Garrett (garote) wrote,

  • Music:

Discussions I had today:

  • Came up with an algorithm for sorting OpenGL textures of various sizes into blocks of VRAM for a Playstation emulator plugin, and filled a few pages of a notebook with the details. It's essentially the 'First Fit' Box-Packing Algorithm, expressed as nested doubly-linked lists, with a few cheap enhancements for deleting textures, tracking cache hits, and consolidating free space. Mr. Lex0r will be implementing a prototype, which he will then apply his hardcore optimization skills to.

    Eventually it may become a series of nested binary trees of linked lists, but around that time it would also become very hard to profile without involving advanced theoretical mathematics, which is out of my league. Lex0r can probably tackle it tho. His emulator plugin will r0x0r your s0x0rs.

  • Talked about the effect that the size and flexibility of a given economic sector has on determining the most effective approach to legally regulating it. For example, in a large and flexible economy, minimum wage laws are detrimental to efficiency because they hamper the creation of 'fringe' jobs whose poor compensation matches their relative ease. But in a limited or monopolistic economy, minimum wage laws may be necessary to prevent the inhumane exploitation of workers who have no options.

    Or take the example of subsidizing. When considering a large economy, the effect of subsidizing an industry that is ailing for some reason can only be detrimental. People may claim it is only a small subsidy to "ease" obsolete workers from one skill-set to another, but in effect it only prolongs their languishing, at the expense of every gainfully employed taxpayer in other, healthier industries. On the other hand, if we're dealing with a truly isolated region, where a lack of some commodity could be truly life-threatening, a subsidy can be a stop-gap measure to prevent a catastrophe, like a subsidy of a coal refinery to prevent the freezing death of a thousand snowed-in citizens. Unfortunately, subsidies are generally not enacted with a built-in time limit. Or if they are, the limit is extended repeatedly, keeping a sick industry limping along and sucking the life out everything else.

    The same logic can be applied to tariffs. Everyone wants to tax an import in order to "protect" their local business. What they do never point out, though, is that they're actually taxing their fellow citizens, who are now forced to pay a higher price for the goods they import. From a macroscopic viewpoint, considering an economy like that of the entire European Union for example, tariffs never do anything but harm, because they decrease efficieny.

    But now, consider the special case of the fledgeling infrastructure, like third-world countries are struggling with. You don't have a strong economic base to rely on. A few casual missteps, and you may collapse an entire industry, and endanger the very lives of the people. In this case, very strong regulation is a neccessity -- as much to protect your nation from predatory outsiders, as from chaos within.

    I've been playing an old PC game called Alien Legacy in my emulator for a while now, and in it I am faced with the task of colonizing asteroids. To get a colony up and running, you need to build ONE habitat, ONE power station, and ONE mining factory. If you build these in the wrong ratio, or forget to include one, you quickly burn through your meager supplies and ALL YOUR PEOPLE DIE. Even if the community consists of nothing but power-station operators, who only know about power stations, you cannot allow more than one to be built, or EVERYONE DIES. So, some of those people had better learn how to run a mining station real quick. If you had more resources, this wouldn't be a problem at all. The people could make up their own minds, and the economy could sort them out.

    So, in summation, a large and intricate economy runs best if you stay out of its way, while a small or basic one needs strict regulation to prevent the horrible abuse and disasters that the populace may fall prey to. Put another way, practicing good economic law is a lot like raising kids.

  • According to the audiobook I listened to on my walk home from work, this was an especially big deal in 1920's-era United States history, when Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was a Supreme Court Justice. Holmes warned of a time when government and business would become so tied up in each others' interests that they would become inseparable, and the people would be victimized by their employers and elected officials alike, and no longer able to find protection in the law, because they had long ago traded their clear-cut civil liberties for an inscrutable tangle of loopholes and gerrymandering.

    At the same time, Justice Louis Brandeis crystallized this need for restraint in the arena of government especially, when he wrote of a "fundamental right of the people to be let alone" as an extension to their right to pursue happiness, as well as an extension of the 4th amendment, and of the Common Law upon which the American Constitution is based. The combined opinions and judgements of Holmes and Brandeis eventually cemented the "right to privacy" as one of the most well established "secondary" rights accepted in United States law.

  • "Cocoa butter", an ingredient found in a many of my favorite chocolate bars, is the fat of the seed found inside a cocoa pod. On the tree, a cocoa pod hangs down much the same way that an avocado does. When the pod is ripe, it's split open to reveal a lot of slippery white pulp, separating a collection of seeds. The seeds are fermented for about a week, and then dried and roasted. While still hot, they're ground up into a thick liquid which can be poured into molds to create unsweetened chocolate bars. From here, you can also squeeze the bars very tightly in a press, causing all the fat to ooze out. The cakey substance left in the press is ground up and becomes "cocoa powder", and the fat is known as "cocoa butter".

    Some chocolate bars just list "cocoa mass" as an ingredient, instead of chocolate, cocoa powder, or cocoa butter. Though the word "mass" sounds negative, they are not in fact referring to some cheap, low-quality muck, like "unsorted tea leaves" or "pressed peanut sweepings". They're simply referring to the cakey substance, before it's ground up into powder.

  • Strip clubs and go-go-bars are not for everyone. When I was younger I was annoyed with them purely because I considered their clientele to be nothing but drunkards and morons and criminals, and in general the kind of people I'd never want to be in an enclosed space with. Later on, probably around my first year out of high-school, I had to upgrade my opinion from "evil" to "necessary evil", because I reasoned that they provided an outlet for certain sexually dysfunctional types and certain otherwise unemployable, good-looking but vapid, women.

    After a few additional years of thinking I upgraded their status again, from "necessary evil" to "good for some people". I had to confront the now ubiquitous stereotype of the smart girl "putting herself through college" by dancing naked, and the smart but ebullient woman (or man) who simply enjoys being an exhibitionist and derives a lot of pleasure from sensual dancing on a stage.

    Today I talked about the effect that a strip club may have on the long-term options of the community it's operated in -- how a girl who can make $3000 a week as a stripper or an escort may decide that higher education or job skills just aren't her thing, but a girl in a town with no clubs or brothels but a good vocational school might come to a different conclusion. I talked about how a community can enact zoning laws that prohibit or encourage strip clubs, and that such laws are varied from one community to the next as much because of the structure and strength of the economy, as because of some difference in cultural or moral quality. For example, if a city can choose between accepting a strip club or a software company into their business district, they'd probably go with the software company. But if a city is unattractive to software developers, and the choice is instead between a strip club and a tire-recycling plant, the solution doesn't seem so obvious any more.

    So my evolving opinions about strip clubs have been absorbed into a broader picture of the interplay between economic health, cultural precedent, and individual people, and how choices made in one arena come to shape and reflect the choices available in another. Strip clubs and brothels do not exist in a vacuum, after all. Consider the vastly different role that brothels play in Japan - their economy is the same, and people are the same everywhere, but their culture has cast brothels in a different light, placing them differently in the economy and the minds of the people. (There are even "love hotels", where the doors lock and you pay to get out, and you bring your girl- or boy-friend there for a romp because it's culturally unacceptable to have sex back at your home!) Clearly, economy, culture, and the individual can be equally influential.

  • The old PC game I'm playing, Alien Legacy, is an example of excellent game design. It is addictive and compelling even for me, which is enough to qualify any game as brilliant, but it also accomplishes this on hardware that's ten years out of date, so excellent design is all it could possibly have going for it.

    Your task is to set up colonies all over a solar system, including asteroids, moons, and planets of varying geography. You also need to gather scientific data and resources, partially so you can research new technology, and partially because you need to solve a mystery.

    The mystery is this: A dozen colonies were set up by another ship that arrived before yours, but something has destroyed every single one, leaving wreckage and corpses strewn across the planets. Alien vessels are crashed here and there, huge craters are freshly burned into mountains, hazardous wastes are spilled, and odd radio signals are bouncing around the outer asteroid belt -- but no one is alive to explain it all. You need to figure out what went wrong before your colonies suffer the same fate.

    As part of the game, you take little cargo ships out on scouting missions. The terrain scrolls by in a pseudo-3D relief map below you, punctuated by various icons. The icons can represent energy sources, mineral sources, or one of seven disciplines of science: Astronomy, chemistry, electronics, geology, biology, mathematics, and physics. Astronomy is represented by an icon of a telescope, chemistry is represented by a glass beaker, electronics is a little square circuit board, and so on. So in effect you're wandering around the surface of a planet picking up little icons. Each time you grab a science icon, you're given a short text description of the discovery you've just made.

    For example, pick up a biology icon and you may read, "The pools here are surrounded by colonies of four-legged insects, farming algae in the water." Or, "The trees in this region secrete a thick resin that renders them effectively fireproof." Pick up a geology icon (which is shaped like a little rock), and you may read, "The irregular shape of these islands provides strong evidence of continental drift", or "You find several specimens of dodecahedral quartz scattered around this crater", or "A meteor slammed into the sand here, melting it, and in the coldness of space it quickly froze into twisted veins of black glass."

    Just wandering around picking up icons is not very fun, but it contains the core behavior of hunting and gathering, and the motivation of random discovery. That core behavior gives you the feeling like you are participating in the physical action of exploration, at the controls of a vehicle, and when you read the words, you can then imagine what you found. Having a specific discipline of science to attribute the discovery to is also helpful, because it provides a single reference point to focus on, making the connection between discovery and progress more immediate. Learning that you've found organic materials encrusted on the lip of a frozen crater is exciting, but realizing that this is specifically beneficial to your understanding of biology, is enlightening. It's a very fun game.

    This practice of communicating the feel of something (hunting and gathering), as well as providing a measure of satisfaction for meaningful progress (the icons are the same, but the text is different every time), is the cornerstone of good game design. Non-essential interaction is reduced, non-essential information is minimized.

  • I talked with my next-door neighbor very briefly. Actually he drove his car by ours, with the window down, and apologized for his behavior the other night.

    Last night he yelled a stream of foul language at my beloved and I as we were preparing to go on our nightly walk, because he was dissatisfied with our inefficient parking job. When I asked him, with voice raised, to stop cursing, he strode to within four feet of me and tried to pick a fight, cursing even more. I stood my ground and kept repeating my request that he stop yelling and calm down. Eventually he finished mouthing off and walked up the street, into his front yard, where his girlfriend then gave him a major chewing out for being such a jerk.

    So anyway, today he apologized to us, and explained that he'd been having a very bad time at work and was a bit drunk that night, and that he wasn't really that stupid. He sounded sincere, and it made me feel a lot better.

So that's some of what I talked about today, from afternoon until late at night. Today was a good day.

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