Thursday, October 2, 2014

State of Affairs, Part II

I'm also still working for Circlet. We did more mailing this week. You know, after the last time, when we stuffed envelopes and sent out seven hundred little 'order some paperback smut!' pamphlets to bookstores across the country. (A few went up into the Democratic Republic of Canuckistan.) Collecting that list was my job. Even a list of seven hundred sex shops gets really boring really quickly when you have them in a spreadsheet, and need to convert them into mailing addresses.

I left a 25lb box of meticulously-packed pornography sitting on Boss Lady's dining room table, waiting to be sent out to a burlesque troupe in Nashville, for their Halloween show. I was uncertain what reaction I'd get to the suggestion that we ship four dozen books to Tennessee gratis, but it turns out that this seems like a perfectly sensible idea when you bring it up after the Editor-in-Chief has herself devised a plan to clean out the basement stockroom into other people's swag bags. I went spelunking for thirteen 30ct boxes of Through A Brazen Mirror, to be sent out to a very large fantasy writers' conference, which will be followed up by another 400 copies of something called The Drag Queen of Elfland and other stories as soon as I finish hauling them up out of the basement. I keep losing Sherpas down there. Although, in compensation, I am getting to know the local spiders quite well.

There is a once more a loud whirring noise coming from the server-rack end of the basement again. This is reassuring, seeing as our website has been down for several weeks, on account of too many volts. I am not kidding. Cambridge had a series of awe-inspiring thunderstorms a while back, which wrapped up in the Götterdamerung conclusion of a lighting strike that fried both A) the actual webserver and B) the machine that was meant to be our backup, in case of A. We sent the disk off to some sort of digital voodoo priest in the mid-Atlantic area, who has mercifully established that the platters are fine, but that all the magic smoke has been let out of the controller. Brain transplants are much easier on disk drives than on humans, so we'll have it back eventually. This is excellent news, particularly since I have a pretty good idea of who would have been responsible for the data entry if we'd had to rebuild the store from scratch.

We've started using a service called If This, Then That to bounce things around on social media. I detest the tumblr dashboard interface. It's so obstructively "friendly" it's like trying to type wearing giant Nerf gloves. IfTTT will take things I post to the actual main blog page at circlet.com and echo it to a bunch of other social media services, without me having to mess with Wordpress plugins or crosspost things by hand. It's not perfect -- the most notable hole is Google+, because Google, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that they don't like third-party clients, official APIs, or telling you how to post via email, even though their 'post via text' service goes through an SMS-to-email gateway behind the scenes. There is a way to outwit this and get them to give you the supar-sekrit email address you need to do it yourself, but it involves signing up for a Google Voice number, routing your GVoice SMS service back to email, and intentionally triggering a bounce error. It does not work with T-Mobile prepaid plans, which is what I have. No, I don't know why. A wizard did it.

I also set up IfTTT for a bunch of my things, which you have all probably noticed if you decided to follow me on tumblr. I have no problem with using tumblr as long as I don't have to touch the damn thing, so I have it set up to echo all my blog posts immediately for your reading pleasure. I also, in a fit of procrasti-boredom, set it up to echo a lot of completely random things to the tumblr queue, to be posted a few per day, in case any of you were suffering from a fit of crippling procrasti-boredom yourselves. It's not quite "reblog everything I've looked at for more than fifteen seconds", but it's as close as I can get without owning a pair of Google Glasses.

I drew a little chart of all the things the Circlet account bounces around and where they go, in case I contract the Venusian Death Flu and can't take care of it for a week. I tried to draw a flow chart of mine too, but it turns out that my flow isn't planar. Oops. Well, it all makes sense in my head. I do that fairly regularly. I used to loathe when instructors required flow charts for papers/story plots or those brainstorming cloud diagram things; mine were always desperately incomplete or completely indecipherable, because in order to connect everything up properly I would have needed to start drawing arrows that looped sideways through the table. Or possibly through time. One of the two. It drove me so crazy once that I submitted a (college) research paper on CD-R so I could hyperlink everything.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

State of Affairs, Part I

My life has become a whirlwind of activity lately. I'm still working for Nokia, in a QA role that is rather akin to evaluating the sanity of something that is closely along the lines of Google Map's Search Nearby function, only it's specifically for Nokia phones, and occasionally the gaps in its reasoning systems are filled in with Insane Troll Logic. It is my job to review the queries people submit in juxtaposition with the answers our map search app gave, and then to explain, with citations and links where appropriate, why someone who is standing in Singapore and searching for "coffee" is not going to be happy with an answer pinpointing the town of Coffee, GA, USA.

When it's thoroughly confused, it tends to default to picking a nearby answer off of what I am beginning to believe is a list of every pharmacy and post office on the face of the Earth. Other times, it just jumps off into East Hyperspace. This occasionally involves a foray into Wikipedia articles on things like Polish grammar, as the app accepts queries in any language you can enter into a phone and, like Google, will translate generic category nouns into the local equivalent if you happen to be asking in a foreign tongue. I spend a lot of time playing "Different Case Or Different Word?" in languages I technically don't speak. It has lately combined this with its sometimes-overzealous fuzzy-logic typo-detector in a tour de force of nonsense, where someone will ask for "Point (something)" in a francophone area, the app will decide they really meant to type "Pont (something)" in French, translate that back into English ("pont" = "bridge"), and then will proudly present the user with a nearby bridge, which is named a thing that is almost but not quite entirely unlike "(something)".

I also once pointed out that its return of an ice rink in New Delhi to a query which was genuinely for an ice rink, but from a user somewhere in Indiana, was the most useless possible answer we could have given them short of leaving the planet. My supervisors, thankfully, think I'm funny.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

FYI, I figured out how to propagate my blog posts to tumblr. I hate the interface there with the firey passion of a thousand burning suns, so I'm using IfTTT, which just loves to redirect things from one feed to another. You can follow me at arabellaflynn.tumblr.com.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hi, my name is Arabella, and I'm an Ace Attorney addict...

Ace Attorney Investigations 2: Prosecutor's Path has eaten my brains. No, you didn't miss an English-language release of Gyakuten Kenji 2 -- Capcom inexplicably decided not to do one. A fantranslation group put out a patch in Xdelta and BEAT formats a few months ago, and I finally got around to trying it. I'm not giving you any of the files, on the grounds that if you can spell at least 50% of the relevant search terms correctly, it'll come up in about 20 milliseconds on Google. It works flawlessly on an early revision Japanese DS Lite with an R4 flashcard running Wood 1.27.

(Not that I would know anything about any of these questionable third-party products, nosireebob. I don't have any family history of clever media conversion, and I certainly did not just convince someone to buy a DS emulator for her droidphone so she could play the original Ace Attorney games that Capcom inexplicably only released for iOS. And I would never dream of spending several of my more tedious classes in college misusing my Palm IIIc organizer to play a shockingly perfect port of Pac-Man.

I probably shouldn't admit to missing Infocombot, either, or all the time I spent MUDding in a computer lecture class that was not only boring but a complete waste of my time. All liberal arts majors were required to take a class that was essentially Intro To Turning The Computer On And Off, and they refused to give me a bye even though I worked for the university helpdesk at the time. So I carried a flashdrive with the portable version of Remote Desktop to class, brought my home XP desktop up on the lab computer, and reclaimed the telnet window I'd left open with the MUD in it. the MUD was technically for a class, and it was run on spare server capacity leftover from DragonMUD, but Uncle Jopsy's Story Time is a tale for another day.

If they had been smarter they would have excused me from the class, which was what my junior high tech teacher did when she realized I was failing their typing exercises because a Mac Classic is a bear of very little brain, and I was hitting the keys so rapidly I was overflowing the keyboard buffer. But I digress.)

I probably could have gotten through the game in the original Japanese, but it would have taken forever. Let's just say Edgeworth's propensity for sounding like a dryly wiseass dictionary is well-translated. It is, if anything, less pronounced in English than it is in Japanese -- in the original, whenever Mitusrugi loses his temper in court, he does this thing that I can only describe as plummeting through half a dozen levels of linguistic formality, whacking himself squarely in the face with each and every one over the course of the exchange, before finally landing at the part where he growls out sentence fragments while grinding his fist into the prosecution desk.

(Note: If you are at the point in your language learning where you're trying to absorb vocabulary from context.., don't use Gyakuten Saiban games. The whole point of these puzzles is to turn context upside down halfway through the story. I tried it with the first game, once, and gave it up when I realized that, unless I someday have a vacation go very wrong, I am never going to need to know how to spell the word for 'wiretap' in Japanese.)

Visual novel puzzle games steal my soul. They're a little dangerous. The last time I got a new Latyon game, I forgot to sleep until I finished it. AAI2 is not an exception. It took a sincere application of willpower not to walk home from Sullivan with the DS held in front of my face the other day. The translation took a while, but it came out brilliantly. It's slightly less loopy than the official ones, but not by much -- at one point, someone shouts THE GOGGLES DO NOTHING! Debeste's "the Best" puns spew forth almost as readily as Franziska's 'foolishly foolish fool' phrases. I'm pleased with the voice actors they picked, too. Edgeworth and Franziska and Gumshoe had their English HOLD IT! and OBJECTION! stings ripped from AAI, I presume, but the new VAs blend in quite well.

Spoiler-free notes:

Edgeworth gets kicked right in the feels a lot in this game. He takes it remarkably well. It's a shame they decided not to translate this one officially; it goes a long way towards explaining why he's gotten so mellow in his old age -- well, his 30s -- in Dual Destinies. He also has a positively frightening sang froid when the feels-kicking isn't directly happening to him. More than once, Edgeworth ends up in a room full of people going OMG OMG OMG A MURDER WHAT DO WE DOOOOOOOOO?, and just spends his time frowning calmly and introspectively at a large puddle of blood.

You will spend about half of your time going, OH GOD NOT YOU. Several people reappear from cases in previous games, and exactly zero of them have gotten any saner with the passage of time. Some of them have passed their insanity on to others!

There's a new mechanism in this game, Logic Chess, that roughly parallels Phoenix's Magatama and Psych-Locks. The main differences are that instead of presenting evidence you gather elsewhere to break a lie, you have to drag clues out of the current conversation to throw back at your opponent, and that your life bar technically serves as a timer, although the amount of time you start with is so generous you'd almost have to try to run out. Edgeworth also sometimes gets the option to 'wait and see', i.e, give his opponent a very pointed look and say nothing until they blurt something else out.

True to form, the mechanics of the game play accurately reflect the characterization in the visual novel segments. Larry shows up once, because of course he does (not a spoiler -- neither Phoenix nor Edgeworth are lucky enough to go five consecutive murder cases without tripping over their old pal), and you win one round of Logic Chess with him by flat asking "What were you doing here?", then crossing your arms and glaring for four consecutive turns while he babbles.

(More on Logic Chess down in the spoilerrific section.)

The Logic thing still pleases me. I find it a very accurate representation of how I actually figure stuff out. You have a field of semi-random facts, and you start just taking one and seeing if it has anything in common with the others. Get it right, and Edgeworth has an epiphany. Often it's just a couple of things at a time, but I seem to recall that at the end of the last game Edgeworth ends up collecting about a dozen observations together and then in three lightning rounds of fact-collision reduces them all the way down to the one answer he needs to solve the case.

I would also note that it is possible to brute-force both Logic and Logic Chess, which is why I like them a lot better than the Perception system in Apollo Justice. Ace Attorney games are remarkably good at avoiding moon logic puzzles, considering how surreal the setting can get, but it's still possible to get stuck. When you're working with Evidence in the court scenes, with Psych Locks (Phoenix) or with Logic/Logic Chess (Edgeworth), if you really can't figure out what the engine wants to open up the rest of the dialogue tree, you can usually break it with meta-gaming and figuring out where the lie is and what widget it wants you to bring up to disprove it, even if the reasoning isn't clear. (The following dialogue will usually explain it pretty well.) If it's absolutely necessary, you can just sit there and press every statement, present every piece of evidence, or try every conversation option until you hit the trigger, reloading whenever you run out of life bar to lose. You can't do that with Apollo's Perception; his whole schtick is that he can pick out liars even when their stories hang together, which means there's often nothing in the text to tell you which statement he's supposed to break, and the actual trigger is pretty much a game of hunt-the-twitchy-pixel.

(Yeah, I FAQed my way through Apollo Justice. Still took a ridiculously long time. I even do roughly equivalent lie-detector-y things in real life, and I had no idea what the hell the game engine wanted from me.)

Logic Chess is breakable by brute-forcing the conversation tree, although it would take you a boringly long while -- a nice balance between motivating you to figure it out properly and giving you a way to just smash buttons until the plot started up again.

(Spoilery things below.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Just for everyone's amusement, here are my business cards for Circlet promotions:


I have no problem posting them here, because 1) Circlet does not care if I work under my legal name, and in fact several of our editors don't; and 2) I cleverly have not put my phone number on there, because I don't answer.

They do, however, say "Porn Fairy", because for some reason when I ask 'should I have official business cards?' Cecilia says things like 'just order them yourself' and then doesn't think I need supervision. My rationale for this is that anyone who thinks it makes a mockery of Longstanding Tradition and the Serious Institution of Business Cards is by definition not part of our target audience, and we needn't consider their opinion.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A friend of mind poked me on Facebook not too long ago and asked me for advice on promoting a book he'd written. It's a good book -- I've read it, and I loved it -- but for some reason his publisher seems to have assigned his promo to Malfunctioning Eddie, and as soon as the initial sales burst dropped off by two or three books, sprockets started popping off everywhere. It's his first piece of standalone fiction. Having an overactive imagination is a prerequisite for a writer; it's great when you're crafting a novel, not so good when you get out of the shower in the morning and find you already have three or four urgent voicemails from Chicken Little that are long on hysteria and short on details. Eventually, he realized he was spending far too many billable hours going back and forth between calming his publisher and running down the checklist of heart attack symptoms, and that it would be easier to do it himself.

So he asked me what he was supposed to do. I am apparently the person who knows the most about promotions and social media in his circles, minus the 'help' who seems to maybe need a few more Valium to cope with life, the universe, and everything.

That left me scratching my head. I tend to think of myself as a hermit, and much of the time, I am. I can and have gone days at a time without talking to anything that has fewer than four legs, if my work schedule lines up just right/wrong with my roommates'. Self-check lanes at the grocery store are a glorious thing. I whine a lot when I have to leave the house, because that means I have to put on real pants. I would turn down an invitation to the Presidential Inauguration if I'd already hit my limit of socialization for the week. How the fuck did I end up the local expert in promotions? How the fuck did I end up good at it?

This is not the first time this has happened. One of the other actors in the summer PMRP Super Sleuths show just moved here from the other coast and used to do burlesque, so I got him to hang around and meet Dale afterwards. Dale told him that I was basically the community networking person. I had a pretty savage brain cramp when I realized he was probably right. I am continually amazed at how little the members of la burlesquerie know about each other's goings-on -- I assume that if I've picked up the info, it's probably common knowledge, but that may be overstating the case. Dex seems to think I live on Facebook, which I don't, mostly because I'm too skint to turn on the 3G data plan on my phone.

I've been told I must lead an interesting life. One of the Circlet authors was impressed that I knew so many creative types. I'd only mentioned the Post-Meridian Radio Players, and the cosplay photographer who write YA novels, and... oh. Er. I was declared winner of Porn Camp 2014 partly because I admitted to spending most of my free time with the burlesque dancers and circus performers. (Also partly because I showed up in the Black Widow costume after being dared to, but I'm me and I would wear that catsuit to lunch on a perfectly normal Wednesday if you asked me nicely.) I told my blog that the PMRP wanted radio scripts and was promptly referred to another author who, as it turns out, is or was the longtime partner of one of our Circlet writers, and...

...you know what? I have absolutely no idea how I got here. I never do. I was the kid nobody would talk to until I got to high school and started making friends via modem, and now I'm sitting in the middle of a web of very weird -- but highly entertaining -- people, knotting things together and plinking at strings. I almost want to march back and present my mother with overwhelming evidence she was wrong when she cast me as the book-smart social idiot, but knowing my mother, she'd just claim she thought I was the social one all along, because the structure of her reality is about as resilient as hot taffy, and it was clearly a trait I got from her. So forget that; it would probably end in punching.

At least I recognize the pattern. It's the same one I use when gathering information. Contrary to popular opinion, I don't actually know everything -- I just know where to look everything up. Likewise, I cannot personally entertain your party guests by juggling flaming poi, but I can certainly direct you to someone who has that skill.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I really hate it when people tell me that 'mindfulness' is the cure for depression. I am mindful of the details of life all the goddamn time. If that worked, you'd think I would have noticed this by now. It can help with anxiety, yes. If you tend to wake up from nightmares about the Apocalypse like I do, it is much easier to convince yourself that it is rather unlikely that the world has ended and they forgot to CC: you on the memo when you realize that someone has, for reasons unclear, left a gargantuan piece of construction equipment idling loudly right outside your window. Somerville public works crews would definitely take the end of the world as a sign that they needed a smoke break, and turn that fucker off. No matter what state I'm in, life goes on.

But seriously, 'mindfulness' does not make you feel better. It just shuffles the terrible feelings around. Or at least that's all it does for me.

When I get upset, I go out and walk. I used to do Tufts University to Boston Public Library in Copley Square via Davis and Mass Ave, on the grounds that nobody in their right mind would follow me. That walk is about five and a half miles, and I swear the natives out here will seriously take the bus like fifty feet. I did Assembly Square to the Esplanade round-trip the other day, with a bonus detour most of the way down Cambridge Street and back when I realized that the Longfellow Bridge pedestrian path was still probably closed. This was not a good idea, as I am already dropping weight like calories are radioactive and I hadn't had anything to eat for a good twelve hours. It's just that it was free, and I couldn't force myself to do anything else at the time.

The walking itself does nothing; I tried this in the exercise room of my old apartment complex once, and discovered that a treadmill is what happens when you accumulate enough futility and boredom to collapse down into a physical object. Exercise improves mood for some people, but not for me. I also don't get runner's high. Primarily it burns calories I can't spare and time I wish I could fast-forward through.

What walking does do is give me a lot of things to note very, very fiercely. This is the same reason I have a couple of celebrity Twitter feeds and the otherwise-useless MBTA Alerts bounced to my phone. The little message light starts blinking, and I can forcibly drown out the miserable internal monologue for a couple of seconds by observing JOHNNY WEIR HAS A NEW COSTUME ISN'T THAT NICE or OH LOOK THE RED LINE IS BROKEN HOW ORIGINAL as hard as I possibly can. It is the feelings equivalent of sticking your fingers into your ears and going 'lalalalala can't hear you', a tactic which has been used uncountably many times in human history, and which has never once actually made anything bad go away.

So I put my feet on autopilot and stomp across several cities, narrating the trip for myself as the world's most mundane tour guide. LOOK THERE IS A PHOTO PRINT PLACE ON CAMBRIDGE STREET THAT I SHOULD REMEMBER FOR LATER, THERE IS A THAI RESTAURANT I HAVE NOT TRIED, THERE IS A LOT OF CONSTRUCTION ON PROSPECT STREET. There are college kids out on awkward dates, a green Mini with racing stripes parked on Highland, two men holding hands in Central Square, and a small walkable art gallery on the construction fencing around Novartis' new building. Puzzlingly, a large amount of knitting and crochet work is strapped onto the guard rails on the Mass Ave bridge. Weird things happen near MIT.

It reminds me that no matter what I do, I would be hard-pressed to fuck up the entire world. The system is much too resilient for that. But on the really terrible nights, it also reminds me that no matter what I do, I would be hard-pressed to get the world to notice me, either. There are thousands of people with thousands of lives along that route, none of which involve me. Not all of them are happy, but most of them are probably okay. It is an entire world of okay people that runs on without me, unconcerned with my existence. I'm allowed to walk through it, if I want, but I am not okay, and I don't get to live there.

All mindfulness does when I'm depressed is make me mindful of standing outside of everything with my nose smashed against the window. It does not make me happier. It just reminds me of things I do not get to have. No amount of explaining seems to communicate the extent of the not-helpfulness of this to people who are trying to give me advice on how to fix my brain, the brain that I've been dealing with for just about 33 years now and that they have been poking at, unsuccessfully, for the past five minutes of conversation.