Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Carnival Continues

As democratic governments continue to try to stretch the bounds of human depravity, we take this moment to point out some of the absurdities of today's social order.

According to the OECD  the United States' government spending was 38.1% of GDP. What this means, of course, is that the United States government was responsible for 38.1% of the consumption in the economy. Whether the money was being either shuffled around at gun point or simply created from nothing, it doesn't matter. The money was being spent by people who did not have to do anything to obtain it. Think about that for a minute: at least 38.1% of spending was performed by people who didn't earn the power to dispose of that purchasing power by creating something of value.

Of course, GDP equations are nonsense. Just assuming government spending adds to economic output at a 1:1 ratio along with all other spending is an assumption we just can not accept. We would not accept the idea that spending necessarily adds to social welfare. If that spending does not come along with its naturally associated cause, production and savings, then it is pure consumption with no productive value. Not all decisions are created equal, and not all resource expenditures are desirable from a long run perspective. Only decisions which are sound and not wasteful in the long run are those which actually qualify as wealth producing decisions.

We don't really understand how governments and central banks think these kinds of conditions are sustainable. We are pretty sure they don't believe this: they simply must continue the charade as long as possible.

One thing we are certain of, is that until humans are willing to allow the social order to evolve as it naturally must, the discovery process of trial and error inherent to economic calculation can not function. We are optimistic that some day this will happen, but right now the belief in authority is consolidating its position.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

None of Us is as Dumb as All of Us

People love to talk about the 'combined knowledge' of group of random or similarly skilled people, and supposedly how setting that group to focus on and tackle a singular goal can achieve greater knowledge and understanding. Of course, this ignores all of the psychological research done and history in trying to understand the destructive collective phenomenon of groupthink, and the publicly-traded corporate world (which I thankfully escaped) really did me in, big-time on this whole concept. It's used often in 'team building exercises' (ugh), corporate outings (puke), and democratic-styled decision-making (double-puke). The idea is that if in a group of 5 people, each person has 20% of 'knowledge', that 5 people x 20% knowledge equals 100% combined knowledge, right?
But they don't qualify the knowledge. The logic assumes they've all got unique, specialized knowledge, when that's very, very rarely the case. So let's have some fun with this bizarro-world 'combined knowledge' logic, huh? It's very likely that out of 5 random or similarly skilled people, they each have 20% similar or the same knowledge. If we must talk about their 'combined knowledge', then what about their 'combined ignorance'? If you've got 5 people, each person with 20% 'knowledge', then by extension they also have 80% ignorance. By the logic, here, 5 people x 80% equals 400% combined ignorance.

No wonder this stuff turns out to be such a mess, and I'm actually fine with this old pseudo-maxim as long as the other side of the coin is presented.

So if we're to have more rigorous logic with this, then maybe it'll look better with averages instead, right? Actually, it still comes out to look like a bad idea. If you've got 5 people with about 20% knowledge each, then that leaves you with, naturally, about 20% knowledge in a group. However, now you've got a lot more hands in the pot and people wanting to feel 'important' or 'useful'. You've now made that ineffective 20% knowledge even less effective than it was in the first place. Now, take this logic, and expand it to a democracy of over 230 million eligible voters, or hundreds of representatives, and what do you get? Fucking chaos, that's what.

Great movie this scene taken from, by the way.

Indeed, none of us is as dumb as all of us.

I can hear it all, already. "Hey, Steve, you're such a negative nancy! All I hear are criticisms, Steve, with no solutions! At least we're trying! What do you suggest, then?!"

Oh, you're a good little corporate or state drone, aren't you? Ah, and I bet your 'intentions are good', too, right? Yeah, I know it feels good -- but you're still wrong. I do have a suggestion, actually, and it's not particularly controversial or special. Stop trying to impose your decisions and subjective value judgements on other people with your measly 20% 'knowledge'. If you have 20% 'knowledge' and want to properly get something done, hire a professional, or at least find someone with more knowledge than you to do it or figure it out, or get your ass to 60%, 70%, or 90% knowledge before you DIY. Don't let other people with the same or less knowledge than you be able to dictate or mix their hands in the pot of the work to be done. Acknowledge and embrace the all-important comparative advantages and division of labor and have specialized tasks done by specialized people in a marketplace.

See? Easy peasy -- and it didn't even take any tax-funded 'studies' to figure it out.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Review for No Man's Sky on the Playstation 4

Every once in a while you just gotta take a break from all of the political bullshit and stop to smell the roses. And by roses, sometimes that means digital roses. And by smelling, sometimes that means with your eyes and your ears. Or something.

No Man's Sky (also referred to as NMS) is a Playstation 4 game (also just released on Windows PC) that has been in development for over 5 years by an indie developer named Hello Games, which consists of a small team of 15 highly talented and creative people and headed up by boss and frontman Sean Murray (who's quite the humble and disarming dude). With multiple delays, the weight of ever-increasing expectations from the mainstream press and gaming community and a massive hype train barreling forward such as which the world has rarely seen in the videogame industry -- it was a project almost beginning to look like another depressing example of vaporware doomed to crumble under its own weight, bearing down on the small team. It was a herculean effort, but by golly, they did it.


First, a few things. I haven't come close to 'beating the game' (whatever that means, anyways), but I've played a lot since it was released and have a pretty good handle on how everything is and where it's going. There doesn't seem to be much of a 'story', so much as tons of 'lore'. Personally, I like this and think it fits more with this style of game, but some people may not. The lore is solid enough, too -- it's not overly cheesy, unoriginal and flat like you'd find in your typical sci-fi videogame, and seems to be more along the lines of the kind of philosophical, abstract foundation you'd find in a decent sci-fi book. The heaviest inspirations fall clear from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the general '50s to '80s space sci-fi era. On the lighter side, you'll find inspirations from franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars. As a genre, it's harder to nail down (like an increasing number of games these days) -- NMS is a lore-filled open world 'sandbox' focusing on survival, exploration, discovery, and trade, with a sprinkling of light combat -- lighter on the FPS side, slightly heavier on the space-sim dog-fighting side.

If you're interested in seeing more screens from No Man's Sky, you can see my full gallery here. Now, onto the review in an easily digestible, nutritious format. It's just Like soylent green!

The Good
  • The game really does an amazing job of conveying an absolutely massive, unheard of scale to everything. There are 18 quintillion procedurally generated planets. That's an 18, with 18 zeros after it. Let that sink in for a moment.
  • Many have described the game as having an immense feeling of 'loneliness'. I know where they're coming from, and to an extent, I agree -- but I don't find the word to be entirely accurate. A more appropriate word is 'virginness'. In most cases you'll be both the first and last person to visit and explore an entire planet with its own climate conditions, flora, and fauna. It's a feeling you have to experience to really appreciate.
  • And of course, you can name any of the flora, fauna, planets, moons, and star systems you discover. They get uploaded to the game's server and any player who comes across it will see anything you've named and discovered, with your account name next to it.
  • The 3D graphics and visual effects are, in a word, sublime. This is by far my favorite game to screenshot.
  • The ambient music, which is also procedurally generated (to an extent) according to the scenery and situation, sounds really great. It fits very well, and has a solid space sci-fi, Mass Effect-ey kind of sound to it. 
  • The procedurally generated worlds and creatures are varied enough, although it can be quite clear they are all 'coming from the same place' -- that being a computer algorithm that deforms, recolors, and retextures (within certain parameters) a bunch of hand-made presets. This all still looks great and there's no way I can hold this against them considering current technological limitations and the size of the design team at Hello Games.
  • The procedurally generated animations for the procedurally generated creatures interacting with the procedurally generated landscape looks mostly natural, with only some minor clipping issues every once in a while.
  • The variability of challenge is solid enough. Some planets will be very relaxing, with bountiful resources and a pleasant environment. They'll feel 'safe'. Others can be an legitimate challenge, with extreme, harsh climates and effects, hostile life, aggressive sentient machines, and far less resources needed to survive. These planets will severely punish you for mistakes and overconfidence, making you stress out on if you'll make it back to your ship before you succumb to it all. One minute could have you and your inventory filled to the brim with needed resources and protection -- the next will have you genuinely worried if the planet is going to eat you alive.
  • The transitions from planet to space, moon, other planets, and back again is seamless and looks, sounds, and feels great.
  • The open nature of the game allows for solid, personal, emergent storytelling of exploration and survival.
  • The potential for patched-in, free, and paid DLC for this game is absolutely immense. Soon we're going to have volumetric clouds, and already Sean Murray is talking about base-building and your own personal freighters.  I also foresee a future with a much-needed 'snapshot mode' a la The Last of Us and Doom.
  • The No Man's Sky subreddit is really something. It's a giant magical factory of hilarious memes, great stories from players' experiences in the game, beautiful screenshots, and a helpful community for players with hints and tips.
As a side note, you can tell that even with all of 'The Good' parts to its whole, that it is even still somehow more than the sum of its parts. Sean Murray and his team at Hello Games clearly really put their heart and soul into this, and at the very least, for that alone, my hat is off to them.

The Bad
  • Some bugs on the PS4. I've had the game crash about 30% of the time while trying to warp to another system. This is far too high, and kind of an annoying problem. A couple times I've also had serious clipping issues such as 'falling through the world' and getting stuck, having to reload a save, as well as pulse-jumping into an Atlas Station, requiring another reload. 
  • 'Finding nearby discovered systems' in the galaxy map doesn't seem to work with finding my old systems, nor can I remove waypoints that I've set to other systems.
  • Some silly, unintuitive design decisions on the GUI and controls that really should have been fixed or implemented. You can't change control schemes or bindings. While the galaxy view looks great -- it's very clunky and doesn't work quite as it should at times. I can't find some old discovered systems or planetary locations to go back to and can't set any of them as a waypoint from the discoveries menu. You can't change temperatures from Celsius to Fahrenheit. All seemingly very simple stuff that should not be an issue.
  • The developers apparently thought you were too stupid to learn how to actually fly your ship on a planet, so they took away any option for advanced flight controls altogether, limiting you to extremely basic flying and an inability to hover in place. Maybe it's a kind of game design limitation, but it's still a let-down.
  • These guys really need an editor. Far too many typos and grammatical mistakes which can be immersion breaking even at the worst possible times such as when 'the lore' advances.
  • You can't fly near the sun, no matter how long you try. Trust me, I've tried, as have others. It's a fucking skybox.
  • The No Man's Sky subreddit is really something, along with Sean Murray's non-answer answers.

The Ugly
  • The PC version, by user reviews and community comments, seems to be absolutely unplayable for far too many people at release. Technically irrelevant with regards to the PS4 version, but it should still be noted. Your mileage may vary.
  • Boss and frontman Sean Murray explicitly stated numerous times that you would be able to meet other players, however extremely unlikely that would be. On the first day, two players did what was necessary to meet eachother, but it was not possible. It does not seem to be the case that you can actually meet, and he has utterly avoided answering questions on this head-on. Make of this what thou wilt. There are also a few other controversial issues, one example being with him claiming that technically you'd be able to fly directly from system to system, though you'd never want to, and it would take forever, when in fact the Hyperdrive warp is a loading screen, and you can't even fly near your own sun (again, it's a fucking skybox).
  • The No Man's Sky subreddit is really something. The vitriol and hate slung personally at the NMS fan community, Hello Games and, in particular, Sean Murray, can be really, really disheartening. There are some very, very bitter and nasty trolls out there.


So considering all of this, should you buy No Man's Sky? Well, that depends. 

If you are primarily a CoD fan (even the so-called 'sci-fi' Advanced and Infinite Warfare versions) and those are the only kinds of games you like, where you want to kill shit and blow it up with non-stop action and excitement, then no -- do us all a favor, stay the fuck away from NMS. You will most certainly find the game 'boring', and to top it off we're going to have to hear about much you think the game 'sucks', even though it wasn't designed for that kind of experience. If you go through No Man's Sky, rushing to the end, not caring about and ignoring the lore, not caring about 'stopping to smell the roses' often, and trying to 'beat the game' as quickly as you can -- you're probably going to have a bad experience. And while I have yet to beat the game, myself, it looks to be building towards a deeper message relating to this.

However, if you're a huge sci-fi fan and are okay with or prefer a more 'deliberate' and generally 'chill' experience and have retained a sense of imagination and wonder, then buy this shit, right the fuck now. Yes, in spite of its (glaring) flaws, 'The Good' most certainly, hands-down overweighs 'The Bad' and 'The Ugly'. Plus, we know that most, if not all, of the issues brought up will be fixed, and the game will be greatly expanded over the years. Hell, this is too much of a cash cow for Sean Murray and Hello Games to pass up patching, hooking people in with free DLC, and releasing paid DLC, to not do this.

If you're in between those two, then your mileage may vary. Even then, I would still say it's worth at least a sale price of at least 20% off for its originality alone, as long as you've still got a sense of wonder and imagination going on.

In short, the experience of playing No Man's Sky is a slow burn, akin to a controlled, delayed orgasm through tantric sex, while playing a game like Call of Duty is more along the lines of having a quickie. Some people experience premature ejaculation and can only have quickies, and hey, that's fine and all -- while others, well... they have room in their repertoire for and know that there's a time and place both.

The Final Verdict

Initially, my gushing for this game was getting the best of me and made me want to give it a whopping 9.0 out of 10. After discussing it all a bit more on reddit, a rereading of my own review, and some reflection, I've recalibrated myself and adjusted my score accordingly. A score of 9.0 out of 10 is what it could have and should have been according to what was promised -- but primarily due to some missed expectations, a lack of a couple promised features (that IMO don't really detract from the intended experience), bugs, and some other silly elements I noted, I have adjusted the score down one point.

8.0/10, would still tantric sex the galaxy again.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Can you #FeelTheJohnson?

Word on the street is that there are some very serious Republican names (and thusly attached money and political capital) who are part of the #neverTrump 'movement' that are planning to endorse Gary Johnson and Bill Weld on the Libertarian Party ticket, this month. It seems the plan might be to stagger the endorsements to generate maximum hype and media attention so that it 'takes' with staunch anti-Trump conservatives and Republicans. 

Good ole Gary Johnson, bless his heart.

These folks, and I'm sure many other Republicans and conservatives who (understandably) despise Trump, have a strong need for an outlet and need a vote to cast and be counted -- even if it's a reluctant one for the LP (which is the only other party that will be on the ticket in all 50 states, by the way). Of course, I have no problem not voting, or protest-voting third party because it might feel good for a moment -- but for these folks, the idea of 'not voting' is against everything they believe in -- especially since it legitimizes a 'non-tactic tactic' (not voting) which they always rail against. You know, that ole chestnut of, "If you don't vote, you have no right to complain," which is a bunch of bullshit, anyways.

But let's get back on track, here. A recent FOX News Poll had Johnson pulling 12% against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, which is above and beyond the best numbers the Libertarian Party has pulled in its entire history. In addition, polling suggests that either Johnson pulls equally from both Trump and Clinton, or that, surprisingly enough, he actually hurts Clinton more than Trump. Considering this, mixed in with the fact that Trump and Clinton are both some of the most polarizing and hated candidates in US history, shows that we are absolutely at a crossroads for the Libertarian Party. If we don't capitalize on the chaos these two gloriously vilified candidates have wrought, then it will be an unbelievably missed opportunity for libertarians. You've got to strike while the iron is hot.

Yes, yes -- I know. I can see the howling and screeching surrounding this situation by libertarians, already...

"Gary Johnson and Bill Weld aren't libertarians! They're failed Republicans!"

"We ('we'? who's this 'we', suddenly?) don't need nor want the endorsement from failed and washed-up conservative shills!"

"The Libertarian Party, Johnson and Weld will have to basically sell their souls to work with and capitalize on such endorsements! They might help in the short-term,but they will hurt in the long-term!"

"These are rats abandoning the sinking ship of the Republican Party! Don't let them on our ship when it's making its maiden voyage!"

I can see this stuff being said because it's what I would say -- but hear me out. Yes, Gary Johnson and Bill Weld are extremely imperfect 'libertarians', and Weld even moreso -- but this is still a huge and much needed boost for the Libertarian Party (which I also recognize doesn't necessarily represent all 'libertarians'). Hell, this could snowball to see other big names throw an endorsement their way -- maybe even some Hillary-hating democrats. Unlikely, of course, but it's a nice thought to entertain for a moment.

In the end, this should really give Johnson at least the 3% boost he needs to reach 15% support in the general election so he can get in on the debates -- and that's what matters, here. The Libertarian Party is not going to win, and I don't think anyone has any delusions about that -- but it would really be something to see even such an imperfect libertarian voice up there against the ubiquitously vilified Trump and Clinton. It's not really about the election or actually voting for the LP ticket -- it's about getting the word out and showing people that there is an alternative way to look at everything -- not just in who to vote for, but much more importantly -- to be exposed a radically different, and yet cohesive set of ideas and political philosophy to get intrigued by and start digging into more on their own. That they no longer have to shoehorn themselves in to a 'red' or 'blue' tribe and adopt political positions they don't really believe in or would otherwise support simply for the sake of identitarian political maneuvering.

And this is a big one, as bittersweet as it is -- but these kinds of endorsements mean that we've entered the mainstream.  It's no longer merely on the fringes where only fringe-folk skulk around in (at least that was the perception, and you and I both know it). The social capital gained is immense, creating increased opportunity for achieving critical mass.

All we need to do is show everyone the rabbit hole, and some of them won't be able to help but start to peer in -- and the General Election debates will give us the widest audience and the biggest opportunity to do that. This is the long game we're playing, here, and we can't be short-sighted and let the perfect be the enemy of the good. As Sun Tzu says, "Opportunities arise as you seize them."

I know it's outside of our comfort zone, and it's not usually something we would do, but this election has put a lot of different people in a bit of an uncomfortable position, for different reasons, hasn't it? Let me be uncomfortable with you, for just this moment. Let's make #FeelTheJohnson a thing. Don't you want to #FeelTheJohnson? Don't you? Come on.

Ah, there we go. Now that wasn't so bad... was it?

The Rise of 3D Printing pushes the State closer to the Absurd Logical Conclusions of Intellectual Property and Copyright

The UK has just changed its copyright-and-patent monopoly law to extend copyright to furniture and to extend the term of that copyright on furniture with about a century. This follows a decision in the European Union, where member states are required to adhere to such an order. This change means that people will be prohibited from using 3D printing and other maker technologies to manufacture such objects, and that for a full century.

The people selling these copies are not necessarily “scam merchants”. Everybody knows they’re copies and not Vitra or Herman Miller originals. […] But – is there really £6800+ worth of value in the Vitra product? Or are they just charging that because they can? Who’s the scam merchant?
A relevant question indeed. Where’s the real scam when something designed 50 years ago is suddenly off limits to 3D printing and home manufacturing, requiring people to buy it at a 2000% markup instead?

Read the full article by the good folks over at Private Internet Access (a great and important kind of company) covering this issue, here.

Looks like yet another reason to finally abolish copyright and intellectual property, if you ask me. The only ones who will really win out in the grand scheme of things with laws in place for IP and copyright are the state, lawyers, and special interests.

The concept of private property was created and evolved to more easily minimize, manage and settle disputes regarding who had just control over some resource(s) -- be it land, real estate, raw materials, capital -- or any other kind of actually economically scarce resource. Desperately needed information systems regarding the supply, demand, their meeting place of 'price', profit and loss (which reward or punish you for management or mismanagement of these valuable, scarce resources according to the demand of society) evolved further out of that concept.

Intellectual property and copyright create artificial economic scarcity by fiat when there is no natural scarcity. It's a bastardization of the concept of private property, and is actually anti private property, since it gives individuals more power over your privately owned scarce resources than you, simply because of a claim on artificial scarcity given to an individual(s) by the State.

Imagine what society could be like if economically scarce resources were no longer scarce and could be copied like ideas, recipes, arrangements and blueprints? Imagine if we all had star trek replicators, how much better off society could be -- if food, clothing, medicine, and so many luxuries could be replicated on demand at no or virtually no cost and how high the resulting standards of living would be for everyone? We would no longer have any, or at the most very minimal need for the concept of private property (other than to establish self ownership, or for some kind of currency still needed to pay for specialized labor, collectibles, 'time', and that's really mostly it).

Unfortunately, we don't have replicators for economically scarce resources, and we probably won't for quite some time, if ever. We may, in some distant future, achieve economic superabundance (which would make these scarce resources relatively unbelievably cheap) -- but this still doesn't eliminate economic scarcity and the need for currency. However, we do have 'star trek replicators' for ideas, blueprints, arrangements and recipes -- your mind and your will. By supporting intellectual property and copyright, you are supporting the state abolish the natural start trek replicator that is our right by birth and by the fact of existing.