Month: April 2015

Ratings: Judgment of usefulness vs. signaling of personal approval

Cynical reminder: Remember: Review ratings are not a usefulness indicator, but a popularity contest.

Occasionally I am being reminded of the frequent misuse (deliberate confusion) of usefulness votes for reviews as approval votes. While negative reviews can garner lots of approval, they won’t if what you say hurts the egoes of fanboys. They have an unhealthy attachment to the product or service in question (let’s just talk computer games here, since this is inspired by Steam), and that means there is a dependency that they themselves, deep within, are not happy about. This is usually the fact that they are willing to tolerate lots of crap, to accept not being respected. This of course is something they really don’t like to admit, so when you criticize a lack of respect from a game design or game business, you will unpleasantly remind the fanboys of their weakness and unhappiness, of their state of denial. It’s not intended, but that’s the effect it will have, and that’s why some justified and elaborate reviews might still get loads of downvotes. Usually without comment, in the case of actually somewhat smarter (and/or more fearful) fanboys who understand that any communication could give away what they are trying to hide. This at least helps with self-awareness. The ones that add a stupid comment to the downvote, fully revealing their motivations, are actually the fools. There’s relatively little hope for them, although this state still provides its own opportunities for eventual enlightenment. The path towards the light might lead through the deepest dorkness.

Among all the possible combinations of up- or downvote and no or stupid or elaborate comments that you agree or disagree with, the most valuable is the elaborate negative critique that you agree with, since it provides an important external viewpoint that makes you see what you couldn’t see on your own and helps you to improve your perceptions and judgments.

Stupid negative critique is still more useful to you than downvotes without comment, since that makes it easy to identify it as useless. So to all critics: Feel free to speak your mind. I’d like to get to know you and understand your reasoning. 😉
Stupid positive critique has its use, too, since it helps to identify baseless praise, which could become a big problem for you, and you should be able to imagine why.

Additional thought: Cases of downrated reviews about technical issues with a game could also be triggering pure egotism of the likes of ‘It worked fine on my system; you’re stupid.’

Information flow and the grievances lobby

One would think that people who stand up for something right and good are strong in character, brave, and to be commended for that.

But what has crystallized after my observations, experiences and pondering is that in such cases, you can distinguish between those doing it for strong selfish motives and those who actually do it regardless of whether they are personally involved. The latter seems quite rare, and they might elude attention due to the many who are motivated to do right for the wrong reasons.

The recent case of Drawponies (a.k.a. Traceponies) making money by selling traced MLP show art caused an impressive degree of attention, or you could say, publicity. Because what I see is that in such cases, there is a lobby. There are people who invested financially by buying ‘his’ material. There are people who are artists themselves, following proper rules, and thus being upset about someone else breaking them to gain an advantage. On another level, there can be emotional investment, which is still connected to time spent and to the bad feeling of being deceived. All this is still personal though.
Add to that the legal ramifications. Legal means business. Serious stuff. Connected to money again.

People who you’d never expect to take up any noble cause can suddenly morph into bloody revolutionaries if their personal material interests are under attack.

But the true test of character is whether someone would do the same in the interest of others. This is the crucial indicator of whether the motivation is egoistical or altruistic. When you have a big group of people all following a shared egoistical goal, it can easily be mistaken for mutual caring. (I blogged about this point before.)

I know from personal experience how decisive it can be whether an issue has this kind of lobby or not. If, like in the case of Drawponies, interest groups like Equestria Daily start sweating because they have been unknowingly supporting art theft and because they have a large following of other artists that they might piss off if they don’t react strongly and decisively, you thus have a major content distributor with a self-interest of publicating the issue.
If, on the other hand, someone does something rotten while such interest groups don’t see their own interests under attack, it can continue without interference. And when you witness enough of such things, you cannot just forget and deny, even if you want to. You then see the shadowy side of people and the many deceptions they practice towards themselves and others.

If Drawponies had not sold his material, but merely claimed it as his own, thus lying to others for personal admiration, just as he has done anyway, this incident would have had a wholly different character and far less public attention. Especially since then it would only have been Hasbro who’d have material grievances. If he had noncommecially stolen art from other fans, the lobby would have been stronger, since then material concerns of fans would have been involved. It would still have caused a more forgiving reaction though, especially by Equestria Daily and such, but also since many people aren’t that much of warriors for justice if it’s not about their own money.

Remember when animators used the leaked Flash puppets, not just for internal practice purposes, but in their publicated work, making no mention that they didn’t create the puppets themselves and silently accepted any praise based on that misconception? That was willful deception, but (potential) material grievances were only on Hasbro’s side. (And fan works and leaked production assets are two different things, so this is not the same as using show material where it’s totally apparent and goes without saying that it’s not original material.) So here, too, artists gained an unfair advantage through deception, and for them this strategy worked. To this day they’re still benefitting from the fruits of that deception. And just like Drawponies, they didn’t come forward until someone else called them out.

If the ‘brony community’ was as noble in principle as they’d like to see themselves, then those animators would have received as much flame as Drawponies now did.
And if they applied the same standards to Drawponies that they applied to others, then Equestria Daily would continue publishing Drawponies’ material, but only his original works. … Sounds unthinkable? Unacceptable? That’s because money.

Start caring for others not because you have a vested interest to do so, but because it is right.

Thoughts on Valve’s commercialization of modding

Recently, Valve decided to introduce a payment system for game-modifications that are available in their “Steam Workshop”. Here are my thoughts about the situation:

Modding is something based on the spirit of free sharing, labor of love in a way. It is built up by various people, embracing that spirit, but also by Valve with their Steam Workshop – supposedly in the same spirit.

But then suddenly money comes into play, and this creates an incompatibility. Especially since it is an attempt to build the commercial aspect on top of something that wasn’t designed that way.

More generally speaking, money is a great corrupting influence, and the outrage generated by Valve’s move is rooted in material, philosophical and spiritual grievances. Money as motivation in the mind impairs objective reasoning, and especially with growing economic pressures.

The emerging business trends we see in the world are not an improvement, but an attempt at dealing with growing problems without solving the core problem. Progress for humankind means being able to get more stuff done without monetary structures, because money is inherently a tool of distrust, social distance, a scarcity-ruled mindset. The root of all that is fear. What we see here is more of the old paradigm, masking itself as progressive in order to fit a corporate identity.

Compare that to the courage of CDProjekt Red / GOG.com and their decision to sell their upcoming game “The Witcher 3” DRM-free.
Now I’m not using this as a shining example for all eternity, since this is how great ideas usually start, and there are also factors involved that take away certain fears, but it still a bold move, and whenever such ideas eventually become corrupted, someone new has to step in and build something that fits the current spirit of the time. Trying to change the old fear-built structures is usually a futile endeavor, since people running them have made their choices and lack incentive to change; and even if there is incentive, they will merely adapt, without change of mind.

Thus the conundrum: Trying to create a movement for social progress and then wanting to make it big by involving big money. This is why so many things start pure in spirit, but if successful tend to corrupt.

As for the game “Skyrim”, the prime name involved in this affair: Especially the original interface put me off a lot (typical for-console design) as well as various bugs. Reliance on modding often is not a gesture of appreciation, but a strategy to outsource less-than-critical product features as well as a publicity move for improving product presence. This might eventually result in game dev business becoming almost purely management, with the development done by monetized contributors, which destroys the spirit of an artistic-creative process even more than is already happening especially in non-indie game development. Those who make the decisions have an impact on the product, and if the decision-makers have no emotional connection with the character of that product, then that will show in the product.

Then again … ‘Corrupted minds’ can be found all through society. Some of the outrage is certainly fueled by the very same mentality, people just resenting the idea of having to pay for something that they used to get for free.
Which mindset, which intention is driving someone should be examined for every individual case.

Water is smart. Smartwater is dumb.

One of the dumbest and most popular tactics of the deceiver is to tell the exact opposite of the truth. It is based in a fear of having the truth become obvious, so its opposite is being enforced with plenty of words and fancy eyecandy and such.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that when in a country with overall bad tap water Coca Cola sells water, it would be at the very least facepalm-inducing.

The product they sell is like a self-parody. It reminds me a bit of the movie “Idiocracy” ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808 ) where people eventually tried to water their fields with energy drinks “because it has electrolytes”. I could even imagine this movie having been inspired by products like it.

Here, read their marketing orgasm for yourself:

“glacéau smartwater
glacéau smartwater is inspired by the way mother nature makes water, known as the hydrologic cycle. we simulate this process by vapor distilling water, making every drop as pure as the very first drop of rain (before it passes through pollutants, of course). if that’s not smart enough, we then one-up mother nature by adding in electrolytes for a clean crisp taste. if that sounds like genius, it is. smartwater is smart because it’s made that way.”

( http://www.coca-colacompany.com/brands/product-descriptions#glaceau-smartwater )

The lack of capital letters, by the way, is intentional. They do it for that product line. That’s corporate marketing for you. All about appearances.
Well, the idiot is by design not smart enough to conceil his idiocy, thus a sentence like
“if that sounds like genius, it is.”
Well guess what: It doesn’t sound like genius, so by your own words, it is not. (Sarcastically speaking, it is no surprise that someone who doesn’t know how to use capital letters also doesn’t know how to use proper sentence-logic.)

So what they do is take water with all its natural ingredients, all the minerals and trace elements, then remove everything, only leaving chemically pure H2O, and then re-adding a tiny fraction of that richness, and then sell the result for a high price.

Probably the only thing that keeps this from being the dumbest drinking water ever (unless we talk about it being deviously smart to sell this to the gullible and get rich) is the adding of electrolytes, although they don’t specify which they are, and they add them for the wrong reason – for taste – as if to spite their nutritional relevance, thus perverting nature. (Electrolytes can mean minerals. I seem to remember the label of such a bottle and it was one or two basic substances only.)

There’s also purely distilled drinking water being sold. And I learned as a kid that if you drink several liters of distilled water, you die because the radical change in osmotic pressure in your body cells destroys them. In a less radical scenario: I have seen people drink such distilled water after doing sports. They expel significant amounts of minerals with their sweat, and then by drinking just distilled water, they don’t replenish that. They will drive themselves into an unnecessarily big hunger. Why not just drink the really smart water, the way Earth provides it? If it’s not spoiled, that would be tap water, but it is also known as mineral water.

When I was on Hawaii, at Wal Mart, they had various waters there, and the healthiest water there was often sold out. Not because people understand its value, but because it was the cheapest. Yes, spring water was the cheapest water there, while water robbed of all its valuable ingredients was among the most expensive.

About the comparison grievance of U.S. presidents and Hitler

Occasionally someone calls Obama a new Hitler or some such, and while I cannot speak for those people’s intentions and reasoning behind such claims, I’d like to cause you some discomfort by pointing out how this would actually make sense.

Keyword Obamacare. Social insurance. Apparently he cares about Americans (at least as the official story – he’s still a politician). People who still operate on the cold war propaganda condemn him as a “socialist”, which is tragically amusing, because he’s still so far away from that. But let’s just acknowledge the type of policies he supports.
Recently I listened to an album of a comedian. I liked his humor. Eventually he said that Obama is a pretty good president and got applause from the audience. This is typical mainstream ‘liberalism’ (their own naming, not necessarily an accurate description).
So it seems that people put what Obama allegedly wants for U.S. Americans above the continued and even intensified foreign politics of George W. Bush, of drone strikes, collateral damage, warmongering, lying and deceiving, generally spreading death and terror in the name of corporate and financial interests.

So to emphasize: He focuses on social needs, but only for his own nation, in stark contrast to how he acts towards others. (Not that this is a new thing for the USA.)
And here comes the whammy: You know what this is called?

National socialism. In German historical context abbreviated “Nazism”.

Combine that with the obviously growing fascism of the US government and you got a situation eerily reminiscent of early Nazi Germany. And ‘nobody’ noticed because there are no swastikas. … And because the more you condemn others and the past (hindsight being easily 20/20, and it always being easier to see someone else’s faults), the more you lose sight of the present.

The basic formula is that as long as sociopaths are allowed to run the show, you will get such political developments.

My views on the Germanwings incident

It is now almost beyond doubt that the copilot intentionally crashed the plane. But I had my thoughts on the suicide suspicion/topic before, and now I’d like to share them.

Sometimes I see someone say: “People who commit suicide are cowards.” And this is, in tragic irony, pointing to the reason why people commit suicide: Lack of empathy/love, and as a result, according society structures. People who don’t care about dragging others into death with themselves are that way because circumstances made them stop caring. Who expects them to respect that which caused them to override their self-preservation drive in such a painful way?

So blame games don’t help. It doesn’t matter whether someone was ‘too weak’ or ‘too sensitive’. The universe put us in certain situations and we have to make an effort to deal with them well.

The plane crash incident now, as could have been expected, triggers a full avoidance strategy. It is being talked about how to change procedures and protocol to prevent another such incident. Apart from the fact that it will always be a tradeoff, this is the folly of trying to replace caring with control. Even worse in this context is asking for more rigid medical and psychological tests. There’s obviously a lack of understanding about matters of depression, but reality provides the facts. People who are depressed due to alienation from society will, if necessary in their situation, still wear a mask of things being alright. Such tests can never be sufficiently reliable to replace empathy and caring.

And the fact that now 150 people were killed by someone committing suicide, more than usual (not much though if you consider bombing suicides), should be interpreted as the natural development of symptoms of an unadressed problem increasing in severity. It is telling us: The world will suffer from the results of emotional coldness and judgmental distance more and more, until you learn your lesson. If you resist the simple path, you will drive yourself deeper into misery, and that eventually will have to be followed by a turnaround, but then it will come with immense sacrifice.

Of course it sucks that it might hurt people who actually understand this, who didn’t need the wakeup call, but that’s the nature of tragedies. There’s no distinction, because such events, in their causality, are not meant to enact justice. The universe is above and beyond that.

Personally, for example , I’d still prefer to die in a plane crash due to a terrorist attack than due to a technical issue, because the latter is about greed and corporate procedures, about distance and machine-like processes, while the former at least involves a direct human factor – someone’s grievances brought to the extreme and facing other people with it, willing to end his own life with others.

So if you still think that people who commit suicide are cowards … why don’t you try it yourself? Then you’ll see how much courage it takes, and how much pain someone must feel in order to make such a step.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Cockpit door policies were changed shortly after 9/11, so this incident was made possible or at least made easier by a measure taken based on fear (and lies, but that’s another story). This gets freakonomics-style if you compare lives saved from post-9/11 measures to lives taken by them.

The lack of a proper solution for PC game capture

(UPDATED 2015-04-17)

It is quite frustrating when I need proper equipment to get certain things going, and am willing to pay a fair price, but sometimes solutions seem to be missing.

I checked all the game capture devices (for recording gameplay footage as video) that I could find, but – as so often – it’s a mix of up- and downsides, and generally they’re all primarily designed for gaming consoles, for standard entertainment.

Here’s what I am willing to pay for:

Playing games on my PC, in the native resolution of my monitor, which is 2560×1440. The screen data being grabbed hardware-side, latency free, so basically via the standard video cable. I chose a monitor that doesn’t have an HDMI input, only DVI and DisplayPort, so that would have to work, too. And then the device saves the video data via USB onto an external storage – harddisk or flash card or even USB stick.

And here are all the problems:

1) All devices I could find are capped at 1920×1080. One can at least record this in 60p, but resolution is still limited. Apparently they also don’t support higher input resolution and downscaling for the video compression. So I’d have to play games I want to record in 1920×1080.

2) They all operate based on HDMI as digital interface. I suspect this is some kind of legal mandate so that people cannot use such devices to record HDCP-protected content – because if you use DVI or DisplayPort, if copy protection is there, it cannot be obeyed. I guess we have to thank that whole movie and music industry lobbying for this technical limitation.

3) You can adapt DisplayPort down to HDMI and HDMI down to DVI. But I’d have to first figure out whether this is also handled well by the recording devices. And even if that works, then the next problem arises…

4) I have connected my monitor using DVI because that interface causes Windows to reserve active desktop space for it, to always keep the device registered as present. When I initially connected my monitor using DP, I noticed that whenever I turned it off – only with the button on the front, not with the power switch, the display would immediately get removed as system component, and because I am also using a digitizer display and have arranged both a certain way, this will (and it’s a Windows fault) eventually lead to mixup of the numbering and the alignment of the two displays. It would be even more hassle than what I already have anyway.
(If I have the nerve, I might eventually experiment some more and see whether I can find a compromise.)

5) So even if all that works: It seems people using game capture devices are typically the invested gamers with a very powerful gaming PC. Mine isn’t weak, but it’s also not super-powered, and what bothers me is that while the CPU load for the video compression is then taken off by the capture device (or in some cases just most of it), based on past experience I would almost bet that transferring several MB/s of data via USB and then burdening the CPU with the I/O interrupt load of saving that stream onto local harddisk will cause noticeable interference in my games. Because it has always appalled me how even today, harddisk work can have such an interfering influence on unrelated processes.
To give you a comparative example: Remember how when you used an optical disc drive and every time you put in a CD or DVD, the whole frickin system would pause until the media had spun up? This is the kind of crap one still has to expect to happen.

6) And then you’d think that the immensely valuable feature of having a hardware button on the device for starting and stopping recording would be mandatory, but only some devices have it. More generally, even if all the previous problems were resolved, then there would be the whole pile of the usual potential issues with electronic products: bugs in software, inconvenient handling etc..

This is really a crappy situation, but I don’t take fault with my end just because I like to use modern technologies that don’t fit the bread&butter mainstream.

Even equipping my old PC with a video recording card would not be a good solution, because then I’d have to have that one running all the time so that the video signal can be passed through.

    UPDATE:

I now figured out that apparently harddisk I/O is not or only a minor problem. The issue is that the hardware encoding, at least when performed with Open Broadcaster Software, is optimized for 1080p. 1440p is larger, but not extremely so, yet a demanding game like Planetside 2 runs really unplayably when recording it in 1440p, but when in 1080p and recording, you rarely notice any interference. That distinct difference doesn’t seems to be just the computing load difference. Encoding bitrate doesn’t affect the results. I even recorded in 720p and had worse results. It’s all a bit confuse, but that only further underlines the point I’m making about the lack of proper hardware solutions.

    UPDATE 2:

I was willing to give nVidia Shadowplay a try, since it supports the (fullscreen only – which is fine) high performance mode with low system impact. But for that, I’d have had to install geForce Experience, which turned out to be a Big Brother total data collecting and activity tracing software, and I’m not willing to pay that price for a software that might not even be better than OBS in game capture mode, for example.
For recording 1440p I probably simply would need a more powerful PC that can run a recorded game in around 60 fps all the time. This of course could save the investment in a game capture device, but I’m not willing/able to experiment with money like that.

    UPDATE 3:

I now tested recording to replay buffer, meaning that there’s no harddisk writes involved during the recording. It just captures and encoded and stores it in memory. And even there, the same happens as with conventional game recording with any codec in OBS: Jaggy motion. Interuptions in video fludity. The game itself is not affected except showing a slight framerate reduction and less-than-perfect fluidity based on framerate fluctuation. But it’s nowhere as bad as the video output, which studders and sometimes even hangs, having dropouts. I’m tiring of this lack of a proper solution. I’d love to just connect a hardware device to one of my free graphics card outputs, connect a USB harddisk to that one, and then record 1440p 60 fps just as it looks in the game, without any interference or hassle.
I’m beginning to suspect that the hardware encoding assistance gets overloaded and then doesn’t share the burden software-side. Because when I play a game in 1080p and get constant 60 fps, I can record nearly flawless 30 fps video from that. But once I record to 60 fps, it is mostly fluid with some nasty dropouts during fast movements. And this even happens in old and unburdening games like Half-Life 2, despite the CPU load for recording 1440p 60 fps being a mere 38%, which should not be a problem in combination with such an old game.