Category Archives: Uncategorized

Warning: political post. (But not party political, so its ok!).

I am, as someone very interested in politics (mostly because I’m the designer of Democracy 3) Increasingly distressed by the phenomena that I notice both in the UK, and the US, of what I’m going to call the infantilization of politics. What I mean by this, is the way in which political argument and debate on issues is reduced to a level where critical thinking and analysis is non existent, and becomes based entirely around personalities, appearances, memes and humour. The phenomena has got worse in recent years with the spread of twitter and facebook and reddit, and similar sites to the extent that most political discourse now seems to be reduced to short form (in twitter, alarmingly so) one-liner jabs and jokes, rather than actual analysis of any topic.

Why actually bother explaining why you disagree with the tax policies of Donald Trump when you can just post this:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures and declares "You're fired!" at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, June 17, 2015. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX1GZCO

Why bother dissecting the economic policy of George Osborne when you can just paste this:

os

This is how children behave, but increasingly its also how adults who think they are making political arguments behave. Why?

As I see it, there are three forces at play. One is the development of the professional politician. The second is the shortening of political argument required by social media, and the third is the reinforcement of social bubbles allowed by selective ‘blocking’ and ‘friends-lists’ that is a feature of social media.

The Pro Politician.

There was a time when politics was not a career that people embarked upon from the very start, but something they swapped to late in their career. US president Jimmy Carter served in the Navy, then ran a farm before entering politics.  Ronald Reagan was 56 when he became governor of California. UK politicians like Alan Johnson and John Prescott had careers before parliament, and this was not considered unusual, but recently, especially in the UK, politicians have come from an extremely narrow social group. That group in the UK is so narrow that you can describe it not only as a single pair of universities, but also a specific course (PPE, or politics, philosophy and economics) and in some cases, membership of a specific university drinking club.

bullingdon

In short, the pool from which politicians are being chosen seems to be shrinking. The US is no different, we get a Bush, then son of Bush, a Clinton then Wife of Clinton, and need we even mention the Kennedy clan? A vast country with hundreds of millions of citizens, but the voting options are often the wife/son/relative of the last leader.

This seems to be a problem because these people do not understand a life outside politics. That sense of total detachment from the ordinary voter is leading voters to feel that all politicians, be they left or right or anywhere in-between, are from a ‘political class’ that neither relates to the, or understands them. As a result, politicians are despised, hated and treated as the enemy. because of this, there is no need to ‘engage’ with politics on an intellectual level. The average voter now thinks its fine to mock, ridicule and treat politicians like idiots, and its actually considered weird to take any other view towards them. When respect for politicians nosedives, we all get dragged down into the gutter.

The Short Argument

Would you like to hear my views on the top rate of tax? I could tell you, but I need more than 128 characters to do it in. In fact I probably need several pages, but of course, you wouldn’t read that because frankly, who does in 2016? There is a reason so many people add ‘TL;DR’ to articles (too long, didn’t read). Political points of view are often nuanced, complex, and in need of expansion and clarification, but sadly our attention-deficit society cannot cope with this any more. We killed of true journalism by refusing to pay for it, so what we get now is clickbait. The pound/dollar drops a bit? THE SKY IS FALLING! it reverses slightly? ECONOMY SOARS! Nothing less will get any clicks.

tips

Most arguments are nuanced. There is a reasonable argument to retain nuclear weapons, and a reasonable argument to disarm unilaterally. Perfectly rational and sensible countries have taken each route. The trouble is, try explaining either argument in 128 characters and you basically get “I love nuclear war” up against “I love peace and flowers”. It’s not that simple, and it never was. Soundbites were bad, but twitter makes them even worse.

Added to this, people are not simple stereotypes. I know some people online think I’m an Ayn-Rand reading free-market loving libertarian fruitcake. Some others think I’m a tree-hugging communist. I’m neither. I’m probably 75% capitalist, 25% socialist,  90% environmentalist, 50% libertarian, 60% liberal and 100% atheist. That isn’t a viewpoint you can condense to a single article, let alone a page, and don’t even consider making it a tweet. Even my views on Nuclear power (I’m against mostly in practice, but not in theory, and mostly relating to time v climate change, cost & waste, and also depending on liability, proliferation concerns and security provision) don’t fit easily into a tweet. The chances of really learning what an individual feels about political issues unless you are a close friend who regularly discusses such topics with them are close to zero, but we have forgotten all that. We simply put people into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and make no attempt to reach out and change minds. Politics should be about nuanced views, but people treat it like football teams. And if you dare move a few centimetres away from your team, its amazing how rabidly the team turns on you.

blue

The Social Bubble.

And that leads us to the third depressing factor in all this: The social bubble. Reddit is a perfect example. The consensus amongst certain subreddits is that Jeremy Corbyn is going to lead the UK Labour Party to victory. He will not (the polls make that clear), but if all your friends think he will, you will tend to start believing it, and its never been easier to screen out the views of dissent. People live in geographic bubbles as it is, but combine that with a facebook friends list and a twitter-follow list of only people who think like you and your ability to listen to opposing views will diminish to the point of extinction. Lets also not forget the whole ‘no-platform’ movements, deliberately opposed to letting other views be heard. When it become so ‘dangerous’ to let opinions be heard?

platform

I think we all need to be on guard against a new type of cognitive bias. Not just a confirmation-bias as we have understood in the past, but a turbo-charged confirmation bias where we are not only actively seeking out confirmation of our views, but have set up filters so we do not even know a contrary view exists. Walking out of a bar because some people in it have opposing views is bad enough. Turning on a filter that renders those people invisible to you is way worse. This is dangerous. Not being open to hearing the views of people who disagree with you is a route towards loss of empathy, and not to get all yoda, but a loss of empathy leads to cruelty, indifference, and much worse. Dehumanizing people because they are not in ‘your tribe’ is a terrible way to behave, and only fear of the cliche of godwins law prevents me joining up the dots here.

Everyone should make it their mission to cultivate some friends who hold different views. I follow people on twitter who make my eyes roll every time I see their political tweets, but doing so is good for me. If you auto-block and unfriend people because their politics is different you are only hurting yourself. And if you outsource the blocking of people to online lists of ‘bad’ people, thats even worse.

Lets all try and actually listen to the other point of view for a change.

 

Ok, so there were people who said WTF when Facebook bought Instagram for a BILLION dollars in 2012, saying how on earth can it be worth that? They had a point. Instagram had 13 employees. Yup, that was not a typo, THIRTEEN. By contrast, for example, Comptacenter PLC has the same market cap and employs 12,993 people. Yup, a single instagram member of staff was worth 1,000 people at computacenter. That was insane.

But today I hear that linkedin has been bought for 26 billion dollars. Lets put 26 billion in perspective.

Thats more than the market cap of Associated British Foods, a company that employs 124,000 people, has 6 million square feet of retail space, owns twinings, ovaltine and primark, was established in 1935 and now has 200 stores.

Thats more than the GDP of Estonia, Uganda, El Salvador or Latvia.

Linkedin has 9,000 staff, and presumably some buildings, and a great big email list, which, lets be honest contains a LOT of peoples details like me, who tried and tried and tried again to stop the damned company spamming me before eventually setting up an email filter to nuke any mention of the damned company, as the only way to stop the endless spam.

So a spammers database, and a website, and presumably some office chairs, some name recognition 9although not all positive, by any means). And thats worth 26 Billion dollars.

The thing is, other companies worth 26 billion have something tangible. Associated British Foods has a lot of physical assets. Even if the company became associated with pure evil, you can still break it up, sell the buildings and recover some of the capital, but when it comes down to it, linkedin is a social network. A SOCIAL network. And these never go out of fashion do they?

myspace

Newscorp paid 12 Billion for myspace in 2007. Then they ended up selling it for 35 million four years later. Yup…these things happen eh?

This acquisition seems to me to be the kind of thing massive tech CEOs do in order to feel big and important. Its not a sensible purchase, its a bullshit valuation (oh BTW have I mentioned that linkedin makes NO money. All ikts done so far is burn through investors cash. Literally you would be better off owning Positech than Linkedin), and I’m not at all surprised Microsofts stock dropped a bit on the news. This is a case of big tech having surplus cash and not having a clue what to do with it.

I have a suggestion for all the tech CEO’s who don’t know what to do with the spare cash.

Pay some tax.

Or actually build something tangible with it. Facebook and Apple are at least investing in some physical infrastructure in the form of their own renewable energy to power their datacenters. Tesla is investing in a big battery factory (very big!). 26 billion dollars can achieve a hell of a lot. You could build the severn barrage in the UK, a renewable power source that would last roughly 120 years. You could develop a 76 acre urban complex in Las Vegas:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CityCenter  TWICE.

But no, why not buy linkedin, they have a big email list. Thats way easier, their offices are just down the street.

Is this the ‘big thinking’ that CEOs get their big salaries for?

 

An Englishman in New York

March 25, 2016 | Filed under: Uncategorized

Yay. I went to New York. It was pure sightseeing. I saw times square, and went up the rockafeller tower thing. We rode in yellow cabs and drank ‘coffee’. We laughed at people who thought we were Australian. We got used to saying ’76th and Madison*’, like in the movies. We even saw people filming ‘a new NBC pilot’ in the streets, just like they do in the movies. Also we saw woody allen play jazz. It was cool. I was impressed with the fire hydrants. I was less impressed that in 2016 some hotels employ people as ‘elevator attendants’. I’m a C++ coder, I can handle a fucking button. I also marveled at the insane cost of room service tea, and the intensely groomed nature of pedigree dogs in ‘central park’.

God I miss real trees and hills, and nice views of sheep, and horses. And QUIET.

Its always interesting to see different cultures, partly because as an indie dev, I sell GLOBALLY. Understanding what variety there is among your customers is pretty important. The UK & USA are very different. I saw a hot dog stand with a sign that read ‘If you enjoy your freedom, thank a veteran’, which is interesting, because you would NEVER see that on a burger van in the UK. Which veterans do I thank? all of them? did the Vietnam war secure my freedom? I’m unsure. I’m also confused that a society so obsessed with freedom won’t let me just cross an empty road, and seems to revel in some petty rules, regulations and restrictions. I’m sure the UK seems mad as fuck to New Yorkers too, its just interesting.

Anyway… I probably checked my work email too much for a ‘holiday’ but that’s because I have new DLC for something coming up, new DLC for something else coming up, A new game (D3:Africa), new translations for old games, another new game (Shadowhand), new websites, another new game (Top secret) and probably a dozen other things, including a trip to the European Parliament to talk about Democracy 3. (Cool huh?).

Right now my main concern is how much battery loss my car has experienced while I’m away. Also, must remember which side of the road to drive on, when the car isn’t handling it.

*Given the relative smallness of New York vs coruscant in the star wars prequels, what addresses do they give? “Take me to the Jedi Temple, 445,234th and Madison”. Seems a bit wordy?

 

 

A month later: The electric car

January 31, 2016 | Filed under: Uncategorized

So last year I treated myself to my dream car, a black Tesla model S. An 85D, to be precise (Range was my top priority, not speed, as I live in a rural location). So I’ve owned it for about a month, here is my thoughts on what its like. First the bad, then the good.

tesla

BAD:

The range is NOT as good as they claim. This shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, MPG figures are bullshit, as has been definitively proven, but its still a bit of a disappointment. Without acting like an asthmatic snail, I can happily just jump in and drive 200 miles, which means I can go to London AND back without worrying about recharging anywhere. Still…it would be good to have a higher figure, AND to see more transparency from Tesla on the real world range.

The in-car maps for the satnav are NOT that good if you live somewhere rural. They are dependent on internet connection, and that isn’t that good here. To be fair, the actual sat nav is better than my previous car, AND it has voice-aware satnav that *works* so I can say ‘Drive to Oxford’, and it will set up the satnav without me once taking my eye off the road, which is cool.

Its BIG. It’s much too big a car for me. I don’t need this space, and it means that I have to be a bit careful when parking. UK roads are not as wide, I live down a country lane, in an ideal world, it would be 20% smaller all-round.

Actually recharging at public charging points is a pain. They all (except teslas) require swipe-cards from different networks, and they charge some fees. How about a universal system that just lets me pay with a flipping contactless card please? Tesla may well fix this over time as they build more superchargers and make the older networks redundant.

t2

GOOD:

Holy fuck it shifts. I have no idea how ANYONE can have a need for a P90D which apparently has twice the acceleration. Its like owning an X-wing fighter. I think it’s 0-60 in 4.6 seconds? It feels damn fast.

The in-car GUI is just phenomenal. The huge screen quickly becomes normal. I cant imagine going back to a car with a smaller screen or without a touch-interface now. The parking sensors (I have the autopilot option) are amazing, drawing a kind of ‘shield-bubble’ around your car as it approaches things. The energy readout, the rear-camera, all of it is just amazing.

Charging at home is just so convenient. I only plug it in every other day or so, but my car always leaves my house close to 100% full. Its no hassle, easy, and dirt cheap. I actually think the (trivial) cost of getting a car charger installed at the house will pay for itself easily by added value, as everyone with a parking spot is going to end up doing this. It’s awesome.

The phone app is cool, when it connects quickly. Again..I’m rural. But being able to tell my car to warm up because I’m going out soon is awesome. plus the car-finder nav means I never forget where its parked.

Autopilot. This car has traffic-aware cruise control, self-steering and auto-parking. Its like living in the future. Granted its not 100% there yet, and you have to keep your eyes on it, but cruising along a main road at night at 70MPH with no foot on a pedal and no hand on the wheel as you watch it smoothly and perfectly steer around corners is just amazing. It can be a bit scary, and tbh I rarely totally take my hands off the wheel, but its still amazing.

Insurance. This car cost more than double what my last one did, and my insurance went DOWN. Methinks this is a very very safe car.

So yeah…in short its fucking awesome, but then it should be for the price. The good news is the Model 3 is on the way, which will be half the price of the S, and I suspect a MUCH better deal. I just couldn’t wait that long :D

 

 

 

I worry that the creation and more importantly, the ownership of original content is becoming a minority sport. I believe very strongly in the free market, and the ‘perfect market, and in small business, widespread distribution of ownership, and other seemingly abstract things. For me, the scariest part of ‘Alien’ isn’t the monster, but the way people refer to weyland yutani as ‘the company’, because there is only one. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, or to put it another way, monopoly companies screw the customers.

wy

The thing is, it seems increasingly like people consider personal ownership of content ‘too much trouble’. A LOT of content is being created, for sure, but who actually owns all of it? the strong likelihood is…you don’t.

Your really popular youtube channel? thats owned by google. Your twitch stream followers? yup, owned by twitch. Your friends? I think you will find facebook own them. And these days if you are one of these young people I keep reading about, your sex life is probably mostly owned and managed by tindr or grindr or other apps ending in ‘r’. If you go so far as to actually have a blog, rather than just facebooking stuff, then its probably hosted by ‘medium’ or gamasutra, or some other blogging company with small print and Terms & Conditions so long you never read them. Your opinions are not yours either, they are indexed and cataloged and stored and owned by facebook, twitter, disquss and all those forums you comment on.

Doesn’t this scare you a bit?

Naomi Klein wrote in No Logo about the privatization of social spaces. basically in the 1800s, we would meet our buddies in the town square. In the 2000s, we met at the mall, which was private space, with security guards who could throw you out for wearing the wrong clothes or behaving in a way they didn’t like. In the 2010s, that ‘public space’ is facebook or similar, where the security guards are invisible, but you can bet your ass they are still there.

town

The companies that have started owning our thoughts, dreams, opinions, shopping lists and diaries, are doing a superb job, because they realize that convenience trumps everything else. They have made it so easy to turn over our lives to them that we have done so en-masse. Thats fine, as long as you and the company are friends. When the two of you fall out….well maybe you just shouldn’t?

I can pretty much say what the fuck I like on this blog. I work for myself so no company has muzzled me. This copy of wordpress is hosted on my server, not by wordpress. The server is rented from a 3rd party, which theoretically could yank my site if I started inciting race riots or something, but we are going out on a limb a bit there. Much more importantly, this article is written by ME, its owned by ME. Its not going to be published legally in some book without my permission, not re-printed by a reputable site without my permission. I won it. Its a trivial, passing thought typed up by a guy in his office on a Sunday afternoon, but I own it, I control it, its mine, and to me, thats very very important.

Take a moment to evaluate how much of your life is being managed by private companies you do not control.