March 23, 2012

This week in Guild Wars 2

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:54

My weekly column at GuildMag has been posted: This week in Guild Wars 2. The big issues roiling the community this week revolve around microtransactions, but there’s plenty of discussion of other topics in blog posts, videos, and podcasts.

Millennial generation not following the script

Filed under: Economics, History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:57

They’ve been subjected to more “sharing/caring” and “we are the world” propaganda than any group of youngsters since the Young Pioneers and the Hitler Youth, yet they appear to be shrugging off the programming in double-quick time:

Young Amer­i­cans care less and less about the the en­vi­ron­ment, pol­i­tics, and the world around them in gen­er­al, a study has found; even the idea of seek­ing a mean­ing­ful life is out of fash­ion.

In­stead, mon­ey, im­age and fame are the idols of our time.

“Pop­u­lar views of the mil­len­ni­al genera­t­ion, born in the 1980s and 1990s, as more car­ing, com­mun­ity-oriented and pol­i­tic­ally en­gaged than pre­vi­ous genera­t­ions are largely in­cor­rect, par­tic­u­larly when com­pared to ba­by boomers and Genera­t­ion X at the same age,” said the stu­dy’s lead au­thor, Jean Twenge, a psy­chol­o­gist at San Die­go State Uni­vers­ity and au­thor of the book Genera­t­ion Me. “These da­ta show that re­cent genera­t­ions are less likely to em­brace com­mun­ity mind­ed­ness and are fo­cus­ing more on mon­ey, im­age and fame.”

[. . .]

The wish to save the en­vi­ron­ment, an ar­ea of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to mil­len­ni­als, showed some of the larg­est de­clines, with three times as many mil­len­ni­als as ba­by boomers at the same age say­ing they made no per­son­al ef­fort to help the en­vi­ron­ment. Fif­ty-one per­cent of mil­len­ni­als said they made an ef­fort to cut down on elec­tri­city use to save en­er­gy, com­pared to 68 per­cent of boomers in the 1970s.

[. . .]

In the Amer­i­can Fresh­man sur­vey, the pro­por­tion of stu­dents who said be­ing wealthy was very im­por­tant to them rose from 45 per­cent for ba­by boomers (sur­veyed be­tween 1966 and 1978) to 70 per­cent for Genera­t­ion Xers (sur­veyed be­tween 1979 and 1999) and 75 per­cent for mil­len­ni­als (sur­veyed be­tween 2000 and 2009).

The frac­tion who said it was im­por­tant to keep up to date with pol­i­tics dropped, from 50 per­cent for boomers to 39 per­cent for Genera­t­ion Xers and 35 per­cent for mil­len­ni­als. “Be­com­ing in­volved in pro­grams to clean up the en­vi­ron­ment” fell from 33 per­cent for boomers to 20 per­cent for mil­len­ni­als. “De­vel­op­ing a mean­ing­ful phi­los­o­phy of life” de­creased the most across genera­t­ions, from 73 per­cent for boomers to 45 per­cent for mil­len­ni­als.

QotD: Compassion

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:42

It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have government take money by force through taxes to give money to poor people is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral, self righteous, bullying laziness. People need to be fed, medicated, educated clothed, and sheltered, and if we’re compassionate we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gun point.

Penn Jillette, God No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales, 2011

Software patents: a legal minefield with no accurate maps

Filed under: Economics, Law, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:33

In the Atlantic, Timothy B. Lee explains why most software companies are effectively ignoring the patent system:

A major reason for the recent explosion of patent litigation is that it’s hard for software firms to figure out which patents they’re in danger of infringing. There are hundreds of thousands of software patents in existence, with more than 40,000 new ones issued each year. Indeed, in a recent paper, Christina Mulligan and I estimated that it’s effectively impossible for all software-producing firms to do the legal research, known as a “freedom-to-operate” (FTO) search, required to avoid infringing software patents — there simply aren’t enough patent attorneys to do the work. That’s a major reason why most software firms simply ignore the patent system.

One of the striking things about the patent debate is vast gulf between the views of computer programmers on the one hand and patent attorneys on the other. Steve Lundberg is a patent attorney and blogger who mentioned our paper in a blog post exploring the challenges of performing FTO searches in the software industry. I don’t want to pick on Lundberg, because I think you’d get similar arguments from many patent lawyers. But his post shows a fundamental lack of understanding of how the software industry works.

I work in the software industry (although not as a programmer), and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen software patents granted for things that clearly do not meet the stated criteria for granting patents. It could be a geeky party drinking game: guess whether a particular common programming technique or decades-old user interface element is patented or not, take a drink when you guess wrong. It’d be educational, although guessing “patented” every time might leave you stone cold sober at the end of the party.

As a matter of patent theory, Lundberg is absolutely correct. Patent law’s novelty and obviousness requirements are supposed to narrow the scope of patent protection. But in practice he’s dead wrong. The patent office issues a seemingly endless stream of patents on broad, obvious concepts like emoticon menus, one-click shopping, and wireless email.

And the existence of these broad, obvious patents means that software companies are constantly infringing each other’s patents by accident. The companies with the largest patent portfolios, such as Microsoft and IBM, have tens of thousands of patents, allowing them to credibly threaten almost anyone in the software industry. Even Yahoo, with its relatively modest cache of 1000 patents, was able to find ten patents to assert against Facebook.

New evidence that the Medieval Warm Period was not local to Europe

Filed under: Environment, History, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:25

AntarcticaLewis Page summarizes some recent findings published in the peer-reviewed Earth and Planetary Science Letters journal:

More peer-reviewed science contradicting the warming-alarmist “scientific consensus” was announced yesterday, as a new study shows that the well-documented warm period which took place in medieval times was not limited to Europe, or the northern hemisphere: it reached all the way to Antarctica.

The research involved the development of a new means of assessing past temperatures, to add to existing methods such as tree ring analysis and ice cores. In this study, scientists analysed samples of a crystal called ikaite, which forms in cold waters.

[. . .]

A proper temperature record for Antarctica is particularly interesting, as it illuminates one of the main debates in global-warming/climate-change: namely, were the so-called Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age merely regional, or were they global events? The medieval warmup experienced by northern Europeans from say 900AD to 1250AD seems to have been at least as hot as anything seen in the industrial era. If it was worldwide in extent that would strongly suggest that global warming may just be something that happens from time to time, not something caused by miniscule concentrations of CO2 (the atmosphere is 0.04 per cent CO2 right now; this figure might climb to 0.07 per cent in the medium term).

Facebook seen as harmful … to deployed troops

Filed under: Asia, Middle East, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:17

Strategy Page explains how increasing sophistication on the part of the al Qaeda/Taliban forces has been allowing them to select targets of opportunity through things like Facebook posts and cell phone traffic:

The U.S. Army is warning its troops to be careful what they post to on social networking sites (like Facebook). When they post photos of themselves they often reveal militarily useful information. This was discovered in Iraq, where a lot of tech savvy people working with terrorists were able to compile information from what troops posted. This sometimes led to attacks, and this was discovered from interrogating captured terrorists and captured documents and computer data. The background of pictures often indicated targets for the terrorists, or details of base defenses and American tactics. Islamic terrorists have been quick to use the Internet and other modern technology to plan and carry out their attacks.

Some of this technology can be very dangerous, like the geo-locating capability of many smart phones (which include GPS receivers and location data that hackers can obtain.) Troops in combat zones are ordered to turn geo-locating off while in areas where the enemy could use it. Even without geo-locating turned on, cell phone use can provide militarily useful information. This goes back to a century old practice called traffic analysis. This has been used with great success against terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, but it can be used against the troops.

[. . .]

Al Qaeda was long suspected of knowing how to manipulate message traffic in order to deceive our traffic analysis methods. This was rarely the case, but this form of deception has been used in the past with success. For example, when the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion of France was being planned, a fake army group headquarters was set up in England. Actually, this “army group” consisted largely of a lot of radio and telegraph operators sending a large number of messages that would be normal if the “army group” were preparing for an invasion of France, in an area other than where the actual invasion was going to take place. The deception worked. German traffic analysis experts were fooled and the Germans believed the actual invasion at Normandy was just a feint, a move to get the Germans to send their reinforcements to Normandy rather than were the fake “army group” was going to invade.

Intelligence agencies have to be constantly on the guard for al Qaeda, or any other terrorist group, using this kind of deception. It has happened in a few instances, so a larger-scale attempt is not out of the question.

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