Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Links!

Leading off this week is this incredible story: Stunning AI Breakthrough Takes Us One Step Closer to the Singularity.

From Wally, and this is an excellent rabbit hole: BREAKFAST: Eating the World Every Morning. As bad as the Titanic: RMS Empress of Ireland. This is fascinating: Why Should a Melon Cost as Much as a Car?

A slew of terrific links from C. Lee. First, it's The Grim Crime-Scene Dollhouses Made by the ‘Mother of Forensics’.  Not many people can say they saved the world: Stanislav Petrov was declared to have died on September 18th. This is an excellent read: The teaching of economics gets an overdue overhaul.

From Steven Davis, and it's a top-ten headline: How Many Cows Was a 16th-Century Tapestry Worth? Ask the Met. This is so excellent: The Millionaire Machine - Numberphile. I highly recommend this: Levi's Wokes - SNL. This is fascinating: Bell's Theorem: The Quantum Venn Diagram Paradox.

From jdv, and this is a great story: Hogwarts Express rescues family stranded in Highlands.

From Griffin Cheng, and this is terrifying: A Disturbing Film About the Night in 1939 When 20,000 American Nazis Rallied in New York City.

From Geoff Engelstein, and don't forget about the Halloween costume count: See the Most Popular Halloween Candy in Your State.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

May Already Be Suffering From Short-Term Memory Loss

I've probably written about this, and maybe not that long ago.

I've come to realize that lots of people have "cabins" up here for the summer. I've also come to realize that none of these cabins are ever finished. And they're money pits.

As far as I can tell, cabins are boats on dry land.

Chips Are Optional

Last weekend, Gloria was cold in the hotel room, even though the hotel room wasn't cold (I'm always cold, so I know this to be true).

Hotels have lots and lots of blankets.

"Get all seven layers on you," I said. "You're a dip!"

Something We Can All Agree On

I was listening to the GWJ Podcast from a few weeks ago, and I misunderstood what someone was saying.

They said "cyber punk". I thought they said "cyber funk."

I'll tell you what. If there's one thing that the entire universe could use, not just gaming, it's more cyber funk.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Future of Us

I think we all knew stuff like this was going on, but it's still disheartening to see it spelled out:
Activision Researched Using Matchmaking Tricks to Sell In-Game Items.

They have a patent.

A few excerpts:
"For example, in one implementation, the system may include a microtransaction engine that arranges matches to influence game-related purchases," according to the patent. "For instance, the microtransaction engine may match a more expert/marquee player with a junior player to encourage the junior player to make game-related purchases of items possessed/used by the marquee player. A junior player may wish to emulate the marquee player by obtaining weapons or other items used by the marquee player."

..."In a particular example, the junior player may wish to become an expert sniper in a game (e.g., as determined from the player profile)," according to the patent. "The microtransaction engine may match the junior player with a player that is a highly skilled sniper in the game. In this manner, the junior player may be encouraged to make game-related purchases such as a rifle or other item used by the marquee player. "

...The system can also drop players into matches that will make use of an in-game-related purchase, according to the patent. 

"Doing so may enhance a level of enjoyment by the player for the game-related purchase, which may encourage future purchases," according to the patent. "For example, if the player purchased a particular weapon, the microtransaction engine may match the player in a gameplay session in which the particular weapon is highly effective, giving the player an impression that the particular weapon was a good purchase. This may encourage the player to make future purchases to achieve similar gameplay results."

The patent also makes it clear that while the examples used in the patent are all for a first-person-shooter game, the system could be used across a wide variety of titles.

Yeah, that's brutal. Activision says they're not actually using this yet, but it's just a matter of time, and we all know that. And every other AAA gaming company will be using variations of this same strategy, along with anything else they can devise to skim even one more penny from us.

Basically, games from big companies have become elaborate Skinner boxes, nothing more. I'm not sure some of them even qualify as games.

We all used to kid ourselves that in-app purchases didn't affect the gameplay experience. That's what they kept telling us, anyway. It was all about "consumer choice" and "optimizing gameplay time".

I think we all knew that wasn't true. I'm not sure any of us, though, realized just how bad it would become.

Every gameplay experience in these games is compromised now. The percentage of gameplay that's affected by pay walls has gotten higher and higher. Many of the big publisher titles only exist as a way to optimize additional purchases inside the game.

Games have turned into the casino experience.

I linked to this book a few years ago: Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. It explains, in significant detail, the incredibly complex ways in which casinos create environments to manipulate our behavior.

This is what IAP games have turned into, and I strongly suspect there are plenty of "casino behaviorists" on the payroll of big gaming companies now.

That all sounds quite bleak, but in a very satisfying way, it's not.

Sure, the AAA titles have devolved into this nightmare. Somehow, though, this robust, wonderful layer of indie games has supplanted the need for AAA games, at least for me.
[Important exceptions: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. But Nintendo generally doesn't employ the crapjinks that these other companies do.]

Golf Story? Fantastic. For the King? Unbelievably fun (I'm writing about it next week). Instead of spending $60 on AAA games and having content locked behind paywalls, I can buy 3-4 indie games, at least, for the same amount of money, and I'll have much more fun.

In some ways, gaming has never been better. You just have to know where to look.

So AAA publishers, go ahead and continue putting out what are essentially more and more complex versions of Candy Crush.

I don't miss you at all.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Note

I purposely don't write about serious subjects very often. I know you guys come here to enjoy yourself and (hopefully) have a laugh or two, and I respect that.

Occasionally, though, when I think it's important to speak up, I will.

Protest

Let's rip the band-aid off, America.

From the day this country was founded, it has always been more acceptable to be a racist than to protest racism.

Think about that.

The founding principle of this country wasn't freedom for all. We all know that. It's still not a basic principle of this country.

It never has been.

So when NFL players kneel during the national anthem to protest the cancer that rots this country, and people are angry at them, I go thermonuclear. Which is why I haven't written about this until now, because I just couldn't do it with any sense of control.

What's interesting, to me, is how the sequence of events unfolding now has been the same for centuries in America. Let's have a look, and note that the language used isn't that different from what was used during the civil rights protests in the 1960s.

Step One: NFL players protest racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. Very simple.
Step Two: The response totally avoids even mentioning the reason for the protest, and will always focus on three words:
--disrespectful
--inappropriate
--unpatriotic

These three words are so sadly inept that I almost burst out laughing while I typed them. Let's explore.

"Disrespectful"--Wait, what would "respectful" protest look like? I'm certain that very few people who have this objection could even formulate a response to that question. It's ludicrous on its face.
"Inappropriate"--This is certainly a magic word, because anything can be labeled inappropriate, no matter the action or the venue. Why is protest supposed to be "appropriate", anyway?
"Unpatriotic"--This is the best. This is when the deepest strain of ugly authoritarianism that we have in this country rears its head. Look, it wouldn't have to be kneeling during the national anthem for a protest to get this label. For many people, the act of protesting is, by definition, unpatriotic.

Another word that gets bandied about is "ungrateful", which has serious racial overtones when used about African Americans (or any other minority group).

What's particularly disturbing is that so many people don't seem to understand that protest is, in its own way, a form of patriotism. That's how this country is supposed to work!

I've seen so many NFL owners and commentators use these buzzwords to describe the protest, and not one of them has, at any point, addressed the substance of what's being protested. The criminal justice system, from police to prosecutors to judges, is savagely unequal in this country, and there is overwhelming evidence to support that belief.

But hey, that's not the problem here. The protest is the problem.

There's obviously a racial component here. Some of the comments Jerry Jones has made, in particular, sound like a barely-disguised version of "The help is gettin' uppity here." This is the same Jerry Jones who played on an all-white Arkansas Razorbacks team that won the national championship in 1964.

Would they have won that championship with an all-white team if college football had been integrated back then? Hell, no. Jones himself has been a gigantic beneficiary of white privilege, of not having to compete on an equal footing.

Something else worth noting here is that silent protest can be very, very powerful, and deeply unsettling. Why else would so many people totally lose their shit over people kneeling during the national anthem, but not be upset by the persistent, endemic racism that has plagued this country for centuries?

At this point, with what has happened in this country's history, and with what's happening now, I'm not surprised that people are kneeling.

I'm surprised that people are standing.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Pictures!

Very sorry, but totally exhausted from being in Detroit for a showcase (4-0, Eli went 2-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a .945 save percentage), so a few pictures for today.

Also, tomorrow I'm writing about Colin Kaepernick and the NFL, so just be warned. It's not a political post, but it is a post about America, and that might hit a nerve for some of you.

Now, on to pictures!


Honestly, I don't see how anyone could tell the full story of dragons loving tacos in just one book, so this was inevitable.


If you want to fully appreciate the post-industrial hellscape that is being in a hockey hotel near an airport, just take a look at this picture. Operative themes for miles around: broken pavement and the color brown. 

Also, in the back, see how "America's Favorite Value Inn" is right next door to--a bistro. Optimal proximity? You decide!


Wait--15 calories a serving? A serving of what? Gelatin? That can be a serving? I wouldn't look so happy, kid. 


This small individual seems to enjoy sitting on our porch. The feeling is mutual. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Links!

From Eric Higgins-Freese, with an outstanding accompanying image: Santa’s tomb possibly found, Christmas ruined.

Here is a long and fantastic read that will absolutely blow your mind: American Hippopotamus. Seriously, you absolutely must read this one.

From Geoff Engelstein, and I had no idea it worked like this: What happens to your Steam account when you die?

From Steven Davis, and what a twenty years it's been: Cassini Burns Into Saturn, a grand finale to a 20 year mission. I linked to a different version of this previously, but this one is even better: Swiss freestyle skier’s acrobatic parkour training. This is just amazing: How Kanazawa gold leaf is made.

From C. Lee, and this is just a fantastic, funny video: Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy is a game about using a sledgehammer to climb a mountain. This is a wonderful documentary: In Tune with Time Watchmaker Masahiro Kikuno. This is so touching: Hachikō.

From Wally, and I don't think I'm even surprised at this point: Statement from Atlantic Media General Counsel Aretae Wyler on Scam Using The Atlantic Names. Savage and brutal: Trench Warfare in Korea.

From Kai M, and this is an amazing story: The Story Behind an Unbelievable Photograph.

From Matt Kreuch, and this is both graphic and hilarious: The Legend of Swamp Ass and Other Tales of Football's Most Pivotal Partnership.

From Tim Hibbets, and this is a wonderful story about kindness (David Bowie alert): Masks.

From Scott Sanders, and this is terrific: Hotel Haludovo, the Original Adriatic Palace of Sin.

From Eric Higgins-Freese (he's a pair of bookends this week, apparently),  and this is fantastic: London's amazing underground infrastructure revealed in vintage cutaway maps.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

My Favorite Android

After the post last week about android-human relationships, C. Lee wrote in such a thoughtful analysis that I'm sharing it in full. It's all C. Lee from here on out. Enjoy.
***

A few years back, after you discussed “The Windup Girl,” I wrote in, saying I thought a relationship with a nearly-human android would be all right. I hate to admit it, but I’ve changed my mind. Depending on how AIs are developed, it seems to me human-AI relationships will be either problematic or unlikely. That’s not to say they won’t happen; I just think there’ll be a fly in the ointment.

Assuming we don’t go laissez-faire on AI development, designers will try to enforce socially appropriate behavior in AIs. Maybe the safeguards will be hard-wired, like Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, or maybe the AIs will be psychologically conditioned, the way human beings are. The constraints will extend to the emotional realm, and so you’ll have AIs designed not to be assholes -- that are, in fact, actively pleasant to be around and that cater to humans’ emotional wants.

If you deal with AIs on a superficial level, as we do with most people outside our family and close friends, this would surely be a good thing. Rather than endure unpleasant incompetents, we’d conduct business with flawlessly charming professionals.

A skeptic might argue human authenticity would be lost: An AI clerk would be pleasant to you because he or she has to be, but a human clerk's pleasantness would presumably reflect genuine good will. However, as any retail worker would attest under oath, if human clerks seem pleasant, that’s generally because you’re seeing a social mask, one crafted to cope with often-unpleasant customers. In other words, you’re getting canned, conditioned – I’d go so far as to say compelled -- responses anyway from human personnel, so why worry about getting them from an AI?

But I’d argue the skeptic is on firmer ground when it comes to deeper emotional relationships. It seems to me there’ll be an inevitable “uncanny valley” when it comes to freedom of choice for AIs: The fear of creating Frankenstein’s monster is too ingrained in us.

In this valley, the AIs may appear to have free will, but will actually be following the dictates of their programming. An AI may appear to choose a human partner, but its choices will have been limited to avoid harm, emotional or otherwise, to humans -- to the point where it has no real free will to speak of. Until an AI is free to behave unpleasantly, it’ll remain stuck in that valley.

Granted, past this valley of constraint, you can imagine an AI with what we consider free will. (One hopes it’d like you enough to choose not to be unpleasant.) But until that point -- so long as the AI’s behavior is restricted by its creator’s will -- what genuine emotional value can a human find in an AI partner who says, “I love you?”

“Would you love me even if you weren’t an AI?” a human might ask plaintively.

“Of course I would,” the AI would reply, without a trace of irony. Irony is unpleasant to some humans, after all.

The human might think, “Well, if it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…” and avoid thinking too deeply about the matter. Other people might not.

I’d argue that one of the most important things someone can do in a relationship, aside from not being an asshole, is tell you when you’re being an asshole yourself, and this might be even more valuable in the long run. It’s hard to imagine a restricted AI delivering the message, however richly deserved it might be; the risk of emotional harm would likely keep it silent or limit its honesty.

Another thing many people want from romantic partners is affirmation; a person assailed by self-doubt may find genuine comfort in having someone say, honestly, “I love you; I value you; you’re special to me.”

But if the AI partner would say those things to any human with equal sincerity, then there’s really nothing special about any particular human partner, however much the AI might say otherwise. I suspect not being genuinely special to a lover would bother most people.

I’m not a wealthy or famous man; no prestige clings to my name. So I’ve never second-guessed romantic relationships; if a woman tells me she loves me, I’m generally inclined to believe her. (Famous last words, I know.) However, this is not the reality for people who are, in fact, rich or famous. I imagine at some point, they must feel suspicion and unease about their partner’s motives. “Does she love me or my money?” “Does he love me or only the image around me?” “Would anybody do so long as they were powerful?” and so on. And I think people would feel something similar with AI partners stuck in that uncanny valley. The problem remains even if you can somehow imprint the AI exclusively on a human: “Does he love me just because I bonded with him first?” “If she’d had the choice, would she rather have bonded with someone else?”

Now I believe that rich and famous people do find love. And I realize many people would simply feel fortunate to have an endlessly patient, pleasant, and compliant partner, and these people wouldn’t worry about their unique value or lack thereof. But not everyone can deal with that kind of relationship; not everyone would be content to accept behaviors at surface value; not everyone would want an emotional yes-man or woman. For all the annoyances and griefs that come with loving a sentient, independent being, there can also be benefits that might not exist with AIs for some time. Not because those benefits are impossible to replicate, but because the inherently unequal relationships of creation and creator, servant and master will hinder progress along those lines. After all, there are a number of people in this world -- those in power, and those who would have power -- who consider independence to be not a feature, but a bug. That’s why I believe this uncanny valley will likely be long and fraught with pitfalls.

So what about after AIs gain true free will? Just imagine: a meeting of the minds, one human, one more human than human, so to speak – more patient, more pleasant, more intelligent, more capable. I mean, talk about a great deal for the human! Well, now you have to start asking yourself – what’s in it for the AI to hook up with Joe or Jane Human, who’s assuredly none of those things? Why wouldn’t the androids prefer their own company, for example? Allowing the possibility of free will in androids means you not only risk their deciding to run things – who better qualified, after all? – but also that they might realize you’re not anywhere near their league as far as dating goes. Which, again, is not to say that it couldn’t happen. Like that old Tom Petty song goes:

Baby, even the losers get lucky sometimes
Even the losers keep a little bit of pride
They get lucky sometimes

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Memorable

I was driving to the rink for a game on Saturday.

The road I was driving down is a two-lane, country road, one of those roads with a high speed limit but houses along its length, connected to the road by long, rocky driveways.

I looked up and saw a girl standing at the edge of a driveway, facing the road.

She was about twelve, with straight auburn hair halfway down her shoulders. She had on short blue shorts and a peach top.

In her hands she held a violin.

I slowed down, and she played as I drove by. I couldn't hear her, so all I had was a silent movie, watching the wind move her hair.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pictures!

I hope we can all agree that this is a bad idea: 



A lovely sunset, and even prettier in person:



We played pickleball last week, and on the courts beside us, there was a bicycle polo tournament going on. 

I had no idea that was a thing. 

Based on our cursory observations, I believe there is a significant crossover between bicycle polo and roller derby:




This is quite a lot of dough:




We found a vintage candy store in Pittsburgh (it found us, really), and they had old packs of Topps Hockey cards from 1990:



Of course, the first thing I did after we looked through the cards was pull out the gum. 

I held it up.
"You are NOT going to eat that," Eli 16.2 said. 

"Are you kidding?" I asked. "This gum is twenty-seven years old. I have to eat it."

I popped it into my mouth and started chewing. 

"Well, how is it?" Eli asked, laughing. 

"Hmm," I said. "It basically just dissolves into a powder. There's a bit of flavor, but no elasticity."

"I can't believe you ate it," Eli said. "Idiot."

Monday, October 09, 2017

Golf Story (Switch)

Please tell me you have a Switch. Seriously, it's the best platform for gaming right now, and it's not even close. It's an impeccable user experience, and handheld mode is utterly wonderful.

Sorry, that was wayward. Back to Golf Story.

Oh, what a game.

Remember the Kairosoft games? There are 41 Kairosoft games available for Android, and as far as I can, all 41 are the same management game. Incredibly charming, at least for the first few you play, but at some point, I realized that managing a soccer team/mall/stables/etc. was all so similar that it wasn't fun anymore.

At the same time, what I really wanted was a single-player Kairosoft game where I wasn't managing anything but myself. Some kind of adventure.

Then Sidebar Games made Golf Story.

Trailer: Golf Story Release Trailer.

Visually, it's incredibly similar to a Kairosoft game, but it's a one-person golfing adventure. With murder.

Seriously, who wouldn't want to play that?

It's very, very witty, and the golf is solid, and there are secrets and mini-games everywhere.

I think it took me about 20 hours to finish, and I had a fantastic time.

I do wish that a few of the courses were a bit more conventional, and there were some bugs in the initial release (patch has been submitted and may be out by the time you read this), but damn, this is such a good game, and it deserves a wide audience.

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