Initial impressions of RIFT

(GeekStuff)

2011-01-29 12:03
Comment

I play MMOs sometimes. I’ve been playing City of Heroes lately, and it’s lovely, but I sometimes want Internet Dragons. But, since Activision turned Blizzard evil, World of Warcraft hasn’t really been a viable option for me.

Enter a shiny new source of Internet Dragons, RIFT. I just heard about this yesterday; I’d never heard of it before that. Our friend Lory got into the beta and played it a bit, and reported that it was extremely fun. We talked about it a bit, and I went ahead and tried the beta. Yeah, it’s fun.

RIFT is going to get called a WoW clone. A lot. It has a lot of things that are eerily familiar to WoW players, including in some cases abilities that have similar icons, similar descriptions, and similar effects. It has a similar basic model in some ways. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a “clone”. RIFT comes across, to me, as what would happen if a bunch of people who used to work on EQ and WoW got together and tried to take into account all the “if I’d known then what I know now…” issues.

The class and advancement system is fascinating, and basically matches the stuff I used to say I wanted WoW to do. You pick a basic “calling” (mage/cleric/rogue/warrior), and then you pick up to three “souls”. Each soul is roughly like a WoW talent tree, but in addition to the powers you directly spend points on, there’s a set of fixed powers that you get based on how many points you’ve spent in that tree. So, for instance, if you have spent 4 points in the Assassin tree, you get a stealth ability automatically.

What this means is that you can hand-tune the roles you want your character to play to a fairly significant degree; much more so than you could in WoW.

The user interface is, in general, slick and polished, and has clearly learned a lot of lessons from other games which had some or all of these features, but in general, it has improvements and more options, and that works quite well. Combat feels a fair bit like WoW, but with some improvements that will be more familiar to people used to other games; for instance, you can queue up another power to use after the current one completes long in advance, you don’t have to button-mash within a few milliseconds of the completion of the previous power.

Background and story are decent, and in particular, they get credit for some fairly slick exposition mechanics; you can just grab your quests and run, or you can ask more questions about things. I like this. PvP is more-optional; specifically, there’s a checkbox for whether to automatically get flagged when flagged players are affected by your buffs, or whether to just not affect them. I like that.

Everyone always asks whether a game will be a WoW-killer. No, it won’t, just as a matter of numbers. However, if you like WoW, but have sometimes wondered what it would be like to adventure in a fantasy world for five or ten minutes without seeing someone say “lol ur gay noob”, RIFT might be a good thing for you to look into. If you mostly like WoW, but the interface is full of mild irritations, you might find RIFT better. I know it will be my source for Internet Dragons for a while.

Peter Seebach

Comment

---

According to the giant donut, I have a knee!

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2011-01-26 14:13
Comment

So my knee’s been hurting lately, and the doctor suggested an MRI. This is awesome fun. HUUUUGE donut full of machinery. Makes loud noises. They provide headphones, which have poor fidelity because they’re driven by a hose with air in it; they couldn’t have actual magnetic drivers near the MRI machine. Note for the curious: You know how they used to have something scary and dangerous called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, which was very scary, but now they have something harmless and safe called Magnetic Resonance Imaging? Same thing. The “nuclear” there just refers to the nucleus of an atom, which is boring and safe, and NMR/MRI is unrelated to fission and fusion.

So anyway, they got “some good pictures”, which means that, according to modern medical science, I have a knee. My Catholic friends, of course, will be quick to point out that all medical science can tell us is that I have the accidents, or outward form, of a knee.

Peter Seebach

,

Comment

---

To be, or not to be...

(Personal)

2011-01-21 15:55
Comment [3]

I’ve sort of come to terms with the fact that my language is changing. And I’ve found a way of thinking about this that makes me a lot happier about it. Instead of viewing every deviation from the usage rules I learned as an “error”, I consider them as proposed updates in a new version of the language.

Here’s an example. Something I’ve seen before occasionally in writing is stuff like “The car’s okay, but the brakes need replaced pretty soon.” Now, I’ve seen this usage in a lot of places, and it’s been gradually getting more common. It’s obviously an omission of that oh-so-crucial helper verb. But wait, let’s look at this as a proposed change.

Imagine that we simply added a new rule: “When you would write to-be-verbed after a verb that implies intent or future outcome, you can omit the words “to be” because they are obvious in context.”

Would that be a good rule? I’m pretty sure it would. I have never, ever, seen an instance of this usage which created any kind of ambiguity. I don’t see any harm from it. Heck, I’ll probably start doing it now. If there’s a problem with that, it needs found out before things get out of control.

This is sort of like my recent realization that “quelle horreur” is a perfectly valid English exclamation meaning “I can’t comprehend how this could possibly be cause for concern”, just as the formerly reflexive pronouns (e.g., “himself”) are now mostly used as formality cues for their base pronouns.

Peter Seebach

Comment [3]

---

This just in: "flaunt" is not fancy-talk for "have".

(Personal, GeekStuff)

2011-01-18 15:58
Comment [1]

Someone recently reported that the iPhone 5 would be “flaunting” a Cortex A8 processor. As a guy who works on embedded toolchains, I actually know roughly what that means. I could even speculate as to its implications…

But you can be pretty sure that ads for the iPhone 5 won’t say “Now, with Cortex A8 processor!” and it won’t be on the box. They won’t advertise “Cortex A8” in the specification list on the web site.

Which is to say, they won’t flaunt it.

I really wish tech reporters would focus less on trying to find more words they can use, and more on using words which actually describe the things under discussion.

Peter Seebach

,

Comment [1]

---

Barclay/Juniper charges interest on fees, or do they?

(Personal)

2011-01-16 14:44
Comment

My credit card statement on my Barclaycard (aka Juniper VISA) account showed up with an unexplained $2.00 charge. Why $2.00? Because that’s the minimum amount of interest they can charge. What were they charging interest on? $0.46. But my statement showed the whole balance as being paid. When I asked a rep about this, he said that they charge interest on foreign transaction fees starting immediately, like cash advances. Now, foreign transaction fees are already sorta sleazy, but that quickly migrates into “ridiculous”. I asked them to cancel the account, whereupon I was transferred to a specialist who looked into it and informed me that no, they don’t charge interest on these fees, it was purely a banking error.

For now, I’m not cancelling, but I mention this in case anyone else gets told that they are charged interest on foreign transaction fees; that seems like a lovely scam to run, and my suspicion is that they charge that interest unless you notice and complain.

Peter Seebach

Comment

---

Stupidest liar ever

(Personal)

2011-01-12 15:50
Comment [5]

Okay, this is a thing of beauty. So, there’s this long ongoing thread on a forum I hang out on, on the topic of whether or not a wind-powered vehicle can move directly downwind faster than the wind. Answer: Yes, surprising though it may seem.

Anyway, one of the participants in the thread spent a great deal of time making claims and predictions and insulting people, and eventually disappeared. And a while later, a new guy shows up who makes the same arguments, uses the same insults, and claims he’s not the first guy. No one is fooled.

Anyway, I pointed out that, now that I technically have access to IP address logs, I could look him up and see whether it’s the same guy. (Answer: What, you think I’m gonna reveal secret stuff? Not likely.)

His response: Almost immediately, the first account comes back and announces that he’s really a different guy. (I’d open a betting pool on whether the new post just happened to come from a proxy server somewhere far away, but really, where would I find someone dumb enough to take the bet?)

If you accused him of taking cookies, he’d say he didn’t, then spontaneously volunteer that, by the way, unrelated to any recent discussions, he should mention that a guy in a mask broke into his room and hid a cookie jar there, only he didn’t think to mention it until now.

Peter Seebach

Comment [5]

---

"Eliminationist" -- what a lovely word

(Personal, Politics)

2011-01-11 16:41
Comment [3]

I was discussing the recent shootings with my mom, and pointed out that I can’t help but feel that the widespread use of crosshair graphics and “take to the streets” type language might be a contributor to such things. She pointed out that this rhetoric is not particularly exclusive to the right wing. That’s true, both “sides” in US politics have tended to it of late. She also gave me a word for it; “eliminationist rhetoric”.

I’ve got a few loosely-connected thoughts on this.

First, it doesn’t matter who else was doing it; Sarah Palin’s map with crosshairs over a list of people she dislikes was an inappropriate communication in and of itself, and no one who talks like that, let alone does so habitually, is contributing to our debates in a positive way. And that goes just as much for everyone else. But I think the most important thing for us to do is stop with this “but they do it too” response. No one cares, or at least, no one should. If your candidate is doing something that is objectively inappropriate or stupid or likely to lead to harm, you should be actively campaigning to get that stopped and changed — not pointing out that someone else does it worse.

It’s important to remember that people don’t take criticism from “outsiders” nearly as well as criticism from people they recognize as on their “side”. What that means is that, if you’re a Democrat, and your response to someone pointing out eliminationist rhetoric used by a Democrat is to complain about Republicans doing the same thing, you are making it worse. You’re increasing the sense of persecution and harassment the Republicans feel, by being an outsider criticizing them for something people on your side are also doing. You’re also justifying and defending behavior which is genuinely harmful. Knock it off!

But there’s a secondary question. Is eliminationist rhetoric really that bad?

Yes. Yes it is. Humans are equipped by nature with an astounding variety of psychological defense mechanisms to help us view ourselves as good and other people as bad, and to help us discount harms done to “them” because “they” aren’t as important as we are. They deserve these bad outcomes, because they’re bad, unlike us. And this rhetoric goes straight to the core of that instinct and starts pressing the reward lever.

Here’s the reality: Neither the people who voted for, nor who voted against, the health care bill last year were out to destroy America, or were idiots, or were fools, or didn’t have some kind of sense of the problems with the bill, or the problems it was trying to solve. Seriously. They were, by and large, adults with a decent education who had talked about this issue, thought about it, and reached a conclusion as to what outcome they thought would be the best. You think the ones who disagree with you should have listened to your side more? You can make that happen. Stop the eliminationist rhetoric. Stop telling them that they’re bad and horrible and you don’t care what they think, and maybe they might care what you think.

Polarizing politics is a great way to drum up votes, but in the long run, it is also a great way to keep people from thinking clearly about the issues. Eliminationist rhetoric is a great way to make people feel afraid, but it’s a very bad way to make them learn to get along.

And the fact is, we have to get along. The alternative, an “impeachment process” involving a mentally disabled man lobbing bullets around, is hardly a viable basis for a system of government.

So, seriously. Drop the eliminationist rhetoric. Stop demonizing the people you disagree with. Start asking them what they believe instead of telling them what they believe. Stop mistaking your beliefs about the likely outcomes of their actions for their intent in taking those actions. Instead of organizing groups of like-minded people who sit around holding everyone else in contempt, start seeking out people you disagree with and really listening to them.

Consider that “eliminationist” means “full of, and emitting, shit”. It may seem like a pun, but if you keep it in mind while reading various diatribes calling for people to be forced out of office with guns if necessary, you may find it clarifies the matter substantially.

Peter Seebach

,

Comment [3]

---

ADHD: More on exactly what's going on.

(Personal, Autism)

2011-01-09 22:34
Comment

My mom wrote about recent research on ADHD. This is of interest to me in part because I was the one who pointed her at the articles. But it’s also of interest to me because it’s such a very good description of what goes wrong with my brain. It also, I think, explains why fidgets work so well for helping me focus; if I’m fidgeting, the default mode network can busy itself fidgeting while I go pay attention to something else.

As I may or may not have commented while writing about autism recently, ADHD doesn’t feel like an identity thing to me. I’ve been on meds which made it go away (at the expense of hospital visits), and I wasn’t any less me, I was just me with the magical ability to pay attention for more than 5-10 seconds at a time. I wouldn’t object to being “cured”. Although… It seems to me that a brain like mine, “cured” of ADHD, would still probably be pretty different from a brain without ADHD. In some ways that maybe would be sorta useful. So maybe I’m wrong, and a real “cure” that made my brain not ADHD-like to begin with would make me into something or someone else. No idea.

But not remembering what I’m doing is frustrating enough that I’d be glad to yield the floor to Pays Attention Man, who was bitten by a radioactive day planner and knows why he came down to the kitchen.

Peter Seebach

,

Comment

---

The Skeptic's Skeptic's Skeptic

(GeekStuff, Religion)

2011-01-06 16:56
Comment [2]

I’m sad to write this, because I (used to?) think quite highly of Michael Shermer. His column in Scientific American about skepticism has often really appealed.

However, there’s a risk we always face. Once you identify yourself with a label, you’ve created a sense of self-identity in that label, and the natural thing to do is talk the label up, and promote other people who share that label. This is how humans work, whether they’re skeptics or not. We have a very strong set of instincts designed to make us loyal to “us” and hostile to “them”.

In the November issue of Scientific American (unlike skeptics, I am very slow to get around things), Shermer’s column was titled The Skeptic’s Skeptic.

Happily, The Skeptic’s Skeptic is online, so you can read it.

Let me quote two parts that particularly interested me.

If God created the eye, then how do creationists explain the blind salamander? “The most they can do is to intone that ‘the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,’” Hitchens mused. “Whereas the likelihood that the postocular blind­ness of underground salamanders is another aspect of evolution by natural selection seems, when you think about it at all, so overwhelmingly probable as to con­stitute a near certainty.” To confirm his instincts, Hitchens queried evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who agreed: “Why on earth would God create a salamander with vestiges of eyes? If he wanted to create blind salamanders, why not just create blind salamanders? Why give them dummy eyes that don’t work and that look as though they were inherited from sighted ancestors?”

Now, to see the problem here, you have to know who Richard Dawkins is. Richard Dawkins is an evangelical atheist. By that I mean, not only is he an atheist, he has made a career out of aggressively promoting atheism, talking up atheism, and attacking religion and religious people. To give you some idea of how ludicrous this gets, consider that Richard Dawkins was, at one point, promoting awareness of The Rational Response Squad. (WARNING: Link is to Encyclopedia Dramatica. It is quite possibly inaccurate, but it gives a much clearer picture of the essential character of the group than anything else would.)

So Shermer would have us believe that, when you want to confirm that an argument showing people you loathe and despise to be wrong is a persuasive argument, you should naturally take it to someone who is even more famous for loathing and hating those people. Dude. That is not how skepticism is done. That is not how you test a theory. This has all the scientific rigor of, to use a purely hypothetical example, having someone who has a patent on a competing vaccine do a clinical study to determine whether a given vaccine is linked to autism.

Shermer continues:

Hitchens’s point is even deeper, however, when he applies the counterfactual argument of regression to the cosmos itself, noting that “there is a dialectical usefulness to considering the conventional arguments in reverse, as it were. For example, to the old theistic question, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ we can now counterpose the findings of Professor Lawrence Krauss and others, about the foreseeable heat death of the universe…. So, the question can and must be rephrased: ‘Why will our brief ‘something’ so soon be replaced with nothing?’ It’s only once we shake our own innate belief in linear progression and consider the many recessions we have undergone and will undergo that we can grasp the gross stupidity of those who repose their faith in divine providence and godly design.”

Note that most of this is a quote from Hitchens, not Shermer’s own words. But he continues (page 2 of the linked article, containing an entire paragraph):

The dialectical usefulness of clear logic, coupled to elegant prose (layered on top of the usual dollop of data), cannot be overstated and should be considered by scientists as another instrument of persuasion in the battle for ideas. 

You know, when I try to persuade people, one of the first things I usually do is accuse them of gross stupidity; I feel this makes them more receptive to what I have to say. Oh, wait. That wasn’t me, that was some utter lunatic who has never tried to interact with other human beings. Me, I try to be a little friendlier. The problem here is that the prose isn’t particularly elegant or effective; it’s just prose that affirms Shermer’s prejudices. The mutual back-patting society has worked its magic, and produced the characteristic blindness towards what other people actually believe that has so defined the impossibility of talking to many religious fundamentalists.

Clear logic? Yes, certainly, “clear logic” would be a great way to describe the jump from “one argument commonly used by creationists, who are a minority among religious people, isn’t particularly persuasive, and here’s a sort of witty way of phrasing that” to “… we can grasp the gross stupidity of those who repose their faith in divine providence and godly design.” Well, I don’t know; is non sequitur the Latin phrase for “clear logic”?

Here’s the thing. Skepticism is supposed to be about trying to check your ideas carefully. Checks and balances, sanity checks, double-checks, and watching out for biases. That’s skepticism. You know what you should do when you think you have found an argument against someone’s position? Show it to someone who actually holds that position. That would be a good starting point. If they don’t think it’s persuasive, well, maybe it isn’t very persuasive. Showing it to someone you already know agrees with you strongly and has a deeply vested emotional interest in thinking the argument you’re attacking is stupid tells you nothing. Skeptics or not, very few people are capable of giving a fair evaluation in a circumstance like that.

There is a temptation, of course, to write this piece, then wait for the inevitable response, accusing me of only writing this because of my own biases. Evangelical atheists who know that I’m religious are always quick to point out my powerful biases against evolutionary biology and in favor of intelligent design. But, in this case, I’m afraid I must disappoint. I think evolutionary biology is transparently obvious at this point, I don’t see any reason at all to appeal to “intelligent design” in explaining life on earth as we know it, and I am quite confident that the phrase “intelligent design” was coined purely out of genuinely dishonest intent by people who wanted to break laws and get away with it. The problem here is not that Hitchens has a bad argument; while it’s hardly necessary to find even more arguments against intelligent design, this looks at least superficially like a persuasive one.

The problem is that the modern “Skeptics” have started laying the foundations for a new social structure indistinguishable from an organized religion or political party, founded in a desire that the people identified as “Us” be thought of as good and clever and superior, and the people identified as “Them” be thought of as stupid, dysfunctional, and inferior. To that end, Shermer is praising Hitchens, not because his behavior could possibly be objectively mapped onto the word “skeptical” in any meaningful sense, but because his behavior and his anti-religious ranting affirm Shermer’s sense of superiority to those stupid intelligent design people.

It is particularly frustrating to me to see this done to the word “skeptic”, which at one point could be used to denote a genuine devotion to outsmarting the primate brain’s tendency to try to feel good about itself no matter what happens. Now, the word “skeptic” is being hijacked to mean “people who are as dogmatic and unthinking in their rejection of anything labeled as or associated with religion as their enemies are in their enthusiastic acceptance of anything labeled as or associated with religion.” Just as there are people who really do fall for 419 scams because the scam letter starts out “Greetings in the name of our Lord”, we now see atheists who get scammed because they assume an atheist is necessarily trustworthy.

Shermer should know better. Heck, he does. But he’s still a primate, and the battle with the primate brain is not one you can declare victory in just by assigning yourself a title.

Peter Seebach

,

Comment [2]

---

Numerical literacy: It happens to other people.

(GeekStuff)

2011-01-02 13:02
Comment [1]

This article about Zimbabwe’s old currency contains a thing of beauty:

Scientists and physicists estimate the number of atoms in the universe at 10 to the power of 80 — 10 followed by 80 zeros.

During the worst of Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown and hyperinflation, Zimbabwe’s highest money denominations were logged at 10 to the power of 25 — 10 followed by 25 zeros — or the equivalent of nearly one third of the number of atoms estimated in the universe.

Now, to fully appreciate this, you have to understand that the mathematical genius writing this had just been commenting on how people had expressed concern for the effect on mathematical ability and basic numeracy of the money. But a writer who presumably comes from a more stable part of the universe can’t even get things right within a factor of a few hundred trillions of trillions.

This is a pretty stunning failure to understand the basics of how our number system works.

Here’s a puzzler for the author, one “Angus Shaw”: Given your theory that a one with 25 zeroes after it is “nearly one third” of a one with 80 zeroes after it, let’s try an experiment.

You give me a thousand dollars. I give you three tens. Since a one with one zero after it is a third as much as a one with three zeroes after it, then a one with one zero after it, three times should be just as much as a one with three zeroes after it, right? And because I am such a generous guy, heck, I’ll give you FOUR tens in exchange for your thousand dollars, meaning you get ten times as much money as you give! I will happily do this as often as you’d like. I am just that nice.

Edited to add: Looks like Angus Shaw and the AP don’t understand how journalism works. When you edit a piece after it’s gone live, you identify the edit. You don’t try to pretend you didn’t screw up. A little integrity goes a long way, folks.

Edited again: To clarify, the key thing here is not that we need an exact, detailed, change log (though since you can generate those with software with perfect reliability and zero effort, it would be a nice thing to do), but that if you edit something with no indication that any edit occurred, it makes it look suspiciously like you’re trying to hide that you screwed up. In particular, consider that there’s now no way for someone reading my post, and the linked article, to tell whether or not I’m misquoting the article, and if they see the article first, with no indication that it was edited, they might assume I’m just confused.

Peter Seebach

Comment [1]

---

« Older Newer »