Monthly Archives: December 2009
The big project of Artificial Intelligence is computationalism. Can we create a formula (or series of formulae, perhaps) which does’t merely simulate reasoning but actually, honestly, really and truly is reasoning?
There are lots of reasons to think that we can’t. John Searle‘s Chinese Room argument demonstrated that understanding was more than mere symbol processing. Understanding is a major aspect of our reasoning process and algorithms are symbol processors, therefore reasoning won’t be captured in an algorithm.
It’s all very interesting, but after reading Löwe and Pacuit’s An abstract approach to reasoning about games with
mistaken and changing beliefs (Australasian Journal of Logic, 2008), I begin to suspect that there might be another problem with computationalism: akrasia.
Akrasia is when you act against your better judgement (either due to weakness or impetuousness). A good example is when you’re out shopping: ‘You know you ought to save money. You don’t really need the boxset of the 1970s Japanese television series Monkey. Your best judgement states that you shouldn’t purchase the boxset, but you do it anyway.’
The problem of akrasia arises from the spontaneity of our belief-making process: we don’t always choose our beliefs and we usually apply reasoning processes after forming our beliefs (there are a myriad of opinions and beliefs which we hold which we’ve never really thought about in much depth).
Löwe and Pacuit tackle the problem of changing beliefs and mapping rational responses when the agent is uncertain of all the relevant details. Let us suppose that Löwe and Pacuit have successfully mapped the reasoning process of agents with changing and mistaken beliefs. We still have no bridge between this map and that which the agents will actually believe. Worse, even with this map, we don’t know which pathway the agents will take. We need some way of understanding how the agent’s beliefs are going to change.
The benefit of our framework is its extraordinary simplicity: we make the player’s preferences the basic entities of the entire algorithm and encode the belief change into the notion of state, thus avoiding to have to discuss the belief change functions. Because of this, we get a very parsimonious and flexible algorithm that can be applied to many different situations. (Benedikt Löwe and Eric Pacuit, “An abstract approach to mistaken and changing beliefs”, Australasian Journal of Logic (6) 2008, p. 176)
We need some way of mapping when agents are going to go against the map (that is, be akratic) and cutting the belief change functions out of the picture seems to crop the mental landscape rather harshly.
In the dark and mysterious days of pre-history, you’d go out hunting with your fellow tribespeople, kill something awesome to eat, and then take it home with your fellow tribespeople to be cooked. Living hand-to-mouth, there was no separation between your working life and your home life.
Thankfully, we became more civilised and we better understood the need to have Work and Private lives. Work was where you went to get paid. Private was where you spent the money you made at Work. If you wanted a better Private life, you adjusted your Work life to fund better things. But there was a clear and obvious barrier between Work and Private unimaginable back in the pre-historic age.
Technology has a cunning talent to make savages out of the noblest society. When I go to work, I know that several people have read my FacesBook status, or seen the pictures of me drunkenly playing the ‘Break Down the Heteronormative Framework at this Party’, or seen the inappropriate comments of my friends saying all kinds of curious things. My Private and my Work blur at the edges.
And it can lead to all kinds of fun. My younger sibling posted particularly morbid lyrics as his status. A friend of my mother saw the update, called my mother, and asked if my brother was okay. Mother dearest called my sibling and gave him a serve. During a previous relationship, I decided that I didn’t want to profess my relationship status. This sent a message to all of my girlfriend’s friends stating that she was no longer listed as in a relationship.
And then there are those clever folk who managed to mix Work and Private a bit too much. Examples like these have caused people to opine that we need to start being more careful about what we do in our private lives because our work lives can so easily discover them.
Aristotle wrote that we’re creatures of the polis. As social monkeys, we make friendships at our workplaces and the like, so it would make sense — now we’re in the age of Social Networking where everybody must know my every thought at every moment — that these social networks would extend to our occupational networks. But it also seems reasonable to think that we should be able to relax in the Private Spheres of our lives. If I go out for a fun night on the magic sauce, I shouldn’t have to worry that one of my friends will upload the pictures to FacesBook. I’d think that my colleagues would have the good sense to think: ‘Yes, Mark exists outside of work. I’m okay with that. What he does there is fine.’
The two examples linked above show what happen if you’re a complete nerk. Bitching about somebody who’s on your list of friends is a good way to be on the wrong side of drama, and leaving evidence for people to use against you should only be done if you’re this week’s baddie on NCIS.
So instead of being more careful about our private lives, perhaps it’s time for the workplace to stop treating its staff like they’re forever and always chained to their workplace identities. Of course, in the end, it’s not the workplace that suffers: it’s the individual who is sacked, or whatever.
In much happier news, TripleJ’s Hottest 100 has begun for 2009. Go vote.
In other news, the top fifty videos are on Rage right now. Go watch.
I find racists a bit weird.
You know when you’re at the beach and you find a bit of something that sort of looks a lot like jelly but isn’t jelly and you wonder if it might be from a jellyfish but you don’t think it could have come from a jellyfish? That’s how I feel whenever I’m talking to a racist.
Mind! I don’t mean the sort of everyday very common racist who doesn’t mean to be racist but really is when it comes down to it. I mean the über-racist: the sort who proudly assert that people who aren’t white are somehow, through some fault of their own, inferior people. I find it difficult to understand whence it comes. It can’t be fear. I’m more likely to get ripped off by whitey than any other group — which seems to be reflected when I do the implicit association test. Or maybe it is fear and I’m just not accounting for people’s ability to be irrationally afraid of things.
There’s something intrinsically fine about hating on red heads. Even the Bible does it. Genesis 25 tells the story of Esau (a ranga) who sells his birthright for a bowl of lentils. Ho, ho.
It’s funny because he’s got red hair.
IN OTHER NEWS…
Nerd up, my fine friends!
For those of you who are thinking ‘I really haven’t been able to express my nerd pride sufficiently of late’, we’ve had several weeks of the heavens dumping nerdshit upon our doorsteps.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
This has been a lot of fun and I thoroughly enjoy it. It’s the sort of game you can enjoy casually while dying of heat exhaustion on the couch. Plus, there is a crapload of ice in the game and just looking at all that ice makes me feel better about the world. Sure, Yahtzee is right when he says that it’s the same as all the other 2D Mario games. On the other hand, who cares? Nobody’s expecting gritty Mario. Nobody’s expecting intricate plot Mario. Nobody’s expecting anything other than mindless 2D fun. In other words, you get from this game exactly what you think you’re going to get from this game: a few hours of fun smacking Koopas.
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
I much prefer this to The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Okay, it could be that I have some completely unrelated emotional hangups about PH (the ex really liked the game and there was a trading function, so now my copy of the game is filled with things traded from her copy of the game, so it just induces panic attacks). Not a big fan of the evil trains that can move more quickly than you and can hunt you down so you can’t avoid them. That bit really sucks. I’m also not a huge fan of the complete inability to turn around… But, hey, you are supposed to be on a train.
I could also do without the scumbag NPCs. Zelda is just about the only likable character in the game. Everybody else is a demanding, annoying douche. ‘Oh, I want wood. Bring me wood! Oh, I won’t work with a character with big antlers! Oh, do a roll into this tree filled with mother freaking bees!’
That last one pissed me off the most. I thought, ‘You can’t be serious. Why the crap would I want to roll into a tree full of bees? Oh, well. If you insist!’ Lo and behold, the bees freaking attacked me. Then he laughed about it and demanded a free train ride. I’m still a bit conficted about that, especially considering his mother didn’t seem to have the slightest idea of where he’s going. Also, the turd is a liar. I had to Googlewhack what to do with him because he’s such a rotten liar.
But, other than that, the game is ferociously excellent.
Family Guy: Something Something Something Dark Side
The release date was supposed to be tomorrow, but JB HiFi had them in stock today. In truth, not as good as Blue Harvest but still an amazing amount of fun. BH seemed to find humour in what was already in the Star Wars universe – Solo’s ‘few maneuvers’, for example. SSDS seemed to rely more on recreating The Empire Strikes Back with Family Guy characters and then sprinkling jokes on the top.
Sure, BH did the same thing at times but it didn’t seem to be quite so dependent. Also, I could do with several magnitudes less Herbert. So, overall fun but pretty much just for fans of Star Wars and Family Guy.
I hate every military character on this show. Freak me freaking sideways, I could swear they exist just to say asinine things and to disagree with people who can read without moving their lips. Robert Carlyle is pretty much the only reason worth watching it at the moment (Channel 10, Monday nights. Soon to be Channel 10, 1am Tuesday morning… TiVo!).
I also hate the trope of ‘Super smart outsider’. In the original, James Spader had a theory which was not supported by the evidence. Thus, he was rightly mocked for his unjustified beliefs.
But that’s not good enough for the country that invented Wikipedia. Experts suck! What do they know? They’re just experts!
And so James Spader’s completely unjustified theory miraculously turned out to be correct. Oooooh, he totally showed the establishment, didn’t he?
In this, the outsider is an out of work, university dropout who just happens to be able to work out maths homework in an alien language. And I’m all like… ‘Right. Lame.’
It’s sort of weird when you’ve got a television show which you really enjoy watching but only because you’re hoping that any of the non-Robert Carlyle characters will die horribly. Unfortunately, they’re not dying rapidly enough at the moment. But it is really enjoyable to watch.
I like the internet. It’s a good procrastination tool for when you have things to do which you really ought to do but oh God it’s far too warm for that kind of thing.
In an age a long, long time ago, remixing the words of a politician was a rather laborious affair. So much so that remixes of that sort were a massive novelty, thus the popularity of Pauline Pantsdown‘s ‘Backdoor man’ and ‘I don’t like it’.
Now, anything and everything can be remixed thanks to the wonders of the internerds.
Ever wondered what would happen if you mixed Nine Inch Nails with the Ghostbusters? Wonder no more!
Thought that Jean-Luc Picard’s cry of defiance in Chain of Command (part two, series six, episode eleven) needed to be commemorated with a dance track?
The possibilities are nearly endless, especially with the ability to manipulate the meaning of the words. Shatner on the Mount:
And then you have the ability to turn media incidents into catchy beats. From Bill O’Reilly’s freak out:
Clare Werbeloff’s encounter with Channel Nine earlier this year became:
But, for me, the zenith of this artform will always be the ungodly love child of Japanese Ronald McDonald with U.N. Owen was Her (Project Shrine Maiden):
This spawned an entire genre of clips:
And then you have a wave of cover versions making crappy songs into significantly less crappy songs. Lady Gaga’s Poker Face as a rock cover doesn’t completely suck:
Then again, since the year 2000, cover versions have generally been superior to the original (as opposed to the cover version before the year 2000 — including Jeff Buckley’s). Consider Johnny Cash’s version of Hurt:
Lilly Allen’s version of Womanizer:
And Elbow’s cover of Independent Woman:
Maybe we’ve just become better at recycling?
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay… and so we needed a web filter to protect your children
Okay, the title of the post is a lie but it’s a frequently heard lie.
It amazes me that I most often hear this lie from opponents of the web filter. The argument appears to run like this:
1. They’re bringing a web filter to protect the children.
2. The web filter won’t protect the children.
C. Therefore, we shouldn’t have a web filter.
In our insatiable desire to be the United States in the Southern Hemisphere, opponents of the web filter have been screaming incoherently about their rights to access anything and everything through the internet — especially the stuff they don’t want to access. One friend of mine said that the web filter was an incompetent impingement on her rights because the filter could be circumvented. Another friend cited the Sydney Morning Herald which incoherently compared the web filter to speed humps on a highway.
It turns out that — hold on to your hats, folks — there’s a huge trade involved in getting illegal items through Customs. I know. You’re completely shocked that the drug industry imports drugs from overseas. Customs catches a great deal of it but, given that there are imported drugs in Australia, they’re can be evaded.
I don’t think there are too many people around who would argue with a straight face that Customs is an incompetent inpingement on their rights. Yet when we have what is essentially the internet equivalent of Customs, people cry foul.
The filter takes out the huge grey area with issues such as pornography. It might be that I’m a huge misanthrope but I can fairly easily imagine the AFP busting a pornography ring and people using as their defence that they did not know that the stuff they were accessing was illegal.
But if they have to deliberately go out of their way to circumvent a filter to access illegal material, it’s obvious that they know what they’re doing is illegal. They are deliberately setting out to commit a crime. There’s no grey area here and I think that’s a good thing.
This material is already illegal. If you’re caught with this stuff by Customs, it’s game over for you.
An interesting case emerges with the assisted suicide material being blocked. You are already forbidden to import the material through Customs. The filter reflects the existing law which says that assisted suicide materials are illegal. Instead of complaining that the assisted suicide laws should be changed, opponents of the filter attack the filter for accurately reflecting the current legal framework.
Why is there such an uproar? The only charitable interpretations I have are based on general daddy issues and a romantic view of the internet.
There are some people who really cannot stand being told that they can’t do something. Even if they didn’t already want to do it, they just want to be able to do it. It’s almost pathological in its stupidity. Most of the people whinging about the filter don’t want to access the stuff that’s being blocked. When the filter comes in, most of the people whinging about the filter will never encounter the filter. They’re complaining because they don’t like authorities telling them that they can’t do things.
Somewhat related to the first, there is a commonly held romantic view of the internet: the internet is free, unrestrained, egalitarian, &c., &c. It’s basically a utopia for libertarians. Unfortunately, it’s never been the case and people who end up the victims of online evils — such as unfunny identity theft and hilarious ‘cyber-bullying’ — are usually those who bought into that romantic ideal. If the government sets up a blacklist, then the internet is no longer the unfettered playground of their imagination.
The filter is a good idea. The only objections to it are infantile and it treats the internet consistently with other means of information exchange.
Avatar imaginatively revisits the crime scene of white America’s foundational act of genocide, in which entire native tribes and civilizations were wiped out by European immigrants to the American continent. In the film, a group of soldiers and scientists have set up shop on the verdant moon Pandora, whose landscapes look like a cross between Northern California’s redwood cathedrals and Brazil’s tropical rainforest. The moon’s inhabitants, the Na’vi, are blue, catlike versions of native people: They wear feathers in their hair, worship nature gods, paint their faces for war, use bows and arrows, and live in tribes. Watching the movie, there is really no mistake that these are alien versions of stereotypical native peoples that we’ve seen in Hollywood movies for decades.
[A] few of these humans don’t want to crush the natives with tanks and bombs, so they wire their brains into the bodies of Na’vi avatars and try to win the natives’ trust. Jake is one of the team of avatar pilots, and he discovers to his surprise that he loves his life as a Na’vi warrior far more than he ever did his life as a human marine. ['When will white people stop making movies like Avatar?', source]
She then follows up this analysis with a wail that white people keep making movies about white guilt (like Dances with Wolves and District 9). It’s almost as if she’s shocked that Hollywood would keep making profitable films.
And that’s what this is. Left wing whities — who are typically the sort of people who spend vast amounts of cash at the cinematron — love to feel guilty about the past and so they’ll gladly fork out to go see a film which makes them feel better for feeling guilty. Oh, and they’ll also complain that the film is intrinsically racist. Left wing people of all colours feel a sense of unity when they’re randomly calling things racist. It’s a bonding experience.
If white guilt films weren’t so profitable, they wouldn’t get made. As they are profitable, they do get made. It’s your free market at play.
You could instead analyse why people flock to ‘white guilt’ films. I tend to argue that it’s because white kids have a very poor understanding of their own culture and why it’s important. Our cultural history isn’t explored and, as such, it becomes invisible and normalised. The individual is emphasised over the society and, as such, values are emphasised as a personal construct, not a social one. We thus end up with isolated monads separated from other men and the community.
Culture also gets constructed as something elitist. As most literature of our culture was produced by white males, the left is terrified of exposing impressionable young minds to it. It’s considered exclusive and archaic. In Australia, it’s considered too European — which is weird given that Australia is still the big Europe of the south and hasn’t really produced much in the way of its own culture (except in response to the prevailing European culture).
When this ignorance of our own culture gets exposed to communities with a healthy and robust understanding of their culture, there is a complete clash.
On the one hand, you’ll have those people who respond to culture as a threat. As we live in a ‘secular’ and ‘liberal’ and ‘tolerant’ society, social frameworks which emphasise the society over the individual are somehow terrible things and will destroy the ‘secular’ and ‘liberal’ and ‘tolerant’ society in which we live. This is typically the response of our modern right.
On the other hand, you’ll have people who will respond to culture in Marxist terms: as the white folk have control of all of the civics, the new culture is, by definition, an oppressed class. In order to understand this current oppression, they will interpret white history to be a consistent series of acts against those oppressed classes. This is typically the response of our modern left.
As the modern right would be less likely to see a science fiction film, there’s no point making a film which shows the alien race as being unable to integrate. It wouldn’t sell. Thus, we get films pandering to the response of the left: white people go in and oppress everybody in sight.
The cure, I think, is to have a Renaissance of white culture. It’s the sheer ignorance of our cultural history and the way we systematically render ourselves blind to our present culture that cripple cultural cohesion. All cultures have their highs and their lows, and an honest love of our culture would raise our awareness of both those highs and lows.
To quote Raimond Gaita:
The multicultural debate for example intersects with debates about liberalism and communitarianism and the nature of nationhood. I started thinking about it very largely because I was thinking quite a lot about love of country, especially during John Howard’s prime ministership, because the expression ‘Australian’, ‘un-Australian’ and so on, these expressions were used so often. [...] [Y]ou can’t have a morally neutral conception of a national good[...] [You can] distinguish love of country from what I take to be its false semblance, that is jingoism, which at its worst is ‘My country, right or wrong.’ [ABC radio: The Religion Report, 5 March 2008, source]
You can have a celebration of our cultural history without being jingoistic. Indeed, that jingoism is a false semblance of cultural love.
It’s also not exclusive. My cultural history being a generally good thing doesn’t prohibit me from affirming that your cultural history is generally a good thing. At the very least, most of the cultural histories intersect. White culture would have completely stagnated if Muslim culture hadn’t preserved and enriched the arts and sciences of the classical world during our rather embarassing Dark Age.
To answer Newitz’ question, white folk’ll stop making these films when they stop being profitable. This will happen when one of two things happen:
1. Those on the right start watching more movies (prepare ye the way of more ‘Evil Alien Films’); or
2. We come to terms with our cultural history.
In yesterday’s post, I rubbished Government 2.0. A few people seem to think that it’s somehow unfair or irrational to criticise a report just because its content isn’t particularly helpful and that it’s written in faux-hipster English.
Sure, cheap shots are easy. This is why they’re cheap. Holidays to Bali are cheap. Holidays to Bali are easy. The logic is rock solid.
But you might be the kind of shopper who only likes a wine if it costs more than $15 — regardless of its taste. Thus, even though the obvious and the easy criticisms have been made, you’re after something a little more elaborate in your vitriol.
In order to placate your neurotic demands, I shall take you now on an adventure which I like to call ‘The Gap between Freedom of Information and Freedom of Interpretation’.
It starts a few weeks ago when the climate change e-mails from East Anglia University were leaked, the cacophony of redneck ranting reached record levels. ‘Gotcha!’ they screamed. ‘We yokels never trusted you clever bastards with your research and degrees and studies! And now we’ve got e-mails which prove that you’ve been doing the dodgy!’
Information had been released into the world, but the people reading it had absolutely no idea how to interpret what they were seeing (that is, nothing much). A friend of mine — who is usually a fairly sober and thoughtful person despite suffering the noxious brain deterioration known as ‘being a libertarian’ — crowed that the e-mails proved that anthropogenic climate change was a left wing conspiracy against the industrial world. People imagined a conspiracy because they desperately wanted the conspiracy. Anything — the scantier the better — would have fed that delusion. The e-mails were a smorgasboard for the tinfoil hat wearers.
For several years now, I’ve been involved heavily with the interpretation of data and the translation into usable formats. It’s been an interesting ride for me because I had to get over the extremely nerdy joy of discovering things for myself. I like going on the adventure of discovering things and I like to share that adventure in intricate detail. Most people, it turns out, either don’t care or don’t have enough time (which, truth be told, is fair enough).
The first audit report I ever wrote started from the assumption that we were starting with a fresh plate and explained why a view from nowhere was necessary to understand why process transformation was needed. It set up a framework for interpretation adapted from Best Practice Guides and went on an adventure with the data. It was extremely wordy but it was thorough. It was comprehensive but largely incomprehensible to anybody who didn’t want to spend several hours chin scratching about the possibilities. It was logical but it left the reader to form their own conclusions based on the information presented.
In the end, it was a bit of a useless report.
After working with some excellent and brilliant people, I moved away from that mode and style into the realm of using people’s gut reactions to guide them towards accurate and defensible opinions without requiring them to understand how each bit of evidence works. It’s about doing the interpretation for the reader and guiding them towards rational outcomes using non-rational methods. Now, I write much better reports. They’re a long way from perfect but they’re much better.
The climate change e-mails had information in them, but the interpretation was left up to the prejudices and biases of people who had no real interest in facts. Affirmation of self identity was at play (‘I might not be an expert, but I’m a clever person and nobody will pull the wool over my eyes! I told you all climate change was a left wing hoax and now we have e-mails to prove it!’) — though I might be too charitable with that interpretation. It’s entirely possible that some people were being deliberately deceitful in order to push agenda.
Imagine if Government 2.0 works and there’s a dumping of information — raw, undigested information — into the public sphere. Exactly how useful is this if people have no understanding or background in the data being dumped? Are we going to have public debates where people do their own ‘number crunching’ which uses mathematics in novel and ambitious ways?
My hometown is fighting to keep the outdoor swimming pool. The shire council (ha, hobbits) has decided that it’s not cost effective to repair some of its more serious faults. They can make these assertions in the public sphere because people have neither the interest, inclination, or skill to interpret the governance documents in the public domain which flatly contradict those assertions.
We already have significant amounts of information available. We don’t need better information; we want better presentation. In theory, this would be the role of journalists but the current e-journalist crisis is crippling their capacity to do the research. Copypasta from YourTubes, Twitters, and FacesBook is cheaper and sells more advertising space than arduous scrutiny of baffling financial reports (related rant: Make the adoption of IPSAS an election issue, damnit).
The Government 2.0 enterprise does not seem to appreciate the risks involved in ‘liberating’ information. Instead of supporting public debate and scrutiny, it adds another layer of confusion. There’s already a wealth of information about the ETS and yet the Opposition can still declare with a straight face: ‘If you don’t understand it, don’t vote for it.’ By drowning issues in undigested information, we don’t get informed, intelligent public debate.
– Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks remains awesome, though a number of the features are taxing my ability not to hyperventilate (literally).
My blood just wants to say hello to you, my soul is so afraid to realize… that public servants probably don’t need Twitter at work
Sighingly, I sighed a big sigh (sightastically so) when I heard about the Government 2.0 taskforce… thingy.
According to the superconfusing, co-trans-communicative blogpage 1.7:
The Government 2.0 Taskforce (‘Taskforce’) will advise and assist the Government to:
- make government information more accessible and usable — to establish a pro-disclosure culture around non-sensitive public sector information;
- make government more consultative, participatory and transparent — to maximise the extent to which government utilises the views, knowledge and resources of the general community;
- build a culture of online innovation within Government — to ensure that government is receptive to the possibilities created by new collaborative technologies and uses them to advance its ambition to continually improve the way it operates;
- promote collaboration across agencies with respect to online and information initiatives — to ensure that efficiencies, innovations, knowledge and enthusiasm are shared on a platform of open standards; and
- identify and/or trial initiatives that may achieve or demonstrate how to accomplish the above objectives.
The Taskforce will advise Government on structural barriers that prevent, and policies to promote, greater information disclosure, digital innovation and online engagement including the division of responsibilities for, and overall coordination of, these issues within government. ['About', Source]
That’s all good and dandy, and very 1980s. Hooray for fresh new ideas.
This week, they released a multistructured end-user interfaced report, freshly and innovatively pro-titled ‘Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0‘.
Freak me sideways, internets. Freak me sideways.
Okay, maybe I’m not being positive enough about all this new jargon and awkward colloquialisms (‘Getting on with’? Really?). This is a Brave New World of Innovation! As a mid-twenties male, I should be all about 2.0. I mean, ’2.0′ means instant success! Windows 2.0 brought us Microsoft Word and Excel. Version 2.0 was my introduction to Garbage. iSnack 2.0 was renamed because it didn’t live up to the 2.0 standard.
Engage seems scarily iSnackish. From the introduction:
[A]s people engage, possibilities – foreseeable and otherwise – are unlocked through the invention, creativity and hard work of citizens, business and community organisations. [Engage, Source]
In more cutting edge news: Water is wet!
Who would have guessed that inventions would ‘unlock’ possibilities? Which stoned undergraduate philosophy student helped them write that line? ‘Woah… And, like, possibilities are totally, like, unlocked through inventions and the whole world might be a computer game…’ Thank you, writers of Engage for your insightful and extremely nontrivial comments.
Even better is a few lines after that where they state that the ‘need for public servants to continue to be professional and apolitical’ restrains too much in the way of radical Gov2.0 changes, and that ‘[c]reating the culture and practices that can seize the new opportunities but yet stay true to enduring public service values will not be easy’. In the very next line: ‘We have little to lose, and much to gain from moving boldly in this direction’. Yup, apparently Captain Kirk thinks that losing the public service values is small potatoes when compared to the benefits of being able to read Government Brand Twitter.
Look, it’s not all bad. The recommendation that government agencies move towards open source software (while keeping security issues in mind) is a great way for agencies to reduce their IT operating costs. And encouraging departments to create user-friendly websites is also a good idea. But these are in no way new or innovative ideas. The report is more gleam than substance and, if you’ve got your cynical hats on, it seems that might be the idea. ‘Just look at all this Government 2.0 going on! Haven’t we moved mountains to show how cutting edge we all are?’
But the enterprise is fraught with risks. We barely go a semester without hearing of some government agency releasing private information to the public domain. In Victoria, for example, the government is being criticised (rightly so) for releasing the police records of protesters. If we attempt to make the public service more public, how long will it be before things get released which shouldn’t and individual public servants start becoming public figures? Are we going to have a string of Godwin Greches if public servants are given the opportunity to cause media spectacles? How does all this public contact gel with the need to be apolitical if public servants are personally more accessible?
Maybe we should focus more on the ‘service’ aspect and less on the public aspect.
In other news, new Zelda game out today. Best handheld Zelda to date. More on its awesomeness later.
My top ten for 2009:
Daniel, Bat for Lashes
- Completely messed up video.
Give It Up, Datarock
- Sure, I’m a huge Datarock fan already (hunt down a copy of them doing a cover of Mongoloid).
- It’s people running. I don’t get it… but it’s people running!
Fonz, Eugene McGuinness
- Old concept, but fun.
Drumming Song, Florence and the Machine
- Another creepy one.
Would that I had space for No You Girls, Franz Ferdinand.
Who am I kidding? We all know that Empire of the Sun will win.
Fie on them.
The Sorting Algorithm of Evil is an often criticised concept. Oh, shock. All the easy villains were in the first series, and now — mystery of mysteries — the real villains have shown up. And now the all-powerful puppet masters controlling the real villains have shown up. And now the intergalactic queens of the universe who hired the all-powerful puppet masters controlling the real villains have shown up…
But it exists for a reason.
Shows where one side clearly out matches the other have a habit of being dull unless you can put on your suspenders of disbelief quickly enough. Matches between Awesome Hero and weakling bad dude (see: Batman versus the street gangs) seem like petty bullying. Matches between Awesome Villian and weakling heroes (see: Star Trek: First Contact) seem wildly implausible when they end.
A worse example of the latter were several of the recent season finales of Doctor Who. The Master is completely wiping the floor with everybody, so the Doctor is granted magical powers by the psychic satellites. Davros has stolen the Earth to make a planetary weapon out of planets, so the Doctor learns how to control his regeneration so he can create a clone and a human-Time Lord hybrid clone… or something.
Good drama requires evenly matched combatants, and it’s poor writing if one of the combatants quickly level grinds in order to get a massive advantage over the other.
I’ve tried to sit through the ‘Prequels’ and I just really don’t understand why the Jedi don’t do the same thing I do when I’m messing with the Force in the video games: pick up something using the Force, smack everybody else with it.
I’m absolutely horrible with my Force powers. In The Force Unleashed, I roamed around Kashyyyk smashing Wookiees with bits of their own temple. Cultural sensitivity, yo.
They’ve got the whole damn Force there and they’re still all ‘Oh, we’re going to spend three weeks battling incompetent ‘droids.’ The obvious enemy would be the Sith, but far too much narrative baggage had been piled on, so it wasn’t possible (sort of) for more than two Sith to exist at a time.
So a less obvious enemy would be the Dark Jedi. Aayla Secura had already been one. If George Lucas was going for the whole ‘It’s just like the end of the Roman Republic!’, then it would have been wonderful to see the Jedi completely reimagined from the original three as being a group at war with themselves (like the Romans were). Instead of being a group of hippy wizards (as they’re presented through Obi Wan and Yoda), they were deeply divided. The Sith exploit that and bring down the Republic. Awesome trilogy. Rounds of applause. No Jar Jar Binks.
Dragonball GT had a similar problem. In order to keep inventing new plots, moronic things had to happen to the most powerful characters (mostly Goku). It would have been much more interesting to see them all start battling each other (which they sort of did with the Baby Saga).
I feel like I’m being a little bit unfair here. The problem is not new and it’s a frequent hurdle for a lot of fiction.
Take, for example, The Iliad.
On the one side, you have the whole Greek world. They’re wealthy and powerful. They have Athena and Poseidon on their side (mostly), along with most of the pantheon at some point or other. They have an immortal on the field (Achilles).
Then you have Troy.
Troy is rather crap. It’s an out-of-the-way nowhere land and only has minor gods fighting on their side (except for, notably, Apollo and Artermis). They have magic walls (built by gods), but they’re mostly crapola. They only hold out for as long as they do because the Greeks keep pissing off the gods.
This isn’t a match up. The drama is only sustained by repeated instances of ‘And then Domestos, son of Toilet Duck, urinated on the sacred mound of a goddess, who complained to Zeus, who extended the plot by two years.’
It would be nice if we could somehow overcome the mismatching problems in fiction.