Jul 30

Sword Camp 2008: Zompocalypse, Day Five

The first word of the Zombie Apocalypse reached us at approximately 10:30 this morning. Sal calls those of us who had driven to the site that morning into his office and informs us that the radio news is carrying reports of heavy rioting in Flint, spreading to northern Detroit. US123 and I75 are closed, I69 has been designated as an evacuation route. A news crew has been attacked and taken down by the mob; last footage to go out shows a boot coming at the camera. In the background: The Foo Fighters’ “No One Here Gets Out Alive” and White Zombie’s “Dracula”

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Jul 28

Sword Camp 2008: Firearms Day, Day Three

Monday was the day things went bang. Firearms, basic and advanced. We began with safety instruction and refresher by the lovely Lynda, emphasizing three basic rules: (1) Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, (2) Finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot, and (3) keep ammunition separated from weapons until you are at the firing line with the range hot. We were instructed in how to check and clear weapons.

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Jul 26

Sword Camp 2008: Skills, Day One

Saturday was designated Skills Day. The plan had been for the Basics — the beginner-level class — to be taken in hand and run through a compressed version of the first six months of training while the rest of us — Intermediate and Advanced students — got to choose from a casual smorgasbord of specials skills topics offered by the instructors.

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Jul 26

Sword Camp 2008: And So, It Begins…

OK, so imagine you could go on vacation with a bunch of your best friends, all of whom are either (a) science fiction fans, (b) software geeks, (c) advanced martial artists, or (d) usually, some combination of the above. Now imagine that you get to spend a solid week with these people learning stuff like how to fight with a sword, military tactical hand signals, pistolcraft, stealthy movement in wooded country, emergency field medicine, and how to improvise an incendiary mortar with soda cans and gasoline-soaked tennis balls.

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Jul 25

On the road in Michigan

Blogging (and my responses to comments) will be light for the next two weeks. I’m on the road in Michigan, attending a week-long swordfighting intensive that starts tomorrow, then I’ll be at the World Boardgaming Championships for a week after that.

Jul 21

What D&D character am I?

Most what-kind-of-X-are-you quizzes are superficial jokes. I just found one that seems better constructed than the average, and as an old-time D&D fan I couldn’t resist it. Here’s the paste from my results, with a link:

I Am A: Neutral Good Human Wizard (7th Level)

Ability Scores:

Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment because it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard’s strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

The stats seem pretty accurate on the whole, though I wonder which answers made them underestimate my Intelligence. And I’ve never been about limiting the actions of the truly capable.

And here are my results from another interesting quiz auditing for Asperger’s Syndrome traits:

No surprise there, I already knew I wasn’t an Asperger’s Syndrome case; if anything, my neurological bent resembles subclinical Tourette’s Syndrome. But here I come out as a neurotypical with a balance of intellectual and physical talents, which seems about right.

Jul 19

A Brief History of Firearms Policy Fraud

The Heller vs. D.C. ruling affirming that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms was a major civil-rights victory building on 15 years of constitutional scholarship. Accordingly, we owe a great deal of thanks to principled and dedicated legal academics including Don Kates, Dave Kopel, and the blogosphere’s own InstaPundit (aka Glenn Harlan Reynolds) for their work on the Standard Model of the Second Amendment.

But there was another trend at work; the beginning of public recognition, after the year 2000, that anti-firearms activism has been founded on systematic errors and widespread fraud in the academic literature on gun policy.

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Jul 17

Slang for the Galaxy

It’s no news to any serious strategy gamer that Race For The Galaxy has rapidly become one of the most popular and frequently played designs of recent years. My gaming group plays it often enough that we’ve developed our own slang terms for certain frequently-occurring tactics and situations. In the hope that other players may find these enjoyable and useful, here they are:

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Jul 16

Deism and the Founding Fathers

There is a belief abroad in many conservative circles that the U.S. is “a Christian nation”. This belief is found in perhaps its most extreme form in the Mormon doctrine that the Constitution of the United States is a divinely inspired document. Less extreme versions hold that Christian piety was an shaping influence on the thinking and writing of the Founding Fathers, and Christianity therefore has (or ought to have) a privileged position in the political and cultural life of the U.S.

The Mormon doctrine is unfalsifiable. But claims about the beliefs and intentions of the Founding Fathers are not, and the record is clear: they explicitly rejected the establishment of Christianity as the preferred or natural religion of their infant nation.

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Jul 09

Patriotism And Its Pathologies

Once upon a time, patriotism was a fairly simple thing. It was tribal identification writ large, an emotional attachment to a people and their land. In most of the world, where patriotism exists at all it’s still like this — tribal patriotism, blood-and-soil emotionalism.

A different kind of patriotism emerged from the American and French revolutions. While American patriotism sometimes taps into tribal emotion, it is not fundamentally of that kind. Far more American is the sentiment Benjamin Franklin expressed: “Where liberty dwells, there is my country”

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Jul 07

SPAT: How to Save the Music Industry

I think I know how to save the music business. There’s a dead-simple business model that will funnel money to talent, work with the Internet’s capability for zero-cost distribution rather than fighting it, and allow the record companies a role without “intellectual property” protection or DRM.

I call it SPAT for short. This can have either of two expansions: “Strike Price And Timeout” or “Street Performer And Teaser”.

Here’s how it should work:

1: You front the money to produce a song. Or an album. Or whatever marketable unit of music you think you can sell. (It’s the 21st century. Production equipment is cheap. You can do better sound engineering in a basement today than a million-dollar production outfit could have during most of the 20th century.)

2: You make a teaser clip. If you’re selling a single, maybe it’s 15 seconds out of 3:05. If you’re selling an album, maybe it’s a 3-minute audio montage sampled from the album tracks. Maybe it’s a video. Maybe it has voiceovers by the performers on it.

3: Throw the teaser on the Internet. Within months after this model is generally understood, there will be aggregation sites that do nothing but host teasers. Some will make money by selling advertising to people who want to reach music consumers. Others will be fan/hobbyist suites with a mission. Still others will be run by record companies — see below for discussion.

4: The teaser clip has a pitch at the end. “Free this music! When we get X dollars in the tip jar at the specified URL on our fulfillment site URL, we’ll throw the music on the Internet as a free download. Offer expires at time T.”

5: On the fulfillment site, the pledge jar shows how full it is when you look at it. You can add a pledge to the jar there.

6: The payment system on the fulfilment site has to deal gracefully with three cases:

6(a): The timeout expires before the pledge jar is full (“It busted!”). All pledges are returned. All parties lose.

6(b): The timeout expires after the pledge jar is full (“It boomed!”). The pledge jar is emptied and a free download link to the work appears beside it. Subsequently, anybody can do what they like with it — throwing it on a bunch of BitTorrent trackers will probably be a popular option.

6(c): The payment system must fail safely — that is, if the pledge jar fills, but the work does not ship, consumers don’t lose money.

All three cases are important! A large part of the point of this model is to eliminate from consumers’ thinking any perceived risk that they might throw money down a hole.

8. Assuming 6(b), use your profits to produce the next work. Now you can afford more studio time, better equipment, side players, and maybe some extra marketing. You can probably also set a higher pledge threshold, and/or a longer timeout.

For an artist, the single key business decision is what strike price to set for a given work — career-building will consist of earning a reputation that allows you to set a higher strike price than your previous ones. Because consumers are probably less sensitive to the timeout length tan to price , I’m expecting there will be convergence on a fairly small set of standard timeout periods.

Various interesting reputation games could be attached to SPAT to make the pledge jar fill faster. For example, large pledges might earn buyers perks like their name in lights near the download point for the work, or even a mention in some credits.

Record companies still have a role, if only because somebody has to be trusted to refund the pledges if the jar doesn’t fill and to actually ship the album if it does. Of course, they can continue doing conventional record-company stuff; branding, marketing, A&R, running studios. But there will be three big differences. One is bad: the
upside is bounded (you don’t collect ‘extra’ revenue from an unexpectedly successful work).

On the other hand, the other consequences are good. Distribution expenses go as near zero as makes no difference. There is no requirement in the model for DRM or IP protection of any sort; the record companies get to stop spending lots of money on lawyers and lobbyists and (more importantly) get to stop being hated by the people they most want as customers.

There’s no intrinsic reason SPAT couldn’t work for movies and other content as well as music, but it’s better adapted to media where the money you need to front to produce as saleable work is relatively low.

SPAT is, of course, a variant of the well-known Street Performer protocol (SPP). The key difference is that the teaser operates as both marketing and as a plausible promise that the artist already has a deliverable work, changing consumers’ risk assessments and making them more likely to buy. This addresses the most serious weakness of other forms of SPP, which is that the large information asymmetry between buyer and seller acts as a disincentive to buyers.

SPAT could be substantially improved with one piece of technical infrastructure. That is a pledge instrument which would give the receiver the right to a given chunk of the payer’s money, but only if called after a specified future date. Such an instrument would further reduce buyer risk.

Jul 05

Dangerous Sons

Some time back I blogged on Hotness in Hollywood. In it I gave Angeline Jolie props for making a game effort at acting in a a movie with a script so execrable that her best effort was doomed, the original Tomb Raider movie. I also praised Liv Tyler playing Arwen, who became my personal all-time favorite example of screen sexiness in the Lord Of The Rings movies. And yes, I know this means I’m a geek; that’s not news to anybody.

My wife Cathy and I saw Wanted last night. Avoid it if you can’t stand the sight of people being shot through the head; otherwise it’s a fun popcorn movie with lots of implausible but extremely well-choreographed ultraviolence. (Well, OK, I started to giggle during the last knife fight a few minutes before the ending, because with the Marine knife-fighting technique my swordmaster taught my wife and I last year either of us could have filleted those two pirouetting idiots in short order.)

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