Saturday, January 31, 2009
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
If you read the media reports on a BYU School of Family Life study concerning college students and video games, it's very likely that you saw a headline like the one above, or a Scary Image like the one at the top of this story. But the findings don't match the spin.
A BYU undergrad undertook a study attempting to pinpoint gaming's role as a mediating factor in other antisocial behavior (weakened relationships, drug and alcohol use). In a nutshell (read the story using the link above for more), the study found a modest correlation between some negative relationship and life outcomes and regular gaming.
Unfortunately, the world media has taken a study measuring a mere correlation and tried to force a connection that sociological research has yet to measure (and in fact conflicts with several other studies). Headlines like BYU Study: Hello video games, goodbye family/friends (Network World) hardly elevated the discourse, allowing this incident to serve as a prime example of the public at large misinterpreting and dumbing down research.
Kotaku commenter Ascanus gives a rundown on some of the difficulties with the study, meaning less that a survey such as this isn't relevant than that conclusive research needs to be done before confident conclusions can be reached.
The fact that BYU's news team decided to call their report "Report: Video Gamers May Be Virtually on Their Own" before renaming it, and included hysterical, stereotypical images like the one I've posted above led me to send a message to the BYU NewsNet with the following message:
I have significant issues with the "Video Gamers May Be Virtually on Their Own" feature on BYU's main page. A link to the survey [see below] and adherence to sociological principles of statistical significance and mediating factors in the reporting would have helped. (I should mention that I don't necessarily have a problem with the research team or their methods, but the reporting and slant in the study.)
It is mentioned in the study that the team found only a modest relationship between increased levels of gaming and antisocial behavior. However both the titling of the story and the related content (shots of a disgruntled, caffeinated gamer holding a controller in an unusual way) seem sensationalistic and stereotypical. It left license for the mainstream media to jump on the story, which of course they have done, concocting ever-more vivid headlines and further removing themselves from any data in the story. This seems irresponsible as it leads people everywhere to false conclusions (the story was picked up worldwide) and colors their impression of BYU.
For the reporting on this feature to adhere to journalistic standards it would need to address previous data indicating that the gender gap between gamers is not very great when computer and online games are considered, as well as studies indicating that mild-to-moderate gamers reported stronger bonds with the friends they "game" with. The misleading title, writing and accompanying images would also need to be fixed.
Again, the reporting on the study (or survey - I searched the journal mentioned but couldn't find the article so I don't know the methodology used) doesn't seem to match the obvious editorial slant taken in the story. Even the professor who headed the study has urged moderation in making rash conclusions as a result of the study (http://kotaku.com/5139973/utah-prof-backpedals-says-study-doesnt-prove-gaming-is-bad-for-you). I'm sure that Professor Walker would like this resolved, as well as people who find this type of research interesting but don't want it to become a platform for misleading coverage and analysis.
The representative (Joe) responded quickly with a link to the study (which was linked in the article but not visible due to what I assume is a slight blue-black colorblindness on my part) and some related clarifications. The study is more well thought-out than I thought, but the stark differences with other similar studies prompt my concern. That said, this appears to be a decent study done reasonably well with the resources a single student had available. Though I don't believe the student did all of the important research (contrasting "social" games you play with people in the same room with more solitary online or single-player experiences would have been helpful, and the Likert scale they used is technically sound but awkward), I now have issues only with the slant taken with the headline and accompanying photos.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
"The family of Isaac Singletary is suing in federal court, claiming his civil rights were violated and police used “unnecessary and excessive force” in shooting Singletary four times.
Singletary was known to run drug dealers off the yard in front of his Westmont Street property, and his family has said Singletary did not know the men pretending to be drug dealers were actually police."
When police officers don't identify themselves and dress up as criminals, overzealous citizens everywhere are in more than a little danger. This isn't an issue of self-defense (as long as they seemed to be in danger) but of the legitimacy of undercover or sting operations.
Related link: Reason Online - "Collateral damage" of the war on drugs
Friday, January 23, 2009
Beneath this ostensibly silly riff on the closing of Guantanamo Bay is some pretty profound commentary. As Stewart points out, the lack of any guarantee of safety is a price of living in a free society.
UPDATE: Bill O'Reilly on the inauguration speech: "I didn't like the line in the speech [saying] we don't have to compromise our values to protect ourselves. I think sometimes we do." Cute.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: What do you call a "value" that you discard at the earliest possible opportunity?
This needs no introduction. I'll start with the most important:
This week, President Obama signed an execution order closing Guantanamo Bay and secret CIA prisons, and enforcing the Army Field Manual for interrogations, citing the "false choice between our safety and our ideals" offered by the previous administration. European governments commended him for this action, as they've been ferrying our "enemy combatants" over their airspace for years. Obama will, of course, have to address the damage done by imprisoning people without charges, as well as what to do with those about whom a legitimate case could be built. Huge step in the right direction. (Viewers interested in some of the rationale for keeping Gitmo prisoners behind bars may enjoy/get riled up at this little aside.) Thankfully, the CIA promises to withhold the new rules on suspected terrorist detention and interrogation "without exception, carve-out, or loophole."
Large steps were taken to bring back transparency in government and reversing FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) restrictions enacted by John Ashcroft under Dubya, taking the attitude that information should be released on a timely basis by governmental agencies without waiting for a public request, in stark contrast to earlier policies encouraging information to be withheld unless no possible objections could be found.
Obama also blocked some (but not all) of the "last-minute environmental decisions" of Bush, including looser regulations and a removal of the gray wolf form the endangered species list.
Rush Limbaush and Sean Hannity decided to start putting a U.S. President under scrutiny for the first time since 2000. As Limbaugh seems desperate to prove that he's not a racist in his opposition of Obama (something the American people can probably accept), he freely admits that he wants Obama to fail and damage the country with his left-wing policies. SITYS. I guess he was only joking when he criticized Democrats for wishing death on Bush's shortsighted policies; Republican Kool-Aid cares not for race, as long as you're wearing the right hat!
Immigrants Rights Groups voiced their concern that Obama will raise the level of discourse concerning illegal immigration rather than just signing a reform bill. Americans have been notoriously fickle on their views of immigration, even considered in the aggregate: a large Gallup poll found a vast majority of Americans either glowingly supporting or concerned about immigration depending on the questions asked. How can Obama use his "power of words" without patronizing Americans who may not agree with him? (For the record, I support full amnesty for individuals with no record of violent crimes, a permanent streamlining of the immigration process and then tightening the border. I doubt that will be on the table.)
Obama is now held to the job of reforming entitlements (SS and government healthcare, among others), a task about which he's been characteristically vague. I predict it's very unlikely he'll arrive at a satisfactory solution to this problem, one that existed long before Bush. Raising requirements or mandatory contributions will be unpopular, and "universal health care" may turn out to be nothing more than a reshuffling of the numbers. Let's hope I'm wrong and next month's economic summit bears some sort of practical fruit.
Obama still needs to do his part to reverse the lapses of civil liberties in America. I'd like to see something done immediately about NSA-sponsored spying on American citizens and journalists, as well as legal immunity for telecom corporations complicit in illegal wiretaps and unconstitutional surveillance. Bush first insisted that warrants were required for every instance or surveillance. This later turned out to be either a lie, or something Bush wasn't paying attention to during those boring cabinet meetings. Whoops! (For further information on the NSA whistleblower in the above link, I highly recommend his Wikipedia page, which goes into detail on the electronic tracking, sham psychological evaluations and demotions he was forced to undergo as he attempted to reform the system.)
Still, I'll be more interested in what Obama does as he really settles into office. These early decisions are fairly uncontroversial; coming out in opposition to torture, war and corruption is hardly controversial. Will Obama continue his winning streak or will he falter when he runs out of Bush flops to fix? Will his scant few years of experience in the corrupt Washington waterworks turn out to be an asset or a fatal flaw?
Find out next week, in another exciting edition of. . . sorry, I was on autopilot there for awhile.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Ween - The Mollusk (1999)
An album that's pretty hard to discount, incorporating the sensibilities of acid-dropping psychers, iconoclastic noiserockers and classic rock enthusiasts (more like a freaked-out Floyd meets Genesis than the rawer stuff they mimicked later on). The drug elements (or at least the perception of drug elements) seem pretty essential to Ween's mythos; they certainly make no effort to shake the associations, filling their album with warping, inebriated sound effects and high-as-a-kite lyrics.
So it seems fitting that the most remarkable moments on this album are the trippiest - the opening, pitch-shifted piano confidence booster, transcendent, hilarious title track or unforgettable "Mutilated Lips."
They pull off some seriously epic, "in-accordance-with-prophecy" moments as well ("Buckingham Green", "The Golden Eel", "She Wanted To Leave"). Nothing about this album is manufactured - it's tuneful, fresh and exciting. Still, Ween has a way of being crude even when they aren't trying to (I seriously have a hard time not seeing a vulva in that cover art). This arcane sense of ribaldry is undeniably part of their charm, but the more sensitive among you may wish to consider a reburn of the disc sans a coupla tracks before playing it in the car with the kids. Anyway, to each his own - This is a great album I can easily put up with anything else I've reviewed. I should have gotten to it earlier.
Q. Obama has said that under his administration the United States will not use torture as part of the U.S. campaign against terrorism, no matter what the circumstance. Do you support this position not to use torture, or do you think there are cases in which the United States should consider torture against terrorism suspects? (Greenwald's emphasis)The question, posed in that "ludicrous, 24-clichéd 'ticking time bomb' excuse" found 58% of Americans responding that the U.S. should never torture, no matter the circumstances.
A majority of Americans also favors the closing of Guantanamo Bay, and a slim majority even favors investigation into the legality of Bush administration policies regarding the treatment of detainees, asking that they be tried in U.S. courts.
Greenwald's analysis flies in the face of both the "conservative America" thesis of Republican talking heads, as well as their concept of the "liberal media":
What's most remarkable about the fact that a majority of Americans favor investigations is that one has to struggle to find even a single politician of national significance or a prominent media figure who argue that position. The notion that Bush officials shouldn't be criminally investigated is about as close to a lockstep consensus among political and media elites as it gets, and yet, still, a majority of Americans favor such investigations.
Our political elites endlessly deny these facts -- and insist that Americans don't care about the rule of law and Constitutional values -- because that's how they excuse their own violations and their refusal to hold themselves accountable: "We can't investigate Bush because the public wouldn't tolerate it; we can't abide by Constitutional norms because we'll lose elections if we appear soft on terror." But those claims are false. There may (or may not be) reasonable grounds for arguing against constitutional protections and imposing consequences on those who violate them, but the fact that public opinion won't permit such actions is quite clearly not one of those grounds.
New poll on torture and investigations negates Beltway conventional wisdom (Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com)
You'd think the big story would be the fact that Obama redid his oath of office out of Constitutional concerns, but it seems Drudge has found his scoop, one of his occasional shout-outs to the paranoid fears of his more fringe-y audiences (sarcasm added).
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Cheney's hatred of habeus corpus was matched only by his hatred of wizards.
Dick Cheney likes a good, evil smirk. Here he is laughing at a joke President Bush is telling about reducing domestic oil consumption. Funny, funny Bush!
Cheney always reminded me of a villain from a supernatural adventure movie - the type of white-collar guy who tries to unearth the ancient relic to keep all of the power for himself, and then ends up turning into some kind of giant, misshapen monster who battles the heroes right in the Oval Office. We'll miss you.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
In further honor of Bush's departure, Teresa Hayden has compiled (and I mean compiled in the most time-consuming, comprehensive sense) the Bush years as chronicled through satire paper The Onion. It's all here: U.S. Urges Bin Laden To Form Nation It Can Attack, Freedoms Curtailed In Defense Of Liberty, Cloned Cheney Lacks Charm Of Original, and, more recently, Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Cause By His Disastrous Presidency (video).
It's about ten pages of tiny links, so you'll probably want to scan the thing rather than try a chronological read-through.
Making Light: The true history of the Bush years
Well, the new administration of President-or-President-Elect-depending-on-when-you-read-this Obama is unlikely to change its position, the Wired Blog reports, as his choice for attorney general Eric Holder indicates.
"The duty of the Justice Department is to defend statutes that have been passed by Congress," he says, absurdly. "Unless there are compelling reasons, I don't think we would reverse course." Does "unconstitutional and Orwellian" count as "compelling"?
Obama to Defend Telco Spy Immunity (Wired)
Image and quote reprinted from The People's Voice (in loving memory of Bush's legacy. (Note: If they turn out to be a little crazy I take no responsibility - it's the only place I could find the article in full, and with such a neat image to boot):
I could rant once again about what Bush did in response to his disregard for the Constitution, but I'd rather let this speak for itself (besides, see some tasty links below). Let's look beyond this individual and concentrate on paying attention and bettering ourselves and our government now. We'll have plenty to hold Obama accountable before despite the less-than-stellar last eight years. Still, I don't think my disagreements with the upcoming administration will give me quite that same sick feeling in my heart.
Several provisions of the act, passed in the shell shocked period immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, caused enough anger that liberal groups like the American Civil Liberties Union had joined forces with prominent conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly and Bob Barr to oppose renewal.
GOP leaders told Bush that his hardcore push to renew the more onerous provisions of the act could further alienate conservatives still mad at the President from his botched attempt to nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.
"I don't give a goddamn," Bush retorted. "I'm the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way."
"Mr. President," one aide in the meeting said. "There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution."
"Stop throwing the Constitution in my face," Bush screamed back. "It's just a goddamned piece of paper!"
The Bush Legacy in Numbers (Harpers)
The Bush Legacy: My Analysis
The Daily Show's John Oliver on Bush's "Decomplishments"
How We're Destroying Ourselves
Gitmo Detainees Released, Chastened
Monday, January 19, 2009
You'll need to click the image to enlarge it, should you be so inclined.
Heteropoda Maxima: The Spider From Hell
An "Exorcist"-like doll commercial
Last year for Martin Luther King Jr. / Civil Rights Day, I posted a link to Dr. King's "Letter From Birmingham Jail", one of my favorite readings on race in America and civil disobedience that I've ever seen, filled with tempered optimism and stirring intelligence. This one is all the better for lack of a copyeditor; it's far more honest and stirring than a well-crafted speech with quotable bits (momentous though his speeches were).
I'd like to post this again, in remembrance of the fact that Dr. King was more than just a man with a dream. Focusing on that one speech makes the fight for true egalitarianism and brotherhood feel like a fight of the past, one that resolved itself in previous generations and died with the activists of the 20th century. Our society still has a way to go, and it's a very individual battle.
Martin Luther King, Jr. - "Letter From Birmingham Jail"
Sunday, January 18, 2009
"Who will screw us next?" asked Dilbert creator Scott Adams on The Dilbert Blog. As worldwide "shortages" create pretexts for massive price increases on ordinary consumer goods, his readers pointed toward water as the next obvious corporate assault on the uninformed public. Scott agrees.
In order to have a good artificial shortage you need several things to be true:Get ready.
Water has it all, except for the existence of futures contracts, as far as I can tell. Once you see a market for water futures forming, bend over. That's when the manipulation will begin. Crooks prefer manipulating financial markets over building reservoirs.
- The commodity must be essential.
- There is a plausible "natural" explanation for the shortage.
- Only large companies have the resources to increase supply.
- The government is involved in some way.
- The media hasn't yet obsessed about it, but could.
- Inventions to solve the problem are noticeably absent.
- There are futures contracts for it.
Answer to: Who Will Screw Us Next? (The Dilbert Blog)
Scott Adams on Libertarianism
Immortality grows near
The Credit Crunch Explained
Destroy war to end the holy war
Friday, January 16, 2009
Due to recent equal time laws for megapopular science fiction series, I'm now obligated to post the following:
Kotaku reports that game developer Free Radical (developers of Timesplitters and a few other decent shooters) is folding, ending development of the Star Wars alternate universe title Battlefront III, which would have explored the concept of a dark Obi-Wan Kenobi. Meaning an evil, corrupted Sith lord Obi-Wan, complete with red blade.
And it's the Guinness Obi. Why is the world so cruel?
The Death of Evil Obi-Wan (Kotaku)
Edit: One commenter adds that this makes about as much sense as a Dark Jesus. What an awesome idea. However, concern for my cheerful glowing soul keeps me from pursuing it further.
Well, I think this image speaks for itself. This immediately stuck out to me because I did the exact same experiment about six months ago and neglected to post about it. Too bad - I could have jumped the gun on these guys.
How Many AAAAs in Khaaaaaaaan? (flickr user Negatendo via BoingBoing)
See Spock Run (Children's Primer Idea)
The First Two Pages of the Book
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Jayisgames has started sucking a little lately, but their yearly list of the best online casual games is as good as ever. Here are a few of my absolute favorites:
Boxhead - The Zombie Wars (pictured above) - Sean Cooper's Boxhead games (particularly the "arena"-style ones) keep getting better, and The Zombie Wars is pretty much the sequel we all hoped for. The game's ability to pit you against dozens of encroaching foes (with less slowdown than you'd expect) makes this one of the most complete experiences this side of Flash. Turret guns and artillery round out the arsenal here, though the addition of teleporting and digging enemies makes building a base much more difficult this time around. Still, most of you will be here for the action and tension, areas where the game absolulutely delivers.
Bubble Tanks 2 - It's rare for a game to feature a real sense of exploration, so exploring the myriad spheres of Bubble Tanks 2 packs just enough childlike wonder to keep you playing. Ostensibly an action/shooter game, the real enjoyment of Bubble Tanks 2 comes from upgrading your ship and finding the really wacked-out enemies you'll fight the farther out you go. Like a more colorful, less contemplative flOw, this is a game of evolution and discovery.
Ginormo Sword - I can't honestly claim that I "liked" this game, but I spent way too long playing it. Is that the same thing? Crappy battle mechanics and design, addictive leveling scheme.
The Powder Game - It's still fantastic. Play with it, have some fun. Blow something up.
Good Things Should Never End (Orange Unlimited) - An endless digital playground. Collaborative content, webtoys and more strewn across an endless rainbow landscape. Therapeutic.
Three platformers with great action: A Sea Gull Company for its unique level design and pseudo-multiplayer mechanics, Meat Boy for its smooth control and great design, and Buggle Stars for keeping things fast and exciting (aside from the horrible bonus levels).
Cursor*10 - A mindblowing recursive game with a hidden component. This one's worth figuring out, as is the unrelated creative puzzler Applicate.
Fantastic Contraption - Far better than Incredibots in my book for its simple design, emphasis on community and satisfying puzzles. You won't believe some of the stuff you can create with this.
The Codex of Alchemical Engineering - This one's a little heady - a simple step-based puzzler wrapped up in pseudoscientific prose. Very casual programming with a satisfying feel.
Totem Destroyer - Probably the most visceral game on here. Like Arcade Jenga with a pagan twist.
Loops of Zen - A satisfying clickfest for visually-oriented people.
Alan Probe: Amateur Surgeon - This surgery simulator might not be everybody's bag - it's unintuitive and fairly juvenile - but I enjoyed it despite the occasional bug.
I'm a sucker for a good tower defense game, and I've already talked about them at length so suffice it to say the following earn my highest recommendation:
Bloons Tower Defense 3
Flash Element Tower Defense 2
Enjoy! These oughta keep you busy - maybe too busy.
Best of Casual Gameplay 2008 (Jayisgames.com)
Monday, January 12, 2009
Boston.com has constructed a pleasing display of ways to learn about your brain through experiencing immaterial constructions (read: hallucinate) without the aid of chemicals, legal or illegal. It's all very simple - very surreal ways of messing with the way your brain constructs reality.
The pictured one is my favorite, if only because the waking dream of the mad individual on the table looks like a They Might Be Giants record cover.
How to hallucinate with ping-pong balls and a radio (Boston.com via BoingBoing)
Monday, January 05, 2009
I suggest that the following postscripts be added to the following classic novels, for the sake of, in the words of 19th-century educator William Stiles, "Educating our child-ren in all matterf of proper moralf, con-duct and reafoning." With those words in mind, let's start with:
Moby Dick: When a great white whale bites off your leg, go out in a couple of weeks and bag the first whale you see. That should leave you feeling nicely avenged, and you'll save a lot of time and trouble.
Heart of Darkness: Nothing good ever happens in the jungle. Unless you're trying to discover the brutal soul of man you had best stay away.
Fahrenheit 451: In the future, television will be a nonstop barrage of nonsensical, violent images. Nobody will read anything thought-provoking or question the evil schemes of the elite. In other words, things will remain pretty much the same, but we'll have killer robot dogs.
Animal Farm: Work every day of your life, tirelessly building for the sake of society, and maybe if you're lucky they'll ship you out and make glue out of you before arthritis sets in.
Of Mice and Men: Watch how a guy handles puppies before you let him hang out with your wife. Possession of rabbits is not necessarily an indicator of happiness, but they're pretty cute so you should probably get some anyway before something terrible happens.
The Prince (Machiavelli): It's kinda difficult to write a book satirizing sociopathic megalomaniacs without writing a pretty effective how-to guide for - you guessed it - sociopathic megalomaniacs. Whoops!
Dante's Inferno: Hell is confusing and arbitrary, like an airport customs you can never leave. And no matter how many sequels you write about Heaven, nobody will ever hear about them because fire and brimstone is WAY more interesting.
Saturday, January 03, 2009
Friday, January 02, 2009
Some other Ben Stiller show clips
Thursday, January 01, 2009
So, we have this neat new thing called the Internet that provides up-to-the-minute free expression throughout the world, effectively making traditional ink-on-paper methods for getting your news more than outdated unless, y'know, a monitor hurts your eyes or you can't work your way around a URL.
The best webcomics are now better than the best newspaper comics, blog insight often penetrates deeper than mainstream media analysis, and "web publishers" can post as often as they like the very moment they have something fit for publication.
Now that we know our history, it's pretty much the definition of futility that a few isolated voices have proposed what amounts to a bailout of the newspaper industry. I know it's often a habit for Internet journalists (of which I am not, not really) to blow things out of proportion and rant at length, so I'll make one thing clear: most people aren't this stupid. The article says that much (though most of the people quoted have the wrong reason for not supporting a bailout). But some people are that stupid.