An Argument for Libertarianism

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The problem of power

One of the great problems of the world is the power to do evil. This seems obvious. What is not obvious is that power is power. This means that the power to do evil is precisely equal to the power to do good. Power is always given or seized by someone granted the power to do so. More correctly, it is often sold based on a quid pro quo basis i.e. ‘if you grant me power, I will do X for you’. This exchange can be in all sorts of forms such as raise your status, vanquish your enemies, create a political utopia, unite our people, etc. Almost universally, this works out for the benefit of some to the detriment of others. The results are also never as good as promised. People are always required to work harder to support the bureaucracy necessary to manage utopia. Of course, there always seems to be a need for just a little more effort to get this utopia just right and always just a few people whose dangerous ideas are in the way. If only we can get those people out of the way and get the right thinking people into positions where they can fix the problems then everything will be all right.

If we look at the worst people, who have done the most harm in the world, they have all been granted the power to make the things worse by people who have given them this power to make things better for themselves.  Sometimes this is democratic. When enough people want something, that they will unite to get it, they do. Sometimes, it is by revolution; an uprising by people who want something enough to kill for it and keep killing to hold onto it. Sometimes it is by conquest (see previous), the power to make war having been granted by those who feel they have something to gain.

Government, here to help

Rarely is ruin brought about by those minding their own business. When such ruin does come about, it is often through the instruments of force or fraud. What is often perceived as the evils of business is, in fact, said businesses being given access to governmental instruments of power or the lack of government intervention to prevent force or fraud. Very often laws, that seem good, have unintended consequences. An example of this would be the minimum wage laws. These laws do exactly as they were initially designed to do. They segregate the workforce to exclude those with the necessary skills to enter at the minimum wage level. That is to say, if the minimum wage is $7 and you have the skills to do a $5 job then you are excluded from the workforce until someone is forced to hire you at a wage higher than your skillset. In all likelihood, you will be the first to be fired when a person whose skills match the job comes along. The real issue with this is that the law requires that you, by necessity, must eliminate all $5 jobs.

Force

When I use the word force people often misunderstand the meaning. Government is a body that creates and enforces laws. All laws are ultimately backed by force or they are merely suggestions. For instance, the federal government forces tobacco companies to place a warning on cigarettes. However, the warning is itself a suggestion not to smoke. However, the ban on smoking in public places is enforced against places who are compelled to comply.

Fraud

When talking about fraud it’s important to put it into perspective. There is a term “puffery” which is the exaggeration of claims not to be taken seriously. An example of this might be “Dr. Schols air cushioned insoles will make you feel like you are walking on clouds” No one expects you to think you will actually feel that way.  However, you are supposed to think your free lunch is free. You are supposed to believe that the services the government will provide you will be better than the services you could by for yourself. When you ensure a loan with default swaps that is insurance. If you are selling insurance without the money to ensure that a default can’t happen you are committing fraud. The fact that the regulators were allowing the selling these insurance schemes without the rules required by insurance schemes means they were complicit in the fraud.

Free

A free market is free from two things force and fraud. A certain amount of regulation is necessary to set rules that everyone must abide by. However, government should not be in the business of creating artificial monopolies and using its power to force out competition. Free enterprise to some extent means free to fail. Programs to protect business do so to the detriment of competing businesses. The monopolies the government breaks up are rarely anti-consumer. This is to say if you plan to drive all your competitors out of business out of business by producing a cheaper product then good for you. If on the other hand, you plan to use your position in the market to prevent competitors from entering the market then that’s bad and anti-competitive. If you promote a product as safe and it isn’t that’s fraud. However, if I want to smoke that is not the government’s business.

Jobs

Virtually none of the actions of government have made more jobs available to more people. You might think ‘hey wait but the government builds roads and bridges and other things, those employ people’. All that is true, but where did the money to employ those people come from? Taxes. It came right out of the economy. If you had had that money to spend you would have likely spent it on goods and services that benefited you. Other people would have been employed to provide those goods and services.  Perhaps those roads and bridges, etc. will allow for more commerce and hence pay for themselves in some fashion but most are not a net gain.

Grease is the word

In any case, no matter what government does, it does the most to satisfy the squeaky minority at the expense of the majority. An example of this is the building of equipment the armed forces do not need or want. The parts for said equipment are built in a great number of states and each manufacturer of those parts contributes to the campaign of the politician who pushes for the equipment to be built. Thus the politician is purchasing the election at the expense of the taxpayer who must foot the bill for this equipment. This is sold to the local electorate as a jobs program. After all, they will need those jobs to pay for the other equipment build elsewhere that they must also pay for.

Second law of thermodynamics

Taxation can’t be used to produce a perpetual motion machine. You cannot take money from people and spend that money in a way that will make the lives of those people better than if they spend the money themselves. This is the false vision of the utopianist. The best you can do is provide a framework for people to be protected from force and fraud and ensure that systems of commerce are built and maintained. The money taken out of the economy in the form of taxes is subject to the law of diminishing returns.

The dangers of altruism

People act in their own self-interest. Always. Even when they seem not to. How can someone have another interest other than their own? Clearly, I would like you, the reader, to take an interest in what I am saying. If you do take an interest, that is your choice and it could be said that you had an interest in taking an interest in my point of view. If you try to help others you are acting out of your own interest to help other people. Perhaps you are doing this to feel better about yourself or to make others look at you in a better light or because you have determined that you wish to be the kind of person who does the ‘right thing’. Whatever you choose to do it’s your choice, and so you are acting in your own self-interest not out of altruism. Altruism is an illusion. The desire to be altruistic is a desire and as such must be a desire of self; a selfish desire to feel like a good, altruistic, person. One cannot become unselfish because one can never become an un-self. In no scenario can you become unselfish. For instance, if you decide to go to Africa and dig wells for people who need water and your mother calls and tells you that she is dying and needs you to care for her in her last days, what is the altruistic thing to do? Let your mother die without you or finish the well? What is most likely is that you will do what matters most to you. In fact, this is a certainty.

When we talk about altruism We should be clear on what it is. Urging someone to be altruistic is a way to get them to comply with your notion of right; a means of influencing the actions of others. In essence, it’s a way of applying social pressure to compel individuals to do things for others rather than themselves. When does this become a problem? It becomes a problem when fraud becomes involved. Let’s take the above scenario and assume that Johnny goes to Africa to do the ‘right thing’, contracts Ebola and dies. Oops. Now let’s just say that Dudley played down the risks of going to Africa and told Johnny he’d be “perfectly safe”. Now he’s dead. This is an extreme example but clearly illustrates the problem of puffery. No socialist state, brought about by revolution, is the workers paradise that it was advertised to be.

Anarchy and its drawbacks

Anarco-capitalists envision a world of absolute freedom. This, however, is not a natural state. It is the natural inclination of some to judge that others are incapable of running their own lives and will, therefore, chose to ‘help’ them by running their lives for them. How very selfless of them.

It is very difficult to exist with no government. The reason being, that someone always wants to do something that intrudes on another’s liberties. If I want to dam a river to run my plant that might be great for me, but what about others access to the water? What if I want to dump my waste products into the water or air etc.? Clearly there must be a means of governing this and allowing all people the reasonable enjoyment of their property and lives. A government should exist to protect the liberties of everyone. But also to be limited in scope beyond this function.

The benefits of individual initiative

With a few exceptions, the greatest boons to mankind have been created by those who acted in their own interest. In cases where a government created a boon to mankind, it is often private interests that then exploited those boons to the betterment of mankind. In order for these things to occur people need to be free to explore the possibilities of invention without impediments. The dotcom revolution sprang out of individual initiative and that initiative has changed our world. The companies that are creating self-driving cars and artificial intelligence are companies that started from just a couple of guys.

There is a great temptation to milk this prosperity and redistribute the wealth. The great problem with that is that the possibility of striking it rich is a tremendous incentive. For every Bill Gates or Jobs & Wozniak, there are hundreds or thousands that risked money and then lost. This is because there is no guarantee that any idea is worth anything. Many others simply made a moderate living with some idea that was good but not groundbreaking. It’s these people we need to encourage and not discourage. People are over-taxed, over-regulated and in general, disincentivized to keep trying.

Arguments against capitalism

When we look at the arguments against capitalism they are rarely against free market capitalism. The arguments, more often than not, are against cronyism. This is where a company or individual gives money to someone in power to have the laws adjusted to favor him or his company. An example of this might be companies like Uber or Lyfte. These companies use technology to break the government assisted taxi monopolies. The taxi monopolies are a great example of government taking the free out of free enterprise. With taxies, government creates (at the behest of the taxi companies themselves) barriers to entry into the taxi market such as licenses and medallions. The cost of a medallion in New York can be hundreds of thousands of dollars but when ride-sharing services broke the monopoly people who bought into the monopoly started to go bankrupt. When we look at a system like the taxi monopoly it is very clearly not a system designed to provide the consumer with the best product at the lowest cost but rather the opposite. It creates a system of a few who buy into it for protection from competition.  If you are an Uber or Lyfte driver the taxi lobby is trying to put you out of business or raise the cost of your business to make it easier for them to compete with you.

Government’s role in a free enterprise system

“The business of America is business”. This was said a few years before the Federal Reserve in tinkering with the money supply caused the great depression. Any system that allows for the tinkering with things as vital to the economy as the money supply is a bad idea. Believe it or not, the idea of inflation was thought to be a good one to promote the spending of money over the saving of money. This sort of government tinkering with the economy has proven to be ill-advised. Now we are stuck with it.

The role of government in a free enterprise system is to ensure that it remains free. That is to say that no enterprise should impose on others a cost or burden. This means that industries must not produce undue pollution into the air and water shared by others. This is one of the things overlooked by anarcho-capitalists. Government itself should not place a burden on those who wish to be free to enterprise. This includes artificially ‘leveling’ the playing field. Government has no obligation to protect business but has an obligation to protect the consumer. It is the concern of business to provide the best product or service at the best price. A business unable to do this should not receive special considerations to allow it to better compete.

 

OKCupid

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OKstupid

If OKCupid was a party, you would walk up to a girl you thought was interesting, she would start talking to you…

  • say “just a second”, 
  • look at her phone, 
  • scowl, 
  • scroll, scroll, scroll,
  • put her phone away,
  • then walk off like you no longer existed.

What used to be a very cool free dating site

What is there to say about this?

I’ve had an account for a very long time. It used to be that you could get points for having people who knew you give you awards and let others know that you weren’t a fake account.

This is me.
You must be signed in to see this.

Stop relying on your feelings to tell you what’s right

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Reason and Feelings

People rely on feelings to guide their actions. In the world in which man evolved, this was necessary for survival. In fact, before we evolved higher brain functions, feelings were all we had. Here’s the bad news, relying on your feelings will not, in general, make your life or anyone else’s life better. The only thing that will likely make things better is evidence-based reasoning.

In the book Against Empathy, Paul Bloom discusses how feelings lead us to incorrect conclusions. Very often, people will do things not to make things better. Rather, they do things to feel they are making things better. It is this feeling that people seek. If confronted with facts that show that they may have done no good and likely have caused harm, individuals will often go to great lengths to invalidate facts that run contrary to things they feel are true.

Humans act to obtain perceived value. Often, this value is increased comfort. However, quite frequently, the value is that they are giving up comfort to achieve a noble goal. It’s important to understand what I mean by increased comfort and value. Paul Bloom speaks about value in The Origins of Pleasure TED Talk.

Just because something is obvious does not make it true

Plato believed that anything could be puzzled out through pure reasoning. The problem with this notion is that it is based on the idea that you have a reliable premise and data to start with. As it happens this is often not the case.

Aristotle stated that the speed at which a thing would fall would be proportional to its mass. This assertion was not questioned until Galileo refuted it in the 1500s. We don’t know if he actually dropped two balls off the Leaning Tower of Pisa we do, however, know he was right. The point being, it was so very obvious to everyone that what Aristotle said was true that no one bothered to even question it let alone test it. Unfortunately for Galileo, people really dislike having ideas they know are true, questioned. As a result, he was imprisoned.

Still, to this day, people continue to assert their deeply held beliefs are true. This despite thousands of years of evidence that often deeply held beliefs are not. People will cite the flimsiest of evidence and ignore more concrete evidence if contrary to their notions. The need for individuals to feel right creates a sort of cognitive dissonance with evidence to the contrary. Given the choice between two mutually exclusive notions, people will often choose the one that presents them with the most positive feelings rather than the one that makes the most rational sense.

Examine the evidence

People make all sorts of assertions without evidence. Policy and lawmaking are near the top. People make all sorts of assumptions about policies that are ineffective and often harmful. Most law and policy-making is based on feelings and very little is based on the scientific method. To be clear, the scientific method is performed using a series of steps:

  1. Form a hypothesis
    A supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.
  2. Form a theory
    a proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural and subject to experimentation, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of actual fact.
  3. Test your theory in order to determine its validity
    Tests are implemented, controlled groups are implemented, peer-reviewed, are the results published

This is where people really fall down. There is in fact very little incentive to do things in an effective way.


About the featured image:
Galileo Galilei gazing at the wall of his prison cell
Portrait, attributed to Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, of Galileo Galilei gazing at the wall of his prison cell, on which are scratched the words “E pur si muove” (not legible in this image).

Trusting the media to report a story accurately is just stupid

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Media,
What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing

Once upon a time, there were relatively few, large, news organizations that served the public at large. The majority of these organizations traded on appealing to a broad audience and eliciting trust in their audience. Now we live in a world where the primary job of a news organization is to sensationalize stories in order to make them more sellable. There is a natural inclination on people’s part not to feel this is the case because it is uncomfortable to believe that you are drinking from a poison well when the water tastes so good.

How?

When we look at the media and observe how they manipulate the truth to elicit an emotional response from their audience, we see they consistently use certain tactics to mislead them. Tactics such as outright lies may constitute libel or slander when used to malign a person or set of people. Lies can be used. However, more typically in circumstances where the victim isn’t in a position to prosecute a case against the offending agency. Other tactics that avoid outright lies are manifold:

  • Lack of proper context
    People assume reasonable context. However, one can report a thing, removed from context, whose meaning is entirely different or totally opposite from the meaning in context. e.g. “I never said ‘Mr. Smith is a mind control robot from the planet Mars.'”. It could then be reported as Mr. Jones said quote “… Mr. Smith is a mind control robot from the planet Mars.”.
  • Reporting on reporting
    There is zero need to quote credible sources when using this tactic. This creates the illusion of credible reporting. When consuming news, listen for the special words used to remove all need for accuracy. Typically phrases like ‘Witness report…’ or simply ‘Sources have reported…’
    e.g. Sources have reported that Mr. Smith is a mind control robot from the planet Mars.
  • Cherry picking
    This is the tactic of selectively reporting only those facts that support the narrative you wish to present and can be used in a number of different ways. The simplest way is just to tell a one-sided story. The more insidious is use cherry picking to give a totally false impression.
    e.g. A public figure acts like a jackass. He does this numerous times. This behavior is then reported when engaging a minority. Suddenly this person is a ____ist who picks on ____s. Nope. Still, just a jackass who is a jackass to everyone.
  • Manipulative descriptions
    This is the art of describing things in a way that leaves a specific impression that is typically unbalanced and manipulates the reader into a mental image divorced from the facts. Select, descriptive, terms give a particular impression in order to bias the audience.
  • Selective profiling
    This is when stories are only reported when specific groups are involved in specific ways. Stories emphasize that group’s involvement. Stories become big news. These would be virtually ignored were the gender, ethnicity, orientation, etc. of the parties involved different.
    e.g. Extremists repeatedly attack schools giving a western style education each time they murder the boys and let the girls go. The story gains traction when the extremists kidnap the girls. Murdered Boyare described as “students”; Kidnapped girls as “girls”.

Why?

Newsworthiness

The interesting thing about newsworthiness is the property that makes any story newsworthy. In short, what makes a story newsworthy is its ability to make the reporting agency money. This is the whole long and short of it.

Adjectives used to describe the ability of a story to make money are things like compelling, exciting, horrifying, tragic, frightening, outrageous, riveting, etc. These words all have one thing in common, they describe eliciting intense human emotion. Terms not used to describe newsworthy stories: thoughtful, informative, balanced, even-handed, fair, well researched, competent, etc. The reason is those things don’t create an emotional need to consume more.

Self-righteous bias

People love to feel they are doing God’s work. Whatever that god may be. Often it’s the god of moral righteousness. Forever there are people who feel they need to show the evils of the world and reveal them for all to see. The only real way to do that is to make the news more exciting. All the while they feel they are doing the right thing. Sure maybe the story they are reporting will mislead people, but in the end, it will be a good thing. This is because they, the good-hearted reporter, have raised awareness. Is it important that they have distorted the facts to do this? No. After all, facts only get in the way of the greater truth that will bring about a better world.

Only we, the virtuous, may judge others correctly

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Here, let me cast the first stone

The days of live and let live are dead. We occupy an era of in-groups and out-groups. People elevate themselves by espousing those things they see as virtues and condemning those who do not share those virtues. Each and every virtue filled person is their own Templar on a crusade to rid their own personal Holyland of the heathen unbeliever, polluting its purity. Isn’t it too bad that you are a Saracen dog only fit for the sword?

Self-esteem here I come

No matter how crazy one’s ideas, somewhere there is a group to tell them ‘you are right and everyone else is wrong’. Isn’t it great that if you believe an evil government conspiracy framed some gay/infidel/feminism loving Muslims as having hijacked chemtrail spreading planes, running them into the twin towers which were all set up to be collapsed by explosives set on every floor by invisible government agents able to walk through walls on this flat Earth whose true shape is hidden from us by a vast NASA conspiracy, that somewhere there is a support group to tell you that you are a genius for having figured all that out?

Be all you can…
Be whatever your peer group says is cool!

You don’t need to feel compelled to accomplish anything. Go scream at people you don’t like and call them evil. Shout them down, make them afraid, throw paint on them, pepper spray them, censor them, lie about them, belittle them, call them names. Remember, your moral superiority makes all this okay when you do it, in exactly the same way it made others evil when they do it. The ends justify the means because your cause is just and right. What’s really important is that you feel good at the end of the day. Dress up in your colors and join the others. Feel the rush as do what you do. Shout the party slogans. Join the crowd, Take action. Make your contribution, shouting, throwing, intimidating. You are brave. More importantly, everyone saw you.

Making the world a worse place,
one tantrum at a time

People are constantly telling themselves that if they pick out some group, make them their political enemy, shout them down, and call them names, that they are making the world a better place. As it happens this is not the case. What is really happening is those people are creating artificial conflict, a conflict they can win. They win because they write the rules for the conflict and set the conditions for winning. The real horror show here is that even when someone is hurt or killed it’s a win.

Finally, if the past 20 years has taught us anything it’s that conflict radicalizes fringe groups and makes them more popular for disaffected youth. There is a fine line between fighting a bully and being a bully telling yourself you are fighting a bully.

 

Elder Scrolls Daggerfall & Morrowind revisited (Pt2)

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Our story so far

In Elder Scrolls Daggerfall & Morrowind revisited (Part 1) I talked about some of the problems with The Elder Scrolls (TES) games. Just to be clear, I am a huge fan of TES. If I am critical of the series it’s only because I want it to be better. I also wish to bring back aspects of the games removed to make them more marketable to the general public.

Much of my motivation to publish articles on the subject of TES series have come from Youtube videos. In particular, The Elder Scrolls: The Dumbing Down and Zaric Zhakaron’s series “What if ____ was good?” Both of these talk about how Bethesda has made sacrifices in order to produce games for a wider audience. After Daggerfall, TES games were made more limited in scope and easier to manage. In addition, Bethesda has increasingly adapted games to be more multi-platform friendly. This meant that it was necessary to remove elements that did not lend themselves to simplistic controls and limited processing power. In effect, newer TES games were limited to the lowest common denominator, the console.

The reason I bring these things up is to make it clear how amazing it was when Bethsoft created Daggerfall. Daggerfall was one of the most highly anticipated CRPGs ever produced. Daggerfall did what no other CRPG before or since has ever done. Developers of the game made a real effort to create a simulation of a full sized, immersive world. This attempt was far from perfect. As I have said before, the computing power and technology to do what they were trying to do simply did not exist at the time.

Morrowind, the good, the bad, and the ugly

Morrowind was the next step in the evolution of the series. This game sought to correct the problems in Daggerfall by handcrafting all aspects of the game. While this produced a visually appealing game, the drawback was a severe reduction in emersion and realism. As stated in part 1, the world was drastically reduced in size. This was a disappointment to fans of the series who had hoped to see a large world with improved generation of locations, terrain, NPCs, etc. Instead, we got the Disneyland version of Morrowind’s island of Vvardenfel; a country-sized island shrunk down to an easily walkable size with some rides to make it feel like you were really getting that Morrowind experience.

Rarely considered, is how much of the “handcrafting” of impassable terrain and obscuring flora as well as the addition of game mechanics like the silt striders, teleporting, boats, etc. are less about making a better, more immersive world than you might think. Rather, these things help conceal the true size of the game space while at the same time steering the player in the direction the game designers wish them to go.

How can this be fixed?

As it happens, most TES fans did not start out playing the early games in the series. Consequently, they have little sense of loss when the large, 1:1 world of Daggerfall went away never to return. It’s much the same with the RPG aspects of TES games. When skills, stats, and magic got watered down in later games, few players felt that anything had been taken away. The same goes for the open world. Many see no need for areas in the game that do not directly impact gameplay. For me, the ability to just wander about is a wonderful part of the game.

Blow it up

Okay, first, the play space needs to be enlarged by a couple of orders of magnitude. The tiny islands surrounding Vvardenfel need to be islands, not rocks. Cities on Vvardenfel need to be cities and not just a collection of houses. Take the city of Vivec. Where do people live? There are places for the craftspeople etc. but virtually no one else. If such a city existed, there would need to be houses and farms and people to support such a city. Vivec is mostly a temple complex. There would need to be a town of people nearby to call it a city. The same is true for the other cities on the map. These need to be true cities. None of the cities in the game have anything resembling an infrastructure, making daily life possible.

Many areas on the map exist merely to separate other areas with terrain features, etc. This can be fixed by stretching the map like the skin of a balloon. Give cities room to expand. Provide large areas of farmland to feed a realistically sized populous. Of course, some areas should be left much as they are. The Caldera mines should remain near Caldera but should not be just as close to Balmora.

Petting zoo for n’wahs

Next, remove static respawning monsters. Seeing the same monsters over and over in the same area, again and again, is tedious. OpenMW with its greatly increased view distance and ability to see statics far away makes this flaw very obvious with dozens of cliff racers hanging motionless in the sky or flying in simplistic patterns. Of course, once you make the game space large enough there is no longer a need to have static spawns. Instead, it’s possible to have a percentage chance based on environment type that particular creature will spawn. A spawned creature may come from a burrow, nest or some similar place and possibly be part of a pair, pack or family group. Creatures should not necessarily be automatically aggressive unless defending an area, nest, young, etc.

All creatures should be limited by ranges, food sources, competition, and predation. An aggressive creature that ranges near a settlement would likely be hunted down. Hunting will cause wildlife to diminished around population centers and thoroughfares. For players, hunting creatures should be a challenge as wildlife learns to avoid people. An ecosystem should be self-balancing and feel that way.

Bringing sexy fast travel back

In the real world travel between cities takes a long time. In the land of Tamriel, this can be many days or weeks. Travel in Daggerfall consisted of both land and water travel. A number of factors determined travel time. Would you be sleeping in inns? Did you own a horse? Would you be traveling by ship? All of these factors affected your speed and the amount of money it would take to travel. In Daggerfall, you were able to purchase a ship. This allowed you forgo the expense of paying passage. Morrowind travel is by foot, silt strider, boat, ship, teleportation. Often, getting to a location will involve a combination of these.

Bring back the open world

Give the player the option to use fast travel to move to anywhere on the map. Fast travel in the Baldur’s Gate series was had a good mechanic. As the player fast travels down a particular road an encounter happens specific to that location. You might exit fast travel as you: are waylaid by bandits, meet a strange traveler, are handed a mysterious note, etc. Of course, there is no reason that a triggering event needs to be a particular location. Perhaps you have a bounty and someone spots you. It could be a particular time or any of a number of things.

Your ability to travel in certain ways could expand as you discover perhaps secret means of teleportation requiring a special item or become a member of the mages guild, etc.

Why is this a good time to talk about this?

The OpenMW project has produced a game engine without the map size, view distance and other limitations of the original game. As a consequence, it now possible to address the issue of the cramped game space. The technology to produce realistic terrain via procedural generation has advanced. This technology can produce virtual land, rivers, roads, mountains, farms, towns, etc.  All without giving up the hand-crafted aspects of TES series.


About the featured image:

Balmora. Aerial view
by AlexeyRudikov
An artist’s re-envisioning of the city of Balmora on the island of Vvardenfel

Words, for better or for worse

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Words, do they mean things?

What is with people who take words, that are clearly defined, and then misuse them by attaching their own definition? The purpose of language is to communicate concepts between two or more people. Those people don’t necessarily know what the other is thinking. Bear in mind, words are the building blocks of all language and are defined. They are defined so that when used, those words have meaning, and that meaning is clear.

The great no no

You can’t use the sentence “I was committed.” to mean something it doesn’t. That sentence does not mean, for example, I had a great deal of enthusiasm for it, at the time (“it” being the thing you were allegedly committed to). The reason is “committed” is generally defined as a word meaning a determination to take an action. If you have left the possibility of changing your mind open, you literally haven’t committed to anything. This makes the above statement a lie of sloppy language. At best you’re only kinda committed, or committed on a conditional basis.

Conditional statements masquerading as commitments

As stated in the above case, conditional commitment is not commitment at all. Under those circumstances, a person is essentially saying ‘I am committed to action X as long as all the conditions for me wanting to take action X remain. Else, I will take action Y.’.

The answer

Finally, the why of it. People make these sorts of statements for the purpose of making themselves seem like better people. No one would think you a good person for saying. ‘I’m gonna do what I want when I want and how I want.’ Where is the nobility in that? Instead, they make it seem as though they were committed and then something outside their control changed that. Really, the truth is, they changed their mind and don’t want to own up to it.

Elder Scrolls Daggerfall & Morrowind revisited (Pt1)

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An exciting time for old games

Lately, I have been revisiting The Elder Scrolls series. In particular, I have been playing TES III, Morrowind. What makes this decade and a half old game really enjoyable to play, once again, is the work of the various fan projects that are now starting to bear fruit. Among these, is a project that has produced a game engine that’s, in ways, better than the original (more later).  The unfortunate side effect is the capabilities of this engine now reveal the real limits of the original game. Fortunately, the same sort of engine update is now starting to show off the efforts of the creators of Daggerfall with its unprecedented 1:1 scale.

A world compressed

When Morrowind came out I was rather disappointed. Not by the gameplay or story but by the world itself. Bethesda rescaled the island of Vvardenfell making it too small by a couple of orders of magnitude. From one city to the next is a 10min jog. If one is able to fly the time is even shorter. An area that should be about the size of France is, in fact, smaller than Paris; Paris, Texas.

The Elder Scrolls Morrowind island of Vvardenfell scale size comparison with Paris, Texas

The game hides its true scale by limiting view distance and providing various means of fast travel to different locations on the map. Somewhat like taking an Uber to the corner store while being charged like they are driving you to another city.

A world before

The series’ first game “Arena” was good but largely unremarkable. It introduced the lore, the continent of Tamriel and it had an interesting story. It was also the only Elder Scrolls game I’ve ever actually finished. I have played all of the main games, up through Skyrim. However, in most of the TES games, completing the main quest has seldom been my goal. For the most part, I just enjoyed playing and exploring.

This brings me to the subject of the previous game, TES II Daggerfall. Daggerfall was a game I very much looked forward to playing. The game limited the player to just the area of the Iliac Bay. When I say “just the area of the Iliac bay” this should not be taken to mean the area was small but rather it was the biggest area ever put into an RPG before or since.

Daggerfall was a monumental undertaking. The problem was, that at the time, the technology was unable to really handle it. The 3D world of Daggerfall was entirely populated by low-resolution 2D sprites turned to face you like billboards. Some of the people in the game were animated sprites and some were even animated from multiple angles to present the illusion of 3D.

A world with problems

On top of this, there were a couple of big issues. Number one was a bug that would sometimes cause you to fall out of the dungeon or world entirely. The other was the vast number of adventure locations were procedurally generated. This in a time before procedural generation could be said to be at all developed as we think about it now. Dungeons were often random spaghetti bowls that made no sense, with a quest item randomly placed somewhere inside. You might go to a dungeon, kill a monster in the first room, and be done or crawl through for an hour until you find a chest in some obscure unguarded room, behind a secret door, you missed somehow.

A world renewed

UESP

Thanks to the ever-increasing popularity of TES games there are a number of projects that have produced remarkable results. The Unofficial Elder Scrolls Pages website is among the oldest. UESP has been around since the mid-90s and is one of the best repositories of TES lore and other information anywhere. There are a couple more sites like this, but UESP has been around since the very beginning.

Tamriel Rebuilt

Next on my list is Tamriel Rebuilt. This project was organized when Bethsoft announced it would not be including the whole of Morrowind in TES III Morrowind but only the island of Vvardenfell. The project seeks to expand the game to include not just the island but the mainland of Morrowind. At one time, they planned to eventually include the whole of Tamriel (hence the name). To say the project was, and is still, ambitious, is something of an understatement. This project is now over 15 years old and still only about half or a bit more finished. Still, what TR has published is a truly impressive expansion to the original game.

Project Tamriel

Project Tamriel is a sort of extension to TR, adding landmass to the original game. Basically, it addresses expansions for TES III outside of the Morrowind province. It also provides for the sharing of assets between these fan-made expansions. Right now, the three expansion mods under construction are “Province: Cyrodiil”, “Skyrim: Home of the Nords”, and “High Rock 427”. The sharing of assets is a pretty big deal. It minimizes duplication of effort and allows the maximum number of people to create assets since assets from one mod get shared with all other mods.

Open Morrowind

Lastly, as I talked about in a previous post, there is the Open Morrowind Project.  After ten years of work, it’s nearing full, 1.0 release and is at this point just being polished. OpenMW is a free, open-source, replacement engine for the original Morrowind engine. The project’s goal is to release a game engine, virtually indistinguishable from the original, capable of playing Morrowind using all the power of a modern PC: widescreen, multi-core processors, multithreading, GPUs, shaders, textures, bump mapping, etc. One exciting thing about the project is it eliminates many limitations of the original, now 15-year-old, engine. Also, because it is open sourced, it can continue to be updated into the foreseeable future. After the 1.0 release, the team plans to start adding additional features not present in the original Morrowind.

A world revisited

I’m going to talk about the future of my two favorite games in TES series, Elder Scrolls Daggerfall and Morrowind. I will be talking about Morrowind in part two because there is a lot to cover just with Daggerfall. Both of these games tended to stress the role-playing part of the action RPG. They tended to be less scripted than later TES games, (though Morrowind moved a bit more in this direction) and had a more free-form and open world.

We’ve already discussed the problems with these two games, as they were released. In short, Daggerfall suffered from Bethesda’s lack of the technological ability to generate a truly immersive world with complex, procedurally generated, details and connections. Morrowind, on the other hand, lacked Daggerfall’s 1:1 scale, with immersion into a world that was truly real in size. It also lacked a lot of the details that Daggerfall implemented. These details increased immersion but didn’t really benefit gameplay.

Daggerfall

How can we fix this? Let’s first start with Daggerfall. The size of the game needs no fixing, it’s huge. What needs to be fixed is the lack of connection that the randomly generated people and locations have to each other. The game is filled with tens of thousands of NPCs; people without lives. In addition, Daggerfall has 15,000 locations. Most are remote and unconnected with the world around them. Thousands of dungeons, crypts, farms, towns, etc. are random, uninteresting, populated with monsters that exist merely as something to kill or people with nothing to say, with no links to anything.

Fortunately for TES fans, Bethsoft has released Daggerfall for free and there are projects that seek to update the primitive, DOS-based, 3D into something a bit more modern. Hurray! Hopefully, soon we will see a more playable and enjoyable Daggerfall and possibly more.

Daggerfall II

Let’s for a moment imagine a fan-based effort to not only fix the bugs, etc. in Daggerfall but really update it with modern technology. We’ll call this mythical project Daggerfall II or D2. Of course, it should have persistent terrain, true 3D objects and the ability to see things just as we do in the real world. The Daggerfall Workshop has brought this closer into being. Take a look at this video to see an example of this.

A living world

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of a stagnant world we had a world in which people had jobs and lives etc.? There exist, now, algorithms that predict with good accuracy out of a city of say 10,000 how many of those would be cobblers, weavers, tailors, dyers, potters, plumbers, blacksmiths, jewelers, brickmakers, bricklayers, carpenters, masons, prison guards, town guards, tax collectors, nobles, bankers, glass blowers, cabinet makers, shipwrights, fletchers, roof thatchers, woodcutters, school teachers, homemakers, basket weavers, bakers, butchers, etc. Every person you stopped on the street would be going somewhere to do something. There would likely be a market square in any sizable town where shops would be, along with carts of goods for sale lining the streets.

Possibly, goods would make their way to the cities via roadways. Imperial guards would sally forth from cities, forts, and depots to patrol the roads of the empire and ensure the smooth continuance of commerce. Farms would cluster around large towns. Trade caravans would move between cities on highways and rivers. Fishing towns would provide a constant supply of seafood nearly year round.  Ports would provide exotic goods from places near and far.

A created world

In our imagined game, all these things become part of the rules that help generate our procedurally generated world. Importantly, areas within half a days ride of a large city are filled with farms and villages. These places create goods to be consumed in the city. It’s not difficult to calculate the area an individual family could sow with an ox or horse-drawn plow. We have seen the result from hundreds of years of planting and the moving of stones to the edges of the field results in built up hedgerows. Importantly, where you find farms, you find farm to market roads. You will also find farriers, smiths, and general stores, etc. Farms would have roads connecting them with farm towns or villages and those would have roads connected with highways and other towns.

Can it be done?

Of course, this might seem a massive undertaking. In game terms, these rules would tend to govern who the NPCs are what they know and where and when you would likely to meet them. For example, traveling out of a city in the morning you would most likely meet farmers and craftspeople moving into the city to sell their goods. At evening they would likely be returning home. Along a highway, you might meet a trade caravan or an Imperial patrol. In the woods, you might meet a hunter or a woodcutter. Villains and monsters would range out from nearby dungeons. Bounties might be posted in towns plagued by nearby ruffians. Migrant workers would journey to farmsteads in spring and fall to make a few septims during planting and harvest season and home again after.

A player might, for instance, meet a farmer traveling in a cart. “I’m taking sacks of grain to the mill at Lomton to be ground into flour.” the farmer might say. That flour would then be used to fulfill the existing orders of a city or town some distance away. The player might have thousands of encounters like this with no two alike. Each NPC would have limited knowledge centered around local lore. The NPC might have a small chance of producing a breadcrumb leading to knowledge of a local dungeon or quest item.

Other things to fix

Most important, locations, especially underground locations should be specific and make sense. Places should have histories and purpose: Mines converted to underground lairs; A natural set of caverns expanded with passwall spells or forced labor or dwarves, etc.; Creatures in hiding from the Empire; A criminal organization; The headquarters of a forbidden cult or wizards looking to research in secrecy. Moreover, in each of these scenarios, the location should follow a logical plan. Items, rooms, monsters, traps should all follow the theme along with a physical structure that makes sense. Additionally, quest items should be in logical places. Are you on a quest to recover mummy wrappings? The mummy could be the man or woman who constructed the place and they have laid about them a number of traps and monsters to guard their tomb.

Secondly, commerce is wide open in Daggerfall. Future versions of the game could allow this to be expanded upon. Travel about the Iliac bay in your ship buying and selling: Alik’r silks, Daedric weapons, herbs, potions, magic, etc.

Finally, co-op play has been toyed with in of TES games where you become a party of two or more adventures. With some effort, this could be added to a revised Daggerfall. In future, this would allow a single player type game with companions who are PCs. Perhaps companion characters could be played or left on autopilot. This would allow people to come and go from the hosted game as they wish.

Lastly

Because there is no deadline to get D2 out, in future, the game can continue to expand, adding more: features, detailed quests, improved graphics, etc.

Part 2 Morrowind 

About the featured image:
Screenshot from the Daggerfall Unity replacement engine
The image shows the tremendous view distance now possible with this update to the old DOS-based engine

Coping with being a high functioning person on the Autism spectrum

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Life is not a bowl of cherries,
but sometimes it is the pits

Sometimes being an intelligent and fairly functional person on the autism spectrum is not an altogether pleasant experience. The problems that have plagued me throughout my life seem to spring out of a misunderstanding of my limitations; what they are, and how they affect my life. One of the real difficulties is dealing with people who think there is nothing wrong with me. Another is dealing with the few who over estimate my disability. I want to be clear that people on the spectrum can be very different from one another. Your milage may vary.

At an early age I was diagnosed as hyperactive with a number of learning disabilities. These disabilities make it difficult for me to spell, do math, write, keep items in a particular order, keep track of time, etc. On the other hand my abilities to read, comprehend, extrapolate, problem solve, etc. have always been well above average. Less obvious, is how I deal with emotions. I am constantly stressed and find myself unable to cope with other people and their feelings. When bombarded with emotions I tend to become irrational, shut down completely and become violently opposed to people confronting me.

The result of my inability to cope with emotions is that I have become more and more inclined to be emotionally detached. You might imagine this to be a choice I have made, but I assure you it isn’t. Picture, if you will, if every time you did a particular thing you were then swatted on the back of the hand with a ruler. This is the essence of conditioning by negative reinforcement.  You might think that a person could make some sort of rational choice, however choices that repeatedly have painful negative consequences are ones that will eventually be rejected.  One has a very difficult time dealing with the fact that any real human attachment will result in unpleasantness, because the more attached you become the more pronounced and inescapable the effect. Furthermore, all these emotional confrontations have a cumulative effect. This results in an ever increasing inability to cope with placing yourself in situations where you will be forced to be emotionally vulnerable. On top of this, having to deal with the fact that you will need to endure this just to interact with other people (some of whom expect you to be emotional with them) becomes an emotional pressure in itself that you need to cope with. Right now as I type this I feel like my face is covered in poison ivy from the stress of just talking about this. Put these things together and the eventual result is thoughts you don’t want in your head in your head.

Dealing with others

Throughout my life people have done things in an attempt to deal with me, my personality, and my various cognitive challenges, such as:

Saying to me “I know you hate me”; I don’t know how anyone would think that saying this to someone would do anything but make a person feel shitty. Hating people is a waste of time. People are like anything else, they are either a benefit or a hazard if they are a hazard they are best avoided.,

Telling me that I need better self esteem and that the bad thoughts will go away if I just think better of myself; Wrong, I like myself. I don’t have a problem with myself. It is other people, in particular those with whom I would seek to feel a personal attachment who eventually see me as not worth the trouble. Due to my particular way of processing thoughts and feelings they will eventually conclude that I represent more of a hazard than a benefit (see above).,

Reciting “Just let it go”; How many times have I heard that one? Yes I would like to make it go away but you might as well tell me to flap my arms and fly. Letting go is not something I have ever been able to do. You may, for instance, believe that the ability to recognize people’s faces is something that anyone can do. It isn’t. It is an ability, contained in a specific area of the brain, if you don’t have access to this ability most people take for grated and just assume is a learned thing, you have to constantly work very hard to compensate.

This is why I so HATE the term ’emotional intelligence’ because it implies a condition of emotional stupidity. In the case of face blindness, one does not get mad when a person with this condition does not recognize you because the complex set of rules they use to identify you have broken down somewhere. It is however more difficult to give someone who is unable to empathize or relate to you on an emotional level the same sort of leeway.

You’re a monster

Constantly being made to feel that you deserve to feel you are a bad person because you don’t love someone and are not willing to lie to them and tell them you do, makes a person feel like less of a benefit and more of a hazard. This is the real rub here. It does not matter that you know you’re not a bad person. It’s the fact that people will inevitably come to the conclusion that you should feel like a bad person.

“There are special doctors who can help you”; Nope. Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent trying to adjust my brain and the reality is that I have long ago reached the point of diminishing returns. Hundreds of hours of therapy have, however, resulted in me having a strong aversion to therapy, mind altering drugs, etc. Telling me that you are willing to act as though you value my presence if I only but go to the special doctor who you are very sure can ‘fix’ me, is not doing me any favors. It’s simply not something I am willing to put myself through no matter how convinced you are by all the podcasts you’ve heard that I can be cured. For me it fails the cost benefit analysis.

Finally, having someone tell you how much they “love” you;
This is a particularly terrible thing for me because ‘love’ is held up to you as the sort of thing a ‘good’ person feels toward someone they value. Invariably the person telling you they “love” you thinks they are doing you a favour when in reality they are a constant reminder that you are broken and therefore not good. The other thing is that you know as much as they say they love you it won’t change a thing when they come to the conclusion that you are more of a hazard.

Out you go

I wrote this because I constantly feel trapped by my inability to really express to people what’s going on in my brain. I’m very stressed by the ever growing number of people who think ill of me because of something I have said or done or perhaps just because I have come off looking singular. Recently, someone I know and like has come out as being on the spectrum and I thought that perhaps I should too.

Why a recipe won’t teach you how to cook

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You’re not as good as you think you are

If you spent 10 years soldering components to printed circuit boards how much closer to being able to design electronics would you be? The answer is ‘not very’. Following instructions does little to teach one how to design things. Nor does it teach you what the instructions do in the context of creating a thing you don’t really understand.

Most people who cook have almost no idea how very little they really know about cooking. For these people cooking becomes a matter of rote; following formulas to achieve results. Variations to this are achieved by happy accidents and blind experimentation.

If you want to teach someone to cook it is necessary to teach them to cook by ear, much in the same way a person might learn music by understanding scales, keys, etc. People read instructions off the Internet or out of a book the same way a musician might read sheet music. Reading notes on a page and playing the song accordingly is much like following a recipe. With a musical instrument, you have some luxury to experiment and find combinations of notes that go well together. With food, this is much more difficult due to the time and cost involved.

Improvising

In music, the ability to improvise is a key element to being a musician, as opposed to just being able to play an instrument. What makes improvisation possible is an understanding of musical theory; scales, notes, rhythm, arrangement, etc. In cooking the same sorts of theories apply. One must understand the interaction of fats, starches, sugar, protein, heat, cold, etc. Being able to play a set of songs note perfect does not make you a musician in exactly the way being able to follow a set of recipes does not make you a chef.

Learning how to cook

For musicians, sheet music is a tool, not a crutch. For a musician, sheet music gives him a means of playing and following along with others without knowing the song beforehand. Many musicians never even learn to read sheet music. Would you ask someone “How do even play guitar without sheet music?”? “I know how a guitar is played” is the answer. While this might seem painfully obvious many people ask “How do make a pie without a recipe?”. The answer is virtually the same; “I know how pies are made.”.

The steps

  • Step one:
    Accept that you don’t know how to cook. You don’t. Just accept that or you will never become good.
  • Step two:
    Stop cooking by rote. This is vitally important. It is essential to not only do the right things to achieve a result but to understand how and why those results are achieved.
  • Step three:
    Grasp the basics and work up. Understand the techniques employed in every aspect of the cooking process and how they are applied. i.e. If you do not understand what makes a good pie crust you will not be able to make a good pie despite knowing what makes a good pie filling.
  • Step four:
    Learn to think critically about preparing food. Everything you do must be looked at while asking the question what impact will what I am doing right now have on the taste, smell, appearance, texture and possibly sound of the finished product and is there a way to make what I am doing better.
  • Step five:
    Focus with artistic precision on the final product. Don’t dress up the simple in the clothes of the sophisticated. Simple is beautiful. Sophisticated and complex is beautiful. Bear this always in mind. Your ability to gild a lily will not make you a chef. Don’t do it.