I ruined Christmas in 1979 with an Atari 2600 gift. I was 7 years old.

The Atari was all I wanted. I started asking for one around Hallowe’en. My single Mom couldn’t possibly afford it. We weren’t poor, but all the money we had went to mortgage and school and we never had much extra for fun stuff. She told me there was no way she could buy it. It was $200, or about $800 in today’s dollars, and by that age I already understood what that meant.

Early December my sister, my older should-have-been-wiser sister, tipped me off that our mother had bought me the Atari. That it would be my Christmas present. I didn’t believe her, so she told me where it was hidden. In a gross dusty back closet in the garage. So when Mom wasn’t home I snuck into the closet and very, very carefully peeked and there was the Atari under some musty old polyester blanket.

I kept the secret for about three days. But I couldn’t contain myself. It was already bought and in the house! Even if Christmas was weeks away, surely I could go ahead and have it now and play it now? What would be the harm? So by my 7 year old logic I told my Mom I knew about the present. And informed her that since I knew about it, she might as well give it to me right then.

That was the second time I can remember my mother outright crying. The first time was two years earlier, when my father died. The third time was a few years later when I was 12 and so upset I told her I hated her and she’d ruined my life and honestly meant it in the moment.

But there in early December 1979 she burst into tears of anger and frustration because her big Christmas plan was ruined. She was so, so mad at me. Of course I couldn’t have my present. In fact since I’d been so naughty I was getting no present at all. She was going to return the Atari and give me nothing.

Sure enough, I had no presents under the tree. A day or two before Christmas she relented, a couple of small boxes appeared. I tearfully asked what had happened to the Atari. "It’s gone. I got you some underwear because, well, you need underwear anyway. You can open it on Christmas Day". I was no longer in a rush.

I felt so terrible. I knew how happy my mother was to have been able to buy that gift for me, how much it must have cost to have saved the money aside to be able to afford it. And then all that generosity and joy was ruined because I peeked at my presents.

So it was a pretty glum Christmas morning. I mean we had our stockings (with an orange in the toe), and candy, and nuts. There were a few boxes under the tree for me. I’d picked out my presents for everyone and they were ready to give, but I didn’t get much joy from that. I was just sad for my lost Atari.

Finally it came time to open presents. And my Mom handed me a small box, a cube, and told me to open it first. Inside was an Atari 2600 joystick! That confused the heck out of me. Then I opened the second box and it was a Combat game cartridge. Then another joystick, and an RF adapter, and then finally my mother took pity on me and hauled the last box out from where it’d been hidden; the Atari console itself, wrapped separately to hide what it was.

Best Christmas ever.

life
  2018-12-26 12:21 Z

One of the conveniences of Berlin city life is the Späti or Spätkauf, the local convenience store. It’s like your corner bodega in New York, a little market that sells essentials and is nearby and open late. Beer, newspapers, fresh baked goods, condoms, a couple of cooked meals, some minimal groceries. There’s one on nearly every block.

It’s particularly useful in Germany because laws and customs strictly limit how late stores can be open. For instance almost no one is open on Sundays, including grocery stores, without special exceptions. But somehow the neighborhood Späti is open every day, often 6am to 11pm or some even longer. The name literally means "late store".

In nice weather the Späti often have a couple of tables outside. And there’s no rule against drinking beer outside so they become a low cost alternative to going to a bar. There’s even Späticrawls where people spend the evening wandering between their favorite Spätis drinking beer on the way.

One other handy thing about the Späti, they often double as a formal package receiving service. My local has a deal with Hermes where a package can be delivered to them and they’ll hold it for a week. Fairly serious system for pickups too, an ID check and a signature and a record made. Amazon is happy to deliver to these so it’s easy to buy things from them in Berlin.

culturetravel
  2018-12-19 16:50 Z

I’ve had a mantra since Trump was elected: "it is going to keep getting worse". It’s depressing but I find being clear helps bolster me for the upcoming pain. There is no realistic scenario where the next two years in America are going to go better politically.

The midterms were a success for the Democrats. They decisively took the House. A victory, hooray! But what does that victory get us? Very little. At best, it slows down the horrible deluge of atrocities that are still coming.

Trump will remain President. There’s no likely path to an actual impeachment; even if Mueller has clear evidence of treason the Republicans in the Senate will protect Trump. And if they decide to get rid of Trump the result would be President Pence. That may be less stupid and crazy but Pence is also a bad and dangerous politician. And it is the entire Republican party that is the problem, not just Trump, and they will remain in power.

The best outcome from these midterms is the Democrats will use the investigatory powers of the House to unearth some of the Trump Administration’s crimes and malfeasance. (There’s an active debate on how aggressive the Democrats want to be.) A little truth-and-reconciliation would help things. Unearth the Trump Organization’s financial double dealings that corrupt the presidency. Get to the bottom of how our country stole thousands of children from their parents at the border and then lost several hundred of them, permanently orphaning the kids. Expose the Republican strategy of denying people voting rights to win elections. A little fresh air will feel good but it won’t actually change anything. We are way, way beyond where appeals to truth or decency matter.

Meantime, the Republicans will continue their campaign of vandalism. They will continue to undermine Obamacare. They will continue to demonize immigrants in a rank display of racism. They will continue to undermine LGBT rights, particularly transgender peoples’. They will continue to destroy our economy with reckless tax cuts. If not via legislation, then via executive action.

And forget our government taking normal action on necessary things like funding infrastructure, improving healthcare, setting reasonable foreign policy. Gridlock is better than active harm, but the best we have to hope for is gridlock.

That’s normal politics. It could get much worse. Trump is entirely unpredictable. It seems quite likely he will draw a page from the Putin playbook and start a war next year to help galvanize support for his re-election. Maybe Iran, Venezuela, Yemen. Maybe some "shithole" country he decides to attack. Nothing will stand in his way of creating a war.

Even that’s somewhat normal by American experience (see: 2003 in Iraq). The scariest thing to me is the rising fascism in American political rhetoric. The increasing appeals to violence. The demonizing of journalism. The frighteningly aggressive rhetoric of Trump’s rallies. The gun and bomb attacks by brownshirts. I was genuinely afraid the 2018 elections would be marred by some violent event, a mass shooting at a polling place or something. I’m glad I was wrong. I’m not going to be any less worried about that after two more years of Trump.

The country is breaking.

politics
  2018-11-08 18:51 Z

The Ceptics travel adapters are good hardware for American world travellers. They combine a USB charger with a passive plug adapter for AC. Carrying one of those is enough for me for a multi-week vacation, providing plenty of charging for my laptop, phone, tablet, etc. No need for extra chargers or adapters. They come in different models for European, Australian, UK, etc sockets. They also make a universal adapter kit but it’s a lot bulkier.

You’d think a passive AC adapter would be a simple thing but a lot of them suck. Ceptics’ solution makes for a plug that sockets reliably and firmly. And it has a reasonable workaround for polarization and universal 3 prong grounding. You may not get a true third wire for ground (ie, the Type C European plug is only 2 prong) but at least your laptop charger will physically plug in and function.

The Ceptics’ USB charging works well. USB charger quality varies greatly. I can’t really judge what’s inside the Ceptics charger except to say that it never gets warm and seems to provide the right magic signals to charge my iPad quickly.

techgood
  2018-10-12 16:16 Z

For the past 4+ years I’ve played a lot of League of Legends and written about it here. Last week I quit entirely; no longer playing the game, unsubscribed from all the reddits, not watching the broadcasts. I’m still running Logs of Lag but I’ve added a new link to the page that I suspect Riot Games will not be happy with.

The big story is Inside The Culture Of Sexism At Riot Games, a meticulously researched and detailed story about sexual harassment of employees at the company. Riot apparently is the worst kind of bro-culture and the problem starts at the top. This story was swiftly confirmed by a variety of personal reports.

Riot Games responded a few weeks later with the smarmiest of PR-crafted replies. They pinky-swear they’re going to do better by having some introspective discussions and some training. In the meantime what they’ve actually been doing is retaliating against current and former employees with aggressive legal threats. And firing highly visible employees who aren’t toeing the PR line. (I know the work of both Lehman and Klein; Riot lost some very smart people.)

Video game culture in America has a huge problem of sexism and racism. Tech companies often have sexism and racism too. But I’d somehow hoped that Riot Games was better. The individuals I know there are decent people. But the company culture created by the founders Marc Merrill and Brandon Beck is disgusting and childish. I want nothing to do with it.

culturegames
  2018-09-08 15:00 Z

One of my favorite bits of Internet art is Rainbowstep, a 2011 mashup of Skrillex and My Little Pony. It’s beautifully edited and something about the intense music and visuals never fails to evoke a strong emotional response in me.

But that link is to a crappy re-encoded copy some generous random person put online. The original video is offline with no explanation. I did a bit of digging in the Wayback Machine and it looks to have been taken offline in 2016 or 2017 on a copyright complaint by Warner Music Group, Skrillex’s corporate overlord. No idea why YouTube no longer displays the takedown notice; maybe a bug.

Fuck that! Imagine being a kid who grew up with this video. You go to look it up and revisit some of your culture and it’s just gone. OK sure the music was basically a full unlicensed copy of Skrillex’ song plus many unlicensed clips from the TV show. Yes, current copyright law means legally that video is on shaky ground. But the work as a whole had so much more art in it than those pieces, it offends me a company can just unilaterally destroy it.

FWIW the artist of the video is Zesstra Howkon, aka ZestyArt or Dastrun. Their video page on Youtube is now empty, all of their work is gone.

culture
  2018-09-04 00:36 Z

The first phase of undoing the Republican policy of separating children from their parents at the border is over. The July 26 deadline to reunite all families passed; the result is about ⅓ are together again. The details of the other thousands of parents and kids are complicated. For example 431 parents were deported without their children, it’s not clear they will ever be reunited. 21 kids are still separated because their parents failed a background check. According to past reports, some kids or their parents are simply just lost, the system can’t find them.

The pain of this separation policy will continue for years. Right now we still have to make sure every single other child separated from their parents is treated humanely and legally and eventually reunited with their family. Long term, the mental health of some of these kids will be permanently harmed by the trauma of separation and incarceration. And we’ve yet to hear about any abuses inside the detention system; given past experience there are horrors to come.

The whole thing has been an atrocity. A deliberate policy of white nationalism enacted by the Trump Administration and the Republican Party. It’s one thing to have differing opinions on immigration quotas or asylum procedures. It is another entirely to snatch children from their mothers. America committed a deliberate human rights abuse. Trump’s rhetoric demonizing and dehumanizing immigrants set the stage. The deep racism of many Americans encouraged this outrage along with the silent complicitly of so many citizens who want to just ignore an atrocity as it happens.

For the past six weeks I’ve been making an effort to tweet every single day about the unfolding story. I’ve been worried it’d be far too easy for this human rights crisis to go unnoticed, for us to forget that there were thousands of children living in cages and crying for their parents. So I’ve carefully read every single story I could find, highlighted something new every single day. I can’t keep that level of engagement up going forward. It seems absurd to allow this atrocity to just go on the pile along with all the other horrible Trump outrages. This particular event, the abuse of children, is singularly evil.

politics
  2018-07-27 22:42 Z

Between May 5 and June 9 at least 2,342 children were snatched from their parents because of a Trump / Republican policy change. That new policy was suspended June 20 but the children are still separated. They joined another 1,768 kids that were taken from their parents Oct 2016 – Feb 2018. As of last week there were a total of 11,869 children being held in HHS custody. These numbers sound comfortingly precise but the reality is a lot more confused. The immigrant child custody system has never worked well and was stressed significantly by adding 25% more kids in one month.

So where are the kids? The government has not published a comprehensive list or map. Several journalism agencies are trying: Reveal and ProPublica both have maps of immigration detention facilities for children, based in part on data from the Texas Tribune. These range from a 10 bed Catholic shelter in the Bronx to a converted Walmart for 1500 kids in Brownsville, TX. So far the reporting is that these shelters have been treating children decently. But between the strain on the shelter system and the historical lack of oversight it seems likely more kids will be abused. Just being separated from their parents is hugely damaging.

What’s next for the kids? The June 20 executive order reduces the number of children being separated in the future but does nothing to help the ones who were already snatched. This CNN timeline summarizes court decisions on what happens next.

  • July 6: parents must be able to contact their children
  • July 10: children under 5 reunited with their parents
  • July 26: all children reunited with their parents

It seems likely that “reunited with their parents” means “placed into immigrant detention with their parents”. This creates a new problem, kids can only be held in immigrant jails for 20 days. So far there is no solution proposed for that limit. Expect another crisis maybe as early as July 10.

Some of the snatched kids have already been given back to their parents. But it’s very unclear how the rest of the kids will be reunited. HHS is talking like they have excellent records. But lawyers for parents say that’s not really true. Many parents don’t have legal representation at all, no help for finding their kids. There’s also a lot of confusion as some parents may have already been deported and various kids have different statuses. The fact that HHS says they are building a system now does not inspire confidence; is that system going to be working and complete in two weeks?

The separation policy is an atrocity. It was deliberately engineered to cause significant harm to children for political gain. The baffling array of different motivations stated for the policy only added to the confusion. But two stated reasons for taking kids away stand out as clearly important. One, to create a deterrent to future immigrants. And two, to create pressure in Congress to change immigration law. Holding 2,342 children hostage for these goals is monstrous.

I literally lay awake at night wondering about what is happening to these children. I feel powerless to do much to help them. I’ve given money, I’ve marched in protest, I’ve called my Congressman. Lately I’ve been trying to tweet one humanizing thing about these kids a day, just to keep some attention on a continuing human rights crisis.

politics
  2018-07-09 15:49 Z

Like any other decent human I’ve been horrified at the atrocity of Trump and the Republicans separating children from their parents. The immediate crisis seems to be over but there’s still an immense need for legal aid for immigrants. To try to unite the snatched kids back with their parents, to help asylum seekers in need. Every person deserves legal representation.

I went looking for well organized legal aid charities in California that I could donate to. I asked on Reddit and Metafilter and found a few helpful lists of organizations: San Francisco Magazine, Slate, Immigration Advocates Network.

I ended up having a hard time picking California specific organizations because there are so many small groups and I don’t know how to evaluate them all. Here’s what I ended up donating to:

politics
  2018-06-21 20:24 Z

America is treating immigrant children as subhuman, taking them from their parents, abusing them, losing them. Social media is full out of outrage about this so it seems a bit redundant to write it all down. But it is an atrocity that is happening and the least I can do is bear witness.

America has a newly aggressive policy of separating children from parents if ICE thinks the parents entered the country illegally. It is a supreme form of cruelty being perpetrated by the state, often against families fleeing persecution and trauma.

Once separated from their parents we harm the children further. Some of those children are physically abused by Border Patrol officers, kids being punched, kicked, sexually assaulted, held in solitary confinement. ICE then destroys the evidence of the abuse. Many kids are placed in foster care but then we lose a large number of them, like literally don’t know what happened to them. Some of them ended up in the hands of traffickers. “Sorry Mom, we lost your kid, check the local brothels.” This problem is not new but much worse under Trump.

All of this is happening in the dangerous context of dehumanizing immigrants.

“I called them animals the other day, and I was met with rebuke,” he said. “They said, ‘They’re people.’ They’re not people. These are animals, and we have to be very, very tough.”
“They exploited the loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors.” Trump added: “They look so innocent. They’re not innocent.”
See, they’re not immigrant children at all. They are criminals. And animals. So it’s OK to abuse them, to separate them from their parents.

It is going to keep getting worse.

politics
  2018-05-26 17:09 Z