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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Thoughts for a cell

As a friend the other day lamented life, I think today I’m going to do the same thing.

lament  (ləˈmɛnt)   — vb 1. to feel or express sorrow, remorse, or regret (for or over)   — n 2. an expression of sorrow 3. a poem or song in which a death is lamented

Again, as seems to be happening with each article, I have a thought and then something changes that thought.  I had been thinking about the subject of online commentary and why anonymous musings online are not “evil.”  However, as with any given thought I have, things change.  I sometimes wish I could just turn off my brain and stop reading.  I sometimes bemoan the fact that my mind is curious to read and understand both sides of an argument.  Even if I did turn the computer off and walk outside, I probably would talk to the birds and try to figure out why they are doing what they do.  Because of my nature, I want to understand and come to conclusions.  Moreover, sometimes those conclusions are scary.

This is not to say I’m always right about those conclusions.  Moreover, I sometimes wish the conclusions I do come to were not true.  Today is no different.

“Google and other search engines should take steps to ensure that their websites are not used as vehicles to breach the law and should actively develop and use such technology. We recommend that if legislation is necessary to require them to do so it should be introduced.”

In other Google privacy news, the search giant has been forced to suspended part of its autocomplete function in Japan after complaints that it violates users’ privacy.

The case was brought after an unidentified man claimed he had been associated with crimes he did not commit; when links related to crimes committed by someone with the same name appeared when typing his name into Google.

According to the BBC, the man’s lawyer said his client had found it difficult to get work because of the impact the association had on his reputation.
http://security.cbronline.com/news/google-should-censor-results-to-block-privacy-infringements-say-mps-270312

Up front, I have to admit I do not understand Japan’s culture completely.  In addition, as much as I know about the UK (big fan of Britcoms and Doctor Who) it would safe to say that not living there makes it hard to make judgments on culture.  However, I do know what Super Injunctions are.

For those who may not see the video, or want to sit through advertisement, a Super-Injunction in Britain is a court order that blocks society from talking about whatever the injunction had been granted for.  What I do not understand in culture, I certainly understand in technology and ignorance of technology.  And more so then just the cultural impact it has on foreign lands, the very real impact it has on our land and our daily lives.

Auto______
I think the best place to start with ignorance is understanding.  Google’s autocomplete is not a technology that is unique to them.  Autocomplete is used in all sorts of software to help users save time by guessing and completing words for the user.  Where the words comes from is dependent on how the software is programmed.  As I type this in Microsoft Word, the software will auto-correct my words for me based on the dictionary.  In terms of Google, the search engine has a database of words that commonly used with other words built from the words people search for.  Also stored is our own searches on our own computer that do not come from Google’s servers.  On top of all that, the search engine also has a spell checker, that auto corrects spelling errors for us.  The weight of how what results are chosen to guess your typing is done by what is called an algorithm.

al·go·rithm [al-guh-rith-uhm]

noun

a set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps, as for finding the greatest common divisor.

As evil as you may think Google is, the search engine does determine these results.  In fact it’s not in their best interest to.  Their commodity is giving you the results you seek.  We can argue advertising and paid results some other day, but their number one goal is to make searching easier for the end user.  If they frustrate the end user, they will lose page views.  Remember YaWHO?  Okay you get the point.

The point to all this is to explain that Google has very little to do with what results are ultimately displayed to you the end user.

I don’t ___ it
Going back to my article on commenting, yes the one where I rambled on and on and on.  As many issues surrounding commenting there are, there is one thing I do understand concretely.  It is a truth that never changes; every generation has an older generation that cannot understand the younger generation.

The younger and old generations clash the most because they see each other as wrong.  So in a war of words ignorant thoughts are thrown out.   The older generation complain that their side is the best because it is “reverent” and done every week the same way therefore it must be good.  They rail against the beat and instruments of the youth, make connotations, and allure to the devil in these new beats.  The ignorance they blissfully ignore is history.  They cannot see that these same arguments were used against their traditions and constants long before.    In an ironic twist, their age is not old enough to see the folly.

The youth in turn rail against the older generation as being wrong.  In turn losing out what could be learned from the past and understanding the history of music.  In this, both sides miss out on what could learned from both, choosing to condemn each other.  At the end of the day, books are written condemning the sides and no true understanding is reached.
– Unknown.

And further back I wrote about the situation at Daniel Boone High School.  One of the reasons I wrote this, piece you are reading, was the continued jeremiad the superintendent at Daniel Boone seems to be continuing.  One thing that “struck” me after writing that post was the fact that it is known who posted the comments.  While I am a staunch defender of online privacy, I am not when it comes to protecting speech that harms.  It is why we have laws that prevent people from yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  If there are truly threatening speech intending to do harm to others I can’t see how Facebook would stand in the way of an investigation.  I can’t even see it being a privacy issue.  However, if this is the case of boys being boys, then is there an issue.

I have no issue with punishing those who cry wolf if alternative motives.  What I have a problem with is leadership and authority that use the cries of wolf to push an agenda.  What scares the older generation about the younger right now is the fact that it is becoming clear the older generations have no care to change their ways.  They refuse to except to accept the fact that the realities of life are changed and are outright scared of what is happening.  It’s not that this is some new phenomenon that is occurring.  It has happened before but with a twist.  The twist is we are becoming a worldwide community now.  The reigns of control that the older generations had, or were used to, are completely and utterly obliterated.

While the youth are coping with a constant barrage of changes to their life every year, month and sometimes every day, the older generations are, (it seems) completely at a loss as to how to cope.  Often fumbling their way through this transition as show below.

WARNING: Not Safe For Work (NSFW) viewing

A Scary _____

The district’s website describes the forum as an opportunity to “educate the community on issues of tolerance, diversity and respect” and that the intent of the evening will be to “update the community on the results of our security efforts at the high school and to hear thoughts on how we can partner with the community to address the issues of tolerance and diversity from this point forward.”
http://www.pottsmerc.com/article/20120327/NEWS01/120329489/daniel-boone-school-district-forum-to-discuss-school-racism-concerns-

Moreover, this is where some conclusions I am seeing be made actually scare me, and should scare everyone.  The one thing that did not exist before was the ability for thought to be expressed by anyone and everyone 24/7.  The Internet has given us all an outlet to express our mind.  Those thoughts that used to be kept to ourselves are no longer private.  With Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier than ever to express our moment to moment thoughts.  The openness of the Internet is allowing us to experience culture of other countries.  It means we are starting to share thoughts openly and thoughts not always from our own culture.  Thoughts our present culture may not know or understand.

This is an observation I made a long time back because of watching British comedies.  Many times the characters will use terms that in the US we would have problems with and some we would never have a clue were mean.  One such word is Fag; in the UK, the word is slang for cigarette, as many know it has a different meaning here in the US.  What happens when a younger person makes a comment about taking a drag on a fag in our culture?  One would hope we have leadership in place when these situations arise to make correct judgments.

For Daniel Boone leadership bemoans technology and that which it does not understand.  Going back to my early thought about the comments being boys being boys, the words may have been nothing more than words.  I do not question the judgment call for safety over chance; increasing security was the right call.  However, if no violence entails the comments does that mean the security measures have worked or is it the fact that threats were empty words made by boys acting on testosterone?  I’m sure decision makers will point to increased security as a solution, but I could go on a limb and say that the number of bugs in the air increased the day of the threats and decreased the next day.  Thus proving the controlling the population of bugs outside a school is the ultimate form of security.  The truth is I’m off on a tangent and without careful consideration of all facts the real meaning of there being no violence at the school has no meaning.

Moreover, when the head of authority at said school, bemoans technology and pursues a personal side tangent, the trust of said authority is called into question.  The problem with all this thought is that we as human beings do not control it.  We control what we say, what we do with thought, but what we think is not always as controlled.  In addition, here comes the paradox: While we are still taught to control what we do and say, we now have a new temptation.  Those who are younger will struggle with this control and freedom of expression.

Now this is the place where things get scary.  As I explained before the phrase “For the children…” should be banned and this is why.  Children spouting testosterone is one thing, but jumping to the conclusion that a whole community has an issue is a scary thought.  And it brings into question why an issue doesn’t stay the threat level it is.  If the issue, and root cause, is teenagers making threats then bringing those in line with rules is one thing.  Talking to their parents and assessing what the teenager’s environment might have contributed it another one.  That is to say this is addressing the root cause of the problem.  Jumping to the conclusion, and bemoaning, Facebook is a leap that can’t be made.  Facebook is a tool, one could use the same criteria and say that sending these teenagers to school was the problem and therefore schools should be curtailed.

I’m saying it: Gary Otto was yelling at a mirror in the Facebook rant.

However, beyond this local issue you have the greater issue of what this means for society.  As pointed out with Google earlier, there are those that have an ignorance of technology and how it works.  This ignorance is being used for alternative motives and agendas.  Some of it simply those with money and power can’t understand how their former power doesn’t work anymore.  For the UK, the thought that one can’t stop the Internet is a foreign concept for the older generation.  However, when it comes to Governments, we are watching and being shown in the last few years that technology is being used to overthrow and bring down authority.  In addition, simply pulling a switch is not enough anymore, as pointed out with the Raspberry Pi, shutting down communication, even turning off power, is no longer enough to control people.  This freedom is scary to some.

One might think this does not happen here, but surprisingly it has been and is still going on.  Nevertheless, that will be for another article (SOPA FAQ time.)

The question I am left with is when those in power and authority become scared of technology, what measures will they use to stop it.  And what side tangents will be used to prove their case.  What happens when the realization that thoughts can’t be controlled and people are truly free to express themselves.  What will happen then?

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in Technology

 

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Slowness of the Mind

I promise to get back to Games for the Weekend soon, but it’s time to deal with another subject I started this blog for.  One of the reasons I decided to write this blog was the desire to delve into subject more than paragraph quick comments on newspaper websites.  One of the subjects I wanted to deal with that of driving.  Being a former truck driver, driving issues are a subject I still keep a keen eye on.  One of the issues that recently came up was New Hanover Township and its decision to lower, nearly, all speed limits on their roads by five miles per hour (mph.)  My first reaction was a roll of my eyes, then concern for the apparent lack of concern for safety over other concerns.

I guarantee this is going to be one of the articles that evenly divides people.  I will not even pretend to believe I can change minds.  If you think, lower speed limits are a key to safety then no study or fact based argument will change that.  I have read too many opinions and comments to bear this truth out to be proven true.  Nevertheless, this does not mean I am not going to put my opinion out there with the rest.

Beginnings

I am going to take this back to where I came from, that is I was of the camp that the person who followed the law and stayed around or under speed limits the safer you were.  My mindset, as those in the lower speed camp are, was that the more you paid attention the safer you were.  In addition, just as many others, my opinion changed over time.  For me it changed once I became a truck driver.  The biggest wake-up call for me was the realization that through training to become a professional driver, I was really being given a course in safe driving.  Yes, I was being trained to drive the truck, skills like shifting and backing a trailer, but the biggest part of my training was how to be a safe driver (more on this later.)

What I took away from my time learning how to drive professionally and doing it was the safest way to drive was to pay attention to everything, constantly assessing your environment and following the signs that are on the road.  For example, if a speed limit sign says 35 MPH and you decide to deviate from that path you are changing other driver’s expectations of what you are doing.  Whether people agree with a sign or not, they still see and comprehend an expectation that other drivers will follow that sign’s advice.  Now it is not as simple as this, but as you might be able to see how speeding from slow driving creates two different conditions for drivers.

Laws and those who make them

One of the things I heard constantly while driving, from radio programs to other drivers, was how lower speed limits actually was causing fatalities.  It was something I didn’t necessarily believe at first.  I am not one to believe in conspiracies without facts, and what I was hearing seemed to be more conspiracy then fact based.  The notion was study after study done was showing a correlation between decreased accidents and less emphasize on speed limit control.  Simply put lower speed limits did not save lives, it actually put more lives in danger.  I asked my normal questions and then sought out answers.

One of the first things I wanted to find out was if these studies existed, studies that questioned the nature of safety versus lowering of speed limits.   Moreover, I got my answer rather quickly from a simple Internet search.

The data clearly show that lowering posted speed limits did not reduce vehicle speeds or accidents. Also, lowering speed limits well below the 86th percentile speed did not increase speeds and accidents. Conversely, raising the posted speed limits did not increase speeds and accidents. The majority of motorist did not drive 5 to 10 mi/h (8 to 16 km/h) above the posted speed limit when speed limits were raised, nor did they reduce their speed by 5 or 10 mi/h (8 to 16 km/h) when speed limits were lowered.

Because there were few changes in the speed distribution, it is not surprising that the overall effects of speed limit changes on accidents were minor. It is interesting to note that compliance decreased when speed limits were lowered and accidents tended to increase. Conversely, when compliance improved after speed limits are raised, accidents tended to decrease.
http://www.ibiblio.org/rdu/sl-irrel.html

I also wanted to know then if these studies were true and ignored, why were they ignored.  Again a simple search of the Internet produced results.

Today, the overwhelming bulk of NHTSA’s funding is spent on programs that do not increase highway safety. Instead, the agency has become a classic Washington bureaucratic horror story, actively working to the detriment of the public in order to serve only itself and its special-interest constituency.
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:pvjzxDOkYIAJ:nj.npri.org/nj99/03/fedagency.htm+http://www.nj.npri.org/nj99/03/fedagency.htm&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a

Why

It’s easy to just say it’s a revenue issue but I rather deal with why lowering speeds will never work.  This comes from many thousands of miles of driving and observations I have made over my years.

Speed limit signs are a guideline.  If there is a whiteout on the road for example I may have to lower my speed to meet conditions.  If I am passing a driver, I may have to speed up.  If the flow of traffic is going faster or slower, trying to control that flow is not by speeding or slowing is not an answer.

Now here is where the problem comes in, when people go too fast or too slow they are changing the normal from what is expected.  A speeding driver going too fast is ignoring what the road is telling him and may/may not know what dangers lay ahead.  Even when they do know a road, dynamic factors (other drivers, animals, etc.) will cause changes to the environment that a drive usually isn’t prepared for.  This is why the racing of vehicles is done on a closed controlled course.  Even drag racing is done on controlled courses (to an extent.)

The same is true of people who drive slower, and this is the bigger fallacy.  When a person drives under the speed limit, they too are changing the environment and expectations of other drivers.  Where it becomes a fallacy is while the speeder knows they are being unsafe, the slower driver thinks they are being safe.  The natural question people would ask is why is going slow unsafe then.

The answer is mufti-faceted; first, drivers going slower tend to over think the driving process and put focus on one part of their driving, speed.  Think of why drunk drivers normally survive crashes, when they crash their brain is not thinking of what it is doing and is not concentrating on bracing for impact.  Therefore, when impact does occur, the body naturally reacts apart from thought, saving the driver in most cases.  Now this goes into training (more on that later) but like any skill you need to practice before you actually do.  Once you practice something, enough you then do not put much thought into the process, even though your mind is thinking about the process.  In any given job, schooling we all have encountered a point in time where over-thinking hurt us.  Think of the advice teachers gave you in school, the first answer is usually the right one.  When we second-guess ourselves, we put in jeopardy that which we know.  The same goes for driving; when a drive puts emphasis on one piece of the puzzle, they cannot see the whole picture.

Second, driving is also control of your vehicle and person, and not control of environment.  People who speed and go slower then conditions are trying to control those around them instead of themselves.  It always amazes me the person who thinks they are being courteous by leaving another car out by stopping a line of cars behind them.  As if, it is courteous to choose to be nice to one over others.   By being “courteous” the person is trying to control everyone else and deem what is right for them to do, when the law calls for them to actually not stop traffic, but go.

Finally, it is again the mindset.  Drivers who travel slower put themselves into a false safety mindset.  I have been behind many slow drivers who think driving five mph below the speed limit is safe.  These same drivers tend to forget turn signals and have no problem cutting other drivers off.  Again, the mind is lulled into a false sense of security.  As society has deemed speed to mean death, going slow has been equated to being safer, thus the person going slower can relax because they are being “safer.”

I can’t drive 35…

One of the other points that has to be made is that of the purpose of laws.  As a friend pointed to me eons ago, a lock only keeps lawful people out, that is those with respect for laws will obey them.  The same is true for laws that do not make sense to people.  If the Government were to be pass a law that stated wearing green was illegal, do you think people would follow it?  The same is true for road laws.  Many studies find the same thing, speed limits should be set to the limits of the road and what people tend to drive on those roads.  This is why the 85th percentile is used, at least recommended, for speed limits.  Because it takes into consideration how drivers drive and what the limits of the road are.  When you deviate from this you cause problems.  Think of a 100 mile stretch of flat highway and a speed limit of 25 MPH, I would bet you no one would follow the speed limit sign.

It is why split speed limits are dangerous.  Luckily, to my knowledge, Pennsylvania does not have split-speed limit roads.  Split speed limits are speed limits that require trucks to drive slower (usually ten MPH slower) then cars.  Instead of creating a safer road, they actually have increased accidents, as cars and trucks were put at war trying to obey the speed limits.  This is why when people who speed or drive slower create havoc on the roadways also, as they are creating artificial split speed limit zones.  The same thing that I saw in Ohio happens in these cases; drivers will get impatient and try to go around slower moving vehicles.   In addition, those moving around slower vehicles do not always do their passing in a safe manner.

Tougher Standards

The solutions to these problems are too costly.  I am in favor of toughening the standards for the Class C license to that of a Class A license.  That is raising the standard to become a licensed driver to those of truck drivers, and that means raising the standard for Class A licenses for truck drivers.  This means training and practicing through certified instructors.  In addition, this would mean a mandatory time behind the wheel minimum before a driver could even take the test.  This would also mean also setting standards for when a driver needs to be retested would be tied to age, accidents and other factors.  As those who have CDLs know alcohol is pretty much eliminated from the picture when it comes to driving, this is also a standard I support for Class C drivers.

The problem with doing these changes would be that of complaint of cost.  It would also be a complaint of time.  Lastly, it would be a complaint of the loss of jobs, as with a better-trained driving society police would not be as needed on the roadways.  Moreover, with better-trained drivers, revenue from tickets would be decreased.

My question has always been is if we want to really make the roadways a safer place and stop fatalities on the highway, why are these factors even a question when it comes to life we say we hold so dearly?

Sigh…

Back to New Hanover Township and their lowering of speed limits for safety reasons.  I found it ironic a few weeks into the change, a couple of accidents had occurred.  I’ll leave the conclusions to your own mind.

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Driving

 

Tags: , , , ,

This again…

Excuse me while I go bang my head against my desk.

Ah much better, hold on one second while I bang it again.

Ooh yeah that feels better, you may be asking why the violence?

/sarcasm/ Well that’s because I play games… /sarcasm/

Here we are in the year two thousand and twelve and we are debate a two-decade-old argument.  An argument that has roots going far back, but alas here we are again.

“Just as we warn smokers of the health consequences of tobacco, we should warn parents — and children — about the growing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between violent video games and violent behavior,” Wolf said. “As a parent and grandparent, I think it is important people know everything they can about the extremely violent nature of some of these games.”
http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/house/216903-house-members-call-for-new-warning-labels-on-most-video-games

I am not going to pull out the “don’t we have anything better to do” card, but doesn’t our government have better things to spend our time on?

More than a decade ago, I had found myself involved in this argument for the first time.  It started with PTC (The Parents Television Council) and their McCarthy witch-hunts to end violence of all forms.  It continued with the outrage over Grand Theft Auto and then sort of fizzled out.  From time to time, I would read about the continuing escapades of bills that were to tax “violent” video games, for the sake of the children mind you.  Remember that little problem I have with “For the…,” oh well moving on now.  I thought with nearly the cost of two million dollars to the California taxpayer, some politician would start to understand how ridiculous the cause is.  And that isn’t to say that the cause of keeping inappropriate materials from children isn’t a noble cause, but should it be the cause of people who don’t have understanding of the subject matter they are talking about.  Especially when those that want to protect children from video games never seem to approach the industry.  I understand that the industry will resist change to what makes money, but if you never approach the beast you want to slay, how can you make informed decisions, and craft laws.  Moreover, let me again point out, politicians crafting laws that do not cost taxpayers of your state almost two million dollars.

Doom be thy name with an order of Grand Theft Auto

Let’s go back to where it started for a moment.  One of the main problems I always had with politicians and their attempts to regulate the video game industry, was simply the lack of research on their part.  The games that really spearheaded the ESRB (Electronic Software Ratings Board) and the ratings you see on games now, was Doom and Mortal Kombat.  Take Doom for a second, the plot is you in the role of a marine on mars.  A scientific experiment opens up a gateway to Hell and posses everyone but you.  You alone are now in the position of taking on the armies of Hell to save the day.  So first point, the basis of Doom is formed around a concept that could never possibly happen.   Take then into consideration that this is a one of thousands, if not millions, scenario that would, again be impossible.  This is the stuff of fiction and sci-fi.  The next, that has to be made, is the granddaddy of MDK (Murder Death Killer) simulators Doom, did not even allow you to aim your gun.  This was a FPS (First Person Shooter,) which normally includes shooting weapons, at the time of Doom the ability for mouse aiming was not yet thought of, nor implemented.  So in Doom you used a keyboard to fire your gun, to kill an enemy on the second floor looking down at you, you would aim your gun directly under them and hit them.  That’s right the great MDK simulator taught you if you aimed a pistol at the ground in the direction of your prey, they would get hit.  I can only hope you see where I might have some problems with the MDK simulator conclusion.

Mortal Kombat has similar issues, from freezing people with magic to Babalities.  But let’s jump to Grand Theft Auto 3.  One of the main issues I had with Grand Theft Auto, was those complaining about the game never seemed to have a problem professing a love for The Godfather movie series.  Alternatively, the lack of seeing the connection between the two is surprising.  It is one thing to become outraged about a game for violence and adult situations, but to gloss over what the game was homage to, borderlines on blind rage.  In addition, never once brought up was that you could do good things in the game, like become a police officer and fight crime, or be a firefighter and fight fires.  I will admit this game heavily tilts towards performing heinous acts, but those who would not even tell the whole story of a game based on complete player freedom showed their true agenda.  I wonder if people had said this is the Godfather movie of video games, how it would have changed the argument.

It’s the parents…

I will hammer this one hard because of personal experience.  Not only do I have children, but also I take personal steps when it comes to gaming.  I am current with technology and the game industry but let that not make you think I do not face issues of my own.  I cannot know all of the games out there; I have to do research also.  Now I will admit to the advantage of knowing the language of games, I know what RTS (Real Time Strategy) means, but not taking two seconds to find out what a term means is inexcusable in this day and age.

Almost a decade ago, while waiting in line at a game store to checkout I ran into a parent contemplating buying Grand Theft Auto 3 for his twelve-year-old son.  I explained to him all the bad things the game contained because I personally felt the game was not for twelve-year olds.  I told him of the rape, the murder, the law breaking.  He asked a few more questions and we had a pleasant conversation but at the end of the day he still bought the game.  This was a parent, not knowing before but now well informed who still made that decision for his child.  He even asked me questions about the game rating on the package and I explained that to him.  When I later went to work at a game store I had many more of these type of conversations, both good and bad, but normally parents would make the same decisions.  At the store I worked at, the staff made it a rule not to sell M rated titles to children this led to a parent yelling at me and another clerk over interrupting their shopping experience.

I have to say that I have always been a supporter of ID requirements for M rated games, but the implementation is always going to be the problem.  Then there is the problem of parents who will not care, or even become outraged over having to be with their children to purchase games.  The other problem is content that is objectionable to one parent is not objectionable to another.  There are parents who find shooting of any kind detestable would ban Space Invaders, so a game with a rating is still going to be a guideline.  The parents in question must do their homework for their own children.  As history has shown me, everyone is offended by something.  Therefore, who should make the decisions that something is good and bad for children?

As a game designer, I know intimately the decisions that go into game design and presentation choices.  For myself, my business is that of family and designing games that are morally and socially responsible.  It is a hard and narrow road to travel.  In my first published game, I ran into the problem of cultural prejudice.  I had designed a family card based around being a farmer and penning pigs.  The pigs were cute and all given simple names and personalities.  My artist was given some liberties to design pigs, in going through her art I found the Italian pig family.  The decision was to cut them from the game for obvious reasons.

One thing that has to be kept in mind, games is not simply for children, not have they ever been.  Just as movies are made for different audiences, so are games.  Is it fair to say that games can only be made for children?  Would you want to live in a world where “Mary had a little lamb” was the only song you could hear on the radio all day long?  I know it is simplistic to say what I just said, but then why do we keep coming back to the need to warn children of mature games, when there is labeling already.  Then where do we draw the line, if we have to protect children from game content shouldn’t this also extend to all forms of entertainment?

Also I understand fully the argument that if parents will not police their children there may be a need for the law to do that.  But is that the case here?  Then how far does it go?  Again, do we have to apply the same thought to all forms of entertainment, and what is done when it affects those that are arguing for these laws?  It is also a question of the cost of living in a free society.  Maybe it is obvious, but the cost of a free society is one of being continually offended.  I understand a law to stop people yelling “Fire!” in a crowded building, but does that apply to entertainment choices that are not mandatory to life?

Been here, done that before…

I will say what surprises me most is the fact that we have not moved on from the find blame in one thing movement.  Also surprising is the fact that technophobia, hasn’t taken up the “___ is evil and responsible for all of societies ills” mantel which video games inherited from took over from music, begotten from Dungeons and Dragons and on and on and on.

If we did not need laws before, do we need them now?

Best question yet; When does this insanity end?

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Gaming

 

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First!

It’s time for “that” article.  I guess I avoided the subject because I wanted some more time to think about it, but the time is at hand.  I guess I wanted to avoid the subject, because this is just going to be an opinion in the sea of many opinions.  There are no facts I can offer, only my experience that isn’t going to sway anyone’s opinion.  Whatever you feel about the subject you are probably going to feel the same way.

The ”it” subject, as you might be asking, is commenting.

So why even write about it?  Because as I have seen already, and thinking ahead, I am seeing a movement to discredit comment sections.  My opinion falls into the camp of whether you like them or not, comments are fundamental to the internet.  Removing opinion from the Internet, is like removing text from the page of a book.  This is what information exchange is all about.  I find that even when I don’t feel like commenting, having the comment section adds something to the article and lets me see people’s opinions to a situation.  This is especially true when it comes to news, as I have found out information that had been left out of the article is often filled in by commenter s.  That is the point of the Internet, freedom of information and not one-sidedness.

I find for those, particularly older, find this concept foreign.  I get that, those that grew up in the generation of morning newspapers and six o’clock nightly newscasts are going to find many voices scary.  Now I know this isn’t all, but for most having to think is a scary concept.  It is also a choice, and for those that do not like choice find many voices hard to grasp.  Again, I understand, I had a Father who likes the comfort of a schedule.  Coming home from work, the extra thought power is not welcome; there are those that want to read the works of others.  It sounds condescending, but that is not my point, I understand the thought process that says I want to read a book and not write one.

However, because of the nature of commenting, the thought and work that goes into even the simplest of comments, it tends to lead toward response and thought.  Especially being that most comments are written as opinions, which lead the mind to respond back in some manner.  Going back to the generational differences one has to understand the cultural changes to understand the push back on commenting, and open forms of opinion and debate.  Many of the older generations were raised and lived in a society where news was not questioned, because it was brought from a “trusted” source.  Because of presentation, someone could be trusted.   As I said before everyone has a bias and agenda.  In addition, this is true of any generation at any time in history.  No matter how trusted the source their bias and agendas will slip into the conversation, whether intentional or not.

Because of the change from small communities to the global community, we find that information is more transparent than ever.  And this fact scares people.  For any given news story there are multitudes of voices, and each view shows a different vantage that was not present in the other.  This is what scares some, the fact that it takes work to find truth.  Being able to put trust, and the revelation that trust was misspent in the past creates distrust.  Some embrace, others ignore, and some run screaming from this fact.  In addition, this fact is also true for commenting, now once was only thought in someone’s head can be read by all.  All of a sudden, what was a thought inside the head is now bared for all to see.

And then what of the negatives, that of the troll and such.  Let’s face a reality that few want to admit, the negatives you find online also live in real life.  I sometimes wonder if people have ever heard of pranks.

Then there is the argument of anonymity, and this one is the most contentious point to commenting.  Again looking at real life, we see that the same things that happen online, happen in real life.  One point that gets lost is that while some will hide behind anonymity to post hate or prank, some do because they need the protection.  And they both have an equal point to the debate.  If we didn’t have the protection of anonymity some of the information that has been important to revolution and change, would not be happen like they have.  Think what would happen if we had no whistleblower protection laws.  And then there is the question of freedom of speech, because we don’t like some speech, does this mean we must cover up some of it because we don’t like what we hear?  If the Internet is about information and openness of information, is not censoring and shielding opinion against the principle of the Internet?

However, even beyond that, when outed for crudeness and wrongness, people tend to show they do not care.

Something that has always perplexed me is the fact, that when you have the technology to take care of a perceived problem, few times do we take advantage of it.  One of the reasons many online sites do not like comments is because the money and time it takes to police the community.  Many CMS (Content Management Software) software packages have built in features that allow filtering, or holding of comments that match criteria set up by the software.  Some will be quick to say this is a cost in itself, but I never understood that when many free, open source solutions exist.  This blog which is running on WordPress, includes many filtering solutions that keeps comments in line, WordPress is free.  I do understand that commercial outfits will not want to use for open source software for control reasons.  Then the question comes down to whether you want to encourage community participation or discourage it.

I admit this is not an easy subject to tackle, and I know one that makes the issue harder is the fact that we are a more connected world.  More people who never had their voice heard before are now finding the power of being heard now.  This is also the growing pains of a world in change, some will welcome and embrace, while others wish for their world of sameness.  It’s going to be an interesting ride regardless.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Technology

 

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Will you stop touching me!

Today is a little off topic for me, but will bode well for helping to understand future topics.  I’m just going to come out and say it: We need to ban the words “For the sake of the children…”  Ladies and Gentlemen of the court, this is your new four letter word of the century and one that needs to go and be stricken from our language.  Maybe it’s harsh, maybe I’m insensitive and maybe it’s the straw man but humor me please.

This subject has been circling my head for a while, it’s not like last night this frame of mind came to me.  Two weeks the subject hit me watching a documentary and yesterday reading an article on speed cameras pushed me to this (more on those later.)  I have to admit I am biding my time on other subjects I want to talk about, not only because they are serious, matter to me and are important.  However, mainly because I realize that jumping right into those subjects without some background will not serve to help anyone understand my viewpoint.  It’s not that other subjects are of less importance, but when you scale things you see the difference.  I also don’t want to repeat myself.  This kind of article serves as a primer, and a base, to where later articles will lead.

So let us begin.

I really like something about message boards and comment sections that I do not like over instant messaging and texting..  That is the time between postings.  Texting, instant messaging is one of those things where, at least for me, you feel the inclination to quick fire back. I’m not saying you can’t troll message boards and comments but they lend to a more “think before you speak” type vibe.  For some reason the disability to hit enter and automatically send a message versus clicking a “post” button, makes me pause before sending my thoughts out.  It’s this kind of “pause before acting” that I try to apply to a lot of my life.

We all (I hope) have heard the “can’t see the forest from the trees” line.  It’s a simple understanding, when you are emotionally attached you can’t see the whole picture.  In addition, literally, if you spent a long time in a forest you would stop noticing the trees.  Let’s also state the obvious also, we are all biased.  I remember having this conversation in college with a friend over the subject of history.  All history books come down to the authors’ viewpoint.  No matter how much they do research, they will still insert their view intentionally or subconsciously.  And this is no matter how much research is done, or how many facts are gathered.  I’m biased, and I will always admit that.  This is why I try to step back and think before I act, get advice from an impartial party and sleep on thoughts.

I had read about, and seemingly berated with, the documentary Food, Inc.  Yes, this is the documentary I mentioned earlier.  The documentary is about the industry of producing food in America, and as a warning, is not a pretty one.  After seeing it pop up in so many articles, I finally watched it.  I am the type of person that is willing to give anything a chance.  I also like hearing both sides of an argument.  Moreover, to get this out of the way: While it did open my eyes in certain aspects, it never really shocked me.  There was two things, other than the obvious health issues, that stuck out for me.

Fair Warning: Politics ahead.

First, the issue I like to call the “It’s not fair” syndrome.  I found that some of the arguments tended to go into the territory of envy for what others had.  Sometimes I am left to wonder what it would be like if the “shoe was on the other foot.”  There were times when it seemed that the arguments put forth by interviewees boiled down to wanting to be the top dog.  I know some will say I missed the point, but I’m not fully throwing their viewpoint away.  They have good, valid points that are not outweighed by this, but it’s something you have to keep in mind.  The weight of their points is offset by their bias and agenda.  And these are things you have to weigh, and judge when listening or watching someone in terms of a persuasive argument.

The other thing that stood out to me was Kevin’s Law.  Not because of the name, but because of the name (sorry I had to do that.)  For me the problem did not lay in the law itself, but the name.  I have no problem with someone pushing for changes based on personal experience.  However, where are the trees?

For those that need the background Kevin’s Law is a law that would give the US Department of Agriculture power to shut down plants that produce contaminated meat.  It’s name Kevin’s Law because of the boy, Kevin Kowalcyk, who died from e-coli poisoning.

Call me insensitive, or uncaring, but is there a good reason for having a law passed in anyone’s name?  Again, where are the trees?   This is an issue for me because we have too many laws, too many boogeyman arguments based on invisible straw men.  In addition, when you put emotion into the equation of trying to pass law, so much more can be accomplished away from attachment.  Passion is needed, no doubt, but when you are emotionally attached to a personal tragedy, the good that can be accomplished can be overshadowed by personal victory.   This is where laws can be undercut from doing the best they can, for the betterment of all, instead of being narrow focused.

Looking at traffic safety solutions for example; How many times is a stop sign erected because of an accident?  If your goal is to save lives what good is accomplished by making a two way stop sign, a four way one, when the original need for the four way was someone running a stop sign.  The root cause of the accident was not the lack of stop signs, it was the lack of ability on part of the drivers in the this case.  Stop signs will not stop another accident from happening, and when one more accident happens the cry will be for a stop light.  And this still doesn’t address what really causes the accidents.  But because the appeal of one mother crying over a lost child is great, this society seems to throw reason to the wind.  We rather have the illusion of safety, versus the cost and hardship of real change.  Instead of addressing root causes, we rather calm one set of parents over the many.

A real life example of this is happening with the Rt 73 and 662 intersection in Oley, PA.   Most of the accidents come from driver pulling from 662 onto 73.  The solution for PennDot was stop signs.  The real problem lies in the design of the intersection and how 662 basically merges with 73.  The design of the road offers the illusion of merging to drivers of 662 who use the view coming to the intersection as a guide to see if they can beat a driver on 73 to the “merge” point.  The solution is to make a dead end of 662 into 73, but because this is a costly, and a possible inconvenience to residents, solution, it never comes up as a solution.

Moreover, coming around to the original point, how many times are these laws made with the thought of children?  Yesterday I read articles on the state of speed cameras in Chicago and the whole “think of the children” came into play.  Rahm Emanuel wants new speed cameras.

A completely hypothetical politician was being heckled by angry taxpayers. And they dared ask rude questions, like why he wasted all their tax dollars on fat contracts to his pals.

So he decided to flee. Unfortunately, he was surrounded. Then he saw a first-grader in the crowd. He grabbed the child and used her as a shield, holding her before him to ward off angry voters, shrieking, “We must save this child! Help me save this child!” as he sprinted to his car.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/ct-met-kass-0314-20120314,0,966912,full.column

I love that quote, but further down facts come into play:

“While we’re speaking, Diamond Robinson, who was hit by a car near a school … they’re actually having her funeral,” Emanuel said in February. “That is a reminder of what we’re talking about today and the full price and consequences of what we’re talking about today.”

But Diamond was hit on a weekend. Emanuel’s new law restricts the cameras near schools to weekdays.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/ct-met-kass-0314-20120314,0,966912,full.column

And as another article points out these cameras have little effect:

Denied the city’s research, the Tribune performed its own analysis using city traffic data provided to the federal government and came to a very different and less dramatic conclusion.

Instead of the 60 percent reduction the mayor touted, the Tribune’s analysis of accidents for the same locations revealed a nearly 26 percent reduction — one that mirrored a broader accident trend in the city and across the nation. The difference? The city said fatalities dropped from 53 to 21 in the targeted zones, but the federal statistics showed the before-and-after numbers were 47 and 35.
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-03-14/news/ct-met-speed-cameras-statistics-20120314_1_red-light-cameras-emanuel-administration-traffic-deaths

For all the talk of saving mythical children, we have to step back and ask some simple questions.  First, as I stated earlier, “It’s not fair” is the person coming from a smokescreen position.  That is their argument really for something other then what they are saying.  Second, is the straw man out in full play?    In terms of the speed cameras the first question is yes which I‘ll leave to you to draw your own conclusions.  The second question is answered by yes, if a child used as an example for why we need something died when the new law wouldn’t have helped, how would the law have saved the life of this child in question?

Finally, we have to stand back and look for the trees and balance the points out.  Even if we do not agree with the facts personally, can we still tip the balance in favor of the argument put forth?

So would you join with me and ban the words “For the sake of the children…” fallacy.  After all it’s for the children…

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2012 in Driving

 

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Young Farts and where the wind blows…

We never like it but change happens.  Change is something we really can’t control and when change comes from revolution things get really interesting.  I know I throw that word around on my blog and some may not understand what I’m talking about.  Well if you are reading this, then partly you do understand.  Fifteen years ago what I am doing right now would not have the possibility for the audience it does now.  I am not talking about simple web logging (get it, weblogging,) it’s also freedom of expression, through means of this interconnected superhighway we call the Internet and how it is changing everything.  While some may think we have already seen this with things like television and radio, we have not.  The missing component was control and the wrestling away control and giving it to people.

Fair Warning: Curmudgeons and Luddites might want to stop reading now.

Think about it, when have we have ever seen a time in our lives when you can see and read multiple viewpoints of the same story.  Take any given story of the past week, do a simple search on your favorite search engine, and just start reading.  Now someone might be quick to point out that search results are controlled, and to those I simply ask: How many search engines exist?  Moreover, that is the point, in the past who could have opened up a TV station or Radio station, even at the outset who could have just made a commercial and foisted it upon the world?  This is now a world without control of the few over the many.  I’m not even going down the 1984 route, I’m coming from the given, that people act with good moral and ethical values.  The Internet has changed all of that.  Now anyone at any given time can speak their mind, with relative little or no cost but that of time.

Isn’t that what a revolution is?  Let’s take it even further, this past week something I was told a long time was to come to be has come to be.  The throwaway computer is now a reality with the release of the Raspberry Pi.  This is a $25/35 (two flavor) computer that is no more the size of a credit card.

Add to that the video capabilities.

Beyond the entertainment capabilities, these are real world impacts this credit card size computer brings to the world.

Because of their low-cost and small size they can then be shipped to activists and NGO’s in areas where free-speech is difficult.

“This is especially useful for activist organizations, human rights organizations, any group composed of a few dozen people who need to have an internal secure communication service,” said Mr Kobeissi.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17231698

We are talking about people for the first time having freedom of speech in countries that outlaw it.  I hope now you can see how revolution isn’t a word I throw around loosely.  This Information Revolution is changing life on earth beyond our comprehension, even mine, in ways that will shape the next century of life and beyond.  We are looking at the way we present information and conduct business being rendered obsolete to this change.  Raspberry Pi is just one, there are many more like One Laptop Per Child.

Add to this that the revolution is not yet settled.  In the same way very, few could have envisioned the effects of Web 2.0 (Social media) and a site like Facebook existing, so very few realize that Facebook is a thing of the present time and not the future.  What is true now, will not be true a year or more down the line from now.  Eventually the shaking throw the sieve will produce new realities but that time is not yet upon us.

I understand why for some this period is the scariest, even scarier then before.  Before with changes like the Space Program the end results tended towards optimism.  This kind of change takes a longer time to work itself out, for example, the Industrial Revolution took 100+ years.  With the hyper-accelerated pace of the present state of changes, I don’t foresee this revolution taking that long.  And who knows if constant, quick change itself, will be the new reality of this revolution.

So I have to ask how many people will be yelling at the kids on their “lawn” and how young the yellers will be…

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Technology

 

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Games for the Weekend: Dominion

I’m a gamer and an aspiring game designer, it’s one of my passions.  I love observing people playing games and figuring out the psychology behind mechanics and how they affect people.  And when I need a break from the seriousness of life, I enjoy playing a board game.  So from time to time I’m going highlight some of my favorite games on this blog.  I thought I would start with one of the best deck building board games Dominion.

A quick and tidy history of the current state of board gaming
For those who haven’t been following what’s going on in board games, here’s as quick as a primer as I can give.

In the world of analog (board games) there are two types of games.  Ameritrash and Eurogames.  Ameritrash would be the games you grew up with such as Monopoly and Risk.  These are mainly the type of games the player rolls dice, moves and resolves the text of the space they ended up on.  Starting about twenty years ago the Eurogame started to come into dominance in the United States.  Eurogames mainly center around strategy, and are less about luck.  They are known for the use of victory points to determine winners.  The other big difference is game length, Ameritrash tend to have an unlimited game time frame, where Eurogames tend to have more manageable game lengths.

And now it’s time for DOMINION!

Dominion, since it’s release in 2008 was an instant hit with gamers.  It was one of the first games to employ the mechanic (read: base ruleset) of Deck Building.  Deck Building came from the ashes of the Collectible Card Game (CCG) craze.  In a CCG the players would build a deck of cards by buying starter sets and then booster packs.  Deck Building games instead give you all the cards and you build a deck of cards during game play.  One of the best things about a game like Dominion is the fact that the base game offers a tremendous amount of variety between games, before any mention of the expansions needs mentioning.

Dominion does have a number of expansions, none of which I will be talking about here.  For the purpose of this article I am going to stick strictly to the base game set.

Overview
Dominion is strictly a card game.  The game consists of three types of cards.  These are Treasure, Victory and Kingdom (Action) cards.  The Treasure cards, three different types, are used in the game to buy other cards.  The Victory cards, three different types, are used to determine the winner of the game.  And finally Kingdom cards, 24 different types, are used to perform actions during the player’s turn.  In setting up the game you will only play with 10 of the Kingdom cards.  These cards are picked by random or by using the suggestions in the game manual.

The goal of the game is to accumulate the most victory points by game’s end.

Gameplay
To begin players are given 7 Copper Treasure cards and 3 Estate Victory cards.  Players take their starting cards and shuffle them, they then deal five cards to themselves and place the remaining cards into a draw deck to their left.  Players will have three areas in their play field in front of themselves.  The first is the draw deck to the left, the center is their played cards and finally to the right is their discarded face up cards.

An example of a Kingdom card.

Players are allowed three phases on their turn.  First they can play an action card, second they can buy cards and finally they will have a cleanup phase where they discard their hand and all played cards into their discard pile.

During the action phase players can play a Kingdom card.  These cards will allow you to do more then you can do on your turn.  Normally you can play one action and buy one card, an action card might let your have one more buy or one more action for your turn.  The key, and most fun aspect, to the game is the chaining together of these cards.

The buy phase allows you to add cards to your deck.  This is where the Deck Building mechanic comes into play.  That ten card draw deck you start with will grow over the course of the game.  Finally the cleanup phase is simply a discarding and drawing of a new hand of five cards for the next round.

The game ends when either: A) You run out of Province Estate cards or B) Three different Kingdom card supply piles run out.  Not only do you have to strategize which Kingdom cards to buy, watching the piles of cards is another key strategy to winning the game.

Final Say
In the two years since obtaining Dominion the base game alone is still a fresh and fun game to pull out.  I believe what makes the game so much fun is the fact that it is quick to learn and hard to master.  There is a certain amount of randomness in the building of the draw deck, but you still have control over what you buy and how you build that deck.

There are drawbacks to the game.  Some have complained the game does not have enough player interaction.  The base set tries to deal with this with the Witch Kingdom card.  This card will give curses to your opponents which causes them a -1 victory point.  They also included another attack card, that causes other players to lose cards in their hand.  But it still doesn’t pull the game away from being a solitaire game.

Even with the few negatives the game has, I have found Dominion to be a great family game to put on the table for game night.  I am finding myself more a fan of the games that put strategy over war as a center piece to games, and this is one of the best games of the modern board game era.  And that doesn’t even count in the expansions that only add more variations and cards to the mix.

I must add that Dominion is a two to four player game, and works great as a couples game.  There is an expansion that allows for six players, but I can’t see why combining two base sets couldn’t add additional players in of itself.

All in all a great game I recommend to anyone who loves games.

If you are looking to pick up the game I recommend Thought Hammer (and no I’m not getting commission.)  Or you can peruse Google Shopping.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2012 in Board Games, Gaming

 

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