Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Not That I Believe in Fate, But...

It must be nice to know from birth what you're going to do with your life, if it's something good. Consider a young child, maybe seven years old.
"Mum, has anybody traveled on foot to the South Pole before?"
"Yes, dear."
"What about the North Pole?"
"Yes, dear."
At this point, young Stirling Mortlock would have known he was destined to become the captain of the Wallabies. Nobody goes to see their local GP, Stirling Mortlock. Stirling Mortlock doesn't ask you to fill out form 183b and go to the queue on the left. No, Stirling Mortlock either leads Arctic expeditions or scores tries for his country. Don't believe me? Say the name out loud. You will almost certainly follow it with "wins the World Cup for Australia," before you know what's happening.

Similarly, war correspondent (and I'm guessing American intelligence asset) Ace Billingsley Jr was never going to sell secondhand Volkswagens to nice looking immigrant couples. The fact that nobody needs daredevil zeppelin pilots any more left him destined to have a camera in one hand and a dusty map of Afghanistan in the other.

These people must look with pity on those of us with names that imply nothing, the Fred Jones's and Kate Smith's of the world. People that must make decisions based on their circumstances, on random twists of fate, on their abilities. So please, those of you with names that can be great (Dibley leads inexorably to Duane, and nobody wants that), you Mortlocks and Billingsleys, give your children the gift of a fateful name. But be careful, it can go the other way, Slobodan Milosevic practically rhymes with war criminal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

7 Reasons Why Australian Democracy Kicks The Hell Out of American Democracy

I actually had no intention of following up my previous post with one about politics, but such are the vagaries of my mind that it has in fact happened.

I have no problem with the idea of spreading democracy to countries toiling under a series of despots. I'm not convinced, however, that the American model for democracy is one that should be foisted on unsuspecting countries. I'm not even going to go into the actual governance that occurs after the populace exercises their democratic duty (yeah, that's right duty). Without further ado, here's one reason Australians can lord it over Americans for every day of the week:

1. We Have Preferential Voting
The US uses a plurality voting system, in which the person with the most votes wins, which all but guarantees a strict two party system. I don't want to write a thesis on it, but if there's three options with two most likely and one outsider, voting for the outsider is basically a wasted vote. Wikipedia or informed people can explain further if you need convincing.

2. We Have No Electoral College System
The electoral college system for presidential voting contains a couple of levels of more or less transparent complexity, but at its heart is the idea that each state gets a number of electoral college votes. Whichever candidate gets the majority in that state then gets all of the electoral college votes. This is an entirely unnecessary level of abstraction which doesn't reflect 1:1 the preferences of the voter. When voting directly for a head of state, there's no good reason not to simply give everybody one vote and add them all up. This isn't comparable to Australia because...

3. We Don't Vote For The Prime Minister
Well, the PM's electorate does, but everyone else votes only for their local member. By extension they are voting for the party, and therefore for the current head of the party to be PM. The important thing about this though is that the party can change leaders, and hence PM, whenever they want. While this might sound strange to presidential voters, it means that Australian voters should be considering more the ideals and policies of the party rather than the personality of the PM. And yes, I know the PM is not the Australian head of state.

4. We Have Enforced Compulsory Voting
This is the big one. When everybody has to vote at the risk of a monetary penalty, they vote. This means that explicit targeting of minority groups or groups with traditionally high voter turnout is less effective and therefore policy discussion is wider ranging and more applicable to the majority. Also it means that the general awareness of political debate is a little bit higher. I don't normally say things this definite, but if you're against compulsory voting in national elections, you're a moron.

5. We Vote On The Weekend
Combine voluntary voting with the fact that voting is on a work day and you can almost guarantee low voter turn out. Hold it on a weekend when almost everybody has a spare fifteen minutes to go and vote. Oh, and have enough polling booths that people don't have to stand in line for hours to vote. On election days in Australia, I have three polling booths within five minutes walk. It's easier and quicker to vote than to go and buy milk.

6. Our Government Takes Power When Elected
Allowing for the week or so required to do full counts for every electorate and so forth, once election results are known, the new PM is sworn in. In the last election, this took about two weeks. In the US, the outgoing president gets to hang around in office twiddling his (or her) thumbs for approximately two months. The president elect sort of hangs around awkwardly off to one side, half meeting foreign heads of government and everyone shuffles their feet waiting for January 20. Go go 20th Amendment.

7. Antony Green
If your elections aren't being covered by Antony Green, then you're getting ripped off.

Edit: Both systems kick the hell out of the Iranian system.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Next up: politics

I have a world view. It's not great on internal consistency but is applied quite consistently, contains a bizarre mix of heavy socialism and ruthless capitalism, is heavily influenced by Christianity but strictly nontheist, rails at the weakness of humans and is staunchly pro-bacon. It doesn't have a name, because it's just mine, so doesn't need branding. I think it's better than any other world view I've encountered. This might sound arrogant, but its not really. If you don't think your world view is the best, why aren't you switching to the best one?

Lots of people's world views are dictated primarily by their religion, which is fine. I'm also willing to admit that from statistical evidence Christianity is a more compelling world view that my own, although with denominations stretching into the thousands it possibly does not provide moral guidance with as much objective clarity as is occasionally advertised. I do not begrudge anyone their right to whatever world view they want, and for the most part they do the same.

I don't mind if religious people think I secretly know God exists but for some perverse reason deny Him. They can hide a patronising pity that I am blind to the presence of the creator (should that be a capital C? I don't know). I'd prefer they didn't evangelise at me too much, I've heard the arguments, I don't agree with them and I don't think repetition is going to make a difference. If they want to disagree with my morals, that's fine, we can argue about it or let it be, either works for me. But if one more religious person tells me I am incapable of having a moral system or behaving morally because I don't believe in God, I am going to... well, probably just get angry again. Seriously though, please stop it. And no, defining a moral system or framework as something which must be set out by a transcendent lawgiver in order to allow for objective descriptions of good and evil does not make you right, it makes you a clumsy sophist.

I will try to avoid serious subjects in the future, but this has been really annoying me for the last few weeks, due to ongoing BBC World Service coverage of the atheist bus and associated religious debate.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Taxonomy of Stuff

I'm sorting through and packing all my stuff for a move at the moment. In fact, it's only half a move which saves the almighty hassle of unpacking, or at least delays it to a time sufficiently far in the future that I don't care. I came to the conclusion that there's going to be a literal truckload of stuff to move of which maybe a medium sized box full is stuff I actually care about. The rest is nice but replaceable or worse, from a motivation perspective, stuff I didn't want to spend money on in the first place.

My Stuff

My stuff is, well, it's stuff that I have that I have some sort of sentimental attachment to: photos, knick-knacks, etc. Mostly it's priceless but also practically worthless. It's also a bastard to pack because it's all sorts of weird shapes, fragile and has no set place in the house to pick a box for it. This is the medium box full of stuff that I care about.

Stuff I Like
This is all the stuff that I want, but don't need, and wouldn't be bothered if it was replaced by an equal or better version. Television, consoles, computers, DVDs, games, most books (some books are My Stuff) and so on. Easy to pack, and if I was moving overseas I'd be happy to leave most of it behind and replace it at the destination. If I was honest with myself I'd probably buy a new TV before I bought a new fridge if I only had enough money for one of them.

Living Stuff
Boils down to stuff to put other stuff in or on. Couches, fridge, washing machine, desks, crockery, bookshelves. These are things I hate spending money on (except maybe the recliner and bed, but even then I wish they were an order of magnitude cheaper) because they're not of any direct use, cost a bunch of money, and are bulky and frustrating to move. If you buy a new TV when you move, it's going to be better than your last one if you spend the same amount of money. Do the same with a couch and you'll get something as good at best.

Incorporeal Stuff
Electricity, mailing address, internet, I guess telephone if I used it. Genuine annoyance, and judging from the amount of mail I get for the previous three lots of tenants at this place, something a lot of people don't bother with at all. It would be great if this process could be streamlined by someone for a reasonable fee. I wonder if there is such a company? Probably not, given the identity checks all the different services make you go through.

Maybe now I'll get on with actually packing.

Or maybe I'll just go to bed.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Sunday Sundae

1 x Popcorn
1 x Hot Chocolate
1 x Die Hard 4.0
Season to taste.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

The Chaser guys managed to get themselves in some pretty serious publicity trouble this week by making a joke about children with cancer. The ABC have pulled the segment off the online show and from repeat broadcasts but, you know, YouTube. In a complete overreaction to the whole thing, the Prime Minister made a comment on it, and now the Chaser is off air for the next two weeks for an editorial review (info here).

I honestly didn't think it was that bad. It wasn't that funny, primarily because it wasn't very well executed, but it wasn't that bad. Prime time on ABC is not the same as late night television but there is a very similar section in an episode of Family Guy, and an entire episode of South Park about a kid with terminal cancer who dies because his hockey team loses a game. Now, I don't have kids, and I imagine that would maybe colour your opinion on it, but to take a show off air for it is massive overkill.

On to the next point. A lot of the outrage has been caused by the line near the end "Why go to any trouble when they're only going to die anyway?" What foundations like Make-A-Wish do is very nice, but you know what? The Chaser kind of has a point, despite the fact I don't think they were trying to make one. Tragic as it is, the children Make-A-Wish help are going to die despite the best efforts of top notch medical care. Would you really want to look seventy five under-nourished, orphaned Rwandan children in the eye and say "I'm sorry, but I can't give you the clean water so you don't die of dysentery because we're sending little Henry here to Disneyland. Henry's a big fan of Dora the Explorer." Just something to think about.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sombody Stol All My 's

Must be E3 that took them all. The exhibition, named of course after the sound geeks make when the news and videos start coming out, is trying to re-reinvent itself as the giant spectacular it used to be this year. The sound of which I speak can be found at computer monitors around the world and sounds something like "Eee! New shiny games! Eee! Shiny sequel games!" It is often accompanied by clapping and bouncing up and down like you'd normally see only from a five year old who just got a puppy for Christmas. I guess what I'm trying to say is that geeks like E3.

I think it might take a couple of years for E3 to get back it's mantle as supreme event in the game calendar, if it ever does. As Jason mentioned, PAX has become more of a geek Mecca than E3 because everyone can go. I also think that GDC has become the place developers unveil the more groundbreaking game technologies (Spore and Assassin's Creed spring readily to mind) because they know they're going to get an audience with a better appreciation of what has been achieved. That said I think the GDC organisers would be happy if their event reverted to being more of a conference for game developers rather than a media circus, and I'm sure E3 would be happy to pick up that slack.

Totally sweet things:
  • Being able to download full Xbox 360 titles. If they use global pricing this will be even better, but I'm guessing Microsoft like money a little too much to do that.
  • Uncharted 2. I never played the first one, and I don't own a PS3, but that game looks like a bucket made of fun and then filled up with fun. And then poured on a clown. Who then cries.
  • The Last Guardian. I don't really have any interest in this game, but the preview video has an amazing atmosphere.
  • Heavy Rain. To misquote Zoolander "Quantic Dream would be another developer who's a hero. The games they've created over the years, I don't really play them, but the fact that they're making them, I respect that."
  • Lots of sequels to games I have played. God of War 3, Assassin's Creed 2, Modern Warfare 2, Crackdown 2, Overlord 2 are all being shown. I have small doubts and worries for each of them based on what I've seen, but I'm overall anticipatory.
  • Alan Wake. This looks like an interesting take on survival horror by Remedy, and Remedy is one of those developers I trust to make good games.
Things which are not digital candy:
  • Project Natal. Stop with the motion sensing, all of you. The Wii, the sixaxis, and the EyeToy have all been around for years and you know what we've got from them besides tech demos? Absolutely nothing. There is zero evidence that waggle controls can be used to improve games.
  • Game names. The games are generic sci-fi and WW2 shooters, so surely you'd go to town on the name, but apparently not. Alpha Protocol, Shadow Complex, Section 8, Dark Void, MAG, get your acts together and come up with a name that doesn't sound like Tom Clancy fanfic. Wondering what MAG's doing in that list? Well aside from being a generic sounding three letter acronym it stands for, in all seriousness, Massive Action Game.
  • Pathetic booth babes. I didn't care when they banned the booth babes from E3 because scantily clad girls have little to do with the games industry. Now they've brought them back, but put in clothedness limits. You know what's stupider than using scantily clad girls who know nothing about the games they're supposed to be spruiking? Trying to use fully clothed girls in sensible shoes who know nothing about the games they're supposed to be spruiking. Do it or don't do it, I don't care, just don't do it half-baked.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

9862 Days

Birthday time and time again for the sinking feeling that I haven't achieved anything of value over the past year. I guess this is an unsurprising situation as I don't actually have a list of things I'd like to achieve.

I'm sure a feeling of angst at having not achieved something which one has not tried or desired to achieve would make beret- and skivvy-bedecked existentialists take an ennui-filled drag on their clove cigarettes and listen to some free jazz, but to me it's just kind of annoying.

Maybe I should come up with a list, then I could have a specific sense of failure next year.