Salute to New York City

NYC Skyline

In memory of the events of 9/11, I’d like to share a quote from one of my favorite novels:

I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline. Particularly when one can’t see the details. Just the shapes. The shapes and the thought that made them. The sky over New York and the will of man made visible. What other religion do we need? … When I see the city from my window—no, I don’t feel how small I am—but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would like to throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body.

—Gail Wynand, from The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand

The attackers chose their targets for symbolic reasons. They chose the World Trade Center in New York City because it represents the greatness of human achievement, which the quote above emphasizes by asking “What other religion do we need?” The war they fight against us is a war against every value I hold dear: life—supported by reason, productiveness, and self-esteem.

Fight for these values explicitly, and we’ve already won the war of ideas.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Shrunken World

I had oral surgery this weekend, for some gum tissue grafts. The discomfort from it is much like being sick. My world is smaller as a result.

I have to exert more concentration to be able to operate, which wears me out. I am withdrawing even more so into my crabby shell.

I’m not able to eat a lot, or even exert myself physically. I had a good stretch of exercising for the last few weeks. Something I’d fit in during raidtime breaks. I look forward to continuing my progress towards improving my fitness.

Once I get healed up from this surgery, I have another one coming in less than 6 weeks, for a frenectomy, to correct for what was causing my gums to recede in the first place. I’ve had one before, and it should be far less of an ordeal.

More Proof of an Education Bubble

Good Graph Friday: What’s rising faster than health care? College costs. I have extended experience with these increasing educational costs, since I’ve spent so much of my life in school. In graduate school, even though I had a tuition waiver and a teaching stipend, it was not enough to cover my living expenses, so I even had to take out student loans–most of which was squandered in my first marriage.

I can only speculate about the cause of the largest driver of this increase in educational costs. Shrinking state education budgets are the first suspect in my eyes. Another place to poke around would be the massive capital vanity projects taking place on college campuses these days, where some donor pledges only a fraction of the cost towards a new building. All I can offer are questions, since I do not have ready access to the sort of data that would let me explore what’s going on.

The experience of a freshly-graduated student in the humanities these days must be one of carrying a huge debt load, and very poor prospects in being able to handle it. Sure, there are programs to forebear the payments, but the debt burden from student loans cannot be shrugged off with a bankruptcy. They remain for life until paid off. What are the alternatives now?

Anecdotally, I knew of several promising young students who chose to start their college education at a community college, citing increasing costs at more prestigious places. This is another avenue worth pursuing, and even advocating for. I’m also beginning to see a lot more competitive private college programs being advertised, promising to offer a superior education at a fraction of the costs of the more established schools.

I am spoiler immune

I enjoy a good story, and you can’t ruin it by telling me the ending. If a story is well written, then if I happen to know the ending, then that won’t deny my enjoyment of watching the events in the story unfold, it even enhances the process. I pay more attention to every side detail, wondering how it’s going to factor into the final events and climax.

The best stories are the ones that have an intelligible plot: a logical sequence of events that resolve in a climax. What drives these events and makes them logical? The characters in the story, they have their motives, and they’re involved in the plot through their interactions and conflicts with other characters.

It seems my line of thinking is shared by a lot of people, as evidenced in a recent study that shows that Spoilers don’t spoil anything.

Now, one famous “spoiler” going around in internet culture has to do with characters from the Harry Potter series. I haven’t even so much as seen the movies, but still knowing that Dumbledore dies in one of the books is supposed to completely prevent me from seeing the world that J. K. Rowling built up get torn down?

Another extreme concrete example from the real world: I work with several people who are spoiler phobic. They refuse to even look at the covers of TV show DVD collections, because they’re worried that the existence of a character on the cover would give something away to them. I’m personally working through the first season of Heroes, where there is heavy foreshadowing that Sylar is going to die by seasons’ end, yet he appears on following seasons’ set covers. That makes me more interested in seeing how he could possibly survive what the events seem to be leading towards.

Another thing the spoiler phobes are allergic to are the advertising pitches. How can you know anything about a story without it being a spoiler of some kind?

Terrible Typography

I’m a web developer in my day job. I work the front- and back-end, and I have to practice good typography as part of what I do.

My commute takes me by this piece of work at a car rental place:

Terrible Typography

The problems with this are many:

It’s some small consolation that the shop is out of business, but it has more to do with the lackluster California tourist industry, not the poor signage.

In the meantime, this will be an enduring collection of many of my pet peeves.

Edit: add link for Grocer’s Apostrophes

Another bad quarter for WoW subs

Via Wowhead News, Blizzard’s flagship MMO title, World of Warcraft (which I play), has lost another 300k subscribers.

This further confirms the anecdotal evidence that I’ve seen. Many of my friends that have played the game intensely with me and my guildmates have just stopped playing. I can only speculate as to what’s going on, which I will inflict on you.

Some possibilities:

While Blizzard developers were stating they wanted to make endgame content more challenging, much of it was by mechanics that penalized everybody for one person’s mistake. Many fights in the first tier of raid and heroic dungeon content had mechanics that had to be quickly dealt with by one person, or it meant a costly wipe. Examples are the slimes and fire ray in the Omnotron Council encounter; impaling Magmaw’s head in a timely manner, or blocking beams in the Corla, Herald of Twilight encounter. While devoted raiders can handle these mechanics, people who come on to play with their friends suffer the most, since the consequences for such easy failure tend work against the goal of having fun with your friends.

Blizzard also had the stated goal of making the game more accessible to players who are new to MMO games in general. The top executives at Blizzard liked to quote the stat that most people who start playing WoW never get beyond level 10. While I don’t have a demographic breakdown of who’s still around, I’d like to know if the game is indeed attracting and retaining more new players, but not able to make up for the veterans going away.

Blizzard made a front-loaded expansion. Most of the changes that went into the game were in the level 1-60 experience. The max-level endgame only had a handful of regular level 85 dungeons at launch, and not many more heroic versions. The raiding scene did start off with more original encounters, but done in a way that was tedious to get through. The spokesman for the guild Method had this to say about the first tier of content’s difficulty (via MMO-Champion):

Nefarian down, putting us at 13/13 (finally a breath of fresh air!!!). Thumbs up for the dedication shown by our raiding team. The current heroic difficulty of raiding is both enjoyable and demanding. We can all welcome, with open arms, the more challenging raid content, but the sheer quantity of content available since Cataclysm launch has required more time investment than ever before to remain competitive. Personally I would have welcomed a ‘reasonable’ gate-system or similar to allow for more real life time the past ~2months, especially with xmas/new years/exams etc. Taking a few day breaks over the festive period only to be notified that other guilds were currently raiding obviously wasn’t ideal!

This tier of raiding has unfortunately contained multiple bugs, with bosses like Atramedes, Sinestra, and Nefarian standing out. Sinestra had some notable issues for us; having infinite lines at Twilight orbs making progress prior to this current reset difficult. Twilight Flames properly spawning at the Egg locations in phase 1 was also fixed recently on the fight (can see they are non existent @ Paragon’s video). The issues on Nefarian are of more concern, with Blizzard seemingly overlooking certain class abilities on a key encounter mechanic. Unsure as to why it was waited with until after a guild had killed Nefarian before applying the fix, especially with “top guilds” apparently under surveillance, such delayed fixes are harmful to the ‘PvE race’.

Hoping that Blizzard can keep up with the quality of heroic raid difficulty while considering the quantity available and as always more vigorous encounter testing/monitoring.

In my guild’s case, we went from being able to fill 25-man raids with upwards of 5 standbys, down to being barely able to scrape a 10-man raid together after 2 months. People would quit playing the game without notice, or say that Real Life had reared its demanding head.

I’m still playing the game, but I find that other things are more interesting to me these days. The effort-to-reward ratio has reached the point where I can only afford to intensely work on one toon’s progress at endgame, and the other are profession bots. Consequently, playing the auction house meta-game ends up being more interesting to me. It’s a good thing that I have other means of getting in touch with my important in-game friends, since we’ve all expressed that we’re bored of the game.

My Sentiment Exactly

Today’s Coding Horror, Nobody’s Going to Help You, and That’s Awesome, is about how generally useless self-help books are. Now, self-help books are about as American as Apple Pie and the Pursuit of Happiness, but most of them are drivel (see Sturgeon’s Law).

I’ve been taking steps to climb out of a rut that I’ve dug myself into. I’ve been exercising regularly again, I’m coding recreationally—and not just in World of Warcraft—and now I’m going to take the concrete advice of that blog post, and write a short little email to myself every day about what I’m going through, as taken from 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot. The key is to take what is implicit, abstract and unformed in your mind, and make it explicit and concrete.

Some of my recent troubles have been caused by implicit abstractness taking a life of its own, and this exercise was just what I needed a long time ago in order to stem this off.

Some Quick Thoughts on Artificial Intelligence

I had read and filed away Why Minds Are Not Like Computers, which has revived some of my past mulling over what the problems with Artificial Intelligence are.

At root in the current debate as to whether AI is achievable is the soul-body dichotomy, i.e., “Mind is software, brain is hardware”.

I’m convinced the modern approach to AI is on the wrong track. Intelligence is our means of survival as humans. It is used in the service of our lives, which happens to be by means of solving problems related to meeting the requirements of life. As far as the popular scientific press goes, it seems like AI studies all focus on solving “interesting” problems, like pathfinding, or stomping on human opponents on Jeopardy.

I think it would be a fruitful line of research to develop autonomous artificial life, give it a survival condition, and let that new entity figure things out on its own. That would be the truest form of AI there is.