April 21, 2016

QotD: The amazing (ancient) Greeks

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I discovered the Greeks when I was eight, and I came across a copy of Roger Lancelyn-Green’s retelling of The Iliad. I was smitten at once. There was something so wonderfully grand, yet exotic, about the stories. I didn’t get very far with it, but I found a copy of Teach Yourself Greek in the local library and spent weeks puzzling over it. Over the next few years, I read my way through the whole of Greek and Roman mythology, and was drawn into the history of the whole ancient world.

When I was twelve, my classical leanings took me in a new, if wholly predictable, direction. The sexual revolution of the 70s hardly touched most South London schoolboys. The one sex education lesson I had was a joke. Porn was whatever I could see without my glasses in the swimming pool. So I taught myself Latin well enough to read the untranslated naughty bits in the Loeb editions of the classics. The librarians in Lewisham were very particular in those days about what they allowed on their shelves. They never questioned the prestige of the classics, or thought about what I was getting them to order in from other libraries. With help from Martial and Suetonius and Ausonius, among others, I’d soon worked out the mechanics of all penetrative sex, and flagellation and depilation and erotic dances; and I had a large enough fund of anecdotes and whole stories to keep my imagination at full burn all though puberty.

Then, as I grew older, I realised something else about the Greeks — something I’d always known without putting it into words. There’s no doubt that European civilisation, at least since the Renaissance, has outclassed every other. No one ever gathered facts like we do. No one reasoned from them more profoundly or with greater focus. No one approached us in exposing the forces of nature, and in turning them to human advantage. We are now four or five centuries into a curve of progress that keeps turning more steeply upwards. Yet our first steps were guided by others — the Greek, the Romans, the Arabs, and so forth. If we see further than they do, we stand on the backs of giants.

The Greeks had no one to guide them. Unless you want to make exaggerated claims about the Egyptians and Phoenicians, they began from nothing. Between about 600 and 300 BC, the Greeks of Athens and some of the cities of what is now the Turkish coast were easily the most remarkable people who ever lived. They gave us virtually all our philosophy, and the foundation of all our sciences. Their historians were the finest. Their poetry was second only to that of Homer — and it was they who put together all that we have of Homer. They gave us ideals of beauty, the fading of which has always been a warning sign of decadence; and they gave us the technical means of recording that beauty. Again, they had no examples to imitate. They did everything entirely by themselves. In a world that had always been at the midnight point of barbarism and superstition, they went off like a flashbulb; and everything good in our own world is part of their afterglow. Every renaissance and enlightenment we have had since then has begun with a rediscovery of the ancient Greeks. Modern chauvinists may argue whether England or France or Germany has given more to the world. In truth, none of us is fit to kiss the dust on which the ancient Greeks walked.

How can you stumble into their world, and not eventually be astonished by what the Greeks achieved? From the time I was eight, into early manhood, I felt wave after wave of adoration wash over me, each one more powerful than the last.

Richard Blake, “Interview with Richard Blake”, 2014-03-14.

August 13, 2015

The Hockey Stick of Human Prosperity (Everyday Economics 1/7)

Filed under: Economics, Health, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 24 Jun 2014

In this series, Professor Don Boudreaux explores the question economists have been asking since the era of Adam Smith — what creates wealth? On a timeline of human history, the recent rise in standards of living resembles a hockey stick — flatlining for all of human history and then skyrocketing in just the last few centuries. Without specialization and trade, our ancient ancestors only consumed what they could make themselves. How can specialization and trade help explain the astonishing growth of productivity and output in such a short amount of time — after millennia of famine, low life expectancy, and incurable disease?

May 8, 2015

QotD: The barbarians in our midst

Filed under: Quotations, Science, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… possibly the most dangerous barbarians live in the West. These, by being born there, assume they are Westerners by inheritance or osmosis. They also regard Western civilization as “found”, its goodies a stash waiting to be used or distributed. Nor do they trouble themselves as to its provenance, for there has always been plenty more where the stash came from.

For these barbarians Western civilization and its associated quest for God or Truth are a bothersome impediment, a “white man’s culture”, a hundred year old relic ideology nobody bothers with, some irksomely judgmental superfluity that gets in the way of fun and spreading the fruits to arrivals at the border and various victim groups.

For the barbarian the only reality is appearances. Cargo cultists, for instance, believe that function comes from form. If they build something which resembles an airport then gift giving airplanes will arrive there to bring goodies. The 21st century barbarian completely lacks the attitude of Roger Bacon, who lived in the 13th century. Bacon knew that the truth was not a “white man’s” culture — in fact in his day nearly all learning came from the East — but believed the truth was nature’s culture; baked into reality; another word for what used to be called God. Of barbarian ignorance Bacon wrote:

    Many secrets of art and nature are thought by the unlearned to be magical. … The empire of man over things depends wholly on the arts and sciences. For we cannot command nature except by obeying her.

In today’s post-Western environment, we’ve forgotten Bacon’s adage.

Richard Fernandez, “Sword and Sorcery”, Belmont Club, 2014-06-23.

November 16, 2014

In Civilization games, Gandhi is the most likely leader to use nukes

Filed under: Gaming, India — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In Kotaku, Luke Plunkett explains why of all the AI leaders in the game, none are more likely to espouse the philosophy “nuke ’em ’till they glow, then shoot ’em in the dark” than India’s Gandhi:

Civilization V - Gandhi

In the original Civilization, it was because of a bug. Each leader in the game had an “aggression” rating, and Gandhi – to best reflect his real-world persona – was given the lowest score possible, a 1, so low that he’d rarely if ever go out of his way to declare war on someone.

Only, there was a problem. When a player adopted democracy in Civilization, their aggression would be automatically reduced by 2. Code being code, if Gandhi went democratic his aggression wouldn’t go to -1, it looped back around to the ludicrously high figure of 255, making him as aggressive as a civilization could possibly be.

In later games this bug was obviously not an issue, but as a tribute/easter egg of sorts, parts of his white-hot rage have been kept around. In Civilization V, for example, while Gandhi’s regular diplomatic approach is more peaceful than other leaders, he’s also the most likely to go dropping a-bombs when pushed, with a nuke “rating” of 12 putting him well ahead of the competition (the next three most likely to go nuclear have a rating of 8, with most leaders around the 4-6 region).

Update, 16 November: Fixed the broken link.

September 3, 2014

QotD: The relative size of the Chinese economy, historically speaking

Filed under: China, Economics, History, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

People seem to want to get freaked out about China passing the US in terms of the size of its economy. But in the history of Civilization there have probably been barely 200 years in the last 4000 that China hasn’t been the largest economy in the world. It probably only lost that title in the early 19th century and is just now getting it back. We are in some senses ending an unusual period, not starting one.

Warren Meyer, “It is Historically Unusual for China NOT to be the Largest Economy on Earth”, Coyote Blog, 2014-08-30.

July 4, 2014

Civilization: Beyond Earth release date announced

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:03

ZAM.com has the details:

Civilization Beyond Earth

Civilization: Beyond Earth is set to launch worldwide this autumn on October 24, 2014. Pre-ordering via participating retailers will score you a bonus Exoplanets Map Pack on launch day. The map pack includes six custom maps inspired by real exoplanets:

  • Kepler 186f: This lush forest planet is one of the oldest known Earth-like planets
  • Rigil Khantoris Bb: Orbiting the closest star to our solar system, the historical records of this arid continental planet’s settlement are well-preserved
  • Tau Ceti d: This planet of seas and archipelagos features a booming biodiversity and a wealth of resources
  • Mu Arae f: Tidally locked in orbit around a weak star, the southern hemisphere of this planet is a blistering desert where the sun never sets, while the northern hemisphere is perpetually in frozen darkness
  • 82 Eridani e: An alien world of scarce water and wracked by tectonic forces
  • Eta Vulpeculae b: A mysterious new discovery with unknown terrain

March 31, 2014

Trust is the key to civilization

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Victor Davis Hanson explains why the drop in trust — specifically the peoples’ trust in government — is on a steep downward trajectory:

Transparency and truth are the fuels that run sophisticated civilizations. Without them, the state grinds to a halt. Lack of trust — not barbarians on the frontier, global warming or cooling, or even epidemics — doomed civilizations of the past, from imperial Rome to the former Soviet Union.

The United States can withstand the untruth of a particular presidential administration if the permanent government itself is honest. Dwight Eisenhower lied about the downed U-2 spy plane inside the Soviet Union. Almost nothing Richard Nixon said about Watergate was true. Intelligence reports of vast stockpiles of WMD in Iraq proved as accurate as Bill Clinton’s assertion that he never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.

Presidents fib. The nation gets outraged. The independent media dig out the truth. And so the system of trust repairs itself.

What distinguishes democracies from tinhorn dictatorships and totalitarian monstrosities are our permanent meritocratic government bureaus that remain nonpartisan and honestly report the truth.

The Benghazi, Associated Press, and National Security Agency scandals are scary, but not as disturbing as growing doubts about the honesty of permanent government itself.

February 28, 2014

Developer dispute in Civilization V – “What?! Are you crazy?! You never do that! You fool!”

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:26

If you play Civilization V (I do, but nowhere near as much as I played the games in the Civilization II line), you’ll recognize this argument right away:

“What?! Are you crazy?! You never do that! You fool!”

People got a little crazy during a routine design meeting in the Firaxis Games offices, where the developers of Civilization V take strategy very seriously. A designer talking about his recent playthrough to a large group of his gathered colleagues casually mentioned he didn’t like the starting position of his settler so he moved it that turn to look for greener pastures. The reaction was immediate. Half the designers in the room erupted in anger and disbelief — while the other half vehemently defended the move. They ditched what the meeting was supposed to be about, and instead argued for or against a specific move in the first turn of a Civ game. Clearly, this issue was very important. Sid Meier once said that all good games were a series of interesting decisions, and it’s a testament to the power of Civilization that even the first decision could evoke such a strong reaction in the current Civ team at Firaxis.

But why? Why is moving your settler or not so important? It’s a question I’ve struggled with in my own time with the series. I spoke to Firaxis to figure that out, and maybe discover if there’s empirical evidence to support either decision beyond individual play style. The three developers I spoke to were Ed Beach, lead designer on the last two Civ V expansions, Peter Murray and Dennis Shirk, and they all had very different positions on the Settler Dilemma.

On that particular question, I’m agnostic. I usually build a city on my first turn, unless the starting location is so terrible that the game looks to be lost right from the start (and if it really was that bad — all desert or all tundra — restarting is probably the smarter move).

August 7, 2013

What happens when you add MMO features to a classic turn-based game?

Filed under: Gaming, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:56

The answer, according to Jake Song and 2K Games, is Civilization Online:

Civilization Online concept art

You might have heard about a little project called Civilization Online, a new MMO in development based on the popular Civilization series of turn-based strategy games. You also might have heard that XL Games CEO Jake Song, of ArcheAge and Lineage fame, is overseeing the project as Executive Producer. But chances are, that’s really all you have heard. Until now, that is.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Song, XL Games Senior VP Jung Hwan Kim, and Producer Garrett Bittner from 2K Games to get the scoop on the project. Follow along for all the juicy details about building up civilizations in a new open world environment, including crafting, PvP, and more!

With Civilization Online being such a departure from his previous projects, I had to ask Song why the switch in genres? His answer came easily: He’s a big fan of the Civilization series. Actually, Song’s first response was: “Because there are too many fantasy games!” Then after a chuckle he talked about how he enjoyed the franchise. According to Bittner, from 2K Games’ perspective, Song was an obvious choice to ask to participate due to his high quality work as well as being a fan.

But even though the MMO is based on the series of strategy games, CO is not to be mistaken as simply an online version of turn-based warfare or a continuation of the canceled Facebook game. In fact, Civilization Online will definitely be a MMORPG, where players are a single character within the civilization — as opposed to, say, a unit of armies — and will influence a persistent and dynamic world by helping to advance their civilization through the ages.

February 10, 2013

QotD: The internet really did change everything

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

For all of those thousands of years, most important communication in civilization has been vertical, and almost always from the top down.

Think of a church bell (or before that, and in other places, a drum or a gong): a means of communication far too expensive in a primitive society for an individual to own, one with extremely low bandwidth, conveying simple imperatives that individuals had been conditioned from earliest childhood to obey: wake up, serf! Come to prayer, serf! Go to work, serf! Come back to prayer, serf! Go to bed, serf!

There was no talking back to the commanding bells.

Over the centuries, nothing changed except the bandwidth. By turns we had Big Ben, Rudy Valee, D.W. Griffith, Arthur Godfrey, I Love Lucy; but there was no way to talk back to them, either. Nor to the “news” thrust upon us by media controlled or even owned outright by authority.

Then, suddenly, the whole situation, the entire 8000-year-old structure of human interaction, was pitched on its ear. The Internet landed with a crash and knocked communications sideways, making it an egalitarian — “peer-to-peer” — undertaking. Information traveled uncontrollably, in both directions, to the anger and distress of those who still believed that they were in authority. (One politician, a wealthy former governor and senator has recently announced that he’s leaving politics, having previously claimed society would be better off had the Internet never been invented.) And all the pus, 8000 years of dictatorial threats and dirty lies, burst out with the fall of power.

Humanity will never be the same again. This is change at the most fundamental level conceivable, barring the evolution of new limbs or individuals developing gills. As a student of history, I believe it to be more significant than Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, possibly more important than the invention of writing itself. And authority, as it disintegrates, is striving hysterically to bring it all back under control. But it’s too late by at least a decade. We have the idea of laterality now, and it cannot be disinvented or unlearned.

L. Neil Smith, “‘And That’s the Way It Is…'”, Libertarian Enterprise, 2013-02-03

June 12, 2012

What happens when you play Civilization II for a decade?

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:52

I don’t mean playing the game for that length of time (I’m sure there are still fans who do that now and again), but playing the same session for that long:

I’ve been playing the same game of Civ II for 10 years. Though long outdated, I grew fascinated with this particular game because by the time Civ III was released, I was already well into the distant future. I then thought that it might be interesting to see just how far into the future I could get and see what the ramifications would be. Naturally I play other games and have a life, but I often return to this game when I’m not doing anything and carry on. The results are as follows.

  • The world is a hellish nightmare of suffering and devastation.
  • There are 3 remaining super nations in the year 3991 A.D, each competing for the scant resources left on the planet after dozens of nuclear wars have rendered vast swaths of the world uninhabitable wastelands.

-The ice caps have melted over 20 times (somehow) due primarily to the many nuclear wars. As a result, every inch of land in the world that isn’t a mountain is inundated swamp land, useless to farming. Most of which is irradiated anyway.

-As a result, big cities are a thing of the distant past. Roughly 90% of the worlds population (at it’s peak 2000 years ago) has died either from nuclear annihilation or famine caused by the global warming that has left absolutely zero arable land to farm. Engineers (late game worker units) are always busy continuously building roads so that new armies can reach the front lines. Roads that are destroyed the very next turn when the enemy goes. So there isn’t any time to clear swamps or clean up the nuclear fallout.

H/T to Charles Stross for the link.

December 30, 2011

Next up on the global agenda: the “soft” dark ages

Filed under: History, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:20

Occasional commenter “Lickmuffin” sent a link to this article saying “Overly optimistic outlook here, I’m afraid. What good is digital storage when there won’t be any electricity?”:

We were discussing the dark ages, which not only were characterized by the disintegration of the Roman political order, but also the loss of an immense store of practical technological knowledge: agricultural practices and implements; construction techniques — it would take until the 19th century for Europeans to match the Romans’ road-building prowess — war machines; distribution and warehousing; science; art (which in Roman times was the realm of artisans, not self-absorbed “transgressive” pricks).

I said that I think we are headed for a “soft dark ages.” That took him aback. “How are we headed there,” he asked, “and how would they be ‘soft’?”

I answered his last question first. They would be “soft” because unlike what happened in Roman times, we have the ability to store gigantic amounts of information in small spaces. One person can carry around encyclopedic knowledge on a flash drive. Multiply him by the millions, and you have a vast repository of recoverable knowledge that is private, widely dispersed, and replicated many times over. No matter how determined or persistent this era’s barbarians — Marxists, Muslims, Democrats, unionists, academicians — they simply would not be able to track down and destroy all modern technological knowledge.

But beyond furtive individual efforts at hiding and protecting the knowledge we would need to create a New America or a New West, there would be vaster, more organized, more collective efforts to protect knowledge until better days. I suggested to Bob three institutions or concepts that would become the next dark ages’ hallmarks: The new castle fortress; the new monastic life; and the new Europe.

July 3, 2011

Scott Adams on Men, Women, and Society

Filed under: Humour, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:47

This one’s for the misanthopes! See, guys, at least one person understands your plight:

If you have a round peg that doesn’t fit in a square hole, do you blame the peg or the hole? You probably blame neither. We don’t assign blame to inanimate objects. But you might have some questions about the person who provided you with these mismatched items and set you up to fail.

[. . .]

Now consider human males. No doubt you have noticed an alarming trend in the news. Powerful men have been behaving badly, e.g. tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive to just about everyone in the entire world. The current view of such things is that the men are to blame for their own bad behavior. That seems right. Obviously we shouldn’t blame the victims. I think we all agree on that point. Blame and shame are society’s tools for keeping things under control.

The part that interests me is that society is organized in such a way that the natural instincts of men are shameful and criminal while the natural instincts of women are mostly legal and acceptable. In other words, men are born as round pegs in a society full of square holes. Whose fault is that? Do you blame the baby who didn’t ask to be born male? Or do you blame the society that brought him into the world, all round-pegged and turgid, and said, “Here’s your square hole”?

The way society is organized at the moment, we have no choice but to blame men for bad behavior. If we allowed men to act like unrestrained horny animals, all hell would break loose. All I’m saying is that society has evolved to keep males in a state of continuous unfulfilled urges, more commonly known as unhappiness. No one planned it that way. Things just drifted in that direction.

H/T Gerard Vanderleun for the link.

September 23, 2010

Meh. Civ V isn’t that addictive . . . is it really 2am?

Filed under: Gaming, Randomness, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

I received my copy of Civilization V from Amazon.ca yesterday, but I was in town all evening, so I didn’t sit down to start installing it until 10:30. I figured I could install it, twiddle about with the new UI, and still get to sleep by midnight. I probably could have, except you can’t play Civ V without registering an account with Steam. After creating the account, you apparently have to download the whole game (no idea why, as there’s a DVD-ROM in the package), and because I was online at peak hour for west coast gamers, the connection speed left more than a bit to be desired.

At around 11:30, the game finished downloading and I was able to actually start. “Oh,” I said to myself, “they’ve included tutorials. That’s nice of them. I guess that’ll cover the changed UI elements. I’ll try ’em.” I spent the next two hours just playing the tutorial scenarios.

It certainly does have the “gotta play just one more turn” thing down pat. It’ll do nicely to cover the gap until Guild Wars 2 is released.

September 22, 2010

Civ V review

Filed under: Gaming, History, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:55

No, not by me . . . my copy hasn’t arrived yet. It’s from the Guardian:

Fans of Sid Meir’s seminal strategy game tend to be purists — one reason why 2008’s Civilization Revolution was so panned by some for slimming down the formula in just about every respect.

Yet for all its limitations, the console version addressed many of the problems that the old PC franchise had ignored for too long, and the proof is here for all to see. Civilization V returns to Civ IV‘s epic scale but combines it with CivRev‘s emphasis on simplicity and clarity. As a result, this is probably the best (or at least the most user friendly) version of the game since the original and certainly the best-equipped for the now-obligatory multiplayer mode.

The first thing PC owners will notice is the interface. Heavily influenced by CivRev, it’s a thing of minimalist beauty designed to display information clearly and succinctly. This also has the effect of allowing pride of place to the new-look World Map, which is now a thing of shimmering beauty as your empire develops into a tableau of fields, factories and road networks. Zooming in and out is smoother than before and it makes the game annoyingly easy to keep playing.

If nothing else, it should keep me occupied until Guild Wars 2 is released.

Update: Just got an email from Amazon.ca, providing me with a bonus code for the “Cradle of Civilization Map Pack”. I ordered this long enough ago that I don’t even remember what this might be (or, more likely, it was added after I pre-ordered).

Update, the second (at 23:15): Yep, my copy arrived tonight. While I was in town for an appointment. Can anyone explain why they bother to ship you a DVD-ROM when you have to download the game through Steam anyway? Because it’s peak time somewhere in North America, I’ve been downloading for over half an hour and just got to 47%. At this rate, I’ll maybe get half an hour of gaming before I turn into a pumpkin . . .

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