skywalker and his iconic father, Darth Vader. The former, has no lines in the new Star Wars, and the latter is not even in the movie.”

Then there was the toy Millennium Falcon, which was released with Finn, Chewbacca, and BB-8, none of whom actually piloted the ship in the movie. Who did pilot it, you ask? Come on. You know the answer already.

Hint: her name starts with an R.
Hint: her name starts with an R.
It’s not like any of that is new, though. After Guardians of the Galaxy, it was impossible to find a Gamora toy. Ditto with Black Widow after the Avengers movie. You know that iconic scene in Avengers 2 where Black Widow drops out of the cargo hold of a jet in a motorcycle? You can actually buy that toy if you like—as long as you don’t mind Captain America or Iron Man or Ultron riding the motorcycle instead.
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Disney said that they left Black Widow out of merchandise because she wears a tight-fitting black body suit, and that’s too sexual for little kids. Captain America wears a tight-fitting body suit too, but that doesn’t count, most likely because he doesn’t have breasts.

The industry insider confirmed that the Black Widow character is widely considered “unusable” within the toy industry. “She has a tight black outfit. Our main customer is concerned with ‘family values,’” said the insider.

 

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I know I’m scandalized

Leaving the women out of merchandise is a calculated strategy by toy companies. In the 1970s, toys were largely gender neutral. It wasn’t until Reagan deregulated advertising to children in the early 1980s that companies began to aggressively segregate the toy market by gender. They realized that if they make boy toys and girl toys, then parents would have to buy twice as many toys for their little darlings. This strategy doesn’t just work for children, either; there are feminine and masculine versions of deodorant, razors, shampoo, soap, hand lotion, pens, pepper spray, guns, etc. Not to mention the new fad of “broga” and “brosé” and “bromance” and “guyliner” and whatever else you can put a masculine prefix onto. This way, a husband and wife won’t share the same gendered products, and better yet, companies can charge more for the female version. No, really. It’s called a pink tax.

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Guns are phallic enough without being called a “pink pumpmaster”
 Of course, people can and do buy outside of the narrow range of things targeted toward their gender, but the staggering majority of consumers don’t. If it wasn’t a lucrative strategy, companies wouldn’t do it. There have been some attempts recently to fight back against this trend, such as Target getting rid of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ toy sections. Oddly, some people were really upset about this.
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(c) Kristen Myers

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 Bethesda just released promotional photos of an extremely lifelike model of the power armor from Fallout 4. The armor is being worn by the default white male vault dweller that the game starts with. Of course, Fallout 4 allows you to heavily edit your character’s appearance and choose between two genders and multiple ethnicities, so this model looks nothing like the vault dweller I know and love. Maybe there were some players who just stuck with the default character, but if I had to guess, I’d bet that those players looked a lot like the default to begin with.
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Another case of pretending there’s a girl under the helmet

I’m aware that Bethesda wasn’t likely to make a version for every character option available. Even if they did release a female version, odds are astronomical that she would be white. The point is, that model is meant for the target demographic, just as the Star Wars Monopoly board was, and the Millennium Falcon, and the Avengers 2 motorcycle, and all those action figure sets.

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For my Fallout 4 character, life in pre-apocalyptic suburbia was hard.
Something similar happened with the Mass Effect trilogy. Like Fallout 4, you can choose between male and female characters, but all of the promotional materials for ME 1 and 2 exclusively featured the male version of Commander Shepherd. BioWare recently said that the female version was actually their original concept, though they’d intended to have both male and female options in the final game. Still, they only coded Commander Shepherd with male motion capture data, made obvious in this scene of her inability to sit in a dress. BioWare explained that only 18% of players played as a female Commander Shepherd. Even the nickname given by fans to the female version of Commander Shepherd—FemShep—implies that she’s the aberration, the female version of default Shepherd. No one ever calls the male version BroShep, because it’s assumed that he’s male. It wasn’t until Mass Effect 3 that FemShep was included in promotional materials, and only because fans requested it.
[Bioware marketing director David] Silverman says he’s been surprised by the amount of interest that Shepard’s female version has generated, but that it’s something that the team has embraced. “There aren’t enough female heroes in games in general, so it’s something that people can rally around and celebrate,” he says, adding “Jennifer Hale does an absolutely incredible job doing the voice of FemShep, so people really connect with that.”

That statement sounds strangely familiar, doesn’t it?

At the end of their apology, Hasbro said that they’ll re-release the Monopoly game with Rey included, and they’ll make sure to get some more Rey merchandise going. It’s a good start, but it remains to be seen whether the next big action movie to come out will have learned that lesson. How many movies and video games will it take before companies stop being surprised at fans’ interest in the female characters? How long before merchandise involving non-male characters is the default, not the last minute add-on?