Sunday, September 20, 2009

More people die from lack of heathcare then from drunk driving

Harvard has just completed a study that shows that there are more deaths every day from lack of health coverage then drunk driving and murder combined.

So when someone says to you "I think everyone is happy with their health coverage" look them in the eye and ask if their "everyone" includes all those dead or dying because they have none.

Monday, September 14, 2009

inmates running the asylum

I know the media likes a gathering. It looks good on camera. It looks even better if they look nutso as so many of the signs at the "9-12" rally in Washington made their holders look.

But lets get real here.

This was an event manufactured and hawked by Fox News, probably the single biggest media in the conservative world with the largest reach into conservative american households. They pushed this thing like JC himself was going to make an appearance. One of the lead spokespeople for it even said on camera that he was "sounding like a televangelist."

And 10,000 people showed up.

10,000 out of a population of over 200 million adult americans. When you figure approximately half the US identifies itself as "conservative" that's a turn out of .008% of their audience.

Edit; revised *generous* estimate is 70,000. Which is a bit more but still only a bit over .05% of the theoretical fox audience. Interestingly, one of the no-shows was Fox's own Glen Beck, who was a primary organizer for the rally...

The real story here? The big money interests behind the desperate attempt to derail health-care reform can now truthfully answer the question "what if you threw a party, and nobody came."

Lincoln was right. And if you ever wanted to see the portion of the people you can fool all the time, then look at that rally. I am heartened to see its is no more then .004% of the country :)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Aion Open Beta Review: A keeper

I've been playing the Aion open beta the past few days and I have to say my reaction to it is about 180 degree from my reaction to Champions Online.

To begin with, while CO looks like an amateur comic book , Aion is *gorgeous*. Dripping with details, very believable environments and people. Just a pleasure to look at.  Having said that, it can at times be "too" pretty.  My character is on the slender/good looking side and between the overly ornate (but still formfitting) armor he's currently wearing and a few of the animations, such as the hands on the hips idle anim, he really looks kinda queer.  Not that I have anything against queer folk at all, but it wasn't what I had in mind for this character.  I suspect this is more an issue of Eastern/Western style clash then anything else, as Aion was originally a Koren game.

For any one who doesn't know, Aion is a "angels v. daemons v. devils" game. The Angles and Daemons are PC races, the devils are the 'spoiler" and are controlled by the computer. (It should be said that this is an over-simplification. Although I'm currently playing a Daeva, an Angel, and i haven't seen the Asmodean side yet (the daemons) the game suggests that it gives both sides in the war a justification that makes them the "good guys" in their own eyes.  Interestingly enough the "angels" are called "Daevas"... which is another word for daemon.)

The experience is well paced from both a gameplay and story POV. You spend your first 10 "newbie" levels as a human being. This allows you to learn all the game basics as well as to help you develop an emotional connection to the "humans" before you ascend to godling. The world is rich in story and flavor and i have yet to run into any quest that felt too objectionably like a repeat of a previous one. Both Aion and City of heroes cast the players as exceptional heroic protectors of the "normals." In both quests and making that connection however things Aion does a much better job. The "normals"in CoH lacked any character and were there mostly as Macguffins to retrieve or sources of canned applause. In Aion though every NPC you meet feels like it has its own, rich background story.

At Level 10 you "Ascend" and leave the newbie playpen. At this level oen of the other big features of Aion kicks in-- your wings. In some (but not all) zones you can sprout wings and fly. Again, CoH had flight, but thus winged flight is a more visceral (and harder to control) experience. You are also time limited on your flight so that's one more quantity you need to watch and manage. It was smart of the developers to make you wait for this bennie. Not only did it give you the time to connect with the land-bound humans but it also delayed your trying to learn to manage this while you were learning everything else about playing the game. Right after you get flight you are given a sort of "training quest" to get the hang of it where all you really have to manage is your flight time. This works very very well to introduce you to "flight skills."

The rest of Aion so far is pretty vanilla fantasy MMO. Those who coem to it from WOW (or EQ or even older) will find a lot that's familiar. Advancement choices are mostly through choice of gear and pluses that "socket" into the gear, though you also periodically get important new skills. They have built a "user store" feature into the game that formalizes people selling gear that don't want. This makes them standing around and shouting their advertisements a bit more controlled less annoying and correspondingly less annoying.

I haven't reached what NCSoft calls the PvPvE yet, which is where the three factions clash. I suspect that's probably the "end game". But I AM staying up too late and generally enjoying myself getting there.

All in all I think NC has another winner on their hands and a very natural game for WOWites to "graduate into" when they want a more adult and serious game experience.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The difference between what, how, and why

This came up in the same conversation I referenced below and I decided it was important enough to make a brief note on. I think its something people can often get confused by.

As a stage magician I've had a great deal of practical training in both critical thinking, and lying. After all, much of a magician's job is to lie to the audience and make them believe it. (Although I also firmly believe that these are lies told with a wink. I always want my audience to know that my job is to tell them a lie they will have fun pretending to believe, even if they really know better. This is why mentalists who pose as genuine psychics upset me. I think you do your audience a disservice when you leave them with false beliefs they might take into the real world and act upon.)

One important critical thinking skill is to be able to clearly separate different questions in your head and not confuse them or assume that proof of one proves another. In specific, our freind the NLP adherent kept insisting that, because the hypnotic techniques he knows work, his explaination of why they work must be right. This in fact is a common fallacy of religious thinking. Someone tells me that x effect has y cause. I see x effect, so I assume that the cause must be y.

I call this the difference between 'what', 'how' and 'why', and I gave him this example:

A piece of paper bursts into flame. That's a 'what'.

A man holds a glass lens at the right angle to the sun to make the paper burst into flame. That's a 'how'.

The great burning turtle in the sky who swims around the world is attracted by his own reflection in the lens and when he stares into it his immortal power burns the paper beneath. That's a 'why'.
From that example I hope it is fairly obvious that the existence of a what and a how does not prove any particular why.

5 signs of techno-babble

So, I recently ran into an adherent of NLP or Neural Linguistic Programming. This got me thinking about a few things.

Religions always spring up around scientifically unanswered questions, be they the source of volcanoes (Vulcan), the effects of drunkeness (Dionysis) or the existence of extra-terrestrial life (Scientology.) Based on this person I'd hazard a guess that NLP is apparently a religion built around unexplained psychological phenomena. Mostly hypnotic and suggestive phenomena.

Now, from a sociological perspective it makes a lot of sense that modern religions are being born on the fringes of science. Most of our big mysteries today are the areas of science we are still uncovering. And even places where we do have some information, in many cases its information that is hard for a lay-man to grasp and understand. This is fertile ground for mystery religions.

One thing all religions will do is try to improve their sense of legitimacy by tying themselves to the popular understandings and mysteries of the day. In the ancient world, people commonly believed in fate or destiny. That important people were destined from birth to be important. Thus, every story about an important person *had* to include a distinctive and unusual birth story. You can see this in the stories about such people as Alexander the great or Jesus of Nazareth, to name just two.

Today, people are swayed by words they think of as 'scientific' so any recent religion will cloak itself in nonsense phrases that "sound scientific." Here are some words that should flag your suspicion in any statement about the world:

  1. Quantum. People love this word even though they have no idea what it means. The "magic" of Quantum mechanics in the way it breaks with every-day experience has really caught the imagination of people. It seems to "make no sense" yet they know that it has real provable effects. In the common mind, that equals magic and techno-babble will very often try to associate itself with that by using the word Quantum in a totally nonsensical manner. As an example (from my friend the NLP true believer...)
    "This is the basis for what is known in NLP as quantum linguistics. It works differntly than you expect." (sic)
  2. Infinite. Another word common people know has meaning but generally can't really picture or comprehend. Calling something "infinite" is always good for an 'ooh' or an 'aah'. This is why there is an entire car company named "Infiniti". Again, another example from NLP psychobabble courtesy of my friend on the forums..
    What are you NOT thinking about sends your mind into a search for ALL the things you aren't thinking of. Which is infinite.
  3. Void. The opposite of infinite and again, something that people have trouble imagining and thus has mystical connotations. Like the "everything" of infinite, the "nothing" of void is outside of the common person's every day experience and is thus magical. Another example (amazingly these were all from one thread, most of them from only one or two posts.)
    When you break these containers you go back to the "one" or void.
  4. The Unity of Matter and Energy. This is, ofcourse, a direct invocation of the great god Einstien. ;) Eisensteinian physics is really the start of "you don't see it but its true" science in msot people's mind. (Although even Einstein was drawing in part on earlier observations and theories, most common people do not know this.) Einstein's theories are both mysterious and powerful-- everyone knows they led to atomic bombs which are powerful and scary things. If you can invoke Einstein then you can capture his "power"... or at least his power to engage the belief of the common man in things they cannot see or prove. So here is another example from the same source:
    everything is one piece of matter nade up from energy. creating labels splits it up and puts it into containers which we call reality (sic)

  5. Theory. Probably the most magical of modern day terms. And one again that common people do not understand. They know that scientists call their ideas "theories" and they have great faith in those scientists. Therefor anything else that is called a theory carries a weight of assumption of truth in their heads. Part of what they don't understand is that even scientists don't claim that their theories are actually true. Just that they are useful and seem to line up well with the known facts. This is one of the big differences historically between a religion and a science. A religion generally tries to prove its postulates truth whereas the whole approach of science is to try to come up with new ways to prove those postulates false. But call your unscientific notion a "theory" and all of a sudden it gains weight with the common man. This is why right wing christians call their creation myth a "theory" these days. And its used extensively in modern psuedo-science religions:
    The theory is that this transdiverational search eventually takes you to a place before language and the meaings existed in your mind into the "void" (sic)
    You have to love that one. "Theory", "void" a mystical place and an obscure multi-syllable programming term. Now THERE is a magical formula for you!

Those are 5 good examples of scientific techno-babble. In general these are words that should raise red flags in your mind when someone throws them at you out of context. Chances are even they don't know what they really mean. I'd like to end this with one more rule of thumb. This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek but also has a lot of truth to it. I credit Harvard Professor Jim Waldo with this as that's who i heard it from...

"Any discipline that has to explicitly call itself a science, probably isn't one."