The Seductive Temptations of Meritocracy

I am very tired of people holding up meritocracy as the standard toward which a society should strive.  Pretty much every Republican extols its merits and even Obama’s speeches endorse it obliquely with emphasis on equal opportunity and income mobility as if the problem is merely that the cream doesn’t rise to the top.  Sadly, the general populace endorses it too.  It seems to be tied up in that fallacious American Dream.  However, meritocracy is inherently and overwhelmingly a terrible way to operate a society and I don’t mean that in the same was the old adage “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the other.”  No, meritocracy is wrongbad.

First off, the idea of meritocracy only became really popular recently and I believe mostly as a way to justify the vast gulf between the rich and everyone else.  Income inequality doesn’t sting quite as much if that income is just rewards for talent or hard work.  It leaves open the possibility that you too could get rich and a little bit of hope breeds a lot of resilience.

In the Belle Epoque they didn’t justify the even larger disparities in wealth and income by saying they earned it.  No that was just the way of the world and they usually looked down upon those that managed to earn their way into high society.  This appears to me a much more realistic view of the situation.  I don’t want to rehash the debate over whether the rich earned their wealth; I talked about it a bit in my posts on Piketty and education.  Except that I will point out that the really rich earn their income from capital, that is they give their money to financial types that then invest it for them and then they get the payoff.  It’s very hard to see how they earned that money from capital beyond already having a bunch of money.  Let’s put it this way, if I could take a loan of a billion dollars at say the prevailing mortgage interest rate (5% or so) for a year I could give it to a financial team who would make maybe 10% returns due to economies of scale and I would be up 50 million dollars at the end of the year for doing nothing.

I think further evidence is to take a look at the Forbes 400 list and realize that a third or so of the list is inherited wealth.  There is only one black billionaire according to Forbes, Oprah Winfrey.  Do we really believe that black people, from around the world, are somehow of less merit such that only one of them is a billionaire?  I don’t and that fact reveals a lot about the long reach of history in determining wealth.  This ties into the compelling arguments recently made on behalf of blacks by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The best study on this analyzed surnames in Sweden, what is now a relatively egalitarian country, and found lasting correlations over centuries of noble surnames and higher wealth and common surnames and lower wealth.

For the sake of argument lets ignore whether we actually have a meritocracy and dissect whether we actually want one.  Now I subscribe to a Rawlsian view of how to arrange society.  For those unfamiliar with his A Theory of Justice the basic idea is that we are all behind a veil of ignorance about out standing on Earth: our talents, our family, our location.  Given that situation how would we order society and its institutions?  Or to reframe it, what if we were about to roll some metaphorical dice that would determine who we are, who our parents are and where we live, how would we like to weigh the odds for each outcome?  There are many criticisms of his later principles that follow, but I think this gedanken experiment is the best starting point as it asks us to, impossibly, discard the advantages of our position in life when thinking about policy.  Sadly, the imagination and empathy to even attempt such a thing seems beyond much of humanity.

Rawls formulates a principle that complete egalitarianism should be the starting point and that any inequalities of say income or other variables must only be allowed if they make the worst off better.  Colloquially this would be a rising tide lifts all boats.  This is a very conservative view, the minimax strategy in game theory.  If we took a completely rational person it seems a better principle would be to maximize the expected value of your time on Earth.  To see the difference start from a world where wealth is equally divided, everyone gets $50,000 to give a number.  Now lets say we change the odds so that 99% of the people on Earth get a million dollars but 1% of the people get $45,000.  By Rawls view this is unacceptable, but I think every person on Earth would take the second world over the equally distributed one.

However, much research has been done on the non-rational (in contrast to irrational which suggests that we are crazy) economic decisions of human beings.  Of particular relevance is research on loss aversion.  We feel losses more than gains and thus we will gamble more often to avoid a loss and take a sure gain over the chance of a larger gain.  We are also more sensitive to probabilities near 100% or 0%.  Finally, all of this depends on the framing of the gamble as a loss or a gain.  The question becomes should we analyze this as a strictly rational being or account for our human preferences?  Including loss aversion would put us closer to Rawl’s principle than that of expected value and the entire point of the construct is to arrange gambles that we find optimal to our human psyche.  Yet, at the same time we never actually make these gambles as we do in loss aversion experiments.  It’s an interesting question I cannot answer either way.

But I digress.  The point was to introduce the veil of ignorance to analyze meritocracy.  If we were behind the veil would we want to order society as a meritocracy?  Well that depends on how we define meritocracy.  Usually it seems to be shorthand for saying that your position in society is determined solely by your talents and efforts and not your connections or inheritance or anything else.  But this raises numerous questions about rewards and talents.

On the rewards side, how on Earth do we determine how much your abilities are worth?  There are 1.8 million employees of McDonald’s, how much did each contribute to that tasty burger in your mouth?  It certainly seems like the people behind the counter at your local restaurant did most of the work, but there were a lot managers that had to get things to the right place to construct your sandwich.  It’s not really clear.  Yet the CEO, who probably did the least to actually provide you with a burger gets paid far more than the people more immediately responsible for your burger.  I mean if McDonals’d CEO retired for a month you would still get a burger, but if the staff at your local restaurant went on strike I guarantee you would not be able to sate your lust for that juicy cow flesh.

Another example.  Is there any reason a hair stylist in America should make multiples of one in China?  The only difference is location.  I actually got the best and cheapest haircut of my life in China. So it is clear that apportioning a person’s value is impossible and that the market is not any more savvy when it comes to figuring such things out either.

In writing this I came across a very good economic discussion of the problem of apportioning just deserts here.

But again lets set that problem aside and ask about talents.  Maybe Mark Zuckerberg really did earn his billions based on a better idea, a better product, a better coder.  Nevermind, that there were other similar products that just as easily could have replaced it.  However, all of that skill and creativity relied on a lucky turn of events.  He was lucky to be born in America, to be born white, to be born with some set of genetic material that was ripe for creating Facebook.  He was lucky his family was relatively well-off, that his dad taught him to code, that he likely went to better schools and that he was born at the right time that Facebook could take off and the list goes on.  Where does the deserving talent begin and end?

A society that is strictly meritocratic is really then a society based on the luck of the draw.  I suspect most people espousing meritocracy believe that such a society would be the ideal of just and fair, but does pure randomness really fit those criteria?  If you were behind the veil of ignorance would you take this bet?  I would not if it looked anything like the current society.  The top 1% of income in the world is only $34k which is only slightly above full time minimum wage in the U.S.  So you have a 99% chance of living a life that is at or below minimum wage levels and that really obscures the fact that most of the world is actually much poorer.  The bottom half of the population owns less than 1% of global wealth or to put it another way, the 50 million richest people on the planet have as much wealth as the poorest 2.7 billion.  Considering the risk aversion of most human beings, these kind of odds would be anathema to them: tiny chance to be fabulously wealthy, large chance of being in desperate poverty.

Of course, we don’t have a very good meritocracy because we allow things such as inheritance.  The irony is that the proponents of meritocracy are often the same people decrying the estate tax (i.e. rich people) but a true meritocracy would have a 100% estate tax.  There is nothing less meritocratic than being given a bunch of money for no reason.  Nobody would defend lottery winnings as meritocratic (though studies of lottery winners find they become more conservative and supportive of the idea that hard work is important to get ahead), but that is exactly what an inheritance is: a lottery of parents.

Similar to meritocracy is this vague idea of equal opportunity.  What does it mean that there is equality of opportunity?  As I have already demonstrated, there are many factors that will always influence the opportunities of an individual, most of which are not up to them.  Even Rawls falls into this trap saying that offices and positions must be open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity.  He adds the stipulation that everyone must have a reasonable opportunity to acquire the skills needed for said offices and positions.  Unfortunately, short of some cruel program of taking all the children away and raising them in government run facilities with  exacting standards of uniformity, you can’t evaporate all of the differences in opportunity.

That is why any fair system must not be solely focused on the inputs into the economy, on the equality of opportunity or whether its meritocratic, etc., but must also equalize situations at the outputs, i.e. some kind of social insurance.  We take from the lucky in order to ameliorate the bad luck of others as part of our social pact.  Anyone that thinks that this is unfair because they earned all of their money “fair and square” is not looking far enough backward to see their good luck.  This is also why the veil of ignorance is an important tool as it allows one to empathize with the unfortunate rather than being able to rationalize one’s success after the fact.

I think a good example of the insanity of equality of opportunity and meritocracy is admission into Harvard.  Whatever you think of people bribing Harvard to get their kids in, admissions are probably very meritocratic.  It just so happens that all the best and brightest are from high income families.  A black student from an inner city school has as much equality of opportunity to get into Harvard (I am going to assume they aren’t racist), but the odds of him having the same merits as his white and wealthy peers is essentially nonexistent.  Such a pure meritocratic setup just calcifies the existing structure of society.

Income mobility does not help with this problem; it is a red herring.  I could have a lottery that rearranges who is rich and who is poor in a country and have perfect income mobility.  But this would not in anyway be helpful.  What is important is the causes of income mobility.  Is it because poor kids have an easier time breaking out of their economic destiny of also being poor?  Or is it because rich people steal other rich people’s money knocking some of them down the totem pole?  And even with meritocratic income mobility we still have to deal with the injustices of an income distribution based on meritocracy which I have argued is really a distribution based on luck.

So any time you see someone argue for a meritocratic society, basically any politician on TV, shake your head and grimace.  They are arguing for a society that rewards the lucky and curbstomps the unfortunate.


Macromorality is Hard

By macromorality I of course mean what is moral for society as a whole.  I think most people have a fairly well honed moral compass when it comes to personal interactions, but as with so many things we have a much harder time understanding things at the level of millions and billions of human beings.   It’s just another example of our society evolving far beyond the confines the human species evolved in.  We are preprogrammed for small group dynamics, for our-group dynamics.

One thing that brought this topic to mind was a discussion about animal testing.  I often see body signs (a.k.a. t-shirts) proposing we ban animal testing.  I am sure the wearers of said shirts believe themselves proponents of a good and noble cause.  But it could just as well be that these people are enthusiastically evil.  Have they ever actually sat down and analyzed the moral calculus of banning animal testing?

I think we can all agree that a human life is worth more than that of an animal.  But how do we weight such things?  Is a human life worth the lives of 10 mice?  Should dolphins be worth than mice?  It’s a tricky question made trickier by context.  Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow recalls an experiment where people were asked to donate money to protect dolphins from mines or prevent skin cancer in farmers.  When presented separately the dolphins garnered more donations than the farmers, but presented together people obviously donated more to the farmers since they are humans.  However, we don’t really think about this very hard in any context and yet it is crucial to this issue.

However, I can fairly confidently assert that a ban on animal testing is unambiguously evil.  As much as organizations proposing the ban argue otherwise, there are no better alternatives to animal testing.  The two alternatives are cell cultures and simulations, but the former lacks any information about effects in an entire living organism.  And if we knew enough about human biology for accurate simulations we wouldn’t need animal testing, but we obviously don’t as scientists still use animals extensively.  I severely doubt they would do so if more effective instruments were available.

Also I can make a more quantitative argument.  There are 7 billion people on Earth.  The incidence rate of colorectal cancer is 5%.  That is, of the current population of humanity, 350 million people will develop this form of cancer.  Of those, 1/3 will die from it.  Thus, if an animal life is worth less than a human life by any amount, then using 100 million animals to study colorectal cancer is morally permissible.  This ignores quality of life improvements and impacts on knowledge for fighting other cancers, etc.  Furthermore, this is a one time cost.  Hopefully, humanity continues for generations to come and each of those will also benefit from curing this cancer.  As it is estimates are about a 100 million animals are used for ALL research in a year.

Now I certainly propose reducing the amount of animal testing we do and improving their conditions, but until knowledge of human biology improves enough, some amount of animal testing will be a part of the moral equilibrium.  What that equilibrium is requires us as a society to determine the worth of the lives of various species.  Unfortunately, we can’t even agree how much a human life is worth.  Nearly every U.S. agency uses a different value for the monetary value of a human life.  Should we adjust for how many years of life a person expects to have?  In that case colorectal patients are usually older and thus aren’t worth as many animals.

You see, macromorality is hard and uncomfortable.  Assigning values to lives is something we would never do at a personal level.  All of our heroes in media never run a cost/benefit analysis.  Spiderman is presented with the dilemma of whether to save his girlfriend Mary Jane or a bus full of people (and eventually saves both), but in terms of macromorality this is not a dilemma, the bus full of people is worth way more morality units (or negative kiloNazis).  If Spiderman saved only Mary Jane he would be committing an unambiguously evil act.  This is much like the Ticking Time Bomb Problem.

Another tricky macromoral problem is how to treat other groups of people that aren’t in our group.  The most pressing example is international relations.  What moral reason is there to put the needs of citizens within my arbitrary national border ahead of those in another country?  Human psychology has certainly programmed us to think in terms of us vs. them, but I have never seen a morally conscionable defense of such a practice.  But lets say we agree this is how it should be, what are they worth in terms of U.S. citizens?  .6  for U.S. Dolphin, .5 for Asiatic person, .4 for Asian dolphin, .2 for smelly French person?

Of course very few people would admit that such an exchange rate exists (though many famous people have made insensitive comments about how life is cheap in Asia or Africa or *insert country we dislike*).  Yet any time we offshore our pollution or fail to cut back on greenhouse gases or put garbage in the ocean or any of the myriad things we do that effect the entire planet, we are putting the interests of our citizens over those of another country.  Global warming affects everyone at least equally, but likely poor countries even more and that is where most of the population of the world resides.  Yet, per capita, developed nations contribute the most towards this trend of an increasingly warm planet.  Republicans that oppose attempts to limit greenhouse gases by saying they don’t increase global warming are at least voicing a morally sound conviction.  Those that talk about hurting our economy are truly evil, suggesting that our short term prosperity is worth more than billions of people elsewhere and elsewhen.

In my next post I hope to discuss the morality of meritocracy and how this beguiling idea that seemingly makes sense is in fact deeply immoral.

The Many Facets of Chocolate Ice Cream

Lately I have been fascinated by homemade ice cream.  It is remarkably easy to put out a product superior to commercial products at a fraction of the price.  Also I have found that I am turning into something of a chocolate freak, like menopausal woman bad.  Thus I attempted a few chocolate ice creams.

David Lebovitz Egg Custard Chocolate Ice Cream – This was actually something of a lark as I had some heavy cream on hand.  I used what some might call low quality chocolate (I think it was Hershey’s special dark and some sweetened dutch cocoa from Ghiradelli).  My wife and I still thought it was the best pure chocolate ice cream we had tasted.  It stayed remarkably smooth and scoopable right out of the freezer and had a pure, creamy chocolate flavor.

Cafe Fernando Chocolate Ice Cream/Semifreddo – This was inspired by Jeni’s, of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, recipe which uses cream cheese and corn starch.  This recipe drops the cream cheese and replaces with evaporated milk.  The recipe I link to has some modifications of the original to adapt to the strength of Anglo corn starch which is apparently stronger than the Turkish variety.

Well this is it, the end all and be all of frozen chocolate.  Think of a thick mousse, just ultra smooth and decadently chocolatey and all without churning or an egg custard!  For whatever reason this has better chocolate flavor than actually eating chocolate to my palate.  I used Trader Joe’s 70% Pound Plus bar and their natural cocoa powder and this officially made me a fan of their chocolate.

David Lebovitz Chocolate Sorbet – There is a lot of skepticism regarding chocolate sorbet, aren’t you just watering down, literally!, the chocolate flavor?  Well, another way to look at it is that nothing is interfering with the chocolate flavor?  Which interpretation is correct?  Well, I had to find out.

This was actually something of a challenge.  First I amped the recipe up by first caramelizing the sugar in 1/2 c of water (final water tally was 2 1/2 c in contrast to linked recipe) before adding the rest of the water and dissolving the caramel giving me the most intriguing looking sunset red water.  However, upon chilling the chocolate had seized, which is apparently a not uncommon problem but did not happen in the previous two recipes.  I assume the lack of fat is the culprit.  Now I had not blended the mixture beforehand as the recipe states because I just took the ingredient list and went at it.  My bad.  I remelted it and stuck an immersion blender in it before chilling it again.  This time it came out ultra smooth, so lesson learned.

How did it taste?  Nearly as good as Fernando’s chocolate ice cream and just as smooth.  It’s not icy like you might suspect from adding all that water.  Whether caramelizing the sugar was worth it is an interesting question.  I felt like I tasted some caramel notes to the ice cream, but it is mostly overwhelmed by the intensely chocolate flavor (again I used TJ’s).  I couldn’t make a firm conclusion without a side-by-side taste test.


Here are some tips and conclusions regarding this little experiment.  The quality of chocolate is more important than expected.  I have no doubt the first ice cream while already amazing would have been even better with the darker TJ chocolate.  That said, egg custards are the hardest part of making ice cream and most annoyingly they leave you with a bunch of egg whites.  I CAN ONLY EAT SO MANY ANGEL FOOD CAKES!  Even Lebovitz, who mostly uses custard ice creams in his definitive ice cream text Perfect Scoop, in recent comments seems to be moving away from them.  His reason is that it can dull the other flavors in the ice cream.  Similarly, I sense a push toward less heavy cream as fat can have a similar effect.  That is, palates are going toward more of a gelato flavor and texture profile.

As for making egg custard, some people suggest going slow, even using a double boiler setup.  I like to go fast and just stir the entire time as its the temperature not the speed that matters here.  Once it reaches 170 degrees I pull it off, continue to stir and let the residual heat bring it up to the magic 175 which is right below the point eggs start to curdle.  Even if you do get a little bit of cooked egg, an immersion blender can easily smooth it out.  After my sorbet experience I might just say to always blend it for better texture.

I have tried Jeni’s cream cheese base (using half and half for convenience) and I think it works very well and I don’t have to make a custard or do something with the extra egg whites.  I am pretty sure it will be my standard just for ease of use.

Now which of these recipes would I recommend?  Probably the sorbet just because it manages to be so delicious without all the fat and as many calories.  Fernando’s condensed+half and half is something like 1700 calories compared to “just” 700 calories of sugar in the sorbet.  Not to mention the sorbet’s ingredient list is much simpler requiring only chocolate/sugar/vanilla compared to various dairy products that I don’t have around for any purpose other than ice cream.  Of course, maybe the rich fattiness of Fernando’s will cause you to eat less, but I doubt it because it’s just so damn good.

Blackguards Review

Blackguards has two things going for it: Turn-based RPG combat and hexes.  Even with computers to do all the dirty work of freeform movement, I still hold a dear place in my heart for hexes.  Unfortunately, while these two features can mask a lot of sins, Blackguards still manages to underwhelm.

Lets start with the story.  Your entire party is predetermined so you better like your compatriots.  Sadly, they are mostly a bore with a stereotypical grumpy dwarf and Takate kind of plays on the noble savage thing.  It’s also a bit of a misnomer to call this an RPG because other than a few sidequests you don’t actually make any significant choices.  Blackguards is much more in the vein of Final Fantasy Tactics, a series of tactical battles with a story linking them together rather than a traditional RPG with turn-based combat.  However, the story is ponderously slow for most of the game before resolving far too fast near the end.  I expected more from a company that makes adventure games, a genre usually propped up by good storytelling.

Therefore it is best to come to Blackguards expecting nothing but interesting turn based tactical battles.  Much to its detriment, Blackguards utilizes some obscure German roleplaying system.  I have no idea how faithful it is to the original rules, but it appears to have a lot of traps in terms of character design.  Like it is much better to improve weapon skills first over character stats or that certain weapons like hammers have much better skills attached.  You should definitely build your mages as bow users too and that includes your main character.  A third melee character would be very awkward on Blackguards’ battlefields.  The problem is that the game can be notoriously difficult and thus require some fairly good character optimization.

It can be difficult, but it can also be ridiculously easy.  One of the flaws here is an inconsistent level of difficulty.  I managed to beat almost every battle on hard, but there are some which were just too annoying to bother with.  For instance one involves alligators that eat from a trap trigger and if they finish it kills a captive and you fail.  Success mostly depends on whether the reptiles attack you or the traps and after a few tries I gave in.

These objective based maps are a good idea over the typical kill everything style, but a lot of them were just ill thought out.  In particular a string of battles in a coliseum were particularly onerous.  One of them was a maze mostly one character wide where you had to wade through respawning roaches to get to the end.  Unfortunately, the narrow clearances meant you could not clear the roaches much faster than they respawned which turned the map into a tedious slog.  They also got a bit overly zealous with traps.

Finally, this RPG system has terrible magical loot in that it is nearly non-existent.  You use the same equipment for most of the game.  Some people talk about the Christmas Tree effect in D&D where characters are decorated with hordes of loot, but I find that far preferable to a game with essentially no equipment customization.

In the end I couldn’t finish the game.  You start off not being able to hit anything, but by the mid game it gets fairly interesting and then you have most of your tools and the game gets very repetitive very quickly.  Every fight started with the same buffs and debuffs, etc.  With no story to keep me motivated I had no desire to slog on until the end.  Blackguards 2 promises a more open-ended campaign and some improvements to the combat system.  I hope they pull it off because I really see potential here.

More Things I Hate in Gaming

Zombies – Jesus, so many zombie games (and movies!).  What is the fascination here?  The archetypical zombie is a boring enemy useful only as fodder to be smashed to bits and make the player feel powerful.  Of course developers realize this and add a bunch of “new” zombies, but are they really zombies at that point?

Zombies are so popular that the completely mediocre series Dead Island has now turned into a franchise with three different games on the horizon.  Oh and the same developer also has Dying Light another zombie survival game not in the same franchise.  Every FPS has a zombie mode, even “realistic” shooters like Call of Duty.  It’s ridiculous.

Also what happened to magical undead zombies?  Nowadays it is always modern disease zombies.


Survival Games – This category has a lot of overlap with zombie games.  There are probably more zombie-survival games than all other type of survival games combined.  I love the idea of surviving on your wits and hard work, but in the end survival is kind of boring.  I find Don’t Starve an ingenious little game, but starting over and doing the same mundane tasks of collecting wood and stone gets tedious fast.  The flaws are similar to open world games where there is a lot of space and nothing interesting to do (see State of Decay).


Block/Pixel Art – The block style is epitomized by Minecraft, but that game has a very good reason to be blocky; it makes constructing things easier.  Just like Legos.  However, there are numerous games where that modularity isn’t really needed that have adopted the same style presumably because Minecraft is very popular.  I personally find it really ugly.

The 2D equivalent is pixel art which for awhile seemed all the rage in the indie scene, though at the moment that seems to have died somewhat.  I don’t really mind it and I really like the 2D is having a bit of a resurgence, but there is no reason that your art has to be retro to be 2D.  Making your game look 8-bit is a conscious decision that you can’t really back up as motivated by economics since you could for a little more effort have higher res pixel art.  It strikes me as very hipster.


So with all these things I hate here are two game that take the cake, the cake of hate:

Dead Island Epidemic – Zombie F2P MOBA

And the worst:

Unturned – Block Art, Zombie Survival, F2P, Early Access


Disturbing Trends in Gaming

This is my opportunity to be old and crotchety about the current state of video games.

First up: MOBAs.  The name is meaningless (nearly every multiplayer game would qualify as a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) and sounds stupid.  The genre seems intent on copying the original Warcraft 3 mod, Defense of the Ancients, over and over again, right down to the one, and only one, map.  You know something is wrong when Blizzard, a company intent on copying itself and others over and over again, has a forthcoming MOBA that may in fact be labeled as innovative, mostly for removing a lot of the archaic baggage of the original mod everyone else was too afraid to tinker with.

However, the worst part is that MOBAs are the new MMORPG which were the new FPS which were the new RTS.  That is, they are freaking everywhere.  Except they are even worse because MOBAs are cheap and have a large intersection with free-to-play another booming genre.  I swear that Rock Paper Shotgun merely covers the announcement of each one so that its audience can shake their head in dismay.

It is particularly depressing because I really have no interest in the genre.  All the weird unintuitive mechanics, level grinding each game, paucity of maps and awful community has nothing to interest me.  In the end it looks a lot like playing an RTS but controlling only one unit or an MMORPG with a much less interesting character.  Obviously I am alone as the genre is massively popular.

Worst of all is when promising developers jump on the bandwagon.  Epic is making a MOBA.  Dungeon Defenders was a promising game broken by later additions and yet the sequel is a MOBA.  The thing is they are all barking up the wrong tree.  Admittedly it is not as stupid as an MMO where the development costs are huge and the player base is sticky to existing games, but it’s really unlikely you are going to pull people from League of Legends or DotA2 with your new MOBA.


F2P – Gawd I hate F2P.  Something about the entire system that turns me off.  I actually prefer subscriptions like WoW where I have access to everything or just paying up front for the game.   It’s all a sham and the philosophy behind it unnerves me and usually it shows up in some way inside the game to the detriment.  All these recent card games for instance where F2P might as well read free-to-suck since you forking over money is the only reasonable way to acquire cards.

And these are just the legitimate F2P games.  There are huge swathes of more disreputable games, mostly on mobile devices, that use a variety of psychological tricks to prey on people, particularly children.  These might seem like a different class, but they are just more callous and aggressive about it than milder F2P games.


Early Release – Can we just go back to releasing games when they are approximately done?  I don’t play Early Release games because I don’t want to inevitable play things multiple times as new versions are released and I don’t want my experience tainted by the myriad bugs and balance problems present in an unfinished product.  Some of these games are in Early Release so long you wonder if they are ever coming out.  I am curious if Early Release is overall detrimental for most games since their hype train must have fizzled out by the time they get a release.  Take Firefall, where lackluster beta content has reduced the appeal on the eve of its launch.  It also raises the specter of whether an Early Release game is actually DONE when it gets released, it really starts to feel arbitrary.


Kickstarter – I admit that I am really dubious about crowdfunding.  It’s not clear to me that putting the risk of production onto consumers is an improvement in financial investment technology.  One of the earliest examples of crowdfunding I recall was GMT games taking preorders for boardgames and only producing if it reached some threshold of orders.  So we as consumers have some art and a blurb and are supposed to contribute money so that GMT games can produce a game with no risk?  I call BS.  Also, it’s well established that consumers don’t really know what they want.  At one point there were no chunky tomato sauces and seemingly no outcry for them, but when chunky tomato sauces came out a significant portion of the population preferred them.  Letting consumers decide what gets published is a great way to stifle innovation.  It leads to the same kind of feedback loops that causes excessive focus group testing to lead to mediocrity and mundanity.

The other problem is how it is used.  Far too often I see things that are going to be produced anyway and Kickstarter is a way to grab preorders and hype.  In fact a lot of Kickstarter patrons view the entire thing as some kind of informal preorder website.  I hate preorders as they divorce the quality of a product from its earnings.  Video game reviews are pretty poor with obvious predilections towards AAA titles, but at least when you purchase a game after release you at least have some information.  Instead there are people that preordered Aliens: Colonial Marine and rewarded a company for putting out a miserable piece of crap.


Exercise for Health and Physique, Not Weight Loss

Another myth that seems to have gripped the popular consciousness is that exercise is the key to weight loss.  In no uncertain terms: THIS IS WRONG.

I bring this up because well-educated colleagues in the Physics department have made this mistake multiple times recently.  These are people that with a few salient facts could calculate a rough estimate of the energy expenditure involved in a particular exercise and would promptly realize the absolutely trivial amount it represents.  I have heard a tenured professor excuse digging into the cookie jar because he went to the gym yesterday.

As calculated here you would need to do an entire year’s worth of bench pressing in order to burn one pound of weight.  The energy expenditure of an actual intense weightlifting session is probably no more than 200 calories, the equivalent of not drinking that soda with dinner.  Don’t drink a sugary soda that is probably bad for you beyond its calorie count or spend a grueling hour in the gym?  I know which one I will take every time.

Another problem is that overtraining is a very real problem with sometimes antithetical results.  According to that study, doing moderate amounts of cardio actually yielded better results in terms of fat loss.

My suggestion then is to determine your goals.  Realize that fat loss is best done through diet and do exercise to push in that direction but mostly for your health.