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Archive for September, 2010

Civilization V: When AIs rule the world

September 22, 2010 1 comment

Civilization V is coming!

For those of you out there who don’t play a lot of videogames, don’t worry, I don’t either. In fact, you can tell it by the fact that the review I’m about to cite comes not from the explosive panoply of video game blogs out there, but from the WSJ’s Speakeasy blog:

[Question:] My 12-year-old son is among those who almost always turned to warfare as the way forward in Civ IV. How have you tweaked the AI to punish those who rely too heavily on one development strategy?

More than just a tweak, we have dedicated an entire software subsystem to scrutinizing the actions of the other players in the game. This “diplomatic AI” makes sure that each AI civilization performs a full assessment of each of its neighbors. Each turn this analysis includes noticing which players are trying to grab open land, which ones have particularly large armies, and also making a guess about which type of victory each opponent is pursuing. So your son’s warmongering will be noticed by the AI right away. This information is then critical to how the AI chooses its friends and enemies and also to how it picks its own path to victory.

They just keep making it harder! The article talks a bit about changes to the war-fighting mechanics – but the interview is with the game’s AI Programming Lead – so AI is a primary focus. And it’s fascinating!

Reading this I couldn’t help but imagine a future in which Civilization 10 actually just runs the same AI engines behind the foreign policy of small nations. That that was Firaxis’ twenty year corporate plan: building the diplomatic advisory algorithms for developing nations. (“Yes General, I’m sure your half-brother has a natural talent for diplomacy, but you might want to consider our product as a back-up.”)

From there it’s just another few iterative steps to the backrooms of power in the developed world.

And then?

I love the idea that sports provide an outlet for regional rivalries played out without bloodshed (British hooligans aside) – perhaps diplomatic games will provide the same. We’ll cheer on our national foreign policy AIs at the Global Civilization Olympics. All that friction of competing ideologies dissipating in the cheering throngs while the computers quietly negotiate the climate change treaties and free trade agreements.

The Future of Social Media in Journalism is Simple

September 17, 2010 1 comment

Okay, I’ve got a premise for a you: I think the future of social media in journalism is simple. Not “simple” like, “Hold up, y’all, I got it all figured out.” Simple like, let’s stop trying to confuse our users.

A lot of folks have been linking to this Mashable opus “The Future of Social Media in Journalism.” It’s about as lengthy as its ONA Panel title would suggest – but kudos to them, it’s comprehensive and up-to-date. If you’re interested in the intersection of social media and journalism, it’s definitely worth a read.

Now, I whole-heartedly agree with the premise that social media is going to turn into just “media” and that newsrooms have an awful lot of adaptation to look forward to. I had one big thought inspired by this, though: I think the future of social media in journalism is simple.

Among the article’s examples I was caught by Intersect. Their two-minute explanation video left me baffled in a way that clicking around in their site only compounded tenfold.

Now, I don’t mean to pick on these guys (though maybe I’m a little miffed that they’re using that tagline despite it being on a few legal pad drafts of my own projects) I’m sure this is a smart and important effort. But my point is this – why are we still giving users more complicated things to interact with? Shouldn’t we focus on building tools and systems that either a) make interaction as simple as possible in the places your users already are or b) use the user-generated content that’s already being made out there and build new products just for journalists.

Two good examples of this:
A) CNN built IReport right into their Iphone app. Perfect integration.
B) Storify. It’s a tool built for journalists to pull from across social media where people already are.

(There are some good examples of this in the article, too. TBD’s coverage of the Discovery HQ shooting is probably the best.)

Keep it simple folks. And classy. Always keep it classy.

Categories: Uncategorized

How to build a future book

I love Kiyash Monsef’s new story “How to Build a Troll-Proof Bridge.” But I especially love it’s animated cover.

How to Build a Troll-Proof Bridge from Kiyash Monsef on Vimeo.

It’s short, it’s punchy, it grabs your attention. It’s appropriately analogous to a television show intro…but it’s for a text-based story.

I think this is an exciting new space to play in for people who like to make things. The web has never offered a great reception to fiction (though Star Trek fanfic, amateur erotica, and Robin Sloan’s The Truth About the East Wind are notable exceptions) and especially not to long-format novel-length works. But now that we’ve got tablets like the Ipad, the device of the book itself is changing.

I’ll leave the implications to Tim Carmody, master of bookfuturism. But the fun part is this: What things can we imagine our future novels will have now that the delivery technology is more flexible?

– Animated covers like Kiyash’s
– Ambient scene-setting soundtracks (again, East Wind)
– Videos for illustrations used sparingly like photos, drawings and woodblock prints
– A hyper-linked Infinite Jest
– A whole new crop of Choose Your Own Adventures
– Narratives that read spatially? (The Penguin We Tell Stories project is a great experiment in this.)
– And yes, advertisements

What would a project like House of Leaves that so expressly plays with form look like? Half-Myst, half-dissertation?

Categories: Writing

Chinese Meme Alert: Leo DiCaprio Strutting

Spot Leonardo strutting:

Via the always entertaining chinaSMACK: a collection of Photoshopped images of Leonardo diCaprio strutting. Some really great ones in here.

Citizen Medicine and Citizen Journalism

In my many Google Alerts is one for “citizen journalism.” I get some interesting material from it and most often it’s people picking on the subject in defense of “real journalism” (which I do not have a Google Alert set up for.)

Hence I found myself reading a college op-ed bemoaning the possibility of the University of Colorado, Boulder phasing out their journalism program. There’s more to it, but that’s not what I’m interested in.

I was pulled in via this phrase: “I’ve long subscribed to the belief that citizen journalism is akin to citizen dentistry. With little oversight concerning journalistic ethics and the transmission of concise, accurate reporting, there is little guarantee of the profession and its watchdog role being upheld in the coming decades.”

Of course there’s the expected anti-citizen journalism vitriol in the preceding paragraph (“…when anyone with a case of Diet Coke, mild carpal tunnel, a working knowledge of design programs and a laptop can be considered a “citizen journalist…”), and the dentistry analogy is supposed to drive that home – but it actually set me brainstorming in a different direction.

To borrow and change this metaphor a little – Let’s say journalism is a bit like medicine. You’ve got your general practitioners and your specialists. And citizen journalism is akin to citizen medicine. Which is not a bad thing! You only want a well-trained licensed doctor to perform surgery just in the same way it’s preferable to have august, credentialed and venerated minds at a place like ProPublica conducting your investigative reporting. But trust me, it’s of great valuable to society for everyone to know a little bit about first aid and to have a few folks around who are trained in CPR.

What simplistic arguments against citizen journalism do is conflate CPR with open heart surgery, bandaging a cut with re-attaching a limb.

What does this give us to work with? Perhaps we should extend this analogy to education.

With the same ubiquity as posters in the workplace that teach citizens how to perform first aid, perhaps the media should start to include little tips and tactics of performing one’s part in journalism? Forget branding it citizen journalism, forget starting formal programs that you can join as a “[vowel]Reporter”. Just offer weekend training sessions for the truly interested, online tips for proper cellphone photography, and easy-to-navigate ways to become deputized in a greater effort.

(Thanks to Mr. Jake Begun at The Badger Herald for the kick-start to the brainstorm.)

Japanese Pharmaceutical Ads of the Nineteenth Century

Pinktentacle posted a collection of Japanese medical woodblock prints from the mid-nineteenth century that are awesome. Many of them seem to essentially be advertisements for different medical products. I particularly love the personification of disease. That cholera beast! Here are a few of my favorites.

Pills for syphilis and gonorrhea:

Defeating cholera:

Chasing measles away:

Data Day Friday – Mint and 9/11

I know it’s basically already the weekend, but here’s a little data porn (SFW) to lose yourself in while you’re sneaking whiskey from your filing cabinet to wind down the late afternoon hours.

Zach Seward pointed out this big giant data dump from Mint! From anonymously collected transactions they’ve put together averages for venues in cities around the country. Here’s one from San Francisco for Rainbow Grocery:

[Ugh. Embed fail. Here’s a link. The salient point here is that the average Rainbow Grocery bill is 75.54.]

Now I’d expect Safeway, the not-so-granola grocery chain, to come in with a higher average. They sell meat, for example. And meat is more expensive than vegetables, right? But Safeway comes in at a $40.11 average. ‘Spensive produce at the old Rainbow. (Though I think that has more to do with the fact that Safeway sells booze and all those folks are in there on the weekend buying twelve packs of Corona before the BBQ (#youbrosknowwhoimtalkingabout)).

Go play with it. Awesome.

Gawker’s got an “emotional timeline of 9/11 courtesy of Wikileaks”. This is based on an analysis of 573,000 pager intercepts. (Yes, “pager” intercepts.)

Well that’s for all of you who, like me, are probably going to spend the first night of your weekend hunched over your laptop trying desperately to eke out a few thousand words on your novel of ridiculous scope.

For everyone else – enjoy the weekend: