"All right action flows from the breath"
- Hajakujo

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Monday, November 26, 2007

After the Oil crash...

...we can fuel our global needs with leftover Jimmy Dean products! He is the foul genius of the apocalypse! Imagine -

"Jimmy Dean Chocolate Chip Pancakes & Sausage on a Stick"!!!

Read the comments here, hilarious, thanks Kris. The ingenuity of this man's artistry obviously provokes immense feeling in the sensitive breast of the junk food cognoscenti, as all great art should.

"Dear Jimmy Dean

I use the roll sausage in recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s so versatile. Would love to see a light maple version.

--Madeleine, Glens Falls, NY"

Breakfast, lunch and dinner! Amazing what you can do with a roll sausage :D

"Dear Jimmy Dean

What are you rebelling against?"

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Creative Computing

So, for those who might stumble upon this blog in hope of content on games, I've been posting everything games-related over on the blog for my research group, Creative Computing Coleraine. I set up this blog a while back, but it didn't hit critical mass until recently, when it got redesigned by my supervisor anyway [so you can't even see my classic design :( and around the same time, the machine I did the design on was riddled with virii and I had to wipe it, so nothing remains of that...week's...work. Ach, no matter!]

Oh, and apparently now we have two blogs, for some reason - see also Creative Computing Coleraine 2.0. Which will be the ultimate blogging champion?! Only time will tell!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Peak Oil - Aaaaaaaaaaaargh!

Peak Oil is coming, it's great neon claws flexing to rend us asunder. Can it really be as bad as is made out on LATOC (as he likes to call himself in a way very reminiscent of the U.S. government and their endless acronyms)?

To precis the site:

Economically viable oil production - including R&D, exploration, drilling, processing and distribution - operates on a bell curve, because supply is limited. Once all the easy to find oil runs dry, the ROI goes down when we go looking for harder to find oil. That exploration requires greater investment (and remember wealth equates to oil, so it's investment of oil), which means we need more oil than before.

However the global economy that runs on oil operates on a linear growth curve, because our systems of finance require growth to in order to define wealth. Credit lending institutions need to know that their debtors will be able to pay them back. That they can pay back is dependent on an increase in wealth value of the debtors economy. America right now is a good example - even conservative papers like the Observer are running stories (Sunday 11.11.07) about the inevitable decline of US global power, as it is linked to the US economy which cannot maintain the confidence of its creditors, like China.

Two vicious cycles par excellence!

So the oil crash will happen because as we hit the down slope of the oil bell curve, our economy will still be trying to go up, and it will struggle higher and higher until it stalls and crashes when oil becomes prohibitively expensive to meet world demand.

The question is - has this become inevitable? Can we segue out of the global oil economy into one that runs on another energy source - while maintaining economic growth and our current standard of living?

In the LATOC website, Matt Savinar makes some very persuasive arguments to the effect that we cannot. One could find it quite easy to be persuaded, go outside to a hill somewhere and start building a bunker and a homemade wind turbine (actually not that hard to do). On the other hand, you could put your trust in the powers that be to implement renewable alternative energy paradigms for the global economy to run on, before it's gone; then you could invest in these energy types on the ground floor, so to speak, and become filthy rich (the catch - if the energy changeover doesn't happen or work, all money will become worthless, so investment as we know it will have been meaningless).

I'd like to diverge from my standard model of pontificating and then wrapping up, in order to open the floor and ask - which option would you go for, or would you suggest another? Maybe after a little to and fro, I'll be inspired to make up my own mind!


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Help! I need somebody (to play Pacman)

Hello all friends of Ben's PhD!

I'd like to invite you to take part in an experiment being run as part of my PhD project, entitled Player Profiling & Modelling for Adaptive Artificial Intelligence in Computer and Video Games. This experiment aims to address the thorny problem of building into a game, an A.I. that can reason about the player's preferences for the kind of experience they will have.
It involves two parts - gathering of data on player habits, and building an automated modeller based on such data.

The first step is where I need your help - to download and play my Pacman implementation; and complete an online survey that will determine the type of player you are (adapted from the original donated courtesy of Chris Bateman and iHobo, many thanks).
All you need do, is proceed to my Pacman web page and follow the instructions!
Also, please please forward this mail on to as many people as you think may be interested in playing a free casual game, or advancing the field of game play research (by a tiny amount!).

If you take part, your privacy is completely assured and you'll be enveloped by the warm rosy glow of helping mankind (have better games of Pacman)...
Remember, this is for posterity, so, be honest...

Many thanks!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What precisely is the point, Mr God? : Cassus Belli

I've rambled recently on about Dawkins and all that jazz, so I want to wrap that up by rambling a bit on a more general take on argumentation and God.

Lately, we've seen over here how action as born of speech forms our highest expression, to wit: "The future of mankind depends on our capacity to exercise this thought, to use it as the foundation for speech, by which to determine the action we should take."

Thought must be the foundation of communication, thus speech, thus the formal and/or inter-personal action that we take (which must be nearly all action, we are a social species after all - action that has no effect on anything outside the actor can hardly be considered worth accounting). So I've been told that speech/communication serves as a guide for how we take action, but I as see it, speech also serves a facilitator of action because without explaining our actions, documenting them, translating our intent for them, we circumscribe our ability to act by failing to be cooperative. This is why the public forum, the ear of the masses, is so important. Power comes from people, the power to act and act upon.

But as I said in the previously (post on Dawkins) its hard to get everyone to listen. How do you communicate about your actions in broadcast? Context is vital to communication, and incredibly difficult to convey. Its inherently hard to even define context, just look at the research on ubiquitous computing, where context is everything.

We need big ideas to anchor our little lives - massive, all encompassing concepts that change little with time, distance, frequency of repetition (chinese whispers). All communication requires analogy since people cannot share what is in their heads directly (is my colour green the same as your colour green?). Analogy requires reference points or measures with associated plausibility or truth-value, since without reference to source knowledge the analogy reverts to unsupported assertion (is my 'big as a house' the same as your 'big as a house'? Probably not, I live in a flat :D BUT seriously, one needs *at least* knowledge of the margins for variability).

In context of the post title, can you see where I'm going with this? High Rennaissance art had a very limited subject range, but vast variety of scenes, models and constant revolution in execution. Still, everyone knew what was being talked about when they saw a woman with a babe in arms, whether she's sitting on a throne or on some rocks by the sea.

In truth, it is no small thing to establish immutable truths (see what I did there? :D ). We can, of course, say there is no big 'T' truth. So that rules out universal points of agreement - one can always deny someone elses truth, if necessary from a solipsist standpoint. But still, the story doesn't end there - because we must avoid that very solipsist standpoint in order to maintain functional existence. Solipsism is an absolute stance - there are no half-measures. And it also seems rather untenable to me - if it is true that only my own thoughts exist, then I can have no relationship with anything else and must conclude that the thoughts themselves are quite of suspect existence - why are they occurring if there is nothing to think about? Oblivion beckons. If there is anything to think about,that's a point of reference outside oneself, which is not true solipsism and forces one to admit that the rest might as well exist as well.
From another viewpoint, if there is no objective truth, how can one dismiss anything as not being true since one has no grounds for comparative judgment?

My point is - there is no big 'T' truth, since we only exist in relation to anything else through application of our consciousness, which is an approximation model at best. So what possible use can one find for the truth concept? Well one can apply it as a working guide - with an inherent plausibility - to whatever can be demonstrated to offer a repeatable framework for one's consciousness model.
Then all truth is relative, relative to the degree to which one can personally understand it (as demonstrated), otherwise one is taking it on faith. For instance, I personally believe that Newtonian mechanics hold true, because (for example) when I run into a wall, I hit it and it hits me back equally hard. Once I can stand up and think again, I don't have to think very hard about the principle of the Third Law to see that it described the actions of the model that I call my perception/memory of the reality of what just happened, namely, running into the wall (I have done similar, alcohol was involved :D). In fact, I don't think about it at all, but that's because the Third Law was encountered years ago in school and assimilated once reason was satisfied that evidence supported it.
It doesn't have to be held true - in fact, this is a very rough approximation model indeed, as Newton stated the third law within a world-view that assumed instantaneous action at a distance between material particles. The wall doesn't really effect an equal force on me in the instant I hit it - it's more like a wave effect of forces on particles that the wall and I are composed of. In modern physics, action at a distance has been completely eliminated, except for subtle effects involving quantum entanglement. But it is a close enough approximation model - it is true enough - that it suffices for communication of related concepts in the everyday.

The degree of faith that one has in the model's universality determines its utility as a tool for communication. I suppose that is one reason why God(s) is(are) so popular, and so divisive - when you believe in the absolute, it makes the reference point absolutely clear; but if you realise that another's God reference has a different value, nothing can be communicated that depends on these reference points. Then it seems that historically the usual reaction is: one of you has to go!

To paraphrase Huizinga, 'Its not the cheater who ruins the game, but the player who refuses to recognise the rules...'
This applies to what we're saying here with the (I think) relatively recent emergence of atheism as a tenable and respectable metaphysical position. And it's not atheism in the strict sense of the definition, since people have been denying each other's gods forever. It is rather, when someone stands aside from the metaphysical bedrock of the argument, and calls it scotch mist, that the communication really breaks down. Now the game is not even being admitted on its own terms!
It must (have) look(ed), to those who have true faith, kind of like Jack Thompson looks to game developers:
"You're developing mass-murder training tools!"
"No we're not, we're just entertaining people?"

Except the atheists would be saying
"You're mass murdering delusional zealots!"
"No, we're just saving people's souls"

And that is essentially where my ramblings are leading - atheism poses the unique threat to established religion of making it socially acceptable to do away with communication references to the absolutes that the religions deal with. Perhaps this is scientists, not priests/sages/soothsayers, are now the holders of all human wisdom and advisors to the powerful.
This shouldn't bother the faithful if they are not great espousers of organised religion, but it seems to anyway, perhaps because everyone wants to cheer for their team. Likewise, religion should never have been a threat to the pursuit of scientific knowledge, but perhaps its unsurprising that it has become so - because ever since quantum physics, science has not proven all that satisfactory in replacing religion with a clear and unchanging absolute reference framework.
And as the 'Truth' shifts about, communication becomes more ephemeral and people must adapt. Some people, they just don't like to adapt!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bastards. Bastard Sons of a 1000 Maniacs

I was spammed. I feel so...dirty!
I worked as a spam filter technician a few years ago, so I know when it's happened. 140 bastard comments from bastard RX peddlers. Not too hard to miss :D

Thus, word verification is now on. Sorry folks.

Fucking spammers. I hope all the hypochondriacs die. Vitun apara. Va fanculo. Voi helleti, tvoyu mat, pog mo thoin, merde, cazzo, mingia, puta madre ...

Friday, November 02, 2007

What precisely is the point, Mr God?

[Above, Dawkins on the warpath again. I believe he's actually licenced to kill by HRM decree]

Having recently finished reading Mr. Dawkin's highly controversial anti-religious rant, the God Delusion, I'd like to chime in with a kind of review cum explication of my own views. These are probably aetheist/humanist, but lean away from Dawkin's antipathy to God without leaning toward religion. I think I'm more interested in the process of thinking about it than in the answers anyway, but this may be a function of my youth, and comparative distance from thoughts of death (by aging). No matter the person, I think mortality is a shadow over all thought. Even for the aestheist who professes to be reconciled/resigned to death without afterlife. It would be interesting to see if the positive correlation between education and aetheism is prefaced in life by a correlation between ambition to suceed and high educational achievement. The point being, people may want to be remembered in this life because they believe there will be no next one. Can't imagine how you'd go about designing such an experiment though.
Enough tangential rambling - on with the topical rambling.

Dawkins' hypothesis seems to be that the probability of a big G god's existence is so slight that faith in that probability is irrational and unproductive. Then he argues that since belief has so little demonstrable worth, and the negative consequences of religion are so great, the entire enterprise should be done away with. There's a good bit more to the book (although editing his personal anecdotes would still cut it in half) - but that is the gist as I understood it. To paraphrase:
'Faith in God is inherently worthless, is largely a consequence of psychological conditioning, and collectively has great negative consequences and few positive ones that would not be occurring without it.'
I don't recall the argumentation addressing the corollary of the last point - that religion's negative consequences might also be occurring without religion. That's an aside though.

Can we ask an important question - what is the point of this kind of attack? Surely people of a religious bent will not be 'converted' to atheism by a single polemic? Dawkins invokes the demonstrably tiny probability of a creator god, as though the tiny probability were not what seekers of religious truth were seeking in the first place (Things that are rather self-evident don't really require faith)! And as for those who might be persuaded, Dawkins is so acerbic, impolite and unrelenting in his attack on religions that those on the fence must be more likely to remain there than come to his side. They may well have been on the fence because they disliked religious fanaticism (now I can't compare atheist fervour with religious fanatics, but still...) so it's surely a turn off for such moderates. Especially when he says he has utmost contempt for agnostics!

But no. Despite all this, it is worth saying a lot of what he says. Much of it is one-sided, but much is also true. Some has not been widely publicised before. The logic is nice in places, particularly where he discusses the God hypothesis. Of course, he does nothing to demonstrate that one shouldn't believe in a creator God on grounds of the intrinsic lack of logic in the hypothesis, for it is a minority indeed that cares if its belief(!) system is validated by logic - mostly logicians and mathematicians, I would guess.
Still, we need the like of Dawkins. The scarier the Creationists etc get, the scarier we need someone to hold the other corner. Nobody listens to nice people. They listen to lots of people, and crowds are always easier swayed when you're loud and scary. The politicised Christians in the U.S. are particularly scary right now, and having angry uncompromising people like Dawkins tells the rest of America that they can hold their own views and get away with it. They don't need to agree with him, just be inspired to independence of thought. Not many tend to do that on their own. When something threatens one in a basic and fundamental way, we can either be Chamberlain or we can be Churchill.

To carry the analogy, taking the path of most resistance forces one immediately into conflict. The appeasement route looks like initially like live and let live, but how far can this go? It cannot be thought of as resolution, since neither opposing side is likely to abandon their mutually inimical stances by a process of entropy. Depending on the overlap of their spheres of concern, and their proximity, it would seem inevitable that the expansionism inherent in human nature is going to force the issue sooner or later.

So, whether by this eventual process, or if one first chooses the path of most resistance, one naturally comes straightway right against the other fellows beliefs, which he cannot abandon, which in fact he may have been hoping to foist onto you. What to do? However you cut it, believing strongly or having interests in something - anything - seems to have the potential to force you into a situation of conflict. If what Dawkins is doing is recognising this and drawing up his battle, I do not find myself inclined to fault him too greatly for it.

Monday, October 22, 2007


"A common theme prompts again at me/
I wonder what could the answer be/
Is it forwards I'm going or back/
Or is it moving wallpaper I'm looking at?"

I like the question of the validity of time as a frame of reference, but it becomes especially interesting if you shift perspective on your own life (in that kind of way you can shift your eye's focus from the close to the far away and for a second mothing makes any sense to your brain). Cease from looking at it as a major linear event interspersed with minor day-to-day diversions of attention. Think about your life as those diversions, with some moving wallpaper in the background. It's just as valid, if you accept that, for most people, most of life is filled with small diversions.

I tell you, it's one certain way to escape the self-indulgent attitude of the tragedian, or the socially-responsible, or the ambitious. At least for the length of time it takes your eyes to re-focus.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another perspective on nihilism

Perhaps believing that we cannot know, or convey, the Truth to others, nor hope to have them believe something congruent to our beliefs, is not such a bad thing.

Nihilism: "Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief."

Can we imagine a perspective where we want to throw the baby out with the bath water?

Use of the above image is totally unpermitted - if anybody has a problem with that, please go read the rest of the blog while you're here. Then...unleash hell!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Adam Curtis

Pictured is not Adam Curtis, but R.D.Laing, whose work I believe could be appropriate reading these days. Curtis thinks so too, I'd say. He features many such slightly obscure but influential thinkers of the 20th century in his BBC documentaries on the state of the world today, and how it got here. A riposte to the charge of the dumbing down of TV (too little too late, of course).

In any case, the point of the post is just to highlight the benefit of watching Adam Curtis' documentaries 'The Power of Nightmares', 'The Century of the Self' and 'The Trap'; all of which you can find on google video here.

An insightful man, with an excellent speaking voice. Perhaps his theses would find it harder going in dialectic rather than broadcast form. Yet still even if there are points to disagree on, he forces you to reach for the counter-arguments, to think and that is a rare thing in television (even if it's not television I'm advocating you watch it on, the point applies).

Better than sitting down to another run of Coronation Street, I would say.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Revolution in the Third Age

I read this article recently, bringing me a little up to speed on the tone and mood in Zimbabwe right now which concerns me mainly because my beautiful ex-pat Zimbabwean friend is visiting her family there right now. Despite the non-occurrence of significant events, and negativity of the situation in general, the author ends on a hopeful note:

"I remembered Arthur Hugh Clough's "Say not the struggle naught availeth:

"For while the tired waves, vainly breaking, Seem here no painful inch to gain, Far back, through creeks and inlets making, Comes silent, flooding in, the main."

Despite all the fear and depression in Zimbabwe today, I sense that the tide of popular opinion is silently flooding in and that this dreadful regime will find itself overwhelmed from within.

David Coltart is the shadow minister of justice in Zimbabwe's Parliament and a member of the Movement for Democratic Change. He has been a human rights lawyer there since 1983."

Personally, I'm looking at this from the perspective of socio-political theory, since I have never been to Zim and have no on-the-ground experience of the place. From that perspective my thoughts are largely in line with this article, in that we are talking about a second order implied dictatorship. History has shown this kind of establishment is doomed to instability and thereafter some failure state, often brought about through the will of the people. The people probably must be their own saviours here, as few outside influences or economic factors seem to apply. Perhaps Brown’s recent position offers some hope of an guardian angel. Still, I would prefer to place my faith with the Zimbabweans.

Indeed, during the recent economic trouble, I have been told that the ordinances of the government amounted to little more than a comparison baseline for the price-fixers of the black market, where the bulk of trading was done. Reports of food and supply shortages were, I was informed, greatly exaggerated. Walk into a local grocery store, and the shelves were bare, white, cleaned out. Be a pretty local girl though, and have the shopboys offer you whatever you need. Connections, not power, was what counted. The people will have their way - the main surges in.

My motive for opening with Zimbabwe was not really to bring that issue to the table. I want it instead to serve to provoke thought on this – if it were necessary, what strategy would you use to effect some change of regime in our own society? The issue that Zimbabwe raises for me is, what constitutes 'the main' in the third order society of the west? Is it any longer possible to say what the tide of social change represents, never mind where it is flowing?
What would one be fighting for if the moral foundation on which one justified one's struggle was in fact the rhetoric of another age, another system long obsolete, and co-opted by the ideas and social structures whose birth-pangs killed what one thinks of as one's civilisation?
There is supposedly a clear exposition of this uncertainty, loss of bearings, in John Berger's new book Hold Everything Dear. I've only managed to read the review, but it suggested to me a good place to get a synopsis of the base, the material outcomes of the acting in this our third order society. However, one needs to go further to hypothesise about the motivations of society's actors, including ourselves - the individual and his/her collusive death-denial*. While one can't deny the feeling that we have moved beyond the enlightened despotism of the Leviathan - the necessary tyranny of government-controlled labour market societies - what can one say for certain about the norms that bind us now?
To understand one's role in society as a producer of worth in a labour market is to ascribe oneself a proactive role in a collusive market economy, which role seems for the most part to be a great illusion. I have maintained that such an illusion is foisted upon the citizenry of the systems of economic and political governance, by those actual systems. This is a claim unsupported by evidence and highly opinionated (somewhat supported by opinion here), but at the core is the idea, I will even say the fact, that society by definition is the very anti-thesis of personal freedom. We must constrain and restrict ourselves in order to live with other people (and of course, at heart this is a good thing). In the modern world, as the definitions of our societies become ever more blurred, should we not ask ‘wherefore do the constraints and restrictions that affect us spring’? What is their source, their process and their goal? Can we ever know, from our lowly individual perspectives?

Aside : : I won’t deny it is possible for a small number to control their own destiny, but for the most part the great societal forces that shape our lives seem so immutable – for example, so many demonstrate against globalisation, but change nothing. Why is this? And what effect does it have on our actions?

By control of destiny, I don’t mean those starred subjects of history and celebrity. Ben Cousins (go here and scroll down to the fourth article "Myths of Process and a Nonlinear View of History") illustrates rather nicely how this is a misapprehension of the nature of the achievements of these kinds of titans of history of modern society. What I mean rather is simply people who maximise a natural potential, irrespective of societal influences rather than because of them.

To get back on track, where do the forces that move our everyday lives originate, and how do they grow to have such irrefutable power? I think this quote (even though it was really addressing another topic) gives a clue “We’ve implemented these systems in the first place, [because] we’re trying to ensure we can experience desirable human contact while minimizing harmful contact.”
We built the systems ourselves. Of course we did, they’re not spontaneously arising entities (unless you’re a Creationist). I suggest that even though we created them, these systems are now well beyond our control.

ManBitesBlog points out, “human beings have this tendency to strongly identify each other based upon our affiliations–our tribal affiliations... But when the tribe is thousands, millions, of people large and those individuals that make up the tribe are scattered across the globe, each one a member of a culture with different traditions, different needs, different available resources, is it still appropriate to consider the larger system a composite of the will of the individuals within the system? Or to ascribe the properties and traits of the system to an individual whose efforts sustain it?”

The problem in our third order society seems to me to be then, that all the goals of all the individuals who might side with some idea or another, some formal social way of life, will be drivers of social change in directions that are neither mappable nor static. So everyone who is not living purely for themselves, every PTA member, green activist, right-wing separatist etc. is pushing toward something that nobody can identify. To see how this unguided activity can be dangerous, one need look no further than the common practice of science, which as ‘everyone knows’, very often drives towards a utility that is not forseen by the scientists, and not understood by the other stakeholders. Or, as ManBitesBlog again says so succinctly “If every single person lending their passion, drive and labor to the system is steering it towards goals which are to the benefit of the culture, then there probably wouldn’t be as much of an issue.”

But they don’t do that, do they? Individuals identify their energy and output with the system they do it within. To justify this, they can go so far as to claim “Greed is good”. Or, they may simply not forsee the ends to which their means allow - a striking example of this is the Iranian pro-democracy revolution which ended with the absolutism of the Ayatollah. I found it nicely summarised here.

In such a situation as we find ourselves today, it may be the best we can hope for is that conflicting drives in the general impetus, and possibly also apathy, lead to a zero sum game - but that would be a remote hope. The only constant is change.

* If it seems like I’m getting jargon-y in this piece, it is probably the influence of Baudrillard. Reviewing what I’m reading is beyond the scope of what I’m writing though, so I’ll just say it’s worth picking up but is quite a brain-fuck.

The opening image is the Great Zimbabwe, the largest and oldest stone structure in Africa south of the Sahara, after which the country is named.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Reason for Atheism

I had never pursued a biography of Alan Turing, someone I admire greatly for his contributions to computing and the dedication and brilliance that allowed him to achieve so much so young (something I cannot hope to emulate anymore - he was 24 when he solved the Entscheidungsproblem).
But I have just read of how he died, and the gross injustice and humiliating details of the case sparked a sense of outrage I rarely feel about this jaded world. In short, having been forced by circumstance to admit to a homosexual affair in 1952, he underwent a bizarre hormonal treatment to avoid jailtime and had his security clearance revoked so that he could not continue his current work. Two years later, he was found dead, apparent suicide by eating a poisoned apple.

The whole thing, though it was long ago, disgusts me in a way I can't really express. The fact that it is close to home (geographically, not personally) is important, I think. With all the religiously apologised (if not motivated) pain and suffering caused around the world, it strikes me that perhaps it is time for a third way. Liberalism has been neutered. Conservatism has been overtaken by fundamentalism. Can there be a role for our creaky old continent to show a way to live by application of reason, following of common sense and respect for others? Not just on the level of the individual, but on that of nationstates as well.

I can't claim to be politically well-informed, but if there is a power other than China that is at least partly aetheist, and thus neutral in the religion wars, it must be Europe. If we could have risen above such dogma-driven intolerance as the Turing denouement within 50 years, perhaps a more proactive role in world affairs would allow us to show that the means by which we rose did not produce the end of apathy and impotence, but nor did it take us full circle back to technologised barbarism, as in the U.S. How far they have fallen from their Enlightenment founders! As for a new European Enlightenment - could we define it as a counting problem: how many places in the world today would it be safe to be Alan Turing? As to that, two things are needed: the generation of ideas, ideas powerful and universal enough to be worth following even in competition (though preferably not) with religion; and the organ of transmission that will allow people to hear. And I have no idea where to find either (mayhap it'll come in time). I imagine Turing would have had one or two.

[A nice article on Turing in the New Yorker]

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A game survey...

From the onlyagame weblog, where resides the mastermind behind the survey I am using in my current research, comes the survey to end all surveys (until the next one :P ). This is important research, please take part. Think of the children.

"Ultimate Game Player Survey

This is a copy of a press release issued at the International Hobo site.

International Hobo Ltd is pleased to announce it’s new study into patterns in the game playing audience. Following the success of the company’s seminal DGD1 model, the subject of the acclaimed book 21st Century Game Design, we are now conducting a new survey in more detail than the original, from which we will develop a new DGD2 model of the gaming audience.

To take part in the survey, click here, or upon the Survey link in the site menu [at the ihobo site]. As an added incentive, you could win the game of your choice (terms and conditions apply) just for taking part!

We encourage everyone to pass the relevant link onto anyone who might be interested. Thanks for your support!"

Monday, August 13, 2007

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A great man once said...

If you think you're a good person, pious and sincere,
try to keep your mind to yourself until you see
what its like to want to destroy.

And if you have an anger, don't give much for men,
try to keep your hand behind your mouth unless
a greater love behind it grows.

Friday, July 13, 2007

WTF am I doing?

It would appear I am completely mad. Or at least, I'm committing myself more and more every day to a course of action with ill-defined goals, fuzzy methods and little chance of success...but it's so damn sexy!

Still, people should be more easily classifiable. I can't see why everyone has to meld and unbind, non-conformist to the neat typological boxes I have prepared for them. Damn them all.

It could be that my supervisor is correct, and Pacman simply won't serve to distinguish players. Or it could be that everything will be fine, once the data is processed, and any current worries are just a matter of zoom perspective. Can't see the wood for the trees - but when I focus on the wood, I forget the nature of the trees.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Prisoner's Dilemma, a new formulation

The Prisoner's Dilemma is a Game Theoretic problem wherein two prisoners must choose whether to betray their partner in crime or remain silent. Betrayal is rewarded by going free, and the betrayed gets the heaviest punishment. If both betray the other, both gain a lighter punishment. But if both cooperate, then both gain the lightest punishment of all.

Nevertheless, since neither can know what the other will do, the rational move is always to betray the other in the hope of going free, and both end up with middling punishments instead of the lightest. This is only altered when the game is iterated, so that punishment for betrayal (i.e. future betrayal on the part of the betrayed) becomes a decisive factor.

It is interesting both as a mathematical problem and a philosophical/ethical one. But the really interesting thing is that such a simple choice begets such complexity when presented at the same time to more than one decision maker (or agent, in the terminology). The reciprocal effects drive the potential complexity through the roof - in other words, trying to calculate, or take account of, the actions of the other party, knowing they are doing the same for you and they know that you are trying to predict their actions when deciding what yours will be, and so ad infinitum...but where does that break down when the agents are fallible humans? How much calculation can one human do?
This is what makes player modelling a hard problem - you can't reduce it to a case of agents.

*Although actually, the prisoner's dilemma, a new formulation by moi: wank or work out!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Dan Dennett: Ants, terrorism, and the awesome power of meme

Despite the corny sponsor's advertising and the elitism inherent in the opening blurb (which I'm sure most of the participants would reject) - these TED talks are really worth checking out. Not only are interesting things explained, but they're explained by experienced public speakers, so its good entertainment.

Anyway, I really liked this talk because Mr. Dennett (or Danny D, as I like to call him) clarifies some thinking that I've had for a long time, but it never crystallised for me until now. So check it out...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Who are you?

"Are you righteous? Kind? Does your confidence lie in this? Are you loved by all? Know that I was, too. Do you imagine your suffering will be any less because you loved goodness and truth?"

Why does a person exist? What reason can there be to be conscious, feeling, capable of reason and emotion? Do these things, the trappings of the self, lend any value to our lives?

There is something to be said for wisdom, for the slow evolution of knowledge into greater understanding, compassion, and even altruism. For the individual, this can be a lifelong aim. But what are its larger social implications? For if living a better and better life is the goal of life, this is no more intrinsically valuable on the very large scale than living a horrible, miserable life. Because really, if the overall aim of higher learning becomes greater altruism, we've simply recursed back to propagation of the species. And if one seeks a goal beyond the self to motivate the betterment of the self, what need to look so far as wisdom? Build a family, a community to house it and leave some happy DNA behind. Who is to say that is greater worth to good works on a large scale than to a good life on a small scale?

Can we look beyond our selves and our DNA propagation for motivation to betterment? Progress alone seems to be a moonwalk, desperately racing to stay still. We cure our diseases, improve our nutrition, live longer and slowly kill the environment that is the backbone of our existence. Will we end up in UV-shielded floating biodomes, eating goop produced by the bacteria we trail beneath us in giant permeable microhorticulture farms, far enough below the surface of the ocean to protect their unicellular structures from the sunlight that kills everything else with now-unreflected radiation? [I wonder, would that work?]
So, what are we doing it all for? What is there beyond our own survival?

We theorise the self to be an evolutionary advantage, a cognitive capacity that allows non-instinctive behaviours and thus progressive goal-making beyond simple personal survival. But as noted, if you look closely enough, its hard to prevent these higher goals from looking recursive. If we had outlived any other species, that we weren't directly responsible for the extinction thereof, we might be able to say that consciousness is a mutation that was a true advantage in the evolutionary stakes. But on the evidence, all we can say is that in our class of lifeform, it will possibly be responsible for our being the last of the extant lifeforms.

So what is your self-hood there for? Why has this collaborative collection of cellular robots evolved to embody a higher order mind?
Who are you?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How do we know what we are?

Once, a student wondered about many things, and questioned constantly in his quest to attain enlightenment. One day, he asked the question "who and what am I, so that I can seek the path to enlightenment?"
No one answered, and in that moment the student was enlightened.

I often wonder who and what I am, and in the wondering hope to move my experiential state vector towards a more optimal phase where information processed gives the greatest possible return on processing energy, thus increasing total wisdom. On occasion, I wonder if this wondering is not itself enlightenment of a kind. Consider this koan:

"A Zen master named Gisan asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.

The student brought the water and, after cooling the bath, threw on to the ground the little that was left over.

"You dunce!" the master scolded him. "Why didn't you give the rest of the water to the plants? What right have you to waste even a drop of water in this temple?"

The young student attained Zen in that instant."

Clearly, the student already knew all that he needed to become enlightened, since his master did not provide him any new learning, nor pose a question the answering of which would lead to new learning, of anything outside himself. Merely, he gave the student a cause to reflect upon himself ("What right?") and his actions ("Why?"), and in so doing learn what it was that had previously seperated him from his Zen state.

What was this moment of revelation? What relationship does it have to enlightenment, to the classic Zen description of enlightenment - "It is no-mind...the disappearance of the ego...loss of all identification with the body and the mind. It is freedom from beliefs, opinions, ideals and concepts. It is always sudden, because it is not an achievement; it is already the case. It is a remembering."

On what level can this take place in the cognitive process? We can point to the concept of no-mind to bypass the conscious cognitive process, but the state of the mind notwithstanding the corporeal body remains. And it is difficult to accept that mind and body are not one, so that the state of the individual is both body and mind. Can we say that smaller enlightenments can take place in the day-to-day, because our tie to physicality makes the whole concept of enlightenment one that exists on a continuum. Once reached, it is not the end. Why not?

Compassion draws the enlightened one back, to continue to exist in disharmony with everyone unenlightened. Compassion is empathy. Empathy is fellow feeling. It is all predicated on knowledge of one's fellow, which is the encapsulation of the existence of other minds within a theory of mind.
In Accelerando, Charles Stross talks about the predictability of a normal human to one whose cognitive functions have
accelerated, i.e. been boosted by direct interface with technology (something another TED'er - the insufferable but farsighted Ray Kurzweil - talks about). The theory of mind becomes so powerful that the normal human is essentially encapsulable as a predictive model (theories are postulated to predict real phenomena).
Can one feel compassion for an automata? A completely predictable person might look as such to the modeller. But the knowledge of the person required to build the model is itself an emotive context, and processing affective information causes affect. So compassion arises from knowledge, even when that knowledge is great as to be 'weakly godlike'.

Robert Thurman seems to be coming toward this viewpoint from a tangent in his talk for TED, available here. I am just rambling, but the notion that learning and consequent minor frequent epiphanies could be considered in a certain light as progressive enlightenment, even to the connection with compassion, is a comforting one. So much of our work is working toward completion of our own work, that considering its larger futility is all too easy. Who can change the world? But if the changing is worth the doing, then the fact that we are changing ourselves is worth remembering.

Work is the koan.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Just a curiosity for those who accord discord, from this site.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Simpsons Do Video Games, Pt.1

The Tetris effect has to be the clearest possible indication that computer games are naturally optimal Flow-inducing activities. As to why, well it has a lot to do with cognitive information processing. For more, look to the last link here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Am I ethical?

Fig.1 Laughing at people in wheelchairs (and the Stephen Hawking voice) - ethical?

On foot of the ethics campaign over at onlyagame let me bare my soul, or at least post my moral values on the web like automobile accident statistics.

Am I ethical? You know, to be honest I would say the simple answer is "only when I feel it would benefit me". Which some might say, is completely unethical. But more meaningfully, I think that I have such trouble defining ethics, and imagining principled positions that would apply in practical situations, that addressing the subject of my own ethics is to address the whole sum of my existence, and my relation to an objective reality. This is all broadening the scope a bit much for the question asked, so instead let me take a bottom-up approach and answer a few (apparently) key instruments on personal morals (a word I assume to be interchangeable with 'ethics'). The hope is that these should provide a basis for an inference on what, in general, my ethics might be.

For anyone else currently feeling inconsistent or vague in their ethical position, there is a website (when is there not) which proffers these simple self-report tools that might help to focus thinking.
http://www.yourmorals.org is the work of psy­chol­o­gist Jon­a­than Haidt of the Un­i­ver­si­ty of Vir­gin­ia in Char­lottes­ville, Va. Found out about him from here.
Most surprising thing I found out about myself - I have a slightly higher sense of disgust than average. Students these days - what are we coming to?!

So without further ado, allow me to unveil...me!
The scale you completed was the "Moral Foundations Questionnaire," developed by Jesse Graham and Jonathan Haidt at the University of Virginia.

The scale is a measure of your reliance on and endorsement of each of five psychological foundations of morality that seem to be found across cultures. Each of the two parts of the scale contained four questions related to each foundation: 1) harm/care, 2) fairness/reciprocity (including issues of rights), 3) ingroup/loyalty, 4) authority/respect, and 5) purity/sanctity.

The idea behind the scale is that human morality is the result of biological and cultural evolutionary processes that made human beings very sensitive to many different (and often competing) issues. Some of these issues are about treating other individuals well (the first two foundations - harm and fairness). Other issues are about how to be a good member of a group or supporter of social order and tradition (the last three foundations). Haidt and Graham have found that political liberals generally place higher value on the first two foundations; they are very concerned about issues of harm and fairness (including issues of inequality and exploitation). Political conservatives care about harm and fairness too, but they generally score slightly lower on those scale items. The big difference between liberals and conservatives seems to be that conservatives score slightly higher on the ingroup/loyalty foundation, and much higher on the authority/respect and purity/sanctity foundations. This difference seems to explain many of the most contentious issues in the culture war. For example, liberals support legalizing gay marriage (to be fair and compassionate), whereas many conservatives are reluctant to change the nature of marriage and the family, basic building blocks of society. Conservatives are more likely to favor practices that increase order and respect (e.g., spanking, mandatory pledge of allegiance), whereas liberals often oppose these practices as being violent or coercive.

Your Score:
Average Score:
The scale you completed was the The Disgust Scale, developed by Jonathan Haidt, Clark McCauley, and Paul Rozin.

The scale is a measure of your proclivity to feel disgust. People vary quite a bit in how strongly and how often they feel disgust, and in the kinds of things they find disgusting. Earlier research using the disgust scale showed that there are three sub-types of disgust:

1) Core disgust: the "core" of the emotion, which is about defending the mouth from contamination by dirty or inappropriate things like body excretions, certain animals like rats and cockroaches, and certain foods, like ice cream with ketchup.

2) Animal-reminder disgust: things involving death, corpses, and violations of the external boundaries of the body, such as amputations. These things remind us that we, like animals, are mortal.

3) Contamination disgust: this kind of disgust is a defense of the whole body, not just the mouth, from contact with dirty or sleazy people

The idea behind the scale is that disgust is an important and understudied moral emotion, as well as being an emotion about physically dirty and gross things. Disgust is involved in many moral codes, for example it appears to be part of the psychological foundation of widespread ideas of purity and pollution. Many religions (e.g., Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism) have extensive rules for regulating human bodily processes and keeping them separated from sacred objects and practices. Disgust appears to provide part of the structure of these rules and practices. Disgust also has clinical ramifications, for it seems to be involved in obsessive-compulsive disorder and in a variety of phobias.

Your Score:
Average Score:

The scale you completed was the "Schwartz Value Survey," created by Shalom Schwartz at Hebrew University, Israel.

The scale measures the degree to which you value each of ten domains that Schwartz has found across many cultures. Values are defined as "desirable, trans-situational goals, varying in importance, that serve as guiding principles in people's lives."

The idea behind the scale is that there is an internal order and structure to values. Using various statistical techniques, Schwartz has found that the ten basic human values show a pattern of relationships that can be graphed as a circle (see below). Values that are next to each other are closely related; values that are across from each other tend to be opposed, or tend not to be strongly endorsed by the same person. Political liberals have been found to endorse the "openness to change" values, while conservatives are more likely to endorse the "conservation" values. We have put this scale up on Yourmorals.org because we are interested in learning how Schwartz's ten values (which include moral and non-moral values) relate to the "five foundations of morality" theory from Haidt and Graham, as measured by the "Moral Foundations Questionnaire."
The values are described by Schwartz as follows:

POWER: Social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources
ACHIEVEMENT: Personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards
HEDONISM: Pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself
STIMULATION: Excitement, novelty, and challenge in life
SELF-DIRECTION: Independent thought and action - choosing, creating, exploring
UNIVERSALISM: Understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature
BENEVOLENCE: Preservation and enhancement of the welfare of people with whom one is in frequent personal contact
TRADITION: Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that traditional culture or religion provide
CONFORMITY: Restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms
SECURITY: Safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self
Your Score:
Average Score:
The scale you completed was the Social Dominance Orientation Scale, by Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto (2001).

The scale is a measure of how you feel about hierarchy vs. equality among groups in society.

The idea behind the scale is a theory called Social Dominance Theory, by the same authors. The theory says that societies tend to be stratified by age, sex, race, and other group differences. People vary in how legitimate they think such stratification is. Males (and other groups with more power) tend to be more in favor of such differences, and to enforce them more actively. Sex hormones may also play a role: Men with high testosterone levels tend to have higher SDO scores. Political conservatives generally score higher on SDO than do liberals, but SDO and conservatism are not the same thing.

Your Score:
Average Score:

Well, just posting those has been an exhausting and time-wasting wrestling match with blooger.com (typo intended!), so no post-match analysis will be forthcoming...for now. Still, like those (undoubtedly wildly inaccurate) online IQ tests that always seem to rate everyone as a genius, its a worthwhile little diversion if you've never done it before - who knows, you might even learn something!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Man Bytes Blog: May Roundtable P.II

So, it took a little while to get back to it, but...
Well I thought a little more about how goals can bleed backwards into the process that achieves them, in the domain of gameplay. I think that anyone who has studied the relationship between means and ends in production systems would have a lot to say here. Essentially, the path along which one approaches the goal of an activity can begin to dominate one's perspective within the activity. A metaphor which just popped into my head is the hill-climbing false horizon. Most hills have concave sides, thus when climbing to the top one's shortened line of sight results in seeing a horizon that isn't actually the peak.
As with large, >1 man, software projects (which I'm sure we've all been involved in), playing a game is a matter of achieving many short term objectives along a definite path towards a given goal. But fortunately for game players, they almost never have to plot the path themselves, nor update it in a change control process, nor adapt to reductions in their agency*. I suspect if they did, the number of game completions would drop through the floor.

The point being, management of goals isn't a prioritised skill-set of game playing, which is one reason narrative is so important to games. The natural human tendency is to deal with what's in front of us and put the rest off. Too much complexity can completely shut a person down, render them incapable of action. I think there is a hierarchy of player goals, atomic actions forming the easy-to-process bottom layer, above that situated actions/reactions, then tactical, strategic and finally narrative layers.
So I contend that the gameplay process is actually a process of transference in this hierarchy, the player's attention forming a wave moving through the medium of the possible foci for her attention - that is, the medium of goals. And the transference occurs continuously, as players complete atomic actions, that lead them through situations, each of these requiring tactics that serve a strategy. Since narratives are mostly linear and pre-designed (so far: even GTA just allows you to ignore the narrative at will), these are out of the player's control and thus form the anchor points of the wave, keeping it from becoming too chaotic and unraveling. Not that game devs could provide that much content anyway!
The goals in each layer are aggregates of those in the layer below. From this perspective, we see that players embark on an activity for which they know there is a goal, though they don't quite know what it is, and they follow a process in order to get there, although they haven't specified the process since they don't know where it's supposed to lead them. Instead, they work toward the nearest specifiable achievement, using the means given to them by the game mechanics, seeing it as a reliable method of finding new achievements to aim toward. You climb the hill in order to climb the hill. And (hopefully) finding this experience to be an optimal one (i.e. they enjoy themselves), the player memorises the pattern of cognition and/or kinesthesia involved in the activity. This reinforces the pleasure derived by the brain from experiencing it again, so long as enough variety remains to permit a level of novelty that matches the individual's taste (correlating to their capacity for processing complexity).

A game doesn't end when you produce something, it ends when there's none of it left to do. Maybe, there are no goals to games! *(I wonder what kind of game that would make - where progress is measured by power-downs, kind of like aging backwards. If you start off as the Destroyer of Worlds and progress down to Imp#5276, would you be bothered playing?)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Man Bytes Blog: May Roundtable

I think an unreconstructed ramble on the specification bleed between goals and processes in gameplay will serve as my round-table entry. So I will pick up straight from onlyagame's contention that "to make the process the goal, [is] to undermine the meaningfulness of the term goal".

Surely by divorcing the term goal from the process which achieves it is to distance it from the commonly accepted idea of the nature of game playing. Games are undertaken primarily for reasons other than production, in that achieving any end outside the game is necessarily defined as a system of activity which includes the game only as a subset. Consider the rare cases of games-within-games: in PGR, one could have an arcade machine in ones garage which ran the instant classic XBLA game Geometry Wars. The goals achieved in playing Geometry Wars had no influence on the superset of activities offered by PGR, just as the goals of playing PGR have no affect on the superset of real life.
Unless one considers the goal of playing to be the passing of time. But surely this implies the process of play is the goal.
Which leads us to the position that game play is a self-actualising goal, for a game must be played, and play is a process, and if a process is a goal - you see where this is going.
But then how can it be detrimental to enjoyable gaming to have games with too little structure and guidance? If just being there was enough, designing a game would be just a matter of providing the tools.
Hmm...this seems incomplete - perhaps a little more depth of examination is required...

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Agent S, I presume?

Increasingly, I am convinced of the inevitability and necessity of personality-attuned neurologically-interfaced semi-autonomous hierarchical software agents (PANISAHSA's?). An exo-cortex. I am a surfer on the crest of a techno-informatic wave, constantly on the verge of 'wiping out', and despite my skills, training, innate intelligence and constant effort to maintain my position, I have no guarantee of remaining current, wired, up-to-date. If you fall behind, you've fallen off, there's no catching up. So what I need, what would save me from obsoletion, is a system of information retreival and processing complex and powerful enough to handle the wired and well-connected world.

Santa, I wanna exo-cortex!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Bush, Iraq and my 2 cents

KI-AI! Take that, neo-cons!
Filled out a media analysis survey for my sister, the media student. She is doing this qualitative survey for her course, and while I could comment on her scientific method, I'd rather just pontificate on the topics raised :D Here goes:

Media Analysis Survey

Q1 Which sources do you regularly locate your news from?

Random headlines from top of the gmail inbox, and friends sending online links, so mostly internet. But also headlines on papers in shops, tho I dont buy the papers for news

Q2 How and when did you first hear about George W. Bush?

A report (possibly in a paper or magazine) about how this redneck wannabe cowboy upstart was overhauling John McCain in the Republican primaries for the 2000 election, which sounded like bad news but no big deal since he could hardly go on to win the presidency, could he? Which was true.

Q3 What information was relayed to you in this first news report/article, etc.?

See above

Q3 What was your opinion of him initially?

A cowboy upstart. No, at first I really did think of him as a political anomaly and unlikely to have to worry about, as I underestimated the Bush family's power, since I was 12 when Poppa was in power.

Q4 Has that changed since then?


How and why?

I still would be surprised if there were no power behind the throne, but I do believe that when he is allowed to, he acts as he wants and is the most powerful man on earth. Thus he is a force to be reckoned with, a direct effect on my life and a very much a force for harm.

Q5 Did you feel positive or negative about George Bush's policies and actions post 9/11?


How and why?

Its empire building, pure and simple. Its destructive to take the resources of the worlds only superpower, garnered 30 years ago during the boom time of cheap energy, and squander them sending armies around the world chasing the dwindling stocks of oil instead of investing everything in ways to generate energy without destroying the world. There may be no way out of the energy trap, but at least it wouldn't be going backward.

Q6 Do you feel that the Bushisms, e.g. "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully", affects the public's opinions of him?


How and why?

Say anything enough times and people begin to accept it as the truth, It wasn't very hard for everyone to believe that Bush was a simple man, and when they had a reason to dislike him, switching to believing he is a simpleton is a small step.

Q7 Do you feel that the Bushisms affect international public opinion more than U.S. public opinion?


How and why?

Most americans feel like Bush is similar to them, because he is fallible but in a christian way. I.e. he makes mistakes but ones that are publicly acceptable in circles where being morally 'upstanding' is important. Foreigners wouldn't ever feel similar to Bush, and so can feel scorn for him more easily.

Q8 Do you feel that George Bush's primitive speech may be used to his advantage?


How and why?

Well yes because it allows him to connect with the simple people who support his war and have little in the way of shades of grey in their beliefs.
But then again no because it makes him more devisive than if he appeared intellectual, but was still a Texan cowboy - if he was thusly, liberal classes might be able to at least trust the quality of his thinking, if not agree with anything he thinks. Now they just think he pulls everything out of his 'gut'...

Q8 What is your reaction to the term "Shock and Awe"?

reminds me of 'Blitzkrieg'

Q9 Do you think that it has played an important part in the U.S. public opinion on the war in Iraq?

Don't know

Q10 Have you seen any of the prisoner abuse photographs that have come into the public eye?


Q11 What were your feelings about them?

Resigned unsurprise

Q12 What images or thoughts come into your mind when you hear news reports about the war in Iraq?

Pictures I've seen of the exploded heads, where most of the skin remains but the insides have been squirted out...

Q13 In general, would you say that the tragedy of the war is apparent to you, or do you feel desensitised to it?

Oh, desensitised completely. I'd need direct contact stimulus to be moved by it.

Q14 Do you think that it is possible to consider the gravity of the situation each time you hear more news about the war in Iraq?

Yes. Because the gravity is global, yet the carnage is nothing special globally. So we can consider the widespread, longterm implications and how the situation will affect us. On the other hand, as the war on the ground goes on, so too it could be happening anywhere else, and is in Darfur, Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan, Central Africa...Thus, war is almost inevitable and meaningless on a personal level, until it affects one personally. And the farther effects of war are political, economic, social, all things which obey trends that can be predicted, if not accurately. So considering the gravity of the situation is just a matter of measuring the breadth, depth and longevity of the trends.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Playing with Fire...

Damn this is a little belated. Play 'Play with Fire'! Buy it, in fact. But at least try it. I know at least some of you out there would enjoy playing as a ball of flame, burning things up. Kris?

Why did it take me 3 months to plug this? Weird.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Pull the strings...

No one would have believed at the beginning of 2007 that human affairs (the AIIDE'07 conference) were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than Man's. Yet, across the gulf of space on the planet Zenok Prime, intellects vast and cool and unsypathetic regarded Earth (actually just Stanford) with envious eyes, and slowly and surely, they joined their plans against us (them).


Yes, I shall shortly be invading! The plans have been laid, all is in readiness, all I need do now is play the waiting game.
And then, I too will know the way to San Jose. Its on the Caltrain, three stops down from Palo Alto, right?

I think I'll wear a flower in my hair...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

12 Modern Delusions that must be challenged. #1

Numero Uno. The world's population problems, and the spread of Aids, can be solved without the use of condoms.

This is not only the most dangerous, but also the most criminal error of the modern world. Millions of people will suffer, and die premature and humiliating deaths, as a result of the policies pursued in this regard through the UN and related aid and public health programmes. Indeed, there is no need to ask where the first mass murderers of the 21st century are; we already know, and their addresses besides: the Lateran Palace, Vatican City, Rome, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC. Timely arrest and indictment would save many lives.

My Reply:

See reply to last delusion! Ok, I do have something to say on both of these topics. I'm still going to beg off for the moment, and try to rewrite a paper, develop a player typological experiment, write a book chapter on in-game adaptivity and continue to incrementally improve my decision theoretic player modelling method for Pacman. Phew!

All seems kinda insignificant when you look at these delusions...

Monday, March 26, 2007

12 Modern Delusions that must be challenged. #2

No 2. The only thing 'they' understand is force.

This has been the guiding illusion of hegemonic and colonial thinking for several centuries. Oppressed peoples do not accept the imposition of solutions by force; they revolt. It is the oppressors who, in the end, have to accept the verdict of force, as European empires did in Latin America, Africa, Asia and as the United States is doing in Iraq today. The hubris of mission accomplished in May 2003 has been followed by ignominy.

My Reply:

Ok, oddly enough (given the topic) nothing quick and inspired is coming to mind for me here. So I am going to switch tactics, hope that some others have caught onto the presence of these posts, and leave the answering to others. Maybe I'll get something up in time. Right now, I'm settling into that slightly panicked mode of feeling like I haven't worked enough lately, which is my main source of short-term motivation. So...nose to the grindstone!

Sometime later...
Tansy emailed around a very interesting article on the aestheticisation of violence, which I have posted below. This was in the context of another discussion, but I thought it very appropriate here as it speaks directly to our own role in the whole topic expressed above. We permit our leaders to pursue these imperialist policies - they are not dictators, they must have a mandate from the people, however far removed their day-to-day activities may feel from our own powers and influence. I have raised the point in delusion #8, that people need the sense of emancipation of belief in the efficacy of their own free will. Free will may or may not exist in fact, but in attitude it is all important. So certainly oppressed people will revolt, inevitably they will throw off the shackles of oppression or be destroyed in the attempt (whether through annihilation or assimilation); yet the shackles are imposed time and again, as though history was a blank slate, lessons unlearned. So in addressing this delusion, let us accept these inevitabilities and look instead to ourselves, and how it all becomes possible starting at home.

hey folks...

this is something i found while researching a college project but thought that it was worth emailing around. concerning bush and his Shock and Awe-some War on Terror...


The aestheticization of violence for political purposes

Though many tools are available for political purposes, the threat or use of violence attracts those of a more proactive disposition as the simplest way to resolve any conflict or achieve any ends, because its strategies are well-known and weapons easily obtained. When asked to identify alternative nonviolent techniques, people find it difficult to visualise effective methods; moreover, sceptics can quickly raise moral and practical dilemmas to complicate any set of choices until violence appears the easiest option.

Thus, this topic is relevant across a spectrum of causes from those disagree about social or commercial practices within their local community, to those unhappy with the political regime in their own country, to those who believe that another country is a threat.

Nevertheless, a person or group wishing to use violence as a strategy must overcome objections from both prospective supporters and the other interested parties. No cause will prosper until the majority agrees with the justifications offered for the decision to use force, because all who adopt aggressive strategies require emotional and logistical support from the local community for success.

Hence, the aestheticization process is used to direct the audience's interpretation of events by shifting the values of the lexical words used to minimise consideration of the moral, ethical or other costs. In Nineteen Eighty-Four , George Orwell proposed that the means to achieve complete control of people's minds or their ability to think rationally about the issues at stake is to invent a new language, more primitive and less articulate than current "oldspeak". That is the intention of aestheticization. It seeks to subvert the rationality of the current paradigms through doublespeak and goodthink , and to persuade the majority that the use of violence in the particular context is not merely necessary or expedient, but just and glorious in the prosecution of higher ideals.

Whether the use of violence is or is not justifiable is irrelevant for these purposes. The sole interest lies in the mechanism for the transfer of the particular use from the paradigm of unacceptable into the paradigm of acceptable. In contemporary terms, this brings semiotics into a position of prominence both to set the frame and to deconstruct it.

[ edit] An example of semiotic analysis

In January, 2003, the U.S. implemented a battle plan based on a concept developed at the National Defense University. Called " Shock and Awe " (see Americanism ), its stated purpose was the psychological destruction of the enemy's will to fight rather than the physical destruction of his military forces. The choice of name is revealing, even at a denotative level.

Shock refers to the surprise and distress caused by events and, when associated with battles, means the violent interaction of individuals or groups as they join in combat. Meanwhile, awe is an overwhelming sense of wonder or admiration that may, to a greater or lesser extent, be associated with fear. But, at a connotative level, the use of the words is intended to fulfil several distinct aims:

In reality, the army may be going to kill large numbers of people, both combatant and non-combatant. These words are not the actions but they represent them at a symbolic level. Analysis shows that the words fall within the paradigm of lexical words signifying the emotional responses to external stimuli: responses that can only be experienced by those who are alive. The intended implication is that enemy soldiers and civilians will be so disoriented by the display of power that they will simply surrender rather than face the threatened injury or death. Hence, the enemy casualty count will be low and the immediate gains will significantly outweigh the moral, ethical or other costs of the enterprise.

All warfare involves death and destruction on a scale that may be shocking to the sensibilities of the ordinary person, so what is the value of these words? Applying the commutation test, substitutes for "shock" might be: excitement, impact, and surprise, as opposed to: scare, trauma, and upset.

The substitutes for "awe" might be: admiration, reverence and wonder, as opposed to fear, horror, and terror. Both words are capable of signifying less appealing qualities but, by setting them in a conjoined relationship, the expectation is that they will both be given the same value. The sui generis rule applies so that second and subsequent words in a conjoined sequence define the class. Evaluating the substitutes for "shock", the degree of match as synonyms seems reasonably adjacent and the balance of connotation can be considered balanced.

This would give the word "shock" a relatively neutral value. Since the preponderance of connotation to "awe" is positive (the negative substitutes are less directly synonymous), the relationship in the phrase is intended to invoke values suggesting a certain degree of magnificence in the technology and the manner of its delivery. Not only those on the receiving end are expected to experience awe: all external observers may be impressed by this display of power, and, perhaps, feel not a little afraid — a useful general propaganda gain.

The connotation of the word awe tends to refer to unequal power relationships, e.g. a beginner may be in awe of the skills of a professional, an ordinary mortal is in awe of a deity, etc. The implication is that this war is such an asymmetrical contest that the enemy might just as well give up before the battle is joined with such an overwhelmingly superior force.

Figurative usages provide what the semiotician Roland Barthes called a "pleasure of the text" (1970), i.e. the pleasurable reaction produced by a clever arrangement of signs. So figurative words are more memorable than literal words, particularly when used in unexpected contexts. Using this phrase in the otherwise literal context of declaring the opening of violent hostilities is incongruous and that contextualisation has made the phrase memorable, effectively displacing all the imagery of imminent death and destruction that might otherwise have dominated.

Monosyllabic words wield considerable rhetorical might: they are short, punchy, and memorable. Through the careful mixing of short and long words, the impact provided by the short words stands out against the rhythmic flow provided by long words. Rhetorical theory maintains that any proposition can be expressed in a variety of ways.

Hence, when persuasion is the overriding goal, the rhetorical perspective suggests that the manner in which a statement is expressed may be more important than its propositional content. In this instance, the repetition of two sounds, a binary pair of semi-onomatopoeic words, produces hyperbole. Whether written or spoken with an appropriate intonation and body language, the phrase is memorable and serves its aestheticization function.