Quotulatiousness

June 30, 2014

Guild Wars 2 – The Living Soundtrack

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:01

Published on 30 Jun 2014

Guild Wars 2 composer Maclaine Diemer gives a sneak peak of the soundtrack for Season Two, which was performed and recorded by a live orchestra in Germany.

To know more about the Living World of Guild Wars 2, make sure to regularly check the Releases page of the website: https://www.guildwars2.com/en/the-game/releases/

Has your Facebook feed been particularly “down” lately?

Filed under: Media, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:42

If so, you may have been involuntarily recruited to take part in a “scientific” study as Facebook tailored hundreds of thousands of users’ feeds to show them only good news or only bad news:

As you may have heard (since it appears to have become the hyped up internet story of the weekend), the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) recently published a study done by Facebook, with an assist from researchers at UCSF and Cornell, in which they directly tried (and apparently succeeded) to manipulate the emotions of 689,003 users of Facebook for a week. The participants — without realizing they were a part of the study — had their news feeds “manipulated” so that they showed all good news or all bad news. The idea was to see if this made the users themselves feel good or bad. Contradicting some other research which found that looking at photos of your happy friends made you sad, this research apparently found that happy stuff in your feed makes you happy. But, what’s got a lot of people up in arms is the other side of that coin: seeing a lot of negative stories in your feed, appears to make people mad.

There are, of course, many different ways to view this: and the immediate response from many is “damn, that’s creepy.”

Did you know that your terms of service with Facebook allow this? I suspect a lot of Facebook users had no clue that their newsfeeds could be (and regularly are) manipulated without their awareness and consent.

If anything, what I think this does is really to highlight how much Facebook manipulates the newsfeed. This is something very few people seem to think about or consider. Facebook‘s newsfeed system has always been something of a black box (which is a reason that I prefer Twitter‘s setup where you get the self-chosen firehose, rather than some algorithm (or researchers’ decisions) picking what I get to see). And, thus, in the end, while Facebook may have failed to get the level of “informed consent” necessary for such a study, it may have, in turn, done a much better job accidentally “informing” a lot more people how its newsfeeds get manipulated. Whether or not that leads more people to rely on Facebook less, well, perhaps that will be the subject of a future study…

Related: Brendan posted this the other day, and I found it quite amusing.

Emperor penguins at risk

Filed under: Environment, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:15

A somewhat confusing report from BBC News says that due to warming in the Antarctic, there is now record ice extent, which means Emperor penguins have to travel much further to find open water. The warming (which has created all the extra ice) is expected to get much worse and is predicted to cut the penguin population by up to a third by the end of the century.

The main threat to the penguins comes from changes to sea-ice cover in the Antarctic, which will affect their breeding and feeding.

Dynamics will differ between penguin colonies, but all are expected to be in decline by the end of the century.

Details are published in Nature Climate Change journal.

The US, British and Dutch researchers urge governments to list the birds as endangered. Such a listing could impose restrictions on tourism and fishing.

The team, led by Stephanie Jenouvrier of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said the global population of emperor penguins would probably decline by between 19 and 33% from current levels.

[…]

“There is a goldilocks point for ice and emperor penguins,” Phil Trathan, an expert at the British Antarctic Survey (Bas), told Reuters.

Mr Trathan said it was unclear if the ungainly birds could adapt by climbing on to land or higher ice. Four emperor penguin colonies had recently been found on ice shelves, above sea level where glaciers spill off the land.

Satellite measurements of Antarctic sea-ice extent show winter coverage to be at record levels. However, climate computer modelling expects this trend to be reversed in the future, as conditions in the Antarctic warm.

Anyone else remember this French TV commercial?

Update, 2 July: Blinded by Beliefs: The Straight Poop on Emperor Penguins.

Two recent press releases concerning the Emperor Penguin’s fate illustrate contrasting forces that will either advance or suppress trustworthy conservation science. The first study reminds me of Mark Twain’s quip, “Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.” Embodying that truism is a paper by lead author Dr. Michelle LaRue who reports new advances in reading the Emperor Penguin’s fecal stains on Antarctic sea ice that are visible in satellite pictures. Two years ago the fecal stain method identified several large, hitherto unknown colonies and nearly doubled our estimate of the world’s Emperor Penguins. That didn’t mean climate change had necessarily increased penguin numbers, but a larger more robust population meant Emperor Penguins were far more resilient to any form of change.

QotD: The new American ruling class

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Our political bureaucracies are grasping and vicious, and some of the larger of them are dominated by people who are, if we’re being frank, not especially bright. No society can long thrive by making its creators and innovators subservient to its pimps and thieves. But agencies with the power to tax or the power to pay themselves out of taxes have the power to command, and, human nature being what it is, it is not surprising that their executives use that power to extort for themselves extraordinary levels of compensation (occasionally through criminal means, as in the Bell case), even as they bore us all to death talking about the sacrifices they have endured on behalf of their careers in “public service.” […]

It is baffling that my progressive friends lament the influence of so-called big money on government while at the same time proposing to expand the very scope and scale of that government that makes influencing it such a good investment. Where government means constables, soldiers, judges, and precious little else, it is not much worth capturing. Where government means somebody whose permission must be sought before you can even begin to earn a living, when it determines the prices of products, the terms of competition, and the interest rates on your competitors’ financing, then it is worth capturing. That much is obvious. Progressives refuse to see the inherent corruption in the new ruling class — and, make no mistake, we now have a ruling class — because it is largely made up of them, their colleagues, and people who are socially and culturally like them and their colleagues. Getting a couple hundred grand a year to teach one class doesn’t look so crazy if you think you might be the guy who gets the check next time around. You can be an anti-elite crusader on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised from your million-dollar mansion, even if you never find yourself so much as downwind from a poor person, without fearing charges of hypocrisy: Ask Senator Warren. Of course Chelsea Clinton does not have the sense or the good taste to be embarrassed when talking about her blasé attitude toward money: Money is invisible to her for the same reason that water is invisible to a fish — she’d notice it if it weren’t there, and flap like a desperate landed mackerel until she’d secured her next big payday.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Politics Pays”, National Review, 2014-06-29.

Differences between NFL and CFL rules

Filed under: Cancon, Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Current Chicago Bears coach (and former Montreal Alouettes coach) Marc Trestman talks about his time in the CFL and what the differences are between real maple-flavoured football and the NFL variety:

There are now nine teams in the CFL, and because of that there is a great deal of familiarity between the organizations. The league itself is tradition-filled and more than 100 years old. Each team plays each other up to three times during the 18-game season. Here are some more CFL nuances:

  • The game is played on a 110-yard field with 20-yard end zones.
  • The field is 65 yards wide (compared to the NFL’s 53 yards), with a 20-second time clock between plays. That leads to action-packed football.
  • There are only three downs to make 10 yards, not four.
  • They play 12 players to a side, and the defensive line must line up a yard off the ball.
  • Six eligible receivers can be in motion prior to the snap.
  • On kicking teams, there are no fair catches, which makes for a very exciting punting game with the wide field.

[…]

Another important difference between the CFL and NFL: the makeup of the teams. In the CFL, you have a 42-man game-day roster, and 20 of the 42 players must have Canadian heritage. The two quarterbacks don’t count against the ratio and you have to start seven Canadians among your 24 starters. But, there is no difference in the competitive makeup of each player. The men in the Montreal locker room were essentially no different than the men in our Chicago locker room. The players truly love the game, train extremely hard in the off-season, are highly competitive and “football intelligent,” and the game is as important to them as the NFL players I have coached. The only difference is the CFL player salary is significantly less than the NFL player. The CFL has a collective bargaining agreement, but the salary cap is $125 million lower than the NFL’s this year.

[…]

The rules in Canada were brilliantly conceived. It’s more of a mental challenge on game day. For example, on a missed field goal, the kicking team gets a point. But if the opponent runs it out of the end zone, the point is taken off the board. There are many tedious rules like this that make it challenging to manage a game. But the rules make sense and are tied to making the game extremely challenging from a game management point of view.

Because you have three downs to make a first down instead of four like U.S. football, most people would say, “You’ve got to make a first down in two downs, or punt on third down.” But because the defense is a yard off the ball, if you are third-and-one or less, most teams go for it. So if you make nine yards on two downs your chances of moving the chains are very good. The kicking game is extremely exciting. Because there are no fair catches, the covering team has to leave a five-yard halo around the returner so he can catch the ball. The return game therefore has more chances for explosive plays. With the wider field, the quicker players can make more things happen.

This may all be of interest to US television viewers, as ESPN just announced a deal to allow them the US broadcast rights for the CFL:

ESPN has acquired exclusive rights in the United States to Canadian Football League (CFL) games through a multi-year agreement, beginning with the 2014 season. ESPN will present at least 86 games in 2014 with 17 or more contests to be televised on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNEWS, including the 102nd Grey Cup. An additional 69 games will be carried on ESPN’s live multi-screen sports network, ESPN3.

The TV schedule kicks off Saturday, June 28, at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN2 when the Calgary Stampeders host the Montreal Alouettes, whose star wide receiver is Duron Carter, son of ESPN NFL analyst and Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter. Canada’s Sports Leader TSN will work with ESPN on game productions and their team of commentators will call the games.

ESPN’s relationship with the CFL spans more than three decades. In 1980, ESPN televised its first live football telecast ever – the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts vs. Montreal Alouettes – and continued televising CFL games from 1980-84, 1986-89, 1994-97 and in 2013. Additionally, ESPN3 has carried CFL games since 2008, including 54 games in 2013.

June 29, 2014

Maclean’s puts Canada on the map, sorta

Filed under: Cancon — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:39

For Canada Day, Maclean’s tries portraying the country in various different ways:

Happy Canada Day! For a different perspective on the country this year, Maclean’s went to the maps. Drawing on a variety of sources, from government statistics to various online databases to tweets, here are some maps to illustrate Canada as you’ve never seen it before.

[…]

It’s always a surprise when people first learn that the very tip of southwestern Ontario is at a lower latitude than parts of California — which got us wondering: How do other parts of the country line up with the rest of the world? Here are the results, using Earthtools.org. Most of the cities on this map, and their global counterparts, lie within less than 50 km of each other, latitudinally speaking, of course. Only Quebec-Ulan Bator and Fort McMurray-Moscow are a full degree apart.

Canadian cities and other cities by latitude

[…]

What to say? Canada is a land of contrasts. It also offers up a bounty of clichés.

Canadian provinces by clichés

Gay journalist decries same-sex marriage

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:19

Okay, I over-state in the headline (does that make it “clickbait”?). But in the Guardian, Hugh Ryan recognizes that the fight for same sex marriage has not gone quite the way many activists thought it would:

We didn’t queer the institution of marriage. It straightened us

Wisconsin. Indiana. Utah. Hardly a week goes by that the courts don’t rule same-sex marriage street legal in another state in America (the last twenty-two consecutive cases have all come down on the side of marriage equality), making what once seemed impossible now seems unstoppable. Wedding white is the new black — and all the gays are wearing it.

So on this anniversary weekend of the Stonewall Riots, let me be the shrill voice in the back of the church, speaking now instead of forever holding my peace. I think we’re losing something. I have no desire to turn back the clock on marriage equality: it provides both real and symbolic benefits to queer communities, families and our country as a whole. But I cannot ignore the coercive (and corrosive) power that marriage holds. In this country, it is not just an option: it is the option. It is the relationship against which all others are defined, both an institution and an expectation — and you cannot have one without the other.

Before marriage was an option of first resort, queer people had been making our own ceremonies and families for (at least) a century. This will never stop, but the new expectations of marriage will curtail this kind of life-building (just ask any single straight woman over thirty how people treat her relationship choices). We will have to justify our reasons for not marrying, and any relationship that survives past a certain sell-by date will be looked at as pre-marriage.

[…]

Somewhere along the line, the gay rights movement — and maybe the gay community writ large — separated its short-term goals and some people’s immediate needs from the larger ideals of justice and societal change that initially stirred our community to action. This diminution happened by degrees, making it almost impossible to locate the moment when we could have turned around. But I suspect we will one day look back on the contentious 1999 Millennium March on Washington as the point of no return.

Maybe the same-sex marriage wave will begin a broader reconsideration of why our government is in the business of giving benefits to sexual relationships at all — gay or straight. Perhaps we will some day expand these privileges, for which we have fought so hard, to any group of people in a long-lasting relationship of care that keeps them safe, happy, and less dependent on government services — the way France tried (and largely failed) to do with their pacte civil de solidarité. Maybe we can queer the institution.

NFL Films may have key evidence in the concussion dispute

Filed under: Football, Health, Law — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:02

At Viking Update, John Holler says an old NFL Films product may become very important in the ongoing dispute between the league and former players over concussions:

The ongoing concussion lawsuit that appears to be close to being settled out of court is making progress to be finalized. The bottom line is that players needing help will get significantly more assistance than they have in the past because the spotlight is on and both sides are compelled to try to reach a mutually-agreed upon decision.

But, if the case remains unsettled, the NFL equivalent to the Zapruder film may well already be in possession of the NFL.

Many of the former players who are seeking reparations for the injuries they sustained during their playing days played the sport at a much different time. They weren’t just Old School. They played in the school that was replaced by the school now referred to as Old School.

Over the weekend, thanks to the good people at Netflix, I watched a three-disc NFL Films series called “Inside the Vault.” The series highlighted the NFL of the 1960s and early 1970s and, while used as a promotional tool, gave unprecedented access to what actually happened on the sidelines of games when injured players were being treated and, at times, sent back into action.

The footage contained on the DVDs was both fascinating and troubling. At the time the “vault” was opened in 2003, NFL Films was getting involved in the new medium of marketing and selling itself. The DVD market of the time created “The Vault.”

What the NFL Films set portrayed was a testament to the bravado of the NFL and the players, coaches and sideline personnel involved. Ed Sabol founded NFL Films and, in the “Vault” collection, he was interviewed and quoted as saying that he instructed his camera crews not to unnecessarily throw away any film that wasn’t spoiled in developing.

Freedom of (certain kinds of) political speech

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:04

Mark Steyn explains why it’s not a trivial thing to allow the Internal Revenue Service to operate as the financial wing of a political party:

… we’ve had a steady stream of emails from readers explaining that this is all well and good but it’s taxable income and what I really need to do is set up a 501(c)3 or 501(c)4 or 501(c)87 or some such as a vehicle for this campaign.

To which the answer is: well, we certainly considered the possibility, and a few years ago I might have entertained the notion. But not anymore. The National Organization for Marriage, which was founded to protect the pre-revisionist definition of marriage, is, in its various arms, both a 501(c)3 and a 501(c)4. As such, its tax returns are publicly available, but not its donor lists. Nevertheless, it is obliged to report its donors on Schedule B to the Internal Revenue Service. Someone at the IRS leaked the donor lists to a man called Matthew Meisel, a gay activist in Boston. Meisel in turn passed it on to the gay group Human Rights Campaign (whose president was a national co-chair of the Obama re-election campaign), and HRC in turn published the list of donors, which was subsequently re-published by The Huffington Post.

There’s no secret about why they’d do such a thing. As we know, if you disagree with progressive orthodoxy, you have no right to host a cable-TV home-decor show or give a commencement address at an American university or be a beauty-queen contestant. But that’s not enough for these groups. If you’re not a public figure, if you’re just a Californian who puts up a yard sign or a bumper sticker on Proposition Eight, your car will be keyed and your house defaced. And likewise, if you slip a check in the mail for a modest sum, it is necessary that you also be made an example of. Brandon Eich, Richard Raddon and Scott Eckern all lost prominent positions as chief executives because of their donations. But Marjorie Christoffersen, a 67-year-old Mormon who works in the El Coyote restaurant in Los Angeles, was forced to quit because she wrote a $100 check in support of Proposition Eight.

So, when it comes to the leaking of donor lists, we’re not dealing with anything “theoretically” or “potentially” “troubling”. These guys act on this information, and act hard, and they are willing to destroy your life for a hundred bucks.

This is nothing to do with whether you support or oppose same-sex marriage. This is about whether you support free speech, public advocacy, private advocacy and ultimately — one day soon — the sanctity of the ballot box, and whether you oppose a culture of partisan thuggery.

So how did leaking the National Organization for Marriage donor lists work out for the IRS? Well, after a two-year legal battle, the Government of the United States admitted wrongdoing and agreed to settle. For $50,000.

After two years in the toilet of American “justice”, I can tell you that 50 grand barely covers your tips to the courthouse washroom attendant. It’s nothing. The IRS budget is over $11 billion, so you figure out how many organizations’ donor lists they can leak for 50K a pop while still keeping it under “Miscellaneous” in the annual breakdown. $50,000 isn’t even a slap on the wrist — and this notwithstanding that the IRS, as it has in the Lois Lerner case, obstructed and lied, almost laughably: For example, they claimed that the leak was an inadvertent error by a low-level clerk called Wendy Peters in March 2011. But in February 2011 Mr Meisel, the gay activist, was already letting it be known that he had a source who could get him the info.

As in the Lerner case, the inconsistencies and obfuscations were irrelevant. Like Ms Lerner, Mr Meisel took the Fifth. The NOM asked the Department of Justice to grant Meisel immunity so that he could be persuaded to disclose what really happened. But Eric Holder’s corrupt Justice Department had already decided it wasn’t going to investigate the matter so it had no reason to grant Meisel immunity. The Fifth Amendment, a constitutional safeguard to protect the citizen against the state in potentially criminal matters, is being creatively transformed to protect the state against the citizens in matters for which a corrupt and selective Justice Department will never bring criminal prosecution.

So, when it comes to leaking confidential taxpayer information for partisan advantage, the IRS got away with it.

QotD: Feminism should not be just reflexive blaming of men

Filed under: Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

I find myself increasingly shocked at the unthinking and automatic rubbishing of men which is now so part of our culture that it is hardly even noticed.

Great things have been achieved through feminism. We now have pretty much equality at least on the pay and opportunities front, though almost nothing has been done on child care, the real liberation.

We have many wonderful, clever, powerful women everywhere, but what is happening to men? Why did this have to be at the cost of men?

I was in a class of nine- and 10-year-olds, girls and boys, and this young woman was telling these kids that the reason for wars was the innately violent nature of men.

You could see the little girls, fat with complacency and conceit while the little boys sat there crumpled, apologising for their existence, thinking this was going to be the pattern of their lives.

Doris Lessing, quoted by Fiachra Gibbons in “Lay off men, Lessing tells feminists: Novelist condemns female culture that revels in humiliating other sex”, Guardian, 2001-08-14

June 28, 2014

31% of Americans believe the US is a crony capitalist state

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 10:55

Thirty-one percent of Americans are probably right:

Many Americans remain unconvinced that the United States has a system of free market capitalism and continue to be wary of government involvement in the economy.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 32% of American Adults believe the United States has a system of free market capitalism, while just as many (31%) say it is a system of crony capitalism. Slightly more (37%) are not sure what kind of capitalist system America has.

That’s from a survey conducted at the beginning of April. I suspect the same survey done now would produce a plurality for the crony capitalist side.

H/T to Jesse Walker for the link.

Autism and vaccines infographic

Filed under: Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:44

Click to see full infographic

Click to see full infographic

H/T to Nils Werner for the link.

Ayn Rand’s fascination with trains … as killing devices

Filed under: Books, Media, Railways — Tags: — Nicholas @ 10:25

Kevin Baker apparently reads Rand’s Atlas Shrugged purely for the killing porn:

In her major opus, Atlas Shrugged, railroad management exemplifies the sort of endeavor her great heroes of capitalism, the prime movers, love to take on. She claimed to have taken rides in the locomotives of the New York Central while researching the book, and to have driven the 20th Century Limited, boasting that while she was at the controls of that extraordinary train, “nobody touched a lever except me.” Trains are such an indispensable motif in Atlas Shrugged, that, when some of Rand’s acolytes produced a slavishly faithful film adaptation of her book set in the present day, they had to invent a convoluted rationale involving resource shortages and industrial disasters to explain how railroads had once again become the dominant form of long-distance transportation.

Trains were more than just a magnificent obsession for Rand. They also served as a sort of avenging angel. […]

Rand later writes a scene in which, as the nation’s infrastructure is crumbling during what she terms a “strike” by the prime movers, a rail bridge falls apart and a Taggart Transcontinental train tumbles into the Mississippi River — one more vehicle crowded with thinkers of philosophically impure thoughts. And in yet another scene, Eddie Willers, the loyal aide to the book’s heroine, is aboard a train when it breaks down out in the Arizona desert. The other passengers and crew manage to be rescued by a passing wagon train(!), but Eddie refuses and pleads, “Don’t let it go!” while looking up helplessly at the locomotive. The others abandon the train and Eddie, almost certainly to his death.

It was such passages that led Whittaker Chambers, in his 1957 National Review takedown of Rand and her just-released book, to famously write, “From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding, ‘To the gas chambers — go!’ ” By then Rand had lingered so long on her screed that trains, the cutting edge of American technology and design when she began, were about to be all but eliminated by the prime movers.

But reading of her love for trains’ capacity to kill at least allows one to understand her appeal to the modern Republican right. Her extended descriptions of those who will die and why they deserve to die resemble nothing so much as the climactic passages of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’s Left Behind series, in which, after another set of righteous people have been raptured out of harm’s way, the authors dwell in loving detail on the torments to be inflicted by the returning deity of the Apocalypse — in this case, not Jesus Christ, but John Galt. Different god, same gas chamber.

QotD: The dangers of self-publishing

Filed under: Books, Business, Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:01

Call from the project manager on a big, glossy, high-end coffee-table book I recently proofread …

Project Manager: Oh. My. God! We can’t possibly implement all these changes! There’s just red EVERYwhere.

Me: They’re not changes, they’re corrections.

PM: But it’ll take days.

Me: Yes, and because there are so many I suggest you get someone to read it again.

PM: But we go to print on Friiiiiday *wail*

Me: Maybe the editor should look at it again then. Who’s the editor?

PM: The author. And me.

Me: No, who’s the E-D-I-T-O-R?

PM: No, seriously, the author and me.

Me: No frikkin’ kidding. (Okay, that was under my breath…)

Publish Cape Town, Facebook, 2014-06-26.

June 27, 2014

This week in Guild Wars 2

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:06

My weekly Guild Wars 2 community round-up at GuildMag is now online. The Festival of the Four Winds is finally drawing to a close, and the Living Story Season Two debuts on July 1st. We’ve been getting a few cryptic hints about what’s ahead, in the form of a teaser video and some audio “omens and portents”. In addition, there’s the usual assortment of blog posts, videos, podcasts, and fan fiction from around the GW2 community.

GuildMag logo

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