Friday, November 18, 2016

The Establishment Clause

Remember that we are always in the process of determining what America is. If you believe that the Constitution was meant to protect *everyone* and not just whoever happens to be the majority at the time, then you have to fight with those who don't understand that fundamental fact.

Notably this part of the First Amendment, known as the Establishment Clause:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

The Establishment Clause is a limitation placed upon the United States Congress preventing it from passing legislation respecting an establishment of religion. The second half of the Establishment Clause inherently prohibits the government from preferring any one religion over another.

That we undermined this with the "In God We Trust" business in 1956 because of the Red Scare is proving detrimental to peoples' understanding of what the EC means. We should go back to "E Pluribus Unum", which is something we can all get behind, regardless of religious affiliation (or unaffiliation, as the case may be).

"Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it." This is not just some random collection of words, it explains what happens in human communities over and over again.

Do your part to understand what the Constitution means, and *how* it has granted us the freedoms we have. And then, armed with that knowledge, help your fellow Americans understand it so that we can all move forward together. Dark forces are all around, hoping to deprive us of our freedoms. Don't let them win.

Monday, November 02, 2015

The state of education in the United States

I just heard this from a professor I know:

I was down talking with one of our faculty that teaches Math for Elementary Teachers; it's getting scary---many of these kids can't do the skills they are going to be teaching.

My son can explain why the standard algorithm works for, say, multiplication of multiple-digit numbers. These kids can't do the skill reliably, much less explain why it works.

The kicker is that we're trying to teach these pre-adults the models that I used to show my son why multiplication works the way it does---and they still can't do it reliably.

We're letting in kids that have no business getting a university degree and saddling them with lots of debt that they will not be able to discharge. Many of them don't really want to be here in the first place, but this is what they've been told they have to do, and they can't think of anything else.

So, they're just continuing the tricks that got them through public school (without learning anything, I might add...).

And there are rumors that universities are going to be funded based on completion rates. High schools are already being assessed on the percentage of their graduates that go on to universities, so they're incentivized to get their students to come. Banks and such are incentivized to give the students loans. And we're about to be incentivized to give them a diploma. This, kids, is how bubbles are made.

You know how there were those guys that saw what was happening in the sub-prime mortgage market and bet against it? Bet against student loans.
This person is not prone to making dire prognostications. But I was chilled when I read that last sentence: "Bet against student loans."

I've read Michael Lewis's excellent book, The Big Short about the 2008 sub-prime mortgage bubble. I highly recommend reading that book if you haven't. It describes (in plain language with entertaining accounts of the people involved) how incentivizing banks to loan money to people for houses they couldn't afford was the thing that was at the heart of getting that crisis rolling. "Bert against student loans" brought that whole mess back to mind instantly.

If we produce a generation of students who cannot find the employment they need to pay back their loans, it will be much more than just a financial crisis (as of 2014, total student loan debt in the US was at $1.2 trillion). It will be a crisis of the collapse of the fundamental infrastructure of any society: its people.

In a species such as humans which cannot pass on biologically much of what our children need to survive, nothing is more important to a civilization's long-term survivability than education. We need highly educated people to keep our society running and pushing forward.

I don't know what the solutions are to this problem. But I say that it is one of the largest problems facing us today, along with global warming and rising income inequality.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Rambling thoughts about DotA 2 vs LoL

Here's a list in no particular order of reasons why I don't like DotA 2. In some places, I'll say "DSCGP", for "Doesn't Support Core Game Play". To me, the core gameplay is "I work with my team to destroy towers to access their base so we can destroy their nexus." Pieces of the design that don't support this are extraneous. LoL has some, but not as many.

The camera is too close to the ground. Hard to see what's happening.

Map is illegible. There are gaps in the scenery that don't look like gaps. This requires a lot of memorization to know where you can go and where you can't. LoL has some of this, since some heroes have gap-skipping abilities, and you need to know where they apply. At the very least, you can tell how wide the obstacles are by looking at the map.

"Secret Shop" Why is the shop split into different parts of the map? So you have to risk your life to buy an item? (DSCGP) Requires excessive memorization to know what you can buy where.

Balance point in games is narrower. This is because death is more punishing. In DotA, you lose gold when you die. On top of this, they make going back to base more expensive. You have to buy a scroll to warp back to base. In LoL, this is free (though it takes 8 seconds). This results in higher risk/higher loss for staying at the front and getting killed.

Once a game is off-balance, it's harder for the losing team to restore that balance. It takes longer to reach max level in DotA, and longer to reach a point where there's nothing more to build for your character. In LoL it's easier to make a comeback from a losing position. To clarify this, let's suppose you're in a game of LoL where your opponents are ahead. Why are they ahead? They've gotten more gold and levelled higher than you, so you're having a hard time defeating them in battle. This leads to them taking more objectives.

In either game, if you can defend long enough, eventually everyone on both teams will be max level, and have no more room to buy better items. At this point, neither team has an advantage due to gold or xp. One team will have a tactical advantage due to remaining turrets, but the teams themselves will only be unbalanced by A) team composition B) player skill C) teamwork. Ultimately, if a game is decided by these three things, not by who got ahead first, then the game is functioning according to its core game play: "I work with my team to destroy towers to access their base so we can destroy their nexus." The core gameplay is not "I get ahead of my opponents in gold and xp so I can win fights." That is a sub-objective in the game. Selfish players who value individual accomplishment over teamwork focus on this part of the game, and can lose you the match if your opponents are sharper on the teamwork.

DotA has courier animals so you can buy stuff and have it delivered to you at the front. (DSCGP) This was added to give more options to get items without going through the punishing walk-back or pay-to-teleport mechanic. Get rid of that mechanic... problem solved. Don't add a new mechanic to fix it.

Default map shows COLORS on the map, not faces. I have to memorize which player is which color to see at a glance which hero abilities are where on the map. I've been told there's a setting to change this, but I don't know for sure. The colors are shitty, too. These are holdovers from Warcraft III's color system.

Creep denial. (DSCGP) In DotA, you can last hit your own minions to deny your opponents getting XP/gold for them. This is also a leftover from the mod, as in W3 you could attack anything, allied or not. Last-hitting minions to get gold is an annoying mechanic in both games, having to worry about last hitting to deny makes it even worse. In LoL, you deny XP/gold by zoning your opponents and keeping them too far from the minions to get the xp or gold. This is enough of a denial mechanic, in my opinion.

This is open to debate, but I think DotA's "All heroes unlocked" is not a good thing. Your first choice in the game is "which hero do I play" and you have to pick from over 100. LoL's free champ rotation (10 a week) makes this more managable. This could be argued to be a greed play by Riot, but I've never found LoL's monetization to be evil. I find that with regular play I earn new champs about as fast as I can digest how to play them reasonably well.

The summoner levelling in LoL is something I didn't like at first, but it's used mainly as a mechanism to limit the complexity new players see. To play ranked games, you have to reach level 30, so everyone you play with at that point has access to the same stuff you do.

The announcer in DotA makes me feel like they think I'm 3 years old. This is a holdover from the old mod, which ripped the announcer from Unreal Tournament. The calm, slightly British accent announcer in LoL is far superior.

The heroes throwing verbal taunts at you in DotA when they kill you is annoying at best, and just adds to the general noise in the game.

Shop interface in LoL is far better. (Maybe the DotA one has improved since I last played)

Well, that's it. There might be some other small things hanging around, I think I got the big ones.