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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

YES, WE ADMIT IT

"Off the record, every suspicion you have about MSM being in the tank for O is true. We have a team of 4 people going thru dumpsters in Alaska and 4 in arizona. Not a single one looking into Acorn, Ayers or Freddiemae. Editor refuses to publish anything that would jeopardize election for O, and betting you dollars to donuts same is true at NYT, others. People cheer when CNN or NBC run another Palin-mocking but raising any reasonable inquiry into Obama is derided or flat out ignored. The fix is in, and its working."
-A reader at a major newsroom
*via Right Wing News

THO'

"I say thee nay!

Now here's an odd bit of movie news: Kenneth Branagh is being considered for the directorial chair for the upcoming Thor movie. Branagh is best known for his Shakespearan work (his first directing job was for the excellent Henry V movie in 1989), so he'd be comfortable with Thor's ancient diction and language. According to Michael Fleming at Variety:
Kenneth Branagh is negotiating to direct "Thor," the next Marvel Comics property that will be turned into a live-action film by Marvel Studios. Pic will be released in 2010.

Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige's choice of Branagh is surprising, as Branagh hasn't really directed an action-heavy film since his debut on "Henry V," a bloody telling of the British king's conquest of France.

Branagh is the latest in a string of directors -- such as Jon Favreau ("Iron Man"), Christopher Nolan (the Batman franchise) and Gavin Hood ("X-Men Origins: Wolverine") -- with arthouse roots taking on big-budget comicbook fare.
The effort by Marvel to make quality movies out of what people consider kid's stuff is a smart move; DC is moving the same route with their Batman efforts. Thor is less about amazing action and stunts than storytelling and mythology, so this is a smart fit, as far as I'm concerned. The only thing that could be a problem is Branagh's gigantic ego.

The Thor movie is set for release in 2010 with a script at present by Mark Protosevich who has previously written scripts for The Cell and I Am Legend. Casting has not yet begun, but fans are suggesting actors such as Karl Urban (Bourne Supremacy) and even Triple H. Certainly you need someone with very strong, nordic features, a huge build, and an aura of fury and unbelievable power. Unlike the mythological Thor, Marvel's version has long blonde hair (instead of red) and no beard.

Marvel is financing the entire operation, and after the successes of X-Men and Iron Man, they can certainly afford the $500 million budget. Let's hope they do it justice, Thor is one of my favorite characters.
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REPORTING GAFFES

Senator Biden
Senator Joe Biden is just a festival of gaffes, just about every time he's in front of a microphone he finds a way to say something goofy or boneheaded. Some people are just inclined that way, such as Vice President Quayle, and others are almost always very smooth and careful. The news media is sort of compelled to report these, because word gets out and it's just fun to poke at someone who does something stupid.

Yet does the reporting have to be mockery or an attempt to make the reporter look bad? Here's an example of covering a gaffe from CBS by Ryan Corsaro:
As he exited the hotel for his dinner break, Biden was asked “Senator, can we get your reaction to the House bill not passing?”

Biden interrupted the question with a “Hey folks,” to reporters and then said “Oh, things are going well.”

Biden’s press secretary, David Wade, sent an e-mail minutes later, saying “the senator thought you asked how prep was going” for this week’s debate with Gov. Sarah Palin.

Prior to Biden's departure, the press was moved further away from the hotel's exit, perhaps far enough away that it prevented Biden from clearly hearing the question.
Now, if the gaffe is an honest mistake or a stumbled word (57 states instead of 47, for instance, or Sunni instead of Shia), this is the best way to handle it: here's what he said, here's the clarification, here's probably what happened. Mocking someone in the press or a report with a heavily implied wink see how stupid they are is just inappropriate and undignified.

Sure, if a candidate says something really dumb, or something that demonstrates a blatant inability to do their job or understand the world around them there's good reason to point that out and show the problem. If a candidate doesn't know what the first amendment to the US Constitution is or can't name the city they represent, that's a problem that should be noted.

The problem that is starkly evident right now isn't that they did a good job noting how Senator Biden's stumble came about and what he meant - that's decent reporting. It's that they're so very willing to do so with Senator Biden and not for example Governor Palin. If you cannot do your job properly for everyone, stop acting like you're objective and neutral in your reporting.

Of course, if they came out and admitted that and made it plain each report the legacy media would lose their primary power: fooling enough people that they are just reporting the facts that they can influence elections and public policy. And when, instead of wanting to accurately report the news, you believe your job is to make the world a better place (as defined by moving it to the left and supporting Democratic Party politicians) that's simply not an acceptable option.

FAVORITE DISKS

"I wish I could be the guy who puts on headphones and listens to this album for the first time"
-David Gilmour

Dark Side of the Moon
I don't catch the show very often, but on VH1 there is a program that runs called Classic Albums, a documentary about how various influential and well-received albums were made. Last night I watched part of the making of Dark Side of the Moon, which I consider the best rock album of all time. The members of Pink Floyd who worked on it had a certain reverential tone when they spoke of the album and the tracks on it, even Alan Parsons was very respectful, as if they all knew they were dealing with something monumental and amazing. Each of these shows has been incredible to watch, peeling back layers of songs so you can hear how each one was built and why, and the entire process makes me even more amazed that anyone can actually write original music, let alone of such surpassing quality.

Some albums are amazing to me because every single song, start to finish, is just great. Most records or CDs you listen to have several great songs, some passable stuff, and a few clunkers. But some are just so good they are a pleasure every time, every song. There aren't many of these, but as I began to run through the lists of albums I hunted up and examining the large music collection my brother has, I saw quite a few.

This is in no way a complete list, and there are other albums by the same artists I would put on this list (Supertramp, for example, has several). You'll notice many of the "best albums of all time" are missing not because I don't think they are very fine albums, but because they aren't the kind I want to just throw on and listen to from start to finish with a smile on my face every time. This is in no particular order, and without explanation, they just are what they are.
U2: Joshua Tree
Fleetwood Mac:
Rumors
Pink Floyd:
Dark Side of the Moon
Midnight Oil:
Earth and Sun and Moon
Bruce Springsteen:
Born to Run
The Who:
Who's Next
The Eagles:
Hotel California
Led Zeppelin:
In Through The Out Door
Guns 'n' Roses:
Appetite for Destruction
Roxy Music:
Avalon
AC/DC:
Back in Black
Neil Young: Harvest
Talking Heads:
Little Creatures
Johnny Cash:
American IV: The Man Comes Around
INXS:
Welcome to Wherever You Are
Van Halen:
Van Halen
Metallica:
Metallica (the black album)
Crowded House:
Crowded House
Gordon Lightfoot:
Summertime Dream
Bruce Cockburn:
Stealing Fire
Cowboy Junkies:
Trinity Session
Elton John:
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Queensryche:
Operation Mindcrime
Iron Maiden:
Number of the Beast
Styx:
Paradise Theater
Supertramp:
Breakfast In America
Megadeth:
Trust
Eric Clapton:
Behind the Sun
Mark-Almond Band:
To The Heart
Masters of the Reality:
Sunrise on the Sufferbus
Neville Brothers:
Yellow Moon
Sting:
Soul Cages
Pat Metheny Group:
Still Life (Talking)
Dire Straits:
Love Over Gold
Gypsy Kings:
Love & Liberte
The Police:
Zenyatta Mondatta
Thomas Dolby:
Golden Age of the Wireless
Pearl Jam:
10
Yes:
Going For the One
Everclear:
Songs From an American Movie 1&2
Pete Townshend:
All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes
Boston:
Boston
Al Stewart:
Year of the Cat
Foghat:
Fool for the City
Loreena McKennit:
The Book of Secrets
Allman Brothers:
Eat a Peach
I'm certain that I have forgotten some, it's hard to remember everything off the top of your head and even with all the lists I looked up to stir my memory I have no doubt there are a few I didn't list. Since I wanted to limit this to one work per artist, I left off quite a few by given artists such as Dire Straits and Allman Brothers who have multiple great albums. And I have no doubt I've missed many, albums I have not heard that are great start to finish.

*UPDATE: In addition to the albums commenters have suggested, I also wanted to add Greatful Dead's last (and in my opinion finest) album Touch of Gray which I intended to then got a phone call and forgot about.

Quote of the Day

"We do not have a crisis at Freddie Mac and particularly Fannie Mae under the outstanding leadership of Frank Raines"
-Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) shortly before Raines resigned in scandal
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Monday, September 29, 2008

ANOTHER QUESTION

Don't Tread
You know, Patrick Henry once famously said "Give me liberty, or give me death!" and he meant it. The founding fathers gave their all, and some died, they all lost much in their efforts to achieve liberty.

Could it possibly be that as we're faced with the first major banking crisis in the newer global economy, we're faced with a lesser challenge: to choose liberty or prosperity? That we may have to choose between a temporary economic tough time in order to maintain liberty in the long run? Is it truly better to surrender so much of the economy and the market to the government's control - allegedly temporarily - in order to hopefully avoid economic disaster, or a significant recession?

Is preventing loss of money truly worth loss of liberty? I can't answer that. Maybe I'm not qualified to ask because I don't have a job to lose or a family to support, but I think it's a question that ought to be asked.

This question was inspired by a speech made by Representative Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) and posted on Right Wing News.

5th GENERATION MASSIVE

"Tank and Healer looking for more!"

Subscriptions 1
I enjoy several massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs). They call them MMORPG with "Role Playing" stuck in there, but they aren't really role playing games. Just because you have a character you play doesn't make them role playing any more than I move a pewter hat around the Monopoly board or play Mario in Super Mario Brothers. There's more to role playing than an alternate identity.

Games such as Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, and City of Heroes have captivated millions, paying ten to twenty dollars a month to play an unlimited amount of time in an online world which has hundreds of thousands of other players - even tens of millions in the case of the largest games such as World of Warcraft. You can interact with these other players from around the world, talk to them, run around in the game together and cooperate in finishing tasks or exploring, and even attack fellow player characters in a test of skill in combat.

Each of these games has gotten more sophisticated and more entertaining as they build upon previous successes and learn from previous mistakes. The first of these games - Ultima Online - was unplayable trash when it was first released, and is a testament to how far these games have gotten in the last ten years even today. As more impressive and amazing games are released, there's a few features that a MMOG needs before it can truly be a new generation of the game systems rather than a minor upgrade.

The generations go something like this:
  1. MUDS and other online interactive text games such as MUD1 and PLATO
  2. Mutiple player service Battlenet from Blizzard, where players could form groups and play Diablo together
  3. Ultima Online, the first true massively multiplayer online graphical game
  4. World of Warcraft, who took Everquest's mistakes and great ideas from other 3rd generation upgrades such as Dark age of Camelot and Anarchy Online blended into a superior game.
The next generation has not come out yet, although games such as Lord of the Rings Online and Age of Conan have some upgrades to WoW's ideas. For the next generation to really set its self apart it will have to have some significantly better features.

Subscriptions 2At present, interaction and real role playing opportunities in these games are severely limited. You cannot customize your character beyond very strict limitations and you cannot really change or have much impact on the world. Lord of the Rings Online has a feature called "chapters" in which as you advance in quests the world changes irrevocably, but it does so the same way for everyone - you're just along for the ride; it isn't based on your actions, but your properly following the script.

Having played these kind of games since the 1st generation way back in the Bulliten Board days of the late 1980s, I have a few ideas on how to move past the present structure of MMOGs.

BALANCE
Princess Fironia VieFirst, the concept of role playing has to supercede the concept of "balance." At present, the desire to have characters who are no more powerful or weak than each other is the dominant design philosophy. This is particularly true in PVP or Player versus Player interaction, where you fight other player characters. In an effort to make this (small) part of the game as "balanced" as possible, that is to have parity between each character so that none are more powerful than any other, the entire game is engineered to achieve this.

With this concept of balance in mind, encounters are tailored to the average, balanced character: this tough a creature will allow you to give this much challenge to any given character in the game. In a real role playing game, the game master or referee will be a human being who reacts to and adjusts encounters to the characters in the game. In a 4th generation MMOG, the system has to be adjusted to the lowest common denominator, so each character is designed to be as close to that as possible.

This concept of balance does a great deal of damage to the ability of characters to be unique and personalized. If you build a character of a given "class" or profession (say, warrior, or wizard) they will be roughly the same as every other character in that profession with very little variation. Thus, your ability to create your character rather than taking on a premade character with some minor and largely meaningless customization (this one has white hair! This one wears a blue robe! This one focuses on fire rather than cold!) is severely limited.

How to address this?
Balance needs to be deemphisized and PVP balance needs to be a separate area. A game with a smarter world that interacts more cleverly with the characters will not need balance as much as present, very simple generation games. In a game where your basic tasks are find the bad guy, kill the bad guy, you can still adjust the encounters on the fly for what the character is like. One of the greatest achievements of Everquest was the Lost Dungeons of Norrath (LDON) expansion. For the first time in Everquest, they introduced "instanced" dungeons which were sealed off, and only the characters were in them - not hundreds of other players. This solved the problem of places like the Guk dungeon which was so full of characters that you could literally walk from one end to another without any danger or even encountering a monster because each little area they showed up in was "camped" by a group zealously guarding their "spawns." It wasn't a dungeon; it was a shopping mall.

Lost Dungeons of Norrath had a special feature in which it would adjust to the size of your group. Had only 3 characters in your party? Then the dungeon shifted so that it was a challenge appropriate to your group with fewer bad guys and fewer of a certain type that increased difficulty. The rewards were smaller, but the challenge and fun was there even if you couldn't find an exact group to invade the dungeon with. This kind of adjusting encounter is a very smart move and could be expanded to match the person in action.

In World of Warcraft, the idea of "Heroic" dungeons has been implemented in which characters can set a dungeon to be significantly tougher and then face an older place with a greater challenge more appropriate to their power level (with greater rewards). This is limited only to the Outlands expansion so far, but it would inject new life into older dungeons as well. City of Heroes has a feature that lets you tailor your encounters to what power level you want: you can make them insanely difficult - and give huge experience - if you choose. This kind of thing demonstrates what games are already capable of.

Most games have "raid" style encounters in which you require the help of sometimes dozens of others to help you succeed in the fight. The monsters are so very heinous and the encounters so incredibly powerful that they simply cannot be done without a tremendous amount of help. Instead of having specific places designed like this, games should have LDON-style adjusting instances. When you go in with 3 guys, the instance is this tough. When you go in with 25, it is significantly worse. Thus, instead of having isolated, raid-only "dungeons," all areas could be open to anyone, but become as tough as they need to be, satisfying both smaller groups and hardcore raid players.

Some work would have to be done to get around clever players (ok I'll attack him bob, then you help out and I'll beat it easy!) by making the rewards lower for that kind of assistance, but it would allow the game to adjust to the characters. Sure, you're playing a character who isn't great in combat but you can still get out there and make it because the world adapts to you - just like GMs will. The quests available to a character should reflect this as well: characters should be offered quests based on who they are, not generic ones for everyone. The rewards can be similar, but the quests should shift to the character in question. OK you're a rogue so I can ask you to help me recover this letter without anyone knowing, but you're a warrior so I need you to guard this caravan, and you're a healer so I need you to get to this area and cure these diseased people.

As computers get more powerful and sophisticated, games can begin to carry this kind of complexity and thus greater opportunity for different kinds of characters to make it without an artificial balance scale being imposed on the game. This would deemphasize balance and allow more personalized characters.

If you feel the need for PVP balance, do it in PVP only. Have some powers only work in PVP or not work, or work differently - but only in PVP. If balancing PVP will affect the rest of the game, it should be kept only to PVP activity.

INTERACTION
Because thousands of other players are active in the same setting as you, the ability of a character to interact with and have real, lasting change on their environment is greatly limited. If you manage to kill the Mummy Lord and save the peoples of the valley, well either the Mummy Lord has to come back or you've finished that quest and nobody else can even try it. That reward you got, that experience, all that fun? Once the quest is done, you either have to lock out other people (for realism's sake) or let it be repeated (for the sake of the other customers). Thus, the same idiot gnoll attacks Qeynos several times a day in Everquest only to die horribly, and has for almost than ten real years. He's killed, but to have the same fun for the next customer, he shows up and runs at the city again, yelling the same challenge.

For this to be a real role playing game, characters have to be able to make permanent, if minor, changes to the world. When you kill Snidely Whiplash, he's got to stay dead. City of Heroes has done some work in this direction by using "instances" where you go in and are either solo or with your group, but no other heroes are involved. You finish the quest in this portion of the city without any other players involved outside the group, and that quest is done - never to be repeated. You defeated Skortch, the Hellion boss. You stopped the bank robbery and captured Skalpell, the Vahlizok leader.

Yet when you go back to the game outside this instance, it is back the way it was. Nobody remembers what you did, and many quests (save the fortune teller, discover Dr Vahlizok, etc) are repeated by players each time they run a character through those levels. World of Warcraft has a rough storyline you follow as time advances, but you can go back to Goldshire or Ratchet and there are people there doing those quests again. Westfall still needs help dealing with the newly formed bandit menace, even though a few months ago you wiped out the boss and broke that entire gang up. Even as you visit, another group is busy wiping out the gang themselves.

Age of ConanYou can't really break up the environment because other players have to interact with that environment. If characters in City of Heroes were able to bust up the city Freedom Force-style, then the entire city would be a wasteland in 24 hours as greifers and kids annihilate every breakable item in sight.

In the game Thief, you play Garrett an almost supernaturally talented thief who can climb walls, sneak past guards, break into almost any setting, steal important items, and basically do all the things you'd expect a very competent burglar to do. Yet because of the balance and interaction limitations of a current MMOG, this is not allowed. Letting a character move places others cannot would be a balance issue - everyone has to have access to the same content, somehow. And it is significantly easier to build a world that is functionally two dimensional rather than need to construct everything with the ability to climb or fly on top of it. Witness the World of Warcraft flying mount limitations: they only work in one expansion because that was built specifically to work with flight. The bulk of the world it simply will not function in.

How to address this?
As AI simulation becomes so complex that a chat program can fool actual people, games need to take advantage of this opportunity. Instead of having one line an NPC (non-player character - guys not played by a human being) can say, have an AI program work with different groups of NPCs. Here's how shop keepers interact, here's what guards are like, here's what the thieve's guild folks talk like - and personalize them slightly (this one is more gruff, this one is all business, this one is romantic, etc).

NPCs should also remember what you've done. Some of this has been implemented, in City of Heroes, the passerbys will praise you after you've done enough, and in some games when you've achieved enough "faction" or "reputation" with a group they will treat you differently. The whole world should work like that. If you killed the Mummy Lord and freed the valley, word should spread: kids should follow you around, shop keepers mention your valorous (or infamous) deeds. Learning the local language should be an option so that you are able to interact in different ways. Sure, the elves will give you quests and sell you some things, but if you speak to them in elven, they'll be more friendly, give you better prices, let you learn different lore, offer you additional materials to buy and give you different quests. As your fame grows, people should come to you and offer you quests, instead of standing around waiting for you to show up. You should get letters and couriers, people asking for help.

Instances give a great deal of opportunity for interaction. One of the more frustrating things about City of Heroes is that despite the fact you are playing a superhero, and you can buy "super strength" you really aren't any stronger than anyone else. You can't lift anything you can't break anything. It's just a way of hitting enemies (and a pretty poor one at that). Instances should allow you to break more things, destroy buildings, cause property damage. You should be able to, even outside instances, pick up something and throw it - like a car. Certainly if you destroy things constantly your reputation should suffer, but it ought to be an option.

You also should be able to make permanent changes to the game. This needs to be controlled - perhaps only in the execution of a quest you can add your name to a wall, or build a totem. Some areas like cities could be more free to this kind of adjustment: I built a shop! I bought a house and painted it green! But the more of this kind of interaction, the better the game will be and the more like a role playing game it becomes.

CUSTOMIZATION
Related to the above is the desire for every player to want their character to be unique. Games such as City of Heroes have a dizzying array of different options available to the player, you can make hundreds of millions of different looking characters. Yet even within that, there is a limitation. You can't make a bent old man, you can't make a child, you can't make someone in a wheelchair (hello, Professor X). You can make characters big or small, thin or tall but always in great shape.

Other games such as Everquest and Age of Conan are even more limited. Small efforts such as hair cuts and adding a cape or costume redesigns are tremendously popular in games when they are added, even though they have absolutely no effect on game play or advancement as a character. More personalization would be very welcome.

How to address this?
In World of Warcraft there is a useful spell that Mages get called "polymorph" which allows you to turn many targets into a helpless, surprised sheep. They put a fun little quest in the game in which you can learn to turn them into a pig instead. That's completely meaningless in terms of game play (although it can be useful in groups with multiple mages - whose polymorph is that?) but it is great fun and very welcome. Hunters in the same game can capture and name their "pets" or hunting companions such as gorillas, two headed buzzards, gigantic velociraptors, spiders, wolves, and so on. That kind of personalization is very welcome and more of it needs to be added into the next generation.

Characters should have more design options, and over time should be allowed to change. You get older, you get stronger, you get fatter, etc if you choose. The characters should be able to personalize everything they own and is part of them. I want my imp to be a bat. I want my druid's bear form to be a polar bear. I want my warrior's armor to look all beat up and dented because he's constantly being hammered on. As the game goes on, your gear should look more like your gear than just stuff everyone can have and probably does. Initially this should be limited, but as you get more powerful and wealthy, more established it should be greater in opportunity and flexibility.

WHAT TO DO
Present MMOGs are built around very basic, simple activities: find the bad guy, kill the bad guy, loot the bad guy. Certainly there are other quests such as "Federal Express" delivery quests where you take an item one place to another, or the dreaded "escort" quests that require you to take someone to another place safely - usually facing ambush and/or the escorted person's incompetence. Yet the core of the game is built around slaughtering an endless assortment of differently shaped creatures.

Thus, characters are designed to kill monsters and most "classes" lack anything beyond that basic task fulfillment in character design. Thus, a character such as a Bard in Everquest or a Rogue in almost any game stands out significantly for having other things they can do besides move and kill things (or assist in that by healing and protecting others). This makes most of the classes very one dimensional and some of them significantly more interesting by having other things they can do.

Many games try to address this by adding trade skills into the mix, although they usually have been a way to merely pull money out of the economy (see below). The problem with trade skills is that they aren't your own. Rogues can do things only rogues can do, but anyone can be a cook or a potter. That doesn't really personalize your character, nor does it give you enough special and interesting you can do while not fighting - especially since characters like rogues can do these trade skills as well.

How to address this?
Lord of the Rings OnlineWorld of Warcraft has exploration experience, where you gain experience points (used to measure how close you are to advancing your character's training) for finding new areas you've not seen before, which is a good step. The MUD Gemstone gave experience for personal actions such as healing or opening locks as well. This needs to be expanded greatly. Characters who are primarily non-combat focused should get experience for doing their thing too. Your rogue snuck past a monster? That should be worth at least some of the experience you'd have gotten for killing them. You healed a disease on someone? That's worth experience. That kind of opportunity should be there for everyone, and you should be able to take advantage of it for everyone.

Tradeskills need a more close and careful look. Is enchanting really a skill anyone should be able to learn, or just some - or one character class? Sure, there should be alternatives - leatherworking can give patches to characters, jewelry can give gems that are added - which have a similar effect, but the more specialized some abilities become, the more they add to the power of a character to be more unique and further to have something to do when they aren't killing.

ECONOMY
One of the greatest weaknesses of online games is the economy. Like any society, a MMOG has an economy with goods and services, usually paid for by coin or some sort of credit system. The money is earned rarely by creating items or doing jobs for people, it is almost exclusively earned by beating up and killing various creatures and taking what they have. These are usually evil monsters who are doing horrible things, but it still is essentially theft and mugging. Putting the ethical aspect of this aside, since nearly every monster has something to either sell or get directly (copper coins, gems, furs, etc), and there is an infinite supply of constantly "respawning" or reappearing enemies, the amount of money that enters the economy is unlimited. There is literally no end to the amount of gold you can possibly achieve in the game. It is controlled only by the time you take to gather it.

Because of this, the value of coins drops over time. What was once a lot of money becomes less and less as characters gather more and more. At the very high powered end of these games, the money comes more quickly and in greater chunks at a time, which makes the rich richer, as it were. As these games have gone on, more "money sinks" or ways to pull money out of the economy have been added, with each game learning from the last. In Everquest, the tradeskills were largely money sinks, with thousands of platinum required to achieve high skill in tailoring, for instance (yes, in other words, you paid to get good at work, rather than being paid). In World of Warcraft items are damaged by use and must be repaired. Money paid to the games "non player" characters such as shop owners vanishes out of the economy (they don't use this money to pay characters, it's just gone).

Further, characters sell items to each other, which has created such a large economy that it actually generates real world money. Not only are there people who play the game exclusively to make in-game money to sell online for real dollars (called gold farming) but items that are rare and even characters are sold for real dollars in auctions online. This has created a separet economy that is actually damaging to the game in some cases. Characters are unable to complete quests because of gold farmers killing all the monsters in an area. Items that used to be special, rare, and unique become more common as these "farmers" go get them and sell them in the auction house. This is closer to a real economy, but it does damage some of the feel of the game.

How to address this?
This is being addressed better and better as games go on, but there are a few real-world concepts that would work well in this regard. In the real world, not everyone uses the same currency. I can't take my dollars and spend them easily in a place that uses Rubles or Drachmas. Why is every gold piece the same in a fantasy game? The exchange rate would affect this value, and so would the cost of moneychanging. Yeah you raided that ancient dungeon, but you came out with ancient coins. Too bad they're only copper - but they are copper from the Age of Glory and worth ten times as much as you thought. Too bad you came out with Dwarven wheel coins, the humans will exchange them for coin of the realm but it will cost you 10%.

Entering a city was usually tax time in ancient cities. You can't get in without paying - cough it up, one coin per weapon, and that wagon is full of goods, that will cost you too. Taxes suck, but they're a very realistic and reasonable part of the world. It would suck money out of the economy and prevent characters from flooding the world with monster's coins.

Just because an area likes bat fur doesn't mean it always will. If you kill 9000 bats and bring their fur doesn't mean that you'll get as much for that 9000th one as you got for the 1st. Prices fluctuate, and ought to based on supply and demand. Bringing bat fur to an area that has no bats might bring a good price - but in the Bat Caves of Gonzoro, it's going to be nearly worthless. This would be somewhat complex to work out, but once in place would be fairly self-sustaining and would make the game interesting and unpredictable. Quest rewards might even vary - I used to want you to bring me seven spider eyes, but the eye market took a dive and now I want bark from this specific tree.

OTHER THOUGHTS
Speaking of spider eyes, one of the most annoying things about MMOGs is how some of the quests work. I remember early on getting a quest that asked me to bring four spider legs for some ghastly recipe or another. Cool, I thought, I know where there's a bunch of spiders, and they have eight each! Even if I somehow obliterate half a spider, that's four legs. Then when I got out there, I discovered the "loot table." Spiders don't always have legs, it turns out. In fact, they rarely have legs. They roll about on the ground like a tumbleweed, legless. It took dozens of spider kills to get four legs. That's asinine.

I understand wanting the quest to be a challenge and to take a certain amount of time. If it was that easy, why would someone pay you to do it? They'd be out there taking down spiders. Plus, the quests are designed to give you enough experience to move along in the game by the time you finish all of them. So you'll have to kill x spiders in y time period before the quest is finished.

So here's what you do: instead of asking for 4 spider legs, you ask for 4 green spider legs or 4 furry spider legs. Not every spider has these. Or, you ask for 40 spider legs, which requires you to kill at least 5 spiders (and probably more, since in the process of killing the dog-sized monster, you'll probably destroy a few legs). Don't limit the supply arbitrarily to make them more rare, have it make sense.

Makin' Stuff
And when you get back to the vendor and he teaches you how to make an item... make sure there's almost nothing in the game a character cannot somehow make. Sure, there should be some legendary artifacts, things no one knows how to make or were given by the gods, something that is unusual and unique. But almost everything else in the game should be possible to make. I'm sick of games which have trade skills of the appropriate type, but can only make a tiny slice of the items out there - vendors selling items you cannot make, for instance. They made these items, why can't I? Where did all this magical treasure come from? Is it dragon poop, falling out of the sky as dragons fly by? Almost every single thing in the game, from benches to broadswords should be something characters can craft, if they have the skill and the equipment.

World of WarcraftFurther, new items should be possible to make. Not just the list of items the game has already, but stuff you invent. This needs to be very carefully tested and controlled, but like the Elder Scrolls games (Arena, Morrowind, etc) which let you invent magic items (usually better than what you can discover) with great skill, you should be able to sit down with the raw materials and invent something unique to yourself. Will you share the recipe, sell it? Will you keep it? Someone else might figure it out too!

This ability to make items would permit greater flexibility in appearance. Instead of making items like a stamped mold, allow characters to combine elements for their own design. Sure, this is a shoulderpad like a football player, but I added spikes and some acid etching. Yes, this shield is like his, but it has your heraldric crest on it, and I put a socket on it to hold a torch. This kind of effort would make tradeskills more of a meaningful part of the game and further would let people be their own character rather that a paper doll assortment of stuff others have. Some designs would be very popular and copied, obviously, but at least they were player-made.

Even if some things aren't player-made, NPCs should be available to craft items on demand. They might need the parts and certainly would charge either money or quests to do the job, but they can make you items you ask for. At least some quest givers should give "vouchers" as a reward - take this to the town and someone can make you an item with it. The voucher would be exchanged for an item custom made that is appropriate for the risk and level of the quest. Instead of one or a couple choices preset for the game, it would be whatever you personally needed or wanted at the time, even if it's just for fun or show.

Risk and Reward
One of the more annoying things that Verant and later Sony Online Enterprises employees would snark was the concept of "risk versus reward." Their version of this was "you should nearly die ten times to earn a copper coin" but the principle is valid: you should be rewarded commensurate to the difficulty. If something is twice as hard, it should be twice as rewarding. If something is a trivial task, it should be almost or completely without reward.

Most games are getting very good at this, but there are still some gaps. Some bosses are much harder than others, some dungeons significantly more challenging, ramping up the challenge geometrically, but raising the rewards very little. That is simply improper for a game.

Further, areas should react to who is there. Like above where monsters should react to who they fight by adjusting difficulty, the spawns should adjust to population density. If ten people are trying to kill lesser snigs for their tasty snigbars, then there needs to be more snigs. If there's only one, there should be fewer. This prevents the situation where an area is built for a certain traffic load, then when it doesn't have as much being absurly overpopulated. When the area first opened, hundreds of people were there trying to get the same kills and there weren't enough. Make the spawn rate react to this and you've got a better built game.

Change, change, change
City of Heroes has an interesting event in which all the standing water in the game freezes over. This represents winter, and it is a step in the right direction. Several games such as Everquest introduced weather effects into the game so that it rains some times and snows others - of course, in Everquest every time it rains it is a thunderstorm.

Yet there's no tangible change with this weather. Snow doesn't accumulate. The ground isn't wet. You don't get wet. The fog doesn't affect anything except how far you can see on your computer screen. In essence they are merely visual and audio. That's something that the next game could change: if it rains enough, the rivers flood, water pools on the ground, the roads get muddy and travel is slightly slower. Different weather-based events and quests could arise (my son is lost in the snow! This village flooded, help people escape!).

Snow doesn't just fall in a pretty pattern on your screen, sometimes it sticks, sometimes it doesn't and just melts to make everything wet. Sometimes it freezes after it melts, making ice. Sometimes it piles up in drifts on everything. Fog can be thick or minor, in patches or in a wide area. It should affect how far away you hear things and how well you can target where they are. Tracking should be affected by weather.

In a larger sense, weather patterns are part of seasonal change. It tends to snow more in winter than summer, for most places in the Northern Hemisphere. In autumn the deciduous trees have leaves that change color and begin to drop off. In spring the flowers grow and trees regain their leaves. All of this - gradually - would be a great effect for the game. As time goes on you notice some of the trees start to change color, fall must be coming. In winter time, the trees have no leaves, unless they are evergreens. You can't get certain kinds of food in areas without long-distance trade established to provide it. Some kinds of food are only available at a certain time of year. Some creatures won't stick around when its too cold or too hot.

This would add a tremendous amount of immersion - how compelling the game is and how much you forget you're playing a game and the world around you as you play - and plausibility to the world.

Other changes that could happen would be to the environment its self. Trees fall over. New smaller trees start to grow. Buildings burn down or are destroyed by bandits. New ones are built up. Farmers start cultivating an area. A farm is wiped out and goes to seed, overgrown and sad. There would have to be some manner of control over this, for example:

A tree is felled by lightning after that last huge thunderstorm. Loggers come and cut it apart and there's no much left of it after a few days or weeks. Druids or a similar kind of class can find a seedling - just one per felled tree to keep the balance - and accelerate its growth, magically causing it to become a full grown tree. Thus, the world changes (new tree somewhere else, players interacted permanently with the game) yet the game content remains roughly the same and the forest isn't reduced to a field of stumps.

FINALLY
Finally there's one last little aspect that needs to be addressed. Every MMOG on the market has a basic pattern for play: a tough guy keeps the attention of the monster (more powerful than any character can fight), a healer keeps the tough guy alive, and other people try to kill it. The tough guy has a special ability called "taunt" that makes the monster stay on him, despite the fact that honestly he's not much of a threat and those other guys are killing him - and that healer is making it all possible. Often there is "crowd control" added in, and encounters presume their presence - so that without the ability to take some monsters out of the fight, everyone gets splattered.

This pattern is ubiquitous in MMOGs (even, awkwardly, in City of Heroes) but nonexistent in role playing and even real life encounters. There's no big tough guy in a riot standing there making funny noises to force the rioters to hit him while the other cops beat them down and some guy bandages the tough guy. That's ridiculous and contrived. This pattern has to be broken or the pattern of how many and what kind of people you have to have in a group to face encounters will never change.

City of Heroes and VillainsThis must be broken for the next generation MMOG to really qualify as the next generation. It isn't enough to have different, more fancy encounters or better graphics. You have to break the mold on this or nothing will have changed enough to justify truly being a better game.

I'm sure there are other things that people can think of, but this is what I see as at least the most important changes. Some games could adapt some of this already, without needing a new edition. Some games are already trying to do so. But until they're all done and done well, we'll not have a next generation MMOG. I'll be waiting.
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A QUICK THOUGHT

With the majority of the taxpayer public invested in wall street through 401(k) and other retirement plans as well as many investing in online stock trading, is it really wise and reasonable to condemn wall street and call success in stock trading an "era of greed?" I remember in 2002 the Democratic Party tried that and people looked at their finances then said "hey, you're talking about me!" It didn't go well for them, then.

What exactly characterizes an era of greed? Success? Financial growth? Is it proper for a nation to suffer and stumble? Is it good for people to not make money, not see wealth? Or is this just a rhetorical device to attempt to demonize capitalism and the Reagan era of unprecedented growth and wealth in the United States?

You greedy bastards, wanting your money and to do better in life! How dare you!

CALL CAPTAIN PLANET!

"Protect the environment or I'll @#(&in' kill you!"
-Ted Turner as Captain Planet, Robot Chicken

Things are grim in C02 news. The worldwide levels of C02, according to the Global Carbon Project, are on the rise. According to Andrew C Revkin at the New York Times:
Seth Borenstein of The Associated Press has written a summary of the carbon dioxide findings, with some input from experts who express surprise that a slowing of economic growth in some places hasn’t blunted the growth in CO2 output.

More than half of global emissions, which totaled more than 34 billion tons of CO2 in 2007, are now from developing countries, the report said. Their dominance reflects explosive growth in the burning of coal and manufacturing cement, another big source of the heat-trapping gas.
In other words: the slowing economies of the west are not resulting in a reduction in C02 output, as predicted by backers of the Kyoto Accords. The theory went like this: if we slow the economies of the heavily polluting industrialized west, then the resulting slowdown will reduce pollution as well. Except that's not happening worldwide. C02 is going up. Why?

Well, despite the fact that, unlike most Kyoto signatory states, the United States has reduced it's pollution over the last few years, the third world is increasing its pollution output significantly. Countries such as China and India, interested in rising themselves out of third world status and increasing their standard of living are increasing industry and especially dirty power production such as coal. These nations, significantly, were specifically exempted from the Kyoto Accords.

The EU was a world leader in calls for cutting back on production and pollution, on sacrifice to save the planet from a hypothetical doom caused by warming. Yet as the world's economy stumbles, countries who previously were so hot on the economy-crippling ideas of the environmentalist left are beginning to cool on the idea.
Poland has joined Germany in calling for industry exemptions to EU climate rules as a recession in Europe’s major economies is casting doubts on whether Brussels will be able to push through its ambitious CO2 reduction programme.
...
The growing financial crisis in the US, which analysts say will have considerable recessionary impacts on major EU economies like Germany, the UK and France, may also make it increasingly difficult for the Commission to justify higher operating costs for industries.

Member states are getting nervous about asking their industries to pay more for CO2 pollution, says Christian Egenhofer, a senior researcher at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) in Brussels. The “assumptions have gone”, Egenhofer said in reference to likely declining investments and growing constraints on governments’ abilities to use macro-economic instruments towards ‘green’ aims.
In a time when even AGW advocates admit the planet is undeniably cooling and probably will for a decade at least, talk of crippling your own economy for some theoretical future catastrophe based on studies a decade old and increasingly suspect is just not smart politics. As Prime Minister Merkel from Germany puts it, her government “could not support the destruction of German jobs through an ill-advised climate policy.”

And in the end, there's one clear lesson out of all of this: higher technology and greater wealth results in less, not more pollution. It is low tech, cheap energy and industry that pollutes; the kind that the Kyoto Accords and other efforts would force upon the nations of the world by requiring costly surcharges on companies for their pollution output. Higher expenses forces a company to find ways to either cut costs... or close.

Quote of the Day

"...a firm and unbending politician for whom words and deeds are one and the same."
-East German secret police assessment of Ronald Reagan
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

LISTEN TO THE MONEY TALK

Just wanted to pass on this video that recaps a few points I've been making over the last few weeks. It ends up a huge flag waving campaign for Senator McCain, which as readers know I'm no fan of, and it fails to mention how the Republicans had a responsibility and all the power to fix this before it got to this point and did not, but it does highlight some problems that the legacy media and conventional wisdom are ignoring:



I just have one question: was it really necessary to use the metrosexual emo version of Free Falling? I hate that breathy emasculated feeble style of music.

*UPDATE: google yanked the video for alleged copyright violation but it's still around. You can see a copy here, along with other similar videos, for now. This isn't going to disappear because YouTube pulls it and Warner Brothers complains.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Second Quote of the Day

"[WAMU] ranks in top ten of Hispanic Business’ Diversity Elite and earns perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index."
-Washington Mutual's final press release before going bankrupt.
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GADGET OF THE WEEK

Where I live in Oregon, we don't get much snow. I expect this year will have more than in years past, but at most we'll see 10-15 inches maybe a few days. That happens once every decade or two, many years we see at most some flakes in the air that melt as they hit the ground. I went to college in Grand Rapids, Michigan and know what real snow is like, however. I've walked out on cold nights that numbs your entire face instantly and the snow squeaks under your feet as you walk. I know what four to six foot drifts on either side of a walk is like, almost a toboggan run as the sound is absorbed around you and the sky is clear and full of stars. It's beautiful in a way, but only to look at and only for a while.

I got plenty sick of snow in college. It is pretty but I want it to go away rapidly. For some people, that's just not an option, you get lots of snow and it stays all winter long. In Michigan from late November until mid April, you got snow and it just stayed, getting grimy and nasty until a new layer was put down. At least in places like Colorado you get the Chinook that melts it all away once in a while.

For those of you who live in snow country, here's a product you probably will admire and may even want: the self-shoveling walkway. Called Heated Traction Mats, these bad boys keep the snow off and offer a safe walk at least out to the car or the mailbox.

Made of non slip rubber and designed to be outside all winter long, the mats claim to be able to melt 2" of snow an hour - presumably within a reasonable temperature range. They come in 15 and 20 foot lengths, and are a quarter inch think and two to three feet wide.

There are a few drawbacks, unfortunately. They probably cannot be adjusted in size other than rolling them up: if your walkway is 10 or 30 feet long, you're going to have too much. They cost... well the 15 foot by two foot version costs $1099 (plus shipping). While they don't use a lot of electricity, they cost about 15 cents an hour to run on average, all winter long. They aren't secured to the ground in any way, but have grommets that allow you to stake them down if you want.

So they aren't completely without problems, but then, neither is digging out the snow shovel, either.

A TINY VOICE

Amid the din and screaming for wall street fat cat blood, in the middle of the Democratic Majority on congress blaming minority Republicans for their inability to come up with a bill to deal with the crisis, there's something that's largely missed:

One of the main reasons these mortgages are crashing is because after a falsified study in the 1990s claiming that minorities were being wrongly denied loans and housing, the Democratic controlled congress and President Clinton passed new rules permitting mortgage companies to loan without proving the ability to repay loans, without proving employment, even without requiring identity. The mortgage companies were then leaned on by the government to do so, and promised that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would pick up the loans if there was a problem.

So the banks started to do so: started loaning to people who couldn't afford the homes, started offering houses to people who clearly would not be able to pay their mortgages. On top of that they added new "interest-only" loans that allowed people to buy far more home than they could afford. When the bills finally came due, people were unable to pay, so Freddie and Frankie picked up the bill. Eventually after long enough, we've reached the point that there's too many mortgages that are uncollectable and the businesses who offer these are crumbling under the pressure.

Should they have refused the loans and defied the pressure they were under? Absolutely, it's patently irresponsible to offer loans to people who clearly are unable to pay. Should the people have not tried to get a house when they cannot afford one? Absolutely, it's not just irresponsible to do so, it's practically criminal, bordering on theft, to take a home you cannot and have no intention of paying for.

Yet in this mix is a need for us to look at how we got to this point, at least partly: Democrats in congress pushing to make this happen and damn the consequences because they can fix it later. Congressmen who were well-meaning but deluded by the faulty study (one man's income, for example, was inflated by 100 times to make it seem like he was being unfairly denied a loan). Congressmen who knew better but thought it would be politically beneficial to appear to be on the right side of the issue. Congressmen who didn't know anything about it one way or another but wanted to do something to help out minorities. Congressmen who knew this wouldn't work but saw it as a way to engineer society toward their desired end of increased socialism.

Republicans bear their share of the blame, make no mistake. I'm not trying to make some sort of partisan attack. republicans controlled part or all of congress more than long enough to fix the problem, to reverse the stupid policy and repair the damage. In fact, some tried: President Bush warned over a hundred times of the coming problems. Senator McCain himself attempted to pass a bill to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while Senator Obama's present economic advisors were in charge of them. Yet even with a Republican majority, these efforts came to nothing. And certainly not all Democrats were behind this, some voted against it, some warned of the coming dangers.

I just wanted to make my tiny voice heard in the booming din of voice screaming that deregulation and Reagan/Bush were responsible for what has come about. That's not just a lie, it's a deliberate political effort to help Democrats gain more political power. I know this is a failing effort, people won't and often don't even want to listen. They see the press say one thing, they hear a presidential candidate say the same thing, they hear everyone blame fat cats on Wall Street, and nobody wants to admit they might be to blame. So they go along with the prevailing story and the legacy media not going to fight this, especially not in an election year.

It's just not that simple. Even if Reagan's deregulation push did cause this, he had to pass it through a Democratic controlled congress. And even if that was true, President Clinton had two years of a Democratic Majority to fix the problem and did not. So even if the lie being told was accurate, it doesn't somehow exonerate Democrats. This isn't a clear one side or the other issue, there's blame to go around everywhere - including pointing right back at you and me.

It's just nobody wants to hear that or think about it. It's easier to create a monster and scream hate at it.

THE FALL OF THE REPUBLIC

"We control this House, not the parliamentarians"
-House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD)

Nast Corruption
At what point do you lose confidence in a system? When does, for example, the legislative branch of the government become a failure, or no longer trustworthy? Is it when the membership shows consistent signs of corruption? When they fail to accomplish what they've been sent to office to accomplish? Is it when they take actions only meant to maintain power, filled with arrogance?

How about when this happens:
Democrats incorrectly closed a vote on the House floor in August 2007, which would have resulted in Republicans prevailing on an immigration issue, according to a special bipartisan House committee.

The committee found that "the vote tally of 212 yeas and 216 nays that was finally announced was incorrect. It is either 215 yeas and 213 nays, which would have reflected the tally at the time the chair prematurely announced the result, or 211 yeas and 217 nays."

The committee, led by Reps. Bill Delahunt (D-MA) and Mike Pence (R-IN), issued a final report on what Republicans alleged was a "stolen vote" and spent a half million dollars on an investigation.

During a rancorous House session late on the night of August 2, 2007, presiding officer Rep. Michael McNulty (D-NY) closed the vote and announced it was tied at 214-214. By rule, tie votes in the House lose. That was the result Democrats wanted on this particular vote. But the unofficial "scoreboard" in the chamber briefly flashed 215-213 in favor of the Republicans, meaning votes were still being cast electronically.

In protest, House Republicans walked out of the chamber on the next vote and demanded an inquiry.
One of the most basic concepts of a democracy is the vote, and one of the most basic concepts of a republic is that the vote is taken by representatives elected to go and take care of the business of government in the place of the people. When this basic, most fundamental concept is eroded or ignored by the people in power, the Republic is in danger and with it your liberty and the free expression of your rights.

The Democrats, trying to prevent something they did not like, prematurely ended the vote when it had reached a point they liked and prevented several people from being able to vote. They violated parliamentary procedure, they violated the votes of entire states, and they violated the sacred trust of the citizens of the United States and the most basic principles of that nation's form of government.

Is this enough to justify being fired, to prompt voters to decide it is time to give them their pink slip? What is the definition of tyranny other than refusing to allow anyone to have their say or make a choice that differs from what those in power desire? How is it not simply oppression to silence the votes of millions through their representatives merely because they are not what the party in power cares to allow?

The same party - the Democratic Party - is also actively attempting to suppress votes at the local level they don't care for. Here's an example (courtesy Reihl World View) from Ohio:
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner has a reputation as the most partisan state official in Ohio. And she works hard to earn it. The Democrat's latest stunt rejected absentee ballots for thousands of Republicans.
...
The John McCain campaign sent out more than 1 million applications for absentee ballots to Republicans. Each had a line at the top next to a box: "I am a qualified elector."

Brunner sent a memo telling county election officials to reject those applications for absentee ballots if the box was not checked. "Failure to check the box leaves both the applicant and the board of elections without verification that the applicant is a 'qualified elector'," she wrote.

But that's contrary to state law and Brunner doesn't have the authority, according to the lawsuit and an opinion from Hamilton County's Republican Prosecutor Joe Deters.
Meanwhile, ACORN, the leftist organization is yet again involved in electoral fraud, according to the Michigan secretary of state:
The majority of the problem applications are coming from the group ACORN, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which has a large voter registration program among its many social service programs. ACORN's Michigan branch, based in Detroit, has enrolled 200,000 voters statewide in recent months, mostly with the use of paid, part-time employees.

"There appears to be a sizeable number of duplicate and fraudulent applications," said Kelly Chesney, spokeswoman for the Michigan Secretary of State's Office. "And it appears to be widespread."
...
In Pontiac, where several thousand applications have been submitted by ACORN in the last few weeks for the November election, the clerk's office is finding that numerous applications are sometimes filed under one name.

"What it causes is a slowdown of our operations," said Pontiac City Clerk Yvette Talley. "They're steadily coming in, and we are finding a huge number of duplications."
ACORN has repeatedly been found guilty of voter fraud for nearly every election since their founding, a continuous, endemic rot within the organization of attempting to defraud elections across the entire United States. Here's just a few previous entries in WATN on this Democratic Party supporting organization:

No Oak Here
Reboot
And it's not just ACORN, as I reported in June.

This must be acted upon. As bad as the Republicans were - and believe me they were bad - they were not nearly as bad as the Democrats are now in congress. Every bit as corrupt (but protecting the corrupted ones), every bit as arrogant (but without the voices opposing that arrogance in their own party) and far more contemptuous of the rule of law. This is a party whose leadership has clearly demonstrated they are unworthy of political power and they must feel the displeasure of the voters.

*UPDATE: According to The Corner, ACORN is due to get money in the bailout plan that congress is discussion. Why, exactly? ACORN should be sent a RICO indictment, not cash.
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Quote of the Day

"If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration,"
-Vice President Al Gore, fomenting sabotage and eco-terrorism.
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

S'GHASTLY

"If you go long enough without a bath, even the fleas will leave you alone."
-Ernie Pyle

There's a show on BBC called How Clean is Your House? The show features two older, incredibly British women who go to homes that need cleaning, check it out, find out how dirty it is in terms of bacteria and clutter, then work with the people who live there to clean it up one end to another and help them learn to take better care. Some of the homes are really horrible, but what always strikes me is now tiny they are. I could barely walk around in these apartments when they are clean, let alone dirty.

You can't help but love Kim Woodburn and Aggie MacKenzie who are pretty hard on the people for the filth, but are hard working, kind, and charming and by the end everyone just falls in love with them. The homes they clean up are amazingly dirty but there's one I recently saw that eclipses anything they've seen. Check out this house:

Messy Bedroom
We had a resident who had an outstanding balance for over a month and no one could get ahold of her. The Bookkeeper went inside after so many tries to leave a note and this is what we found.
There's a bed in there, behind the trash. Apparently whoever owns this place was a big fan of takeout. I see Schlotzky's deli, Taco Bell, lots of Dasani and other water bottles, Shipley Do-Nuts, McDonald's, Fanta, and a lot from a place I cannot pick out the logo of and am unfamiliar with, it starts with a Y and a V in two words with the stripey orange containers.

It gets worse.

Here's the computer room:

Computer
How that system even works is a mystery to me, maybe it doesn't. That's not the worst though. You want to see the bathroom? No you don't.

Loo
I'm not even sure what the hell all that is, and I'm certain I do not want to know. I know my home isn't as clean as it ought to be but at its worst it never has remotely been this bad.

I got this link, by the way, from the excellent Weasel Times and Stoat Intelligencer blog. If you haven't been reading S Weasel's blog, you've missed a lot of fun. A graphic artist with a wicked twist of fun, she always has something interesting and fresh to check out. Even more curious is her comment section which rarely has much to do with the original post but flings off in wild tangents and random directions. As an artist, Stoaty couldn't leave people typing out old, boring smilies :) on her site, so she came up with weasel versions of the most common types. That's just one hint of what you'll see.

This story was in the comment section by apotheosis in a post about a furry rat squirrel pet Stoaty owns but immediately it went a weird place with a picture of some odd robotic figure being worked on, and then the picture links began, Fark-style.

HUH? of the Day

"If Sarah Palin isn’t enough of a reason for you to get over whatever your problem is with Barack Obama, then you damn well had better pay attention. Anybody toting guns and stripping moose don’t care too much about what they do with Jews and blacks. So, you just think this through."
-Corrupt former judge and Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL)

MORE FINANCIAL QUESTIONS

OK the government is looking at a gigantic, multi billion dollar bail out of all these banks and financial institutions. The claim is that the government will, when the banks take back over their money by paying off the loan, make a lot of money back. It's happened before, when businesses have been bailed out, the government makes money from the payoff. I just have a few more questions about this:

1) The US government doesn't have this money. They will have to either borrow it or just print more and pretend it is worth as much as the previous amount. What happens to the economy when this gigantic amount of money is suddenly poured into the mix? Won't that devalue the dollar and damage the economy, produce inflation?

2) What happens if these loans that the government is taking over default? Who does the US government turn to if that happens? What happens if people cannot pay off their mortages and the US government is sitting on them?

3) If the government makes this money back, if the banking institutions and financial companies pay off the loan, what happens to that money? Will it be sent to the American people in checks? Will it be used to pay off debts? Or will it be spent on various new programs and expansion of the federal government?

Never mind, we all know the answer to that last one.

And as Victor Davis Hanson says in his most recent column, the guys who got us into this situation - the politicians who voted in the mortgage rule changes that set up this failure, the presidents who passed these bills, the policians later who didn't fix them despite having the power... they're only in this position because we put them there. Because we keep voting for them. Because we keep rewarding their incompetence and even corruption with more power.

There's one good way to fix that, but will we do it? Throw them out, and replace them with new guys who can do it better, and keep doing it til they do their job right? Will you throw out the 15-term Senator who has all that power and keeps sending money home at the expense of the rest of the country, will you finally replace him? Will you throw guys that have been in congress longer than most people have been alive? Will you get the guys who set this failure up out of power? Or will you reward them with a longer career, more money, and more power?

BLOGGING RICHES!

“Not only are bloggers suckers for the remarkable, so are the people who read blogs”
-Seth Grodin

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Technorati is one of the major names in blogging, a site that compiles blog entries by type and title and gives a summary of each blog's links and posts. Lately Technorati has been having some problems and is not as reliable as it once was in keeping up with blog posts, but it has long been an established and popular clearing house.

Every year, Technorati puts out a State of the Blogosphere report, noting how many blogs there are, what money they make, the trends, patterns, growth, and other aspects of blogging. Since 2002, Technorati has indexed more than 100 million blogs. Here is some of their data:

This year, blogs pulled in 188.9 million unique visitors, an estimated 50% of all internet users. In the United States, the two most popular websites in the world are Facebook and MySpace; neither one pulls in as much traffic as all of the blogs in the world. Of the top ten entertainment sites on the internet, four are blogs, including the top two. Businesses are putting out more blogs for their company, including 95% of the top 100 newspapers in America.

Now, Technorati also reported something that every blogger in the world boggles at:
The majority of bloggers we surveyed currently have advertising on their blogs. Among those with advertising, the mean annual investment in their blog is $1,800, but it’s paying off. The mean annual revenue is $6,000 with $75K+ in revenue for those with 100,000 or more unique visitors per month.
Like most surveys and polls that examine an insignificantly tiny portion of a population, the results are nonsense. As Ace who gets nearly 200,000 unique visitors a day at the Ace of Spades HQ says: "um, no." You do not make 75 grand a year by having advertising on a blog that gets 100,000 visitors, not unless you are extraordinarily unique and lucky.

The fact is, that's an absurd statement, utterly false. How on earth did they come to this conclusion? By surveying just over 1000 bloggers, then projecting that to the 133,000,000 blogs that exist around the world. In other words, approximately for every hundred thousand blogs, they asked one guy some questions. This is considered "statistically significant" as in, it ought to, on average, represent the typical person sampled.

The problem is that blogs vary wildly in terms of profitability. Most make nothing, a few make some money - not enough to survive on - and a very few make enough to have a frugal life. Almost none make a large amount of money.

Here's a bit of demographic information about who's blogging around the world:

Demographics U.S. Bloggers
(N=550)
Euro Bloggers
(N=350)
Asian Bloggers
(N=173)
Male 57% 73% 73%
Age


18-34 years old 42% 48% 73%
35+ 58% 52% 27%
Single 26% 31% 57%
Employed full-time 56% 53% 45%
Household income >$75,000 51% 34% 9%
College graduate 74% 67% 69%
Avg blogging tenure (months) 35 33 30
Median Annual Investment $80 $15 $30
Median Annual Revenue $200 $200 $120
% Blogs with advertising 52% 50% 60%
Avg Monthly Unique Visitors 18,000 24,000 26,000

Now take a look up there at the median annual revenue. That's halfway between the top and the bottom, the halfway point when you count all the blogs (number 50 and 51 if there are 100 blogs, for example). The median revenue? For the US it is $200, minus the average $80 annual investment in the blog. That means there's a huge top end and a lot of small numbers below that.

So yes, if you ask the right bloggers, you'll find that hey! Most of these guys who get 100,000 hits or more make lots of money! Then again, if you ask others, you'll find that blogging just doesn't make any money at all. Here we see a fatal, total flaw with statistics: simply asking a small sample doesn't always give you a representative sample of a larger body. There's too much variability in the blogosphere, too wild and wide a diversity of experiences, blogs, and efforts. I post nearly every day several times, some people post once a week. I make no money, some make hundreds of thousands. I get 300 hits or so a day, some get half a million. Asking a random sample cannot accurately sample that variable a body.

Polling and statistics works in very regular, very specific, and very predictable, standardized areas. Say, asking soccer moms how much peanut butter they use a month or checking how many World of Warcraft players use Teamspeak to chat. When it comes to more wild and uncontrolled areas, like say... voters... you lose all value.

That's not to say all of the information Technorati compiled is worthless, just the material they project based on a tiny sample of bloggers.

If you want to check out other reports from previous years, going back to 2004, Technorati has all of them available for your perusal.
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Quote of the Day

"No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session."
-Judge Gideon J. Tucker
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