Trouble Thinking

May 30, 2012

Is Racial Profiling Tough But Sensible? No. You Idiot.

So this is the best. Some class act named Sam Harris has a radical idea to “reduce waste” during airport security. You will never guess what it oh wait no you totally guessed it’s “only hassle Muslims!”. So this is the dumbest fucking idea. There are a ton of reasons why it is dumb. Thanks to his decision to engage in a debate with Bruce Schneier there’s now a complete rundown of all the reasons why! Luckily, like most people who are conceited as all get out, he can’t figure out when he’s getting schooled so he put the whole debate up online for people to laugh at. Seriously it is embarrassing. He’s just sort of shifting topics every couple of minutes and doing ridiculous point-scoring complaining while this patient man is slowly peeling away the layers of his moronic plan to fuck with a security system he neither understands nor cares to learn about because any new information can only confuse the beautiful simplicity of his shitty goddamn idea.

Smart people can convince themselves of basically anything. It is a real problem, and it’s pretty obvious that Sam Harris has fallen into the trap of being just smart enough to come up with a convincing picture of something and just scared and lazy enough not to actually investigate it.Also, smart people always forget that just being smart doesn’t meant they have any intuitive understanding of statistics. Everyone is convinced that the way statistics work is: there is a correlation between A and B and then I am right, the end. As though that’s the limit of our ability to investigate. It annoys me that someone who claims to be a rational goddamn thinker representing atheism against the godful hordes is this stone dumb.

In case you’re too lazy to read here’s the basics of the exchange:

Bruce Schneier:

The topic of this exchange, and the topic I’ve tried to stick to, is whether it makes sense to implement a two-tiered security system at airports, where “Muslims, or anyone who could conceivably be Muslim” get a higher tier of security and everyone else gets a lower tier. I have concluded that it does not, for the following reasons. One, the only benefit is efficiency. Two, the result is lower security because 1) not all Muslims can be identified by appearance, 2) screeners will make mistakes in implementing whatever profiling system you have in mind, and 3) not all terrorists are Muslim. Three, there are substantial monetary costs in implementing this system, in setting the system up, in administering it across all airports, and in paying for TSA screeners who can implement it. And four, there is an inefficiency in operating the system that isn’t there if screeners treat everyone the same way. Conclusion: airport profiling based on this ethnic and religious characteristic does not make sense.

And while you’ve objected to bits and pieces of this, the only argument you have made for this profiling system is that it’s common sense.

Common sense is code for “I am mad and do not want to think about shit”.

This faux-tough thing is everywhere in modern political and social discourse and it is of course complete fuckwit nonsense. People like to posture about how they’re being “tough but fair” or “tough, unfortunately” or “doing what’s necessary” when referring to cutting programs for the poor, eliminating civil liberties, torturing people, profiling, or bullying. And it always hides the same lazy, frightened, stupid shit. You want to torture because you don’t like thinking about what torture actually entails and you just want to win already so let’s cheat. You want to profile because you don’t like thinking about the actual consequences to security but this line is long and this is dumb and you’re very smart so. Any time someone tells you they’re just being tough, you are about to hear some childish shit.

Related: yo, is this racist?


May 24, 2012

Endless Space Alpha Impressions

So I caved, obviously.

Endless Space is an upcoming game by newcomer Amplitude Studios. It’s currently available for purchase both on their website and on Steam, for a 20% discount. It’s still in Alpha at the moment, so you’re not getting the complete version quite yet.

I would recommend that if you’re into 4X games, particularly space-based ones like Master of Orion or Sword of the Stars, that you give this one a purchase. It’s surprisingly solid for such an early stage in development. I’ve spent hours on it already testing out the races that are currently available and it maintains entertainment into the end-game. I do want to stress that it’s still an Alpha, though. There isn’t really “balance” or “a functioning late-game AI”, so you will usually either get rolled or roll over your AI competitors quite easily.

What Amplitude have brought to the table here is a very traditional world (or galaxy) conquering empire-building game and stripped off a lot of the useless bits that have built up over the years. They focus on allowing you to easily exploit your current resources, expand to new areas, explore the galaxy, and exterminate your enemies. The user interface that got me interested in the game via screenshots is completely as wonderful as I had hoped. It’s clean, it’s simple, the tooltips are useful, and you’re never at a loss for what to do. Your traditional turn is spent choosing a research, building basic “exploits” on your currently colonized planets, building ships or projects on your older more established worlds, and looking for new worlds to conquer. You spend resources to build, and use new planets to get access to more precious resources which are divided into FIDS: Food, Industry, Dust, and Science. Food keeps your population growing which adds a multiplier to all of your resources, Industry makes things you’re building pop out quicker, Dust is a catch-all “gold” resource letting you buy things fast, and Science adds a certain amount to whatever you’re currently researching.

When you inevitably meet other players who would maybe prefer you didn’t conquer their worlds, it’s handled elegantly if a bit simply at the moment. Your default state on meeting a new race is “cold war”, in that you can attack and kill their fleets so long as you’re not in their borders, but they won’t necessarily declare war on you because of it. In a nice twist, your early colonies are considered “outposts” rather than proper parts of your empire, so in the cold war phase of diplomacy they can be attacked and even conquered without consequence. Well, without going to war. It makes for a nice way of preventing the Civilization thing where people would just drop shit in the middle of your territories if your borders didn’t quite cover every square inch of land and now you suddenly need to go to war to take that city. The combat is also great fun, if a bit simple at the moment. It’s designed to be quick, taking a maximum of a minute or so each time, and gloriously space-operatic with big glowy ships firing cannons at each other from around the orbit of a binary star or whatsit. The combat is at base mostly a Civilization style clash of armies, and whoever has the most stuff wins. But if you choose to take command yourself, you can play “cards” at each of the three battle phases that can really turn the tides. For example if you notice your enemy is using mostly kinetics, which are deadly at close range, you can play “deflectors” in the last phase of combat, to give you a plus 40% chance to deflect their shots. It’s a neat system that seems easily extensible. It also didn’t wear on me even after hours of play. Something about seeing a big fleet of spaceships fire at another big fleet of spaceships is always entertaining.

If looking at a map of a galaxy and wondering whether you can take that star system by … force if necessary is something that really appeals to you, this isn’t likely to disappoint. If you’re really conservative, it’s still only going to be $25 at release. God I love budget games these days.

May 18, 2012

Grim Dawn Kickstarter: 11 Hours Left if You’re Interested.

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , — Durandal @ 12:48 pm

So I’ll keep this short on account of you not having much time: this one game by some of the people who made Titan Quest seems like Post-Apocalyptic Diablo, only a bit harder and they’re putting some effort into making it sort of a dynamic open world. They’re in the last legs of their Kickstarter, just going for a bunch of stretch goals to add content. Also, it’s completely DRM-free.

Look at their gameplay videos and see if you give a shit. It’s $18, which isn’t nothing but also doesn’t look too dang bad for a game that’s surprisingly pretty and polished. As always though remember: it’s a Kickstarter. You may be paying for shit you don’t like, and there’s no way to get money back. Be wary!

May 16, 2012

My Brother, My Brother and Me is a Great Comedy Podcast

So I’m a comedy fan. Like comedy, like laughing. But I never really bothered finding comedy podcasts because I am lazy and it always seemed like amateur hour, you know? If the professional goddamn comedians on SNL can manage to be that dire, I wasn’t interested in seeing what the dregs of the internet were producing in their spare time. The exception to this was always The Bugle on account of John Oliver being the cutest.

I don’t remember how I found My Brother, My Brother and Me but thank you whoever showed it to me. It’s so fucking good. I need to share it with you.

Here is how it works: the three McElroy brothers, Justin, Griffin, and Travis take questions from the audience and from the venerable and insane Yahoo Answers service and provide advice. Sometimes that advice is within the realm of usefulness, many times it is either physically impossible or grossly illegal. But it’s always very goddamn funny.

They manage to keep a good pace going throughout their hour-long episodes in large part due to a semi-formal system by which real honest-to-goodness questions are interspersed with a sprinkling of Yahoo Answers questions. This means that whenever some comedy bit is flagging they can always just pull out a question like “I think I am in love with a goose?” and get both an instant laugh and a new direction to take the discussion. The fact that there are three of them also helps, as any brother speaking is giving the other two a second to think of something interesting to say as well as providing goof ideas. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re just genuinely charming guys.

When they do attempt to actually for-real help people, the fact that it’s a comedy show first and foremost actually really helps out. They get to, for instance, just straight up laugh at people for asking shit like “My girlfriend is moving away and didn’t tell me, bad sign?” I mean they don’t just make fun of the guy, but as their remit is joke-making they get to really dig into the fact that for fuck’s sake yes that is a hilariously bad sign. Just give up, man. They’re friendly, but they aren’t your friends. They’re allowed to give you some amount of shit for the stupid questions you ask. And that’s not to say they’re always mean, either. They’re usually very understanding about shitty high-school situations or troubles with long-distance relationships or other genuinely annoying shit, with the overriding message being that it’ll probably all work out so let’s laugh a bit. They may not give the most considered answer to every serious question they get, but they’re usually able to act as a sanity check for questions that maybe people don’t feel comfortable asking friends and they get some jokery out of it at the same time to help the medicine go down.

They’re really funny dudes, and I feel like you’d be well served by checking out their stuff. With over 100 hours recorded, you could get a hell of a lot of mileage out of enjoying them! Here are a couple of sample tracks to test the waters:

The Sampler:

Cake Boss:

May 10, 2012

Interesting Interview With The Guy Behind an $8 Million Kickstarter for a Goddamn Watch.

Filed under: Interesting Things, The Internet — Tags: , , , , , — Durandal @ 12:00 am

Okay I don’t like watches, I ain’t got a need for a watch. I keep time the way a real man does, the sun and the stars and the sweat on my brow.

BUT I will admit this watch looks kind of neat. It just boggles me that people kickstarted the living fuck out of a …. it’s just a watch! It’s a cool watch, a little wrist-puter watch, it’s customizable… but goddamn.

And I cannot help but feel intense, blinding envy of this little shitheel. I mean he’s 25! What did I accomplish by 25? I’ll never tell you. For real though, I guess I am glad that ideas that apparently have a huge market behind them can get off the ground via kickstarter. God damn, those guys are just cleaning up though. They do take something like 15% off the top, so they’re rolling in it. I should make a longer post on Kickstarter, but for now:

Meet Pebble Founder Eric Migicovsky, the 25-year behind the nearly 9 million dollar Kickstarter campaign, the largest ever. According to Eric, Pebble is THE watch of the 21st century, allowing it to connect to your Iphone as well as download different apps and watch interfaces. Eric talked with Shira about how Kickstarter gave them an opportunity, making something people want and how awesome the Pebble watch is.

What made you realize that the Pebble watch would be something people want?

“At the end of the day….make something people want. Before we launched our Kickstarter, we actually emailed the product to all my friends, my parents, my relatives and they all really like what we were making, so we had a pretty good feeling.”

What advantage did going on Kickstarter give you?

“Kickstarter is really cool because basically you can chat with the community, talk directly to the customer and find out what they want, what they are thinking, and impress them.”

Seriously though, 25. Fuck you, kid. We’re all thinking it, forever. Best of luck fuck you.

May 2, 2012

Endless Space: What’s this now? What? HMMM

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 11:19 pm

Hello there! Are you excited by space? Are you super into spaceships and vast galatic empires? Are you mildly aroused by the concept of controlling a vast fleet of warships that travel the universe subjugating civilizations?

Yeah me too.

So 4X games, set in space, are my bread and butter. Except they aren’t! Because many are super shit. In fact, of the ones I’ve played I don’t have a ton of favorites. AI War is amazing and everyone should get it, but I had the misfortune of cutting my teeth on the legendarily not very good Master of Orion 3, which cooled me on things. Alpha Centauri was fun but you know a distinct lack of warships. Galactic Civilizations felt like playing a German boardgame with a pride of mildly demented grandfathers. Sword of the Stars 2 was a goddamn atrocity. I got my money back, a first. It wasn’t even completed! Just sort of shipped hoping no one would open the box. I guess Star Ruler is actually getting super neat I should take a look at that… Star Chamber, a weird trading-card/strategy hybrid was probably the most fun I’ve had with the genre in a long bit.

So the point is a new thing popped up on Steam today, Endless Space.

Now, with all the starts being kicked recently I am getting slightly mildly suspicious when someone promises me a cool game in exchange for investment/preorder whatever. And seriously, I preordered SotS2 and it was so bad. But Endless Space intrigues me. It’s reasonably cheap, $27 for the most expensive version. It also has a neat sort of alpha/beta participation system, where when you buy the game you get  Games2Gether Points. Which sound really silly! But it’s not a bad idea, it’s a distinct developer-mediated methodology for getting fan input. Sometimes you want a wild font of ideas on a forum, it can be great. But sometimes a half-dozen people saying you should “allow people to enter the game like the matrix so that we can play like if it was the matrix” and you just want to take a reading on something more concrete. The examples up at the moment are competing logos for a faction design, and competing designs for a certain type of pirate ship. And I mean, why not? You’re guaranteed to nail down a few little features that don’t actually matter, and it creates an atmosphere of participation for fans who let’s face it are not always the most brilliant design mavens.

And that’s not all! It actually looks kind of really neat. I wish they had a real demo out, because it looks like it hits an amazing note of simplicity married to complexity that these sorts of games really need. It has a beautiful, clean interface (from the screens and videos I’ve seen) that just looks like a joy to observe while pretending it is a display on the deck of your command carrier. It’s unfortunately vague on a lot of gameplay specifics, because you know it’s a 4X so you… 4X things. It’s really hard to pin these sorts of games down without actually spend an hour or twenty with them, so that does make me pause. But fucking look at this:

It’s so CLEAN

And it’s all like that, just this slick as hell UI letting you do what you actually want to do: colonize, build, diplomacize, and murder. Also interesting is that the battle system seems a bit unique. Basically you make important decisions, but leave the actual to-do to mostly automated processes. On the one hand, I like telling everything what to do. On the other hand, part of the allure of being a Space Ruler is that you get to order people to do shit and make them figure it out. If the system allows for actually interesting tactical decision-making in the battles, it’ll definitely be fun. Particularly if new techs open up the field a bit more.

And I mean what a goddamn tech tree, right? Again: Clean, beautiful, functional. I love it when games like this realize that accessible UI is what you need to feel like an in-control ruler. If I’m governing by Excel I am not going to feel cool.

I am almost certain the top middle is some sort of sweater tech.

Anyway! There’s a very neat look at the Alpha build with some nice things to say at Space Sector, and in the meantime here’s a movie! I really think I might drop money on this. I mean, SPACE.

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