Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: June 2010 (page 2 of 3)

How developers think of their tools

John Siracusa nails the developer mentality when it comes to tools perfectly:

And so continues one of the biggest constants in software development: the unerring sense among developers that the level of abstraction they’re current working at is exactly the right one for the task at hand. Anything lower-level is seen as barbaric, and anything higher-level is a bloated, slow waste of resources. This remains true even as the overall level of abstraction across the industry marches ever higher.

The economics of raid lockouts in World of Warcraft

Interesting post from Greg Street, the lead game systems designer for World of Warcraft, explaining why they are changing the game so that you can’t do the same raid more than once a week.

Some of you guys are coming from the angle that players should take responsibility for not playing more than they want to. I agree with that of course, but I also think the game design should not be something that puts that kind of pressure on you. We don’t want to make a game full of traps or temptations that you should have to resist. It’s more fun, I think, if what the game asks of you is reasonable. Killing the same boss twice or four times (as in ToC) or an unlimited number of times (as in the “no loot” model) doesn’t seem reasonable. Neither does having to play Alterac Valley hundreds of times in a weekend to get a prestigious PvP rank. Neither does having to grind for consumables for hours every week before raid night. All of those things are theoretically “features” that players could have shown some common sense and opted out of, but realistically they were just boneheaded design decisions that we needed to fix.

It’s this sort of real systemic thinking about how games work that make Blizzard’s games the best.

Dan Froomkin on Obama’s oil spill speech

This sentence from Dan Froomkin pretty much says it all when it comes to President Obama’s speech on the oil spill:

How unmoored from reality are Obama and his top advisers to think that some pretty words with so little substance could accomplish so much?

The words weren’t even that pretty.

My deeper fear is that President Obama’s limited reach still exceeds the nation’s feeble grasp. Is there a great untapped willingness to take on the challenge of climate change or even moving to cleaner fuels for other, less politically toxic reasons? I don’t see it.

Richard Feynman’s advice to Stephen Wolfram

Richard Feynman gave Stephen Wolfram the following advice when Wolfram asked about starting his own research center:

Find a way to do your research with as little contact with non-technical people as possible, with one exception, fall madly in love! That is my advice, my friend.

The long path to justice

The government of the United Kingdom released the Saville report on the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1972, and Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged the report’s findings, which shone a poor light on the British government of the time. It took four decades for the UK government to do so, and I wonder if after four decades we’ll see the US government take responsibility for the excesses on the war on terror. Right now, we’re still headed in the opposite direction. The Supreme Court has declined to grant Maher Arar access to US courts to sue the US government for sending him to Syria to be tortured after he was detained at a US airport on his way back to Canada. If he just waits another 20 or 30 years, I’m sure we’ll come around.

The externalities of gasoline

Ezra Klein’s Washington Post column today is about the externalities of gasoline:

Most of us would call the BP spill a tragedy. Ask an economist what it is, however, and you’ll hear a different word: “externality.” An externality is a cost that’s not paid by the person, or people, using the good that creates the cost. The BP spill is going to cost fishermen, it’s going to cost the gulf’s ecosystem, and it’s going to cost the region’s tourism industry. But that cost won’t be paid by the people who wanted that oil for their cars. It’ll fall on taxpayers, on Gulf Coast residents who need new jobs, on the poisoned wildlife on the seafloor.

That means the gasoline you’re buying at the pump is — stick with me here — too cheap. The price you pay is less than the product’s true cost. A lot less, actually. And it’s not just catastrophic spills and dramatic disruptions in the Middle East that add to the price. Gasoline has so many hidden costs that there’s a cottage industry devoted to tallying them up. At least the ones that can be tallied up.

The most implausible aspect of Glee

Turns out the most implausible aspect of Glee is that they could perform all of the popular songs they do without paying for the rights to do so:

The fictional high school chorus at the center of Fox’s Glee has a huge problem — nearly a million dollars in potential legal liability. For a show that regularly tackles thorny issues like teen pregnancy and alcohol abuse, it’s surprising that a million dollars worth of lawbreaking would go unmentioned. But it does, and week after week, those zany Glee kids rack up the potential to pay higher and higher fines.

Balkinization guest blogger Christina Mulligan walks readers through the absurdity of modern copyright statutes using examples from Glee.

The problem with multitasking experiments

Tyler Cowen on the problem with multitasking experiments:

To sound intentionally petulant, the only multitasking that works for me is mine, mine, mine! Until I see a study showing that self-chosen multi-tasking programs lower performance, I don’t see that the needle has budged.

Treme episode 8 essential reference

Mardi Gras was the star of Treme this week, with all of the attendant cultural references. Probably the first thing to understand about Mardi Gras is that there are a number of parades spread across the weekend of Mardi Gras right up to fat Tuesday itself. Here’s the 2010 schedule from nola.com.

Personally, the one parade I always wanted to see that I never got to is Bacchus, the big parade on Sunday night. The Bacchagator is legendary. Endymion was mentioned and dismissed. It’s a huge parade that’s popular with tourists because it’s on Saturday night, the night of Mardi Gras that suits the schedule of out of town visitors the best.

The Krewes of Momus and Comus stopped parading rather than agree to ban racial discrimination.

For the full rundown of Mardi Gras info for this week, check out the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Treme explained. A Blog Supreme once again comes through with the details on the music from this week’s episode. They also have an interview with Blake Leyh, the show’s music supervisor.

Treme Explained summarizes the episode (and Mardi Gras) well:

This episode expertly and seamlessly walks viewers to and from multiple Mardi Gras experiences, from the creatively costumed free-for-all in the Faubourg Marginy to the see-and-be-seen pre- and post-parade gatherings Uptown to Zulu’s Basin-to-Orleans jog toward the club’s Broad Street den to dozing in front of PBS affiliate WYES-Channel 12’s live coverage of the Rex Ball. It happens pretty much just like this every year on a weekday during which the rest of the world is at work checking e mails and sitting in meetings.

As mentioned in the NPR interview, there was nothing unusual about the police shutting down the city at midnight on Mardi Gras. When the clock rolls over to Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras is over and everything closes. As far as I know, it’s been that way forever.

How the credit crisis affected Zappos

Anti-bailout sentiment certain runs high these days, and I think it’s because people don’t see the effect that the credit crisis in the fall of 2008 was having on non-financial businesses. In an article in Inc explaining why he sold the company to Amazon.com, Zappos founder Tony Hsieh talks about the effect of the credit crisis on his company:

At the time, Zappos relied on a revolving line of credit of $100 million to buy inventory. But our lending agreements required us to hit projected revenue and profitability targets each month. If we missed our numbers even by a small amount, the banks had the right to walk away from the loans, creating a possible cash-flow crisis that might theoretically bankrupt us. In early 2009, there weren’t a lot of banks eager to give out $100 million to a business in our situation.

That wasn’t our only potential cash-flow problem. Our line of credit was “asset backed,” meaning that we could borrow between 50 percent and 60 percent of the value of our inventory. But the value of our inventory wasn’t based on what we’d paid. It was based on the amount of money we could reasonably collect if the company were liquidated. As the economy deteriorated, the appraised value of our inventory began to fall, which meant that even if we hit our numbers, we might eventually find ourselves without enough cash to buy inventory.

These are the problems most businesses were facing in late 2008. You can oppose the bailouts on principle, but doing so is a luxury afforded by the practical effects of those same bailouts.

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