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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Jun 30

Male-bashing kills children

Listen. This news story (which I meant to blog about two years ago) is the sound of cultural suicide happening…

A bricklayer who passed a toddler walking alone in a village shortly before her fatal fall into a pond said yesterday he did not stop to help in case people thought he was trying to abduct her.

Ideas have consequences. Toxic ideas have toxic consequences. Feminism’s toxic idea that all men are barely restrained sexual predators killed that little girl. This probably wasn’t the first time it happened, and almost certainly won’t be the last.

I think this is worth blogging about, even two years after the fact, because it’s another indicator of a huge and horrible thing that Western culture has been doing to men for most of my lifetime. Men are designed to protect women and children, specialized for it; in a very basic biological sense it’s what we’re for. But the modern West bombards men with the message that their specialty isn’t needed, isn’t wanted, and that they’re assumed to want to prey on and abuse women and children.

Is it any wonder, then, that young men are increasingly opting out of college, that the percentage of adult males never married is also rising, and that in the 21st century many men seem to want to opt out of responsibility altogether? When our instititions equate feminization with virtue and masculinity with evil, this is exactly the outcome we should expect.

And it kills children. It kills children.

If I were a praying sort, I’d pray that Scottish bricklayer’s warning cry has not come too late.

Jun 28

If you don’t see your comment, despair not…

As part of reactivating my blog, I’ve had to grovel through over 160,000 back comments over 99% of which were blog spam. I’ve been doing this by skimming 500-comment chunks of the back list (it’s normally 20, but I know where to hack the WordPress code to change that). In the process, I have almost certainly made some errors.

So if you submitted a comment recently and have not seen it published, don’t assume that you’ve hit a mechanical spam filter or that I’m purposely deleting your posts. I may have deleted some by accident while skimming. I apologize, and devoutly hope you will never find yourself having to filter that much spam by eyeball.

(And before you ask: Yes, WordPress’s tools for the job are both weak when they work and buggy in crucial spots. WordPress looks nice but the more I get to know the PHP codebase the less I like what I see.)

Jun 26

I’m unstealthing

Yes,. there is a good reason that I disappeared for two years. As soon as a certain lawsuit now in court wraps up, I’ll even be able to explain it in detail.

But I’m back to blogging. Starting now.

Jun 12

Oderint, dum metuant

In Nablus, a young man is kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists — who then set him free on learning he is an American because they don’t want to end up like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi so recently did.

I am irresistibly reminded of a piece of cynical wisdom from the mouth of the mad Roman emperor Caligula, born of experience in dealing with the barbarians of his day: Oderint, dum metuant: “Let them hate, so long as they fear”.

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