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Comment Re:Why create the wheel? (Score 5, Interesting) 389

Jared Diamond wrote a famous article to that effect: "The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race."

"One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5' 9'' for men, 5' 5'' for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low of only 5' 3'' for men, 5' for women. By classical times heights were very slowly on the rise again, but modern Greeks and Turks have still not regained the average height of their distant ancestors. "

"Compared to the hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the [Native American] farmers had a nearly 50 per cent increase in enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced by a bone condition called porotic hyperostosis), a threefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably reflecting a lot of hard physical labor."

Comment Re:Alamo Drafthouses are the model of the future (Score 5, Interesting) 865

The Alamo Drafthouse had Patton Oswalt perform a "dramatic" reading of a message left at the theater by someone who was angry about having been thrown out for texting during a movie. It's pretty hilarious, and I first learned of the Drafthouse through their campaign of playing the original message as a sort of anti-texting PSA before screenings.

Oswalt's rendition:

Comment Nonfiction Works on Commodities (Score 3, Interesting) 647

The real economy is based on natural resource extraction and industrial production. As such, I find it important to read about commodities (petrol, natural gas, bananas, cereals, coal, iron ore, etc.) and how they've shaped civilizations through the ages. To this I add books about effective management of water, topsoil, rangeland, and forest resources.

A short list of books related to these subjects:

1) Nature's Metropolis by William Cronin

Cronin tells the story of Chicago's development during the 19th century by tracking the flows of various commodities to and from the city, its hinterlands, and other urban centers. The chapters on how improvements in transportation networks and grain storage facilities led to futures trading are a must-read.

2) The Economic Growth Engine: How Energy and Work Drive Material Prosperity by Robert Ayres and Ben Warr

Ayres (a physicist and economist) has argued for decades that the real growth of the economy is strongly based on how effective civilizations can convert energy resources (especially from fossil fuels) into useful work. In this slightly esoteric work, Ayres and colleague Warr flesh out this idea (the "useful work growth theory") and challenge the Solow model of economic growth and its exogenous variable representing "technological progress" favored by many neoclassical economists. They also discuss topics such as how best to measure energy quality (net energy vs. exergy) and the interplay between thermodynamics and economics.

3) The Rice Economies: Technology and Development in Asian Societies by Francesca Bray

Rice is one of the most important cereals in the world; this book explains how its cultivation has shaped Asian societies. If you're interested in how Asian societies have managed soil fertility and high crop yields over the ages, I also recommend Farmers of Forty Centuries by American agronomist F.H. King.

4) Merchants of Grain by Dan Morgan

About the global grain trade and the titans who control it.

5) Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed The World by Dan Koeppel

Covers banana republics, banana cultivation methods, and the virtual extinction of the Big Mike varietal in the mid-twentieth century. The Big Mike was superior to today's Cavendish banana in taste and durability.

6) A Forest Journey: The Story of Wood and Civilization by John Perlin

Comment Funny-money and pixie dust (Score 2) 378

This sentence from the last page sums it up nicely:

Most pundits would say that Exxon is the larger company by far in every comparison that matters, particularly when you're thinking about who does or does not drive the American economy.

I would go a step further and say that fossil fuel extraction is the most important sector of the economy, at least from the perspective of what makes industrial civilization possible and allows human beings to number over 7 billion. After all, the last few centuries of technological progress and human biomass growth can largely be attributed to how we've creatively employed the vast armies of energy slaves liberated by the combustion of fossil fuels to do things like power generators, run combines and tractors, and make plastics and fertilizers. And human biomass proliferated in the 20th century largely due to our ability to convert stocks of low entropy stored solar energy into edible calories and fertilizers. The energy sector (which is dominated by fossil fuels) subsidizes other service and production sectors and makes our highly complex society possible (1).

So Apple or some bank may be largest or "most important" based on some metric employing fiat currency (that's being inflated away by the Federal Reserve) or the Wall Street casino's latest valuation based on pixie dust, but energy (or more precisely, exergy) is what really matters for civilization; everything else is just playing with your food.

(1) Joseph Tainter, "Complexity, Problem Solving, and Complex Societies."

See also:

Ayres and Warr, "Accounting for Growth: The Role of Physical Work."

Comment There's a Sun Tzu quote for that (Score 5, Interesting) 412

"So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself."

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I propose we ban the discussion and analysis of hypothetical terrorist attacks, military invasions, and network breaches because they're insensitive to victims of terrorism, veterans, and poor blokes like me who've had their medical records compromised.

Comment Re:it's not dying (Score 1) 496

At the end of the day, Steam is the same thing as the Xbox 360 or PS3, from a business perspective at least.

Consoles are sold at a loss with the belief that game royalties, DLC, subscriptions, etc. will make up for hardware costs and then some. The hardware is just a gateway for a locked-down platform where the proprietor gets a cut of every transaction made over the platform.

Valve completely sidestepped the hardware and retail floorspace aspect of the traditional console sales model and delivered a platform straight to users' computers. Like Microsoft and Sony, Valve makes money from every game and DLC pack sold over their service, only Valve didn't have to sink billion of dollars into manufacturing and marketing an entire console to do it. Valve boiled away all of the extraneous stuff and focused on where the money's actually made.

Microsoft and Sony undoubtedly bring in more revenue from their respective videogame divisions, but Steam must have a staggering return-on-investment given that it cost virtually nothing to create.

"Hardcore" videogame consoles only exist because there are a few megacorps out there with enough capital to sink into making them. Given the enormous costs of creating the PS3 and Xbox, it strikes me as a horribly inefficient way of making money. Does anyone know if the PS3 and Xbox divisions are net winners for their respective companies yet?

Comment A word on Xenophon (Score 5, Informative) 511

Xenophon, for those unfamiliar, was an ancient Greek general best known for writing The Anabasis -- an account of the trials and adventures of The Ten Thousand, a group of Greek mercenaries hired by Cyrus the Younger. After he's killed in battle, the Greeks have to march back to Greece from deep within enemy territory. It's quite a thrilling tale with plenty of action and treachery. Surprised they haven't made a movie out of it a la 300.

If I was Mr. Xenophon, I'd rather go up against the Persians than the Scientologists :D In any event, he has an awesome last name.

Comment The price sealed the deal (Score 5, Insightful) 234

UT3 is worth $12 and not a cent more, IMHO. I'll probably play it for a few weeks and move on (I purchased it during Steam's holiday sale and finally installed it to check out the update). So the cost/entertainment ratio is pretty good.

Truthfully, most games aren't worth $20, let alone $50. I was browsing Steam the other day and noticed that EndWar -- a months-old console port with an attractive 67/100 Metacritic rating -- is being sold for the same price as Empire Total War and Dawn of War II. Hell, you can buy World in Conflict Gold for $30. So why on earth should I pay $50 for EndWar? Don't get me wrong, EndWar could provide a few days of stupid RTS fun, but it's simply not worth the asking price.

Anyway, thanks to Steam, Impulse, Gamersgate and GOG, I can buy 5 (maybe more) games for the same price as a new one. Good games are always good, ya know? So not only are publishers competing with current games, they're competing with dirt cheap oldies, too.

Enough with the arbitrary $50 price point. Some games are absolutely worth $50; most are not.

Comment Re:netcraft confirms it: (Score 5, Insightful) 81

Yeah, those 11 million WoW players don't count. In THE YEAR 2009!!!1 they'll all use WINE to play WoW in Ubuntu :rollseyes:

The Orange Box sold very well on the PC, according to Valve's Doug Lombardi, surpassing 360 sales. I'm sure Valve wishes they never wasted money on that whole Steam thing; it's clearly going nowhere...

And I'm sure StarCraft II and Diablo 3 will flop. Blizzard may as well throw in the towel.

Someone better tell Stardock that making PC games is a bad idea.

I also heard that Dawn of War II and Empire Total War are being canceled and removed from Steam in anticipation of the great Linux migration of '09.

FYI: PC games would cease being made if they were unprofitable.

But I agree: idiotic DRM needs to go and publishers need to stop blaming piracy for their inability to make good games. I own a 360, Wii, and gaming PC (that dual-boots Ubuntu) and have plenty of great games for each platform. You're missing out if you write-off PC gaming.

Role Playing (Games)

Submission + - Gamers perform better on surgical skill test

Blindside writes: Are surgeons who are also gamers at an advantage in the operating room? A new study showed that gamers had a distinct advantage in a surgical skills test. 'Neither years of training nor number of surgeries performed would predict performance on the laparoscopy skills test. Past gaming and current skills, in contrast, would. Those who had never gamed took significantly longer to complete the skills test, and had an error rate of roughly 1.5 times that of regular gamers. Similar correlations also held when gaming skills were tested: those scoring in the top third made nearly 50 percent fewer errors, and and performed the drill nearly 40 percent faster. For those keeping score at home, Super Monkey Ball 2 had the best correlation with surgical skills, Star Wars Racer Revenge the worst.'

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