Updates from August, 2010 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • Hober Short 5:23 pm on 27 August 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Penny Arcade Expo is a convention by gamers, for gamers, a sort of revelry that, in the early 2000s, we wished E3 actually was instead of a trade show at its core. PAX revels in its core nerdiness in many ways–I believe Jonathan Coulton is a requisite component at this point–and one of them is the Omegathon.

    Each year at PAX, twenty contestants are chosen to compete in a brutal battery of games incorporating every sense of the word. Everything from Halo 3 to a karaoke game. If you’re interested in the full depth of what I mean, go forth and gorge yourself on the facts.

    As is often the case, there is also a non-video game or two mixed in the bunch. Past examples: Jenga, and Connect Four.

    This years? Zombie Dice.

    (If I had to guess, it’s because the game appeared in an episode of the Penny Arcade TV show, during a time of creative block for the two authors of the comic. They decided to Go Do Something Else, and plucked their review copy of Zombie Dice that they’d been sent by Steve Jackson Games, gratis, and played a few rounds on camera, approving of the game strongly.

    Skip to the 3 minute mark for them seeking out amusement. Prior to that is a discussion of political candidates and their penchant for embarrassing emails.)

  • Hober Short 10:13 am on 26 August 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    There is a probably apocryphal quote I’ve heard attributed to Jeff Cooper, the father of the Modern Technique of the Handgun that goes something like: “You should never buy a gun that shoots .32ACP [or any other small caliber -hzs] because if you own it, then you’ll probably carry it at some point. And if you carry it, you might shoot someone with it. And if you shoot someone with your .32ACP and they ever find out about it, they’re probably going be pretty angry.”

    Of course, that’s probably just because The Colonel subscribed to the “shoot the biggest round you can manage” school of thought and was a big proponent of the .45ACP round. However, it might be that he has a point:

    A 35-year-old man who walked around for five years with a bullet lodged in the back of his head says he suspected for a while something was there but only went to doctors after he started getting headaches.

  • Hober Short 4:28 pm on 23 August 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Last week, USAToday published a pretty typical piece titled “Medevac industry opposing upgrades wanted by NTSB” about, predictably, the NTSB wanting to require a number of new safety measures on medevac helicopters to make them less likely to crash and burn.

    Now, it’s not clear whether the NTSB is pushing for these under the guise of a “recent surge in deaths”, or if that’s the paper editorializing. However, the paper tips its hand by printing the annual fatality statistics, which really belonged as a graph:

    And the highest peak there? A whopping 28 deaths in a single year. Now, I’m not saying that any death is worth ignoring, but do we really have nothing better to be paying attention to than a spike in a historically highly-erratic statistic?

  • Pat 11:01 am on 17 August 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    I am reminded of Bill Whittle’s classic essay “Tribes,” in which he describes the differing worldviews of the Pink and Grey tribes. The authors of the PNAS study clearly belong to the Grey Tribe, so they expect people to use facts and logic and math, and to be primarily concerned with what actually reduces energy consumption in a real, measurable, objective sense.

    But the hairshirt folks don’t think that way at all. They’re members of the Pink Tribe. In their worldview, feelings are much more important than facts. How much energy you actually save is irrelevant; what matters is how good you feel about it. This is how we end up with hypocrites like Al Gore, who live lavish, wasteful lifestyles while loudly preaching the Green gospel to the rest of us. They feel really good about their own flamboyant advocacy, so it doesn’t matter how much energy they actually use.

    The Ars Technica article asks: “Where did we go wrong?” I would answer: “You went wrong by not teaching people to think rationally.” The result is a subculture that uses magical thinking instead. Of course their actions don’t make sense. Why would you expect them to?

  • Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. 10:23 am on 17 August 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Ars Technica has an article summarizing a recent study that showed how “misinformed” most people are about the most effective ways to reduce energy consumption.

    The basic mistake, according to the study, is to overestimate how much energy can be saved by turning things off, and underestimate how much can be saved by using more efficient appliances: for example, turning off an incandescent light bulb for one hour a day (insignificant) as opposed to replacing it with a CFL.

    The researchers apparently had difficulty figuring out the reasons behind this kind of poor judgment. It didn’t seem clearly correlated with how “smart” the respondents were, for example. Ultimately they conclude that scientists just need to do a better job of informing people.

    But I think they completely missed the real culprit here: hairshirt environmentalism. A properly indoctrinated environmentalist believes that human consumption of resources is evil, and that it is not only necessary that we reduce our consumption; we must also suffer by doing so. We must therefore make sacrifices: we have to make ourselves live without our luxuries like electric clothes dryers and artificial light. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a hypocritical token sacrifice: we must go through the motions of atonement.

    The idea that modern technology can allow us to have our cake and eat it too — that we can run our dryers and burn the lights 24/7 while still reducing our energy consumption — is unacceptable, because it’s too easy. Moreover, it provides no opportunity to soothe one’s guilt through self-flagellation.

    Seems to me the manufacturers of consumer appliances and light bulbs need to alter their marketing practices. Instead of highlighting the convenience and efficiency of their products, they should instead find some way to make their products less appealing (and, therefore, more virtuous).

    It worked for the purveyors of organic produce, after all.

  • Hober Short 10:41 am on 13 August 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    The more the government gets involved in your personal life, the more political decisions become personal: the University of North Carolina system (of which I am a part at NC State) recently legislated that all students are required to have health insurance. If we can’t prove to them that we already have insurance through some other source, we are signed up for a plan, and a non-optional charge is added to our tuition bill. Again, the burden of proof is on the student to not get charged to be insured by the school.

    Leaving aside the fact that college age kids are the least likely to need or use their health insurance (and therefore are the least likely to spend precious dollars on it), there’s now apparently a kerfluffle about the fact that the policy assigned to otherwise uninsured students includes coverage for elective abortions. This has caused the Students for Life of America to complain tax money was being used for abortions.

    UNCPres Erskine Bowles has dodged nicely, and students can now elect to have the abortion coverage in their plan removed, reducing the premium by zero dollars. Pro-lifers get to make a stand, the UNC system gets to appear responsive and level-headed. Everyone wins.

    But if they’d just never started assigning insurance policies…

    • bxojr 11:31 am on 13 August 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Wait … you can opt out of abortion coverage, with no reduction in the premium? How is that different from just taking the insurance as-is, and never filing a claim to cover an abortion?

      Sounds like a win for the insurance company. They collect the same premium, but get to deny coverage for a procedure up front. Something tells me this was a “concession” they were all too happy to make.

  • Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. 3:13 pm on 12 August 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Yep. In last week’s “Security Now,” Steve Gibson talked about the recent news story about the evil wallpaper app (a story that has mostly been debunked, though too late to avoid the damage to the developer’s reputation). His main point was basically valid: that installing software on your phone has inherent risks. But I think he failed to emphasize a couple of points:

    • Android is actually safer in that respect than most other operating systems, because it actually tells you up front all of the permissions that each app wants.
    • The risks of installing software on your phone are no greater than the risks of installing software on any other computer. It all comes down to deciding whether to trust the developer.

    I do hope that the recent hyperventilating about the wallpaper app doesn’t lead to a push for Android to adopt a walled-garden approach like Apple uses. Of course, AT&T has already tried to go down that road with their restrictions on non-Market apps, a restriction that was overcome by the Android hacker community within days of the Captivate’s release.

    • Misteer Reiner 5:12 pm on 12 August 2010 Permalink | Reply

      Users can’t be expected to understand what the implications are of granting permissions. Just imagine if a SMS application forwards SMS messages to a unknown third party. How is the user suppose to even suspect that the app has an additional hidden purpose? Google’s position that the Android’s permissions model provides protection from malware because it “asks the user” is misleading and inaccurate because it does hold true for all circumstances.

      • bxojr 11:26 am on 13 August 2010 Permalink | Reply

        Granted; I’m not suggesting that explicit granting of permissions, by itself, solves the problem. As I said, it all comes down to deciding whether you trust the developer. My point was simply that Android is at least better in this respect than, for example, Windows; an application on Windows doesn’t have to tell you *anything* about what it’s going to do (although if you have a properly configured software firewall, you can at least control whether it has access to the network at run time).

  • Hober Short 3:01 pm on 12 August 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    This news article about the “first” (a claim I sortof doubt) Android SMS trojan highlights to me the way that operating systems can only go so far in protecting their users.

    The malware in question is a media player that secretly sends SMS messages to “premium” text messaging numbers that bill you for $5, similar to the “Text XYZZY to IDKFA to donate $10 to the Red Cross” programs. About halfway through the piece, though, they talk to someone from Google who points out that the malware only works because people installed it.

    Moreover, when you install an application on Android, it explicitly warns you of all the permissions that the program is requesting. So these people installed a media player that, right there on the install screen, said it was going to require the ability to send text messages.

    I know blaming the victim is kinda frowned upon here, but Google is doing everything they possibly can. Sometimes you want an application to send texts for you. Sometimes you don’t. You just have to actually look at those permissions.

  • Hober Short 4:19 pm on 11 August 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    Perhaps inspired by Andrew McDonald, the Australian chap who showed the set of pictures he keeps on his camera in case it gets lost that (humorously) illustrate how to return the camera to him if it’s found by a well-meaning passerby, theCHIVE (no, I’ve never heard of them either) posted a series of photos of a girl quitting her job with only a whiteboard. They’re both funny, go scroll through ’em.

    After Jay Leno and Good Morning America purportedly jumped on this widely-circulating photoset to interview its subject, the host of the pictures (theCHIVE) posted that it was all a hoax and that everyone had been had.

    I’m not sure which I love more: the 24-hour news cycle that immensely magnifies things like this, or the folks at theCHIVE for making fun of the medium that they love dearly.

  • Hober Short 10:17 am on 6 August 2010 Permalink | Reply  

    So, it turns out that BP doesn’t just want to seal up the relief well it’s spent three months digging to relieve the Gulf oil spill’s original well:

    But for reasons unclear, BP officials have recently refused to commit to pumping cement down the relief well, saying only that it will be used in some fashion.

    The vast oil reservoir beneath the well could still be worth billions of dollars, but BP isn’t saying whether it plans to cash in on this potential windfall.

    Emphasis mine. Say what?

    Main Entry: wind·fall
    Pronunciation: \ˈwin(d)-ˌfȯl\
    Function: noun
    Date: 15th century

    1 : something (as a tree or fruit) blown down by the wind
    2 : an unexpected, unearned, or sudden gain or advantage

    Spending three months drilling through seabed a mile below the surface of the ocean is not unexpected, unearned, or sudden.

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