February 10, 2012

This week in Guild Wars 2

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:27

My weekly column on news, commentary, podcasts, and videos from the Guild Wars 2 world is now up at GuildMag.com.

Willpower, for good or evil

Filed under: Books, Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:52

In the Guardian, Jon Henley reviews the new book by Roy F Baumeister and John Tierney:

Willpower: Rediscovering Our Greatest Strength distills three decades of academic research (Baumeister’s contribution) into self-control and willpower, which the Florida State University social psychologist bluntly identifies as “the key to success and a happy life”.

The result is also (Tierney’s contribution) readable, accessible and practical. It’s an unusual self-help book, in fact, in that it offers not just advice, tips and insights to help develop, conserve and boost willpower, but grounds them in some science.

Willpower is, Baumeister argues over lunch, “what separates us from the animals. It’s the capacity to restrain our impulses, resist temptation — do what’s right and good for us in the long run, not what we want to do right now. It’s central, in fact, to civilisation.”

The disciplined and dutiful Victorians, all stiff upper lip and lashings of moral fibre, had willpower in spades; as, sadly, did the Nazis, who referred to their evil adventure as the “triumph of will”. In the 60s we thought otherwise: let it all hang out; if it feels good, do it; I’m OK, you’re OK.

But without willpower, it seems, we’re actually rarely OK. In the 60s a sociologist called Walter Mischel was interested in how young children resist instant gratification; he offered them the choice of a marshmallow now, or two if they could wait 15 minutes. Years later, he tracked some of the kids down, and made a startling discovery.

[. . .]

What they found was that, even taking into account differences of intelligence, race and social class, those with high self-control — those who, in Mischel’s experiment, held out for two marshmallows later — grew into healthier, happier and wealthier adults.

This is why the “patriarchy” is an unlikely culprit

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Liberty — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:27

Henry Hill explains the key market mechanism that would undermine “the patriarchy”:

Let’s imagine we have ten businesses competing for the same market. If we are spectacularly ungenerous to the male sex (as to get into Harriet Harman’s brain we must surely be) let’s assume that nine of those businesses are run by real, conviction sexists who consciously exclude capable women on the grounds that they’re women. This leaves a vast talent pool available to the tenth business, which presumably can lap up these highly capable workers. If sexism was depressing their wages as well, then this business would have a significant competitive advantage over the competition.

How long would rival businesses really keep deliberately hiring inferior labour at inflated prices out of allegiance to the principle of sexism? It would only take one company in a competitive market to break the ranks of chauvinist solidarity for such arbitrary and costly employment practises to be rendered totally unaffordable.

There are all kinds of reasons for differing employment patterns between men and women, including different priorities, working hours, child-rearing and so forth that have firm bases in business sense. To ascribe these differences to an omnipresent, more-important-that-profit sexist conspiracy, one must believe the entire spectrum of business subscribes to the exclusion of women at the expense of their own industrial and economic interests. That they literally looked at the ‘profits’ David Cameron is waving in front of them and decided that, if the cost was employing women, £40bn wasn’t for them.

Help sponsor a new home for the historic Colossus code-cracking computer

Filed under: Britain, History, Technology, WW2 — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:11

John Leyden at The Register on the fundraising efforts to build a new home for the WW2 cryptographic computer:

The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) has turned to a tried-and-tested fundraising method to establish a home for the rebuilt Colossus computer at Bletchley Park.

Individuals and firms are invited to buy up pixels of an online picture of the wartime code-breaking machine — at 10 pence per dot with a minimum spend of £10 — pretty much like Alex Tew’s million-dollar homepage effort.

The museum’s curators need the cash to open an exhibition featuring the Colossus in the historic Block H, on the spot where Colossus No 9 stood during the Second World War and where the rebuild took place.

Colossus was the world’s first electronic programmable computer, and was used to crack encrypted messages between Hitler and his generals.

Before Watergate the FBI had to put together files using wiretaps, informants, and detective work

Filed under: Government, History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:03

Nowadays, of course, they wouldn’t need to do any of that: most of what they collected then could be gathered by looking you up on Facebook:

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are perhaps best known for their comedy sketch Who’s on First?

But in the 1950s, the duo caught the FBI’s attention for other reasons.

“A police informant furnished information to the effect that Bud Abbott, the well-known motion picture and television star, is a collector of pornography, and alleged he has 1,500 reels of obscene motion pictures,” an agent wrote in an FBI file.

Of Costello, agents reported: “Information was secured reflecting that two prostitutes put on a lewd performance for Lou Costello,” for which they were paid $50 each.

[. . .]

During the era of legendary FBI director J Edgar Hoover, “you could find a reason to open a file on anyone”, says Steve Rosswurm, a historian at Lake Forest College in Illinois and author of a book about the FBI’s dealings with the Catholic Church.

“The reasons for the surveillance are as varied as the people being watched,” said British writer Nicholas Redfern, author of Celebrity Secrets: Official Government Files on the Rich and Famous

“It was very much dependent upon the character or the situation the subject of the file was in.”

Today, the bureau’s Cold War-era fears of communist infiltration, obscenity and homosexuality sound almost quaint..

Lorne Gunter: Toronto Star imagines oil just “bubbles up out of the ground and we Westerners just run out with buckets to collect it?”

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:30

Lorne Gunter in the National Post:

As I read the Toronto Star’s editorial about Statistics Canada’s recently released 2011 census population data, it was hard for me not to imagine a plump, aging diva reclining on a brocade-covered chaise wailing, “I’m still beautiful! Really, I am.”

Entitled, “Census shows a fading Ontario? Don’t count on it,” the editorial makes the argument that it is “too simplistic” to claim “Ontario’s day is over.”

No one is making the case that Ontario can be dismissed as an afterthought. That is a concern without a cause.

[. . .]

But before anyone jumps to the conclusion that I, an Albertan, am pleased by Ontario’s decline, I’ll add that any trend that bodes ill for Ontario, eventually bodes ill for the country as a whole.

Canada needs a strong, prosperous, confident heartland. The West may be the new engine of the national economy, but that doesn’t mean the country can afford to have the old engine — Ontario — be idle.

The Star insults the West’s ingenuity and determination when it scoffs that “it’s relatively easy to grow based on resource extraction. Ontario does not have the luxury of sitting on gas and oil fields, so the task here is much harder.” Really? Have the paper’s editorial writers ever tried to find, extract, transport and refine oil and natural gas? Do they imagine the stuff bubbles up out of the ground and we Westerners just run out with buckets to collect it?

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