May 30, 2011

Wiki engine

So just because my friend is nice enough to give me some free hosting space, I decided to make my own wiki engine on a whim.
Hm, well. Time to work on the procedural MMO we're making !

Apr 30, 2011

Creature generator

You know what this blog needs ? It needs more javascript, that's what it needs.

In keeping with the theme of this blog, here is a random animal generator that makes stuff and things.

Apr 27, 2011

Playing pretend

It often surprises me to learn that, in this age where computers and the Internet are so deeply rooted in our industry and economy, some people still consider anything happening in computers as "virtual" or "trivial".
The idea that friends met on forums, or games played online, are "not real" and thus valueless, is a common argument.
And indeed, it is hard to grasp just how concrete or abstract computer stuff really is. What makes people you meet online "real" friends ? After all, you've never met them in real life. What makes computer games enjoyable, and why do some people find them worth so much of their time ? After all, they're just about silicon bits slightly changing their electric charge, and pixels flicking on and off.
So, why is all of that such a big deal ?

Truth is, this is not restricted to computers. A modern society these days is mostly built on "abstract" stuff. Fictions in films and books are not real, yet they shape entire cultures. Heroes and stories and myths which everybody knows never existed still inspire countless people throughout the world. And all this is because we live in a society based on playing pretend.

Pretending is a key element in human societies since the dawn of civilization.
Why did we start burying our dead, and try to connect with an invisible and hypothetical higher force ? I think we were pretending. We were pretending that there was maybe a meaning to all this somehow, and that it would be okay and Death wasn't something to be afraid of. So just in case, we started believing in an abstract concept, and gave it very real importance in our cultures and rites.

Heroes and stories are obvious examples of pretending. We know that movie we're watching is not real - yet the emotions they elicit in us are. A video game is also objectively unimportant - yet we invest time in them, pretending we are heroic knights in made-up kingdoms; and the fun and satisfaction derived from them are real. Heroes in myths can also inspire us; blatantly exaggerated feats of heroism can still fill us with confidence and courage. Heroes of cautionary tales can also teach us lessons, despite their virtuality. All of this relies on suspension of disbelief - we know it's not real, but it still affects us. I don't think the fictional origin of something makes its impact on us any less valid or real.

Money is also almost entirely based on pretending. Instead of bartering for real goods, we have faith in arbitrary values assigned to specific objects or services, and pretend that bits of paper intrinsically bear those values. And there are many other abstract economic concepts behind that which are even more detached from reality.

Likewise, language is a common agreement to pretend that a sound refers to a thing, action, or concept. Words have no meaning in themselves.

Mathematics are the science of the abstract. Numbers have never existed as real-world entities; they're just tricks of the mind. Yet we can manipulate them and draw very real conclusions from them.

Pretending makes many things possible. We can pretend something has meaning when it does not, to reassure or distract ourselves. We can pretend something is real and behave as if it was; and often, it is enough that many people believe in one thing for that thing to have a real-world incidence.

And all that is what makes it okay for me to waste my days on Minecraft.

Apr 25, 2011

What does Man Outside Nature mean ?

A friend told me that "Man Outside Nature" is a misleading title, considering the fact that while I enjoy the occasional walk in the park, I'm actually a rather indoorsy person. But the "Man" in the title isn't about me, it's Man in the widest scope; this blog is about a concept - an ideal.

The reasoning behind that ideal goes as follows :

-Man has achieved enough technological advances to actually be self-sufficient, petty economic issues aside : we can produce more than enough food and energy. We grow trees and cattle in controlled environments and are able to satisfy even the most whimsical wishes of consumers. We can harvest the energy from the Sun, wind, and waves.
-Man has messed Nature up pretty bad in the past and we have come to regret it; we can't go back on that, but luckily there are still areas on Earth that haven't been tamed or destroyed yet.
-Therefore - why are we still doing that ? Why are we still burning down tropical forests to build more farms, when we are already dumping our excess grain to the benefit of nobody ? Why are we still drilling the earth to find oil, when we have developped so many alternatives ? Why do we continually mess with Nature and insist on having it cater to our needs ?
Why don't we try living on our own -outside Nature- with everything we've acquired, without interfering with Nature any further ?

A brief history of mankind

So here is how it went :

First we were scrawny, paranoid little apes who were absolutely terrified of anything bigger, hairier, or teethier than ourselves. And we were right, because boy were those things hungry. So we learned to flee and resent them.
We kept that grudge when we developped the means of getting back at them; fire, weapons, hunting tactics - there finally was predator meat for dinner. And that was great ! We were able to fend for ourselves; we had a respectable niche in our ecosystem.

Then we decided mammoth meat was very, very delicious. So delicious in fact that soon, we were killing off the last ones; not only them, but many other species which were already severely crippled by the receding ice age.
We soon found ourselves meat-less and hungry.
Not for long though. In come agriculture and animal husbandry. That was pretty great too; we were growing our own food, and dominated our former predators, changing them into pets. Take that, Nature !

I think that is when a general feeling of smugness started settling over humanity. We had walled cities, crops and cattle that allowed permanent sustainance; nothing could significantly harm us anymore, other than disease, and other people.

We were modifying our surroundings; we were razing hills to build fortresses, turning hostile forests into fields, and expanding our cities ever more to accomodate for our exponentially growing population. Man ruled over Earth. It is during that time, too, that religions started talking about Man being entitled to everything around him; plants, creatures, soil, were to bend to his will, as they were created for him.

From then on, nothing could stop us. Drunk with all our newly-acquired and rapidly-increasing powers, we set ourselves the goal of conquering every bit of land and sea we could encounter. We eliminated the remaining species which had terrified us for so long; and those we didn't kill, we made into our servants.

With no threats remaining other than ourselves, and our land covered in either tar or industrial fields, and our cattle made into a constant stream of processed goods, we thought this was good, and the way things were meant to be.

And then we slowly realized the horror of our hubris.

Apr 24, 2011

Hey !

Hey ! I'm Orteil. I'm a french kid who likes to make pretty stuff with a computer.
The reason for this blog is that someone told me to write something about my views on the relationship between Man and Nature. So I did.

This blog will focus more specifically on what I think should be Man's role (or lack thereof) in Nature, how we could change our views and our actions, and why Nature kicks ass.

Feel free to comment, ask, disagree, rant, discuss and share as I state my ideas. Debate, even argument, is more than welcome in the comments.

It's been a long while since my last blog. So, bear with me while I try obscene stuff with the CSS.
© Orteil 2011