Thursday, 3 July 2014

Cuttings: June 2014

Let your kids waste endless hours on these video games - article in Wall Street Journal by Jurica Dujmovic. “Gaming is often seen as a waste of time or a fun distraction at best. But contemporary gaming is different. Online video games are increasingly learning tools that help gamers develop life skills. Here are three games that are unlike anything you’ve seen before.” Eve Online (MMORPG with advanced economics in space trader setting), iRacing (complex racing car simulation), Project Zomboid (resource management in zombie apocalyptic setting).

How to explain net neutrality – video clip from 'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver', referenced in John Naughton's Memex 1.1 blog. “A case study in how to communicate a complex idea.”

Zork Post-Mortem (at GDC2014) - article on 'Adventure Gamers' website. “Dave Lebling, one of the founders of Infocom ... hosted a post-mortem to discuss the origins and legacy of 1977’s [classic text-based adventure game] Zork.... As enjoyable as the [1976] game [Adventure] was, Lebling and his colleagues also felt the game, and specifically the parser which the player used to interact with the game world, was fairly primitive. Adventure’s parser could only understand two words at a time and had a rather limited vocabulary. ... As the team continued to work on Zork the parser also continued to evolve, including being able to understand the difference between putting an object down, placing it under another object, or even placing an object inside of a container. The parser also began to understand the difference between the game’s different actors, from the player’s nameless avatar to a controllable robot and even the vehicles within the game. The team even added a timer to the events within the game world based on the number of moves a player would make. This timer might determine how long a match would stay lit, or which room the thief was currently occupying.”

Experience: I was an internet troll - first person anonymous article in The Guardian. “I was sick and tired of her getting all of this attention. And yet I would go on asking her all these questions that would generate even more, so I was fuelling my own hate. I kept on for about two months. Every time I criticised her, she would post screenshots and get more support, which would make me even angrier. I'd only do this anonymously. I ran a proxy on my laptop so it would appear to come from another IP address. I didn't want to be associated with cyberbullying, but at the same time I couldn't stop.”

Fast money: the battle against the high frequency traders - article in The Guardian by Brancesco Bongiorni. “Here was a market beyond human control, dominated by super-fast machines running complex computer algorithms that jostled and fought each other at the level of milliseconds, microseconds – and with no meaningful oversight.... Some of the most formidable minds in the world were now employed in a technological arms race, a hidden war stalked by million-dollar predator algorithms that could swarm those of the larger, slower players – typically, pension and mutual funds – in the same way a shoal of piranhas might an ox, cutting them to shreds and pocketing the profits. The regulators couldn't keep up. If they tried, the algos simply mutated.”

Minecraft: here’s one I made earlier – article in The Guardian by Tom Lamont. “The most popular computer games tend to license the unfeasible. Hey: you're an international footballer. An assassin in 16th-century Rome. In Minecraft, which celebrated its fifth birthday last month, with worldwide sales hovering just under the 50m mark, the fantasy amounts to stiff labour. Construction work. Players are cast as architects – resource-rich architects with the power of flight, granted, but architects nonetheless. Play Minecraft and rather than compete for the World Cup or plot to kill a Borgia, it's preferred you act like a groundsman, or a Roman town planner, willing to put in hard hours with blueprints and shovel. And somehow Minecraft has become a global sensation, prized by teenagers, adults and, in particular, seven- to 12-year-olds, whose parents tend to endorse the game precisely because it doesn't exalt unsavoury footballers or murder. … Digital Lego, virtual Lego, a Lego that doesn't hurt when you step on it: these are the terms used to describe Minecraft to the unfamiliar.”

Harry's Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith and Austerity Bites by Mary O'Hara – reviews by Melissa Benn in The Guardian. “Right now, some inventive literary festival programmer is probably trying to set up a staged discussion between Harry Leslie Smith and Mary O'Hara. If not, they should – it would be fascinating. Smith, a mere 91 years of age, is boiling with anger at what he sees as the UK's return to the indignities of his Great Depression childhood. O'Hara, an experienced reporter, brings a cool head to her story of the impact of the cuts over the last four years…. Both books, but particularly O'Hara's, should be required reading for every MP, peer, councillor, civil servant and commentator. The fury and sense of powerlessness that so many people feel at government policy beam out of every page.”

The best way to win an argument – in MindHacks blog. “You are, I’m afraid to say, mistaken. The position you are taking makes no logical sense. Just listen up and I’ll be more than happy to elaborate on the many, many reasons why I’m right and you are wrong. Are you feeling ready to be convinced?... Research published last year on [the illusion of explanatory depth] shows how the effect might be used to convince others they are wrong. …Recruiting a sample of Americans via the internet, they polled participants on a set of contentious US policy issues [then divided them into two groups]… People who provided reasons remained as convinced of their positions as they had been before the experiment. Those who were asked to provide explanations softened their views, and reported a correspondingly larger drop in how they rated their understanding of the issues. Whether the subject is climate change, the Middle East or forthcoming holiday plans, this is the approach many of us adopt when we try to convince others to change their minds. It’s also an approach that, more often than not, leads to the person on the receiving end hardening their existing position. Fortunately research suggests there is a better way – one that involves more listening, and less trying to bludgeon your opponent into submission.”

Happy birthday Tetris! – blog post in MindHacks blog “As well as hijacking the minds and twitchy fingers of puzzle-gamers for 30 years, Tetris has also been involved in some important psychological research. My favourite is Kirsh and Maglio’s work on “epistemic action“, which showed how Tetris players prefer to rotate the blocks in the game world rather than mentally. This using the world in synchrony with your mental representations is part of what makes it so immersive, I argue.”

From the Bard to Bart: how Mr Burns challenges our common culture – review by Mark Lawson in The Guardian of the play 'Mr Burns' by Anne Washburn. “The opening act plays out on an almost dark stage, illuminated only by spasmodic flashlight and the flames of a campfire, around which huddle the survivors of a near-futuristic American catastrophe caused by the meltdown of nuclear power stations. This homeland Chernobyl has destroyed all electronic entertainment present and past, with the result that groups of survivors compete to recreate, through oral story-telling, favoured episodes of network TV shows such as The Simpsons. Seven years on, in the second act, these broadcasting restorationists have organised into a primitive industry. Rival troupes of travelling players, with names such as The Prime-time Players, The Reruns and Richard's Couch, tour the scorched states, performing by candlelight reconstituted adventures of Homer and Marge and their children – though one group resurrects instead The West Wing, with its now novel concept of national government – and buying extra lines of remembered dialogue from locals.”

See how borders change on Google Maps depending on where you view them – Quartz website, referenced in John Naughton's Memex 1.1 blog. “It’s hard to draw a map without making someone angry. There are 32 countries that Google Maps won’t draw borders around. While the so-called geo-highlighting feature—which Google uses to show a searched area’s borders—is unaffected by the locale of the person looking at them, the borders drawn on Google’s base map will look different depending on where in the world you are.” With animated diagrams.

9 reasons to learn another language – YouTube video by Lindsay Dow. “Number 1: so you don’t sound like a moron when you’re on holiday.”

Who is behind Isis's terrifying online propaganda operation? – article by Patrick Kingsley in The Guardian. “When Isis stormed Iraq's second city of Mosul earlier this month, analysts say their propaganda made the fighting easier. In wars gone by, advancing armies smoothed their path with missiles. Isis did it with tweets and a movie.... And it works, Iraqis say. When Isis stormed Mosul, Iraqi soldiers fled their posts, apparently aware that they would face a gruesome fate if they were captured while on duty....In fact, Isis's use of social media is so slick that it has made the group seem more powerful than it is. Coverage of its menacing online identity may have both obscured the role other Sunni groups have played in Iraq's insurgency – and made opponents wrongly assume that Isis has all of Iraq within its grasp.... While Isis's Twitter presence first and foremost serves to frighten its enemies in Iraq and Syria, and to inform its members there, it may also help Isis expand its brand among jihadis outside of the Middle East. Nominally an offshoot of al-Qaida, Isis has been disowned by its parent organisation. As a result, it is now in active competition with al-Qaida's approved affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, as well as al-Qaida franchises across the world.... analysts reckon no other group has as sophisticated a grasp of social media as Isis.”

Making algorithms responsible for what they do – John Naughton article in The Observer, where titled with the less clear 'How to wrest control of our data from spies and their networks'; referenced in his Memex 1.1 blog. “William Hague thinks that the fact that we're 'only' collecting metadata and not 'content' means that there are no grounds for concern about bulk surveillance. But in fact this misconception – that algorithms are not 'agents' in the way that humans are – runs through the surveillance debate like the legend in a stick of Blackpool rock. The argument that although Google's algorithms 'read' your emails in order to decide what ads to place alongside them, they're not really reading them, is part of the same genre. So is the contention that the decision to refuse you a loan is not anything personal, just an impersonal decision made by an algorithm. And so is the claim that just because your clickstream – the log of all the websites you've visited – is collected by the NSA, it doesn't mean that the spooks are spying on you. This is legalistic cant and we could change it at a stroke by updating our legal conceptions of agency...."

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