April 18, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Event set for April 27-29

Filed under: Gaming, Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 13:25

I think it’ll be safe to say that there will almost certainly be no blog updates from whenever on the 27th the event begins until sometime on April 30th. The Beta Weekend Event is open to everyone who has pre-purchased Guild Wars 2 (you can still get in on the event by pre-purchasing the game at buy.guildwars2.com).

It is still a beta, so you can anticipate finding some rough edges — reporting problems is part of the beta experience. Characters created during the beta program are not carried over into the released game, so don’t get too attached to your on-screen avatar yet.

Update, 19 April: Here’s the ArenaNet blog post with details:

We’re counting the days until the first public Guild Wars 2 Beta Weekend Event, which begins on Friday, April 27, at noon PDT (GMT-8) and ends on Sunday, April 29, at 11:59 p.m. PDT (GMT-8). Hundreds of thousands of players from around the world will get their first taste of Guild Wars 2 — and rest assured, we’ll be playing alongside them!

There are a couple important things you need to know about this Beta Weekend Event:

  • The only way to absolutely guarantee your access to this or any future Beta Weekend Events is to pre-purchase any edition of Guild Wars 2.
  • Customers who have pre-purchased the game will receive an e-mail next week with instructions on how to download the client and participate in the Beta.
  • This is a public event, which means that you’re not bound by a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). So go ahead, feel free to take screenshots, shoot video, blog, tweet, write, or compose a rock opera to share your Guild Wars 2 experience with the world.

Let’s take a look at all the cool stuff you’ll be doing during the Beta Weekend Event.

Reason.tv: The Space Shuttle Era is Over (Thank God!)

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Space — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:49

So the space shuttle Discovery has flown its last mission; it’s been towed over the nation’s capital like a bruised Chevy after a demolition derby before being deposited at the Udvar-Hazy air and space museum in northern Virginia.

Other space junkers — Atlantis and Endeavour — are being retired like Brett Favre in a pair of Crocs, too, bringing to end an underwhelming three decades of fruitless and tragic exploration of low-earth orbiting patterns.

Let’s face it: Once we beat the Russians to the moon, the national rocket grew limper than Liberace at a speculum convention. NASA has been dining out on a single 1969 hit longer than Zager and Evans.

The good news is that amateur hour is now over and the private space race has begun. Where two Cold War superpowers failed, let a thousand business plans bloom!

Another Conservative comes around on marijuana legalization

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:36

This time, it’s National Post columnist Barbara Kay accepting the arguments on legalization:

Tobacco is harmful in any amount and it remains perfectly legal. Alcohol, while benign in reasonable quantities, is a gateway to alcoholism — the most intractable and damaging of addictions — which causes far more domestic and social misery than marijuana possibly could. And finally, there comes a certain tipping point when resisting the common will for no easily defined reason stops making social or economic sense.

Two thirds of Canadians want marijuana to be decriminalized. It seems clear to me that sooner or later marijuana is going to join alcohol and tobacco as a substance that the government recognizes cannot be eradicated.

Unless the moral argument is too powerful to override — in this case it isn’t — economic realities can’t be ignored. The street value of the cannabis industry in British Columbia is worth an estimated $30-billion a year; it would be worth double or triple that amount if it could legally attract tourists from the U.S. and other countries. Enforcement of our present laws is said to cost $1-billion a year; that money could be put to better use by rehabilitating hard drug addicts. The federal government brings in about $5-billion annually in tobacco taxes; legalizing marijuana would bring in at least a billion or two more.

However, she’s still a Conservative (as the tax angle above clearly shows):

I’d like to see marijuana legalized, but highly regulated. The government should oversee its growth, its potency and its distribution. It should be heavily taxed, as all recreational substances that can be abused are. But I’m not naive. Because it wouldn’t be legally available to minors, and because the strength would be too muted for many potheads, a black market in more potent stuff would spring up immediately. Criminals will focus their efforts on marketing stronger, illegal marijuana to minors. And we shouldn’t be surprised if our First Nations suddenly discover that growing and selling pot are ancient traditions in their culture that exempt them from paying sales taxes.

Legalization will no doubt come with its own set of problems. Commercialization and widespread marketing will bring in masses of new users. And, as I’ve argued before, for accountability and liability purposes, legalization will embroil government, insurance companies, schools and the medicare system in such a tortuous maze of regulatory and enforcement interference with their privacy, that potheads — and the libertarians who see legalization as a liberating panacea — will yearn for the paradoxical simplicity of illegal, but unencumbered access.

Why do we even bother calling them “life sentences”?

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Law — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:13

According to a recent Globe and Mail article, among the civil service jobs at risk in the government’s cutbacks are 26 convicted murderers who’ve been paroled and are paid to minister to another 2,280 paroled murderers (numbers from the 2010-11 report).

The Globe and Mail has learned that one of the many federal programs that will be cut in its entirety is LifeLine, a program aimed at helping people with life sentences — or “lifers” — successfully re-integrate into society once they’ve been paroled.

At a starting salary of about $38,000, the program hires and trains successfully-paroled lifers to mentor other lifers who are still incarcerated or who have been recently released on parole.

[. . .]

Under the Criminal Code, offenders serving a life sentence for murder may be considered for parole after serving 15 years of their sentences. Offenders serving life sentences for first-degree murder can be eligible for day parole after 22 years and full parole after 25 years.

A guerilla war is fought in two primary theatres: in the field and in the media

Filed under: History, Media, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:57

A survey of US experiences in guerilla fighting over the years at Strategy Page:

After a decade of fighting Islamic terrorists the U.S. Department of Defense finally realized, at the most senior levels, that the nature of, and progress in this war was being poorly presented to the national leadership and the public. Actually, from the very beginning, there was a reluctance to reveal the masses of data collected and how it was analyzed. Partly this was to prevent the enemy from realizing how much information on terrorist operations it possessed. But another reason was the fact that such a large mass of data could be interpreted many different ways, some of them unfavorable to the United States. Thus there was no “body count” or any other type of measure released by the Department of Defense. Internally, there were various metrics (measurements) presented to senior military and political leadership. The big problem was the use of aggregation (combining a lot of data together that should not have been combined). That was a problem that slowly became obvious over the last decade.

It’s now recognized that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and elsewhere, like Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and so on) were all somewhat different and that context for each of them was crucial if you were going to analyze them. For example; al Qaeda is more of an idea than a centralized organization. Thus the al Qaeda found in each country, or part of a country, usually has different means and motivations. The war in Iraq was actually several separate wars going on at the same time, and occasionally interacting with other “wars” nearby. Same thing in Afghanistan and places like Somalia. Measuring progress is more accurate if you show the unique trends in all the different wars. Some of them ended early, some escalated and some are still in progress while others evolve into new kinds of conflicts. In other words, the military should use contextual assessment in reporting what is going on with guerilla conflict (or “irregular warfare” in general.)

[. . .]

When the United States first got involved with Vietnam in the late 1950s, there was good reason to believe American assistance would lead to the defeat of the communist guerilla movement in South Vietnam. That was because the communists had not been doing so well with their guerilla wars. In the previous two decades, there had been twelve communist insurgencies, and 75 percent of them had been defeated. These included Greek Civil War (1944-1949), Spanish Republican Insurgency (1944-1952), Iranian Communist Uprising (1945-1946), Philippine Huk War (1946-1954), Madagascan Nationalist Revolt (1947-1949), Korean Partisan War (1948-1953), Sarawak/Sabah “Confrontation” (1960-1966), Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), Kenyan Mau-Mau Rebellion (1952-1955). The communists won in the Cuban Revolution (1956-1958), the First Indochina War (1945-1954) and the Chinese Civil War (1945-1949). The communists went on to lose the guerilla phase of the Second Indochina War (1959-1970). Guerillas make great copy for journalists. You know, the little guy, fighting against impossible odds. What we tend to forget (and the record is quite clear, and easily available), is that these insurgent movements almost always get stamped out. That does not make good copy, and the dismal details of those defeats rarely make it into the mass media, or the popular consciousness.

Summing up the career of Hunter S. Thompson, graphically

Filed under: Books, History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

At BoingBoing, Mark Frauenfelder reviews Gonzo: A Graphic Biography of Hunter S. Thompson by Will Bingley and Anthony Hope-Smith:

180 pages isn’t much room to examine a life in minute detail. Instead, Bingley tells a story (as if it were written, quite convincingly, by Thompson himself) of Thompson’s frantic search to find meaning in the turbulent era he lived in. Bingley’s story is about a passionate, rebellious genius who sprinted too fast at the beginning of a long-distance race, collapsed early, and spent his remaining decades burnt-out, crawling bewilderedly.

The book’s forward, written by Thompson’s longtime editor, Alan Rinzler, is especially revealing. Rinzler believes that Thompson could have been the “heavyweight champion of American letters,” but his self-destructive behavior, which got worse with each passing year, ruined that opportunity.

[. . .]

After Lono, says Rinzler, “Hunter’s substance abuse, writer’s block and brief attention span were increasing exponentially. He’s slip out to see his dealer and come back so tanked he couldn’t think straight.” Thompson’s work became a series of “repetitious, mediocre, regurgitated articles and books and collections he allowed to be issued and reissued over the last 30 years of his life.”

The Curse of Lono was the last book by Thompson I read, but I don’t doubt Rinzler’s assessment of the quality of Thompson’s books that followed. (Thompson’s awful “Hey Rube!” columns for an ESPN website were enough to keep me uninterested in his newer books). But his earlier work, especially Hell’s Angels, is so good that I will always admire Thompson as a heavyweight contender who showed a very promising start.

I eagerly read much of Thompson’s early work (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, The Great Shark Hunt, Hell’s Angels, and The Curse of Lono) in the early-to-mid 80’s, but tapered off soon after that. Several years ago, I picked up a remaindered copy of Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness Modern History from the Sports Desk and it was the literary equivalent of Rome after too many Goth and Vandal sackings: you could still see some great bits and pieces, but everything else had been broken, burned, hacked, and slashed.

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