Sometimes you just gotta eat the losses

(Personal, Politics)

2012-04-25 11:13
Comment [1]

A lot of our problems come from people being obsessively focused, somewhat irrationally, on trying to absolutely eliminate things that they regard as losses. From the DMCA’s “anti-circumvention” rules to the attempts at making SOPA/PIPA (and new attempts to make the same laws again), there is a huge amount of damage being done or attempted in the hopes of completely eradicating copyright infringement.

This is the wrong strategy. As I’ve commented before, the win condition is not to minimize unauthorized copies, but to maximize sales, and these are not the same thing. And as a number of game developers and music sellers have discovered, trying to prevent unauthorized copies can hurt sales, because people end up not buying things because using them is too annoying. I haven’t bought a DRM’d PC game in years because I got screwed by DRM on some titles a few years back. Since then, no DRM. Companies that release games without DRM are doing pretty well, by contrast.

Now consider the elaborate schemes people come up with to try to reduce “waste” or “fraud”. And consider how expensive some of them get to be as people keep adding new elaborate hoops for doctors and patients to jump through, both in direct costs and indirect costs (like treatments that would have been cheap six months ago). It’s the same problem. Your goal should not be to “minimize fraud”. It should be to “minimize costs, both direct and indirect, associated with fraud”. And when your fraud-prevention strategy is expensive and introduces a lot of indirect costs, you’re no longer minimizing costs.

This permeates all sorts of stuff people do, at every scale from personal to corporate to national. And it is crippling us in many cases. The PC game industry generally went to a “no returns on opened software” policy because, allegedly, tons of people were installing software, then returning it for a refund. SNEAKY!

But is the alternative working better? Stardock Games, the makers of Galactic Civilizations, offer 100% refunds, even on retail copies — for which they got paid only about 50% of the sticker price of the game. That’s not just foregone gains; that’s actual losses. But it’s made up for by the many more people who buy the game because they are confident they will be happy with it or get their money back. So even if you ignore the costs of the DRM software, and the support costs when the DRM software is what crashes (this was what permanently lost me; two games that used SecuROM suddenly stopped working at the same time, because the copy protection was buggy), there’s the simple fact that trying really hard to protect against unauthorized copies and fraud is costing sales.

Folks, it is time to move on and accept that there is gonna be some loss to cheaters, and errors, and so on… and instead of trying to completely eliminate it, work on minimizing its costs to you. That means talking about real comparisons, not made-up numbers like ascribing the full retail price to each unauthorized copy. And it means getting over an emotional hang-up about having total control over your world. You don’t. Stuff happens. Learn to live with it and you will be both happier and richer.

Peter Seebach

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Legend of Grimrock: Quick review

(GeekStuff)

2012-04-14 21:48
Comment [1]

Haven’t finished the game yet, but having a great time.

Legend of Grimrock is a Dungeon Master clone. If you like video games, and you never played one of these, I commend it to your attention. If you think this is the same genre as Wizardry, Might & Magic, etcetera? No. Different genre. Other games in this genre were Dungeon Master, Chaos Strikes Back, Dungeon Master 2, the original Eye of the Beholder series, Black Crypt, and… uhm… drawing a blank here.

Basically, this is a dungeon simulator more than an RPG. You don’t have a character who has a “disarm trap” skill. No, the dungeon has mechanical qualities which you can figure out by study and observation, and use to bypass or defeat traps.

One of the reviews I read attacked this game because, by a few levels in, it was hard to stand toe-to-toe with the monsters. This is missing the point. The reason the game moves in discrete intervals is so that, if you’re agile, you don’t have to stand toe to toe with the monsters. You dance around then. (Roguelike players will recognize this as pillar-dancing; only difference is, you don’t need a pillar.)

Grimrock isn’t, I think, quite as polished as DM was — but it makes up for a fair bit with the massively improved speed, responsiveness, and graphics. No more minute-long load screens. :) The character system is comparable, though quite a bit different; both games give you a fair amount of freedom in what your characters will be like, the big difference being that DM let any character master any class, while Grimrock requires you to pick classes in advance.

Honestly, the single biggest difference is this: Doors don’t take up a square, rather, they are between squares. The “drop a door on them” strategy is tragically gone. And that is the most significant difference, by far, between this and a game that was released in 1987… And is still one of the best games I’ve ever played.

Rating? Let’s call it a 9.0/10. But ratings don’t tell you what you want, because they presuppose that you have the good taste to enjoy the same kinds of games I do.

If you liked DM, or EotB, or Black Crypt, you want this game. Even if you never play it, $15 to support devs and make more games like this happen is a good use of money. If you have never played any of those, but you have ever liked dungeon crawls in any format (tabletop RPGs, etc.), you should seriously consider trying this one. Just… Be ready for the learning curve to be a little steep. It’s not supposed to be particularly easy.

If you thought DM was too hard, or EotB was too complicated and the puzzles got in your way, skip it.

And if you ever wanted a level editor for DM, buy this so the devs can afford to work on that.

Peter Seebach

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The tone argument argument: A straw man in motion

(Personal, Politics)

2012-04-11 10:18
Comment [4]

Someone linked me to a discussion of the tone argument. Here’s the key point:

But a person who uses the tone argument does the opposite: he refuses to face up to the wrong he has done or do anything about it, much less apologize. Instead he turns it on you, making it not about what you said but how you said it.

This is a wonderful piece of writing, but it stays focused on a specific case — the case where the person arguing that you should say things more nicely is the one you’re saying them to, rather than some random bystander or participant in a discussion.

The thing is, the tone argument isn’t a logical fallacy, because it’s not a logical argument at all. No one is saying “you are strident, therefore wrong”. They are saying “you are hostile, therefore I am not interested in listening.” That’s not a fallacy at all, because it’s not a claim about the truth or falsehood of positions.

And the fact is, whether or not people say it, it’s usually true; people will generally massively underrate the importance of things that are said by people who are obviously highly emotional, and tend to give much more weight to things stated calmly and politely.

The question, as always, is this: Do you want to persuade people or do you want to express your feelings? Because if you want to persuade people, you need to learn to do it calmly and politely. And if you want to express your feelings, you need to be able to accept that other people will express theirs too.

Me? I say play to win. The goal should be to make people understand, and that means writing and speaking calmly. Polite persuasive writing works. Angry writing only sounds persuasive to the people who already agree.

Peter Seebach

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Comment [4]

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Stereotypes: Sometimes not purely made up.

(Personal)

2012-04-11 09:52
Comment

Homophobia stronger in unacknowledged gays.

That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but basically, people who have measurable same-sex attractions, but don’t acknowledge those, are likely to be more vehemently and/or violently hostile to gays than people who don’t have those attractions.

The observation that there’s an unusually high density of closeted gays involved in the most outspokenly hostile anti-gay stuff is not merely a confirmation bias; there’s an actual pattern there.

Peter Seebach

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Dear Mr. Santorum: You are out of order

(Personal, Politics)

2012-04-10 17:29
Comment

Someone made a quip that Rick Santorum ought to have to carry his dead campaign to term, but this is of course ridiculous.

After he has a 10” plastic thing shoved into him and prodded around forcefully for an hour or so, either looking at a slideshow of his campaign photos or listening to a publicist talk about how the campaign is viable, really, he should be allowed to start a 24-hour waiting period after which he’s allowed to make an appointment with a different publicist who’s allowed to help him stop his campaign.

Peter Seebach

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Power laws and percentages

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2012-04-09 11:47
Comment

So, was thinking more about the Million dollar Murray article. This raises an interesting question.

When things have a power law distribution of some sort, it is not obvious whether it is more useful to think in numbers of people or in percentages of the population. You might think they’re the same; they’re not.

Imagine that you have a population of 100 homeless people. Of these people, 99 stay in a shelter for a single night, and one stays in the shelter for 99 nights.

1% of the people are in the shelter more than once. But! 50% of the person-shelter-nights are associated with recurring visitors, while only 50% are associated with one-time visitors.

So is it more useful to think of the recurring-homelessness in this case as being 1% of the problem, or 50% of the problem? Both are at least potentially useful ways to think about it. I’m not so much arguing that there is a single right answer as that it’s important to remember that both answers exist.

The application of this I’m most aware of is talking about life expectancies for people with illnesses which typically kill either quite quickly or quite slowly. If half the people who get a disease live for 6 months, and half live for 10 years, then any sample of living people who have the disease will show many more than half who have had it over six months, despite the 50% mortality rate by six months.

When using statistics, you always have to stop and ask what exactly it is that you think you’re measuring.

Peter Seebach

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Followup on homelessness and the like

(Personal, Politics)

2012-04-09 10:01
Comment

Million-dollar Murray is a more detailed look at some of the issues to do with homelessness and social services.

The general take-home lesson, between these and many other studies (such as the Economist’s report that simply giving homeless people stuff works better than most social programs), is that the frenetic energy devoted to avoiding wasting money is wasting much, much, more money than it saves.

“Penny wise, pound foolish” has apparently been adjusted for inflation.

Peter Seebach

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Hatred is still scary

(Personal, Politics)

2012-04-08 20:43
Comment

So, our friend Rah did something pretty awesome. She made cheap, portable, housing. The summary of the thesis is particularly endearing.

This is a pretty cool idea. And the thing is… homelessness does suck, and it really is very hard to get from homeless to not-homeless, for all the reasons she points out.

So, of course, Oregon being a bleeding heart liberal area, most people are supportive.

Let us see what modern ‘‘compassionate conservatives’‘ have to say about the idea of giving people who want to improve their lives the tools they need to do so.

yankeeshogun: Thank you, Miss Cloutier. Please have the vagrants park their poverty traps outside your parents’ house.

(post deleted by newspaper): If I saw one of these, I would be compelled to torch it.

ltjd: I’m wondering if Sarah’s enthusiasm will wain when her second trailer is sold, traded or bartered away for drugs, alcohol and/or cigarettes?

glockisback: Just more feelgood liberal idiocy coming from some lefty out of portland. Such a joke. Really sad yo libs take this crap seriously. But then you all voted for 0bami, adams, kitz, and merkely.

SteeleWall: As long as they restrict them to downtown Portland little harm can come of this idea. Downtown Portland has been slowly turning into the classic city core dump since the 1990s anyway. Why not finish the job? Portland is blessed with a number of pleasant neighborhoods that offer all the consumer and entertainment amenities of the downtown area and more. Without the street dwelling element. Sellwood Woodstock Hawthorne-Sunnyside Belmont Nob Hill Multnomah Village. With more coming online each year. There is no more need for shoppers partiers and families to patronize the downtown core than there is for its denizens to migrate outward.
Portland is following the lead of city centers like Detroit San Francisco Los Angeles Chicago Philadelphia and Boston. Maybe the little vagrant wagon concept will fit right in. Like $250,000 public toilets for street drug users and service centers for illegal aliens. If Portland has to have them, keep them where the clientèle hangs out and where you want them to stay.

RailwayMan: And then there are those people who have suffered all those problems during their lives and pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to make a better life anyway.
How do you explain their successes without all the “free assistance” being suggested.
Perhaps some people are just stronger individuals than others?
Does it mean society has an obligation to always offer a hand to the weaker at the expense to all?
Isn’t that a “socialist society?”
Is that what is being advocated here; our society become a socialist one?

hobowatcher: Stop treating homeless like they don’t want to be there.
They want to be able to continue their “lifestyle” ie drugs, alcohol, freebies but will tell you all the negatives about their lives in order to get more from you while continuing their destructive habits.
They play you and the system.
If you don’t believe me, ask the next homeless you meet if they would rather come with you to learn a trade and get out of their lives they “find themselves” or $100 right now.

The victim-blaming mentality really has gotten insane. You can tell that “hobowatcher” never tried this, for instance. Other posts (some now deleted) expressed similar thoughts.

EDIT: It’s been pointed out that this piece appears to ascribe bad motives to all opposition to the project. This is not my intent; there are plenty of people who have considered or reasonable concerns about the project. These people were picked out, not because their comments were representative of all concerns or doubts about Rah’s project, but because they were representative of a particular kind of contempt for other people.

I know a fair number of people who were, at one point or another, homeless. I know a lot more who would have been if it hadn’t been for timely interventions by friends. Some of them are people who had 20-year careers and then ended up with a sustained period of unemployment starting sometime in 2008.

By and large, people would rather be supporting themselves, if they could. It is totally possible that there are exceptions, sure. But there are a lot of people for whom a small amount of really helping, not just half-helping, would result in them ending up back in the workforce. In fact, many will end up on their feet again given even a little bit of help, as long as the help is actually giving them what they need, rather than spending an immense amount of effort trying to prevent them from “cheating”.

A friend of mine ended up homeless once, some years back. There came to pass a situation in which a landlord delivered a deadline and an eviction notice. The state chose to suggest that they would offer a small portion of the money that would be needed to prevent the eviction, because they can’t just let people get their rent paid. Result? They saved $400 or so. They also accepted the costs of having two people homeless, thus unable to hold jobs, thus consuming food stamps and other assistance, for several months. That means no income, no taxes, no property taxes paid directly or indirectly, no sales tax, and hundreds of dollars of benefits used up. “Saving” that $400 easily cost the state and local governments a couple thousand.

Idiocy.

But the thing is, it’s not fueled by idiocy. It’s fueled by hatred and contempt. It’s vitally important that these people believe that they are morally superior to the people who end up destitute, not just luckier. Otherwise, they might feel guilty.

The argument that the homeless are weak and the people who succeeded without help are strong is mystifying. First, it’s mostly not true; luck plays a much larger role in events than people like to admit (see Kahneman’s [i]Thinking, Fast and Slow[/i], for some discussion of just how bad people are at recognizing chance events). But even if it were true, what’s the proposed solution? Kill all the weak people to make the race stronger? Godwin’s Law territory. Point and laugh at weaker people? I like to think most of us outgrew that by third grade.

My personal favorite, though, remains:

nutty4hoops: I have a better idea. Why don’t you looney liberals let all the homeless people live with you? Oh…you don’t actually want to help people? You just want us Republicans to be productive and earn big money then give our money to unproductive lazy liberals?

The amount of projection and dishonesty is amazing; after all, Rah is the one who has actually done something. But the beauty of it is, our hero is suggesting that an art student ought to be supporting homeless people. Apparently unaware that there is a platinum-iridium art student in a vault in Paris, serving as the metric unit for “poor”.

The thing is, nowhere in the story is it said that Rah, or the advocates of this plan, do not take in homeless people. I know that many people I know have supported one or two other people at one time or another, because that’s what decent humans do. The writer of this comment, though, is probably not one of them. See, you have to ask: Why does this writer take it for granted that Rah, and her family and friends, don’t actually let the homeless come live with them? Because the writer wouldn’t, that’s why. Most people I know would, and we would never dream of assuming that someone else would be unwilling to, because that would be a ridiculously uncharitable assumption to make. But then, most of us don’t derive our entire sense of personal worth from being luckier than other people, which we ascribe to our personal virtues.

This may not work. It may prove impractical, it may run into legal problems, it could run into any number of barriers. But I am really proud of Rah, who has tried to solve a systemic and structural problem, rather than sitting around wringing her hands.

Way to go, Rah.

Peter Seebach

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Oh, what a beautiful piece of writing

(Personal)

2012-04-07 20:08
Comment [4]

A Person Paper on the Purity of Language (I’m sure there must be other copies somewhere) is a fascinating read.

On the one hand, it’s obvious that the person who wrote (in the KJV’s translation of Genesis) “male and female created He him”, did not think that the word “him” was exclusively male. At the same time, the accumulated effect of seeing one category treated as the default, and the other called out specially, is certainly significant. (EDIT: Apparently that itself is a change, because the original KJV said “them”. But I see it quoted as “… created He him” often enough to assert that it’s still a good example.)

But whether or not you agree with the point Hofstadter is making, this much is clear: This is a brilliant use of reframing to make a point.

Peter Seebach

Comment [4]

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We fear change

(Personal, Autism)

2012-04-02 11:58
Comment

Okay, so, the greenhouse project has started. So today, there are holes in our back yard.

And Jesse and I are sort of overloaded and fearful and generally distressed. Because this is change. And change is disconcerting.

This is sort of the classic autistic resistance to change in a nutshell. Consider:

  1. Do we know about this change? Yes.
  2. Did we know about it in advance? Yes.
  3. Do we want this change? Yes.
  4. Have we spent substantial time and effort over a period of months arranging for this change? Yes.
  5. Is it okay that the world is changing in this well-understood way because we have caused it to change? No.

Go figure. I can recognize that this is weird, but the backyard is still wrong.

Peter Seebach

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