Skip to content

On Having a Backbone

We think of bullies as Kobra Kai thugs in skeleton costumes, or that kid with yellow eyes forcing you to say uncle.  When we tell ourselves we’d stand up to injustice, that’s the situation we picture.  Of course we’d stand against that, we tell ourselves, it’s easy!

Unfortunately, real life bullies are rarely Johnny from Karate Kid or Scut Farkus from A Christmas Story.  In the situations that render us unable to fight back or withstand peer pressure — maybe the most important ones —  they are colleagues, acquaintances, possibly friends.  People who have earned some degree of respect or deference from you.  People who will persuade you in such subtle, seemingly friendly or positive ways that you won’t really know they’re trying to get you to do something you don’t want to do.  Maybe you’ll feel nothing beyond a small, nagging discomfort. Maybe it’ll grow, but you’ll still ignore it, or forget it over a little bread and a circus or two.

Dave Eggers’s “The Circle” talks about it more eloquently than I can.  Not everyone liked the book, but one thing it did spectacularly well was portray a young, innocent girl as she’s slowly and very softly bullied by her friends and coworkers into doing things she doesn’t want to do until she practically becomes the Darth Vader of a dystopia, and helps eradicate privacy entirely.  Beyond a “growing feeling of darkness” that comes over her at times for reasons she can’t explain, she has no idea she’s doing anything remotely wrong.




I did very little writing and zero publishing across most of 2014 and 2015.  Actually, I did write, but it was mainly nonfiction and about the Year of Hell (actually, over a year) I went through.

I can’t elaborate on what happened to my family and I in a public forum, but it was extremely traumatic. It broke deep levels of faith and trust in the world around me that I never imagined would be broken, levels that never should be broken for anyone.  It turned me into a facade of my former self in the short term and brought out a meaner, nastier streak in me over long run.

But truthfully, there’s an ongoing pattern where every time I make a sale or two, something in “life” happens that ejects me from the world of writing for a long stretch.  Then I get back into it, rinse, repeat.   As pretty darn good as some of my excuses are, they only account for some of it.  I write an extremely long novel when I was 21.  I eventually cored and froze it, and now I’m making my sixth or seventh attempt to take it back out.  I’m torn as to whether or not it’s finally ready.  It is definitely a part 1 of X, and as such I’m not trying to resolve and wrap up the story.  Yet is it as good a part 1 as I’m ready and willing to make it?   Unfortunately I’ve asked myself that same question during the last five or six times I’ve tried to take it out, and each revisionary pass keeps me thinking “Yes and no”.

Maybe I just need someone to actually read this incarnation all the way through.




A brief history of cyberbullying

People think of cyberbullying as a relatively new phenomenon, but it’s not.  It had roots as early as 1991, possibly earlier, though that’s about the time I came into the “cyber picture”.   I’ll stick to talking about my own personal entry point and beyond; there are people my age who came in even earlier, and could probably paint even more of a crotchety-old-cyberguy picture than me.

In late 1991, I was a sheltered thirteen-year-old, finally starting to use this little thing called a modem that my parents had in their old monochrome IBM for the past couple of years.   There was a dial-up service called Prodigy, which had some comic but classic attempts at gaming (Mad Maze, Carmen Sandiego).  There were a bunch of bulletin boards that were meant for sharing basic information and tips, but soon evolved into communities with groups of friends — kids around my age who made connections purely though these online bulletin boards — and “clubs” of those friends.   You would post a message, wait for it to show up, then wait for other people to post replies in the same fashion.  Or, you would send a private message (which slowly became known as e-mail) for 25 cents a message after your 30 free per month.

Among these clubs sprouted a nasty bunch that called themselves “bashers”.  Bashers got their kicks by going around “bashing” (insulting and verbally abusing) other clubs, which generally had done nothing to provoke them and only wanted to have fun with whatever fandom they honored.  Often these bashers targeted clubs of younger, more innocent, “dorkier” clubs who celebrated various Disney cartoons or the like.   Enter some of the first cyberbullies.

Some of us (seeming a minority), for reasons of our own, just got pissed off at bullies like this and formed our own group of “antibashers”.  In my case, I’d grown up being extremely quiet and extremely shy, thus having to defend myself against various bullies.  Railing against bashers online was one way I had of fighting what I’d gone through in the real world, as fake as the whole thing was in the long run.   Some of us antibashers formed a club called Arcadia, and for a small time, we were about as close as online friends with no knowledge of each other in meatspace could get.

In the beginning, I was a newbie’s newbie — I TYPED IN ALL CAPS, but only because I was too lazy to use punctuation online, despite being an honors English student.  My initial callsign was “THE PROTECTOR” (later to become a slightly cooler but still pretty funny sounding “Neoguardian”).  I squared off against people who used callsigns like “God Bits” and “Master Poon Tang” (one or two of you who I directed to this post may even remember those guys).  What exactly did squaring off against them entail?  It’s hard to make a good real life analogy to online verbal attacks and defenses.  At the time, I’m sure we thought of ourselves as jedi knights fighting the sith.  In reality, we were probably closer to characters out of the movie Zoolander, those prissy male models wearing superhero-style costumes trying to out-flash each other.  But it felt better than doing nothing, even if we were fighting fire with fire.

And it just became more and more of a game.  Soon there were fewer victimized kiddie clubs; the bashers started coming directly to our “HQ” to post their nastiness, and nowhere else.  That was just a section of one bulletin board where we posted our topics, such as “Arcadia – Home Base”, “Arcadia – Mess Hall”, and so forth.

Bashers and antibashers tried to impersonate each other, use hacked accounts, and things generally spiraled into ugliness.  Some of the bashers started putting swastikas in their callsigns when they found out I was Jewish, though looking back, I doubt they knew much of the true horrors behind the holocaust, other than Nazis being the bad guys.  Once or twice, I got a phone call, presumably from one of the basher ringleaders who called himself “Shatterhand”, saying “Hey Mike…gonna get you, little freshman.”  But that was the worst of it.

So, cyberbullying in the early 90s? Check.

Flash forward to today, some 23, 24 years later.  Across that time, bashers have manifested themselves in gradually stronger, nastier circles.  Ten or fifteen years ago, school bullies would take to AOL Instant Messenger and harass their victims on there after school.  After that, facebook messages and malicious facebook groups like “Jane Doe Suicide Encouragement Force”.  But now, the nastiest, most hideous of those is a group of misogynists who harass women in the video game industry for any perceived ethical infractions by threatening to rape and murder them over twitter, then doxxing them (publicizing their home addresses).  Completely ignoring the fact that if they were to try such tactics that they accused these women of using, their fellow bros would find it perfectly acceptable, even praiseworthy.

Some of them seem to be associated with the GamerGate movement — a movement of angry (mostly male) gamers determined to put them uppity-acting womens in their place.  For a thorough summary of what it’s about, read this. That explains it way better than anything I can write.

The gist all this?  Bashers and their ilk were once as infantile as online communication itself, but they’ve evolved with the internet and become just that much more powerful.   They’re real criminals now, wielding real clout.  It would be nice if us former antibashers were real deputized activists of some kind, but alas. The little play power that we once used over bulletin boards to keep cyberbullies in check?  Tinfoil swords to a gun fight.

This is the part where, if this were a film, I would be that last guy from the team who kept vigil all these years and began sending messages to my old Arcadia comrades saying, “They’re back. We have one last mission…”.

But this is reality, and groups like mine were just clubhouses full of kids who probably would have gone all Napoleon Dynamite if they’d ever had to physically confront any of those bashers.  (there’s actually a great deleted scene for that film where Napoleon is threatening to go all ninja on one of the bullies. He ends up lightly slapping the bully in the cheek and running away, but the bully was actually nervous enough to cry out from the anticipated pain of his attack — that about sums us up!)

As to what we can do beyond the whole “No Country For Old Men” ending I implied above (see? My inner 13 year old still likes to dramatize), here’s one thing.

Just agreeing to intercept and speak out against it wherever we see it is the best first step.

The unbreakable Clarion Bond

Seems like at least two of my former Clarion South classmates have unfriended me on facebook.  One, I’m not the least bit surprised about; he tended to shove his right wing views on people (or at least I interpreted his actions that way), and I was guilty of shoving my opinions on him shoving his right wing views on people.   The other I’m a little surprised about;  I could tell by his massively ignoring my casual, friendly comments on his posts for years that he’d been building up some dislike of me.  Not entirely sure why.

Maybe my habit of trying to compare my own situation to other people’s situations in an attempt to relate just annoys some people.   I find it baffling and bizarre that anyone would have such an extremely negative reaction to that, but from what I’m learning, it’s not too uncommon a reaction.  Is it worth exiling someone from your general circle for that after an experience like Clarion South, even if you don’t necessarily interact with that person regularly?  I’d say a resounding Fuck No.  I was hoping for at least the privilege of being thought of as deadbeat family member, or that weird uncle who’s a little unrelatable but you still sort of accept.  Alas.

But if there’s one certainty, I suppose it’s the entropy of lasting friendships.  For one reason or another, I guess people who meet for a brief, if intense, period of life and don’t see much of each other after that drift apart.   Maybe I should invest more into the handful of Clarion buddies I still do talk to.

writer shaming

One thing I’m getting tired of seeing on facebook and other venues — something I may have unwittingly laughed along with in the past — is writer shaming.  It seems to be a favorite pastime of certain editors to air poorly or cluelessly written cover letters, chunks of stories, or opinions by unknown writers, for the express purpose of roasting them behind their backs with their circle of friends and colleagues.

On one hand, writers who are downright rude may have it coming.  On one hand, writing your cover letter in pink ink with little hearts and pictures of unicorns and a sketch up of your main character, or trying to “elevator pitch” your story, may seem absurdly humorous.   On the other hand, I remember that I was once that writer (well, no pinkness or unicorns, but similarly absurd tactics) and probably had real hopes that the story would get somewhere.  If I’d seen the public roasting that ensued, I’d have felt horrible.

Even worse, I often see hordes of fellow writers egging the shamer on.  I, myself, was one of them a couple of times, and I’m vowing never to do that again.   I can’t help but think this is some form of self loathing or distancing from past mistakes, the way kids in school who aren’t serious bullies will sometimes go along with a bully just to keep themselves out of the crosshairs.

And I’ve read some intense bursts of slush in the past, so I get some of it.  I really do.

Writers should not be punished for being new.  A simple rejection with an explanation of protocol should suffice.  Editors who do this once or twice, I can even forgive.  But editors who do this as a regular daily or weekly form of entertainment make me want to question their career choice.  Don’t you have anything better to do than make punching bags out of new, possibly young, uninformed writers?  Or, if it bothers you that much after so long, maybe you should find another hobby-job.  Go write some new form of art for a venue you’re unfamiliar with — screenplays or such — and see what happens.  Go read some submission guidelines when you have a natural tendency to miss certain things, dyslexia, or some other form of minor reading disability, and see what happens.  In other words, stop being as whiny and prissy as some of your worst would-be contributors.

Dragon Quest 5 ios save state hacking

It looks like I’m the first one to attempt to hack this version of the game.   I’d like to pretend I’m some mad hex editing sleuth, but I’m really just a guy who swung the axe blindly often enough that I ended up hitting stuff.  In any case, you’ll need iFile (jailbroken hex editor for the iPhone) and another hex editor on your computer like HxD that compares two files.

The easiest way to find the data you’re looking for — say, the hero’s strength — is to save one copy of the data, increase it by X, then save another copy.  Send yourself both copies, compare them on HxD.   Just be aware that some values change every time you save no matter what happens, so you may want to compare two save files where nothing changes in the game just to root those out.

Unfortunately, the data is massively encrypted, most likely by some kind of Binary Coded Decimal system.  There’s really no way to guess what the actual value will be when you change it, since some of the bits for each number will increase the value if they’re 0, and others will increase the value when they’re 1.   So, a value of 88 decimal should look like a value of 58 hex, but it probably won’t.  Actually, I’ve found the hero’s strength happens to be unencrypted for some reason, the rest of the attributes are not.

Save slot 1 will have a file named data1.dat, save slot 2 had data2.dat, and so on.

In these files, offset 20, 21, 22, and 23 (in decimal) contained the party’s gold.   Offset 36 (decimal) contained number of mini medals.

For the hero, the values at 1105 onward contained his experience.  The values around 1164 onward contained Strength, resilience, agility,wisdom, and luck.

The wife’s experience was at offset 1308-1310.  At 1369 onward was her strength, resilience, agility, wistom, and luck.

The hero’s son’s experience was at 1921,22,23.

The hero’s daughter’s experience was at 1991 (I think the most significant byte was there, at least).  A value of 29 in that byte turned her experience to 16 million.

Unfortunately I don’t know the item codes or the locations for other characters, monsters and so forth.  You can find them yourself if you do the comparison steps listed in the beginning.

As for what to change in order to compensate the checksum (wherever it is and however it’s calculated), there’s a benign value at offset 9700-9701 that’s usually something like 17 70, or 17 XX, that seems to work.  Just be aware that you may need to change any one of those four digits in order to properly compensate whatever value you changed in your character’s attributes, and it seems pretty random.

One thing to note is that all you really need to do is set your character’s experience points through the roof, and they’ll level up to the right place during the next battle.  The rightmost byte offset is the most powerful when it comes to experience, for some reason.  I changed that bit on my characters and eventually got 16 million plus for all of them.  Talk to a priest and they’ll tell you that you’ve had an “elevated experience” and will see the results of it during the next battle.  Makes me think the programmers threw that in for testing purposes.

As for the actual values, just guess.  Increment the right digit by one or the left digit by one, or take away one.  Then two, then three, then so forth until you find a value that both allows the game to load and gives you what you want. Generally, you’ll need to change the right digit in the checksum compensator if you change the right digit in the value, and the same goes for the left digit.   Remember that increasing the value doesn’t necessarily mean increasing the real value in the game, nor does decreasing mean decreasing the real value.  Each byte seems to use a different random BCD algorithm, so you’ll have to either guess (which will work in a fairly short amount of time), or wait until someone with more spare time really breaks the code for good.

Have fun!

Politics as style

I find it odd how we reduce and belittle the weight of very critical human issues by calling it “someone’s politics”.  The puppy brigades like to reduce all criticism directed toward them as other people persecuting them for “their politics”.  Judging people’s talent by their race, victim-blaming criticism of the women targeted by GamerGate.  Those are their politics, their style, the clothes they choose to wear (as opposed to choices they make that disrespect other human beings), and if we call them out on it, we’re the cool kids bullying the underdogs for their appearance.

This is bringing me back to the days of bashers and anti-bashers on Prodigy classic bulletin boards.  The bashers would find clubs that they thought were dorky and bash them.  The anti-bashers would bash the bashers.  (I was an anti-basher, in case it isn’t obvious)  This Hugo war situation feels like an adult reincarnation of that.