by Raq, Aeluric, and Random McNasty
Data science mecca 538 took on Dungeons and Dragons character generation last week, but their write-up didn’t align (no pun intended) with our years of empirical observation. We checked their numbers and determined that their thesis is totally wrong.
As the 538 blog reports, in August, D&D’s publisher released D&D Beyond that streamlines the process of setting up a new character. Players created hundreds of thousands of characters in the site’s first month, and Curse, the developer behind D&D Beyond, sent users’ most popular picks for races and classes from the game’s Fifth Edition to 538 to crunch. This was the resulting blog:
Is Your D&D Character Rare?
We got a peek at what kind of characters everyone is building, and a lot of players are sticking close to reality.
According to their heat map, human is the most popular race and fighter is the most popular class, and almost half of all characters created on D&D Beyond are human fighters.
We side-eyed that finding, along with a few other assertions in the post. For example, the author suggests that people play the combination halfling rogue because halflings are inherently stealthy, but also because they’ve seen this type in Lord of the Rings. So yeah, they kind of got that backwards – LOTR is the seminal work that helped spawn D&D. Halflings were designed as stealthy in D&D because that’s how Tolkein imagined them. Getting your correlation/causality correct builds confidence for your data science.
Anyway, the heat map in their blog was OK, but Aeluric thought percentages would be more helpful, and he fixed their maths as well:
This helps show that while “human” is popular, it doesn’t necessarily show that most people play “human” rather than a non-human character. And we think that’s the real choice – not human or elf or dwarf or gnome or whatever the heck an aara-cloaca is. The choice of race is human or not.
Here’s where we step away from math and towards lit crit
We offer that in D&D you are really choosing between human and non-human (choose your sub-flavor) most of the time, because that is the way that fantasy writing has always been structured –it’s hard not to think about the human perspective when you are, in fact, a human. So the fact that more than 75% of characters generated have been non-human says something interesting about how players approach the game. If we control for elf and half-elf, which are arguably sub-types of human (super-human and charismatic human respectively), there’s a fairly evenly distribution of non-human sub-flavor.
Looking at the class axis, fighter is the most popular, which makes total sense. The game is designed around fighting. If you take a party of four druids you should name your group the TPKs, but four fighters will do just fine.
Interestingly, despite being the largest overall grouping, in truth fewer than 1 in 20 characters are human fighters. As the author of the 538 blog says, there are a lot of human fighters in media. Honestly, that’s the fantasy genre; if D&D players were responding to the Aragorn/Conan/Boromir/Fafhrd/King Arthur/Roland model of human fighter, way more than 50% of characters would be Jon Snow or Galavant.
We can’t prove it without a lot more research, of course, but these numbers suggest that most people are, in fact, charting their own path in creating characters, rather than pacing the well-trodden boards. They are playing unusual races and classes rather than, as 538 says, staying close to reality.
Seriously, people, ALL THE SPOILERS.
I have a couple outstanding questions about Interstellar, like “Did they really name the kid Cooper Cooper?” and the Jedi Question. (The Jedi Question is: Much like there’s not enough time to go from “The Jedi Council runs the galaxy” with young adult Anakin Skywalker to “Your sad devotion to that ancient religion” and Han not believing in that crap with middle-aged Anakin, there’s not enough time between Cooper the NASA test pilot crashing a Ranger spacecraft and NASA being in hiding and textbooks saying the Apollo missions never happened. I don’t think there is anyway).
So I’ve been looking online to see and hear people’s deconstructions of the movie. I hopefully watched Neil DeGrasse Tyson (Saint Tyson, I like to call him) “explain the end of Interstellar,” but he didn’t, he just talked about how spacetime and dimensions work. I’ve watched and read other “explanations” that just basically narrate the movie.
What I haven’t seen is anything that really does EXPLAIN it. So I’m going to.
The movie is pretty much what it says on the tin, up until Cooper goes into the singularity. There are a couple things worth commenting on before that, however, so let’s get them out of the way.
1. If the only two crops left are corn and okra, why hasn’t everyone killed themselves? Seriously, I couldn’t live with a diet of okra. Sorry, I digress…the real question is, how are Cooper and John Lithgow drinking beer? What was the beer made from?
Answer: I’m pretty sure they never say it’s “beer.” Anyway, you can make beer from corn, it just isn’t as marketable apparently.
2. Crop blights don’t kill the host crop. The blight would kill itself that way.
Answer: Fine. It’s something else just being called a blight, and it’s fucked itself, but fucked us first.
3. NASA collaborates with other countries now, and the drone was Indian. What’s with the American Exceptionalism?
Answer: Look at Colorado, people. How do you think India, Russia, and Japan are doing in that world? Also, American moviemakes just can’t help themselves; even Exodus was American Exceptionalism.
4. Why was Cooper willing to drive over his crop and make us sit in the theater for 10 additional minutes to hack-jack a drone?
Answer: I have no fucking idea. Neither he, Murph, nor his dumb redneck kid used either the drone or the hacking skills again. I guess maybe to show us what a badass on-the-fly engineer he is? Still lame.
5. Where was NASA getting the money to have the Secret Underground Lair staffed by hundreds?
Answer: Michael Caine’s residuals from Jaws 3-D? Dunno but I file this one under “giving the movie its premise.”
6. Why was Brand so hellbent on getting Miller’s data? Wasn’t it pretty obvious what happened? Also, why did Doyle, who was a lot closer to the ship than Brand, just stand there like a dumbass with his mouth open?
Answer: The real question is, why wasn’t he wearing a red shirt over his suit?
OK, I think that’s it for the outstanding questions before the first bathroom break. The ones between that and the second bathroom break are “Because Surprise Matt Damon is batshit crazy, that’s why.”
Third Act time.
What was the stuff that Cooper hit going into the singularity? How did he survive outside of his spaceship once it came apart around him? How did TARS survive? How was TARS talking to him? Why did he have to resort to pushing books and dust around to communicate? How did he survive in space for 100 years (or so)? When he woke up in the hospital, why wasn’t he hooked up to anything? How could he walk so quickly? Why did his daughter spend the last two years of her life in cryosleep to come visit him only to tell him to get lost? When the storied patriarch of the family enters the hospital room, why does no one look at him? If all his descendants were on Cooper Station, why had no one come to see their famous grandpa? Why did the kid have him move into a museum? Why did the museum still have glass bottles of corn beer? How the heck was TARS there? How does someone steal and launch a ship off of a spacestation without alerting anyone? (I mean seriously, if there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that space stations are designed to not let doors open into space without comment).
When you have this many questions, you need to start looking for an unreliable narrator.
In this case, the unreliability comes from us viewers not being able to think beyond 4 dimensions. We all live in 4 dimensions and are 4-dimensional beings, but we can only manipulate the 3 dimensions below us. We don’t have access to the past or the future.
However, if we were 5-dimensional beings, we would be able to manipulate the 4 lower dimensions to include time. That’s a tesseract and that’s what was so well visualized in the film after Cooper’s spaceship comes apart around him and he’s in the singularity. At that point, Cooper has levelled up. He’s now a resident of 5 dimensions (at least). He constructs the tesseract, but a tesseract can only navigate time, not space, so in order to talk to Murph he has to pick a place that she’s likely to be frequently and of course since he already had done it, he does it and selects her room. He really is a ghost.
But he still can’t communicate because neither willpower nor sound can cross dimensions, only gravity can. He can act on things that are 3D, just like you and I can interact with things that are 2D, so he does that in ways that will cast a gravity shadow or gravity effect across spacetime.
He’s panicked at first, so he says “STAY!!!” but then he figures it out and realizes that he needs to get Cooper and Murph to NORAD, because he did, and that’s how humanity starts the evolution into higher dimensions. Then he realizes he still needs the quantum data that TARS collected, so he accesses TARS, who was destroyed by the singularity but it also always in existence via it.
All done, he dissolves the tesseract and (probably creates the wormhole) and now, as a waveform rather than a 3D meatsack, shakes hands with Brand as the Endurance comes through.
He still conceptualizes himself as himself, though, so when Cooper Station arrives a moment later (for him), he builds a narrative interface to help himself meet Murph. The reason no one sees him is because he isn’t there. Murph didn’t come to Cooper Station to see him, she came to be with her family. He timed his manifestation to coincide with her arrival. There is no plan for him to live in the museum because he doesn’t exist in 3D. He’s not there.
However, it seems like he can interact with 3D things more effectively now than just dropping books. It’s possible he used gravity to move the Ranger he steals to Edmunds’ World for use by Brand. Otherwise I don’t know why it was missing…but whatever the reason, Waveform Cooper didn’t have to open a launch port to take it.
I still can’t figure out why he or someone else would have caused the gravitational anomaly that caused his crash earlier in his life, but maybe that was him or Brand or another of the evolved Them doing it so that he’d be around to raise Murph.
In my narrative, Doyle stops and stares because Waveform Cooper is adjusting spacetime and gravity around him and uplifting Doyle or transferring him away from that danger to go be useful on Edmunds’ World. We only see his suit later, floating on the water – he might not be in it.
Likewise, Dr. Batshit Mann didn’t have his bot rigged to blow up the pod, Waveform Cooper does it cover the fact that he’s moved Bromley Across the 8th Dimension. I totally stole this from Michael Crichton’s Airframe. Or Timeline. Or Airline. Or Timeframe.
But still…Cooper Cooper?
I’ve lived in a lot of countries, most less developed than the US. I’ve worked for the US government, I’ve always assumed that US corporations had better technology and smarter processes than either the USG or developing countries. I was wrong. There’s a set of commercial, for-profit companies that are still functioning (and I use that term loosely) like it’s 1992.
My husband, who lives in Venezuela, decided to ship our cat to me. He used a pet expediter there, called VENEPET, to handle all the paperwork and get her on the plane. She went Caracas -> Houston -> Dulles. When we took her with us to Venezuela, she missed the connection in Miami (which is a whole other story) so I used the http://www.unitedcargo.com website to make sure she was on the flight before my son and I headed out to Dulles.
While the tracking part is good, there are about 15 places you can pick up cargo at Dulles, and without already knowing which one, or speaking the lingo enough to navigate the website, it’s hard to figure out where to go. I thought that would be the worst part. I was wrong.
With the help of Google Maps on my phone, we found the right building (even though I had the address, it’s not like they mark the buildings…and when they do it’s a transposition code: “Building 5” on the address is labelled “Building E.” But I’d allowed plenty of time, so we got there 10 minutes before the cat did.
And then we stayed there for hours.
The cat was in good shape, but they couldn’t release her to me because the paperwork that was attached to her cage was the wrong paperwork. I had the airbill number so I could prove it was wrong, but the fact that it was for a dog going to Edinburgh, Scotland, was the first clue.
It seems that the United Cargo folks in Houston had tried to clear her through customs there, but hadn’t been able to, resulting in a hold being put on her because her claimer (me) wasn’t there. When that happened, they gave up and put the paperwork back on and put her on the plane. Except they put the wrong paperwork on.
I hope they just switched it with the Scottish dog, because that will limit the pain to two animals…otherwise United is having major problems.
The folks at the United Cargo office in Dulles were incredibly apologetic, embarrassed, and as helpful as possible. They contacted Houston and tried to get them to fax the paperwork. FAX.
I asked why United wasn’t putting barcodes on the cages and scanning those, or better, QR codes. I pointed out that the cat has a microchip in her (required by Schengen) that could also hold all this info, so you could scan the animal also. In response, the counter guy pointed at their DOT MATRIX printer, the same model I bought back in 1992.
- Houston employees did not understand how customs works.
- Houston and Dulles had no way to communicate, let alone communicate in advance, within their cargo systems.
- When the system has a problem, there is no remedy plan.
- The system is based on paper.
Eventually, taking pity on me and my young son, the team lead said that we should go home. We wouldn’t be able to clear her through customs that night anyway (I’m not sure about this, I think they work 24/7), and they would put her up in the Pet Resort overnight and work all night to get the right paperwork from Houston. I got phone numbers and left.
The next morning, I called United Cargo. The team lead on duty had no idea what I was talking about. I summarized, he had the same OMGWTF reaction (but professionally moderated) as last night’s guy, so I let him get to it and called the Pet Resort to check on the cat.
She wasn’t there.
They told me that they hadn’t been able to accept her since she didn’t have medical records, which of course made perfect sense now that I wasn’t exhausted. I thanked her and called United Cargo back, and got an answering machine.
My son and I, instead of doing any of the things we’d planned to do with our July 4th, got dressed and headed for Dulles, prepared to camp out all day and do whatever it took to find our cat.
When we got there, everyone was aware of the situation. They had moved her to a big kennel in the manager’s office, where she’d spent the night. She had food and water and a litterbox, and was doing fine, although glad to see me again.
But they still didn’t have the right paperwork.
At this point, my husband called to tell me he was in Miami. I filled him in, and when he stopped swearing, he forwarded me all the info from VENEPET. Within 30 minutes I had all of the cat’s documentation, including the export control approval from Caracas when they loaded her.
But it was on my phone, and I had no way to give it to United. I could show them on my phone, but I couldn’t email them or get them into the system…for all that they rely on paper, they don’t scan the documents into the computer, which seems like obvious old tech to me. Instead it’s some sort of 1980s proprietary system where people have to manually enter data into fields. I couldn’t even send the docs from the phone to their printer, even the laser one they also had.
Let’s recap again. In 30 minutes, I’d been able to get the needed information ON MY PHONE from ANOTHER COUNTRY, but United couldn’t get it from within their own business within 18 hours. (Or ever, as far as I know).
My son hung out with the various dogs that were arriving and waiting for their people, which they were glad for. I wrote and drew. Time passed. Eventually documents arrived (yes, via fax…I mean, seriously?)…but the cargo crew was unsure that they were for my cat, and couldn’t tell because they were in Spanish. So they asked me to translate them, which I did. I’m kind of surprised that the crew in Houston doesn’t include Spanish speakers, but I guess it doesn’t – they documents they sent were for some other cat belonging to some other person that had been shipped out of Caracas and to Houston (but not to Dulles) back in mid-June.
I headed back outside to talk to my husband again, and the team lead, who swore that this had gone all the way up to United HQS. My son was getting very nervous. I pointed out that the cat was fine, and reassured him. After all, I’ve dealt with crazy bureaucracy all over the world, in the most Type S of situations. Once people realize that they’ve hit the end of what their three-ring-binder system can do, they will start thinking creatively. It just takes a lot of time. They will realize that they can’t keep the cat forever, and they can’t destroy it. They will realize they are going to release it to me, they just have to figure out how. And then, like everyone else trapped in a really stupid, overly prescriptive hierarchical structure that’s poorly resourced in terms of both diverse personality types and technology, they will learn that the only way is to work around the system.
Thus, they eventually sent me to Customs with my airbill (which they could print out), all the faxed documentation for the wrong cat, and my phone.
The Customs agent was able to explain to me why Houston had tried to clear the cat, and why they’d failed, and he was able to remove the hold. The cargo folks had sent me with the paperwork for the wrong cat because it was somehow important that Customs physically rubber-stamp them. Because this is the Soviet Union circa 1985. Of course the Customs agent refused to do this, but he did check my real docs on my phone. (I should have brought my iPad, clearly).
I paid for parking and returned to Cargo (why aren’t Cargo and Customs co-located?) with my non-stamped yet cleared and approved papers. They took them, and then everyone sort of stalled out.
“So that’s it,” I said. “You can release the cat to me now.”
They brightened, visibly relieved. I got the cat and my son into the car and got out of there.
And that, dear readers, is why the airlines are failing. The only difference between this experience and doing anything in Communist Russia was that I couldn’t bribe anyone to get to success faster.
This was my quasi-work blog, where I focused on virtual identity in its various roles, but I’ve decided to split my blogging more effectively between personal/creative and professional/analytic, and this space wins the personal/creative gig.
With that in mind, I can’t really predict what you are going to find here. I’m going to move some of my old personal posts and life-logs here, and there will probably be some fiction (flash and otherwise) and some aggregating of what I call “the amusing and questionable” from around the internets.
I’m also going to move the identity stuff out to the other blog, but I’ll try to leave a trail of breadcrumbs when I do that in case anyone cares to follow.
I’m sure this big list will be just as accurate and efficient as any previous iteration.
Homeland Security plans to operate a massive new database of names, photos, birthdays and biometrics called Watchlist Service, duplicated from the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database which has proven not to be accurate many times in the past. DHS wants to exempt the Watchlist Service from Privacy Act provisions, meaning you will never know if you are wrongfully listed. Privacy groups worried about inaccurate info and mission creep have filed a protest, arguing the Privacy Act says DHS must notify subject of government surveillance.