So my professor might be a nihilist…

For the most part, Western science views culture top-down, as an expression of theory. It tries to justify systematized sets of rules through logic and consistency or coherence, looking for a single, universal, objective foundation for judgment. This objectivism almost inevitably slides into ethnocentrism as some privileged understanding of rationality is falsely legitimated by claiming for it an unwarranted universality.

(from Origin Myths and Migration Theory via Examining the Myths and Realities in Indian Country at the Time of European Contact)

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I’ve been running this lecture over in my head since it happened on Thursday. (The reason I didn’t speak up about stuff like conflating theory with viewpoint and Dr. Olson-Raymer literally saying “just a theory” at one point was that the class is dramatically behind schedule and I’ve been erring on not making the situation worse.) I was at the point of writing a letter with the intent of getting it read first by a few friends and classmates and in doing so went to reread the lecture notes. And then I clicked on a link and it got so much worse.

Essentially, the lecture states that scientific theories and the various Native American creation myths (and I love Joesph Campbell, I use the word myth with the utmost respect) are equivalent in their ability to explain how Native Americans got to the Americas. “Reality: From a strictly scientific viewpoint, we do not know how ancient human remains might be related to contemporary Indian peoples, nor do we know from whence they came” (emphasis in original). The linked page goes even further,  putting the scientific method and all empiricism into a relativist construct. It also argues that empiricism “inevitably slides into ethnocentrism,” so science is also ethically problematic. There’s also this straw man about conflating theory and fact which I’ll get to later.

On some level, not being a science teacher (or a scientist full-stop) means understanding that my discipline, history, doesn’t have exactly the same epistemological framework as science. I get that, I think I always have. (The extent to which historians are just a catty as scientists are is new though!) Approaching something like miasma theory as a historian, even of science, is fundamentally different from approaching it as a scientist. Both care about the theory and its ramifications, but the scientist is concerned with why it’s wrong while the historian is concerned about why people thought it was right.

And those of you reading this that know me, especially if it was as Cal before Isaac, know how equivocal I am. It takes a lot of willpower not to make the implicit “I think” and “I believe” clauses explicit throughout my writing. (Queue Skaald screaming “Bloody neutrals!” over Zero’s mic.) That comes from trying to be empirical above all else, which means accepting what I know, don’t know, and how well I know those things. That need to equivocate is also because I embrace postmodernism.

(In the spirit of disclosure, I am an atheist. I would have these same issues not dismissing the Bible out-of-hand where it has major historicity problems during a unit on the ancient Near East for example. I would hope I would have them even as a theist, but who knows!)

I understand that even things I’m aware that “I know” are subject to biases that are at some point insurmountable. But the quote above, that’s something else entirely. There is a thin but bright line between “I have biases and they cannot be completely corrected for, therefore you should take what I say with a grain of salt” and “I have biases and they cannot be completely corrected for, therefore objective reality is unknowable.” The line between that and “. . . therefore objective reality doesn’t exist” is less bright and I’m not sure if the article goes all the way there.

I do not understand how one can reject the fundamental bases by which they are transmitting these sorts of ideas. How one can critically assess something using deductive logic at one moment while rejecting it as a means to understand objective reality the very next? As historians and as history teachers, we base our work on things like logic and analysis. This is literally what I do every day now. We of course need to engage with how a culture sees itself, especially if they’re a group that has been historically taught about poorly, but we need the capacity to put their views aside and say they do not agree with anything else. (This is where something like young Earth creationism could completely destroy a discipline.) We have to be able to say that people are wrong in so far as what they believe tells us about objective reality.

Moreover, I am troubled by the implication that we can take information from other disciplines and effectively remove it from its epistemological context. An accepted scientific theory isn’t just a theory, it’s a dude standing with his arms out screaming “Come at me bro!” and beating all comers to date. It’s not a fact, it can be improved upon or shown to be outright wrong later, but right now it’s the gold standard of empirical knowledge. A theory in the common usage is a hypothesis which is something else entirely.

Beyond the level of “words mean things” is the question of when historians are using information from other disciplines to do history, what is the appropriate level with which we can interact with it? Where does the conflict between “good history teacher, bad science teacher” resolve? I can make a joke about Texas public education here, but their objectives are clear: make people dumb and passive thinkers. At my school, in this class, we go on and on about the importance of critical analysis except here, and maybe elsewhere? It’s fantastically easy to be cynical here, or make jokes about indoctrination, but there has to be something else. Right?

How To: Remove a pinned Diablo III taskbar icon (without uninstalling)

I’m not sure WHY this is the case, but the Diablo III icons that Blizzard installs by default, to desktop and start menu, are really weird in Windows 7.

If you use one of them to “pin to taskbar” like you would (nearly) any other application, you can’t right-click on them, for example to remove them (they also don’t have ANY jump list).  But you can move it around the taskbar.  It won’t even show up in the AppData folder C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User Pinned\TaskBar with all the others which is even weirder.

The solution is: let Windows do the work for you.

  1. Find the original shortcut you pinned to the taskbar.  (Skip to 3 if you already deleted it, like with the desktop icon.)
  2. Send it to the recycle bin.
  3. Click on the taskbar icon.  Prompt will pop up asking if you want to delete the shortcut.  Do so.
  4. Restore the original shortcut back to wherever it was if you want.

Okay, so now that the crazy witchcraft shortcut is gone, you can make a new one.  Head over to your D3 install directory (C:\Program Files (x86)\Diablo III), right-click on the Diablo III Launcher, create a shortcut, and then drag that shortcut to the taskbar.  You can delete the one in the install directory if you like.

Now you have a perfectly normal taskbar icon that launches the D3 launcher.  Yay.

Hat Tip: http://windows7forums.com/windows-7-support/79868-tiny-issue-but-irritating-none-less.html for the back-half of the solution.

How To: Embiggen SWTOR UI Elements Past 1.25

The (rather excellent) SWTOR UI editor only allows you to increase the scale of elements to 1.25 times the global scale’d size.  You can increase it more than that simply by doing a bit of text editing.

First, make sure you save your interface.  You also probably want to log out to character select (not sure if it’s required, but may as well).

Next, find where SWTOR saved your interfaces at.  Cairenn over at Swtorui posted a full guide on their forums but the short of it is:

C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Local\SWTOR\swtor\settings\GUIProfiles (on 7)

C:\Documents and Settings\USERNAME\Local Settings\Application Data\SWTOR\swtor\settings\GUIProfile (on XP)

If you can’t find it, the guide walks you through how to turn on hidden items and such.

Okay, scary stuff over, open up the file with the name of the interface you want in the text editor of your choice.  You could also make a new copy of it and save it as a different file name if you’re scared of breaking stuff.  Not altogether a bad idea.

If you’re using Notepad for this (instead of say, Notepad++) it’s going to look like a mess, but don’t worry.  We’re only looking to change one variable per item, and it’s XML so it’s really easy to find it with searches (Ctrl+F in Notepad).  All of the entries have the same names as they do in the editor, so remember that a “hotbar” is a “quickbar” in this game.  A few other notables:

Player and Target Frames: PlayerPortrait / TargetPortrait

Target of Target Frame: TargetOfTarget

Operations Frames: RaidFrames (weird, I know)

Once you’ve found your section (did I mention this would be a lot easier if you were using a proper text editor), look for the following <scale tag>, probably looking something like

<scale Type=”3″ Value=”0.900000″ />

Change that Value=”.9″ to whatever number you want.  Save, and check it out in-game.

TL;DR:

SWTOR saves interfaces at \AppData\Local\SWTOR\swtor\settings\GUIProfiles\EXAMPLE.xml

Open it up, find the <scale> element for the UI item you want to change and change the Value.  Sky’s the limit.

How did I get to 1200 words about Rift?

I’m about 20% of a level shy of 50 on my Dwarf Cleric so I figured it would be a good idea to get my thoughts down on Rift before growing angry and jaded with it.

Major reasons I’m still playing after a month:
Technical Competence. I ran into very few bugs and only a few interface oddities in a month. This is not something to take for granted and the main reason I see myself playing Rift over LotRO or even SWTOR when it comes out as my side MMO. (WoW is still the rec league “raid for 6-9 hours a week and that’s it” game for me. It’s just that good at that.) Even WoW during WotLK had massive technical issues on 64-bit machines.

To get something off my chest: I’m not blown away by the number of hotfixes Trion put out just because that’s a weakness in their architecture that requires client patches to fix things that WoW probably can just do on-the-fly for the most part. (I don’t know if what Rift calls a hotfix actually is one, but it doesn’t seem like that from my perspective.) I does lead to an impression that they’re “doing things” in the public which is one of many in a long pattern of cleverly Orwellian moves by the team at Trion. Another example is that didn’t have server mergers, they gave everyone unlimited server transfers! And told people to get off certain small servers because they were being switched over to “Trial Servers”. Same effect on the subscriber population, but different PR, which is annoying. But if the real press can’t be any good, why do I expect an enthusiast press to look deep? (Oh right, latent faith in humanity. BAD CAL!)

Feature Parity (for the most part) and more. I can queue for dungeons or warfronts from anywhere, hide my helmet (and shoulders!), use two-factor security, and even read Twitter in Rift. It would have pretty much everything one could ask in a modern MMO if the interface wasn’t so all over the place. Still, my WoW interface has all of one out-of-the-box UI element left (the chat box), so hopefully the mod ecosystem grows into something useful. One nice feature is reactive abilities having their own display when they’re active, although because the interface is a little unresponsive, it does lead to a few problems at times.

Music and Atmosphere. I like how the music changes based on how many mobs I’m fighting and such (which leads to a lot of cool stuff as I’m built to AOE groups of 3-4 down). The music in general is solid without being really overpowering like it can sometimes be in LotRO, which is both good and bad in that game. I also like how the lighting changes when you’re in range of a Rift.

PvE Variety (or Rifts, the good side). If one’s willing to roll with the punches, Rift can offer up a lot of variety. Just last night I started off questing in Shimmersand and an Air zone event started up. I was easily able to get into a group that rode around the zone closing rifts and the like and finally we punched a big boss. It was a lot of fun. After cleaning up a few straggler invader groups I returned to questing and queued for a random dungeon. (Go go machine matchmaking!) Got in, group went well so we did another and by the time I got out there was another zone event going, this time an Earth/Fire one. I didn’t get to contribute a whole lot to this one because I was stuck behind the main clearing pack for the most part, but I still had a good time. So, back to questing. After going along for a while I ran into a group of Defiants opening up Major Rift Tears and I tagged along for two of them, finished up a quest nearby, and then headed to Sanctum to turn in event stuff and crafting dailies. I got to do a ton of different things in a night and the game made it super easy for me to get into and out of groups without having to message people about how much Focus I have.

Major complaints:
PvE Variety (or Rifts, the bad side). The downside of all that cool stuff going on is that if I really just want to do some quests, there’s a chance of running into annoying shit like a zone event or a Major Rift right on top of where I need to be. After many years playing on PvP servers, I’m sanguine about taking what the game gives me, to a point. Rift has definitely been on the wrong side of that threshold more than once.

Melee and macros are awful. I generally prefer ranged character for damage dealing, especially at end-game, but I have no problem leveling as melee. I despise Cleric melee. (I doubt Druid is much different from Shaman and Justicar, but I haven’t played it.) It’s just a mashing a ton of abilities when they’re off CD. There are also so many reactive abilities that managing it all is almost best done by a huge spam macro that has none of the sanity of the current WoW set-up (i.e. one on-GCD spell per hardware event). Just make a big list of things and run with it. Terrible.

Souls. At least part of me really likes how character building works in Rift. Making builds is one of my favorite things to do in games. But the downside of that is that a group can have a “tank” that really can’t tank and that sets are rather limited in what they can do. I’ve seen a lot of people talk about how Rift allows up to five stored sets of souls and how that compares well versus WoW. Really though, one needs a number of sets just to do something as simple as questing and the occasional PUG Minor Rift. And that’s ignoring that one is almost surely dead meat in PvP if not carrying the PvP soul after the initial levels. In contrast, my Hunter’s raiding spec can pretty much handle anything I can throw it into well enough. In Rift, that’s simply not the case, at least as a Cleric. And the team at Trion is almost laughably unconcerned with design elegance; there are kludges and deaths by tooltips everywhere. I can’t speak to serious balancing issues, but WoW sets the bar for “well balanced” incredibly high at this point.

Surprising non-complaint:
It’s not bland. It also has zero whimsy to it, either throughout it like WoW or in specific locations like LotRO with The Shire and Lothlorien but I don’t think “bland” is fair. It’s a very straight take on high fantasy with some technology-indistinguishable-from-magic. The armor isn’t expressly functional, there’s still chainmail bikini bottoms, but for the most part armor proper looks sensible. The story isn’t fascinating, but the game does a good job of highlighting important stuff through “Story” marked quests and loading screen updates on the current plot ala Dragon Age II. I think the lack of whimsy is to its detriment if I were to play the game seriously, but as a casual experience, it’s a nice change of pace.

Thoughts: ESPN on Xbox Live

Just spent some time with the ESPN app they added with the latest Xbox Live update if you have a Gold account.

To start off, it’s mix of both ESPN3 and ESPN Video.  Overall video quality was poor, a good deal poorer than what I get watching either site on my computer.  That is already on top of ESPN’s video quality being worse than what I get from Netflix or MLB.TV over the same connection.  I’m not sure if this is to do with Xbox Live today, when it was appallingly slow, or in general, so we’ll have to see how it shapes up in the long run.  The avatar-populated initial start is just a needlessly overdone way to show you “Top 3 things and a link to everything else”.  Once you’re into the menu structure though, it’s a solid NXE interface, if again, a bit slow on loading the thumbnail pictures.  The video interface itself is your standard Xbox video layout.

On the content side, the ESPN Video stuff is what you’d expect: mostly SportsCenter highlights.  I didn’t find any of their more off-beat stuff like Mayne Street or Sports Science although you can’t find that stuff half the time on the site anyway.  Upside here is that I haven’t run into any ads moving between clips which is quite welcome.

For me, ESPN3 is mostly about live events, and that’s where it tends to have problems.  It can never seem to decide how much bandwidth to use and so the quality changes constantly, and unlike Netflix on Xbox Live, the quality changes mean buffering pauses.  Those are awful at any time, but between pitches it makes me want to drown something.  I’ll see about watching the Lakers game Wednesday night and report back then.

If its a better live experience than the site, even with lower quality, it should be enough to keep my Gold subscription active.