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2015-07-01 Mass Effect RPG

Recently, Kirin Robinson started a discussion on G+ about the disqualification of the Mass Effect RPG from the ENnies. In another thread, I wrote some words about it…

Yesterday I learned that Trademark Law Does Not Require Companies To Tirelessly Censor the Internet. I didn’t know that. Bioware does have a choice. And in this case, as far as I remember it, Bioware still hasn’t contacted anybody, so it’s all happening between EN World, the Ennies, and the Don Mappin, the author.

Also, the PDF has a disclaimer at the very beginning:

What This Book Is Not

To be clear, this is not a licensed Mass Effect property. Mass Effect is the property of Bioware, a division of Electronic Arts. This is a work of fiction and done without their permission or involvement. No attempt to challenge their legal authority is intended in the publication of this material. Instead, it is our hope to expand the outreach of the Mass Effect property to another segment of games—role-players—who have long coveted a way to bring the events of Commander Shepard to life at their gaming tables. This product comes with one very important and unconditional stipulation:


As the sole property of Bioware/Electronic Arts, only they have the rights to benefit from the Mass Effect Universe. As such, this work is the result of countless unpaid hours and volunteer work to make it possible to bring to you. Why? Because we’re gamers too and we love Mass Effect just as much as you do!

I guess I'm mostly interested in outcomes. I really like the US constitution in this respect: “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”. I want more useful stuff as fast as possible. Having the Mass Effect RPG out now, fan made, is great. It’s better for the gaming public.

What about the artists? The way I read the artist attribution page in the Mass Effect RPG, all those images were available on the Internet, on blogs of concept artists, on Deviant Art. So, without considering copyright law and just considering outcomes, these artists made things available for free, and now what they made is more available, for free. The author of the Mass Effect RPG doesn’t charge money for it. Presumably he’d share his gains with the artists in some way, if he were to make any money. But he isn’t, so he doesn’t. So, it’s still better for the gaming public, and it’s better for the artists, too. Yes, they had no voice, there was no negotiation, this doesn’t consider copyright. All I’m looking at is outcomes.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m with Don Mappin, here. I wish that copyright law was different. I wish that the fair use exception to copyright were clearer. As it is, it’s incredibly hard to tell whether something falls under the exception or not. That’s not good.

I'm not a lawyer, and I’m looking at the points one ought to consider:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Reading through the Wikipedia page and following along, as a layman might be expected to, I guess:

The use was not really educational – or can a game be educational? Maybe? It teaches you how to run a Mass Effect RPG using Fate rules? Does it help “fulfill the intention of copyright law to stimulate creativity for the enrichment of the general public”? It sure looks like it to me. To me, the process of turning the video game into a set of rules for Fate is transformative, not merely derivative.

Nothing in the nature of the game seems to warrant more or less protection than usual. It doesn’t rightfully belong to the public domain. All the artwork the author used had already been published, even if not intended for use in the game, so we don’t need to consider “the aspect of whether the copied work has been previously published”.

As for the amount, I think that the material taken from the game itself is definitely not major. We’re talking some of the background material, the description of things in the game. But the games are about so much more. Characters, plots, levels, graphics. The material taken from artists is major, however. Basically the entire picture was used. I started making a little survey by searching for the first ten items on the artists credits page of the Mass Effect RPG:

  1. Huen, Benjamin. The Team. 2012. I don’t like wet socks. Cover. → available from BioWare store, official, copyright by BioWare, I assume
  2. ZingerNax. Mass Effect: Earth. 2013. deviantART. p. 1-2. → copyright by the author, inspired by but not an obvious derived work, it would seem to me
  3. 04NIloren. MASS EFFECT - SPECTRE WALLPAPER. 2012. Desktop Wallpapers 4 Me. p. 13. → looks like fan art to me
  4. Olejniczak, Patryk. Mass Effect 3 - Miranda, Mass Effect 3 - Jack, Mass Effect 3 - Zaeed Massani, Mass Effect 3 - Mordin Solus, Mass Effect 3 - Grunt, Mass Effect 3 Teaser Wallpaper, Mass Effect 3 Thane Krios, Mass Effect 3 - Kasumi Goto, Mass Effect 3 - Legion, Mass Effect 3 - Garrus. 2011. deviantART. p. 14-15, 28. → here’s a gallery, self-declared fan art (10 pieces!)
  5. devtardi. Thessia - Mass Effect 3. 2012. deviantART. p. 30. → I’m guessing fan art based on comments elsewhere (“All characters (c) by BioWare and Electronic Arts.”)
  6. rome123. Drell Assassin Infiltrator. 2012. deviantART. p. 39. → looks like official stuff because it says “model for me3 multiplayer”? But the copyright apparently does not belong to BioWare but to rome123 (or is that a limitation of deviantART?
  7. johntesh. Thane Krios 09. 2012. deviantART. p. 40. rome123. Krogan (Default). 2012. deviantART. p. 44. → self-declared as in-game screen capture
  8. DP-films. Urndot Wrex the Krogan Warlord. 2012. deviantART. p. 48. → self declared as fan art
  9. Hallucinogenmushroom. Geth Prime. 2012. deviantART. p. 53. → self declared as fan art
  10. Euderion. Fight for Rannoch. 2013. deviantART. p. 57. → self declared fan art

Looking at the numbers. Fan art: 15. BioWare: 3. Others: 1. Continuing the analysis of “amount”, I’d say that the amount of art-work taken from the Mass Effect series out of the copyrighted material by BioWare isn’t so big: 3 pieces out of a huge work. As for fan art: If they are not violating BioWare’s copyright because of the fair use exception, then another piece of fan art reusing them should not be violating BioWare’s copyright, either.

So, what is fan art? FAQ #572 has some information: “Original fan art are those works in which the submitting artist has done 100% of the work but the work itself depicts characters, scenes or other themes which were properly created by another creative person. […] Fan art may be copyright infringement and you may be forced to remove it by the copyright owner who may also choose to initiate other legal action.” I’m not sure that BioWare is interested in going after fan art in this respect. Therefore, my understanding of fair use and fan art leads me to suggest that we’re in the clear, here.

That leads us to the last point in the fair use examination, the effect upon the work’s value. Does BioWare and it’s Mass Effect based revenue suffer? Not at all, because they’re not selling a role-playing game. Now, if they were, perhaps they’d be justified under the law to go after the existing game. Now you have to argue that a company wanting to make money making a licensed game is being deterred from entering the market because the existing free fan-made game is so good, taking it down will produce a lot of bad blood. But from a customer’s perspective, that’s OK. We have copyright in order to promote the useful arts. If the useful arts are being promoted without copyright, then that’s even better. This is not an outcome to dislike, at all.

I’m still with Don Mappin.

I think we need to be careful, here. The copyright lobby is so strong, it keeps extending the copyright protection time window, it keeps bombarding us with annoying messages as we play a DVD or go to the movies. This is a war being waged about our hearts and minds. And they have all the money to run their campaigns and we have nothing except our will to share everything because we’re nice and willing to help our neighbors. That is why I don’t like people saying: “I hope that Don rebuilds and reposts the files, this time only including his work.” If we have a fair use exception to copyright, then this exception is our right. It’s a mess to figure out and and it’s hard to be sure, but if we assume that everything Don made falls under fair use, then he should not have to repost the files, and he should be free to include the works of others. That’s how we build on each others’ work. That’s how progress is made. We don’t create ex nihilo. Fair use is our right.

What about the ENies? I understand their decision. The entire thing was a hot potato. They had to make a decision, fast. And I’m guessing they don’t have legal defense funds and lawyers at their disposition. That’s how the scare tactic works. We’re afraid to exercise our right, the associations we build are afraid to exercise our right. How will we learn to claim what is ours except by pushing the boundaries and arguing for our rights?

Recommended reading: Free Culture (PDF).

Comments here or on Google+.


Comments on 2015-07-01 Mass Effect RPG

Alex Schroeder
I’m copying some of my comments from that Google+ thread to this page.

Internationally: Since I live in Switzerland, I am very well aware of the different copyright exceptions in different jurisdictions. I wrote the blog post using US Fair Use because that seemed to me to be the most relevant: the Mass Effect RPG author is based in the US. Sure, BioWare is based in Canada, but it belongs to EA, which is based in the USA, so an international case would be harder to look into.

Fan Art is illegal. I am not so sure. Yes, 17 U.S.C. § 107 says “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” But then it continues: “In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include: …” and then it goes into the four points I discussed in the blog post. In these four points, no reference is made regarding the purpose of the derived work. My reading is that these are clear cut examples of transformative use. But when I look at some of the websites talking about it (googling for fair use purpose and clicking on the top links [1][2][3]), I see that this is an area of dispute. My conclusion is that this Fair Use is murky waters. But I don’t see the purpose of a murky piece of legislation if that means we’re never going to touch it. Thus, where as I understand the decision of th ENnies, I think copyright reform is important and talking about cases, and expressing how we would have liked to see them go are an important first step in this process.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-07-02 09:36 UTC

I believe you are making some incorrect assumptions. The Fan Art itself is also copyright - even though it might also at the same time violate someone elses copyright. All creative works are copyright by default unless the author has published them explicitly without copyright or with a limited copyright. Fair use in dealing with art rarely allows you to use someone elses image. The fact that the author is not making money from the publication isnt a defence. It can be part of a defence but it is not a defence in and of itself. You also say - we don’t need to consider “the aspect of whether the copied work has been previously published” - and then move on as though that statement is sufficient to remove it as having any bearing on the matter.

Damian 2015-07-02 12:34 UTC

I’ll definitely have to think about it some more. There are also a ton more counter arguments to my post on the G+ thread. What I need to understand is why fan art collecting other fan art should be considered different from the fan art it collects. I want to figure out what the exact arguments are both from a legal standpoint and from a moral standpoint. The first stumbling block as far as I am concerned is that an entire category called Fan Art exists on Deviant Art. Why is this allowed? If it is allowed, why isn’t Mass Effect RPG allowed? If it isn’t allowed, I still feel that it should be allowed. The current copyright situation doesn’t satisfy me. (Many of the counter arguments on G+ also deal with what is legal and what is not and I feel like I’m the only one talking about the kind of change I want to see.

AlexSchroeder 2015-07-02 13:15 UTC

Alex Schroeder
I’m copying some more of my comments from that Google+ thread to this page.

Fair Use: 17 U.S.C. § 107 says “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” But then it continues: “In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include: …” and then it goes into the four points I discussed in the blog post. In these four points, no reference is made regarding the purpose of the derived work. My reading is that these are clear cut examples of transformative use. But when I look at some of the websites talking about it (googling for fair use purpose and clicking on the top links), I see that this is an area of dispute.

The EFF page mentioned above points out that time-shifting and search-engines also ended up benefiting from Fair Use. That’s why I think we’re not limited to the purposes listed in the opening of §107.

My conclusion is that this Fair Use is murky waters. But I don’t see the purpose of a murky piece of legislation if that means we’re never going to benefit from it. Thus, where as I understand the decision of the ENnies, I think copyright reform is important and talking about cases, and expressing how we would have liked to see them go are an important first step in this process.

I guess I’m arguing two different things. The first thing I’m arguing is that I don’t mind using someone else’s art without permission because I like the outcome, even if our current copyright doesn’t allow for it. The second thing I’m trying to argue is that the Fair Use exemption offers us an incremental way out: we can fight for a broader application of Fair Use until we’re getting the outcomes we want. This part is important: I know I’m not happy with copyright law as it stands. Where do we start the political process of change? We need to talk about what makes us unhappy, say what we would like to see instead. I have to start somewhere. So that is why I’m starting with the copyright limits.

Not the only solution: One counter argument I heard was that the laws are there “for a reason”. I argued that this doesn’t mean that the current solution is giving society the best outcome. The Mass Effect RPG explicitly said: UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES MAY THIS PRODUCT BE CHARGED FOR OR RENUMERATION EXCHANGE HANDS. IT MUST REMAIN FREE OF CHARGE. That doesn’t sound so bad. So yes, selling at cost via print on demand services is starting to blur the line, but I can imagine an alternative where the fan made free alternative is available to us. Maybe even free games could be available to us. Hopefully games that cost money would also be available to us, and hopefully for the authors of those paid for games and products and printed books and games would be much better than the free stuff. Just one possible alternative. And if not, well, then a free fan made product is still a better outcome than the current situation. And yes, perhaps a different solution could be made to work, with contracts to sign, and risks to take, but if the outcome is the same product but it costs a lot, then perhaps that’s a loss all around.

Valuing artists: In the comments of that G+ discussion, I was accused of believing “that artists/creatives are a lower class citizen”. Ugh! The discussion had been quite interesting until it took this nose dive. What had led up to this accusation? I was basically arguing that the state has no obligation to protect any particular business model. The other side was aguing that licensing revenues made up a significant section of their income. And then: “Of course, your coding job, like most, probably affords you a very lucrative 130-175% level of income greater than mine because technology always trumps production/art for salaries and standard of living. So you get to go on making stuff you love without any expense while I have to pick up some other trade to make ends meet all because you think everything creative should be free.” But here’s the thing. I work a 60% job because I don’t care too much about the code I write for money. I care about customers, about their problems, about solving those problems using new processes and using our software, of course. But it’s not an excitement I experience on a visceral level. It’s my job. All the stuff I write for love is Free Software.

I don’t think these anecdotes should matter when we’re talking about politics. Looking after our own best interest is understandable, but as a society we need to look at the larger picture. We need to keep negotiating our laws – and copyright is one of those areas where there is tension between authors and consumers. The pain of artists needs to be weighed against the pain of consumers. All the things that are wrong with copyright: DRM, loss of freedom, legal hassle whenever you want to do something derived on other works, whether it be remixes, quotes, improvements, fan art, some allowed by the fair use exception, some not, who can tell? The hassle of finding and negotiating with right holders, movies languishing without anybody restoring them, take down notices, DMCA style burden of proof for innocents, all of this! All of this we need to compare to artists and their shitty financial situation. The current system is like a lottery. If you are in the top ten, you win the lottery. Everybody else is living off scraps. Do we need to accept all the crap copyright gives us in order to uphold an unfair system? Is there really no other world possible? That is why I refuse to be swayed my the plight of artists. Our current copyright is a law fit for paper publishers in a mass media world, top down, controlled by the few. In a digital age, where anybody can produce, where copyright affects us all, what we have is not good enough. It doesn’t produce the outcomes I want. An where as I understand the plight of artists, copyright as we currently have it, is the wrong tool. I don’t feel the obligation to protect this job. I don’t feel the state is obligated to protect this job. Yes, it would be cool if there was a different solution. A way to make money doing the things we love. Writing free software. Being an artist. Current copyright is not the way I feel like supporting.

So, do I think artists are lower class citizens? Of course not! I am so much in favor of finding ways of people making a decent living no matter what they do, doing the things they love, I don’t know how anybody can conclude that I think of artists as lower class citizens. That is so wrong I don’t even know where to start.

I think capitalism treats the making of art as something other than the production of things to sell or the sale of services – and the net effect is that almost all artists are vastly underpaid. I just don’t think that copyright is the right tool to fix that problem. There are many people producing art for free, prices go down. Sometimes this leads to a situation where making art is no longer sustainable as a job.

My wife used to dance. There was very little money in gigs. There was regular money in giving classes. There was no money in all the choreographies she wrote. There was no copyright to help her. No revenue based on licenses. She gave it up when she got an interesting full-time well paying job. It would have been great if somebody like her could have made a decent living doing the stuff she loved to do. But we live in a capitalist society. Too much supply, not enough demand.

Barring an unconditional basic income solution, or a more limited support for artists by the state, I don’t see it happening. And so most of the musicians and dancers I know do it in their free time. Just as I write the code I love in my free time.

Reform is necessary: A summary of the current situation and its problems can be found in a recent Ars Technica article, The battle to reform 300-year-old copyright law for the digital age. This what I am talking about:

As is evident, the only “solution” that the Commission could imagine was one based around licensing. The idea that non-commercial user-generated content might not need a licence at all—that it could be covered by an exception as it is in the US under the “fair use” approach—never seemed to be an option. – Glyn Moody, Ars Technica

Too many of us cannot see beyond the current system. We need to imagine a different future and work towards it. We don’t need to strengthen copyright. Artists must be able to make a living and we need to find a way to allow that without DRM and the criminalization of all the little things we want to do. We need to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” using different means.

– Alex Schroeder

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2015-07-01 Folter

Vor ein paar Tagen stellte Jeniffer Fuss einen Link von John Oliver zum Thema Folter in die deutschsprachige Google+ Rollenspiel-Community und fragte, wie wir das denn im Spiel so handhaben würden.

Ich so: “Da ich so etwas in meinen Spielen nicht sehen will, frage ich die Spieler, die auf solche Ideen kommen, was sie den hören wollen. Genau das sagen die Opfer dann, sofort, ohne in die Details zu gehen. Wenn die Spieler dann verdutzt fragen, ob dass denn die Wahrheit sei, sage ich, dass das Opfer dies natürlich beschwört. Aber falls sie etwas anderes hören wollen, sollen sie es doch einfach sagen… Aber wenn ein Spieler mit mir dann länger über die Wirksamkeit von Folter diskutieren wollte, würde ich das Spiel wohl abbrechen und wir hätten innert Kürze Streit.”

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2015-06-29 Über die Rhetorik

Als ich etwa zwanzig war – wohl schon etwas vorher – fand ich mich so scharfsinnig und so redegewandt, ich dachte, ich könne es mit jedem aufnehmen. Insbesondere mit den Erwachsenen! Mit den Freunden führten wir hitzige Wortgefechte und führten uns auf wie Kinder, die miteinander raufen. Klar, so üben die Kleinen.

Erst mit den Jahren merkte ich, dass mein Auftreten, mein Diskussions-Stil dazu führte, dass man den Diskussionen mit mir aktiv aus dem Weg ging. Mit der Zeit legte sich meine Rechthaberei.

Noch ein paar Jahre später – vielleicht war ich da schon dreissig – merkte ich, dass es oft gar nichts brachte, Recht zu haben. Hierfür gab es verschiedene Gründe. Gewissen Leuten war der Diskussions-Stil mit Argumenten dafür und dagegen fremd. Nach einer Weile wussten sie nicht mehr, was man denn noch sagen “durfte” und sagten lieber nichts mehr. Was aber nicht bedeutete, dass ich sie überzeugt hatte. Oder eine Diskussion wurde mit Allgemeinplätzen beenden. “Da kann man halt nichts machen.” Ja hallo, wenn jegliche Reaktion darauf egal ist, warum haben wir denn darüber geredet?

Oft hatte ich übersehen, dass es verschiedene Gründe für ein Gespräch gibt. Man will sich gegenseitig überzeugen. Man will sich gegenseitig kennen lernen. Man will die Zeit überbrücken. Ich dachte oft, small talk sei Zeitverschwendung. Wer so denkt, versteht nicht, dass small talk ein notwendiger Schritt ist, um eine Beziehung aufbauen zu können. Hier werden grundsätzliche Kompatibilitäten geprüft.

Auch der Umgang mit irrationalen Argumenten musste geübt werden. Ich musste nämlich mit erstaunen feststellen, dass nicht alle davon überzeugt waren, dass rationale Argumente die einzigen Argumente sind. Wer Angst hat, wer traurig ist, den kann man mit rationalen Argument nicht trösten. Wer verliebt ist, den kann man mit rationalen Argumenten nicht warnen. Wer zögert, den kann man mit rationalen Argumenten nicht ermutigen. Aber manchmal kann man mit irrationalen Argumenten etwas erreichen. Eine Ablenkung, ein scheinbar unzusammenhängender Satz, ein Argument, welches nichts zur Sache tut und “trotzdem” wahr ist, ein Bild, eine Pause wie ein leiser Paukenschlag, ein kurzer Moment der Ergriffenheit, des Rapports, ein unwillkürliches Mitnicken. Das waren meine neuen Werkzeuge.

Und selbst jetzt, mit über vierzig Jahren, lerne ich noch hinzu. Über den Aufbau, Kreise innerhalb von Kreisen, Rückgriffe und Vorankündigungen. Wie kommt es überhaupt dazu, dass die Leute uns zuhören wollen?

Ein gutes Beispiel hierfür ist die Verwendung der Gnade Gottes, grace, in Obamas Eulogie für Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Er denkt nach über grace. Er sieht Gottes Hand in den Ereignissen. Grace. Der Mörder konnte nicht wissen, was geschehen würde. Grace. Amazing Grace. Das Publikum erkennt den Liedanfang, aber Obama hält sich zurück, bringt die Zeilen so, dass man aufstehen will, es aber nicht tut. Dann redet er weiter. Über die Gesellschaft, die Gewalt, den Rassismus, über unsere Aufgabe in dieser Welt, und dass unsere Taten der Gnade Gottes Ausdruck verleihen sollen. Der Gnade Gottes. Grace. Amazing Grace. Und dann singt er. President Barack Obama delievered the eulogy at the funeral for Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Transcript.


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2015-06-29 Xbox360 Red Ring of Death (three red lights)

It’s been a while. I still play games on my Xbox 360. But today I got a red ring of death and it isn’t going away. Three red lights. Apparently that indicates a failure in the power supply? I think I’m going to try and open it and reapply that cooling paste.

I just watched this tutorial on YouTube and it seems quite doable: Red Ring Of Death FIX Tutorial Xbox 360. I needed some help and encouragement to get the plastic top off. How To Open your xbox 360 without case tool. Unfortunately my smallest Torx is too big. I’ll have to get a smaller one before continuing. My Xbox 360 also looks a bit different from the Xbox in the first video. Later, I needed more help in order to figure out how to remove those x-shaped latches: XBOX 360: Removing the Heatsinks. Major hassle: removing the old thermal paste. See this Thermal Paste Removal/Installation Guide. Basically: Isopropyl Alcohol and lots of rubbing. Xbox 360 fat version replacing the heat sink compound tutorial. RROD error repair guide. That was boring work! But then, put it all back together: How to put an Xbox 360 back together - reassemble.


There is a small chance that this is due to the current heat wave and that I might be able to play during the night, I guess?

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Comments on 2015-06-29 Xbox360 Red Ring of Death (three red lights)

Oh! It’s time for programming!

AlexDaniel 2015-07-01 00:11 UTC

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2015-06-29 On the Supreme Court Decision

The decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage in the United States has led to think about the situation in Switzerland and about the role of a constitution.

In Switzerland, a popular initiative can add amendments to the constitution, but we have no constitutional court to enforce these. All the constitution does is say that parliament ought to pass laws to make it real. Then parliament can’t agree on a law, these amendments linger for many years, decades even. I’ve heard it said that this construction was made on purpose. Why have a court to make these decisions if you can simply vote in a different parliament. The idea is that you just add more democracy, I guess.

I just think it’s interesting that there are alternative thoughts on this and some do not require undemocratic elections for life of powerful people.

When comparing a high court of justices for life and an inactive parliament, I think the inactive parliament has more democratic potential because in a few years, I can vote for a new parliament. So, for the moment: not much different. As a political institution: it’s better if you can change your vote.

And yes, of course a democracy usually goes hand in hand with the rule of law, a constitution that protects minorities, and many other institutional and cultural norms. You can vote in Russia, in Iran, in the USA, and still you’ll find powerful forces affecting your freedoms: existing legislation preventing the establishment of a viable alternative, financial incentives preventing the growth of viable alternatives, existing institutions preventing the implementation of meaningful change. Voting alone is not enough.

Note that as far as the US goes, I think what makes it impossible for me to be very enthusiastic about decisions of the supreme court I happen to like or the election of presidents I like is that I know full well that the voters that disagree with me are still there, they still make up about half of the population, we won but we didn’t convince. So yes, as far as I am concerned, Love Wins and Thanks Obama Unironically and all that. But the others are still there. The US system of legal and cultural norms, of financial pressures, of all the things that are not about the actual voting, made it impossible to reach out and make those positive steps together. After the fight is before the fight. No matter who wins, the other side is determined to fight harder next time. None of the news that reaches me across the Atlantic gives me hope regarding any sort of healing. Perhaps this is part of our Zeitgeist for the moment. Or perhaps it has always been thus and I’ve just grown older, and more tired.

Also note that same-sex couples still don't get the exact same rights and protections in Switzerland.

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2015-06-25 The Long Campaign

Stargazer recently said, “I suck at running campaigns.” I was reminded of how I try and run a persisten campaign setting.

If you want to run longer campaigns, this is what I’m doing: My campaign world is infinite. Planes, other continents, from dinosaurs to lasers, it’s all there. And even if I want to combine two settings, I’ll use Planescape ideas to connect them, bend a little here and there, no problem. Then, players have an effect on the setting, change it. This is cool. It can be a short campaign of six sessions (that’s not what I do, though). The next campaign will be somewhat related. It takes place nearby. A few years in the future. In an alternate plane that involved the old campaign somehow. And that’s how the campaign transcends characters and rules. Use D&D 3.5 for a bunch of characters. Then use Solar System for a bunch of characters. Then use Labyrinth Lord for a bunch of characters. Then move to the Astral Sea. Then play some first level characters doing jobs for the high level characters. Then switch to the high level characters again. And if that gets boring, let’s see about marriage and children. Let’s play the kids!

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2015-06-24 Emacs Live

I’ve been trying to switch from my own Emacs setup to Emacs Live. Some things are great. Some things… I don’t know. They need a lot of getting used to.

I’ve created my own pack in ~/elisp/alex-pack.

In ~/.emacs-live.el:

(live-add-packs '(~/elisp/alex-pack))

Paredit is messing with how I navigate using Control + Arrow Keys.

In my own pack, ~/elisp/alex-pack/init.el:

(dolist (x '(scheme emacs-lisp lisp clojure))
  (let ((hook (intern (concat (symbol-name x) "-mode-hook"))))
    (set hook (delq 'enable-paredit-mode (symbol-value hook)))))

Delete Trailing Whitespace Mode deleted some non-breaking spaces in my SVG document. This may be an indication that I should write better SVG.

In my own pack, ~/elisp/alex-pack/init.el:

(setq before-save-hook
      (delq 'live-clenup-whitespace before-save-hook))

Changing how C-h works. Help is now on M-h. I’ll adapt. Except I’ve found modes where M-h does describe-mode and that confuses me. I think I’m going to stop using the bindings pack provided by Emacs Live.

In ~/.emacs-live.el:

(setq live-packs (delete "stable/bindings-pack" live-packs))

Ispell no longer shows any content in the *Choices* buffer/window. What’s up?

I have trouble accessing the file open history using <up> or M-p. Similarly, I can’t edit the filename using <left> or <right>. What’s up? I think I’m going to disable Ido mode for find-file.

In my own pack, ~/elisp/alex-pack/init.el:

(ido-mode 'buffers)

I like the some of the fontification, but it turns out that I’m starting to confuse the Emacs frame with terminal windows. So I think I’m going to stop using the colour pack provided by Emacs Live.

In ~/.emacs-live.el:

(setq live-packs (delete "stable/colour-pack" live-packs))

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2015-06-24 Die Männerwelt

Die Daten zum Geschlechterverhältnis im Geschäft sind etwas besser als zur Zeiten meiner Mittelschule, die ich hier in der Schweiz in reinen Männerklassen verbringen musste. Danke an all diejenigen, die sich dafür einsetzen, dass mein Arbeitsumfeld etwas normaler wird!

Nach dem Export aus unserem CRM:


Die Frauenquote im Informatikstudium bleibt in der Schweiz erschreckend tief. Wikipedia zitiert Eurostat, wo die Schweiz im Jahr 2012 die schlechteste Quote hatte (unter 7%). Wenn man sich die Sache mit den Abschlüssen selber mal anschaut (EF48 für Informatik, DE und CH, ED5_6 für erste und zweite Phase des Tertiärbereichs) sieht man, das die Situation nicht nur schlecht ist sondern auch noch laufend schlechter wird.


Für das Jahr 2012 gab es nur noch 145 Informatikabschlüsse für Frauen. Wir haben hier in der Schweiz ein kulturelles Problem.

Wenn man auf dieser OECD Seite über Hochschulabschlüsse nachschaut, sieht man ebenfalls, wie schlecht es um die Schweiz steht. Wir sind die Letzten.


Siehe auch Frauenanteil der Informatikstudierenden an der ETH Zürich 1990-2012.

Auch der Lohnunterschied bleibt enttäuschend gross. Beim Pay Gap steht die Schweiz laut OECD auch nicht besonders gut da, und Deutschland nur wenig besser. Ich hoffe, mein Arbeitgeber trifft hier die richtigen Entscheidungen.


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Comments on 2015-06-24 Die Männerwelt

Oh wow, Estonia…

AlexDaniel 2015-06-24 22:44 UTC

Alex Schroeder

– Alex Schroeder 2015-06-25 05:15 UTC

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2015-06-22 On Background Music

When I started listening to podcasts, I felt that there was a world of fan made audio content out there, and it was new and exciting, news for the people, by the people, on the topics I cared about. Mostly: gaming.

But then I started noticing that these people were rambling. Editing was poor. People just do not like to cut material, I guess. I felt like I was reading long and rambling blog posts. And I was. How refreshing to have professional radio programs that are live. The need to end at the exact second. And the skill these people have! Thinking Allowed. In Our Time. British progammes by the BBC. I was unhappy. Why was Switzerland not doing something similar? Why did I know more about the Royal Society than about whatever we are doing here in Switzerland?

Later I started to notice the longer podcasts by the American National Public Radio, and the Public Radio Exchange, via podcasts such as This American Life and 99% Invisible. These programs are longer. They are scripted, cut, edited; there are pauses for emphasis; and the emptiness between the words is filled by music. A background music that elevates the mere spoken words to something else. They add poetry. They push the emotional buttons. They add another layer to the stories told. I love those low hums, drones, those electronic blips and bloops. A pause. A zone. A sound.


Comments on 2015-06-22 On Background Music

Thinking Allowed – what a name! But the problem I am having with podcasts is that I cannot concentrate on anything if something interesting is happening in the background. That is, any background noise does not allow me to think about my stuff. So, to me podcasts are not “Background Music“, more like main activity…

How do you handle that? Do you have some secondary brain that you are hiding?

AlexDaniel 2015-06-23 22:09 UTC

Alex Schroeder
Haha, no indeed. I can only listen to podcasts while walking. Walking requires very little brain. I walk to work and back. Each leg takes a bit more than half an hour. I can listen to podcasts while doing household chores, but only when doing repetitive stuff. :)

– Alex Schroeder 2015-06-24 09:47 UTC

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2015-06-21 Jessie

I upgraded my old Apple iBook G4 (PowerPC architecture!) from Debian Wheezy to Jessie. And I was greeted with a black screen. I rebooted and watched the text scrolling by. Something failed about Load Kernel Modules. Something else failed about LSB. Nothing serious? The text console login prompt, and then a black screen and the ventilator blowing.

I had never figured out how to switch from X11 to the consoles on my iBook. But now I was determined to figure it out! I had seen the prompt, after all. It turns out that I need to press fn + ctrl + alt + cmd + F1.

OK. Looks like no GDM3? I’m going to install the display manager slim and hope that this is enough. Time passes. Wow, I am greeted by a display that looks like a CGA display with four colors? Maybe six colors? It’s terrible. But I see a Debian logo, and a user name prompt. I’m logging in!

And… All the colors are wrong. I feel like my entire desktop has been resampled. Ough! My eyes! I’m going to install xdm… Rebooting… And the graphics are unchanged. Damn!

When I switch to the console, run Emacs, and call M-x list-colors-display I see the colors just fine even if the entire screen is terribly dark. Answering Linux nouveau.noaccel=1 to the second boot prompt also didn’t solve my problem.

For the moment I uninstalled all display managers (no xdm, no gdm3) and so the system just shows the console login prompts when I boot. Too bad the damn stuff is so dark I can’t use the laptop during the daylight.

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