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Notch, of Minecraft Fame, recently wrote a sober blog entry about the reality of digital piracy. In it he reminded us that piracy can act as a form of advertisement, either directly, when the person who took the software decides to support the copyright owner, or indirectly, when more honest people hear about the benefits of the software through the person that took it, and buy copies of their own. The full blog entry is here.

He also states that he would, of course, prefer people to buy his work and support it, because the more money he gets the more likely he will be able to develop more software, but at the same time, the reality of digital copying is such that direct copyright enforcement takes a lot of resources, more than a little company like his could handle.

A potential solution to this popped into my mind. I'll call it a Single Release Bidder Auction, for lack of a better term.

Let me know how it sounds:

The developer of a digital product says that on a certain date, they will release their product if they receive a significant amount of pre-orders. These pre-orders are held in state until the product is released, and is otherwise refunded should the release date not be met. The product is released when the developer decides it will be released, and they use a system similar to eBay to make it work.

In eBay, there is a minimum bid setting which allows the seller to wait until they get a bid that suits them. They can at any time pull the product from the market, even if this minimum bid is met, to their own detriment in reputation and sales. They also need not state the minimum bid amount, if I recall correctly, and this system could be used for my copyright protection idea, only instead of being an amount of money, it would be an amount of bidders.

This private or public number of bidders would be set by the developer, the sale would be announced, marketing would be up to the developer. They could market a lesser version first, to test the market's interest, using this version as a gateway to the full version which will then be announced. This version, whether or not given license to be copied, WILL be copied if it's an interesting product. In a way, this acts as a form of viral advertising, where it lives or dies by the interest of the consumers who got it, legitimately or not.

Should this be the only release though, the developer still has the ability to alter the required bidder number up or down, so that they can push for a higher amount of bidders before they finally release the product.

Once the product is released, that's it. People who missed out may complain, and that will give the developer a chance to set up another pre-order, should they feel enough interest is there. Since setting these pre-orders wouldn't cost anything more than the encrypted service involved in distributing the software, the only risks are in not marketing enough, or not producing an interesting enough product in the first place.

Thus you will have a situation where you refuse to release a product that won't give you enough of a profit. The distribution model can then be changed, including allowing piecemeal purchases, should you want.

The logic behind all of this is to get as many people who want the product on board at once to help the creator to get the money they deserve and the incentive to make more games. If too many people assume they will pirate or legally copy the product and the product is not released, they might rethink their position should the product not be released.

The weaknesses I see in my idea are:

It is heavily dependent upon marketing, whatever form of marketing is used. The consumer community has to know about the benefits of the product and the quality of the developer's work beforehand. This likely has to be done through reputation-enhancing free products showing how well the developer performs, having a strong social network presence, and using digital media outlets to help get the word out.

A related issue is the natural human tendency to want to see the product in action before the decision is made to buy. In traditional piecemeal purchases, some of the more impulsive or faithful buyers will have the product first, and be able to give their evaluation of it. Reviewers, too, will often be given free copies to play and reflect upon. The latter need not be curtailed, though the potential for pirated copies is still there. There may be some apprehension against the product's developer, that they may be trying to release a poor-quality product without the chance for a proper review. Other than review copies, which the developer must guarantee is reasonably the same as the release copy, there could be tiers of releases, allowing those who are willing to pay the chance to use an earlier version of the product, with later products being promised.

The date of release has to be simultaneous, probably by emailing purchasers a key which they can use to get access to a download center. Bandwidth issues aside, this means that getting a pre-order in before the date is paramount. The developer must position the date in a reasonable, memorable way in order to get the maximum amount of response.

Finally, there's always the potential that the developer will under-shoot their product's popularity, with many people copying the original and using it after the initial release. Part of the remedy to this is by still offering a piecemeal sales program AFTER the initial pre-order release date, to help scoop up those folks who will pay for the product. The other is to enhance the current product and release it in a future Single Release Bidder Auction.

Naturally, I welcome any feedback on this idea.
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I wrote the snippet below in response to this blog entry by Roger Ebert:

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2010/10/your_new_age_and_mine.html

I think many skeptics lose currency with people who would readily understand where they were coming from because they often ignore exactly what you talk about, the *desire* for an afterlife. The desire to be saved, to belong, to be loved.

We have been worn out by the bitterness and the cynical attempts to gain members and money by so many religious groups that many of us commit the fallacy of assuming that all religion everywhere is equally as onerous.

We all have these quirks within us, these blind spots, which we need others to help us see. But if we preach to others, people look at this as an assumption on our part that we don't have these blind spots.

I've seen many skeptics merely turn a belief in the irrational into a belief in the rational, and are blind to fallacies inherent in sources they trust simply because science allows a smaller degree of error. But there's corruption, even in the institutions that camp around the ideal of science, just as there are many such religious pup-tents charging admission around the emotions of stability and understanding.

Personal beliefs should be inviolate, as long as they don't affect others in any detrimental way. There is beauty in the irrational, in the fictional, in the mythical. It's an indirect beauty, to use rationalist speech it is an illusion, but some of us need illusions to stay sane.

To those who need no illusions, that is a great thing. I'd tell them not to assume that belief is necessarily entangled directly in the rational, in the reality that we all share, any more than each individual's mind is directly entangled in the minds of others (as you say, Roger, that would lead to madness). A heartfelt belief in the afterlife doesn't mean it's literally there, even if it feels as though it is. That belief is, in a sense, an act of creation within the self, whether or not they believe it is literally there as well.

The literal belief is self-evident, and the questioning of that is usually not why people get into arguments. It's the assault on one's inner beliefs that really hurt, the personal attack that makes people feel cornered. Skeptics have endured this since such independent-mindedness first began, and they still do endure it, which is why I tolerate them more than I do zealous believers.

Still, I think the structure of the mind is too complex for us to commit to total war on everyone's mind. Whether rational or irrational, a victory over one's inner mind is merely a destruction of someone's carefully crafted inner world.

We're all working toward something better through memetic evolution, I believe. Most of us are decent people deep down, I believe. Many people think these ideas are irrational. I hope they're not, but hope is all we have while science is still hard at work trying to make such ideas testable and concrete.
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Google Scribe of this article with a FREE trial to HighBeam Research for more news and information about the company or individual to complete your purchase within the law and the exemption for fair use of copyright material in the manner specified by the author or licensor of the software and hardware is required for the formation of the first and second ends of the earth and the sun is shining and the sky is completly gray and white mat Glazed wit a mission to find the best deals and bargains anywhere from Australian online stores that deliver to Sydney and Regional New South Wales Government Site of Broome County Office Building Auditorium beginning at 7 p.m. at the funeral home to verify time and location of the property of the respective owners of the domain name you entered is not in the same way as the first step to doing all this and more on Facebook in the album named after the famous TV show in the next few years ago...



OK, I had to give up at this point. Note that it misspelled "completely." Just went to Google Scribe, wrote ["This tool is absurd. ] Google Scribe["], then let it autocomplete the rest with the first suggestion it gave me. May have made a mistake or two in there, because I was too busy laughing to pay full attention after a while.

I love how it gets poetic there for a bit with its talk of sun and sky, before sinking back into business gibberish.
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Transhumanism offers us a framework with which we can discuss the changes which will the gateway to new opportunities for humanity. I also feel, though, that it's difficult for a species on the ascent to even know in which direction to go, such that the way is muddled, and our beliefs, often stridently believed yet narrow in scope, can actually limit us, possibly permanently.

When I think about those who are willfully ignorant, who choose to learn through dogma and refuse to transcend and reorder their world when new information destroys old concepts, I wonder if this very attitude is dangerous to the potential of Transhumanism.

What if a group professes to get rid of doubt, say, in God. That the faith center of the brain is truly isolated, and the doubt center which relates to this can be re-ordered to eliminate worries about the existence of God. Some may want to reform themselves, to end the torture they feel. Expand this idea to encompass any ideology, which those who undergo the change may feel is simply safeguarding the truth they already know exists.

This is far-fetched, but simply repackage these changes as something else. Say that this is a removal of mental illness, instead.

It's very easy to be a doomsayer about the future, and I believe in the potential of the future for humanity should we take the tools we are developing and enhance them, but at the same time I wonder if humanity should somehow safeguard the potential diversity of Transhumanism against the reckless disregard for the possibilities that a currently controversial mode of thought could eventually reveal.

While the focus is rightly on Existential Risk, I wonder if there will be a way to maintain openness to human potential which will not exclude certain avenues which are currently out of fashion. As an analogy, I'm reminded of those scraps of Christian texts that were found in garbage heaps, which provide glimpses to potential Christianities that may have become dominant, but which are now all but unknown.

Should we record everything? The act of recording changes that which is being recorded; it's not only true in particle physics. It seems, though, that our own self-awareness is perhaps one our greatest limiters, because we seem too busy shoring up our defenses from the change we can see coming so much more readily now. It's almost as if technology preceded us, and now limits our own genetic imagination.

When one talks about the ennui and unhappiness that modern man experiences, I'm also reminded that we tend to make our problems expand to fit the space they're given. On Twitter I see people complain adamantly about minor problems, while major problems, not the least of which is Death, are so far outside our scope as to be not worth mentioning.

If being given direction by leaders is the answer to this, history seems to show that most leaders are simply good at being chosen to lead, that beyond this, at least in large numbers, such leader-follower relationships are volatile, even within an electorate system.

So I wonder if the movement must come from within, that we each, in our own way, must find the changes we want to make in ourselves, and make them once Transhumanism provides us with them. It would be a selection process, trial and error, which, like with trying medicines to see if they work with a particular patient, will be the real key to our artificial evolution.

This prompts me to worry, then, about the choices being made for us, again, this time through advertising and cultural influences, where commercial interests are disproportionate to the actual value a given modification can give us.

I wonder if broad, sweeping changes are a product of dictators and demagogues, preferably an anachronism. That the real revolution in human existence will come as we modify ourselves, using the wisdom that time and mistakes give us. Like natural evolution, artificial evolution may have to be spontaneous.

The old paradox, then, is how can we, as a species, learn self-direction, when that in itself is a sweeping change?
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Forgotten Bookmarks is an excellent found-object website specializing in strange artifacts found nestled in old books procured by used bookstore in New York. Recently they asked if there were any contributors willing to put a story to one of these objects for a new feature. I responded, and my story was the first to be shown. Read it here:

http://www.forgottenbookmarks.com/2010/07/as-ever.html

In Othernews, I've discovered Crowdspring, a home for freelancers. Hoping to make that my byline link in the future. Here's my bare-bones page so far:

http://www.crowdspring.com/user/Strange_Bundle/
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The Fountainhead has people as ideological squawk-boxes who spout arch, self-conscious dialog in an attempt to educate the audience, who likely already believes in what it's preaching or will be turned off by its shrill, monotonic delivery and one-dimensional characters.

The core sentiment is surprisingly sympathetic, that those who create should be allowed to follow their visions and not be hampered by the "mob", but it manages to beach itself with clunky lines best left on the page, and wooden acting from people who seem unsure what to do with the material other than emit it like a PA system, not to mention truly awkward love scenes (if anyone in my life from this day forward says "I wish I never saw your building!" I doubt I'll be able to keep my composure).

The philosophy seems a bit muddled too, often both touting the individual's ability to make up one's own mind about one's future, but at the same time lecturing you that certain drives are distinctly not worthy of such free-thinkers, never mind their personal wishes or drives.

But these contradictions somehow make this flawed film feel more human. Instead of the human beings in the film being multi-dimensional (as you might find in The Passion of Ayn Rand), you can glimpse what feels like the filmic product of a totalitarian state, chasing after its ideals, while tripping up in the process. Given that Ayn Rand wrote the screenplay and pushed her vision forward with an iron resolution, studio or flesh-and-blood dialog be damned, it could almost be seen as a reflection of Ayn's own creative drive, for good or ill.

It's just too bad that, in the end, the poverty of humanity winds up robbing the film of any lasting sentiment unless you dig, although it's still worth noting for its unconventional insight, it's unintentionally humorous and ghastly love affair between principles (and real-life lovers) Neal and Cooper, and compared to its source material, its relative brevity.
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People who are bothered by the revelations in behavioral science seem to think it's a war against the ideals they believe in. If we choose not to ignore the influx of knowledge that science gives us, while still being as skeptical as science demands, we find that the sacred can easily be cast down into the dirt as anachronistic.

Yet science is very unskilled at providing the big picture, as much as we want it to guide us in everything. We've been trying to come up with big pictures since we tried much of anything, and while some theories have fallen away, it's no use assuming they all will. Take love, for example.

Behavioral studies suggest that we may have developed our behaviors, from as simple as hugging to as complex as mating rituals, to help solidify our relationships, especially with the person that will help us propagate. We make families, or at least mate, to strengthen our bond and make more people similar to us, whom we identify with and ideally want to protect and foster growth in.

It all sounds pretty dry, but these are the roots. If you're holding someone you love, that's the sum of it, the entire rosebush, with its pleasantness, hope, warmth, and time-stands-still-against-decay feelings that do not go away just because discoveries tell us WHY these feelings are there.

You don't trim all the roses off a rosebush, or plow it into the ground, just because it doesn't look right. You trim off the edges that don't fit anymore, sure, but the entire structure --our concepts of love and companionship if you like-- are only diminished if we MAKE them diminished.

Love is the sum of our genetics, instincts, beliefs, and cultural influences. While we may find some day that it has mundane roots, we have to remember that everything comes from small, simpler components. Knowing about atoms, for example, doesn't ruin our enjoyment of an ice cream sandwich or a mountain vista. To me it only can enhance beauty if you know that, from plain beginnings, so much complexity and diversity can emerge.
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One Could Do Worse

The house tipped eastward this time, giving Ben and Rudi a stomach-churning view of the wave-battered cliffs a quarter mile down. Still, they argued.

"It's your turn to stay in the den!" he said, pointing at her as the steak knives he'd laid out to dry on the kitchen counter skittered toward the back door, crashing into the corner as if thrown by a poltergeist.

"I'm not going to bother! All YOUR stuff is in there! You think I want to spend ten hours, a day even, in there with your junk sloshing around until the house calms down?"

The house tipped further toward the cliffs in its nefarious bid to aggravate their fight, floor boards creaking like an upset stomach. Rudi gripped the table that they'd sensibly bolted down just before this latest imbalance, while Ben had to fall to his butt to avoid launching through the picture window into the rocks below.

She could still imagine him in his ill-fitting tuxedo, arguing with the bridesmaids about their drunkenness because she didn't have the heart to. His veneer had broken since then, and she'd begun to realize that this house contained them, and all the stuff he'd collected over the years, more than it housed them. Two months after that tux was wrapped in plastic, and they were already at each other's throats like her parents had been. Kismet is real, she thought; it's in the genes.

"Fine," she said.

"What?" he said.

"I'll go and sit in that dank little room if it'll help our house from going topsy-turvy, but hook up the DVD player so I have something to do. I want to watch something instead of reading your stupid books."

"What do you want to see?" His sudden relief at her acquiescence seemed to make the house tip back a bit towards stability. He chose to ignore her comment about the books.

"Something that reminds me of our marriage. Something French."

"Aw, like what?" He could still imagine her in the simple outfit she wore on their first movie date. After years of dating people he had convinced himself were right for him, people who were exceedingly well groomed as mom liked to say, Rudi was down-to-earth, low maintenance, a bolt from the blue in blue jeans, who still loved to watch something more adventurous than the same old popcorn fare.

Already sure he'd get the point, and pretty sure she'd gain some currency for the next time they faced working together or plummeting to their deaths, she pretended to mull it over as she crawled up the steep incline to the den. As the house creaked slowly back into position, she called out, "I'm thinking I'll watch Delicatessen."
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Roger Ebert's latest post here. My personal response, below:


I don't think I've read anyone else who writes on the web who has been any more gracious than you have, or generous with the variety of topics you've raised, projected more earnestness when discussing them. This post is just another example and I'm really glad I followed you here back when you started this blog.

I took the position in this debate, at least internally, that it difficult to defend your supposition as an all-time truth, and here you come right out and say it, yourself.

To me there's malleability in any artform. I find myself reacting differently to books I'd read before-- that I choose, in a sense, to feel about a passage differently, or my life had driven me to different conclusions based on the path I had lead. Some of the fine art I've enjoyed the most has been when the artist has included hidden, little things that someone just walking by would never have noticed. Like Icarus plummeting to Earth in the far background in Renaissance paintings, or a local artist placing at the center of a great paper cylinder the image of a person staring back up at you, but you only notice him if you take the time to actually look straight down into the sculpture.

So to me a work that tries for inevitable conclusion is only one type of art, even though many games are criticized for being too "linear," that is, driving the player in a single direction. Yet games with great stories wind up emulating the fields of human expression that preceded them, especially movies.

I'm gratified that you've played Chronicles of Kyoto, and glad you enjoyed it. I'd say that a lot of the older games tended to have a much greater potential for the sorts of revelations in Kyoto because they were still experimenting with how to tell stories and how to interact with the player.

Now, there are many patterns that games often fall into to be salable, and much of what's popular out there is based on testing one's dexterity. Shadow of the Colossus, for all its beauty and its crushing emotional content, getting far in SoC has a lot to do with how dexterous the player is.

Movie-going has an advantage in this sense, that the requirements for entry are much lower than they are for most games, but you are still rewarded for bringing insight and interest in a way many games do not. Familiarity with the language of cinema enriches a movie-going experience, but familiarity with the language of gaming, and the conventions of using controls, are the difference between experiencing the game and being completely left behind.

I guess that's why, when I wrote a personal letter to you many years ago (as apparently many did) suggesting games, I picked things that didn't require understanding of these admittedly niche gaming conventions, like Adam Cadre's short work Phototopia, a text-based game that, despite what games are famous for, leads you toward a conclusion. Perhaps it wouldn't even qualify as a game for some people (some suggest the term Interactive Entertainment for things like this, but to me most entertainment is somehow interactive for the viewer).

Another I discovered later, and would have recommended to you had it existed at the time, would have been Sam Barlow's Aisle, which is sort of the conceptual antithesis of Photopia, encouraging experimentation and showing all the potential of a moment.

Jason Rohrer's Passage, though it requires movement and a certain understanding of the language of video games, combines exploration with inevitability in a beautiful and painful way.

Brenda Brathwaite's Train isn't even electronic, but its involvement of the players in its mechanisms has peers.

All of these games are engaging, but don't require one to have the strange dexterity that many gamers take for granted. The fiddly control demands of many games bar a lot of people from getting very far without spending a long time studying how to do it and training their muscles and nerves to respond in new ways.

Many of us, including myself, have been playing games since we were barely able to talk. It's hard for many of us to imagine having any trouble with this sign language of sorts, but when Shadow of the Colossus is not merely presented as an example of the wonder that video games can cause, but also as an entryway for those who admit they haven't played many games, I think people seriously need to analyze what message they're trying to convey.

(Personally, I never played the game, but instead watched Shadow of the Colossus be played by someone else, in its entirety, and I feel it lost very little impact from it being watched instead of played. It wasn't so much a movie, then, as it was performance art. That often is what games seem to approach, in a sense, if you've ever seen videos online of people proud of their ability to run through an entire game without their character being hurt. It still requires, though, a level of understanding of the language of games to know what's going on, unlike watching dancers or hearing a symphony perform).

To be honest, despite the passions these sorts of debates raise in me, I'm saddened to read the exhaustion in your words, and hope that this experience hasn't been too overwhelming. I'd rather hear you give an opinion I didn't agree with than to see you give up.

The part of this tumult you saw was a wave of comments portraying users' love of the medium, but what you didn't see, what I've had a glimpse of, is that you also inspired many people to meet the challenge your statements with actual works made specifically to address the concerns you and others bring up about games. In having inspired many people in this industry to re-assess their work and to make it grow beyond the boundaries of the acceptable, you may have given the next generation of designers a huge boon.

Perhaps the medium doesn't yet truly reach that goal, but I believe it might some day. Whether or not it does, it's discussions like these that help keep people testing their theories and moving forward toward greater understanding of their own medium and of art as a whole. I hope this provides you with some measure of satisfaction.

Thank you.
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The website Formspring.Me allows you to pose anonymous (or account-linked) questions to people participating. You submit a question (or comment) within a certain character limit, and then the person responds, if they choose to. I imagine this opens things up to all kinds of abusive behavior, but the brilliant part of this, is it's a comment page that's UNDER CONTROL. The user gets to choose which gets put out there, and the commenter/questioner gets to see the response. It's not a place to blow your own horn, but to genuinely connect with that other person in ways that Twitter promises to do, but is way too anarchic to accomplish. It's too bad more people aren't participating in this, because I think I found my new favorite internet doodad.

I decided to ask an editor of a games magazine the kinds of questions I'd always wanted to ask someone who earns a living thinking about video games, but for various reasons felt cut off from them by the block-of-text email, the tiny character count of twitter, or the utter anarchy of forums and comments.

Then, I thought, why not organize my efforts in some sort of meaningful way? This freedom of display allows the answers someone wants to be out there be public, and because they're answered whenever the answerer wants, they are somehow less of a drain on someone's free time, and it allows them to consider the questions individually rather than as a coherent whole. (I'm pretty sure this won't come off as very coherent, given the lack of a thread between my questions, but there you have it.)

What follows are the often poorly phrased questions I asked, in the order I asked them, and her responses. Consider this me taking credit for the questions I asked, if nothing else. Enjoy the randomness:


Are mature romances ever going to be possible to implement or market in video gaming?

Ever? Yes. Any time soon? No, probably not. At least not in the puritanical U.S. Also, for romance and/or sex to be convincing, we need to have games that can create fully-realized characters and conquer the uncanny valley. We're not quite there yet.


Are adventure games going to be stuck in their niche, or are they going to have a new breakthrough with games like Heavy Rain getting a lot of support?

I think that ye olde point-and-clicke is a thing of the past, though rare gems will still come out. I think the adventure game concept, its spirit, if you will, will see a rebirth. I think that something like Natal could open up high-concept gameplay options to people who aren't interesting in futzing about with controllers. People who, say, would really love to play an interactive murder mystery, but don't want to remember what button does what.


What's it like, answering anonymous questions without any chance for follow up conversation? :)

A bit frustrating, really. :) I really love talking about gaming with people who get it.


It seems like it's pretty easy to disregard a game if the translation is wonky. Have you encountered any games where the poor translation actually made it more charming?

Radiant Silvergun. Odd choice, I know, given that it's a shmup and has very little text, but its final advice to you - "Be Praying, Be Praying, Be Praying" - always makes me smile.


Whether or not they had good translations, any game from Eastern Europe really stand out for you in the past, I dunno, decade or so?

Can't say I'm well enough versed in them to have an opinion, really.


ME2 felt good in a lot of ways, but I felt like the scope was downright claustrophobic this time through. Rather than do more worldbuilding, it felt almost like a side story. Or was this tighter structure only an advantage?

I think the claustrophobia - though I wouldn't categorize it as such - helped add to the feeling of impending doom. This is very much NOT a situation where you can automatically assume that everyone is going to have a happy ending, and I think the limited scope added to that sensation. You are very clearly on a mission of great urgency and importance...no time for sight seeing just for kicks and giggles. Everything you do in ME2 has a very good reason behind it, which makes it feel more true to the actual story of the game. Take, in contrast, something like Oblivion, where you're supposedly saving the world from impending invasion of demons, but hey, you can take some time to help this farmer solve his fish problem, right?


"Kicks and giggles" is SO nice an alternative phrase than its standard form. Thanks SO much for using that! :) Sorry, that wasn't a question.

I do what I can. :)


I keep imagining there being a breaking point with these silly scare-tactic news reports about the evils of video games as though they're from some other planet. Is there more of acceptance now? Or do we still have a long way to go?

We're getting there. The news will stop using games as the boogeyman as soon as those kinds of reports stop getting ratings. The more people who play games, the fewer are going to react when some newswank tells them that playing makes you a killer. So all those so-called "casual gamers" who are "ruining" the industry, they're the ones who are eventually going to make this nonsense go away. Games that make big mainstream splashes, like Modern Warfare 2 will help, too. If someone sees their boyfriend or husband (or girlfriend or wife) playing it, then sees something about it on the news, they then have context for the news report. "I've seen that game, and it's not like that," they might realize.

So there's more acceptance, but yeah, we still have a ways to go. Heck, they still like to blame movies and books for people's bad behavior, and they've been around far longer than games.


Isn't DLC sort of like micropayments already[...]? You pay an initial cost for a verifiable product, but then you can add some things, whether it's horse armor or something more substantial. How different are these two models, practically speaking?

The differences boil down to perception of value. I might see more value in paying five dollars for something that lasts five hours than one dollar for something that lasts one, though mathematically it's the same thing. Keep in mind, people are still bitching about *free* DLC that's available the day the game is released. "Why wasn't it included in the game?" they demand.


Game mechanics themselves are hard, if not impossible, to copyright, but it somehow still feels hollow when you basically try to clone or nearly copy a successful formula. When is an "homage" just plain copying?

Wow, that's a tough question. I think it's like art...you don't know how to define it, but you know it when you see it. Take something like Dante's Inferno. Is that an homage? Oh, hell, no, it's a straight up copy. But it's also (at least from what I've played) a very well done copy, and there's value in that. Not every game can be innovative - nor does it have to in order to be a satisfying and worthwhile experience. I think where it falls apart is when the copying is sloppy, half-assed, and there's clearly no thought being given to making the game satisfying.

Homages, to my mind, anyway, use a particular mechanic or aesthetic as a foundation or starting point for their idea, then go from there. So the inspiration is obvious, but there's more substance to be had than just the source.


Could dialogue trees actually constitute an entire game, or will people always want some sort of obvious puzzle or action sequence to justify dialogue? How complex would a dialogue tree game have to be before people accepted its "game"-ness, d'you think?

That would have to be one very, very intricate dialog tree. I think that it's theoretically possible to weave the problem solving - and that's really what games boil down to, is solving a bunch of problems - into the conversation. Let's say you have three criminals, and can only hold them at the police station for three hours. Once they're set free, they're in the wind, and you'll have no hope of solving the crime. You could (again, in theory) construct a game entirely based on conversational paths that leads you to determine the nature of the crime.

Thing is, dialog trees are so incredibly difficult to make feel organic. Have you ever played an adventure game where you get the option to ask about something you hadn't even heard of yet? Really breaks the flow of the narrative. The more options you give the players, the more paths you have to create. Very tricky stuff.

So, yeah, I think conversation could make an entire game, but we are waaaay far away from that working just yet.

Special thanks to the participant for her permission to use her answers
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I was reminded recently of the latest string of boycotts that had rippled through video game consumers in reaction to video game producers doing questionable things or allying themselves with questionable people. Folks decided not to buy Shadow Complex because the author behind the multimedia push for that game is an demagogue, others didn't like that Modern Warfare 2 was breaking precedent by going with a specific, dedicated server system rather than allowing users to create their own hubs, others regarded a sequel of the zombie shooter Left 4 Dead came too early and was heralding the end of promised support for a game that had only been around a year, and the recent revelations about poor working conditions for the team behind the upcoming Western game Red Dead Redemption had some ready to withhold their bucks for that already beleaguered game.

A lot of this may seem like gibberish to the uninitiated, but I guess the point isn't so much that this is about video games, I just happened to be paying attention that, but about the idea of the boycott in general.

A lot of people get irritated at the very idea, as if these people were otherwise required to buy these products. I'm betting a significant proportion of boycotters were already looking for an excuse not to buy, and this just clinched it, while people who were buying it anyway, or had already pre-ordered it, were prepared with justifications even if they agreed with the reasons behind a given boycott. That's human nature.

What I don't like is that we assume that the boycott in itself is wrong, or that boycotting for a certain reason is wrong, as if we have a moral imperative to buy things. We don't. Money is ours to do with as we like, at least according to some capitalism theory. In a sense, money is the new vote, because if you support a product or service, it's much more likely to flourish. I would say that even if you're doing it for the wrong reasons, when you boycott you are sending a signal to the producers of that product that they've lost your dollar. This is something that companies listen to far better than flaming some poor customer service rep. with an all-caps email.

There are a bunch of different triggers for boycotts, too, and while I don't believe in moral equivalency, I do think some have better founding than others. I won't say, though, that because some reasons are better than others that the poor reasons are somehow invalid just because they're weak. They're invalid if they're invalid.

Case by case:

1. The author behind the book that is part of the multimedia push for Shadow Complex is outspoken in his condemnation of the tolerance of a certain minority group. The people who actually made the game, for the most part, are silent about the controversy and their own views on the subject. The target of a boycott here is indirect, and since the game is generally regarded as a success, there are going to be a lot of people who will buy the game despite the controversy, ignorant of it, or even buying it because of the controversy (although that last one's a bit silly).

If you withhold the dollars you were going to spend, you reduce the developer's gross revenue, an undisclosed part of that going to the author, maybe, for licensing or whatever.

If you buy it, you support that company, whose game does not, as far as I know, profess any of the opinions the author has stated, either personally or in connection to the fiction he has written in conjunction with the game.

A better target might be not buying his books, since that's the author himself, but you have a right to spend your money how you like (within reason, of course), and no one is ordering you to buy the game, critically acclaimed or not.

2. The creators Modern Warfare 2, in a bid to increase reliability and decrease cheating, is chopping off what is apparently a small industry in private server hosting. They also have been fairly obvious in their attempts to grab headlines, not that they needed it. Modern Warfare 2 has been a huge hit, despite boycotts for both reasons.

If you withhold the dollars you were going to spend, you won't make enough of a dent to bring them down, whether you're targeting their server policy or their tasteless publicity grabs.

If you buy it, you support the ad policy (unfortunately ads are always a bit blurry when it comes to their affect on consumer behavior) as well as their choice for server setups. You also get what is, by many accounts, a good FPS with tons of players to play against.

A better target might be building up an competitor FPS. The more competition the game series has, the more they're going to have to woo you the next time around. Again, you have the right to spend your money how you want, and submitting to the bullying on either side of this strangely animated debate just shows you should spend more time realizing how powerful that 60 dollars could be in other contexts.

3. Left 4 Dead 2, the partnership-focused zombie shooter came only a year after its predecessor from Valve, a company notorious for taking a long time crafting its games. This quick turnaround alone had many people protesting, people who wanted Valve to continue its long-running Half Life franchise instead. Others didn't like the idea that the first Left 4 Dead was barely out of the gates, and that this new release promised to overshadow the old so quickly that the content that was promised as part of the original would be ignored in a drive to support its sequel.

If you withhold the dollars you were going to spend, the company that was willing to up its production cycle to meet the high demand for its game will have to scale back its speed. Maybe they'll get your message about not supporting Half Life, or maybe not. Likewise, they may not get the message that they're not supporting the first game. They may even think that the reason sales weren't as good as expected was because it was a bit too soon for another zombie game, no matter how good (please, god, let this be the reason).

If you buy it, they may very well skip over the old game if it succeeds well, or they may even have enough money to justify creating a new branch dedicated to concentrating on legacy properties while having others focused on the new stuff. Wild success sometimes, but not always, breeds enthusiasm on the part of the developers.

A better strategy might be how you deal with Valve from now on. If it turns out to be true that they don't plan on updating the original game, that they really are abandoning it for the sake of the new kid, you have pretty good grounds to tell them to fuck off. But remember that the cool stuff, the Half Lifes and the Portals in Valve, may get hit alongside the Left 4 Dead franchise.

4. Read Dead Revolver, the upcoming open-world Western shooter was revealed to have some taskmasters you'd expect from a stereotyped report on the conditions a salariman has to deal with. False production goals, mandatory overtime, and other questionable decisions. Some have suggested boycotting the game to send a message to the management that their poor treatment of their workers shouldn't be tolerated.

If you withhold the dollars you were going to spend, all the work those poor assholes DID put into the game will be ignored in a genre game that already won't appeal to a lot of people. Even their particular branch of Rockstar seems to have projected poor returns on a game that has already overrun the budget. The managers are much less likely to suffer than the workers, too, by a lack in revenue, unless someone more benevolent than its current head makes some serious changes.

If you buy it, you may be getting a revolutionary game that blows away open-world conventions, and your money MAY be perceived as exactly what the potential boycotters feared: a justification for their behavior. Although let's be honest for a second: the software world has very often been shit as far as overwork and unsung efforts. This goes all the way back to Atari's beginnings, and helped bring about the smaller developers that have managed to crush bigger companies, whether or not the bigger companies were nicer than their predecessors.

A better target might be this same group of people if they don't make a public attempt to change their policies, because getting those poor blokes their money on a project that even the bosses don't think will break even is the least you can do. Beyond that, boycott them if you don't like what they're doing.

--

I think boycotting is great, even if there was a bit of sarcasm in some of the above, because it's better than what I've seen a lot of in the past. People threatening to kill the developers of Heroes of Might and Magic because they tried to inject some science fiction into their strategy game (even though M&M was built on that sort of thing) need to be institutionalized if they're serious, and need to seriously rethink their sense of entitlement regardless.

This isn't the state making these games; these are companies. We don't pay taxes to them, we voluntarily give them money so they can entertain us. If we don't like what they're doing, no matter how dumb our reasons are, we speak clearest when we spend or money elsewhere (or save it-- that's something people keep forgetting to do). If we expect them to entertain us before we've paid, and get angry when they don't obey our wishes, in this age of comment boards we can voice our complaints and hope they hear us, but if we're bitches about it, if we threaten them, we'll get nowhere in the long run, even if they capitulate to our demands.

Because this is entertainment. The amount of energy we spent on trying to Save Farscape or spend voting in the next American Idol was spent on shit that mattered COULD go elsewhere, but it doesn't. Entertainment is obviously very important to us as a species. We need it. But it's still just entertainment, and in a way should be afforded the leeway that qualifier suggests.

We should also remember to afford boycotters that same respect. If they're being civil then they're doing the minimum that entertainment protesting deserves, no matter how dumb the reasons are. The debates are better when people point out where the flaws are, but beyond that, it's up to them to spend their money, and you most likely will NEVER KNOW what these internet people actually do. Just don't make the mistake in assuming anyone has to buy any damn thing. Again, this is entertainment. We're throwing bucks at these people so they'll dance for us, not making the world a better place. So if people want to hold off, for whatever reason, it's not the end of the damned world.

Ultimately, though, remember that companies, like individuals, also have a right to do pretty much what they want with the money they earn from their games. Don't pretend they're going to build an orphanage with parts of the proceeds, or support other games in their franchises, or get the message about their dumb ads or their petulant co-designers if you withhold the dough. Even if it is a vote, it's just about as mute as a political vote can be.
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The Chilean film Optical Illusions begins with brilliant absurdity, paying direct service to its title:

We start with a blurry image that never manages to focus, the viewpoint of a young man whose sight is restored after more than 30 years of blindness... sorta. That full focus never materializes, and so he is stuck with not being truly blind, and the ostricism he gets from his old friends, while not benefiting from sight, either.

The insurance company that helped fund that inadequate operation is facing financial ruin, and is forced to cut back on employees, while offering them 50% off for plastic surgery as a way of fleecing their own people for extra cash. One of the morose employees we meet finds herself overseeing what will eventually become a halfway house for those on the way to being fired, euphemistically called Outplacement Services.

Her brother finds a job as a security guard in a mall, which is joyfully laid back. Armed with a toy gun, he surveys shoppers until he comes across what seems to be a shoplifter, a woman who will eventually have him fixing her pipes in her miniature mansion.

We get to follow an executive who, naturally because he has a conscience, is one of the people now stuck in out-placement. He is a Jew by blood but not by creed, although his son is eager to recapture the faith of his ancestors, even to the point of chatting with a rabbi in New York over the internet.

These people further interlace through intermediary characters, and there is genuine mirth for the first hour or so as one optical illusion after another passes before our eyes as if in a collage: the ink blot during the security guard's interview and his standard-issue toy pistol, the pretense of affection characters have for another, the seeming nakedness of someone who is shown to be partly clothed once an obstructing head moves out of view, the new ad campaign that hopes to revitalize the failing company (which is based on a lie). All of these and more that I either don't want to spoil or can't remember come parading past you, and it's fun to find them all.

The isolation the characters feel, too, is almost palpable; they seem tortured by their own unmet desires for beauty, attention, love, and sight, and life seems to have punished them for daring to try to meet these desires. But past the hour mark things seem to grind to a halt. We've left some characters alone for far too long, and some of them never get the play they should have to make them truly impact the story. Their zombie-like following of their desires suddenly falls flat when the movie seems to shrug and says "well, there you have it!", never quite rewarding us for our time spent during the building of all these interesting personas.

The last shot lasts only a few seconds, then the credits roll, as if there was a mistake in editing, but it's endemic of my problem with the film: such a strong beginning demanded much more than a final act which is the last gulp of air finally seeping from a once gloriously ostentatious balloon.

If you're willing to be let down by the final act's freely spinning wheels, you will at least be rewarded with some cleverness early on. Otherwise, be warned that the saddest illusion of this film is the same early cleverness.


Since the trailer shouldn't truly affect someone's impression of the film it advertises for, I'll include a comment about it in a postscript:

The title of this movie is doubly apt because the trailer for this film is an illusion, making you feel like it's some 4th wall breaking sudamericano Wes Anderson at work, when it really is there to sell the movie. There are still strange, isolating shots that are funny and interesting to look at, but they often have little payoff, despite the sharpness of the trailer's editing. This trailer obeys my personal rule about trailers, which is that a bad trailer usually warns you about a bad movie, while a good trailer doesn't mean a damn thing.
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As in, explanation; I have no regrets.

Getting started on the Tromsø International Film Festival a bit late this year. Saw two movies today, the first of which is already up for you to read about.

Roads were slick in town, and the people a bit antsy, but the lines were by far some of the best I've seen. Maybe I've just been lucky because it's a weekday.

If you're curious about it, go to TIFF.NO for more information!
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Mumm-Ra

The first I ever heard of Earl Hammond, I knew him by his character in the afternoon cartoon series Thundercats. He played Mumm-Ra, a menacing mummy who threatened the heroes of the program, using various minions to do his dirty work. I always thought the voice work was strange, that Mumm-Ra had this weird trill to his voice that made him almost seem comical while he was being diabolical. He played the big badguy part in another Rankin Bass cartoon that came later, Silverhawks, and did other voicework until the end of his career.

Mumm-Ra: The Untold Story

As an adult I came across an audio blooper reel from Thundercats, and my semi-wholesome image of voice actors was shattered when the voices for Mumm-Ra and the rest went out of their way to swear and make lurid jokes. Not that those sorts of things bother me in isolation, but I guess when you couple that with more innocent memories it's a bit jarring.

With this mental image of decrepit Mumm-Ra making a dirty joke, I was again shocked to learn that that very Earl Hammond was the same actor playing squeaky clean Sergeant Lane in the old Rocky King, Detective television show from the sadly short-lived Dumont Network.

Sergeant Lane: Paragon of Virtue

Filmed in kinescope, Rocky King, Detective (also listed as The Inside Detective some places), was broadcast live, so there were many flubs and mistakes, but it had a certain immediacy and charm that you got from these old live programs. The writing was smart and quick, and without breaks it feels like it has the right pace even though we're accustomed now to drama programs lasting an hour.

And here was Earl Hammond playing the young, fresh-faced Sergeant Lane, who often assisted Detective Rocky King, and in one extant episode was actually the lead when Roscoe Karns was out sick. The guy was bright and amiable, nothing like my mental image of him as that lurid Mumm-Ra telling dirty jokes. But they were the same, of course.

No More Real than Reality TV

We have this image of the 40's and 50's as an innocent time, with people talking slightly fast, running around in Brylcreem haircuts and (consistently) gray suits. It all comes from these old images from TV and the movies, which seem iconic to us. What we forget is that a lot of these old programs, Rocky King being no exception, were meant to be ideals, and the laws that surrounded broadcast television and movies reflected this. The real world was, of course, full of the same nastiness, both the honest kind and the deplorable kind, that we come to expect from entertainment now. Plays at that time were already trying new, more open portrayals, and books had been doing it for a while. But because the most accessible image is the television show, we somehow think that everyone was as wholesome as the images we saw.

In a way that comes to reflect on our society, I think, because now we tend to have television that goes lower than we can go. Reality TV is an obvious example, but even the straight fiction entries seem to have a seedy tinge to them, showing what we tend to view as a more honest depiction of the world. But it's no more honest than the old shows were I don't think, it just tries to satisfy our increased taste for dissonance.

There's something to be said for the old shows, where we know it doesn't reflect real life, but it still tries to aim high, and show us how things ought to be, with hard-working detectives who are dedicated to nabbing the bad guy and are, in a sense, an example of what we want to see in our own lives, even if we don't always get to see it.

Compare the loftiness of the clean-cut Sergeant Lane and the ugliness of lurid Mumm-Ra, though, and you come closer to that truth than either depiction would ever show by itself. Like the rest of us, Earl Hammond was a human being. It's so easy to forget that when we're only shown characters he depicted.

Explore the Show "Rocky King, Detective" for Yourself

Here's the episode with Earl Hammond playing the lead, but search for Rocky King and you'll find the other 3 episodes:

http://www.archive.org/details/Rocky_King_4

You could probably just replace the "4" with 1 through 3 in the URL to get the other episodes, come to think of it. They're only 30 minutes or so long, but they're paced well and wind up being as entertaining as an hour long cop show now.

Strangely enough, in the link to one of the Rocky King, Detective episodes I'm providing, the person who posted this says that it was the son of Roscoe Karns, Todd, who played the lead in the episode, when it was really Earl Hammond. Karns' son DID play in a great many Rocky King episodes as Sergeant Hart, but he was not the lead, if we're to believe the credits of the episode and the names of the characters!
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Reading Alastair Reynolds' blog, I saw the section for appearances. Since I admire his work, my imagination immediately thought "oh, what if I could make it all the way to Helsinki for his appearance there, and show up and..." What, exactly? What would I do? I've read 1 and a half of his books, and although I like them a lot, what would I say? How would I connect with the guy?

Truth is, I couldn't. And it feels like the closer in physical space I could get to the man, the further away I'd be. For all my lamenting digital journalism combining with everyone's sense of entitlement to form the requisite comments section, I find myself glad that in some way it seems that creators are more accessible than they used to be. I feel like I could probably make better contact with the man through email than I could in person, and I've actually contacted people I've admired for decades through electronic means, Gary Gygax, Bob Pepper, and Roger Ebert among them.

But, again, how much of a connection do I make? It tends to feel incomplete to me, and it's a blip in the day of the person I'm contacting, so it feels a bit weird to even do it. Maybe some of this feeling of weirdness comes from one of my first author signings. Through a coup (which was a story in itself), a former girlfriend and I managed to slip into the Ritz Carlton in Montreal for a book signing by post-modern Canadian author Timothy Findley. I'd read The Wars and all during my reading of it, I came up with all sorts of questions I wanted to ask the guy. But standing in front of him, all I could muster was what must have sounded like a caveman speaking, something like "Me think you write good."

Worthless. At least my girlfriend managed to say something more sensible.

Some years later in my hometown, after that girlfriend was in my past, independent comics writer Harvey Pekar showed up to promote some new releases. I listened to his speech, and was really happy to see him in person. This time I managed to ask a few well-formed questions, including asking why he wasn't updating his movie-related blog anymore (answer: if they started paying him to update it again, he would). I had already bought one of the books he was promoting, so instead I asked him to sign my journal. I don't think he was too happy with that.

Both he and Findley years before gave me a similar look, or at least my memory plays it out that way. A sort of rolling of the eyes to look up at me, as if I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I didn't really, and I still don't get what the ritual is supposed to be. I don't understand the protocol, I suppose.

They're there to promote their books, and maybe gauge reactions on things they're writing. We're there to get closer to a dude or dudette who is otherwise a disembodied collection of thoughts on paper. Who are we to them, really? Who are they, really, to us?

Not too many years ago I managed to brave another signing, this time of comic book artist and writer Lise Myhre, creator of Nemi. I learned a bit about her past, and managed to get her book signed for my wife. I guess my timidity had increased by then, probably because my wife was standing next to me as I got it signed.

It felt easier than it had been before, and I think part of it was because I wasn't a huge fan of her work. I was doing it for someone else, so all the pressure of getting to the top of the mountain and asking the guru three questions wasn't there. I got what I wanted, a specialized gift for my wife (who, yes, was standing right there), and Myhre got what she wanted, another book sale. Commerce, and all that.

I was better at the protocol, but it felt like a cold, cynical exchange. Not much of an alternative to the prior encounters' embarrassment or awkwardness.

I imagine there are people who get a great thrill seeing someone they admire in person, and maybe there are few writers, at least early in a tour, who enjoy the admiration. I can't help but think, though, that this is the exception, that most writers trudge through it, and most fans feel disappointment.

I guess the perfect moment of interaction, the one that really mattered, happened a long time ago, when the writer was long done with the work that the reader is now reading. To the reader it feels like a connection in that moment, but the author is unaware, and by the time the reader can put the feeling into words, the spark has already faded a bit. They cup their hands around the spark, blowing on it, sheltering it long enough to keep it burning so they can show it to the author some day, late at night in an over-lit bookstore, one person in a line of hundreds, each of them eager to finally say hello.
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Youtube keeps changing, but it doesn't seem to have the smart design of its parent company. There are a lot of silly things that could be done away with, like converting everyone's followed channel list into a friend list without letting us choose whose comments we want to listen to.

But the biggest change to me is that now the sponsored videos are ostensibly random people who just happen to have the chance to get their vlog out there to the masses, but which are actual self-promotional skits and gossip columns. What irks me about a lot of these is that they come off as half-assed yammerings with a strangely calculated feel to them.

Many video blogs out there are intolerable because they completely lack any kind of editing; you get interminably long stretches of "ums" and "I forgot what I was thinking, just a sec" and "wait, someone at the door." Embarrassing, but at least in some way it feels genuine. You SHOULD definitely edit your video enough to where it feels like a coherent idea that doesn't drag and doesn't wander too much, but it's become a style with these sponsored links to over-edit, to plan out what you'll say ahead of time and to pull what feels more like a Max Headroom impersonation, with the vlogger's head popping up randomly all over the screen with different vocal tones, things in the background, and camera angles.

The net effect of this, beyond betraying the over-produced nature underlying this supposedly amateur blog, is that it winds up simply being a different species of annoying than the completely unedited videos. The staccato blurbs grate, the lack of focal point destroys whatever good will the listener has to stick with you, and you wind up looking like a damned fake because of the time one HAS to spend doing all these camera setups for what is supposedly some spontaneous topic.

I guess I should be happy that these sorts of things are so transparently calculated, because they're easier to avoid. I'd rather watch a boring, rambling amateur vlog, because the content tends to ultimately be more substantive, even if disjointed, and I can skip what I can't stand to get to the better stuff.

Here's a test to see if a vlog is hyper-edited: don't watch it, just listen to it. It becomes pretty clear these spazzy hyper-edited blogs are vapid when you don't have to concentrate hard on finding the vloggers face before it disappears again, like some two-dimensional whack-a-mole simulator.
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When growing up, I was given the impression that figuring out a math problem meant that you understood how the machinery of an equation worked. Once you understood the machinery you could apply it anywhere and its results were always true for the given number set. I was given the impression that charting things out and figuring out the problem by hand meant that you didn't understand the nature of the problem, and thus you were doing it wrong.

When trying to work out the probabilities for the combination of two dice, I lacked the equation. I searched in vain for the proper expression which would allow me to simply plug in numbers and make the dice combinations make sense as I wanted them to.

What was I supposed to do, then, lacking as I did the proper terms that would allow a web search to give me the tools I needed? Should I have begged a math expert for help? Is that what we're supposed to do if we don't understand, if we weren't of the mindset to absorb things in math class back when we had the chance (assuming they even talked about the thing you want to solve)?

I decided to chart it out. I made lines, made a simple, mundane matrix, and plotted the thing out by hand. The results were finite, so it wasn't like I was trying to solve for all dice, just the two I was interested in. It took time, and I made many mistakes, but as I made mistakes I began to understand the NATURE of the problem. Every time I checked and rechecked, looking for the patterns that I knew would pop up in such a regular system, I felt like I was feeling around in a darkened room and learning its dimensions. As I spent time, on the ground, feeling my way through the problem I came to have a SENSE for the problem.

By the time I was finished I had a nice graph that listed all the results for the dice as I wanted them displayed. It was way more work than what an equation would have given me, but without that crucial step I HAD to do something to solve the problem. And I did. I just dove in and I did it.

Some of us don't have the mindset to learn math the way it is commonly taught. Some of us need to know why, and some of us need to see the machinery inside, to feel our way around to understand it like we would when studying anything. Rather than being handed down the tools and just memorizing them, we feel the need to get our hands dirty, and if we're ready for it, if we're not told that what we're doing is wrong, we learn best when we make mistakes. Mistake is another way to say the overstepping of a boundary. We need to break the machine in order to fix it, to tear it apart to understand how it's assembled.

I now understand the ins and outs of this probability matrix, and I think I can slowly expand it to encompass number ranges and amounts of any size. This is how the first mathematicians figured things out, before there was Algebra and before other techniques that made mathematics accessible to others. In a sense, that same curiosity is now adrift, cut off by the professed need for rote repetition.

I like to hope that some day there will be at least two ways to learn math, and that they will be held with equal esteem. There are many of us out there who love to solve problems, but find being handed a list of tools to memorize to be incompatible with our thinking. We are not incapable of solving the problems; we are just incapable of speaking that particular language.

Just like we don't expect someone who grew up speaking English to understand Chinese right away, we need to provide those with a different mindset the chance to bridge the gap. Not only will we be helping expand math competence across the board, but we may well also be introducing the field of mathematics to an entire outlook that may help cause an explosion of new thought and explorations into the field.

All you have to do is have the patience to give those of us who are not wired to repeat by rote the chance to catch up.
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In college one of my political science professors was one of the first in my experience to use email regularly. He would announce changes in the schedule through email, and would respond to students' messages readily and thoughtfully. If you ignored his insistence on using all capital letters in his emails, he was one of the better correspondents I'd had at the time. But his capital letters were impossible to ignore, and eventually student pressure forced him to change. I looked at it as an idiosyncrasy, but after being told not to use all-caps myself, I started to see what people were talking about.

If you look at a block of text, your first impression is one of texture. Mine is, anyway. Mostly lower-case sentences are like little rows of scribbles. Big, block letters fill up space, and demand more attention. While at the beginning, before anyone was really sure about what to use for a standard email format, it was easy for me to dip into all-caps territory for a quick note to someone, eventually I could almost hear the yelling in my head, whether or not it was there.

Most people who do it now are either ignorant of the prevailing opinion, pressed for time, or doing it to deliberately goad people. That, or they're actually yelling in email. I use capitals to emphasize words when I can't print bold or italics, so I don't see the point in telling people not to do it at all, and when you actually do feel strongly about something, that sort of emphasis feels a lot STRONGER than the old standbys.

Still, if you insist on using caps a lot, you're basically screwed. It will become difficult for people to take you seriously, even if you're being satirical or ironic (though distancing yourself from what you write, being sarcastic or ironic or what-have-you, is a skill in itself to do right on the internet, and many people fail at that every day, myself included).

This blurb was inspired by this article, which discusses the inane debate over why all-caps is perceived the way it is. A woman was fired for sending mails which were perceived to be hostile, when they were probably just lazily formatted by the person sending them. In some of the strange digressions you hear various people weigh in on why people see all-caps as yelling, but it's really very easy. It's bigger, seems bolder, and fills up more space. Some simple textual comparisons will bring most people on board for that interpretation. But some people, like Paul Luna as mentioned in the article, won't be convinced of that, although his skepticism toward such an interpretation feels needlessly contentious to me.

If you do like to remove some formatting from your forum posts and emails for the sake of expediency or style, try not bothering to capitalize at all instead. It's what I used to do before my typing fingers got used to capitalization. Punctuating well, though, isn't as easy to dump. I have my share of weird habits, but doing wrong too often is potentially more distracting than all-caps, as it's giving people the wrong directions to your ideas.

In general, putting effort into your posts gets people's attention. Just like with any act of creation, combining effort with efficiency makes a better impact than screaming-- most of the time, at least.

Further reading.
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Just posted the below as a response to an interesting essay about the demographics of game players and the state of the entertainment media industries.

Depending on who you’d talk to (yes, I play games, though I think I’m below the average demographic on all three of those data points), gaming has already achieved some measure of “renaissance.” I know Bob’s not big on games but it seems like he’s addressing the design side of the industry as it has been for a few years now.

Independent titles seem to be making more headway into mainstream markets with digital downloads allowing game makers to sidestep production cycles and add to existing games, sometimes greatly improving the value of a single game purchase. Games like Fallout 3 seem to lead the way in digitally-downloaded add-ons in this regard, although I don’t know how tenable it can be for less dedicated game makers who don’t have the staff to spare.

What’s remarkable, though, is that the design philosophies seem to be more and more risky. You see much more adventurous ideas than you would ever have imagined happening during the last generation of consoles, and they are being noticed by game media and users alike. This doesn’t translate into higher sales given the numbers Bob quotes, but when you combine the nearly palpable increase in excitement over the design choices behind some games, combined with the market penetration that the Wii has managed, video games stand to see a real upsurge both in quality and in sales.

But the tentative first steps that the game design houses and smaller developers have already taken are what will help fuel this. They’ve been targeting this hidden demographic in small ways; and as the success of certain adventurous titles, the notoriously skittish producers that survive the economic downturn may continue to reward developers who make waves through novel design. Christmas sales are purposefully being dispersed this year by a lot of developers afraid of the next slew of big releases, by the way, so don’t look at the classic holiday sales numbers for the signs of video game industry recovery. 2010 will be the make-or-break year for many.

The renaissance part isn’t news; it helps to be familiar with how things have changed in this short span of time. That, or maybe your definition is different than mine.

What, Bob, do you think would qualify as a true gaming renaissance for you? I thought you didn’t care for games at all :)
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My eyes won't focus properly. I think of ideas and they never quite swim out of me. Easily distracted, my mind wanders through all my unkept promises as I refuse even the remotest pleasure for myself because, after all, someone who breaks so many promises doesn't deserve much pleasure.

Pleasure, though, is sort of like the currency of the mind. If you've felt something like above, you might have been trapped in a loop like I've been. It's easy to think about the things that need to be done, but the fact that they aren't done are sources of pain. Pain's to be avoided, so those of us with not a lot of that pleasure currency in reserve fear a mental bankruptcy and shy away from the pain.

The alternative to getting things done is to do things that are personally enriching, or to waste time. The former requires effort, which isn't so bad on its own, but when you start to tap into that other energy resource inside you, the drive that makes you a bit more alive when you do new, enriching things, it jostles the jar in you that houses all those painful debts. The jar wobbles back and knocks over any desire to do enriching stuff, saying "how can you do these things that take effort when the things that need effort are still waiting here, stagnating?"

So the only alternative is nothing, or next to nothing. Repetitive, easy, passive tasks that give you little to no stimulation or inspiration, and sometimes create new problems that get stuffed in that jar of unfinished things.

Today, for instance, I have watched many fascinating talks, learned about the abacus and the slide rule, finished off a movie, and am listening to This American Life. But even when learning about the slide rule, I never got past the introduction. I could have learned how to use it if I'd spent the time doing it, maybe triggered some thing in my head that made math make a bit more sense to me.

But no, that takes effort, effort better spent on the painful things best avoided. And so it goes.

A word of advice for anyone trapped in a loop like this: fight as best you can. Even that is effort worth doing, even if you don't quite know which direction you'll run should you break free. I don't always make it, I don't have a recipe for success. I know that it's likely related to depression, though, and depression mixes up the signals inside of some of us, making the things we need to do look ugly and insurmountable, and makes the things that will give us the pleasure currency, so to speak, to have the energy to tackle these tasks seem out of step with what we need to do.

Philip Zimbardo's talks about a cool idea to break out of this, citing how we look at time. It's been helpful to me sometimes to think of his thought model, to try to remember that even if I can't accomplish everything right now, I can at least do a little something for myself, to build myself up, so that I can still finish those tasks that plague me.

Like a disease, though, we tend to build up resistances to our tactics. Usually the people who are successful with "self-"help tactics tend to be people who could manage it anyway. Those like me, who might depend on the external help to try to break out, tend to fall on our face after a while. It suggests that the problem is somewhere inside of us, and is specific and special to each of us. That pretty much means it's up to us, as individuals, to figure out the particular key to our particular lock.

Keep fighting. I'm going to continue searching both outside and inside, starting now.

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strange_bundle

December 2010

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