Thursday, May 31, 2007

Someone Spent Time Writing This

have undergone an Explosion event, wherein they have crossed over into commercial culture. When this happens, the community which spawned the meme subsequently declares the meme dead at the same time that commercial media declares the meme alive - I call this the Maxwell's Demon Indicator (MDI). The MDI comes into play every time an underground punk band goes mainstream.

The primary reason for the LOLmacro's success is due to, in my estimation, the meme's high rate of mutability. Mutability is determined by how much alteration a meme can undergo and still be recognizable as representative of the meme.

I have devised a way to measure this mutability that I call the Novelty Index.

Here is how it works:

Novelty Index (NI) = Number of points of alteration / Total points in the meme (each word/picture/gesture counts as one point)

This requires an in-depth example:

Consider the meme "All your base are belong to us."

This takes the general form "All your [noun] are belong to us." Replacement of the noun is the most accepted alteration. While changing the verb might still lead to recall of the meme, tolerance of this variation is considered too low to qualify. Therefore, the Novelty Index is 1/7.

As the NI approaches a 1:1 ratio, the longevity of the meme increases. The Novelty Index is never greater than 1:1.

A meme with more total points will have a lower rate of transmission. Simpler is better.

Type Acceptance (TA) is the number of possible elements that can be utilized in a modify point. Suppose it were acceptable to write "All your [verb] are belong to us." The modify point would then accept [noun] and [verb], two separate elements.

A simple one-dimensional categorization of TA can be found by multiplying the number of points of alteration by the number of possible elements. For the original All Your Base example, 1 x 1 = 1.

A higher TA not only increases longevity but increases the chance that a meme will spawn a new subtype.

To sum up, All Your Base has an NI of 1/7 and a TA of 1. With only 7 total points, its transmission rate is high, but its longevity is quite low. This is a meme that saturates quickly but holds no long-term amusement value.

Note the "i'm in ur base, killin ur d00ds" as diagrammed by Anil Dash has an obviously higher NI.


When classifying elements one must keep in mind the subset. LOLmacros are the parent set of image macros that utilize altered leetspeak, as noted by David McRaney in this post. Therefore, LOLcats is a subset that exclusively uses cat images. This specificity must be factored into any calculations.


As a case study, there are many crossover elements between (1)I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?, (2)Cute Overload, and (3)ytmnd. All three are heavily image-based yet dependent on text.

(1) is made up of elements that can be easily reduced to an automated process. However, the text must still conform to bastardized leetspeak and will no doubt be judged harshly if the phrasing seems inconsistent. While no unified grammar exists at this time, there are aesthetics which can be gained by exposure to examples - and like any specialized art community, whatever is accepted is what is acceptable, whatever is rejected is excluded from the set.

(2) is similar to lolcats, but it employs a baby animal as its centerpiece. Text is not deployed on the picture but in a post body, blog-style. Nevertheless, the text is a vital element in the overall composition. The speech employed can be either pedantic or an altered babytalk.

(3) has one of the highest NIs possible, as should be apparent by the number of new sites created every day. The front page explains the simple formula: "It stems from an idea that, using sound, and image, and some text, the users can convey a point, funny, political, or otherwise, to the general media." To be more specific, it follows the form [tiled image/looped video (often altered)] [sound loop] [splash text]. The NI is 3/3 (though it is acceptable to leave out the text) and a TA of 12. The challenge in creating a ytmnd is to link all three elements into a unifying concept, much like the creation of a punchline.


It should be noted that the mathememetic analysis detailed in the first part of this post utilizes very simple calculations.

There is a more advanced method for obtaining the TA, but it uses matrices to track points, possible elements, and acceptability in order to arrive at several limit sets.

But that requires Alolgebra.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


When I talked
about inefficiency in city-simulators, I neglected to mention Tropico.

Tropico is an interesting game that never quite lived up to its central theme: you get to be the fearless leader of a tropical island, ruling your people with an iron fist while pleasing the Americans and trying your best to look like a democracy to the rest of the world.

The problem is that the game lacks teeth. It's clear that the vibe is meant to be satirical, but the gameplay is so straightforward it comes off as bland instead.

I would rather see a more realistic simulation: death squads, torture, duping UN inspectors, fending off CIA-led invasions, nationalizing corporations. Make it brutal. I might have noticed that, at least.

The game did have a bit of the chaotic effect I was getting at, though.

Here's an example from my most recent playthrough: I was in charge of getting a tourist industry up and running. Everything was great until I lost my college professor. I didn't have enough money to lure another one from abroad. I tried firing qualified personnel from other professions and raising the professor wages, but nobody would fill the position. This meant that my brand new power plant wouldn't operate at maximum efficiency (it required college-educated operators). Which meant that my brand new tourist attractions were useless. Out of money, my people growing unhappy, I was forced out of office - I couldn't even afford to steal the election.

The problem was indeed in the challenge. It took me awhile to figure out why things weren't working properly. And when I did finally suss it out, there was little that could be done. Having one worker change jobs sent repercussions through my whole city.

Maybe I shouldn't be talking about chaos but rather catastrophe.

Run, Shadowrun

Shadowrun is
in stores, apparently. It looks interesting, but I'm not fond enough of competition to buy a multiplayer-only title.

Well, not without a demo, that's for sure. Word is that a 360 demo will drop on June 6.

From what I've seen, there has been no announcement of a PC demo.

This is a very odd way to launch Microsoft's 360-PC synergy.*

The proper way, of course, would have been to make damn sure there was a PC demo on launch. Starting up the demo for the first time would take the player through the process of creating a Live account. Then there would be a few screens showing all the very cool things that Live has to offer PC players.

Assuming, of course, that Live has anything more to offer PC players than stat-tracking, matchmaking, and cross-platform play. And that's only if you choose to pay the 60 bucks a year.

It would've been nice if Microsoft had decided to get a full-fledged Live service up and running for PC users. That means the downloadable games, movies/tv shows on demand, and demos available right now to 360 users.

Or how about this: Offering a discount for PC gamers registering a new Live account and purchasing Shadowrun through digital download.

I'm not sure who they're trying to convince. At this point Microsoft doesn't need to make a successful product. They just need to keep throwing money at it until it works the way it's intended.

*Halo 2 is apparently also part of this overarching plan to stun the world with mediocrity. A last-gen game for current-gen prices? Pathetic.

And while I'm on the subject, look at this Games for Windows page. The Coming Soon column lists a bunch of games that are definitely not coming anytime soon, except for Lord of the Rings Online which happens to be out already (as is made clear since it's listed up top in the Featured Releases section). Their commitment is certainly in evidence.

The Scam

how the scam works:

Spend billions on military toys to prop up the for-profit defense industry. Most of these are pet projects that will never see the light of day, or superiority weapons systems that are completely unnecessary since they far outclass anything they'd have to face on the battlefield (until we start selling them to other countries). House and Senate members beg to receive the contracts for these toys because they want the revenue and jobs - and because we're too goddamn shortsighted to spend the money on what Buckminster Fuller called 'livingry' (the opposite of weaponry, natch).

Then, after blowing the defense budget on toys, tack on supplemental funding for necessities like body armor, ensuring that the funding will be approved.

This is the opposite of a budget. A budget means that you prioritize what you need and trim things that aren't essential.

We're stuck. The military-industrial-corporate-government complex has gotten too large, too powerful. They can play the budget game for a long time, demanding billions and billions for kickbacks and tacking on a meager amount for the boots on the ground, and then attack any politicians opposed to their waste as 'troop-haters.'

Take a minute to see what might be accomplished with all that money we throw at the Pentagon.

Just as an example, Maryland's share going to the Iraq Invasion for FY07 could be used to give 1.6 million people health care.

Ah, wishful thinking.

Monday, May 28, 2007


I revisited
a couple of the old city-builders: Caesar III and Zeus.

One of the things about these games is how everything functions as closed loops. People harvest food and eat food. They shear sheep and purchase wool. They demand culture and attend the theater.

Where's the waste? Where's the inefficiency?

There is an assumption in these games that expansion is linear. A cluster of houses will be supported by a fountain. Another cluster will need its own fountain. But the number of fountains won't put a strain on the whole system. And everyone seems to use everything properly. Fountains aren't busted by morons or vandals.

I don't know if the most recent SimCity took fluctuating stresses and exponential system growth into account. That's something I'd like to see, though.

I want to see the vast differences between social/economic classes, not just housing upgrades. Holidays should increase demand across the board and produce a lot more waste. Upper classes can support leisure pursuits but put more strain on basic services - more consumption, more waste, large social events, big families, servants.

Maybe that's too much for a game. Dealing with a chaotic system would probably be heavy on challenge and light on game.

I can barely sustain a city in Caesar III as it is.


"I remember talking to [Paul]
Wolfowitz, in his office, in the Pentagon, and telling him -- this was after the propaganda build up had started, before the war. I said, 'You know, these guys are not going to welcome you.'

"He said, 'Why?' I said, 'For one thing, these guys detest foreigners, and the few who really like you are the least representative of the various breeds of people there. They're going to fight you, then, if you occupy the place there's going to be a massive insurgency.'"

"He said, 'No, no, they'll be glad to see us,'" Lang continued. "This will start the process of revolution around the Middle East that will transform everything.'

No, Lang told Wolfowitz, "that's not gonna happen. It's just an impossibility. They're not like that. They don't want to be us."

-via The Washington Note

Wolfowitz was a Team B mutherfucker, that group of know-nothing sad sacks whose job was to invent Soviet Union supervillain scenarios in order to push their various agendas: direct conflict, inflating defense budgets, undermining the CIA. Team B was fantastically wrong about everything. The big question is whether they bought their own bullshit.

From the opening quote it seems that maybe Wolfowitz swallows bullshit for breakfast. Maybe he really thought there were Soviet stealth submarines. It certainly sounds like he believed in our own Reverse Domino Theory, US fairy dust sparking off the Glorious Owners' Revolution. Or maybe he's just good at regurgitating the party line and was signaling to Lang that real expert analysis wouldn't be necessary.

They weren't cherry-picking intelligence. They were cherry-picking stupidity.

And ensuring that the stupidest were given the plum jobs.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Lost Season Finale

I'm gonna lay out
my own pet theory about the season finale before I forget about it.

Spoiler warning.

Jack and the Losties weren't just rescued back to the mainland - they were rescued and brought back in time.

A few things: When the hatch imploded (or whatever it did), Desmond went back in time and met someone else who also received visions. Assume that this actually occurred in a parallel timeline. It could be that certain members of Dharma (or some other faction) are able to insert themselves into other timelines - that they could use this to learn hard-to-find information or alter the course of events.

Regardless of this, back to my main conceit. Assume that the Losties on the beach were left behind.

If the Losties were rescued and brought back in time, this would explain:
-Why Jack spoke about his father as if his father were still alive. In the new timeline, Jack was able to stop his father's death.
-Kate's appearance and actions. In the new timeline she is still married to Callis. She is pissed at Jack both because of her feelings for him and because Sawyer was left behind.
-Why Oceanic Air is still in business. In the main timeline, the airline went under because of the crash. In the new timeline it is still in operation.
-Why nobody recognizes Jack as one of the survivors of Flight 815. Because in the new timeline it didn't crash. Maybe the flight never even happened. If the Losties were able to convincingly warn Oceanic about the upcoming crash, this might explain the 'gold passes' that allow the Losties to fly anywhere for no charge.
-Why Jack wants to get back - he couldn't save everyone.

I was reminded of two different works: the film Millenium and the novel Timequake.

There are still a ton of questions, of course. I'm probably completely wrong. But it's fun to piece things together.


If you ever want
a serious headache, try to make a videogame.

I scrapped my original prototype because Gamemaker's collision code is just too buggy.

At this point I think I had three weeks. Not good.

I spent a week prototyping new ideas. I got some pretty complex behavior going using the built-in pathfinding/avoidance code.

Unfortunately, I neglected to do one thing: find the core gameplay element.

I had backstory. I developed very messy code that would activate quests and show conversations with NPCs. But every conversation had to be created as its own object, which meant opening my paint program, making a .bmp, creating a sprite, turning that sprite into an object, and then altering custom code to display the object under specific conditions and destroy it otherwise.

Two weeks down. I was creating almost all the assets by hand because I wasn't happy with what I found online. This was very, very tedious.

In the end I hacked together what I could, tacking on a lame end boss. It was awful. Boring.

After the class tried it out, almost all my feedback said one thing, "Too complicated." Nobody could figure out what to do or where to go, even with the controls written out.


It was pretty sweet.


One of the problems
I have with newspapers is the struggle to keep track of the reliability of particular journalists. With so many stories each day, I might remember only one or two bylines, and then it's usually because they've done very good or very bad work.

Seymour Hersh, for example, is very good. But how to arrive at that sort of conclusion?

There are several metrics that could be useful:

1. A breakdown of the types of sourcing -anonymous, named, government, think tank, corporate, party affiliation. The tenor and target of that sourcing - supportive, hostile, whistleblower. Shown as percentages.

2. Track record. Charts claims made by the journalist, i.e., the "story" and whether they are descriptive or predictive. If descriptive, is the claim supported or contradicted by readily-available data? If predictive, are hard numbers given or is the thesis vague? Does the claim bear out over time? Shown as ratios - Descriptive supported/Descriptive contradicted and Predictive vindicated/Predictive wrong.

3. Case studies. There are two case studies in particular that would be useful for journalistic context (and these, of course, could be amended or changed as new cases gained notoriety): The Clinton investigations and the run-up to the Iraq Invasion. In both of these instances, the conduct of journalists is especially relevant. Both contain large numbers of falsehoods that were repeated as conventional wisdom long after they were debunked. How many stories did a journalist file about the subject and how many accepted falsehoods were contained in the pieces?

4. Money. Who pays the journalist? Do they accept speaking fees? Have they written, edited, or funded books? How much do they earn and from where?

5. Affiliations. What kind of friendships have they claimed? Do they regularly dine with elected officials, corporate boardmembers, or known partisan activists?

You could fit all this data on a fairly small pop-up. Or a deck of cards.

This is the kind of thing I'd do if I had good enough organizational skills.