Tuesday, 29 June 2004

Me as a South Park Character

Me as a South Park Character. I used some tool to create this on the Internet a while ago, and I can't remember what it was called, but I've got this photo blog thing (picasa, apparently) that I'm trying out so I thought I'd be (more) self-indulgent (than usual). Posted by Hello

Regression to the Mean

The title might suggest a post about the English on holiday, but it's more about my holiday. Or, at least, the above phrase, which I used a lot on holiday.

It's a simple idea. If you do something really well (or badly) the next time you do that thing it probably won't be as good (or bad). Put like that it's quite obvious. All things people do tend to have a random factor built in, it's probably what makes them fun. That random factor means that something exceptional will be followed by something not so exceptional. It also means this will happen more often than not.

It's why the next time you go to that really great restaurant you just discovered, you'll probably be disappointed. And that really bad one must have hired new staff, or something.

One odd side-effect of this is that it often reinforces the wrong message. In that, when you notice something good (or bad) and praise it (or complain) that that thing will get worse (or better), it would have done that anyway, though. What this means is that it often seems that we get results when we tell people off, but it looks like they are getting complacent after we've complimented them.

Tests have shown, however, that positive reinforcement is better for people than negative. Short-term results mask long-term ones.

Anyway, I've found an article from the Skeptical Inquirer explains this much better than me and also shows how certain magazine curses are actually true... Sort of.

Wheen's World

Francis Wheen, author of "How Mumbo-jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions", which an American publisher has decided to call "Idiot Proof: Deluded Celebrities, Irrational Power Brokers, Media Morons, and the Erosion of Common Sense", is interviewed in The Boston Globe.

It's a short interview, but to the point.

Link from the Blog of a Bookslut, which has had a very nice redesign recently.

Wednesday, 9 June 2004

Normal Service Will Resume

OK, so I'm off on hoiday tomorrow for two and a half weeks. And though I might be able to access the Internet in one way or another I don't intend to.

See you soon.

Tuesday, 8 June 2004

Gamers as Pavlov's Dogs?

Here's an interesting article that I found through Bryan-Mitchell Young's Popular Culture Gaming site.

The main idea of it is that computer games players can't see a barrel without wanting to blow it up. It's an odd conditioned response, but then alternative solutions are immediately discounted as they've been tried before and found wanting.
At a GDC lecture on game narrative, Warren Spector told a story about tester behavior during the Deus Ex: Invisible War QA process. At one point, testers approached a T intersection: to the right were laser tripwires and gun turrets; to the left was a locked door; and directly in front was a (usable) window. He said every single one of them, without fail, went to the right. One can imagine how frustrated developers must occasionally get when they watch gamers consistently employ Neolithic problem solving tactics when modern development tools make much more advanced techniques available.

It seems that gamers have been given a limited set of rules by games designers and now know how to make the most of those rules to their advantage. Now that designers have the computing power to add more rules they are frustrated, as it takes a little time for older gamers to adapt.

Maybe if those designers hadn't been turning out the same old games in new clothes for all those years this might not be so pronounced...

I seem to remember that just about every ZX Spectrum game was different in it's way and having no problems with that.

Friday, 4 June 2004

Heavy Metal Bands Get Softer

No Rock & Roll Fun would probably do this better, but...

According to Reuters:
For heavy metal bands, it has always been about distortion-laden guitars, pounding drums, singers who can growl and break-neck solos. But now business demands are making some metal acts show their softer side.

You know I always felt that any music style that makes claims on "Keepin' It Real" was about one step away from selling out for a pat on the head from whichever corporate sponsor was willing to give the kids a taste of sanitized rebellion. Music as sandbox, fling your toys here but as soon as you turn 21 you better get a haircut and get a real job (or keep living in the basement with your fading t-shirt collection -- there's always a choice).

Rap, the other music with a very public "Real" fetish, went from "people pissing on the stage" to advertising Benz's and Courvousier so fast, for example, it's hard to believe it's still the same genre (though, I guess, strictly, it went from "let's party" to "life's hard" to "let's party, but try not to get fingerprints on my priceless art collection"), but that's a whole other story.

Anyway, Reuters puts the blame squarely on Metallica, which is good:
Metallica, the biggest-selling rock act of 1990s, paved the way for that success with palatable radio hits like "Nothing Else Matters" and "Enter Sandman" that enticed radio stations to also play harder songs from older albums like "Master Of Puppets."

Heavy Metal bands aren't the only bait-and-switch artists, of course. I'm sure we all have albums at home that we bought for that one single that was really great and then when we got it home...

It turns out that that one single must have used up all the creative juices of the band and the other 10-15 tracks are filler or in a completely different style (writing this I wanted to add "4 Non-Blondes I'm looking at you", but that was so long ago it shocks me that I'm still bitter about it).

The thing is: isn't Heavy Metal supposed to be unlistenable to anybody but its target audience? Aren't headbangers supposed to be proud of the parent-bothering-ness of it all? What's the point, then, of putting out a single that might appeal to Mom'n'Pop, too?

Then again when Mom'n'Pop are quite likely to have records by Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix or some other rock giants then listening to "softer, more daytime-acceptable songs" probably is going to have them worried.

Thursday, 3 June 2004

You Want to Look Away, But...

Baby's Named a Bad, Bad Thing: A Primer on Parent Cruelty.

You know, I went to school with a kid called Wayne Scales. That's not half as bad as some of the names in the link given above. Scary, just incredibly scary. And fascinating, too, kinda like a car crash.

So, He's Got a New Album Out, Then?

Former Beatle says he used cocaine during 'Pepper' sessions.

Is there anyone who thought that he didn't?
He confirmed that drugs influenced some of the group’s songs.

If only he'd admit that "Please Please Me" is about blowjobs so that I stop getting funny looks from people when I explain it to them.

Making Dark

Making Light is always worth a look, but this article on the way Enron screwed over everybody is great.

Tuesday, 1 June 2004


Over the weekend the Guardian decided to have a go at some beautiful people who are no longer working.

Of course, it's a lot kinder to them than it needs to be. For instance, it actually talks up Gretchen Mols career because you have to be looking really hard, and at just the right moment, to spot her in Donnie Brasco.