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Nov 11 / Great Apes

Gavril Ivolgin

This is one of my favourite passages in any novel.  It comes from the beginning of Part IV in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot.  I have long felt a kindred of Gavril Ivolgin (called by the nickname “Gania” in this passage).

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Nov 2 / Great Apes

Why Civilization IV Is One Of The Best Games Ever

A little over a week ago, Beyond Earth, the latest instalment in the Civilization series of video games, was released.  It’s built on the engine of Civ V, and I’ve seen many people complain that it doesn’t stand up to the excellence of Civ V.  I always find these kinds of comments interesting because, while Civ V is a good enough game, for me it pales in comparison to its predeccesor, Civ IV, which I consider to be among the top few games ever released.

Why is Civ IV a better game?  Because it offers more strategic complexity.  Sid Meier, the creator of the original Civilization game, is known for saying that a game is “a series of interesting decisions.”  Civilization IV is constantly providing the player with interesting decisions, while Civ V  isn’t.  [Note that this post probably won’t make much sense unless you’ve played at least one of these games, and ideally both of them.  Additional note: I’m going to be comparing the original Civilization IV (prior to any of its expansions) and Civ V after both of its expansions, which most players agree improves the experience.]

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Oct 16 / Great Apes

A Quick Thought On Growing Up With The Internet

This post is about the ridiculous furore about the gaming press lately, but only tangentially, so stick with me if you’re not really interested in gaming.

So one of the primary complaints about “ethics” in games journalism that I see is that sites aren’t responding to things they disagree with.  One of the most frequent complaints I hear about Anita Sarkeesian in particular is that she refuses to respond to particular criticisms that some people have of her work.  There seems to be this real feeling among some of her critics – and critics of the gaming press more widely – that any concern that is voiced requires a response.  That anyone who raises any issue is entitled to have that issue replied to directly by whoever they are complaining about (whether it’s Anita, or the editorial staff of a gaming web site, or whatever).

I suspect it goes without saying that I think that attitude is nonsense.  But what I’m wondering is whether it’s an attitude primarily held by people who have grown up with the Internet.  The people who are most angrily strident about these issues certainly do seem to be young people.

These are people who have, for most of their lives, felt connected to their sources of information in a way that older generations didn’t.  If you grew up in the 1980s, for example, there was no real way to connect to TV personalities.  Newspapers and magazines accepted letters to the editor, but only a few of them were printed and virtually none were ever responded to directly.

But for people who are in their late teens or early 20s now, there’s a sense of connectedness with public figures.  If you post on Twitter, there’s no real distinguishing characteristic between regular users and public figures, aside perhaps from the Verified checkmark.  Everyone’s mentions go into the same column, everyone’s tweets appear side-by-side in the timeline.  Many writers for large newspapers or magazines even respond directly to questions, comments, or discussions.  I’ve personally exchanged tweets with major media figures from a number of outlets in both Canada and the U.S., which would have been unthinkable when I was in high school or university.  The gap between “readers” and “writers” has collapsed to a large degree.  You can extend this out to comment sections too.

Basically, many people who’ve grown up with the Internet have frequently been told that their voices are important, and content distribution networks are now often designed with this idea in mind.  So what I’m wondering is whether this feeling of immediacy, of being connected to public figures and having forums to contribute (in)directly to media, has lead a lot of young people to believe that not only is it their right to be heard, but to be responded to.  Is part of the attitude toward Anita, and Gamasutra, and so forth, a result of the ways that young people have learned to connect through media?

I don’t have a real answer to that, or any major conclusions to draw, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about.  And this obviously wasn’t all going to fit in a tweet, one that could fit in on your Twitter feed right beside the latest story from the NY Times.

Jun 29 / Great Apes

Quick Thought On Reimer

The deadline for NHL teams to tender qualifying offers to their restricted free agents is 5 pm tomorrow.  One of the Leafs’ RFAs is James Reimer.  I think there is a real possibility that the Leafs will not tender a QO to James Reimer.  I’m not saying that they definitely won’t, only that it’s something they may be considering.  Here’s why:

As per section 10.2 (ii) (C) of the NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (PDF):

if the Player’s prior year’s Paragraph 1 NHL Salary is equal to or greater than $1,000,000 for that League year, 100% of the prior year’s Paragraph 1 NHL Salary.

For Reimer, that means his qualifying offer will be for $1.6 million.  The team could try to talk him down from that number after tendering the QO, but he has arbitration rights, which I would have to imagine he is very likely to use.  The one reason he might not file for arbitration is that it would prevent the Leafs from trading him until such time as he signed a contract or arbitration was concluded, but I think given his relationship with the team and his complete lack of leverage otherwise, he’ll probably file for arbitration.  I believe an arbitrator would award Reimer more than $1.6M, but it’s unclear exactly how much.

It’s also worth noting that Brendan Shanahan has said that the team has reached out to Martin Brodeur about signing with the Leafs.  So it’s clear that the Leafs are actively trying to recruit a backup goalie for Jonathan Bernier.  Are they willing to put themselves in a situation where James Reimer could either accept their QO outright or force salary arbitration while they try to recruit Martin Brodeur, effectively either blocking their ability to sign someone like Brodeur or forcing them to play Reimer in the minors and have part of his cap hit on the books anyway?  That’s probably not the situation they want.

One other detail here that’s relevant is that James Reimer will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.  If the Leafs don’t intend to play him this year (because they sign Brodeur, for example), they will not have the opportunity to trade him next year.  If he’s not tradeable now (or in the middle of the season), then the team will be losing him for nothing next summer anyway.  So the incentive to keep him around if you already have a plan to replace him is low.

None of this is to say that the Leafs definitely will not give Reimer a qualifying offer.  But if they’re intent on moving on (and they seem to be, if they’re trying to recruit Brodeur), then I think it’s plausible that they’ll relinquish their RFA rights to sign James Reimer and let him become a UFA instead.

Apr 24 / Great Apes

How Is Canada’s Middle Class Really Doing?

There’s been an awful lot of talk lately about the middle class in Canada.  The federal Liberals and NDP are both building up toward next year’s election by claiming that they are the party which will help resolve the plight of Canada’s middle class.  The Conservatives, meanwhile, are quite happy to tout their record in office by citing this recent New York Times article saying that Canada’s middle class is among the best off in the world.  Many pundits in the Canadian press, whether they write for the Globe and Mail, National Post, or Macleans, tend to side with the Conservatives.  So what’s really going on here?

I’ve put together a chart using Statistics Canada data (specifically CANSIM Table 202-0701) showing income trends among Canadian families divided by income quintile over the entire period for which Stats Can has relevant data, which turns out to be the 35 years from 1976 to 2011. (click on the image for a larger and more readable version)

income

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Mar 26 / Great Apes

538 and the Problem With Ad Revenue

So the other day I came across this tweet:

And I’ve been thinking about it, because on the face of it the idea sounds great.  But I don’t think, generally speaking, it’s feasible.  Here’s why:

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Mar 10 / Great Apes

A Brief Aside

I’m currently reading The Victory Lab, a book about the (mostly modern) history of using data analytics, behavioural psychology, and field experiments in political campaigning.  That may not sound very interesting to you.  But I came across one particular quote that I thought was rather amusing in light of the way that discussions about using advanced statistics in hockey often turn out:

“Those smart guys speak that smart language.  They collect smart theories to properly arrange their smart facts.  Then they publish smart papers to make sure people know they are real smart,” says Tom Lindenfeld, a former Democratic National Committee campaign director and one of the party’s leading field tacticians.  “The rest of us just know what works.”

Mar 5 / Great Apes

Why The Bernier Contract Is Still Bad

Let’s say you’re at your friend’s house sitting on her couch.  It’s a nice couch, and you’re looking to replace the one you’ve got in your living room, so you ask how much that couch cost.  She says “The list price is $600, but I got it for $500.  The salespeople at the store I bought it from have a sales quota each month, so if you go in on the last weekend of a month and act like you’re not interested they’ll knock the price down.”  You really like the couch and it’s only one week into the month but you go to the store anyway.  The salesman won’t give you a discount and you pay the full $600.

6 months later there’s a major fire at the couch factory.  Suddenly there’s a shortage of furniture available and the couch you bought is now going for $1000.  That’s $400 more than you paid for it!  You got a $1000 couch for $600, right?  What a great deal!

Nope.  You still paid $100 more than you needed to because you wouldn’t show a little patience.  You’re not up $400, you’re down $100.  And it turns out that the new couch isn’t any more comfortable than the old one anyway.

Feb 26 / Great Apes

A Thought Experiment

Picture the following scenario:

The people of Mexico have decided that they are fed up with their government.  Protests begin, grow, and take over Mexico City.  Violence erupts between the government and some of the protesters, and a number of people are killed.  Eventually the government comes forward with a number of measures to try to placate the protesters, including the ouster of President Enrique Peña Nieto.  Tension remains in the air as embedded powers struggle to maintain their grip on the government while various factions within the protest movement also position themselves to take control.  Among those various factions are large groups that want Mexico to remain allied with the United States and are committed to NAFTA.  Also among them are groups who aim to ally Mexico closely with Cuba, and perhaps also the Chavistas in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia.  The situation is highly uncertain and unstable.

In this scenario, how would the United States react?  I think it’s a near certainty that they would mobilise troops toward the Mexican border.  I also think that there’s a small but real possibility that they would send troops into Mexico, especially if the violence escalated.  And I think there’s a pretty high probability that they would try to find other means of assisting the pro-U.S. faction within the opposition; “other means” would be actions like supplying arms or money to the U.S.-allied opposition or going around in the international community very loudly talking up the legitimacy of those factions and attacking the Cuban-allied faction.

And if those things happen, I would judge them like this:

I would say that the United States was behaving in a rational manner by mobilising troops, as it has a legitimate interest in protecting the security of its borders and was understandably concerned about the possibility of violence spilling over.  I would also say that their right to use force ends at self-defence and that any actions taken to promote a violent victory by their allies would be unacceptable.

I think these are the kinds of things that are worth keeping in mind when reading stories like this one.

Feb 19 / Great Apes

The Hockey Team Who Came In From The Cold

Ever since the NSA mass surveillance story first broke I’ve been reading a lot about spies and spy networks and spy operations and all that fun stuff.  This has lead to a sudden urge to read spy novels, so I’ve started in on that too.  I recently finished reading John Le Carré’s espionage novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.  The heroes of spy novels are often characters like James Bond or Jason Bourne, superhuman men who are obviously good guys trying to stop obvious bad guys.  Le Carré’s Alec Leamas is different though; the point of the novel is that ultimately Western and Soviet spy agencies were really not so different.  [SPOILER in the next sentence] The Brits, for example, are willing to kill an honest, hard-working Soviet in order to protect their own crooked asset, and they’re willing to use questionable methods to do it.  [end SPOILER] The point of the novel is not “the Soviet Union and Great Britain are completely indistinguishable” but rather “the so-called good guys often look a lot like the so-called bad guys”.

It’s been interesting reading The Spy Who Came In From The Cold during the Olympics, as a lot of Cold War sentiments directed at Russia have re-emerged.  Some of this came to a head today when the Russian men’s hockey team was upset by the Finns.  One of the things that I saw and heard in a number of places was a sense of moral triumph, that this was a fitting result for a country whose president has supported laws that seek to oppress and demean LGBT people.  And of course there are Russia’s attacks on everyone’s favourite excuse to say an unprintable word, Pussy Riot.  Just today people were enraged by reports that some members of Pussy Riot were physically assaulted by Russian security services.  These things are awful, and it is right to say so, but to claim moral victory for Western culture in these cases seems to me to require extremely narrow vision.  The recent history of Canada and the United States does not suggest a particularly strong moral high ground.  You may find that statement hard to believe, but I think even a cursory look at our own history will reveal some extremely troubling similarities.

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