Jun 232020

The following is an email I wrote to New York Times technology editor Pui-Wing Tam, whose email is pui-wing.tam@nytimes.com. Inspired by Wesley Fenza.

Dear Ms. Tam:

Yesterday I learned that one of your reporters is planning an article about Scott Alexander and his blog Slate Star Codex. In this article he plans to reveal personal information about Scott, including his true name, which could jeopardize his career, and will put both his safety and the safety of his family at greater risk.

I was appalled to discover this is the standard policy of the New York Times. Doxxing anyone is considered default harmful among all people who have taken the time to consider the question, and is not done in civilized forums without strong extenuating circumstances. That such a pro-doxxing policy is still on the books at a major institution in these days is scandalous, and I can only hope that it is the result of a lapse in attention, rather than intentional malice.

In an effort to protect himself, Scott Alexander has deleted the Slate Star Codex blog. The loss this represents is hard to overstate. The blog frequently posted in-depth reviews of highly regarded books on topics ranging from historical figures to state governance. He has described in painful detail the experience of working in a hospital and watching how the modern medical system treats those dying of old age. He frequently reviews current pharmacological research. These can be salvaged with some work through archives, but far more importantly is all the great work that will now never be produced due to this silencing.

Scott Alexander is a leading thinker of the modern day. He has produced more influential work attracting many otherwise-mutually-hostile audiences than nearly any traditional journalists. He has done more to influence my life in the last five years than any other person I do not personally know. His blog is one of the cultural touchstones of my community, and the loss of it will be felt as a bleeding wound for years. It is astounding to me that such a loss of human insight and knowledge, including all the lost future decades, is being done in the name of upholding a policy that is itself a vicious holdover from a crueler time.

Please reverse the decision to dox Scott Alexander, and update your policy to one that doesn’t perpetrate violence upon the vulnerable. Thank you for your time.

Eneasz Brodski

May 162020

I was remiss in sharing this when I reviewed Player of Games — A friend of mine has a reaction-style podcast where he and a friend are reading through the entire Culture series together. He’s read it before, the friend has not. For those familiar with We’ve Got Worm, it’s that style of podcast. The whole series can be followed at the Discord under the #more-art-than-science channel, or the RSS.

Feb 252020

If you are like me, and you love the Harley Quinn character, I strongly recommend going to see Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn. I, personally, LOVED it. It was exactly what I had hoped for – a cartoonish slapstick comedy with ultraviolence throughout. :D Very reminiscent of the Tank Girl movie, which I loved for the same reason. Every minute of this was pure joy.

I had someone ask if it’s a lot like Deadpool, since that one is also a lot of cartoonish fun and violence. It sounds like they would be, but they have very different souls. Deadpool has a snarky teenage smirk. It’s fun in a jaded way. Harley takes childish glee in mayhem. It’s a purer form of emotion, IMO. I like Harley more, though I loved Deadpool too.

Anyway, this is the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in a LONG time.

Also I’m so glad they embraced an R rating. Trying to do this as PG13 would have been so pathetic.

Feb 152020

Due to popular demand, here’s another place you can download Meta-MoR. Originally was up at Patreon.

The analysis podcast of the We Want MOR analysis podcast! Masterminded by April, bandwagon-ed by Eneasz. Is this a joke? Only one way to find out!
(full spoilers for all of HPMoR)

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6

Episode 7

Episode 8

Episode 9

Episode 10

Episode 11


Jan 312020

Do Cops Lie? (click image for link)

“the replacement of algorithms with a powerful technology in the form of the human brain is not without risks. Before humans become the standard way in which we make decisions, we need to consider the risks and ensure implementation of human decision-making systems does not cause widespread harm.”


Joker is interesting because it reminds us where we (or our parents) came from, which still impacts a lot of the present day.

“Our problems are different now, but Joker remains a product of a different era. Arthur Fleck lives in a fragile system on the brink of collapse, whereas we live under a system that only gets more stable and entrenched, so much so that the most powerful nation on earth can have an childish yet vicious know-nothing serve as President and continue prospering.

Perhaps the ebbing of chaos and crime left our psyches wounded in a special way.”

Of particular note is that CyberPunk was basically this setting with cool cyber stuff on top of it.


The entirety of this post is gold. About an actual thing that happened regarding a technical term in computer science.

“the trouble with obsessing over terms like “quantum supremacy” is not merely that it diverts attention, while contributing nothing to fighting the world’s actual racism and sexism. The trouble is that the obsessions are actually harmful. For they make academics—along with progressive activists—look silly. They make people think that we must not have meant it when we talked about the existential urgency of climate change and the world’s other crises. They pump oxygen into right-wing echo chambers.

But it’s worse than ridiculous, because of the message that I fear is received by many outside the activists’ bubble. When you say stuff like “[quantum] supremacy is for racists,” what’s heard might be something more like:

“Watch your back, you disgusting supremacist. Yes, you. You claim that you mentor women and minorities, donate to good causes, try hard to confront the demons in your own character? Ha! None of that counts for anything with us. You’ll never be with-it enough to be our ally, so don’t bother trying. We’ll see to it that you’re never safe, not even in the most abstruse and apolitical fields. We’ll comb through your words—even words like ‘ancilla qubit’—looking for any that we can cast as offensive by our opaque and ever-shifting standards. And once we find some, we’ll have it within our power to end your career, and you’ll be reduced to groveling that we don’t. Remember those popular kids who bullied you in second grade, giving you nightmares of social ostracism that persist to this day? We plan to achieve what even those bullies couldn’t: to shame you with the full backing of the modern world’s moral code. See, we’re the good guys of this story. It’s goodness itself that’s branding you as racist scum.” ”


Everyone, forever (yes, even me) XD

This is how much damage one person can do when put in power. Our history would be radically better if Andrew Johnson had never come anywhere near the presidency. Lincoln done fucked up.


Imagine that tomorrow everyone on the planet forgets the concept of training basketball skills.

“You don’t get better at life and rationality after taking one class with Prof. Kahnemann. After 8 years of hard work, you don’t stand out from the crowd even as the results become personally noticeable. And if you discover Rationality in college and stick with it, by the time you’re 55 you will be three times better than what you would have been if you hadn’t compounded these 3% gains year after year, and everyone will notice that.

What’s more, the outcomes don’t scale smoothly with your level of skill. When rare, high leverage opportunities come around, being slightly more rational can make a huge difference. Bitcoin was one such opportunity; meeting my wife was another such one for me. I don’t know what the next one will be: an emerging technology startup? a political upheaval? cryonics? I know that the world is getting weirder faster, and the payouts to Rationality are going to increase commensurately.”


I think I would love this. Oldest Mall In America Turned Into Tiny Homes


Metal Genres Without Distortion


I already wrote about this recently, but here’s the link: On Short Hair And Gender. Or Back To The 50s Gender Norms, With A Twist?


People’s perceptions of what they can do to reduce CO2 usage varies drastically from the actual numbers.

“This is an area where I think informing people about what is actually useful might really shift their behaviour. They’ve mostly just been misinformed and never stopped to research it. After all one can never directly see what is actually causing the most emissions.”


This makes me happy. I just need to clarify that I’m 3rd Wave Feminist and I can embrace the label again. (also, 4th wave feminists are as bad as TERFs. Judean People’s Front unite!)


Bad: Superhero whose secret identity is just staggeringly obvious, but nobody picks up on it for various implausible reasons.

Good: Superhero whose secret identity is just staggeringly obvious, and everybody “knows”, but in spite of countless people’s best efforts nobody can actually prove it.


Interesting perspective – the economy has been in a state of wartime mobilization since WWII began, having never returned to a peace-time economy, despite a lack of war.


I think I would actually watch this:

Dec 292019

I saw the first episode of The Witcher on Festivus, and boy did that unintentionally fit the holiday theme. tldr is that the writers are just phoning this in, and hoping the strength of the fight choreography will keep people watching.

Full Spoilers below.


The problems start right out the gate, where we see a stranger fighting a monster. Why do I care about this monster, and whether it wins or not? Or is it the stranger I’m supposed to care about, because he’s human? There are no stakes in this fight, I don’t care about either participant, so I’m already bored. Also, since I know that’s Geralt, I also know I’m *supposed* to care if he wins (lazy writing!), and that he will win because they aren’t killing off the lead in the first 4 minutes of a series.

Geralt struggles to reach his sword when it’s been knocked from his grasp, but fails to do so, and must go back to grappling. I guess this is suspense? He then reaches for it, and fails to get it, AGAIN. Oh my god. I was on pins and needles, seeing a close up of a hand failing to close around a sword for several grasps. How many times will this incredibly suspenseful gambit be reused? *At least once more*, because we have run time to pad!

Most of the rest of this episode is mumbled exposition in boring locations while two characters look at each other. This also fails to draw me in. I don’t know what kingdom you rule, or why I am in support of it. I don’t know who the Nilfgardians are, why they are coming, or what bad things will happen if they are not thrown back. Sure, the nobility will likely have some bad times, maybe execution, but they’re nobility–they probably deserve it. Sic Semper Tyrannis! Like, I really just can’t feel any anticipation at the revelation that the enemy army is already within your borders if I don’t give a damn about you or your borders yet.

Same for your weird dissection of people born during an eclipse. That could’ve been spiced up with ominous music and flashbacks, or something. Just having two dudes mumbling at each other stoically about mutations had me actually zoning out.

Lets talk about the big skirmish between the two… armies? First of all, I don’t know where the hell it happens. Is this nearby? Just outside the city? Several days’ march away? Does this field even exist in the world? Because I swear before all the gods that if felt like a Green Screen Room that everyone was teleported to, and then later teleported back from. It’s implied the battle goes on for at least a couple days, but I have no sense of time passing as well as no sense of location. And the CGI is the worst I have seen this decade. When we got distance shots of cavalry moving, or infantry rushing each other, it almost looked like I was playing Myth again. Well, ok, maybe not that extreme, but it was really bad.  The CGI in the Witcher 3 video game was strikingly better, which is just not something I expect from a Netflix show.

There were two really good things about this show, however. The first was Renfri, the maybe-demon lady. She has an actual personality, with motivation and everything! Her dialog is fun, she gets our sympathy very quickly, and she’s a freakin’ bad-ass. The actress portraying her does a fantastic job. I was willing to keep watching this series on the strength of what would be done with this character and her arc alone — and then they killed her at the end of the episode. Y’all removed the only good thing about your show in the pilot, dammit. Screw this whole thing.

The other really good part was the two fight scenes we get at the end. They were beautiful. A high-budget call back to the ridiculously over-the-top Xena-style fighting from my childhood. It was pure bombast and awesome eye candy. I had so much fun watching them.

(I did hear a friend say that someone told him this was “very realistic fighting,” which made me choke on my Comed-Tea. This is the opposite of realistic fighting. I don’t care, because it was wonderful and super fun. But the only universe were someone could think this was realistic is if their only exposure to fight scenes is Marvel movies.)

Unfortunately, this is 2-3 minutes of screen time at the end of a 56 minute slog. It is not worth the loss of 1/16th of my waking hours for the day. I will be watching the fight scenes on YouTube, and that’s it. I’m disappointed that a series with such potential was tanked by people who don’t care to do any writing work.

Oct 082019

After sharing this link, I was informed that Stallman has had a history of maybe defending sexual relationships with minors. I didn’t know about this. That is bad. I am less certain now that he shouldn’t have lost all his positions. On the other hand, as the link points out, the worst allegations against Stallman involve him being a socially clueless aspie. That makes me worried.
In Defense of Richard Stallman
“Stallman made some technically-correct-but-utterly-tactless comments on a private mailing list, mostly in defense of his late friend and colleague Marvin Minsky. Someone leaked those comments to the public. He was then forced to resign from pretty much every position he held….He is now likely homeless and his friends (such as Eric Raymond) have had trouble contacting him.”


Libertarian leaders debate the direction of the Libertarian political party. This was one of the more interesting and passionate debates I’ve heard in a long time. And I’m still very torn. Passionate idealism, vs pragmatic realism? I don’t know dammit!


The economic case for fighting pollution to boost productivity

pseudoaddiction is the most obviously true medical concept this side of Hippocrates. The denial of its existence is a failure of national epistemics that deserves more scrutiny than it’s getting.”
AKA: My friend almost died because a doctor refused to feed his addiction to insulin.


Natalie Wynn is amazing, I love her videos in general. But this one is the most overwhelmingly “This is everything I ever wanted in a video, I can’t even begin about how great it is.” It summarizes everything I’d like to say but can’t. It doesn’t have any solutions, but at least it identifies the problem.

(for the uninitiated, Wynn is a social commentator, and this video is about the state of Men in modern society. Also, it takes a while to get started.)


“Here’s yet another reminder that our memories are reconstructed fabrications our brains use to reinforce existing narratives. A new study of 3,140 participants finds that exposing people to fake news created false memories of the depicted events in about half of subjects.”


Humans are fascinating. Real-life Persephone :)


E-cigarettes are so dangerous they give people heart attacks — even before they start using them.


Planned Parenthood to stop taking Title X funds rather than comply with abortion ‘gag rule’. Y’all remember to up your donations a few bucks the coming years. :)


The best thing about HPMOR is it’s a perfect example of how an intelligent, outside the box thinker can direct millions of dollars toward their goals in ways you’d never expect.”


We regret to inform you that all the Fast & Furious stars might be candy asses. “each of the leads has negotiated with the studio to ensure they never look less badass than any of their costars for even a single round of ass-whooping”


I keep forgetting that in Rowling’s Potter, Harry gets married to freakin’ Ginnie Weasley. But then, I also keep for getting that in Rowling’s version he’s a jock. ><

“Harry Potter had a crush on Cho specifically because she was good at Quidditch, and could go toe to toe with him as a seeker. Harry Potter started developing feelings for Ginny after she joined the Quidditch Team, and their first kiss happen as a celebration of winning a important match for the house cup, and she will later become a freaking professional quidditch player.
Harry Potter is into jocks. Harry Potter is into jocks that, specifically, could kick his ass at his favorite sport.
I feel like this is an important thing to know about the guy.”


most of the people interviewed had a similar path to getting so deep into flat eartherism
1) They sorta believed that the earth was flat.
2) They told their friends, who either blew them off or mocked them or both.
3) They found a group of flat-earthers online, who were very welcoming and happy to find a fellow flat-earther.
4) Slowly, these people abandoned their old friends and converted to the new folks, who’d never tell them they were wrong about the flat-earth. Which had the side effect of making their flat-earth beliefs the most prominent part of their personality.
5) Eventually, the rejection becomes the proof that they’re on the road to truth, and no amount of evidence will convince them because this is no longer about logic – it’s about using their own logic to build a shield to protect them from rejection.
[…] the most telling part was at the end, when they interviewed one of the most devoted flat-earthers and asked him (I’m paraphrasing):
“What if you got irrefutable proof that the Earth was round? You’d lose all your friends. Could you walk away from this culture you helped create?”
And to his credit, he answered honestly:
“No. No, I don’t think I could.” […]
… the internet has made wrong people folks to be courted. In fact, the more wrong people you can get on your side, the less you’ll be lonely. And the only cost to be a part of these groups is that you can never question the beliefs at the core of it, because that wrongness is what binds you, and any evidence that contradicts that wrongness must be either discarded, attacked, or humiliated.”

The ridiculous beliefs of religions are a feature, not a bug. You can’t have a religion without at least one obviously ludicrous thing. I used to think this was an argument against religions. Now I’m starting to think it’s an argument in favor of one Big False Belief.


“Did anyone notice how quickly the internet turned into a Lovecraftian horror scenario?
Like we’ve got this dimension right next to ours, that extends across the entire planet, and it is just brimming with nightmares. We have spambots, viruses, ransomware, this endless legion of malevolent entities that are blindly probing us for weaknesses, seeking only to corrupt, to thieve, to destroy.
Add onto that the corrupted ones themselves, humans who’ve abandoned morality and given up faces to hunt other people, jeering them, lashing out, seeing how easy it is to kill something you can’t touch or see or smell.
…Some of our best and brightest are going to create an army of four winged bats hovering throughout every city and we are going to connect them directly to the dimension where the nightmares live.
I’m not saying it’s all bad, but I am saying Cthulhu lies deathless dreaming in this web we built him and he is waking up.”


TIL that the most important things to recycle are metals. So rinse your aluminum and tin cans and put them in the bin.
Paper is iffy, and anything that’s touched food or has glue/sticky on it will contaminate other recycling or damage the machinery, so throw that in the trash.
And plastic should not be recycled at all, always put those in the trash.


The Website Obesity Crisis

“[author tweeted] “text-based websites should not exceed in size the major works of Russian literature.”
If you open that tweet in a browser, you’ll see the page is 900 KB big. That’s almost 100 KB more than the full text of The Master and Margarita.

In May 2015, Facebook introduced ‘Instant Articles’, a special format for news stories designed to appear within the Facebook site, and to load nearly instantly.
Facebook made the announcement on a 6.8 megabyte webpage dominated by a giant headshot of some dude. He doesn’t even work for Facebook, he’s just the National Geographic photo editor.
Further down the page, you’ll find a 41 megabyte video, the only way to find out more about the project.”

I kinda suspect that at least part of it is class-signalling. One demonstrates that one is rich enough to live in a high-bandwidth area and therefore higher class than those rural and third-world people by insisting on pages that are visibly obese.
Yes, it’s probably not a conscious thought, but it’s there nonetheless. Why does poor fashion instinctively hurt the sensibilities of the rich, even if “they aren’t classist?” Because everyone has completely absorbed the subtleties of status markers to the point that they are mostly subconscious aesthetic taste.


Sometimes I get pleasure out of the stupidest things. Like, this is the first Pitch Meeting I ever saw. I’ve now watched over 100 of them. They are all basically identical, with a few details swapped out as appropriate. And yet, I love them. Every single one just brings me joy. I am ashamed, I feel like the 5-year old that keeps saying “Again!” and watching the same episode of his favorite show over and over and over and over. And yet…. <3


“Civil religion” is a surprising place for social justice to end up. Gay pride started at Stonewall as a giant fuck-you to civil society. Homeless people, addicts, and sex workers told the police where they could shove their respectable values.

But there was another major world religion that started with beggars, lepers, and prostitutes, wasn’t there? One that told the Pharisees where to shove their respectable values. One whose founder got in trouble with the cops of his time.

In a hundred years, will social justice look exactly like Christianity does now? No. The world’s changed too much. Even if every religion converges on the same set of socially useful values, the socially useful values change. We don’t need to push chastity if we have good STD treatment and contraception; we don’t need to push martial valor if all our wars are fought by drones. The old religions are failing partly because they can’t adapt quickly enough; social justice won’t need to imitate their failures. … But I expect it to recapitulate the history of other civil religions in fast-forward. Did you know “pagan” is just Latin for “rural”?”


Don’t Hire Assholes. “removing an asshole (or converting them to a non-asshole) enhances productivity more than replacing an average worker with a superstar”


Sometimes the world is good. :) Jurors refuse to convict activist facing 20 years for helping migrants


Obituaries For The Recently Cancelled. “Matthew Edwards, 41, was canceled early Friday evening after he was seen in his car singing along to “Remix to Ignition.” Mr. Edwards has not watched the R. Kelly documentary, but colleagues say he was aware of its existence and general content. He leaves behind his intersectional feminist wife Julia and two woke children.”


Netflix’s re-translation of Neon Genesis Evangelion is drawing backlash for queer erasure. Fuck Netflix. This was the most formative work of art of my young adult life, and I hope they burn in the same hell as the guy who was hired to draw pants/cloths over the genitals of all the famous renaissance works.

I am forced to re-link The Remarkable Queerness of Shinji Ikari


Casually Explained: Life as a Video Game


Planet of Cops. “The single greatest accomplishment of 21st Century leftism is distributing the culture of surveillance and snitching. Intersectionality gave nearly everybody a weak spot to be exploited by the right self-appointed enforcer and a lens to turn any innocuous opinion into kompromat. It couldn’t have worked better if designed from the ground up to work like this.”


Watch out! I’m on a Kontext Machine Kick!

Today I learned that pre-Reagan Republicans used to be Batman? O_O
“Hell, for a while, the Republicans were even the more abortion-friendly party. The Democrats were the Catholic party after all. The Republicans were the Protestant-as-humanistic-heritage-charity ones, the ones who eugenically spaced their three children two years apart unlike those grubby Papists, the ones with mistresses, the ones with bourgeois life courses to even be diverted from. Not to mention the doctors who cleaned up after amateur abortions or offered black-market ones themselves.”

“the framework that I’ve found productive for understanding The Big Lebowski is that it’s a Raymond Chandler tribute.
…That’s why the cowboy’s there as chorus/narrator, because the brilliant thing about The Big Lebowski is that it isn’t a stoner comedy, it’s a stoner tragedy.”


“the internet in general was pretty wealth-marked in 1998 (far more than we realized, with our American mythology of universal white suburban middle-classness and “global village” Internet mythology) … And if the Anglophone internet is ::gestures:: like this now maybe it’s cause it’s less of a professional-class preserve? The dividing line maybe being smartphones where “people on the internet” went from “people who specifically spend $X/mo on it as luxury” to “people with telephone service”? That’s a real possibility, that for all the “Global Village” stuff the wondrous effect of the ‘90s internet was to create a cultural space that was MORE gatekept by wealth and education.

That’s… kind of depressing, though. “Haha you thought the world was getting better because you were eliminating elitist barriers but actually it’s cause you were making them higher, which is good because the poor and non-elite are disproportionately idiots with worthless ideas and to the extent they’re on top of things the thing they’re on top of is undermining the basis of a good society, and anyway those times were a phenomenon of a narrow early adopter base and you’ll never ever get them back unless you make the non-elite economically and politically irrelevant.”

Depressing but very well precedented, that’s exactly the arc newsprint, radio, and TV followed before.”


“Proposed: the 1980s farm crisis (which was where family farming finally died in America) at some level fed into the development of anti-abortion activity and identity in the same period, by way of agrarian-magical fertility rites.
It’s a recurring notion among human agricultural societies that the health of the land, and of the crop, rely, through sympathetic magic, on the enactment of human fertility, in ritual or actual childbearing
These fertility cults constitute a folk religion symbiotic with any variety of nominal official religions, if not actively parasitic and tending to supplant
At some fundamental level the failure of the agrarian economy is understood or at least felt as a result of the failure of women to bear children, and for them to return to fertility will renew the golden age
To perform abortions is, essentially, to perform black witchcraft, cursing the crop and ruining the harvest; if a witch has cursed your crop the solution is to kill the witch.
This would explain the origin of Operation Rescue in the mid-1980s, and why it would choose Wichita of all places for its Summer of Mercy, this would explain the geographic distribution of the most intense anti-abortion sentiment and violence, this would explain why if you drive too far into farm country the cultural footprint consists of decaying human settlements and roadside signs condemning abortion or beseeching women to give birth”

Oct 012019

A number of years ago I was in a friend’s living room. We were setting up to play boardgames. I was up and looking at his bookshelf when I saw the book “Bloom.” It wasn’t by one of the super-famous authors you see everywhere and I had just read it a while ago myself, so I said “Oh hey, you have Bloom! That was a good book, I liked it.” Behind me a voice said “Yeah, I wrote that.”

I turned around and there sat a man I’d been introduced to just that day for boardgaming, looking at me in dead seriousness. I had this intense feeling of vertigo, because somehow a published author had just randomly snuck into my life and was hanging around in a mutual friend’s living room like this was a perfectly normal thing that just happens. I was initially at a loss for words.

That was Wil McCarthy, and since then we’ve gotten to know each other quite a bit more. He took about a decade off from writing to do the tech-entrepreneur thing, but now he’s back into the word-slinging game. His latest novel drops today, and I’m hosting a guest post from him in support, because he greatly overestimates the reach of my blog. :) I mentioned that hearing about tech entrepreneurship would be something my readers are interested in, so he wrote to that. Without further delay:

Hi, my name is Wil McCarthy, and I’m a writer. Eneasz was kind enough to lend my this platform for a day, because I’ve got a hardcover science fiction novel out from Baen this week. This is actually the twelfth book in my publishing career, and yet still a really significant milestone for me, because the last time I released a book was in 2005, and if you’d told me then that there’d be a gap of fourteen years before my next book, well, I wouldn’t have believed it. Seriously, I used to work a full-time job whilst writing a book a year, and I still had enough leftover time and energy to attend to my family and maintain an active social life. Then I gave up the full-time job to concentrate exclusively on my writing, and that went well. For years. So what happened?

In a way, the writing was a victim of its own success; in my 1999 novella “Once Upon a Matter Crushed” and subsequent novel THE COLLAPSIUM, I posited a type of programmable matter called “wellstone”, whose optical and electrical and even mechanical properties could be adjusted in real time through the application of minute electrical signals. This was based on real science, and I said so in the book’s appendix, but even so I got a flood of annoyed fan mail saying the idea was nonsense and had no place in a hard science fiction book. I responded with a series of increasingly detailed, increasingly specific nonfiction articles on the subject, culminating in a long WIRED magazine feature that spelled out, in engineering terms, how such a thing could actually work.

That turned out to be a patentable invention, which I patented and made the subject of a nonfiction book, HACKING MATTER, that was basically a much longer, more detailed, more self-indulgent version of the article I’d written for WIRED. This resulted, in early 2004, in one of the co-inventors of the Blackberry smartphone (remember the Blackberry?) calling me up out of the blue and saying he wanted to give me (or rather, the company I had founded when I filed the patent) a million dollars, just to see what happened.

Saying yes to that resulted in my being the president and chief technology officer of a tech startup, which attracted still more investment from other high-net-worth individuals. Which was fine and fun; what better way to succeed as a science fiction writer than for people to pay you to make your crazy ideas real? One caution I received at the time was that the thing we actually discovered would be different than the thing we set out to invent, and this turned out to be sage advice indeed; after multiple pivots triggered by unexpected results in both the lab and the marketplace, I ended up co-inventing a type of smart window that tinted when it got hot.
Sounds useful, right? Want some for your own house? Yeah, me too. Unfortunately, while we almost succeeded in selling the technology to 3M, and then really almost succeeded in selling it to Dow Chemical, the 2008 meltdown in the economy kiboshed all that, and we eventually concluded we would need to build our own factory and develop and sell the product ourselves. This involved raising many more millions of dollars, which sounds great but was actually the downfall of basically the entire life I’d so carefully built for myself.

One caution I didn’t receive, but quickly figured out for myself, was that venture capitalists don’t want you fucking around writing science fiction novels on the side. They expect (and arguably deserve) your undivided attention. Up until this point, I’d still been dabbling in the world of science fiction, writing novellas for Analog and Asimov’s, and I was also the toastmaster at the World Science Fiction Convention one year, and guest of Honor for Apollocon during the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. Oh, and I was still writing for WIRED, and had a monthly column over at the SciFi channel (later SyFy). But yeah, between 2008 and 2013 all that went away. I didn’t consciously kill any of it, but it certainly died through inattention and starvation. After that, I was no longer a writer — just another tech company entrepreneur.

Another caution I didn’t receive was that tech company founders are basically cannon fodder for the venture capital industry. Once they’ve got 51% control of your company and its IP, you basically become the most expensive and most expendable employee on the roster, and if they can scheme a way to get rid of you and still keep the enterprise afloat, they will frequently do so. I’m not going to say that’s exactly what happened to me. There were negotiations, and a settlement of sorts, and a mutual non-disparagement agreement. What I will say is that in 2014 I found myself out of a job, and with a much-diluted ownership stake in the company I had founded in my own basement. Much diluted. That’s not a disparagement, just a numerical fact. I won’t name the company, but I will say it still exists, and has lost a lot of money over the years. Whether it would have succeeded with me at the helm is hard to say, but it certainly has not so far succeeded without me, in five and a half years of trying.

Over the next year I would suffer both a nasty divorce and a nasty car accident, both of whose aftereffects continue to reverberate in my life. All of this set me back, and made it hard to get back on my feet as my actual self, Wil McCarthy the science fiction writer. However, in 2016 I dusted off a book proposal I’d written all the way back in 2004, right before all the craziness began, and called up Baen’s Toni Weisskopf to ask if she’d like a peek at it. She had, years earlier, given me a standing invitation to write for Baen, so this wasn’t a huge stretch, but still I was grateful when she liked the proposal enough to offer me a two-book contract. I was a writer again! Now all I had to do was actually, you know, write a book. For the first time in more than 10 years. Piece of cake, right? Well, it took a year, even though I was doing it full nearly full time, with just some part-time consulting on the side. And then there were the revisions, and the copyedits, and the page proofs, and the marketing copy, all of which stretched out over another agonizing year.

Okay, but now it’s late 2019, and I’m actually a professional novelist again, in the most fundamental sense of having written and published a novel. Whew. Now, as I obsessively scan the web for reviews and scrape my Amazon page for real-time sales rankings, I feel whole again, in a way that I haven’t for a long time.

How do I feel about my ten years in startup land? That’s a hard question to answer. As badly as it all turned out, the experience still furnished some of the most memorable times of my life. I traveled the world in Business Class, and solved hard problems side-by-side with people who loved what they were doing as much as I did. And honestly, I do not see how I could have forgiven myself for refusing that first million dollars, and all that came after. Just because the tiger eats you doesn’t mean it isn’t worth riding. I have a lot of regrets, but “doing it at all” isn’t one of them. Still, would I do it again if I had the chance? Again, it’s hard to say. The easy answer is no, of course not, but I also know that if the right idea and the right situation came along, I’d still be sorely tempted to see where it might lead. Which may simply mean that I’ve learned nothing from the experience, except that being a writer isn’t something I’m eager to give up again, anytime soon.

Do I have any advice for people thinking about following in my footsteps? Yeah, kind of. Be careful with your founding documents; make sure they don’t lock you into a situation you can’t escape from, and make sure they do protect you as much as possible from involuntary ejection. Build that golden parachute right into the foundations of your company. Also, don’t trust anyone. That may sound harsh, but with enough money in play to make a company appear, nobody is your friend, and literally anyone (no matter your history) could be tempted at times to stab you in the back and run away with the treasure. You can work with people you don’t trust (in fact, you’ll need to), but don’t hand them the knife to stab you with, and don’t turn your back. Most importantly, don’t give up your other dreams, because at the end of the day, they may be all you have to fall back on.

Wil McCarthy’s latest novel is Antediluvian, get it here.

Sep 062019

World of Warcraft Classic came out a week and a half ago, and man am I loving the hell out of it.

It occurs to me that much of what makes WoW Classic “fun” is not something that is generally associated with the fun of video games. Most of the game play is fairly repetitive — basically minor variations on a few tasks that are fairly simple to execute. One then proceeds from place to place, continually doing these basic tasks over and over with minor variations. This seems very similar to what one did in the ancestral environment to remain alive on a day-to-day level. Wander about to gather wood. Fetch water. Forage for edible plants for hours upon hours.

The key to these tasks is that one doesn’t do them alone. In WoW, as in the ancestral environment, one should always do this with a group of known people. During this time you bullshit. Tell jokes, talk about your day, learn stuff about each other. Gossip. Whatevs. That’s the primary immediate enjoyment I get from WoW as well. I’m in Discord 95%+ of the time, and I spend a lot of time typing in guild-chat or party-chat.

WoW Classic enforces this sort of thing in three ways. First by forcing/encouraging players to group constantly. Much of the game is impossible (or very difficult) if you aren’t working together with other people. This is one of the large ways it differs from the current iteration of Retail World of Warcraft. In Retail, anyone can do basically anything solo, aside from a few arenas set aside for group-sports-only. In Warcraft, this is very hard, and intentionally so. Grouping is a matter of game-survival. In addition, much of the game rewards you for grouping with others even when you don’t need to. Many quests are “kill X monster” types. Five people working close by but separately to kill 5 monsters each would have to kill 25 total, but five people in a group need only kill 5 monsters total as each kill counts for everyone’s quest individually. These two aspects result in a lot of grouping all the time.

Secondly, WoW Classic has a fair bit of sporadic “forced idleness.” There is a lot of “go from point A to point B” quests where all you’re doing is holding down the walk key (or engaging the auto-run). Some times these walks can go on for quite a while. Other times you’re literally waiting for a boat to show up. Or for monsters to respawn when an area has been hunted to barrenness. Or to regenerate health and mana by “eating” after several monster fights in succession. Or or or. What’s a person to do, while doing nothing? You chat with people. It’s a great way to pass a 10-40 second delay in the middle of a task.

Thirdly, the fact that combat isn’t too taxing facilitates chat as well. Many monsters have only a basic attack. Some with have one simple mechanic that’s not hard to deal with. If you type fast, you can even chat in quick snippets in the middle of many combats. If you’re in a Discord voice channel, you don’t have to stop doing anything, just keep killing away while you chat.

Retail WoW has stripped out all these things. In the interest of ever more streamlined gameplay, there are almost no pauses or delays in gaming. You don’t need any help for most content. And fights are superficially “complex” in that you need to be pushing a variety of buttons in reaction to things happening on the screen that gets in the way of chatting.

This sorta thing doesn’t really sound that fun in the abstract. Games are supposed to be very involving, right? It’s weird that it’s fun, but then, it’s not that weird after all. Foraging with your homies was what humanity had to do for many thousands of years to survive. It makes sense that we evolved to enjoy doing it.