Aug 072012

In 1987, a bunch of sci-fi authors were polled for their views on who the world of 2012 would look. How does the “time capsule” of these projections match up? Not bad, with some unsurprising inaccuracies. Go have a look–the second link has all of the predictions in full, while the first link looks at pieces of a few and analyzes their accuracy.

It should come as no secret or surprise that I love Cracked’s lists that focus on correcting cultural misperceptions or raising awareness of things most people don’t know. 5 ways you odn’t realize movies are controlling your brain is of particular interest to me as a writer, because it deals with how fiction alters our perceptions in subtle ways. Here’s the bullet-point rundown, but you should read the article to get the full explanation.

  1. No, you can’t separate fact from fiction.
  2. Stories were invented to control you.
  3. The writer of a story always has an agenda.
  4. You were raised–and educated–by pop culture.
  5. Everything in your brain is a story.

Saw a link on Facebook to “the most terrifying video you’ll ever see”, which dealt with explaining why inaction on global warming is very bad thing to do in a way meant to be inarguable. Rather than examining the question “is global warming occurring?”, he instead looks at the consequences of action or inaction in the extreme cases of “global warming definitely isn’t occurring at all” and “global warming is occurring and will result in catastrophe.”

In two of the four cases, nothing happens and everyone is fine. In one of four (acting to combat global warming, it’s for nothing), we’re a worse off due to mass expenditure for no apparent gain.1 And in the final scenario, humanity suffers a complete and total global catastrophe. His conclusion is that the consequences of the catastrophe being more dire than the consequences of acting in error, it only makes sense to act, even if it’s in error.

While I applaud the guy for presenting the argument in a way most people don’t generally think about it, and agree with his ultimate conclusions, I have some misgivings about the method in general. It’s basically using the same ploy that Pascal’s Wager uses to justify religious belief.

That said, he is correct to point out that we don’t get to choose whether or not global warming is happening; it either is or is not. We do get to choose how to act.

Seven-foot long minifig-scale Serenity model is a Lego masterpiece.

The Best Of The Internet’s Reaction To The Mars Rover Landing has a bunch of fun meme images around Curiosity’s successful landing.

It seems inescapable, though, that scientific accomplishment will be met with asshattery. I saw an image meme going around on Facebook with the text “Congratulations on wasting $100 billion dollars landing a remote controlled buggy on Mars. Not sure how this is supposed to help us poor people here on Earth but great job.”

The amount of wrong in that statement borders on physical pain. First, NASA’s entire annual budget is ~$18 billion, which represents less than 0.5% of the annual federal budget. What’s more, Curiosity’s total project cost is estimated at ~$2.5 billion, which spans its entire construction history and launch. Not only is that less than 15% of NASA’s annual budget, it’s less than 3% of the quoted number in the meme!

Second, I posted a Cracked article few days back about the “god(damned) particle” and ridiculous things people believe about it. I highlighted a particular passage from point #6, and I’m going to re-post it for emphasis.

When people ask, “What’s the point in understanding everything?” they’ve just disqualified themselves from using questions and should disappear in a puff of paradox. But they don’t understand and just continue existing, which are also their only two strategies for life. These are the apes who sat in the back of the cave, scratching themselves while ooking about how bashing rocks together was a total waste of time. Except back then they had a better excuse for their sloping foreheads and scratching themselves in public.

So outraged was I by seeing this2, I immediately posted a distilled version of this section of the post, with an ultimatum that demanded anyone who agreed with the sentiment unfriend me. As I said there, I do not have time for people that small-minded.

  1. Though I would argue that any efforts we would make toward combating global warming, even if the worst doesn’t befall us, would be smart actions in general. []
  2. The person who prompted it to come up in my feed was actually just commenting on it, not sharing it or agreeing with it. []
Oct 082010

I had this whole plan for what to write about today that congealed as I drove to work. It vanished when I actually sat down to write it.

Yesterday marked Cody’s and my second month as a married couple. So far, so good! It seems a little silly to celebrate these milestones, given the four-closing-on-five years we’ve been together. The relationship is solid, we love each other just as much (if not more) now than we did when everything was exciting and new, we live together well, etc. It still feels like an achievement anyway. Marriage! It’s this big, important word that, for us, represented no functional change in our relationship toward one another that nevertheless bestowed a reaffirming, reinforcing strength that I didn’t even know could exist. I heartily approve.

I decided to bite the bullet and forgo worrying about writing a tailor-made web app for play-by-post Firefly-inspired Star Wars game I’ve been planning for a few months now. Instead, I went with MyBB and will adapt it as the need arises. I’ve used phpBB in the past, but it’s always felt a little clunkier than it ought to. MyBB is very smooth by comparison. This doesn’t obviate the need for a character creation web app, but it’s one less technical hurdle to starting the game than I had before. It’s been a long-standing desire of mine to play/run a Star Wars game that used an adapted version of the 7th Sea rule-set, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out. Play-by-post is an odd fit for such a dynamic and fluid system, but one never knows until one actually tries.

November is bearing down on us, which poses two annoying problems. The first is that Cody and I are still at a loss about a concept for Halloween costumes this year. There isn’t enough time to do anything complex1 in the time we have—next year, for sure—but even within that constraint, it’s rough. The second problem is one of time management: NaNoWriMo is going to eat my time in November, which presents something of a blockage on both the aforementioned Star Wars game as well as the heavy WoW-playing fronts. Oh, to have just six more hours each day.

Hell, I’d settle for two.

  1. Like the various costumes I’d make with a vacuform table []
Oct 232009

I despise commercials. On TV, the radio, or some other format, I resent their existence. Some of them are amusing the first time you see them, but they quickly become overplayed and obnoxious. More than just the individual commercial, I especially despise commercial breaks, when we’re subjected to five, six, or more of these tedious ads in rapid succession. I mute the TV, leave the room to get a drink, or do some other activity to avoid watching them. In other words, their objective—selling me something—is not being achieved.

TV shows live and die by their ratings, compiled by Nielsen Media Research (“the Nielsens”). These numbers boil down to a certain number of viewers for a given show, and also what percentage of all viewers in that time slot were watching that particular show. For networks (and shows), higher Nielsens are good, because it means more people are watching the advertisements, more advertisers will have their products seen, and thus will continue financially supporting the show.

This, to me, has always been a stupid business model. It places shows at the mercy of advertiser’s whims. Technically speaking, cable TV is completely unregulated. They can show whatever they want: horrid vivisection, full-on nudity, copious vulgar language. But they don’t. Why? ’cause they don’t want to turn away advertisers reluctant to support a show containing those elements.

So, in short, we have an entertainment system funded and censored by people with no creative interest in the product, and who achieve their support by annoying viewers.

Does anyone else think this is ridiculous?

I think we should do show-based subscriptions. You only get the content you subscribe to, you only pay for that content, and there are no ads. The money goes directly to the “bank account” of that particular show to fund future endeavors. There are no “networks” in this world. There are no advertisers. There’s you, the cable company (which holds the repository of shows), and the creators. (Promotion of new shows would be a potential issue under this system; not a problem I’ve thought through.)

Let’s use the example of Firefly, the series beloved by many but ultimately canceled because the network (FOX) continually shuffled its timeslot, preempted it for baseball, ran the series out of order, and so forth. I can’t find a list of the ratings for each episode that aired, but I do know that the first episode had a 4.1/8 rating, meaning 4.1 million viewers watched it. Suppose the subscription cost for a show was $1.99 (the cost of a song on iTunes) per episode and further assume that the cable company gets the change portion. That’s $4.1 million in the bank for the show, or basically enough to pay for that one episode. (This is technically true, but not practically true. The pilot episode cost $10 million; the first aired episode, however, was not the pilot, and cost $3-$4 million.)

This is using dirt-simple, ultra-basic hypothetical numbers. I’m sure television accountants could cook up a better, more-sustainable number. Crank up the cost for shows with higher viewership, until they stop watching (American Idol, anyone?) and allow the actual viewership revenue to dictate how much money a show can spend.

The downside to losing both networks and ad revenue is that you need start-up capital from somewhere. I imagine this is where something like product-placement enters the picture. For shows where this is impractical, perhaps a small, static, and soundless ad in the bottom right of the screen every so often (much like networks now emblazon their logo on the screen at all times).

(This entire rant was prompted, rather paradoxically, by the news that Hulu is switching to subscriber-only model in 2010.)