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Sunday Morning Reading Material Fourth Sunday in January 2012- Puns of my Father Edition

This is why LBJ is in heaven.

It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for watching football. Sundays are for sleeping in. Sundays are for romance, kitties, and being covered in snow. Sundays are not for romancing kitties– that would just be weird.

This week: the US Federal government was threatening to break the internet- so nerds turned the internet off and on again. The problem seems to have gone away. This week, time scientists declined to skip so much as a single second- for the next three year. Good news: February 29th 2012 is still scheduled to happen. This week: mother nature gave in and allowed it to begin raining in San Francisco, ending a several months long dry spell for the City. This week: I lost all of my links, and had to find new ones.

One thing I don’t understand: if the evidence of guilt is truly overwhelming, then a scrupulously fair trial process- in which a defendant is given every possible power and advice- will return a guilty verdict. If that evidence is not overwhelming, then why is it possible to execute someone? The fact that a single supreme court judge- let alone 7 of them- could think it permissible that a defendant would not know that their council had bailed on them boggles the mind. I wonder if corporate people would be given the same raw treatment under the same circumstances?

It does seem legitimately true that the world has grown more peaceful since the advent of mass communication. Though the cause and effect is far from known.

As the world has gone digital, information scarcity goes away. No longer can business models that rely on this scarcity be profitable. Some industries have whined against the future, and tried to legislate the creation of artificial scarcities. The trick in the future will be understanding where the new scarcities are, and charging for those, instead.

As I watch the games today, I’ll remind myself that 80% of NFL players go bankrupt within 5 years of leaving the league. Comparing the life of the most successful pro-athlete to the life of the average athlete is a common mistake. Sadly, it’s about as appropriate as comparing the life of a Hollywood star with that of a community college stage director.

The basic distinction between Left and Right is that to the Right, “Caveat Emptor” is the highest freedom. To the Left, freedom is only begun once Caveat Emptor is abolished. By placing the burden of regulation on producers, rather than the burden of injury or death on consumers, government is able to create a fairer, healthier society. My friends on the Right hate the idea of innocent employers being tasked with insuring that their customers aren’t idiots.

“Right to Work” is an Orwellian phrase, which means that your boss can fire you for any reason or none. Without a “Right to Work”, employees would be able to create, join, and fund unions. Unions, as long-time readers know, are ancient corporations which allow employees to bargain as a single unit against management. Management, of course, never loses the right to collective bargaining.

This week the US government came very close to allowing for the shut-down of any website on the mere suspicion that it might be using material that it didn’t own. Years ago, Spider Robinson wrote a short story about how hellish that might be.

I have some thoughts on SOPA.

I had a whole hell of a lot of links about my hero, Martin Luther King Jr, saved for your edification. Then I lost them. So instead, I’ll point you at Slactivist’s coverage. The Slactivist is masterful as always.

If you click just one link:

If “Christianity” means anything, it means understanding that god lives in the pains of the afflicted. Salvation- according to this theology- can only be achieved by alleviating those pains.

This week, the theme was power, etc and so forth. But then, when isn’t it? Let’s end on a high note: those kids today don’t know how bad their games are:


Meeting the Buddha.

As far as I know, I have never had my words stolen. No one has ever- to the best of my knowledge- taken my work and either claimed it was their own or simply given away work for which I had hoped to get paid. I can only imagine how devastated I would feel– like a sucker punch to the soul. It’s never happened to me, but it’s happened to people I know, people I care about.

It is, however, impossible to stamp out every injustice. Social problems do not go away, they merely asymptotically approach zero. And with social problems, much like engineering, the 90/90 rule applies. So the question isn’t “how do we kill piracy?”, but rather “how do we mitigate the harm of piracy?” The proposed Legislation “Stop Online Piracy Act” would attack a social mosquito with a nuclear weapon.

I’ve written a lot about memes over the years. Briefly, though, they are the social counterparts to a biological gene. Memes, like genes, can be thought of as having a desire for propagation. They propagate by being fit to survive in a certain cultural milieu. Fire is a meme. Pictures of cats with funny captions are memes. The underlying philosophy of SOPA- indeed, of all asserted strong rights to intellectual property- is that it is possible to own memes. This is flatly impossible. The meme that memes can be owned is a cultural virus that must be eradicated.

Genes do not spring de novo into existence. They evolve from what has come before. A sudden random mutation of a tiny chromosome creates a new genetic expression that may well be better than what has come before. Without it’s progenitors, the new gene wouldn’t be possible. So too with memes. Newton wasn’t just being an asshole when he told a small scientist that he (Newton) was “standing on the shoulders of giants”. He was also acknowledgement the debt he owed to those who had come before him, who’s work he had used as a springboard for his own.

Current American intellectual property law understands this. It “secur[es] for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” It also carves out a Fair Use exemption. People have the right to their own work (for a limited time), but others have the right to create derivative works. People can rent cultural space by being the first to do a particular thing, but others can grab off a piece of that thing and use it to comment on society at large, or on the work itself. We cannot own memes, we are merely the vessel through which memes flow.

SOPA is billed and sold as a method of stopping people from squatting on a meme that society is letting someone else rent. It would do more than that. SOPA would kill fair use. SOPA would create a process by which people or corporations could claim ownership over specific memes, and shut down the sites which host derivatives of those memes. If SOPA passes, it would freeze (and possibly reverse) memetic- and therefore social- evolution.

The understanding imperfect ownership of memes has been under attack for a long time. The Sonny Bono act (and it’s later upholding in Eldred v. Ashcroft) began to assert permanent ownership over memes. With this new iteration- SOPA- we see the assertion of perfect control over what can be done with memes.

SOPA does not solve the problem which does exist, and exacerbates an entirely separate problem. It needs to die. Contact your Representatives and Senators.


Sunday Morning Reading Material Third Sunday in January 2012- Football! Edition

It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for Sleeping in, having Dim Sum, and going to work. Sundays are for doing household chores. Sundays are for Brunch. Sundays are for taking a day of rest. Sundays are for learning your coffee shop actually sells bikinis.

This week an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated- the US insists it knows nothing. This week Google rolled out it’s new search algorithm, one which integrates social information along with its link marketplace. And this week Mitt Romney took one more step towards becoming the Republican Nominee for US president.

I really do love the word “theodicy”. It refers to the sorts of moral problems that arise from taking seriously the idea of an omni powerful, omni seeing, omni benevolent entity. The problem is that bad things happen. How and why would an entity such as described above let that happen? And what would that entity’s moral responsibility be towards the rest of us?

Speaking of cruelty: Kids. Each person has something which makes them stand out from the crowd. Nearly everyone has had the experience of being teased for something beyond their control. This would seemingly be fertile ground for empathy, and yet… and yet it doesn’t seem to. The abuse we received conditions most of us to accept it as normal, and to therefore dish it out when it becomes our turn. One of the central struggles of my own blog is to see past the surface differences and to note the intrinsic similarities of humans across time.

Campaigning for president in New Hampshire is nothing like being President of the United States. The job of the US president is bigger, less personal, less concerned with the minutia of daily life, and more concerned with creating the conditions for more than 300 million people to lead happy, healthy lives. Why, then, should anyone take the New Hampshire primary seriously?

Here’s a deal I’m almost willing to cut: in exchange for passing SOPA, IP protections revert to the historic seven year length. And software, biology, and other natural laws will be declared ineligible for IP protections. Sounds fair to me.

Jesus Christ people. Just go fucking vote for the Democrat in November.

Star Wars is the crude oil of my childhood dreams. George Lucas seems to have tapped on the shoulder of the part of me that will forever be an 11 year old and said “Lasers? Swords? Why choose?” Unfortunately, Lucas doesn’t seem to have been able to do anything else very well. The news that he hired a vocal critic to write his next movie is a good omen. I’m really looking forward to this one.

Related to the last post: creators need to know the limits of their medium. Gaming is the ultimate in “show don’t say”- except that a good game designer doesn’t show, they make a person feel. Ken Levine went on to tell one of the greatest stories in gaming. It seems he learned his lessons very well indeed.

We knew this already, right? We knew that Wall Street deliberately picked the worst possible mortgages to put into the CDOs. I guess since Wall Street doesn’t know why they’re being attacked, we should tell them again.

I am honestly not sure what function Wall Street serves, other than being a casino with a high buy in.

The headline does most of the work here. It also does a great job at removing the one claim that Yoo and others might have had to being public servants. If they honestly held that the Executive Branch must naturally have the power to do anything the Executive deems necessary for the health and safety of the Citizens of the United States, then they would naturally hold with Obama’s recess appointments as well. Since they do not, they reveal themselves as partisan hacks.

This week, the theme has been: Games of power and games of narrative. In the comments section, tell me why you think my kitty is adorable.


Sunday Morning Reading Material Second Sunday in January 2012- A Month Dedicated to My Cat Edition

It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for Ninjas. Sundays are for blessing universal plugs. Sundays are for going to work and trying not to look at every customer as if they were a coin block in a Mario game.

This week: the US economy showed signs that it might someday be able to take itself off the critical list. This week the Republican Party held a caucus in one of the corn states. This week everyone thought that caucus sounded more like male genitalia than a mountain range in Russia. This week, manufactures of consumer electronics got together to show off the stuff you won’t be buying in 2012.

The Nation is the closest thing America has to a mainstream Communist magazine. So when it decided to ask former Soviet dictator Mikhail Gorbachev if the world is safer without the Soviet Union, we shouldn’t be shocked that he answers “no”. He’s wrong. There’s empirical data that he’s wrong. I think he know’s he’s wrong- he consistently confuses his own (laudable) decision not to crush the East German, Hungarian and Czechoslovakian democracy movements as evidence that the Soviet Union was inherently peaceful. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting take by one of history’s key actors.

I really need an irony mark. I may have to learn the unicode.

One of the great features of Science Fiction (and fantasy) is that it enlarges contemporary mores, memories, and memes to the point where they are more easily viewable. When Bioware, for instance, set out to create non-human species they certainly didn’t think about the fact that they’d be creating a perfect example of women being the “second sex”. The fact that this was done both explicitly– and unintentionally– says volumes about the way contemporary society has failed to understand what feminism means.

Risk is one of the great boardgames. It is- at least the version I’m most familiar with- a terrible game. Fortunately, it has been revamped and modernized. The thinking behind some of the changes reveal a great deal about how humans approach the world- and explain why I only enjoy zero sum interactions when they involve low-stakes things like games.

UN Hearing on AI Rights.

A CEO at a major American company got a minimum raise of 27/% last year. The most damming part of this story is that it shows the utter failure of the labor market. American CEOs simply have not added at least 27% value to their companies. They cannot each have performed at least 27% better than any other conceivable person would have in their role. Stockholders at publicly traded companies should do themselves a favor and tell their CEOs to either take a paycut or find a new job. I’m guessing that most CFOs and CSOs would love to get a title bump for next christmas.

I don’t have much to say about this, other than to be incredulous that citizens can be compelled to turn over keys to locks which hide evidence that can be used against them.

I like to play a game with my friends and acquaintances. It’s a simple one, and I win whenever they look at me and say “I shouldn’t have told you that” in their best Hagrid voice. I’m very responsible with the information I collect that way- I never use it for anything at all. Also, Protip: a wave and a friendly smile will get someone into damned near any building.

A coworker of mine was recently telling me that he’s not very conservative- after all, he’s not against gay marriage or anything. To a large degree, I sympathize with his position. I can’t help but think, though, that there’s a better way. The challenge is to not be on the tolerance curve at all. I make this commitment now: as soon as robots meaningfully ask for equal rights, I’ll be in favor of them.

I have a lot of sympathy for the idea that developer expectation of post-release patching has done a great deal of damage to gaming culture. I’m not really sure that gets to the heart of why games are released in a “broken” state. I’d probably agree with it more if I saw the majority of games getting several non-DLC patches across the first 6 months after release. I think it has much more to do with the short term sales mentality. The significant majority of sales are being done in the first week after launch- well before gamers start noticing game-killing bugs. Add to that a games review culture that refuses to talk about anything but the most devastating bugs, and publishers simply have few incentives to spend the money to make games perfect on release.

This list of the most pirated games of 2011 seems to track fairly well with the most-played list. Perhaps most interesting: each of these games launched with a pretty strict DRM protocol. In fact: the Wii and Xbox360 require an entire special (and expensive) piece of hardware in order to use any software at all. I think the lesson is to put less energy into DRM and more into customer service.

President Obama’s EPA released a set of guidelines which will keep Americans much healthier than before. The American energy sector was allowed to create an annual $90 billion worth of pain and suffering to the American people. That’s $90 billion that we didn’t know was happening, couldn’t keep ourselves safe from, and didn’t have any control over. Naturally conservatives are furious that Obama is interfering with private enterprise.

On at least one major TV network, Cops can’t ever be wrong.

One of the interesting things about my ADD medication is that it doubles as an anti-depressant. Since I’m prone to depression, this is fantastic news. Depression is a very misunderstood phenomenon. It’s not simply “sad”, or “very sad”- for me it manifests as intense feelings of worthlessness. I don’t simply make mistakes when depressed- every time my shoelaces come untied I feel overwhelmed by the idea that I’m not quite human.

I’m looking forward to playing DOTA 2 like whoa. Yes, even the confusion and sucking.

The Sims and Sex. No, wait. Not like that. Let me try again: the Sims and human existence. Christ that sounds pretentious. Let me try again. Games, when they’re well made, give us a chance to be versions of ourselves we’d not otherwise get to try. Even the mundane tasks of living can be made interesting when the right set of incentives are created. The fact that the Sims can capture all the trepidation and excitement of a first kiss tells us that it is great art.

If you click just one link:

Learn how free Parking is destroying your life.

This week’s theme was video games and the human condition. In the comments section, let me know your Xbox Live ID, so I can add you. :)


Sunday Morning Reading Material First Sunday in 2012- Celebrate Good Times Edition

It’s Sunday Morning. Sundays are for resolving to do things different, better- we have the technology. Sundays are for recovering from hiking- or possibly some other end-of-year activities. Sundays are for reuniting with old friends. Sundays are for celebrating the anniversary of the birth of one’s father- a tiny bit early.

This week: the interim Egyptian government got caught at, and subsequently agreed to stop- interfering with pro-democracy groups. This week, Verizon got caught at- and subsequently agreed to drop- plans to add a $2 fee for online bill pay. This week China unveiled it’s intention to land a human being on the surface of the Moon. This week the Old Year ended, and the New Year began.

2011 saw the rebirth- in America- of the massive protest that disrupts business. Citizens in Wisconsin used it effectively to end plans by their Governor to destroy labor. Citizens in Oakland, New York, and other cities used it with less tangible results. Nevertheless, it is good to see that Americans are once again learning that they have power that goes beyond choice of cellphone plan.

They say that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but it sure does buy enough food to eat.

The Cold War had a downside. Well. The Cold War had many downsides, but this one doesn’t involve the potential destruction of the human species. The downside of the Cold War is that Americans tend to not know about or recognize Soviet geniuses. It shouldn’t matter that he was on the wrong side of a border, this man advanced humanity. We should know his name.

They say that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but it sure does buy the electricity that heats my home.

We tend to think of the word “meme” as relating to cute pictures of cats on the internet. A meme is an idea, a unit of culture. It is the cultural analog to a biological gene. The 7 day week? That’s a meme. Cheating at online games? Meme. Wearing skinny ties? Perhaps the best meme of all.

They say that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but it is definitely nice to be able to call my friends and loved ones.

I don’t believe a word of this. If Japan were truly covering up decades of economic growth in order to foster good-will from the rest of the world, it would be a monumentally huge conspiracy. Granted, for both cultural and structural reasons, I think the Japanese government would have an easier time engaging in that coverup than anyone else in the world. But they’re still human over there. At least one person would get drunk and start bragging. Ok. So the LDP didn’t go out of power the way you would expect the ruling party of a nation with a shitty economy to do. Even so.

They say that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but my anti-depressants make life much easier.

The Cambodian genocide was horrific. Humans are so good at following incentives that we will start cutting off one another’s hands if the conditions are correct.

They say that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but the good toilet paper kind of rocks.

The mass protest really is a good thing. We Americans needed to begin engaging with it once more. Stop doing it stupidly, though.

They say that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but being able to buy a new vacuum cleaner because it’s on sale? Very nice.

America gets race wrong. Very wrong. We get it so wrong that we summon it into existence, and then believe in it. Worse than that, we utterly misunderstand racism. We understand it as a product of evil people, of Hitler. Instead, we must conceptualize racism as the domain of Eichmann. Basically good people who are following evil incentives without questioning where they’re going.

They say that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but I do love being able to afford drinking water!

This ought to cheer you up.

They say that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but with it, the cats and I aren’t eyeing the same food.

I am very sad to see that Love FAQ will be ending. Someone with compassion and a wicked sense of humor was needed to teach geeks about relationships, and Laura Crigger was a deft hand at both. But then, this final column can basically function as the UR text for all future relationship advice columns of all types. Once she’s done that, what else is there?

They say that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but these cookies are delicious.

I do love how human Newt Gingrich is in these tweets. His sense of delight shines clearly. I think he’d be one of my favorite professors, were I to take a class by him. Sadly, he’s running for President. And he’s crazy.

They say that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but dinner and a movie is a great date.

This article lamenting the rise of the hashtag would be great- were it transported back to 2009 when the hashtag were in it’s golden era. Perhaps I’m just a bit bitter- I do tend to #overuse #metadata and #hashtags.

They say that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but it’s hard to read a free newspaper in the dark.

The entire concept of sports metaphors used in a business setting is a tiny bit ridiculous. Geek metaphors, though. Those are full of win. Who doesn’t need a good team to grab aggro while they lay down the DPS and bring the team to victory?

They say that “Money can’t buy happiness”, but they’re wrong.

This week’s theme has been last year’s wrap up. I hope you’ll keep tuning in and together we can chart the world’s progress. In the comments section, tell me something that money bought which made you happy.