Thursday, July 28, 2005

A-Rod is a genius
In today's New York Post, we learn that Alex Rodriguez lunched with Doctor Henry Kissinger. Most importantly we learn that "Alex was unbelievably impressed by how much Dr. Kissinger knew about the game [of baseball]."

Okay. Kissinger brokered Middle East peace (even if it didn't last) and reopened relations between the US and China. I think that baseball might be within his realm of understanding.

Man, I really hate the Yankees.

Japan is full of geniuses
One page earlier in the same edition of the Post, we learn about Repliee Q1:

She's cute, nicely built and can process data like an MIT grad, but she still leaves something to be desired.

Meet Repliee Q1 — the most human-looking robot ever devised.

This amazing "female" android, created by Japanese scientists, has flexible skin as well as sensors and motors that allow her to turn and react just like a real woman. She can flutter her eyelids and move her hands like a human — and even seems to breathe like a human[...]

[Her inventor comments] "Consciously, it is easy to see that she is an android, but unconsciously, we react to the android as if she were a woman."

At the moment the android can fool people into believing it's real for a very short period of time.

"However, if we carefully select the situation, we could extend that to perhaps 10 minutes," Ishiguru said.
Okay, here's what I don't get. The people who are designing machines like this are the very same people who watch movies like, oh, say, The Terminator (as well as the third in the series, which more closely documents what I'm getting at), The Matrix, and Stealth. Also, perhaps most importantly, they tend to watch TV shows like Battlestar Galactica (Trailer here). Allow me to give you IMDB's brief summary of that series, in case you don't want to sit through the trailer:
The Twelve Colonies of Kobol ("Heaven" in ancient Persian) long ago created the Cylons as machine worker drones for humanity. These machines became independent, after fighting in wars between the Colonies, rose in rebellion, created their own empire, and launched war on their masters. Forty years before the series takes place, a ceasefire was declared, the war ended and the Cylons all but disappeared. However, unknown to the Colonies, they had been evolving into more human form, becoming machine-created biological beings who seek to exterminate true biological humans. Following the nuclear destruction of the Colonies, the Cylons pursued the Galactica and its companion fleet, fearing that the surviving humans would someday return to take revenge on the Cylons.
That's right—it took these "Cylons" forty years to evolve themselves to a human form.

These Japanese scientists are working on giving them precisely the head start they would need.

So, my question is: if they're all a bunch of nerds who watch this kind of thing, why aren't they learning from it?!!

Strictly Irresponsible Journalism from NPR
I was listening to NPR's "Morning Edition" while I showered this morning, and I was absolutely disgusted by what I heard. In their "Time now for your comments" section, they opened with the following letter:

"It is interesting," writes Adam Taylor of Portland, Oregon, "that someone can complain about being expected to do the job they are paid to do."

He's referring to our story about a Capitol Hill debate on whether pharmicists can refuse to give out birth control pills or other medication they object to on moral grounds.

Adam Taylor writes, "As a vegetarian and a sandwich-maker, if I told my customers that I was morally obliged to not sell them the beef that's written on the menu, I would quickly be out of a job. If someone feels so morally violated by the terms of their job, they should probably find a different line of work."
I should note that there was emphasis in the speaking, but I transcribed only the words I heard, not the tone—to give NPR the benefit of the doubt.

It is incredibly irresponsible and biased to publish a letter like this. Mr. Taylor is absolutely right, and absolutely wrong. Yes, if someone doesn't do the job they are paid to do, they are likely to be fired. If a pharmacist is instructed by the owner of the pharmacy to fill certain prescriptions and he refuses on moral grounds, then he can be fired.

But that is not what the debate is about—the debate is about whether or not laws should be written to compell all pharmacists to fill such prescriptions. In other words, if I own a pharmacy and do not want to fill birth control prescriptions, I will be open to civil and possibly criminal legal action.

In this context, Mr. Taylor's position (irresponsibly lent a microphone by "Morning Edition") is entirely misleading. If he owned a sandwich shop, should the government be able to compell him to serve meat? That's the question at hand. I think everyone would say that no, vegetarian restaurants have a right to exist, if that's what their owners want. Even if it's the only restaurant in town—even if it's the only restaurant for 100 miles—it's up to the owner of that restaurant to determine the products he wishes to offer. If the clientelle is there, they will thrive; if not, they will collapse. That's capitalism.

And I think most people would say that, even if there was only one restaurant in town, the government would be out of line to compell that restaurant to serve meat. (Note: according to Kelo, however, the government could seize the restaurant and give it to someone who would serve meat.) So why are pharmacists different? Why should we be compelling them to distribute products that they don't wish to?

And why is NPR helping that goal by completely mischaracterizing the debate?

UPDATE [8/2/2005 - 18:30]: Welcome Carnival visitors! I hope you'll take the time to tour RFTR beyond just this post—I have to admit that I've been very busy for the past week, so my posting ratio has fallen significantly. Either way, I hope to see you again in the future.

Recommended posts:
What do A-Rod and Japanese Scientists have in common?
Are video games beneficial?
And, in case you missed it: John Howard's must-read comments.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Why video games may be doing some good
I've been thinking about this for quite some time now:

Another key question: Of all the games that kids play, which ones require the most mental exertion? Parents can play this at home: Try a few rounds of Monopoly or Go Fish with your kids, and see who wins. I suspect most families will find that it's a relatively even match. Then sit down and try to play 'Halo 2' with the kids. You'll be lucky if you survive 10 minutes.

The great secret of today's video games that has been lost in the moral panic over 'Grand Theft Auto' is how difficult the games have become. That difficulty is not merely a question of hand-eye coordination; most of today's games force kids to learn complex rule systems, master challenging new interfaces, follow dozens of shifting variables in real time and prioritize between multiple objectives.

In short, precisely the sorts of skills that they're going to need in the digital workplace of tomorrow.

Consider this one fascinating trend among teenagers: They're spending less time watching professional sports and more time simulating those sports on Xbox or PlayStation. Now, which activity challenges the mind more — sitting around rooting for the Packers, or managing an entire football franchise through a season of 'Madden 2005': calling plays, setting lineups, trading players and negotiating contracts? Which challenges the mind more — zoning out to the lives of fictional characters on a televised soap opera, or actively managing the lives of dozens of virtual characters in a game such as 'The Sims'?

On to the issue of aggression, and what causes it in kids, especially teenage boys. Congress should be interested in the facts: The last 10 years have seen the release of many popular violent games, including 'Quake' and 'Grand Theft Auto'; that period has also seen the most dramatic drop in violent crime in recent memory. According to Duke University's Child Well-Being Index, today's kids are less violent than kids have been at any time since the study began in 1975. Perhaps, Sen. Clinton, your investigation should explore the theory that violent games function as a safety valve, letting children explore their natural aggression without acting it out in the real world.

Many juvenile crimes — such as the carjacking that is so central to 'Grand Theft Auto' — are conventionally described as 'thrill-seeking' crimes. Isn't it possible that kids no longer need real-world environments to get those thrills, now that the games simulate them so vividly? The national carjacking rate has dropped substantially since 'Grand Theft Auto' came out. Isn't it conceivable that the would-be carjackers are now getting their thrills on the screen instead of the street?
It makes sense to me—playing Halo and GTA and Bond and so on has never left me feeling violent—if anything, it leaves me feeling relaxed, and usually pretty tired.

And as far as the complex digital environments—my parents are often nonplussed by my ability to IM 8 people at once and read a book in between each typed sentence. My dad thinks that productivity will begin plummeting in the next few years because of Instant Messenger programs, but having watched myself and my peers, we're better equipped to handle this kind of multi-tasking because of those IM experiences. I think it's very possible that we'll see the same kind of benefit in the workplace thanks to video games.

I have to tell you, the smartest people I knew at Yale were typically among the best video game players (of all kinds) as well. The ones with simple book smarts and no common sense did not fall in this category, and could rarely be found connected to a console system. The ones who excelled in every social and academic pursuit, however, played at least a few times a week.

This is, of course, strictly observational—but I think it's important to think about.

Overturning Roe with technology?
Tony Blankley explains how it might come to pass.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

And it used to be just something people said
Now, "The Cadillac of Bicycles" has become accurate.

Monday, July 25, 2005

So, what's your point, Bob?
Bob Herbert does a pretty lackluster job of establishing that the war in Iraq isn't making us safer. He's far from the first to do this, and I have to ask—what's the point of making such an assertion? Even if true, does that help us know how to move forward from here?

It's like people who say Pearl Harbor only happened because we were restricting the supply of oil going into Japan... does that mean we should have backed off and let Japan conquer the world with unlimited oil supplied by us? After all, then they wouldn't have attacked us.

Scooping Gaijinbiker
It seems to be all the rage, let's report on Japanese news.

What's the worst thing to happen to white trash in recent banking history? The combination of ATMs with slot machines:

A bank based here has come up with an unusual way to attract customers to its automatic teller machines -- by installing slot games in them.
From Aug. 8, Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank will introduce slot games in ATMs that give customers the chance to win back bank fees or cash.
It's become even harder to burn one's paycheck on sake and karaoke, thanks to the overwhelming temptation to spend it all right where you withdraw it.

Time for a change
Quick, appoint Lance Armstrong ambassador to France...