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In the future, to cope with the impossible torrent of data cascading down upon us, each person over a certain income level will be fitted with a social media simulacra. One part digital assistant, one part overly aggressive behavioral pattern algorithm, the simulacra will ensure proper filtering of the data stream so only relevant bits reach their users. Each simulacra will have a name, set by the user, and will react only to voice commands from that user. The simulacra will make up for the biological failings that keep a normal human from comprehending the data overload. Overtime, the simulacra will become closer to the users than real humans, possibly even supplanting their need for interaction.

All of this will be ad-supported, contractually bound, and requiring an early termination fee, of course.

Pity the alchemists of old couldn’t wait around another thousand years for us to make homunculi out of ones and zeroes.

While looking up some information on the shooting in Greenwood, MS that happened a block from the wedding I was attending, I came across this wondrous horrible article:

Greenwood Man Caught Having Sex With Hogs

Gave hogs vaginal infection

GREENWOOD - Authorities said a man who was caught having sex with show hogs will have his case presented to the Leflore County Grand Jury next month. Andrew Lee Nash, 52, was arrested on Dec. 3, 2010 after police set up surveillance cameras in the owner’s stalls near U.S. Highway 82 and the Yazoo River.

Greenwood Police Chief Henry Purnell said the hogs were examined by a local veterinarian, during a routine examination, and the owner was told that four of the hogs had a vaginal infection.

“The owner of the animals knew someone was messing with his animals,” said Chief Investigator Huntley Nevels. “And the veterinarian confirmed the sexual assault. So, the owner contacted police and the officers staked it out and caught him out there.”

Nash, who lives in the 700 block of Mississippi Avenue, was arrested at the scene and charged with 12 counts of unnatural intercourse.

Greenwood is apparently a frighteningly twisted little town.

And low the maw of heaven open, and the hot rains became sweet. The skin of holy men turned to fondant and sloughed off, to be licked at by mongrel dogs. Men beat their chests and women tore at their hair, weeping rivulets of liquid chocolate.

The children did not know if they should cry or cheer in gluttonous jubilation.

Somewhere in the distance, a white-whiskered prophet whispered, “It is as foretold, the sugary elder god has arrived…”

“Behold Diabeetus! And weep at the doom of icing come to your world!”

(That really is some kind of Lovecraftian vagina-dentata made entirely out of cake frosting)

Me? I’d pay everything I didn’t need to live.

Fair warning: This is for people who have beaten Mass Effect 1,2 and 3. Heavy spoilers follow below.

I’m going to try not to swear in this. I’m going to try not to come off like the stereotypical angry internet nerd. I really am.

I may not be successful in that attempt, though, because the ending to Bioware’s Mass Effect 3 has turned me into some kind of confused feral animal.

From the beginning, Mass Effect was a franchise built upon choices and their consequences. In fact, the very first thing you do in the game is to choose your Shepard’s origins. And from there, the choices never stop coming at you. Do you let Wrex live? Who do you leave to die? Do you save the Council? Do you fall in love? Who do you fall in love with? Do you stay loyal? Do you bring everyone back from the suicide mission? In the third game, all of these choices come home to roost and the stage is set for the final battle where you expect to see just how bloody and costly your final victory is going to be.

Except that’s not what happens at all.

What happens is that for the second time in Mass Effect history you can talk the final boss of a game into shooting himself in the head. The game does this without even the slightest hint of irony, mind you.

Then you get to talk to the Catalyst Reaper God a glowing child that gives you three arbitrary choices about how everything is going to be wrapped up. Choices that are in absolutely no way, shape or form affected in the slightest by the thousands of previous choices you’ve made up to this point.

The choices are, quite literally, color-coded for you and are, without exception or mitigation, completely terrible.

The Blue choice is to take control of the Reapers. The galaxy is “saved” and then immediately doomed as all the mass relays are blown up. You die and your crew crashes, never to be rescued. Apparently this is the choice the Illusive Man would’ve made, which is odd considering blue is the paragon color in the series.

The Red choice has you destroying all synthetic life – including EDI and the Geth, which, if you were any good at the game, have come quite a long way and are probably helping you out right now – but, hey, you get to kill the Reapers. The galaxy is once again “saved”, the relays blow up, your crew crashes without hope of rescue, but you might actually kinda-sorta-maybe survive this one if you got your multiplayer readiness score high enough. Anderson is who they show making this renegade choice, which is even more bizarre than Illusive Man being used to show the paragon one.

The third choice is the Green choice. Green being the other primary color in the RGB spectrum you see, and one between red and blue (except not at all). This choice involves “synthesis”. Some kind of fusion of organic and inorganic races that will change all life in the galaxy, technomagically. This ending also ends with you dying, the relays exploding and your crew crashing, never to be rescued. Everyone does glows strangely, though.

Just to give a quick summary, that’s three choices for how you want to end the game that have absolutely nothing to do with that huge armada of unified races you spent three games building, or the close personal bonds you’ve forged with your crew, or gives any kind of a damn that they all end with the galaxy in arguably a worse place than it was with the Reapers invading.

Which means, quite simply, that none of your choices mattered.

You could’ve killed your whole crew, turned the galaxy in on itself in a storm of fire and blood and you would’ve gotten the same three choices as some one that walked the precarious tight-rope of galactic peace and brotherhood.

I can understand the production and design pressures to make sure that the third chapter of the game felt as complete for new players as it did for people like me that meticulously played the previous two. However, the sudden, butcherous winnowing of five years of game choices down to three arbitrary endings is inexcusably lazy.

It also sets a dangerous precedent where player choices can be discarded as a cost of admission to the ending of a game. Have a franchise where player choice matters, but don’t want to be bothered to pick up after them? End cap your game like Mass Effect 3 did!

Oh, and the glowing child thing? That’s never explained or even questioned in the slightest. Which has given rise to a sadly hopefully fan theory that the whole thing with the Catalyst is just Shepard hallucinating. I think that gives the writers of the game too much credit and lets them off a hook that should be firmly set in their respective mouths.

Ultimately, I think there should not have been a choice – especially a RGB choice – at the end of Mass Effect 3.

Instead of a choice there should have been a consequence, an effect, from all of your previous choices in the games. That’s sort of how the first game did it, after all. Beating Sovereign was how things had to work out, the question just how you got there, and how many dead friends and foes were in your wake. The finality of the series should’ve been an endgame where all cards were placed on the table and your actions were judged as satisfactory, exemplary or neither.

The game didn’t need you making some ultimate choice to override all of your other choices. Those choices were enough, more than enough, to show the game how you wanted this story to end. And in a game, video or otherwise, it is the player that should get to decide how the endgame looks, no one else.

Maybe I’m just bitter about not getting the little blue babies Liara and my Shepard kept talking about.

Either way, I’m going to believe that this fan-written ending is the real one.

I guess in that regard, you could say that is the final choice I’ll ever make in the Mass Effect games.

Pity it isn’t to play it again.

We don’t know what new discoveries lie ahead, but this is the very reason we must go.

If you’ll excuse me, I think I have something in my eye.

He will work it hard for America. Work it so very, very hard.

Work it up into a frothy mixture of – ah, never mind. Too easy.

“This is what you learn when you spend a year researching the crazy stuff in Memphis,” Whitten says of the research that went into Memphis Fast Fiction. “If this writing project has taught me anything, it’s that this one spot on the Mississippi has never not been kind of messed up and crazy, starting with the original settlement. Memphis was the most debauched place on the French frontier. Gambling, drinking: There was nothing else for people to do.”

You can pick it up in this week’s print version of the Flyer, or read it on their website here.

Big thanks to Leonard Gill for his support of the project.

I’m still amazed they let me get away with that yellow fever slide.

Still really want to turn this into a longer, less crammed together talk. Cut out a lot of good bits to get it down to 5 minutest, and was stumbling all over myself to keep up with the slides.

I’m going to get all metaphorical on your asses. You all know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, right?

Well, Goldilocks is going to be a stand in for conservative American voters.

And the three bowls of porridge are going to be represented by Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

Except none of them are going to be “just right”.

First up you’ve got Mittens “Poor People Are Just Fine” Romney. He tries to make $10,000 bets while live on national television, pays taxes at a lower rate than I do while earning millions more, thinks poor people are cozy with their safety net, and wears magic Mormon underwear (because he is one). He’s probably going to be the nominee unless something goes horribly wrong. But, he won’t win because he’s too out of touch with the common man and he’s not an Evangelical Christian. And if he can’t get the people out of their pews to vote, he won’t even matter.

Rick Santorum, however, will get the people out of their pews. But only those people, and then only those that are so far gone they think that the “gay agenda” is a real thing and don’t mind their children getting pregnant because he’s made it illegal to buy condoms. The rest of the conservatives will look at him and his horribly corrupt record and decide that he’s gone too far off the reservation to ever be allowed near the nuclear launch codes.

Finally, you’ve got Newt. Good ol’ Leave-’em-on-their-death-bed-Gingrich. Newt’s biggest problem is himself. He’s got the history of royally fucking up the Contract with America over Clinton getting a BJ, of leaving not one but two sickly wives for a younger mistress, and changing religion for both of them. And he also comes off as the kind of rarified egotistical prick that should only exist in movie scripts. Women hate him, minorities loathe him, and without either of those voting blocks, there’s no way you’re getting elected.

This is seriously the absolute WORST group of candidates the GOP has put up in my life.

Mark you, I don’t want the Republicans to win, but holy crap, I at least want them to not put up three idiots.

And when I say blogging, what I really mean is doing some kind of text-based performance art. Like sword swallowing whilst live tweeting it.

His Secondhand Underground blog is here and deals with the local thrift store flora and fauna.

His other one, Oh Dear God Why, concerns itself with his “taste tests” of exotic and probably dangerous food stuffs.

Individually, they’re funnier than anything I’ll ever write. Together? They put the rest of the Internet to shame.

This was my response as I watched the South Carolina primary results roll in on Saturday:

@ZacharyWhitten Ever wonder how much it costs to buy a state primary? Newt’s SuperPAC bought South Carolina for $5 million.

Which is pretty much exactly what happened.

Well, that and the religious conservative voters of South Carolina apparently bought into Newt’s crocodile tears over his sexual escapades being brought up again. I will give his team credit, though. They did manage to turn what I was sure was a bullet to the head of his campaign into something used to rally the base.

But, back to the Super PACs!

First off, what is a Super PAC? Well, a PAC stands for Political Action Committee, and are legal entities created as means to raise funds from groups that are normally forbidden to donate money directly to candidates. Unions and corporations, for example. This money is then used to bolster the messaging of a candidate or cause, since direct donations are limited to a paltry few grand. Every politician out there has a PAC, as does every big special interest group like the NRA. They’re legal loopholes that are the main reason it is so damned expensive to run for office. The only real check on them is that they have to disclose the people who are giving them money, and what they are spending that money on.

PACs get much more complicated than that, but that’s the framework you need to understand the next part.

So what’s a Super PAC?

Simply put, they are maybe the most damaging thing the Supreme Court has ever done to American democracy. Super PACs spin out of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Citizens United case back in 2010, in which the Court said that according to the letter of the law, corporations and unions were essentially people and their spending of money during elections constituted free speech, which was ensured and protected by the First Amendment. Oh, and that they didn’t have to tell anyone about where the money came from or what they spent it on. Only catch was, they were still forbidden from donating to candidates or working directly with them on how to spend that money.

And what do they do with this new-found freedom of monetary expression?

They create the Super PAC.

A giant, money hoovering political black hole that can accept limitless donations and spend that money however it damn well pleases, so long as it doesn’t directly give to the candidate or collude with them on what the Super PAC is going to spend it on.

Well, the Super PACs aren’t giving the candidates money, but they are sure as hell colluding with their campaigns. Romney Super PAC’s plastered the whole world with anti-Newt ads before the New Hampshire primary, then he claimed ignorance of them during the debates…at least until the after commercial break when he referenced the content of one of them.

In South Carolina, Newt’s money came from a billionaire casino magnate that is apparently hoping to buy himself a president. He gave the Super PAC a check for five million, and the Super PAC blew it all in South Carolina. I think I heard somewhere that the average South Carolinian would see or hear the Super PAC’s anti-Romney spots sixty times in the week leading up to the election. Over ten times a day. It was the political equivalent of carpet bombing the whole state with their messaging.

But, lo and behold, it worked.

Newt’s Super PAC bought a victory in South Carolina, and prolonged the Republican primary a few weeks more.


That’s it right there. Molded plastic lady parts attached to a snap-on iPad harness.

If you’ve been paying attention to this blog today, then you’ll have learned three things about science and technology:

  1.  It can put a working rover on Mars for 8 years.
  2. It can be used to spy on the world.
  3. It can let you fuck your iPad.

What a Brave New World we live in.

Image borrowed from They’ve got more facts about the Fleshlight iPad Abomination Thing if you are interested.

You may have seen the story already, about how a consumer-grade aerial drone with a camera mounted to it captured shots of a Texas meat-packing plant illegally dumping cow blood out the back of their facility.

It’s here if you want more information.

The interesting thing in this for me is how common the usage of drones like these is becoming. The #Occupy movement’s got one. The ship from Whale Wars does, too. You can buy them on Amazon and control them with your phone.

A few years back, drones were things the military used to kill people in places where they didn’t want to risk losing a hundred million dollar fighter jet. Now, they’re something you can mount a webcam to and take a remote tour of your next apartment with.

As their cost decreases and their technology level increases, these drones are going to start posing a real problem for personal privacy. They’re already working on one that you can mount a DSLR to. Which will pretty much turn it into a flying peeping-tom.

In my head I can see swarms, utter swarms, of these things clogging the skies over Beverly Hills as paparazzi use them to try to snap of picture of the celeb du jure in the middle of something embarrassing. Or in a vertically oriented city like New York or Hong Kong or Tokyo, they will be the 21st century equivalent of spying on your neighbor with a telescope.

And these are just the annoying downsides. What about when stalkers use them to harass their victims? Or pedophiles use them to get a view your kids changing at the pool. Things get very real and very scary, very quickly.

I bet within a few months, a year at the most, we start seeing technologically progressive cities passing zoning ordinances that forbid the use of drones in certain areas. Like near schools or residential areas, hell maybe even banning them within city limits altogether.

But they’ll never be able to full stop them. Pandora’s Box has been opened when it comes to these things, and there’s no putting them back in, they’ve already flown off.

Eight years ago you rolled down the ramp onto the cold, dusty, still surface of Mars.

Your original mission was for ninety days, which means that you’ve achieved it thirty-two times over, outlasting even your hearty sister rover, Spirit.

So, here’s to you, Opportunity. Thank you for showing us what we’re capable of when we try.

This whole campaign I’ve been calling Mitt Romney that, but last night at the final South Carolina primary debate, Newt took the title from him and beat the everyone in the room to death with it.

This is what I’m talking about:

For those just joining the crazy circus, it broke on Wednesday that Newt’s second wife was going to say in an interview that Newt had asked her for an open marriage…since he’d been banging his Congressional aide for the previous 6 years.

Now, for a man who’s trying to recast himself in the armor of righteous morality, this is a real news story. It isn’t a personal attack or something that over steps a line. We knew he cheated, for years, and then divorced his wives while they were deeply ill. That’s already out and can never be shut away again.

I will admit that ABC timed their release of the story for maximum effect, but do I think that’s politically motivated as Newt would have you believe? Of course not. The only motivation of a television network is money, and you get money by selling ads during highly rated programming. It’s hard to draw a bigger audience than with a sex scandal involving a political figure.

Which brings me to what really blows my mind about this.

Newt is well aware of this fact because, you know, he impeached a president over a blowjob.

That’s right, boys and girls, that swine-faced mound of pasty flesh up there nearly brought down the government of the United States because of a sex act between two consenting adults. But God forbid anyone be allowed to treat his illicit dalliances in the same way.

I won’t even go into the his tirade against liberal media because I don’t have that much time.

That video is the kind of double speak that would make George Orwell absolutely turgid.

You’ve heard the name in passing, friends or coworkers talking about the curious new artist with the disastrous performance on Saturday Night Live, so you look her up on YouTube.

This is what you find.

A beautiful young girl with a sultry voice that evokes the best moments of Tori Amos from the 90s.

But, there’s something wrong.

The beauty is artificial. Sculpted with a surgeon’s knife and approaching the alienating expanse of the uncanny valley.

The music is crafted so she won’t have to push out of her vocal range, organized into easily editable phrases that can be cut together from multiple takes and written by song writers that know just what strings to tug in their audience.

The video is just like a few others she put out, a mix of public domain footage and moments of her mouthing the words at the camera, head askew in an awkward attempt at demure sexuality.

If everything about Lana Del Ray smacks of artificial, untenable perfection because that’s just what it is.

Her real name is Elizabeth Grant, and she’s a millionaire’s daughter. Her father made his money by jumping on thousands of domains in the early days of the internet and charging people to lease them from him. Which meant that he had the capital to indulge his daughter when she wanted to become a star. He’s hired managers, producers, song writers, stylists and god knows what else to turn his daughter into this impossible thing.

Elizabeth’s been at this for years, trying to find the right combination of things to fit her unique style of might-be talent. It took them five years and who knows how many marketing reps to settle on the Lana Del Rey name

She released her first EP in 2008, then a full album in 2011 – neither of which are publicly available any more because a decision was made by her “team” to pull them so they’d have a clean field for the newest iteration of the Lana Del Rey construct.

Which about catches us up to the slow motion car wreck that was her on SNL.

Normally, I’d be at head of the pack, racing into savage a pop star for their hubris and lack of talent. But, there’s something different here. To me the story isn’t about how she can’t perform live, the story is about how she was made.

With digital recording technology we can already create singing computer programs to power virtual pop idols. With Lana Del Rey, though, we’re now coming at it from the infinite-number-of-monkeys-with-type-writers direction. Provided a person hits every note in a song just once while be recorded, the song can be sutured together with ones and zeroes into something that sounds like it was done in a single take.

And when a creation like Lana Del Rey steps out onto a live stage, how can you expect such a meticulously crafted illusion to hold up? It would be akin to asking Peter Jackson to do The Lord of the Rings live…in one take.

Lana Del Rey does give me a bit of hope, though. Hope that the same technology that was used to build her will be used by more interesting people to do more interesting things, and they’ll be the ones that push the horizon out just a bit more.

(I will admit I’ve found myself humming the hook to Video Games without realizing it.)

YEARS from Bartholomäus Traubeck on Vimeo.

Laurel pointed this out to me this morning. Yes, those are the rings of a tree trunk being used to procedurally generate music. Good music, too.

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