Thursday, May 29, 2014

Could Have Gone Further

Timmy's book is out and from what I gather it's rather self-serving.  They saved the banks but ignored everyone else, and the economy continues to suffer as a result.  They could have seriously written down/off mortgages and student loans, but they didn't, and so people (even those with good jobs) are more financially constrained than they could have been and so the economy isn't not-sucky.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Game Economics

I read--years ago--an article/document/paper on the economics of the many games out there (like Candy Crush Saga or, my current addiction, Dark Galaxy).  It also dealt with the psychology of the users, and how those who do spend real money in these games do it.  The thing is that most users spend nothing, and quite a few will spend from $1 to $10, but then there are a handful that spend hundreds, and even thousands.  I am willing to purchase a game, but I won't spend anything in-game.  Still I do enjoy some of the free games, but I am occasionally mystified at why anyone would spend real money on them.  Take Dark Galaxy...

In the game you have weapons and ships that you supply allies and mercenaries.  You also have your personal stats (tactics, attributes), and when you battle and complete missions you do better or worse based on these.  If you want to be very powerful you will need to get 100 mercs, and 300 each special "LE" vehicles and weapons.  You will also need to max your tactics.  Mercs, LE items, and extra tactics points can be bought in game with artifacts (arts), and arts can be bought with real money.

But here's the thing: it takes a lot of artifacts to maximize, and artifacts aren't cheap.  $5 gets you 27 artifacts but that will only buy you 1 merc (25 arts).  LE items can cost less than 20 for weak ones on sale, but can also run to 60 arts (and those aren't the most powerful, just the best you can have to build the top ones).  There are some price breaks but not much ($10 gets you 60, $100 gets you 750).  One particular "Ultimate" LE ship requires 7 60 art ships to construct (ships which can be obtained in-game for the sufficiently dedicated and well equipped).  That would cost a minimum of $60 real dollars to obtain...1 LE ship, leaving 299 ships and 300 weapons to go.  Oh, and one really powerful ship doesn't make a huge difference.  Add to that 100 mercs which will require 2500 arts as they can't be obtained otherwise, and that would run $350.

Now there are in-game available artifacts.  A limited number from missions and extras from tournaments and bosses.  But that waters down the value of those artifacts.  If I can play the game occasionally and pick up a few hundred arts (which would cost $50 to buy) why would I purchase?  When it isn't hard to see how expensive using cash is why does anyone do it?  It's basically flushing money down the toilet.  It doesn't give much advantage unless you spend hundreds or thousands, and the game isn't nearly that entertaining.

I find most "free" games with in-game purchases to be similarly worthless.  You get so little for the $ you put in, that I feel ripped off for the people who do buy (and I know people do).  In most games the money you spend essentially buys you time: you don't have to wait for recharges or things to finish.  But for games like these, I appreciate the time.  It's a built in "you're done playing now" point; "go do something else" (like loading up another game).

Mostly, however, games like this seem to me to be further proof that we are not rational actors when it comes to how we spend money.  If we were then companies relying on in-game income like this would all be bankrupt.

Santa Barbara

Lots of horrible people who are, in the immediate aftermath of this tragedy exclaiming how we shouldn't restrict guns at all.  I don't really have anything to say except go read Echidne.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Occasional Passion: Virtual Reality Sci-Fi

I'm not a true Japan-Geek, largely because I never got into manga.  I do, however, enjoy anime (at one time daily, now occasionally).  Just finished watching Sword Art Online (SAO), which thematically fit in nicely after having read both Ready Player One and Snow Crash not too long ago.  All were quite good.

I think we are way more than the 7 years out that SAO kind of implies, but the idea of a small MRI-like device that can read directly from the brain isn't crazy far out sci-fi.  Writing to the brain, on the other hand, is--even disregarding the unsettling aspect.  It isn't very least not any time soon.  Our senses are amazing input devices and electromagnetic fields just aren't.  Yes, you could conceivably create interference patterns that would target one region or another, but the brain is immensely complex and the patterning would need to be orders of magnitude more complex, and that is ignoring the power necessary to stimulate any activity at that target site.  It is far easier to project an image and build a suit that provides haptic feedback than it would be to do a wireless Matrix.

So I find the haptic-feedback system from Ready Player One to be the most likely sense-enveloping VR of the group (yes, I know, Snow Crash is audio/visual only, but the laser drawing on the eyeball is also pretty out there).

Yes, I'm a Beer Snob

Just looking back at this post.  I am a beer snob.  It isn't that I won't drink crap beer, it's that I see little point in buying it.  If I'm going to spend money on something, it should be something I either need or enjoy, and crap beer fits neither category.  I suppose if I enjoyed getting blotto (especially if I enjoyed doing that regularly) then crap beer would be fine, but even then it would be the cheep crap beer, which Bud [Light] isn't.

All that is a prelude to a new (to me) discovery: Shiner's Ruby Redbird beer, which may be the perfect hot weather beer.  I've had Shiner's Bock, Wild Hare, and Black Lager, but I spotted this one (in cans) at my favorite beer store (Big Top, on Easton Rd.).  The ginger and red grapefruit are not overpowering (it still tastes like beer) and are perfect when consumed cold on a hot day, especially after doing yard work/gardening, maybe getting in a hike/run/ride.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Bad Websites

Most political sites are based on the same general template, but I almost didn't vote for Daylin Leach in the primary because of a pet peeve of mine regarding websites: not enough text.  When you go to the various issues links at Leach's website you are treated to a video, and oftentimes nothing else.  No text, no way for me to read up on his positions.

I don't watch video's online other than for entertainment.  If the only way you are presenting your positions on various issues is through a video, I'm not going to know what your position is, because I'm not going to watch it.  If I can't find your position on an issue easily I'm going to assume you don't want me to know it and so I'm not likely to vote for you.

It's a question of time: video's are time and attention consuming.  Reading text is fast, and is easy to go back and forth on.  I care about politics but learning about a candidate should occupy as little of my time and attention as possible.  I'm not saying don't post videos: just write down whatever is in there beneath them so I can know what you want me to.

Voting in PA

So primaries yesterday.  Dem PA guv was kind of a wash.  I wasn't particularly fond of any of the candidates and I agree with Atrios that Allyson Schwartz's campaign of inevitability was odd.  I am in her district and she's been kind of a meh rep.  PA's 13th is very blue and there isn't really a good excuse for a mushy Dem but she played that part well...likely in part because of aspirations to statewide office.  Still, I did vote for her, if only because in a field of meh, I'll take the meh I know--and that she is based close to home helped my decision a bit.

More interestingly, because Allyson was running for governor, there was a rather interesting race in my congressional district.  Unfortunately we seem to have selected yet another too-conservative-for-the-district Democrat.  He may work out fine, but he was 3rd on my preference list.  Also my very corrupt state Senator lost her reelection bid, which was a bit of a worry since 2 people were taking her on.  There was some concern that they would split the rather large anti- vote and she would manage to get through.  Glad she didn't, though, in that race too my preferred candidate lost.

So a fair amount to vote on but not a whole lot of excitement for me.  On the other hand, our current polling location is ~1.6 mi from home, so the round-trip run comes in just over 5k.

WTF Swype?

I know that names (some more than others) and science words are likely to be unrecognizable, but after the gay marriage court win in PA yesterday, I was slide-typing "gay" and it was defaulting to "Gary" which, maybe, ok, except in the list of possible words it thinks I may have meant "gay" didn't show up at all.  I would guess that far more people text the word "gay" than "Gary" and I can't really imagine a non-bigoted reason that gay wouldn't even show up in the possible word list (and really should have been the default).

Another note: if I swipe "shit" or "fuck" I want to say "shit" or "fuck" not "s***" or "f***".  Maybe there's an argument for the censorship based on people (kids) misswiping something else, but f***ing stop it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Economic Bicycle

Growth, and the sustainability of said is very important to [modern] economics and economies.  But "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron.  Growth is inherently unstable, primarily due to scarcity concerns.  Now, economists, so far as I can tell, generally consider this argument irrelevant because either the time-frame over which it becomes a problem is considered too long to be of consequence or because they assume that the economy is dynamic enough to have growth move through other channels, bypassing whatever current scarcity is limiting.

I don't disagree with that--well with the latter argument--but it seems to me that if growth is required, and that growth can come through changing dynamics rather than brute force, then population growth is unnecessary. That isn't, however, how things seem to work.
To have more or less full employment, we need sufficient spending to make use of the economy’s potential. But one important component of spending, investment, is subject to the accelerator effect: the demand for new capital depends on the economy’s rate of growth, rather than the current level of output. So if growth slows due to a falloff in population growth, investment demand falls — potentially pushing the economy into a semi-permanent slump.
I recognize that Dr. Krugman is making a rather nuanced point seem much simpler than it is, but it seems to me that this is yet another indictment of our financial system and its influence and effect on the broader economy. Population growth shouldn't matter this much.  The economy should be able to grow with plenty of speed to keep upright.

If the population is the terrain over which the proverbial bicycle rides then population growth is like moving downhill, slowing growth is leveling off.  The bicycle can still run on level ground, and even uphill, it just requires more work and the titans of finance just don't want to pedal.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Yes, Republicans are Anti-Science

That is a statement that 20 years ago would have been laughed at, and that, if taken seriously, would have been pretty horrifying to most people.  Today it's nearly shrugged off as "so, what else is new" except among an ever-shrinking subset of "very serious people" and, frankly, somewhat deluded scientists...mostly people who like low taxes (or who dislike the blah people), and who very selectively ignore the evidence--these aren't very good scientists in a general sense, mind you, but they constitute a significantly non-zero fraction.

The GOP itself spends a good deal of time pretending that they are the ones being "scientific" about various issues (mostly global warming and evolution), and pointing out the crazy anti-science that is more common on the left--particularly nuclear power but also animal testing and vaccinations, though that last is actually pretty ideology neutral in terms of where the true believers lie.  Of course with respect to that first item, they are absolutely not being scientific.  They are abusing complicated scientific principles to undermine the real science being done.  On the second point they aren't necessarily wrong (except the vaccine thing, which tends to pick up rich fools more specifically than it does liberal or conservative fools), but the difference is one of influence: anti-science lefties, even when they have fairly popular positions (e.g. nuclear) that are understanable from a non-science perspective, have approaching zero influence in the party.

I would like to clarify a bit on nuclear energy.  Scientists tend to be pro- while liberals are more likely to be anti- but a lot of the anti-nuke can be justified by things like cost analysis, and risk management/containment.  Additionally, current nuclear technology is just not good enough to replace fossil fuels, while renewables like solar and wind have the potential to reach that point where they could, theoretically, provide enough power to replace fossil, and much, much more power than nuclear [fission] ever could.  So it is possible to be pro-science and anti-nuke.  The same really can't be said about evolution or the existence of anthropogenic climate change.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

How to Feel Better About Your Run

So I ran Broad Street last weekend (like a chump).  My chip time was 1:57:31 (because I'm slow and 10 miles is a long damned way...also there was a ~5 min bathroom break in there).  For those who are passably good at math that translates to an average pace of 11:45.  Not great, though better than last year despite not properly training and having sprained my ankle pretty badly ~3 months before.  Also I know the last mile was right around 9 min from the clocks at miles 9 and the finish.  Then I checked Map My Run:

10.58 miles in 1:54:13, or 10:47 pace

Now I may have missed turning it off for as many as 200 m past the finish line, and clearly my bathroom break was auto-paused away--not 5 min, but it was probably another 1-2 min before I actually stopped it after the finish.  But most of that added distance is because we didn't run a straight line down the street, cutting all the corners as short as possible, and over a 10 mile stretch little wiggles here and there (water breaks, finding shade, swinging wide to get more space) add up to nearly half a mile over the nominal race distance.  Now I don't know what the error is on those numbers but based on comparisons to my bike computer (which I trust to better than 95% confidence), it's pretty good.

10:47 is quite a bit better pace than 11:45.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Must Read

Infuriating and disturbing, but everyone should read this.

More Like Petulant Children

Yes, as Atrios says, "Libertarians is Weird" but Libertarians are a really odd group of people predominantly made up of 16-year-old boys (well, white male college stoners) and petulant man-children, and it's the latter that really hold sway.  Pretty much any Libertarian story could be replaced with "mine, gimme, you can't make me, no..." without changing it significantly.  

There are aspects of Libertarianism that seem to apply pretty broadly (civil liberties, some level of property rights, marijuana legalization), but there's a lot of greedy, racist child that goes into the actual overall Libertarian movement--anti-tax, anti-regulation (often more specifically pro-pollution), anti anti-civil rights/voting rights act(s) (yes, really).  People like Cliven Bundy are not the exception among self proclaimed Libertarians, they are the median Libertarian.

Also, as a special note: most self-proclaimed libertarians are not, in fact libertarians.  A "real Libertarian" would be more strongly pro-choice than anti-tax, and it's odd how often supposed Libertarians are anti-choice.