Wednesday, 30 April 2008

The Strange Tale Of Doncaster Rovers

In the Guardian David Conn looks at the volatile recent history of Donny Rovers.
The bare fact that Rovers would become the first club ever to rise from the Conference to the Championship in five years does not capture the far-fetched episodes in this saga - from the former chairman convicted of conspiring to burn down the main stand, through Irish tribunal hearings into alleged ministerial corruption, to a smart new stadium somewhat controversially built by the local council with £30m of public money and the revival fashioned by the current chairman, John Ryan, who made his money in cosmetic surgery - "Principally," he notes, "breast augmentation."

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Consensus on the Weather

Boy, am I just behind the times or what?

I was reading an article in the Washington Post about Wikiality (the idea that if enough Wikipedia readers believe that something then it must be true) and it mentioned a service called described as "a wiki-weather site in which users can collaboratively decide whether it is raining outside". That description is not very far from the truth.
The idea is that the aggregation of information in groups results in decisions that are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group. is built under the premise that aggregating as many available forecasts as possible (both from experts and not) will result in a more accurate forecast, and that the aggregation will be a new source in itself.

Their faith in the massed ranks of anonymous users is quite touching.

Wil Treks On

This time Wil Wheaton reviews Code of Honour:
Oh good! We're going to be racist and sexist in this one!

Not related, particularly, but the Onion AV club have a video of Prince covering Radiohead's Creep.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Marketing: UK Not That Much Cop Either

This one's been going around and has been linked to on Fark, but I think my readers will enjoy it anyway. The Office of Government Commerce has had a logo designed for it. It looks like this:

Nice font, you may be thinking. Bland but elegant, perhaps. That is until you turn it on its side:

A spokesman for the OGC said, according to the Daily Telegraph, "it is not inappropriate to an organisation that’s looking to have a firm grip on Government spend."

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Interactive Fact

Much like comic books became Graphic Novels (at least for some, I hear Alan Moore can't stand the title), what were once called "text adventures" became "interactive fiction".

You are either nostalgic for the time you knew what "XYZZY" meant or you probably can't care less. Some people are keeping the flame alive, though. It may be a dead genre commercially but a small group of IF enthusiasts are keeping its spirit alive and, along the way, producing much that is very playable and often, yes, thought provoking (I played AdVerbum the other day and the thought it provoked was "what kind of a sadist wrote this", but in a good way).

Another way to keep the genre alive is to build shrines to IF's past glories. Friend-of-the-blog and occasional contributor here, Peter Verdi, has done just that. His new site is a paean to all things Magnetic Scrolls. It's not entirely finished yet, but as a prior warning of future perfection it sure does bring the pretty. Peter has let me know that he has interviews lined up with a number of key players from the company and hopes to publish these soon.

MS was one of the great IF publishers. Probably only directly rivalled by Infocom in terms of overall gameplay. Infocom were more prolific, but MS had graphics and arguably the better parser (the bit that understands your input, famously one MS game boasted a problem who's solution was "PLANT THE POT PLANT IN THE PLANT POT WITH THE TROWEL").

Infocom, by the way, was the publisher of the official Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy game. Well, in some cases, not so much a game as an act of sadism by Douglas Adams on gamers. Despite this, it was Infocom's top selling title (except for Zork, if you've got this far you'll know what that is) and they desperately wanted to make a sequel. This never happened. Some of the reasons why this was are explored over at

What's interesting about the above article is that some of it's issues are mulled over by a number of ex-Infocom members (including Dave Lebling, Marc Blanc and Steve Meretzky) and quite a few from Magnetic Scrolls (Anita Sinclair, Phil South, Michael Bywater). So it's not just fascinating as a piece of history. It's a tear-jerking reunion as well!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Marketing: UK & US Differences

Charlie Stross, a fine SF writer, has a new book coming out in hardback soon. This is the cover his UK publisher is giving the book:

A fine cover, I'm sure you'll agree. It's something of a piece with his other "space opera" works, though different enough to mark it out.

This is the US cover:

Monday, 21 April 2008

Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?

No, apparently, at least according to this academic paper:
Individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine. In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings, we find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less. For individuals with wine training, however, we find indications of a positive, or at any rate non-negative, correlation.

That is, expensive wine is only better if you know how much it costs. Or you've trained your palette to recognise expensive wines.
Our results indicate that both the prices of wines and wine recommendations by experts may be poor guides for non-expert wine consumers.

That is, wine snobs like what wine snobs like, you go ahead and drink what you enjoy, no matter how cheap.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Scalpel. Swab. Video Phone.

It seems nowhere is safe anymore. You can be filmed doing anything. Including having a perfume canister removed from your arse.
Doctors involved in the operation were seen laughing boisterously during the operation, which was recorded on video. A video clip was later uploaded to the video sharing website YouTube.

Hey, do you think Rectal Foreign Bodies would be a good name for a punk band?

Monday, 14 April 2008

Isn't This a Week Late?

The Telegraph announces a big win in the War On Drugs. This times it's not for the side that's high.

Apparently, in Afganistan local farmers are swapping crops; heroin for wheat. Not for any particularly honourable reasons, you understand. It's just that the price of heroin is going down while wheat prices have doubled.

I've looked and looked and I can't find the link to The Onion that should accompany that piece anywhere.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Knife Sharpening

Onion AV club use the imminent release and subsequent critical mauling of Scarlett Johansson's debut album, an album of Tom Waits covers no less, to look at why we don't really like bands formed by movie stars.
Unlike every other singer on the planet, Johansson didn’t have to bother slogging through small gigs in empty nightclubs, printing up press kits and cold-calling labels to get them to listen to her demo, or any of the other various trials that kill most musicians’ careers before they even get started. All she had to do was casually mention to her agent that she might like to do an album, and the next thing you know she’s swapping vocal lines with David Fucking Bowie. No wonder everybody’s aching to piss on this thing.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Monkeys And Monty Hall

How can anyone resist an article with the title "Cognitive Dissonance in Monkeys"?

Well, actually that's the page's title. The article is titled "And Behind Door No. 1, a Fatal Flaw", which really isn't as fun.

Anyway, the Monty Hall problem is well described by the writer here:
Here’s how Monty’s deal works, in the math problem, anyway. (On the real show it was a bit messier.) He shows you three closed doors, with a car behind one and a goat behind each of the others. If you open the one with the car, you win it. You start by picking a door, but before it’s opened Monty will always open another door to reveal a goat. Then he’ll let you open either remaining door.

Suppose you start by picking Door 1, and Monty opens Door 3 to reveal a goat. Now what should you do? Stick with Door 1 or switch to Door 2?

The odd thing is that the answer feels entirely counter-intuitive. It seems that it goes against all that "coins don't remember results" guff, because the answer is:

[W]hen you stick with Door 1, you’ll win only if your original choice was correct, which happens only 1 in 3 times on average. If you switch, you’ll win whenever your original choice was wrong, which happens 2 out of 3 times.

That is, if you switch you are twice as likely to win.

To see how this relates to monkeys and M&Ms read the rest of the article.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Idiocy and How To Fix It

Gamasutra has an article titled Fixing Online Gaming Idiocy: A Psychological Approach. I'm sure your first thought at seeing that was something like mine "Yeah, right. Good luck with that." Though your thoughts were probably more literate.

The article talks about how societal pressures keep the real world functioning:
In real life, people are capable of an incredibly wide variety of behaviors. People go to a bar on Saturday night and church on Sunday morning and manage not to get kicked out of either. How? They don't sing hymns and pray while at the bar, and don't smoke and drink during the sermon.

If I read it right, though, the essential mechanism for stopping idiocy happening is to make the penalty for being an idiot greater than reward for being not idiotic. In the real world examples above the penalty for breaking the rules is to be barred from those places and it's no fun being an idiot without an audience.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Misperception and Missing It All Together

In what is surely a piece of research destined for an Ig Nobel a paper is coming out on how men misperceive sexual interest in women.

It has two theories on why this happens. One, men are thinking with their john thomas' and don't care and, two, men aren't too bright when it comes to this stuff.

I feel like I've been insulted, but I'm not sure how.


Wil On Angel One

Convention season must be over because Wil Wheaton has written another Star Trek: TNG review. This time he notices how much Angel One stinks up the place.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Last Suppers

Via Grumpy Gamer.

A collection of Last Supper parodies including the famous MASH and Sopranos ones and some more mind bending other ones.

The House parody gets a note that there are only 11 disciples:

It's pretty obvious, though, that there are 12 bodies other than House's, also Chase being in the Judas position isn't aas quibblesome as the note suggests.

Hey Hey Hey!

I'm back!

OK, so I never said I was away, but I've been on holiday. Doing a bit of walking drinking lots of beer, that sort of thing. Normal posting should resume shortly.

I was at the Doncaster Beer Festival on my last day in England and had a whole range of great beers (and one or two not so good). The porters and dark beers in particular were very good this year. As usual there were any number of punning names (eg. the Idle Brewery had a Sod beer). I tried to set up the barmen each time I bought one, but it never quite clicked. For instance, when I went to but a glass of Regal Blonde, the exchange went something like this:
"I'd like a Regal Blonde, please"
"There you go, sir, one token please"

Whereas in my mind's eye it went more like:
"I'd like a Regal Blonde, please"
"I'd like to be a foot taller and look like Brad Pitt, but it'll never happen"

Still, you can't have everything.