Category Archives: Current Affairs

Today the US Senate is considering legislation that would destroy the free and open Internet.

“Why is it that when Republicans and Democrats need to solve the budget and the deficit, there’s deadlock, but when Hollywood lobbyists pay them $94 million dollars to write legislation, people from both sides of the aisle line up to co-sponsor it?”

        –Reddit Founder Alexis Ohanian on CNBC.

I put this on my Tumblr thing earlier today, but I'm reposting it here, because it's important to me. If you don't know what SOPA and ProtectIP are, read this technical examination of SOPA and ProtectIP from the Reddit blog and come back when you're done.

SOPA Lives — and MPAA calls protests an "abuse of power."

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has looked at tomorrow’s “Internet blackout” in opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)—and it sees only a “gimmick,” a “stunt,” “hyperbole,” “a dangerous and troubling development,” an “irresponsible response,” and an “abuse of power.”

“Wikipedia, reddit, and others are going dark to protest the legislation, while sites like Scribd and Google will also protest. In response, MPAA chief Chris Dodd wheeled out the big guns and started firing the rhetoric machine-gun style. 

“Only days after the White House and chief sponsors of the legislation responded to the major concern expressed by opponents and then called for all parties to work cooperatively together, some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging.”

Can I interrupt for a moment? Thanks. When you complain that opponents didn’t “come to the table to find solutions”, do you mean that we didn’t give NINETY-FOUR MILLION DOLLARS to congress like the MPAA? Or do you mean that we didn’t come to the one hearing that Lamar Smith held, where opponents of SOPA were refused an opportunity to comment? Help me out, here, Chris Dodd, because I’m really trying hard to understand you.

“It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.”

Oh ha ha. Ho. Ho. The MPAA talking about “skewing the facts to incite” anyone is just too much. 

“A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals.”

Except for the part where this is completely false, it’s a valid point.

“It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this “blackout” to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”

Riiiiiiight. Protesting to raise awareness of terrible legislation that will destroy the free and open Internet is an abuse of power, but buying NINETY-FOUR MILLION DOLLARS worth of congressional votes is just fine.

I’m so disappointed in Chris Dodd. He was a pretty good senator, wrote some bills (like Dodd/Frank) that are genuinely helping people, and is going to be on the wrong side of every argument as the head of the MPAA. What a wasted legacy.

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I am 100% opposed to SOPA and PIPA, even though I'm one of the artists they were allegedly written to protect. I've probably lost a few hundred dollars in my life to what the MPAA and RIAA define as piracy, and that sucks, but that doesn't come close to how much money I've lost from a certain studio's creative accounting.

The RIAA and MPAA are, again, on the wrong side of history. Attempting to tear apart one of the single greatest communications achievements in human history in a misguided attempt to cling to an outdated business model instead of adapting to the changing world is a fucking crime.

A free and open Internet is as important to me as the bill of rights. I don't want the government of one country — especially the corporate-controlled United States government — to exert unilateral control over the Internet for any reason, especially not because media corporations want to buy legislation that won't do anything to actually stop online piracy, but will expand the American police state, and destroy the Internet as we know it.

Please contact your Senators and US Representatives, and tell them to vote NO on SOPA and ProtectIP. The future of the Internet — and the present we take for granted — depend on it.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." -Steve Jobs at Stanford's Commencement Address in 2005

I feel so weird about Steve Jobs' passing. I never knew him, I never met him, I don't think I was ever in the same place with him… but he had such a huge impact on my life, I can honestly and without hyberbole say that I wouldn't be where I am today without him.

In 1984, I bought my first Macintosh. It was a 128 with one floppy drive. When I plugged it in and started it up for the first time, it was like I'd stepped into The Future from a science fiction novel.

Before my Mac, the two big computers we had were an Atari 400 that belonged to the entire family, and a TI-99/4A that was all mine. I learned how to program on both of them in BASIC, and I was able to do lots of cool things with them, mostly writing and playing games.

When I got my Mac, the first program I started up was Visual BASIC. It was this confusing jumble of windows and weirdness that didn't work at all like the BASIC I knew so well. After a few frustrating failures to write and run even the simplest program, I gave up; writing stories in MacWrite and drawing pictures in MacPaint was more fun, anyway.

I wrote my first story on that Mac, and my second, and my third, and pretty much all of them until I got a color Mac II in 1988. I wrote on that for years, until I got my first Powerbook in the 90s. I used that Powerbook to take my first steps onto the Internet, using a VT100 emulator, a 4800 baud modem, and the mysterious ftp and telnet protocols.

Today, I own and use a Macbook Pro and an iPad. I have so many iPods, most of them just live in a drawer at my desk. My wife has an iPhone and an iPad — the first two devices that made it possible for her to embrace her inner geek and understand the one she married — and both of my kids have Macbooks. Anne has an iMac in her office that she uses every day.

Hearing that Steve Jobs died today hit me in the stomach, even though I'm not an Apple Fanboy, and I love to tease and make fun of Apple Cultists. I use a rooted Android and spend almost as much time in a Linux VM as I do in Mac OS… but the world I live in was shaped by Steve Jobs and the people he inspired. I got to find the person I am because Apple tools made it easy for me to take my ideas and move them from my head onto paper when I was a kid, a teenager, a twentysomething, and today.

I don't agree with everything Apple does, but I feel like the world lost an important person today, and I feel like I lost a distant relative who I never got to meet, but knew everything about because for one reason or another his influence was everywhere I looked.

iRIP, Steve Jobs. Thank you for making the incredible things that made it possible for me to live in a real future that's even cooler than the one I pretended to live in when I was flying that spaceship so many years ago.

I don’t feel safe. I feel violated, humiliated, and angry.

Yesterday, I was touched — in my opinion, inappropriately — by a TSA agent at LAX.

I'm not going to talk about it in detail until I can speak with an attorney, but I've spent much of the last 24 hours replaying it over and over in my mind, and though some of the initial outrage has faded, I still feel sick and angry when I think about it.

What I want to say today is this: I believe that the choice we are currently given by the American government when we need to fly is morally wrong, unconstitutional, and does nothing to enhance passenger safety.

I further believe that when I choose to fly, I should not be forced to choose between submitting myself to a virtually-nude scan (and exposing myself to uncertain health risks due to radiation exposure)1, or enduring an aggressive, invasive patdown where a stranger puts his hands in my pants, and makes any contact at all with my genitals.

When I left the security screening yesterday, I didn't feel safe. I felt violated, humiliated, assaulted, and angry. I felt like I never wanted to fly again. I was so furious and upset, my hands shook for quite some time after the ordeal was over. I felt sick to my stomach for hours.

This is wrong. Nobody should have to feel this way, just so we can get on an airplane. We have fundamental human and constitutional rights in America, and among those rights is a reasonable expectation of personal privacy, and freedom from unreasonable searches. I can not believe that the TSA and its supporters believe that what they are doing is reasonable and appropriate. Nobody should have to choose between a virtually-nude body scan or an aggressive, invasive patdown where a stranger puts his or her hands inside your pants and makes any contact at all with your genitals or breasts as a condition of flying.

I do not have the luxury of simply refusing to fly unless and until this policy changes. I have to travel dozens of times a year for work, and it simply isn't practical to travel any other way. Airlines know that I am not unique in this regard, so they have no incentive to take a stand on their customers' behalf. Our government also knows this, so our Congressmen and Congresswomen have no incentive to stand up for the rights and freedoms of their constituencies against powerful and politically-connected lobbyists like the former head of the TSA. This is also wrong.

I have to travel back into the USA next week, and I'll be back and forth between Los Angeles and Vancouver for much of the next several months. When I think about all this travel, I feel helpless, disempowered, and victimized by the airlines and the TSA … and I'm one of the lucky passengers who has never been sexually assaulted. I can't imagine what it must feel like for someone who has been the victim of sexual violence to know that they are faced with the same two equally-unacceptable choices that I faced yesterday, and will likely face whenever I fly in the future.

It's fundamentally wrong that any government can force its citizens to submit to totally unreasonable searches so we have the "freedom" to travel. It is fundamentally wrong that the voices of these same citizens are routinely ignored, our feelings marginalized, and our concerns mocked.

I don't know what we can do to change this, but we must do something. I'm writing letters to all of my congressional representatives, contacting an attorney, and reaching out to the ACLU when I get home. I am not optimistic that anything will change, because I feel like the system is institutionally biased against individuals like me … but maybe if tens of thousands of travelers express our outrage at this treatment, someone will be forced to listen.

Edit to add one more thing: I don't believe that all TSA officersare automatically bad people (though we've seen that at least some are.) For example, I recently flew out of Seattle, opted-out, and got a non-invasive, professional, polite patdown. It was still annoying, but at least my genitals weren't touched in any way, which was decidedly not the case yesterday. I realize that most TSA officers are doing the best they can in a job that requires them to interact with people who automatically dislike them and what they represent. It isn't the individual officer who is the problem; it's the policies he or she is instructed to carry out that need to change.

1. The TSA recently admitted that the amount of radiation passengers are exposed to in backscatter scanners was 10 times more than they originally claimed. The TSA claims that the scanners are still safe, but what else would we expect them to claim?

Direct Relief for Japan

One of my favorite webcomics is Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Zach Weiner cracks me up every day, and a lot of his jokes are just science-y and geeky enough to make me feel smart when I laugh at them.

In today's post, he writes:

Hey geeks. No doubt you've heard a lot about the Japanese tsunami. We're now hearing reports of coastal cities losing 15% or more of their population. Imagine 1 in 7 people in your town dying violently in a 24 hour period.

Direct Relief, which has a very good rating for spending most of their money on relief (as opposed to administration and promotion) have a setup where you can choose to give to Japan. Remember, this is the country that gave us Samurai, Ninjas, dirty cartoons, and Godzilla.

I think it's reasonable for a lot of people to have Disaster Fatigue right now, as we watch disaster after disaster strike all over the world. But like LeVar Burton said on Twitter, we have to fight Disaster Fatigue and do what we can to help.

Just think about what Zach wrote, and try to imagine what tens of thousands of people are suffering through right now. There are a lot of us, so I'm sure that, together, just a few bucks at a time, we can make a difference for them. Please do what you can.

in remembrance of Dwayne McDuffie

Last night, I met my friend Amy Berg (who created Cha0s on Leverage, and brought me into Eureka as Dr. Parrish) down in Hollywood for dinner. Traffic was horrible (surprise) so she'd been waiting almost 20 minutes when I finally walked into the restaurant. 

While I scanned the crowd to find her, a familiar voice broke through the cacaphony of diners and 90s rock that filled the room. "They'll let anyone in here, I guess."

I turned toward the voice, and saw my friend Yuri with his wife Tara and one of their friends. As it turned out, Amy had chosen a table that was right next to theirs, and though she knew Yuri via Twitter, didn't realize that she had been sitting next the The Amazing Yuri Lowenthal, Close Personal Friend of Me Wil Wheaton. We all talked for a few minutes, and then sort of retreated to our own tables and conversations, separated as they were by just a few feet.

Shortly after we finished eating, the restaurant kicked us all out to make way for a private karaoke party, so we walked next door to this cantina for a beer.

While we waited for our drinks to arrive, we talked about writers and writing. Just as our drinks were put down, Yuri said, "Speaking of great writers and great writing, I'd like to toast to Dwayne McDuffie."

We held our glasses up and were silent for a moment. "To Dwayne," I said. We clinked glasses, took a sip, and set them down.

"That was a good call, Yuri," I said, and took a couple of deep breaths so I wouldn't dilute my beer with tears.

For those who don't know, Dwayne McDuffie died suddenly this week, from what I understand were complications following emergency heart surgery. Many people who know of Dwayne's work knew him as a truly outstanding comic creator whose legacy is felt throughout the comic industry by creators and readers alike.

I knew Dwayne because I worked with him on Teen Titans around 2003. Recently, I'd worked for Dwayne and Titans creator Glenn Murakami on Ben Ten: Alien Force. I didn't know him as well as I wanted to, because the nature of animation puts a thick pane of soundproof glass between the actors and writers and producers, and the nature of television leaves little time for hanging out once the work is actually done. 

What precious little time I did spend with him, though, was awesome. Dwayne was kind, he was supportive, he was incredibly creative, and he genuinely loved what he did. He loved to talk about comics with me, frequently asked me what I was reading, and if I could suggest anything for him to pick up. He always took a moment or two to thank me for coming in to play Aqualad or DarkStar, and whenever I left the studio he told me, "I'll see you next time," because he was always looking for ways to bring me back into his shows.

Dwayne was Good People, and everyone who worked with him loved him. When I found out — via Twitter, no less — that he had died, I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach and submerged in ice water. It's been three days, now, since I heard, and I still have a knot in my stomach that doesn't seem all that interested in going anywhere very soon.

I'm having a hard time fully accepting that I'm not going to see Dwayne next time, so maybe you'll join me in a moment of silence and rememberance for a truly great person, who gave the world many wonderful things.

Here's to you, Dwayne. Thank you for everything.

various items including: hunter, marketplace, batman, and a show with paul and storm

Various items that may be relevant to your interests begin … NOW!

* I talked to the Marketplace Tech Report recently, and our two interviews are now online.

I'm sure it will surprise you to learn that I'm a huge NPR geek, so getting to talk to John Moe for Marketplace (I did my side of the converstaion from KPCC) was pretty cool.

I am doing a show at Largo with Paul and Storm on Tuesday, March 29th! I'm going to perform stories with and without musical accompaniment, and Paul and Storm are going to play music. Then we'll sing about pirates for two hours. Los Angeles always asks me to do a show, and then nobody ever shows up when I do one here. Don't fucking let me down, Los Angeles; I'm getting tired of defending you to Chicago.

* I know I'm way late to the party on this, but I've been playing Batman: Arkham Asylum recently. It's sort of like being in control of an episode of the Batman animated series, but there are a couple of things that keep taking me out of the experience.

First, there is just way too much backtracking. I really hate it when games do this, because it feels like a cheap way to make a game appear longer than it is, and it's just boring. I already did the complicated zipline batclaw jumpglide across the poison gas room thing, guys. I don't need to do it again.

Second, It's incredibly fun to pretend that I'm Batman, but it's a little silly that I my progress is constantly thwarted by 5-foot high brick walls. And by a little, I mean goddamn fucking ridiculous. I AM THE GODDAMN BATMAN FOR FUCKS SAKE.

Still, those complaints aside, it's a lot (or alot, if you prefer) of fun. Beating up on bad guys requires timing and precision, so it doesn't turn into a button masher (you can try that, if you want, but you won't get very far). There are also two extra games that parallell the main storyline where you try to solve puzzles posed by The Riddler, and you try to find these tablets that reveal the history of Arkham Asylum.

Huh. I just sort of reviewed the game without meaning to. I guess I should grade it, then: B-

* I think it's really important that the story of HBGary, Bank of America, Wikileaks and The Chamber of Commerce doesn't die. This is serious ratfucking and is pretty much a perfect example of the war the ultra-rich and powerful are successfully waging against the middle class in America.

Digital: A Love Story is a computer mystery romance that is set "five minutes into the future in 1988". You read it by using an emulator that looks an awful lot like the Amiga, and it recreates the old BBS experience when 2400 baud was all the baud we needed. The story unfolds via messages. It's just amazing.

* A friend of Anne's makes and sells organic, eco-friendly clothing with positive messages. I really love it, and from time to time I remind the Internet about it, so people will check it out and tell their friends. It's called Capable Arts. Tell them Wil sent you. 

* Many people have asked how HUNTER is selling. Without getting into specifics, I'm delighted that so many people have chosen to give me donations for the story. Most are giving between 1 and 5 dollars, and close to one thousand readers have paid for the story. I stupidly set it up in a way that doesn't let me track individual downloads, so I have no idea what the ratio of downloads to customers is. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, and I'm inclined to revisit the world at least once in the future. I'm calling this a success, and I'll do pay-what-you-want again in the future. 

This goes on its own line because I want to make sure it gets seen: Thank you to everyone who read Hunter, left me feedback about it, paid something for it, and told friends and Internets about it. This wouldn't have been a success without you.

* Finally, Anne found a home for Velvet Wesley Crusher's Moustache:

IMAG0652

a point of clarification

Yesterday, I overheard some twentysomethings complaining about how much they hated their jobs. After a few minutes, it became clear that none of them took high school seriously, and at least a couple of them had dropped out of community college because it was, in their words, "too hard."

I Twittered: If high school was "boring" and college was "too hard", don't complain about your "dead end minimum wage" job, twentysomething.

I got a lot of angry replies from people who thought I was being a dick about people working minimum wage jobs, like I thought I was better than them or something. I think that response would have been entirely justified if that had, in fact, been what I meant, but I think I was misunderstood, so I want to clarify: As I understood it, these kids (I am really Old Man Wheaton, now, referring to 20 year-olds as 'kids') didn't take their education seriously, didn't make any effort to work toward a career, and were complaining that their jobs didn't pay them enough for their minimal effort. The sense of entitlement annoyed me almost as much as some kid with a job – in a time of incredible unemployment – complaining about getting paid to work. (Yeah, I know that complaining about work is as fundamental as eating lunch, but in the time it took my brain to hear it and my fingers to type it, I didn't stop to think about that.)

I didn't mean to be elitist, or condescending, or insulting to anyone who is doing the best they can during some very difficult times, and if I offended or insulted you, I hope you'll accept my apology. I certainly don't think I'm better than you, or anyone else. We all do what we can to support ourselves and our families, if we have them, right?

On the other hand, if you're one of those kids who told me to go fuck myself, get off my lawn and go back to school. Work hard, because nothing worth doing is ever easy, and the more knowledge you have, the more options you have, so you won't have to spend your life in a dead end job that you hate. Trust me, you'll be glad you did. Maybe not now, maybe not in a year, but some time in the Mysterious Future when you're feeling cranky at the Damn Kids Today you'll be able to shake your cane at them with authority.

Podcasts I love: Driveway Moments

Is your brain embiggened from last time when we talked about 60-Second Science? Good, good. Glad to hear it. Take good care of your brain, and it'll take good care of you.

Today, we're turning to one of my favorite old media broadcasters, who have done an outstanding job embracing new media: National Public Radio. NPR offers a huge selection of podcasts, including powerhouses like This American Life[1] and Fresh Air,[2] but since everyone in the universe know about those, today I will share something that never fails to entertain, inform, or inspire me, and is rarely longer than 5 or 6 minutes: NPR's Driveway Moments.

This ingeniously-named podcast is chosen by listeners from NPR stories that are so compelling, they stay in the driveway when they get home and listen to them until they're over.

Some of them are inspiring. Some of them are funny. Some of them are so sad it's hard to listen to them. All of them are incredibly awesome, and make me grateful that NPR embraced podcasting as long ago as they did.

Way back in podcasting's early days, I gushed about the technology and its implications to a good friend of mine who has enjoyed a very long and very successful career in radio. He was unmoved, and figured that, like blogging, "a thousand flowers will bloom, and we'll be left with 999 weeds." He has since changed his tune.

At the time, I thought he was missing the point, but he was correct in a certain sense: radio isn't easy, and not everyone can find success as a broadcaster or producer. I don't know how many podcasts from the early days are still around, and if any of podcasting's early breakout stars are now laughing at us from their private yachts, but the point is, they were there at the beginning, and they helped prove to the world that this on-demand style of radio was viable. Without those pioneers, I don't think the list I'm doing this week would exist. The next time you listen to one of your favorite podcasts, honestly ask yourself: would I make this appointment listening? All the podcasts I'm talking about this week — and they represent just a small percentage of all the ones I listen to — are wonderful, but I wouldn't be able to stop everything I'm doing to listen to them if they weren't available when it was convenient to me. This, I believe, is the future of radio, and even television.

Next time: …i did not know that.

[1] Did you know that I'm a writer because of This American Life? It's true, and is a story I should tell one day. Perhaps on a podcast of my own.

[2] Just in case anyone from either one of these shows sees this: I dream of one day earning the chance to be on your program.

choosing hope over fear

I’m way too busy today to take time out and write the post that I wanted to write about Obama’s inauguration, but I wanted to single out the part of President Obama’s inaugural speech – a classy and necessary repudiation of the Bush years, I thought – that I was hoping to hear:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

Can we have safety and still respect the rule of law? Yes, we can.