Thursday, September 29, 2011

Links of Interest

Pig vs Dragon, improving Google, Cloudflare makes censorship easy, Facebook fixes crazy surveillance flaw, Modern Pulp, "Goverments don't rule the world; Goldman Sachs does." The Occupation of Wall Street, how to kill an aircraft carrier

I'm now looking forward to this movie.

Staring at the cave bear straight in the eyes: mass movements and decision taking in modern society | Energy Bulletin: Ugo Bardi discusses how to create societal change, and makes a good point about how the availability of information via the internet - information that can be readily disseminated and critiqued by a community - plays in to the formation of mass movements based on solid rationales.

Search engines are evolving rapidly and the ways they work today will be obsolete soon. What we need is structuring the Web in such a way that searches will be more likely to return high quality information rather than poor quality information. So far, this kind of structuring doesn't exist; just think how the best quality information we have, peer reviewed scientific journals, exist mainly behind paywalls and as a consequence are not available for decision makers.

iSucker: Big Brother Internet Culture - By Yasha Levine - The eXiled: Cloudflare sounds like a company worth keeping an eye on. It says it monitors nearly 1/5 of all Internet visits, but ...

CloudFlare doesn’t just passively monitor internet traffic: [it] works like a dynamic firewall to selectively block traffic from sources it deems to be “hostile”. ... The whole point of CloudFlare is to restrict access to websites from specific locations/IP addresses on the fly, without notifying or bothering the website owner with the details. 
And here is an added bonus for the paranoid: Because CloudFlare partially caches websites and delivers them to web surfers via its own servers, the company also has the power to serve up redacted versions of the content to specific users. CloudFlare is perfect: it can implement censorship on the fly, without anyone getting wise to it.

As Yasha Levine says, "It all boils down to a question of trust: do you trust a shady company with known intel/law enforcement connections to make these decisions?"

Nik Cubrilovic Blog - Facebook Fixes Logout Issue, Explains Cookies: Kinda self-explanatory, but the negatives on this story seemed to have meme-legs, so it's probably worth reporting on how Facebook's addressed the problem

"I wrote a post two days ago about privacy issues with the Facebook logout procedure which could lead to your subsequent web requests to third-party sites that integrate Facebook widgets being identifiable and linked back to your real account. Over the course of the past 48 hours since that post was published we have researched the issue further and have been in constant contact with Facebook on working out solutions and clarifying behavior on the site."

I've started a thread on to try and figure out what are the modern-day equivalents of 1930s pulp stories (think Raiders of the Lost Ark): [Setting Riff] Modern Pulp

This comment from a trader about the realities of the global economic meltdown may be monstrous, but it's also (a) rare to see someone speak so candidly, and (b) strangely altruistic in the way he's trying to help people think about how to behave in a down market / crash:

It is, however, possible this is a hoax (despite the BBC fact-checking).

Occupy Wall Street | NYC Protest for American Revolution: The Occupation of Wall Street is another exciting citizen movement, and apparently it's spread to Boston, Chicago and San Francisco.

Here's Michael Moore addressing the crowd using a technique I'd never heard of ('The People's Mic):

The War Nerd: China Joins the Yacht Club - By Gary Brecher - The eXiled: Gary Brecher, the War Nerd, discusses the implications of China's acquisition of an aircraft carrier

"It’s about national pride, not military usefulness. The Chinese [have come up with] a real weapon that totally neutralizes the US carrier fleet, a weapon that could sink all 11 of the US carriers in a few minutes, ... a long-range ballistic missile specifically designed to kill carriers and other oversized surface targets. This missile, the DF-21, has a 900 mile range and drops down on the carrier from directly above.

There's more links of interest (John Paul on rugby, Helen's poetry, the Emissions Trading Scheme) at my Google Reader Shared Items page.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Want to make a submission on the video surveillance bill?

It's easy. Takes about 5 minutes.

First, go here: Parliamentary Submission Form.

Then explain your submission. It can be dead simple - just "I oppose the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill, and request that it not be passed in its present form." You can find some good discussions about it here: Andrew Geddis.

No Right Turn's submission is here: Submission.

Here's mine:

I oppose the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill, and request that it not be passed in its present form. 
The retrospective component of the Bill appears to contradict two principles inherent in the rule of law: 
(1) that there will be certainty in how a law is applied
(2) that laws will not be changed in order to benefit those who are in a position change the laws 
These two principles can certainly be said to be in effect in the numerous cases said to be affected by the Supreme Court's recent ruling. The issues surrounding warrantless surveillances conducted due to a perceived urgency or danger have been identified since 2007, and are well known to the Police (see Hodgkinson v R [2010] NZCA 457, where the Crown conceded that a search warrant does not lawfully authorise the trespassory installation of a camera). 
Prosecutions affected by the Supreme Court's recent ruling have proceeded with the understanding that if the alleged illegal activity is serious enough, then illegally-obtained surveillance footage is admissible. This has provided both 'certainty' and an appropriate balance on warrantless surveillance conducted by the police. 
To change this using the proposed Bill removes a valuable check on police power. 
Given this, I see no need to pass the Video Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill in its present form, and recommend that the Search and Surveillance Bill is passed in the next term of government. 
In the meantime, police prosecutions involving warrantless surveillance should be allowed to stand or fall based on the particular merits of each case.

How would you write an adventure for Dr Who?

We recently playtested an adventure that Morgue's writing for the Dr Who role-playing game. After our game, I gave a little bit of thought to how Dr Who stories work. Here are the tropes I've identified - can you think of anything else?


A Threat (or Threatening Situation): ala 'Midnight', where you're stuck in a frozen train with a monster, or 'Blink'.

A Plot: where you have a bunch of ideas for a cool sequence of events (basically a railroad/tunnel of fun scenario).

A Mystery: where you have to get to the bottom of something weird. 'The Girl in the Fireplace' would be a good example of this.

A Relationship Web: there's a whole bunch of complicated inter-personal stuff going on, that the Doctor et al stumble in to (I'm thinking of 'Vengeance on Varos' or your adventure, Morgue). This is often related to ...

... A Moral Crime: Like 'Vengeance on Varos' again, there is something unconscionable (by our standards) happening, and it will permanently remain this way unless someone intervenes. These moral crimes have 'People in Power', 'Victims', and (possibly) a 'Resistance'. All the people involved will want the Doctor or the companions to do something (much like in Dogs in the Vineyard).


When I thought about it, Dr Who stories seem to be set in one of these arenas:

- Earth's past (with or without an alien component)
- Earth's present (usually with an alien component)
- Humanity's future (either on Earth or off-world, usually with an alien component)
- An alien environment (it usually doesn't matter *when* this is set)

Jenni wrote more about our game, here: Playing established characters.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Links of Interest

Making Kickstarter rock, defending the Net from viruses, Michael Moore hires Navy SEALs, You are on The Global Frequency

Story Games - Kickstarter/IndieGoGo, RPGs and You: This Story Games thread starts by asking a few simple questions about peoples' experiences with Kickstarter (where people contribute money to fund projects they're interested in, and if the project earns enough money it goes ahead). Those questions elicit a variety of perspective, all of which are pretty damn fascinating. By the end of it, you'll have a heap of ideas about how to use Kickstarter. (For extra credit, check out Daniel Solis' ideas about how to use Kickstarter.)

Mikko Hypponen: Fighting viruses, defending the net | Video on This talk inspired me with one major plot idea for the New Thing, but it's also a really entertaining history of computer viruses, and an insight into how modern organised crime works and is (ineffectively) policed at an international level.

Michael Moore: I was the most hated man in America | Books | The Guardian: Michael Moore tells a story from his new book, about what happened to him after his Oscar acceptance speech in 2003 denouncing President Bush's invasion of Iraq.

"I got the call some days later from the security agency.
"We need to tell you that the police have in custody a man who was planning to blow up your house. You're in no danger now."
I got very quiet. I tried to process what I just heard: I'm … in … no … danger … now. For me, it was the final straw. I broke down. My wife was already in her own state of despair over the loss of the life we used to have. I asked myself again: what had I done to deserve this? Made a movie? A movie led someone to want to blow up my home? What happened to writing a letter to the editor?"

Watch Global Frequency Part 1 Online - VideoSurf Video Search: I've been hoping to watch the pilot for Global Frequency for five years, ... and now I can tick that off my list. This adaptation of Warren Ellis' crowd-sourced version of Thunderbirds where everyone in the world has the potential to be called up at any time to save the world from disaster is (a) a bit patchy and low-budget, and (b) really true to the optimism and potential of the original comics.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

How my Film Festival turned out (I liked 6.5 out of my 7 films)

Cave of Forgotten Dreams:

What I said before the film: I've always wanted to see the paintings in Chauvet-Pont-D'Arc, and a 3D tour guided by Werner Herzog seems like my best bet to achieve this dream.

My take: A thought-provoking, poetic, slightly challenging guide through the cave paintings of early cro-magnons. The experience was so vivid that a few times I totally drifted off and imagined what it would have been like to have lived 35,000 years ago. I'll definitely see this again.

Recommended to: John-Paul

13 Assassins:

What I said before the film: Takeshi Miike does a samurai film that's better than his best film? That's some hype I need to check out for myself.

My take: This film has a great set-up that examines how duty and honour collide with morality, when you serve a really loathsome villain who happens to be related to the Emperor. I was a fan of how most of the movie unfolded, but I felt the start of the epic final battle was far too comic-book (in the sense of being detached from a sense of reality). However, that soon faded and that final action sequence was a really brutal and satisfying series of slugfests and murders.

Recommended to: Pearce (who has surely already seen it), Chuck, Dean, Keane, Wayne.

Taxi Driver

What I said before the film: I really disliked this the first time I saw it, but I suspect I completely missed the point. Seeing a restored print in 35mm seems like the best way to determine what I think of it.

My take: A great portrayal of a place and time (1970s New York), and of the mind and POV of a mentally unstable man.

In fact, it made me think about how effective the script-writer and the editor can be in a highly-POV based movie: selecting what to show the viewer and what emphasis to place on it. Nearly every scene contained an element of sex, race, or violence that reinforced Travis' world-view.

As for that ending: Scorsese is on the record as saying it's literal, that Travis survives and is hailed as a hero (but that he'll probably do it again, and next time he won't be so lucky). I don't think the film supports that, though: when I look at the trouble Travis caused the presidential campaign on three separate occasions, I can't believe that Cybill Sheppard would treat him the way she does at the end - and if I can't believe that, then it undermines the reality of the ending for me.

Recommended to: ... a hard call. Perhaps Jennifer, given that it's a landmark 70s movie.

Another Earth

What I said before the film: Seeing the trailer after Sundance sold me on the tone it looks like this film's going for: introspective, melancholic science-fiction.

(This trailer contains spoilers, but they're so good that I think it's worth watching.)

My take: Far more of an indie movie than a science-fiction film. It's maybe 95% indie to 5% science fiction. In its indie A-plot, Another Earth focuses on two wounded people - one of them trying to find a reason to live; the other trying to atone. However, its B-plot (of a second identical Earth suddenly appearing in the night sky) contains four spectacular scenes.

All the way through watching this, I thought the film had another gear that it was going to shift into, a gear involving spaceships and Michael Bay-esque slo-mo training montages. Instead the film goes in a radically different direction - one that I enjoyed just as much because it was so true to the characters.

The film's premise makes a promise to the viewer, and Another Earth totally delivers on that promise. It delivers on it in such an understated way that I was still having realisations about its implications a day later. The ending strongly implies that Brit Marling (who's fantastic as both a script-writer and an actor, and I hope we see a lot more of her) has really been (and will continue to be) a hero, and that her choices involving William Mapother's character were right for a lot of reasons.

Recommended to: Chris

Martha Marcy May Marlene

What I said before the film: my must-see of the festival due to the subject matter: a young woman trying to leave a cult.

My take: Aaaahhhh. High expectations - you almost always screw with me.  Yes, this is a fantastic film, at least for the first hour. It's subtle, it feels psychologically accurate, and John Hawkes (as the cult leader) and Elizabeth Olsen (as the newest member of the cult) give great performances where you completely understand everything they're doing without needing to spell it out with dialogue.

The script also uses an flashback structure that immediately gets us into interesting situations in both the present day and the past. Another benefit of the structure is that it allows Olsen's character to make some really inexplicable, potentially audience-alienating decisions which then get explained and well-motivated later on when we see the same situations repeated with other characters.

The film has a major flaw, though, that meant I increasingly couldn't buy into it. The major relationship in the present-day story is between Olsen and her big sister (Sarah Paulson). There's a lot of good material in there: a sense of history and emotional baggage between the two of them, which is only aggravated by Olsen's refusal to explain what happened to her. But the problem is that the structure of most of their scenes together is identical - Big Sister tries to find out what happened, Little Sister blocks her, Big Sister gets increasingly frustrated.

I found myself rewriting that aspect of the film as I watched it (never a good sign). In my rewrite, the older sister is more proactive in trying to find out what had happened; she tries different techniques and approaches to opening her sister up. She wouldn't necessarily need to succeed, and I'd keep all of the other pressures in the older sister's life that are stressing her out, ... but making the older sister smarter and more focused makes her an antagonist for Olsen (and makes her silence even more meaningful).

Recommended to: Luke, Debbie, Matt, Svend, Morgue, Mike, Sophie and Simon (if you want to re-capture some of that Phoenix or Apocalypse World vibe.)

Troll Hunter

What I said before the film: Actually, I'm a little suspicious of this one. I fear that a mocumentary about troll disposal experts in Scandanavia might actually be a little too silly to be good, but I'm prepared to take a chance on it.

My take: So much fun. The film makes the masterful decision to play things pretty conventionally for a long long time, making it a character study/surveillance of a weirdo recluse ... and then, when things start to get into potentially silly territory, the film leavens it at every stage with touches of horror, suspense, and pathos. And some pretty cool action sequences.

Recommended to: Gino

Overall: I give the 2011 New Zealand International Film Festival a 6.5 out of 7.

Friday, September 02, 2011

If everyone on Earth had the same income, we’d each have US$10,000 p.a.

To respond to climate change, we’ll need to reduce our standard of living, and consumption of energy and resources. To figure out a starting point for what that would look like, I tried to calculate what it would mean if everyone on Earth had the same income. My conclusion: we’d each have US$10,000 to live on each year.

Eaarth, by Bill McKibben, argues that Earth’s climate has already been affected by climate change: effectively, we are now living on a new planet. The new world we live on looks similar to Earth but its climate is far harsher, and prone to more extreme and damaging weather conditions.(*)

(*) Living in Wellington last month, I found
 that argument persuasive.

McKibben says that to respond to climate change, we’ll need to reduce our consumption of energy and resources. This will lead to a general reduction in standards of living (including less travel, less disposable consumer goods, and more use of locally grown food and locally generated energy).

But for me, McKibben’s vision of what that standard of living would involve raised a question the book didn’t answer:

What would it look like if everyone on Earth had the same, equal standard of living?

I had no idea about how to go about finding this out. A little bit of Wikipedia-searching led me to the concept of GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), which I think involves the following steps:
  • calculate the final value of all goods and services produced within a country in a given year
  • adjusted that value so it’s being calculated in terms of being able to by the same goods and services in other countries
  • divide that result by the average (or mid-year) population for the same year,
According to the CIA World fact book (via wikipedia), the total global GDP (PPP) in 2010 was US$74 trillion.

If you divide the results of GDP evenly amongst all the people alive on Earth, everyone should get US$10,000 each.(**)

(**) This is my best guess, until I figure out 
a better way of calculating this.

We all know that standards of living are distributed completely unevenly across the world, and the developing world has extreme levels of poverty.
(***) Figures sourced from Wikipedia 
and the World Bank.

But even that figure for average American income is deceptive. The average doesn’t convey how deeply unevenly the wealth is spread around, as it’s distorted by the massive wealth held by a few thousand billionaires in the USA. While the bottom 40% of the US population hold just 0.3% of its wealth, the top 20% of American households own 85% of its privately held wealth.

Let’s let Jon Stewart explain it:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
World of Class Warfare - The Poor's Free Ride Is Over
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

So, leading on from that …

If we, as a global civilisation, have to:

a) reduce our energy consumption by 90 percent, and
b) use financial incentives like the Emissions Trading Scheme, carbon taxes, and increasingly scarce and expensive resources to modify behaviour ...

... then what’s to stop the top 1 to 20 percent of wealth-holders from just buying their way out of it and maintaining their lifestyle?

I don't have a good answer for that.