De omnibus dubitandum
18 Mar 2013
This video, a perfectly executed parody of the 9/11 ‘inside job’ conspiracy video Loose Change, highlights an important flaw of the human psyche: its capacity to interpret unconnected events and random facts in such a way as to imply a secret behind-the-scenes conspiracy:
The sad fact is that nearly always there is no conspiracy. People are bad at keeping secrets, and big conspiracies need a lot of people involved. Any complicated endeavour has too many things go wrong for conspiracies to be effective. Incompetence is often a more accurate explanation rather than inside knowledge or intricate conspiracies.
And, most of all, sometimes the world just doesn’t make sense, and bad stuff happens for no good reason.
22 Oct 2012
It’s no secret that I’m a fierce defender of free speech, and that I resist any and all attempts at censorship.
Criticism in all its guises is, I believe, an absolutely vital aspect of a progressive modern society. And in a society that jails people for what they say, free speech is a particularly fragile right.
Fortunately this is not a fight waged by a small minority. In fact, free speech in the UK is a grave concern for many of us. Activists have started the Reform Section 5 campaign which presses for reform of section 5 of the Public Order Act.
This reform is highly necessary, because section 5 allows police to arrest people for “insulting words or behaviour”.
The fact that insults are punishable by law is laughably ridiculous and no country professing to be free should even remotely consider such a farcical law. But nonetheless there it is, in the UK law books. Which is why this law desperately needs to be changed.
Rowan Atkinson puts it rather well in this speech:
Free speech includes the freedom to insult. No one has the right to never be offended.
11 Oct 2010
I have a confession to make: I cheat in games.
I’ve never played Crysis without the God Mode on. I use a third-party trainer in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to make sure I never run out of ammo. Without the unlimited health trainer for Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena I’d never have been able to finish the game.
And more recently I’ve used a trainer to make my escapade in to Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty a bit easier and more enjoyable.
Apparently, I wasn’t supposed to do that. Blizzard has recently banned over 5000 Battle.net accounts for cheating in Starcraft 2.
Now here we have to make an important distinction: cheating in single-player games vs cheating in multi-player games.
In multi-player games you’re going up against other players. It’s your skill against theirs, your tactical decisions versus theirs. A level playing field is paramount here. You need to know that when you win or lose, you do so by the merits of your own skills and those of your opponents – not because of any cheat.
So cheating in multi-player is a big no-no. I’ve never cheated in any multi-player game, and I never will. Cheating in multi-player is morally wrong.
But in single-player, you’re just playing against the computer. You’re not hindering anyone else’s enjoyment of the game. You’re just playing the single-player game how you want to. And I believe that is your right. You paid for that game, and you have the right to do with it whatever you want. And using cheats are a great way to enhance your enjoyment of the game – they’ve sure helped me out on some tough levels.
Blizzard, however, disagrees with that notion. Blizzard thinks that cheating in single-player is on par with cheating in multi-player. Blizzard believes that cheaters in single-player games deserve to be entirely banned from playing the game.
That is, of course, an utterly ridiculous notion.
In single-player, no one is affected when you cheat. No one else’s gameplay is influenced in any way. The only thing you’re doing when using cheats in single-player is make the game a bit easier for yourself.
There are millions of entirely valid reasons why people cheat in single-player games. Perhaps they’re stuck for time and really want to finish that level before they have to go to bed early for a big day at work tomorrow. Perhaps they’re not as quick as the average 12-year old button-masher and need a little edge when faced with that enormous Zerg horde. Perhaps they just want to focus more on enjoying the storyline and focus less on getting through those tough levels.
Whatever the reasons, players should be allowed to cheat in single-player. In fact, many games (Blizzard’s included) come with built-in cheats for exactly this reason.
The players being banned from Starcraft 2 are those that use third-party trainers, tools that exist outside of the game. Apparently using Blizzard’s own cheats is fine, but using third-party trainers is not. I’ll leave the technical distinctions between the two out of this already lengthy blog post (hint: it’s got to do with single-player achievements), but suffice to say that I believe Blizzard is being more than a little hypocritical here.
In fact, I think Blizzard is utterly, totally, and irrevocably wrong here.
It’s my game. I paid for this game. I own it. I will play it exactly how I damn well want to. And if you want to stop me, fine.
Next time I won’t pay for the game – instead I’ll just download a hacked copy off of a P2P network. Next time you, Blizzard, won’t get a fucking penny from me. I will avail myself of an illegal copy, which will allow me to play the single-player game exactly how I want to play it.
I don’t care about achievements, I don’t care about multi-player either. I just want to play games in the way that I enjoy playing them. And you, Blizzard, have overstepped the line with your latest mass-ban. You’ve gone too far. You’re hard at work alienating a large portion of your user base, and by doing so you’re actively harming yourself and your entire industry.
P.S. I haven’t been banned from SC2, but it’s likely that I will at some point in the future. I actually hope that I will – I think I may have a strong legal case against Blizzard if they ban me. I may know a few lawyers who’d be more than willing to take up such a high-profile case….
20 Sep 2010
I love snooker. It’s a game that combines great skill with tactical insights & planning. Dutch TV rarely shows any snooker, but fortunately the BBC’s coverage of it is extensive.
One of the game’s giants is Ronnie O’Sullivan. A temperamental, unpredictable player, he is nonetheless one of the all-time greats. Today he found himself a permanent spot in the snooker history books when he scored his tenth televised 147 maximum break in typical O’Sullivan style.
In what can only be described as a typical demonstration of his antics, he pots one red and one black and then asks the referee if the tournament grants a special prize for a 147 maximum break. The answer is no, the tournament only gives a £4000 prize to the highest break of the tournament, not a special 147-prize.
Ronnie then goes on to clear the table, closing in on that insanely difficult 147 break, but stops after he pots the pink. He figures that, since there’s no special prize for a 147, there’s no need for him to make one.
But the referee urges him on, and Ronnie finally does pot the last black and scores his tenth televised 147 – the highest amount of any professional snooker player ever.
Love him or hate him, Ronnie O’Sullivan brings a certain flair and unpredictability to the game that you can’t help but admire.
13 Aug 2010
Christopher Hitchens, one of my heroes, is dying. Everybody is dying, but for Hitchens “the process has suddenly accelerated”.
He’s been diagnosed with a particularly ferocious form of throat cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. Yet he still continues to write, and even found time to do a video interview with The Atlantic:
Hitchens is not shy about his cancer, choosing not to retire in to obscurity to wage his war against the disease but to fight it openly and in plain sight, for all to see.
For this I admire the man even more than I already did. He has always been a public figure, and the fact that he’s not letting a little thing like cancer get in the way of that says volumes about his strength and determination.
9 Jun 2010
I can’t. Hate Tom Cruise, that is. I can’t help it, I love the guy.
Yes I know he’s a Scientologist, that totally bizarro-world nutcase religion with some really whacked-out ideas about space thetans and trillion-year old aliens, the same religion that’s not above using violence and extortion to keep their secrets intact. But hey, at least they don’t rape kids.
It’s not that all of Tom Cruise’s films have been so awesome – some have even been pretty damn bad. Really, really bad. But you have to admit that many of his films have been pretty good. Some films have even been really, really good.
But none of this really matters. Because the main reason I can’t hate Tom Cruise is because he doesn’t take himself very seriously.
This is one of Hollywood’s leading men, a one-man box-office hit-generator who is arguably one of the most famous people alive on the planet, and he goes around and does things like this:
And then, for no other reason than because he wants to, he goes ahead and repeats it on one of TV’s biggest annual events: the MTV Movie Awards.
(Unfortunately there’s no video available outside of the US due to Viacom’s anally retentive copyright-obsessed lawyers denying the rest of the world the glory of Les Grossman via legitimate means, so I suggest you find the video on your favourite file-sharing site.)
A man that is that famous, and yet possesses sufficient quantities of humour and self-mockery to do this sort of thing and enjoy it, deserves praise.
So there you have it. I like Tom Cruise. I really do.
27 Dec 2009
Recently, as part of the Intelligence Squared debates, Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry took on an archbishop and a conservative politician in a debate on the question: “Is the Catholic Church a force for good in the world?”
The whole debate can be viewed on the IQ2 website, but if you can’t spare the full 50 minutes I at least wanted to share Stephen Fry’s passionate speech:
The answer to the debate’s central question is, as you may have gathered, a resounding no.