Pixel Scroll 5/28/18 Chapter 5 – Our Last, Best Hope For Pixels

(1) MORE ABOUT WISCON’S KILLABLE BODIES PANEL. One of the program participants, Nicasio Reed, put up “a quick mid-WisCon post”. This excerpt is about half of it.

So this morning I was on a 10AM panel at WisCon 42, and it was called The Desire for Killable Bodies in SFF. I’d been very much looking forward to the discussion, even though we’d had little pre-panel discussion about it. It’s a topic that deeply interests me, and that I strive to think deeply about while consuming and creating narratives and characters. The panel was staffed by myself, one other panelist, and a moderator. I was familiar with Molly Aplet, our moderator, who very appropriately made the call to act also a third panelist, because there were just the three of us. Lisa Freitag, my fellow panelist, I knew from one email before the start of the convention, and from a brief conversation in the Dealer’s Room on the Saturday before the panel, when we chatted about texts to bring up. My biggest fear before the panel started was not getting to bring up all the things I wanted to talk about, or not having intelligent responses to the inevitably brilliant audience questions.

Turns out I should be more creative with my fears! As was reported live via Twitter, and then on the WisCon blog, Lisa repeatedly made statements that expressed a desire to sympathize with both individual Nazis (in this context we would be talking about, I believe, Third Reich-era Nazis), and later also individual Confederate soldiers. That this happened once was confusing, surprising, and alarming. That this happened multiple times as the panel went on was flabbergasting, frightening, and finally just damaging.

A lot of people have checked in on me since the panel, making sure I was doing okay, and I appreciate all of you so much. However, I was absolutely not the most affected by what she said, and what she brought into that room. Most saliently, I’m not Jewish. I want to apologize to everyone who was there who was justly rattled, afraid, saddened, or made to feel unsafe. While I gathered myself enough to push back ideologically while on the panel, I didn’t take the step of directly turning to Lisa and saying, in however many words, “That was a fucked up thing to say, and it’s not okay.” The person who did eventually do that was an audience member, who I won’t name here without their permission. (Panelist and moderator names are, of course, public knowledge.) The onus for directly confronting those statements should absolutely not have fallen on the audience, particularly on those most directly and historically affected by the views expressed. That was my failure, and I am extremely sorry for it. So, again, to everyone in the audience who helped to push back, I’m sorry, and thank you….

The blogger Coffeeandink attended the panel and wrote a post detailing some of the discussion.

I don’t feel comfortable naming the panelist, though I wouldn’t say it was wrong to do so, either, and I do link to a post that names them. For this post, though, I’m just going to call them X.

I’m willing to answer questions about what happened. I am not willing to discuss the punishment or the con’s reaction with people who are not targeted by Nazis. If you are not Jewish, Roma, queer, disabled, or nonwhite/a person of color, please have that discussion elsewhere.

  • The discussion was focused on Nazis in Third Reich.
  • X did not express support for Nazi or Confederate ideology. What they did, repeatedly, was express sympathy for Nazi individuals and stress the need to “humanize” Nazis. They mentioned Confederates in support of this, appearing to think that saying that every soldier on both sides was “some mother’s son” was a convincing argument for extending compassion to Nazis. They argued that some Nazis were “good people”.
  • According to Wiscon’s post, X “appeared to posit that disabled or injured people sometimes ‘have to be sacrificed'”, but I was pretty distracted at the point when that came up and can’t confirm it.
  • The panel description focused on SFF “killable bodies” that are stand-ins for marginalized people, so I was not expecting the subject of Nazis as killable bodies rather than as killers to come up. It’s not innately problematic for a panel discussion to have a larger scope than its description, but I think a lot of people had this expectation and that it made the approach X took especially unexpected.
  • Multiple audience members, multiple times, objected to what X was saying. At the end of the panel, one audience member said bluntly, “There’s a difference between understanding Nazis and sympathizing with them.”
  • I remember the audience as being the ones who pushed back most assertively, but the moderator and panelist Nicasio Reed also argued with X after the audience broke the ice. I do not blame anyone for being too startled to respond firmly while in the room. I myself did not speak up.
  • It’s important to recognize and acknowledge the humanity of people who do terrible things. However, when doing so, it is a moral imperative to center the victims of those terrible things. X centered the emotions and conflicts of the perpetrators–directly in the face of survivors or people who would have been targeted, who repeatedly pointed out that this is what X was doing. I do not believe X did spoke out of malice, but this is a topic that requires great care. If X has considered the topic with that care, it was not apparent during the panel….

(2) THE LAST OF LE GUIN. David Naimon on working with a legend at Literary Hub: “Ursula K. Le Guin, Editing to the End”.

Ursula’s final words to me, her final edits on the manuscript of our collected conversations, were in pencil. We had talked in one of these conversations about technology, about how, in her mind, she was unfairly labeled a Luddite. That some of the most perfect tools—a pestle, a kitchen knife—were in fact perfected technologies. I had just received the manuscript from her days before, and the pencil on it reminded me of the aura of in-the-world magic this whole endeavor, bringing a book into the world together, had assumed.

The manuscript had traveled in the world as an object, one carried by foot and passed hand to hand. Our publisher, Tin House, located literally in a house of tin on the corner of a leafy boulevard in Northwest Portland, was just down the hill from Ursula’s home. And by a remarkable twist of fate, as if sharing the same street were not enough, Ursula’s own granddaughter worked as an intern there. It was often her or the book’s editor Tony who would walk up the hill to deliver the pages, or walk up the hill to walk them back down again. …

She could have published most if not all of her books at one of the big five publishers in New York. She could’ve economized and maximized her time by only granting interviews to the likes of Terry Gross, Bill Moyers, and Charlie Rose. And yet she continued to choose small presses, and often ones distant from the hierarchy of the publishing powers in NYC, whether an anarchist press from San Francisco or a feminist science fiction press from Seattle. Similarly, she never said no to her hometown community radio, KBOO, a station that is not Portland’s NPR affiliate, but whose mission statement is to give voice to the voiceless, with shows like Rose City Native Radio, Transpositive PDX, and Black Book Talk. By conventional metrics, KBOO is a small station, both in reach and listenership, and yet you wouldn’t get that impression when Ursula speaks of it…

(3) CALLING ALL HOLLYWOOD ACCOUNTANTS. We Got This Covered puts its flopologist to work: “Disney Responds To Solo: A Star Wars Story Flopping At The Box Office”.

Although the full four-day estimate won’t be released until later today, it’s probably safe to say that the Anthology pic won’t be gunning for the Memorial Day holiday weekend record anymore. As you’ve surely heard, the Ron Howard-directed space western hauled in $83.3 million in its opening weekend and will finish off Monday with about $110 million, nowhere even remotely near the current record holder, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End ($140M).

In a year that’s seen three releases enter the domestic top thirty for all-time opening weekends, Deadpool 2 ($125M), Black Panther ($202M) and Avengers: Infinity War ($257M), the box office failure of Solo: A Stars Wars Story is only amplified that much more.

(4) DANCING IN AND AROUND THE MAY POOL: At Featured Futures, Jason has compiled another month of choice reading to dip into with “Summation: May 2018”.

This month’s baker’s dozen of noted stories (four recommended) comes from the pool of ninety (of 440 Kwds) published between April 30 and May 28. The print zines were individually strongest with Analog and F&SF each contributing multiple tales but the web combined to contribute seven.

While not applicable to the monthly recommendations, I did review a collection this month which had eight reprints (three recommended) that I especially liked.


  • Born May 28, 1977 – Ursula Vernon


  • Born May 28, 1908 – Ian Fleming. Happy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!


(8) WORD TO THE WIS(E)CON. I wish I could transplant this axiom to the comment section here. Beware the free-floating harshers of squee.

(9) HARDLY A MARVEL. Nicholas Whyte chimes in with his preferences for “The 2018 Hugo finalists for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form”. Landing well below No Award is —

7) Thor: Ragnarok

This is the fourth Marvel Universe film I have seen, but only the third in chronological order – the others were the first Iron Man, which didn’t impress me much, and nor did Captain America: The First Avenger, which I also ranked below No Award. On the other hand there is also Black Panther, made after Thor: Ragnarok but which I saw earlier this year, and loved. I’m afraid Thor: Ragnarok is back to the usual form for me. Not being terribly invested in the characters of the Marvel Universe, let alone the Thor storyline, I could see that the whole thing was trying to be funny but it wasn’t really my fandom. At least Jeff Goldblum was treating it with the approriate level of seriousness. I am sure it will do better than seventh place in the overall vote.

(10) DINING (WAY) OUT. NPR reports “Great White Sharks Have A Secret ‘Cafe,’ And They Led Scientists Right To It”.

“We expected it to be the desert that the textbooks sort of advertised it would be,” said Bruce Robison, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

But this was no desert.

A layer of nutrient-rich plant life exists deeper under the ocean than satellites could detect. Tiny creatures feed on it, and larger creatures feed on them. And up and up. It represents “a complete food chain, a ladder of consumption, that made us believe that there was an adequate food supply out here for big animals like tunas and the sharks,” Robison said.

(11) LET’S ALL TWEET LIKE THE ROBOTS DO. Too sensitive: “Bulgarians tweeting in Cyrillic confused for Russian bots”. Twitter has several criteria, ANY of which can cause a tweet or account to be suppressed; using Cyrillic is one of them, despite it being used in 11 countries beside Russia.

Speaking at a United States Senate Committee inquiry into extremist content and Russian disinformation online, Twitter’s acting general counsel Sean Edgett shed some light on why this might be happening.

He said in October 2017 that Twitter’s tools “do not attempt to differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ automation,” when looking for Russian-linked accounts.

“They rely on objective, measurable signals, such as the timing of tweets and engagements to classify a given action as automated.”

What can qualify as a Russian-linked Twitter account?

  • Created in Russia
  • Registered with a Russian phone carrier or email address
  • User’s display name contains Cyrillic characters
  • Tweets are frequently in the Russian language
  • Logged in to Twitter via a Russian IP address even once

“We considered an account to be Russian-linked if it had even one of the relevant criteria,” said Mr Edgett.

(12) DINO DANDER. Might be evidence of the first step towards birds: “Dinosaur dandruff reveals first evidence of skin shedding”

An analysis of fossilised dandruff fragments has given scientists their first evidence of how dinosaurs and early birds shed their skin.

Found among the plumage of these ancient creatures, the 125-million-year-old flakes are almost identical to those found in modern birds.

It shows that these dinosaurs shed their skins in small pieces, and not all at once like many modern reptiles.

It’s more evidence that early birds had limited flying skills, the authors say.

(13) FUN FOR ALL. Here’s video of the Anime North 2018 religious protesters. (There’s several posts about them in Reddit’s Anime North thread.)

These guys show up every year. The congoers also do this every year [play songs on a loudspeaker].


[Thanks to JJ, Cat Eldridge, John King Tarpinian, Brian Z., Chip Hitchcock, Carl Slaughter, Andrew Porter, and Mike Kennedy for some of these stories, Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Peer.]

179 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 5/28/18 Chapter 5 – Our Last, Best Hope For Pixels

  1. @ Kendall, re (13): It’s popular entertainment that doesn’t center and focus on Christianity, and some of it even features other religions in a positive light. I’ve run into groups like that before; apparently if you don’t spend every waking minute thinking about Jesus you’re doomed.

    @ Rev. Bob: Yes. I have thought for a long time that you can’t simultaneously make the claims that (1) positive media representation of marginalized groups helps normalize them in society and (2) violence in media (including, but not limited to, video games) doesn’t normalize violence in society. (With the caveat that I don’t think toon violence does this, because most people including kids are capable of recognizing the unreality of it.)

  2. I wonder if the panel went from the ‘killable bodies’ to the notion that in the depiction of some societies in extremis – or who have been conned into believing they were – turn on themselves and ‘triage’ who they think deserves the resources to survive…hence Wiscon’s statement the panelist “appeared to posit that disabled or injured people sometimes ‘have to be sacrificed’”, a statement that would’ve raised a great deal of indignation if the panelist hadn’t made it clear she was talking from the point of view of fictional depiction of characters with prejudiced blinders of one sort or another.

    From there to the discussion of ‘Nazis’ who actually DID make a policy of ‘sacrificing’ the disabled, seems a natural progression of the conversation. Possibly the problem then became the panelist’s position that some Nazis were good people. It may have seemed like she were saying that people who participated in the ‘sacrificing’ of the disabled might still be good people, even if she meant to say something like “people who belonged to the Nazi party but did not participate in atrocities and did their best to alleviate the injustices of the system where they could were good people.”

    I agree, without a transcript, we can’t say for sure just how the talk went.

  3. @Cliff Ramshaw:

    Agreed, these days rendering time is proportional to the number of pixels rendered, but I don’t believe lowering the resolution would ever be seen as an acceptable short cut.

    A considerable difference in culture, then, as a lower-resolution darkish background composited with a high-resolution, well-lit subject is a recommended solution to rendering times in hobbyist circles. At least, it was the last time I checked in on them; it’s not something I’ve needed to do for a while now.

  4. garik16 on May 29, 2018 at 5:07 pm said:

    One minor complaint: The Worldcon staff this year has been uh….lacking at emailing updates on things like nominations and voting open or the packet. In fact, I STILL haven’t received an email that Hugo Voting is open, even though I found out about it through this site. What gives?

    Based on my own experience (and I’m the WSFS division manager this year), I do not think that it’s a failure at the mailing end, but that something along the line is blocking some people from receiving those e-mails. The Hugo Administrators are at something of a loss when they send the messages and then get told that the recipient never received them. Or, to put it more clearly: an automated e-mail that I know was sent to my Gmail account never arrived. Not “went into the Spam folder,” but never arrived. E-mail is not infallible. It’s frustrating to us at Worldcon 76 to not have everything work the way it is supposed to work, too, just as it was frustrating back in 1993 when I personally mailed the convention’s paper PRs and Hugo ballots (no such thing as electronic distribution for Worldcon publications or e-voting back then) and found that the mailings neither bounced nor arrived for some people.

  5. (1) “The nail that sticks up is hammered down.” — unknown
    Based on what I’ve seen here, I must assume that Wiscon is anti-Buddhist.

  6. Given that there were people re-assuring others that they had filed a complaint with the safety committee immediately after the panel, I think the panelist did more than misspeak.

  7. @Cliff Ramshaw (continuing Rail’s q): why is lowering resolution seen as unacceptable? A recent traveling exhibit on modern animation noted that each frame of Inside Out took a serious graphics CPU 28 hours; is it “inconceivable” that the computers rendering Solo were booked for something else next, such that the choice was between taking shortcuts and not having the film ready for release on time? ISTM that the Mouse would be especially sensitive to the latter; there are enough big noisy non-mimetic movies coming out that missing a date could mean having to move a release by months to avoid fratricide (in the military sense) — and such movement could affect a manager’s career if top management got picky about cash flow.

  8. @Ultragotha: I totally agree that if the way she spoke gave the impression that she thought people who sacrificed the disabled could still be good people, regardless of her actual intent (and whether or not it was muddled) it would be valid grounds for complaint by the audience.

  9. @Hampus Mine? Just want to make it clear that I think the notion of ‘sacrificing’ the disabled as less worthy is horrifyingly wrong…and if I’ve given the impression otherwise, I’m terribly sorry and would want to flee to a cave right now.

  10. Kendall: @Mike Glyer: I opened both your PDFs and was able to click on links. Were they fixed?

    Yesterday afternoon I contacted Kevin Standlee, and resent my submission files to Dave McCarty, who said they would be fixed. Glad to hear it has happened. (It hadn’t when I last checked yesterday, but I figured it would soon.)

  11. Jayn, sorry, wasn’t thinking of you. My apology if iy seemed like I was. Was thinking that the blow-up from the panel seems to have been the failure result of nuance.

  12. There is an in-depth discussion of the Wiscon on fail.fandom.anon, which I unfortunately cannot access from this machine, which made a whole lot of good points, including expanding on the perspective of Ethics of Care the panelist may have been coming from.

  13. There is an in-depth discussion of the Wiscon on fail.fandom.anon, which I unfortunately cannot access from this machine, which made a whole lot of good points, including expanding on the perspective of Ethics of Care the panelist may have been coming from.

    I think this is the thread that you are talking about.

  14. I think this is the thread that you are talking about.
    Reading through that makes me (1) glad I’m not involved and (2)shaking my head at it. Lots of high-horse moral ground things going on.
    Lot of posturing gong on.

  15. I see, of course, that JDA and others are chortling their heads off at the WIscon uproar.

  16. @Chip – one carefully crafted response lost in the aether, here’s version two. I hope it’s not TMI:

    In short, rendering an image at low-res and then magnifying it makes it too blurry. The desire is to have the images as sharp as possible (except where they’re intentionally not, e.g. depth-of-field, motion blur etc.)

    The Mouse of course must be appeased, but render time is not the problem as often as one might think, and when it is there are several remedies available. I don’t recall hearing of a movie being delayed because shots weren’t rendered in time.

    Movie frames are rendered on render farms – rooms full of high-end PCs. Typically several frames will render simultaneously on a single PC. It may have 256Gb and 32 cores, and this might typically be divided into 8 jobs each consuming 4 cores and 32Gb. Near-optimal packing of jobs on to a render farm is an art in itself. (Consider a shot that takes a long time to render but consumes little memory, etc.) A target for a frame might be to use 64 core hours; in other words to take 16 hours on 4 cores. Note entirely sure how this fits with the 28 hours you heard for Inside Out, but it’s possible that was 14 hours on two cores. Some shots on Coco started out at 1,000+ core hours.

    The basic goal is for the artist to submit the job at the end of the day and have the results ready for inspection the following morning. A typical shot requires many iterations like this, so it’s artist time that’s important here, provided the overnight time limit is not exceeded (and the farm is not swamped). This is all budgeted very carefully, since profit margins for vfx studios are not high. These intermediate renders may be done at a lower quality setting until the shot is ready (or close to ready) for final approval. Some shots are also marked as ‘we’ll use if if we have to, but if we get more time, we’ll come back and improve it’.

    There are of course problem shots that take too long to render, either due to over-ambitious use of the technology, or sometimes just because they tickle some flaw in the rendering software.

    Solutions to this can involve buying more machines for the render farm, buying time on the cloud, or subcontracting some work to other studios (though this tends to be more because of ‘crap we have too much work!’ rather than specifically being a render-time issue). The most extreme purely technical solution I’ve heard of involved rendering alternate frames and using interpolation software to infer the in-betweeners. Some studios employ people who’s job is to take existing set-ups and optimize them for rendering speed without compromising the look already achieved by less technically-minded artists. The data sets fed into renderers are huge and complex – there’s usually more than one way to express the desired outcome. Producing an image with a modern renderer involves solving a complex nested integral using a technique called Monte Carlo integration (which was, I believe, developed as part of the Manhattan project to estimate neutron transport). It’s name derives from the fact it uses random numbers to estimate the result. A consequence is that noise is introduced into the image (similar to film grain, but more visually objectionable.) The longer time you spend rendering, the less noise and more ‘converged’ towards the true solution the image is. So one possibility is to stop rendering short and apply a de-noising algorithm to the result. This is a popular technique, but it can result in over-blurring of some features in the image. Improving the estimates for Monte Carlo integration, which results in less noise for equal time, is an open research problem.

  17. Harold Osler: I see, of course, that JDA and others are chortling their heads off at the WIscon uproar.

    Tank Marmot’s Facebook followers have turned it into an unbelievable orgy of bigotry.

  18. Harold Osler on May 30, 2018 at 12:36 pm said:

    I see, of course, that JDA and others are chortling their heads off at the WIscon uproar.

    Chortling is fine, as long as they don’t guffaw.

  19. Tank Marmot’s Facebook followers have turned it into an unbelievable orgy of bigotry.
    i checked FB out once and am still getting friend requests from him and what’s-er-name the Trans for Trump person,

  20. Harold Osler: Reading through that makes me (1) glad I’m not involved and (2)shaking my head at it. Lots of high-horse moral ground things going on. Lot of posturing gong on.

    FailFandomAnon threads generally consist of 5% meaningful content and 95% cesspit. On the rare occasions when I make the mistake of reading there, I invariably end up having to use brain bleach afterward.

  21. I saw someone somewhere (probably somewhere on twitter) comment that there seems to be a drastic difference possible between the appearances of Solo on the screen depending on the theatre. Possibly there is something in it that doesn’t come out quite right with a particular camera/screen configuration.

  22. I ended up seeing Solo and Deadpool 2 on Tuesday, and I almost wish I’d waited for the former to hit Blu-ray. Much of the “three years ago” introduction was rather murky, and some of the dialogue was quiet enough that I wanted subtitles.

    I will point out that Solo was the first Star Wars movie where I was confused by a particular plot element as a result of not having partaken of certain non-film media… in this case, I haven’t watched either the Clone Wars or Rebels series, and I am given to understand that this element comes from there. I looked up some info that night, mainly to satisfy my curiosity about precisely where the movie fits into the larger timeline.

  23. @Rev Bob. Yeah, my wife and I were confused by that too, until my young nephew later set us straight. Like you, we initially assumed something off in the time-line that didn’t really make sense.

    @Kiya – possibly. I don’t recall not being able to see what was happening as a problem. I think it was Lurkertype who mentioned earlier that a lot of the shots were close and ‘claustrophobic’ because of re-shoot constraints. I don’t if that’s true, but I kind of like it. There seems to be a common visual cliche in SF, where the camera lovingly pans over the environment. (Don’t get me wrong, I think the establishing shot of the Imperial warship in Episode IV is amazing.) Doing this seems to me a little like the visual equivalent of telling the reader all about the world the story is about to take place in. It’s the way an outsider would see things (and outsiders are what we are, in reality). Omit the establishing shot, and we’re already immersed in the story and the environment is incidental, something we see every day and rarely pay attention to, rather like those novels where we have to infer the world-building as we go.

  24. @ Rev. Bob: I was a bit confused in Rogue One by Forest Whitaker’s character who seemed to have too much screen time to be a throwaway, but I learned afterwards that he is a connecting character between the animated Clone Wars and Rogue One.

    The odd thing is that I binge watched The Clone Wars with my kids a few years back, and certainly saw the episodes with him in them, but he made zero impression.

  25. I will point out that Solo was the first Star Wars movie where I was confused by a particular plot element as a result of not having partaken of certain non-film media… in this case, I haven’t watched either the Clone Wars or Rebels series, and I am given to understand that this element comes from there. I looked up some info that night, mainly to satisfy my curiosity about precisely where the movie fits into the larger timeline.

    Yes, that plot element is the one that I mentioned earlier was spoiled by Google News headlines. And Clone Wars and Rebels is some of the best of Star Wars media–IMHO better than TFA or TLJ and vastly better than the prequel trilogy. You really should give it a try.

  26. @Niall: I believe that character was originally slated to have a larger role, but I don’t know whether that got trimmed back during rewrites or in editing. Either way, it explains the casting of a Name for the role.

  27. @ Chip Hitchcock – perhaps you missed it, but did my explanation help? I forgot to mention another common solution: coerced overtime from the artists.

    Another related fun science fact: the equations developed to describe the energy transfer from the cores of stars to their surfaces are gaining more and more traction in the rendering of volumetric (gaseous) phenomena – ie explosions in movies.

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