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Open Thread 130.5

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1,087 Responses to Open Thread 130.5

  1. theredsheep says:

    Something that belatedly struck me concerning sexual purity taboos–I don’t recall anyone mentioning this, but it was a big thread so apologies if I missed it: in my experience, all else being equal, women tend to be more offended by other women’s violations of sexual norms than men are. If a bunch of young men are together, and one of them remarks that Sarah’s a slut, the others (provided none of them are dating or friends with Sarah) will likely react with amusement. They might make a couple of mean-spirited jokes at Sarah’s expense. But then they’ll move on. Whereas if a circle of young women notice that Sarah’s a slut, they will be at it for fifteen minutes, critiquing her clothes, her behavior, her friends, and basically all the little things that add up to make Sarah such a worthless skank. There will be no humor. They hate Sarah.

    The reason for this should be obvious: men ultimately have no reason to feel threatened if a girl is sexually available, while women do. The reverse situation should work the same way, one would think, but in my experience doesn’t. Women may express relatively mild disapproval of male promiscuity, but it won’t have the same venom unless the man’s sleeping around has hurt them or someone they know personally. And men tend to feel a wistful admiration, if anything. But this is all anecdotal and I don’t have a good sense of why it should be.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      Spitballin’, but doesn’t this reflect the difference between male and female pairing strategies?

      The man sleeping around case appears more clear cut: having sex with many women maximizes the chance of begetting offspring, so men are inclined to find the concept of having many sexual partners attractive. From a male perspective, Steve the Stud has figured out the secret to a happy life. The only potential source of squalls is when he starts going after your girl.

      The female pairing strategy typically involves securing an exclusive mate who will provide for the woman’s offspring. Sarah the Slut is an immediate threat, ‘coz if she’s known to sleep around with any man, she might go after your man as well. Whilst this might seem a direct parallel to the male case, the threat is more immediate and dire. A man whose woman cheated on him with Steve can dump her and find a new one (or take lessons from Steve on how to get it without having a relationship). A woman whose man cheated on her with Sarah may well have lost a provider for her family.

      For same sex reactions, I would guess that men noting the existence of a promiscuous woman may be inclined to view her at least somewhat favourably – as potential easy sex.

      Women may be less inclined to view Steve in quite that way, being more discriminating when it comes to sexual partners and encounters, but it seems to me that if Steve is having success securing many partners, he must possess some qualities that make him attractive to many women. This attractiveness may also cause other women to view him more favourably, unless there’s a concrete reason otherwise (he has hurt them or someone they know personally).

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      And men tend to feel a wistful admiration, if anything.

      Eh, this breaks three ways. Chad gets laid a lot. Other men either don’t care so long as Chad stays away from my woman (this is my attitude), they go the PUA way and study and try to emulate Chad, or they go the Incel (subculture) route and hate Chad.

      • Well... says:

        A fourth way: they look at Chad as reckless, immature, and kind of icky. Sleeping with lots of women signals that he might be carrying a disease, plus it could signal a lack of impulse control.

        Imagine a director who needs to hire a manager with whom he will work closely, and he has narrowed his selection down to two candidates with equally strong resumes. By chance he happens to know one of the candidates is happily married and never cheats on his wife, while the other is a bachelor who sleeps with a different woman every weekend. Which candidate do you expect the director would be biased toward?

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Depends on if it’s a tech startup: the bachelor sounds perfect to move fast and break things!

          • Matt M says:

            The Bachelor is also less likely to call in because his kids are sick, or bitch about having to work over the weekend…

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          First I would say it’s none of my business. Second, at my workplace marital status is one of the dozens of things we’re specifically not allowed to use in making hiring decisions. During an interview you are not even allowed to ask someone if they’re married.

          • Nornagest says:

            No, but if one of the candidates is schlubby, appropriately but boringly dressed, and has a wedding band and a bit of a gut, and the other is wearing tight jeans and a shiny shirt with two buttons undone, with a Fabio haircut and no wedding ring, you can probably make a pretty good guess.

            You needn’t talk about it, of course.

    • John Schilling says:

      If a child is born under circumstances of questionable paternity, it’s the mother rather than the father who is liable to starve as a result. So women as a class are more interested in, A: ensuring that they personally satisfy local male preferences for they will commit to a lifetime of matrimony for, and B: making sure other women don’t negate all this effort and undercut the marriage market altogether by “giving it away for free”. That’s treason, it is, and traitors always get treated more harshly than the enemies they trade with.

      For men, if the actions of won push local culture away from a norm of fidelity in marriage and towards one of no-obligations casual sex, meh, we can live with that – we’re not the ones who are going to wind up pregnant, abandoned, and starving in the gutter.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      Whereas if a circle of young women notice that Sarah’s a slut, they will be at it for fifteen minutes, critiquing her clothes, her behavior, her friends, and basically all the little things that add up to make Sarah such a worthless skank. There will be no humor. They hate Sarah.

      This is not my experience and certainly seems implausible in a context where most young women identify as feminists. Possibly you have the causality the wrong way round: women call Sarah a slut because they hate her rather than vice versa.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        I think you’ve more or less hit the nail on the head with that last sentence. Finding any stick to beat a dog generally beats ideological commitment and common sense.

        My outspokenly feminist friends still frequently gossip about how slutty the women they dislike are, despite the fact that every one of them is pretty much just as sexually promiscuous as the other women they deride if not moreso. It sometimes feels like living in a leper colony where everyone is constantly complaining about one another’s personal hygiene.

    • Zephalinda says:

      Yeah, this strikes me as just an instance of how female relational aggression works, not anything specific to sexual values. Assuming Sarah is conspicuously low-status, somehow envy-provoking, or otherwise a good target for aggression, I think you’d get the same hateful gossip circle denouncing absolutely any quality she might possess– Sarah has such bad taste in clothes, Sarah is so stuck up, Sarah is so rude, Sarah’s politics are so gross, Sarah is such a boring prude, etc. In fact, dynamics like that reliably show up in older grade-school girls, before sex is in the mix at all.

      It’s 100% a status/ingroup phenomenon, and if sluttiness is at all overused as a category of abuse in those discussions, I suspect it’s because it’s a good way to rationalize hating somebody for being more attractive.

      • Randy M says:

        Sort of like when adolescent boys playing X-Box yell fag at each other over voice chat? They aren’t trying to enforce patriarchal norms, just trying to hurt the other person.
        Whether that excuses them from the thought-crime or not is another story, of course.

  2. johan_larson says:

    Could anyone recommend a good overview of the global warming problem in a single volume? I’m particularly interested in the policy-side issues: how bad will the effects be and what can and should be done about the problem. I’m hoping to find something that gives fair hearings to both the we’re-doomed and we’re-fine positions. A tall order, I know.

    • a reader says:

      I’m hoping to find something that gives fair hearings to both the we’re-doomed and we’re-fine positions. A tall order, I know.

      I doubt such a thing could exist – except maybe if Scott would convince his friends Scott Aaronson and David Friedman to do an adversarial collaboration together…

      • johan_larson says:

        It’s a tall order, sure. But it shouldn’t be an impossible dream. Fairness is not a heroic virtue. Neither is a willingness to engage with those we think are mistaken.

        The best case for it happening is probably an author who is engaged with the issue, but fairly moderate in his or her assessment of its severity. Such a person could easily spend a couple of chapters explaining the views of those who consider the problem bigger or smaller. If necessary, those chapters could be written by guest authors. At the very least, they should be reviewed by true believers.

        • I think what you probably want are two books, or two blogs, or two series of articles, one by a reasonable and fair minded person on one side, one by a similar person on the other.

          Judith Curry seems to have a good reputation on the skeptical climate scientist side, but I don’t think she has written a book. I don’t know who to suggest on the other side. Nordhaus has written at least one book, but the one I looked at is probably too technical for your purposes. He’s an interesting case, because if you look at his numbers they don’t support the alarmist position but if you look at what he says he does. See this old blog post of mine for an example.

          Searching my blog with appropriate keywords will give you one part of the skeptical position, but I’m not a climate scientist and am not competent to evaluate that part of the argument, beyond looking at past IPCC reports and comparing them to what happened thereafter.

    • Plumber says:

      @johan_larson,
      I read Heat by George Monbiot a little over a decade ago, as I recall it didn’t see merit in “the other side”, but it did give prescriptions for practical infrastructure changes using existing technology to reduce emissions without effecting our standard of living much with one big exception: it pretty much said jet travel needs to be curtailed if you really want to limit greenhouse gases enough, and there really isn’t another alternative to travelling that fast that also didn’t produce as much emissions.

      You can cut emissions, or you can travel fast, not both.

      Otherwise with more nuclear, hydroelectric, and solar electricity production (and even switching from coal to natural gas would help), it read as if it wouldn’t be that hard to reduce emissions – but international travel like we have now just couldn’t happen as much.

      That was my takeaway anyway.

      • Thomas Jorgensen says:

        … Just for lols. How to get to Anywhere, fast, carbon neutral;

        Step one, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Launch_loop

        Step two: Scream like a kerbal on the way down.

      • johan_larson says:

        If we couldn’t fly, travel would definitely be harder. Same-day cross-country travel in the US would be just barely possible with very fast trains. NY-LA might take 15-16 hours, which is same-day but only just.

        Not sure how fast one could get across the Atlantic or Pacific. Probably several days, even with hydrofoils or something like that.

        • Nick says:

          I’m curious: how (un)pleasant do you suppose travel would be if we used trains instead of planes in America? (Or North America, I guess, since I think you’re Canadian?) How comfortable or uncomfortable is a 16 hour train ride vs a 3 hour flight?

          I’ve heard from friends who have been on all day train rides that they’re quite nice, but I wonder whether folks would get sick of it fast, or whether the same price pressure would happen as with planes, so that trains would become more cramped places with fewer amenities than the quasi-luxury trips my friends described.

          If you pay attention to some of the New Urbanism or peak oil folks, meanwhile, they’re really into trams. 😀

          • Matt M says:

            How comfortable or uncomfortable is a 16 hour train ride vs a 3 hour flight?

            For someone taking a recreational vacation? Not a big deal.

            For people who travel frequently for business? It basically kills off entire industries. A whole lot of business models become instantly unviable.

          • johan_larson says:

            I’m not sure about that. Right now, if you need to travel coast to coast, it’s going to take you effectively all day. You certainly cannot fly across, do anything useful, and fly back the same day (unless you red-eye.) That would continue to be the case if traveling by high-speed train. But rather than a short day of travel, it would be a really long day of travel.

          • The Nybbler says:

            whether the same price pressure would happen as with planes, so that trains would become more cramped places with fewer amenities than the quasi-luxury trips my friends described.

            The second-class cars in Europe suggest that this is how it would play out.

            Also, coast to coast travel by train in the US does not take one day. More like 3 days. If we had high speed rail… Beijing to Guangzhao takes 8 hours, minimum, and it’s less than half the distance. So figure 20 hours scheduled time. This is far more than the flight time of about 6 hours.

          • johan_larson says:

            The Beijing-Shanghai highspeed train makes the 819 mile trip in 4.5 hours, including multiple stops.

            https://www.travelchinaguide.com/china-trains/beijing-shanghai-highspeed.htm

            New York to LA is 2790 miles, following I-80.

            https://www.distance.to/New-York/Los-Angeles

            Assuming proportional travel time, that comes to 15.3 hours start to finish. It would be a full day, but it could be done without sleeper service.

          • littskad says:

            Beijing and Shanghai don’t have any mountain ranges between them, though. New York and Los Angeles have more than one.

          • johan_larson says:

            Bridge. Tunnel. Cut. Fill. We’re living in the 21st century. Trains were running through those mountain ranges way back in the 19th, for Pete’s sake.

          • The Nybbler says:

            We can’t do tunnels and cuts anymore, might damage the environment, and will definitely cost eleventy-billion dollars (or whatever the Big Dig cost per mile, adjusted for inflation and additional cost disease)

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Short of the Lolzy “Well, we can use the orbital launch infrastructure for fast transport.. “, lets see..
          New York – Alaska – Moscow-Paris-London by high speed train: approximately 17000 kilometers, and some impressive but not impossible bridge and tunnel work.

          48 hours at 350 km/hour. That is actually less horrible than I thought it would be.

          By sea, much shorter, but still slower – the record holder is still SS United States at 3 days and twelve hours. Slapping a naval reactor on a similar design might cut a few hours of that but not all that many.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            The United States holds the Blue Riband, which is considered to be for the fastest crossing by a passenger vessel in regular revenue service.

            However, the physical trophy (the Hales Trophy) can be won by any commercial passenger vessel, even if it doesn’t actually carry passengers on the crossing in question. The current holder is the wave piercing catamaran ferry Fjord Cat which made the crossing in 2 days and 20 hours on its delivery voyage. The same yard has made faster ships*, but none have crossed the Atlantic.

            I don’t know how limited by weather these types of vessel are, or how effective they would be in regular transatlantic service. The Fjord Cat crossed the Atlantic at its service speed of 41 knots- I think they use some of the void spaces inside the catamaran hulls to hold additional fuel for the crossing, I don’t know how much that limits their carrying capacity.

            *The fastest is the Francisco, currently in service as a ferry between Buenos Aires and Montevideo, claiming a service speed of 51 knots which would bring the crossing time down to about 58 hours.

          • AlphaGamma says:

            Replying because the edit window seems to have closed early:

            It should be noted that the catamaran crossings were eastbound, which is faster than westbound. The SS United States also holds the record for fastest eastbound crossing in revenue service- 3 days 10 hours.

            As for weather, I imagine they may be quite vulnerable to bad weather, as the high-speed catamaran between the UK and Ireland is often cancelled because of rough weather- apparently anything more than sea state 4 results in cancellation.

      • Nicholas Weininger says:

        I think this reflects unwarranted technological pessimism. Hybrid planes give you a big emissions reduction and are viable even over long distances (pure electric may work for regional jets but not transoceanic); biofuels create full-cycle neutrality; atmospheric capture and storage nullifies whatever’s left. Voila, emissions/guilt-free fast air travel. Costly, sure, but likely less costly than forgoing the speed advantage.

        • John Schilling says:

          Hybrid planes give you a big emissions reduction and are viable even over long distances.

          It’s not clear to me that hybrid planes give you a big emissions reduction when you actually use them over long distances. Airplanes, unlike cars, run their engines at >50% power for the duration of the trip, not for brief spurts. If a Boeing 737 flying from New York to London burns 6,000 gallons of kerosene, then a hybrid-737 that uses batteries during takeoff and climb is still going to burn at ~5,500 gallons of kerosene for that trip, with all the CO2, NOX, particulate, etc emissions that implies. And as you note, there aren’t any batteries anywhere on the horizon that will change that.

          If you’re specifically concerned about local emissions, within breathing distance of JFK and Heathrow, then yes it makes a big difference if you can use batteries for that part. But in terms of global carbon footprint, etc, not so much.

          • LesHapablap says:

            Daher/Airbus Hybrid

            This one claims 30% reduction in fuel usage, but I can’t find where I read that quote. Part of the increase in efficiency comes from reduced wing area, presumably because having lots of wing motors provides extra lift. And I assume part comes from being able to use ground-charged batteries in the takeoff and climb, which is the least fuel efficient part for the turbine. But I don’t understand how they would get 30% on a long flight. Maybe that assumes having some really good batteries.

    • Buttle says:

      For some insight into what can be done, I highly recommend _Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air_,
      available free to read on the web, or for download:

      https://www.withouthotair.com/

      Unfortunately the author is no longer with us.

      For a review of the actual science, you’re on your own. Climate change is a political minefield in which honest brokers cannot survive. But you might start by reading what the IPCC reports actually say *outside* of the summaries for policymakers.

    • DinoNerd says:

      My attempts to get reliable information were perhaps the first case where I’ve actually failed in attempting to understand a complex situation. If you find a reliable book I’d be eager to read it. But I’m not very hopeful.

      I actually don’t so much want fair hearings for both sides as “here is the data”. I think part of the problem is that there are sides – and only two of them – which basically makes nuanced understanding impossible. Add to this the problem of too much of the research being based on “climate models”, which are of course potentially vulnerable to GIGO – and what I want to know is what goes into the models, and what evidence supports those decisions. Also to what extent the models’ predictions are supported or contradicted by data.

      But my best evaluation of what I’ve seen so far is that anyone arguing that significant climate change isn’t happening, or isn’t being caused in large part by human release of carbon dioxide etc., is either duped or arguing in bad faith. (Or incompetent at understanding various types of argument, particularly statistical. There’s a *lot* of that going around; I suspect most humans may not even be capable of learning to understand statistics and probability.)

      The questions of how much, how fast, and with what consequences are if not wide open, then pretty close to it. And the question of the effectiveness, side effects etc. of possible counter measures is pretty close to “anyone’s guess”.

      • johan_larson says:

        I actually don’t so much want fair hearings for both sides as “here is the data”.

        I think I need something more digested than the actual data. I’m not an expert in climate science, so I doubt the raw data would let me decide what is going to happen in strictly physical terms. I doubt I know enough about politics to determine what is politically possible. And I sure as hell don’t know enough about economics to determine what the effects would be of various efforts at mitigation. The counsel of experts is really the only realistic option here, unless I’m willing to spend years to understand all of this myself from scratch.

      • I think part of the problem is that there are sides – and only two of them

        That depends on whether you define your sides politically—are you for or against costly policies to reduce global warming—or by what people believe about global warming. By the second measure, there are lots of sides:

        1. Global warming isn’t happening.
        2. It is happening at the moment, but due to natural processes.
        3. It is happening and largely due to human action, but …
        3a: It doesn’t have serious negative effects
        3b: It has both substantial negative effects and substantial positive effects and it isn’t clear whether the net effect is positive or negative or how large (my position)
        3c: It has substantial net negative effects, but the costs of preventing it are larger than the benefits, so the correct response is to adapt to the change, not try to prevent it.

        And, on the other side:

        3d: The things we need to do to prevent warming not only are not costly, they are things we should be doing anyway. (My old comment on this view)

        3e: The negative effects are enormous, on the scale of destroying civilization and perhaps our species, so we should be willing to accept any cost short of that to stop it.

        That’s seven different sides, and I expect I could think of a few more.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          3f: We don’t know enough to rule out very large net-negative effects– but there’s a very good chance that we will soon. Given the slow-moving nature of the problem, there’s little to lose by waiting to gather more information before undertaking any expensive mitigation. There’s a decent case to be made for cheap mitigation.

    • things_unattempted says:

      Hi! Long time listener, first time caller etc.

      By no means an expert but embarked on a little reading project along exactly these lines earlier this year. From my reading: I’m not sure that the ‘we’re-fine’ position gets much airing from most people involved in the debate – but there is definitely a strand of the conversation focused around what should be done. Then again i may have been reading the wrong material/picking from the wrong reading lists to hear the other side.

      For ‘we’re doomed’, you couldn’t do much better than The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells, which should be out in paperback by now. It keeps you awake at night. He is a swift and charismatic writer who does decent justice to the scale of the doom.

      For policy-focused, ‘what can we do about this’ material, a good book might be Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming – a weirdly formatted but excellent book, which features lots of individual problems and ideas for how they could be solved, all ranked in terms of efficacy (i.e. we really, really need to rethink how we do refrigeration). Not exactly a page turner, but very clear and interesting.

      I hope that helps/isn’t old news to you!

  3. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve seen a plausible claim that stealth is impossible in space. Your trajectory and waste heat are very visible.

    Would it be possible to get stealth by suborning the opposition’s instruments? Has this been used as a story premise?

    • John Schilling says:

      That’s probably my work, from many years ago, but it’s held up pretty well. Ken Burnside also gets partial credit, and I think our bean is in the mix as well from his pre-battleship days.

      Suborning the enemy’s instruments might be possible under extraordinary circumstances and/or with an extraordinarily lax enemy, but there’s no way to do so reliably or with confidence. The relevant sensors are passive, and the distances are too great for side-channel information leakage to be practical, so there will be no feedback. You’ll be sending an exploit in the blind, with no way to know up front what software rev your enemy is running and no way to confirm that your hack worked.

      And, you will of necessity be sending something, which if it isn’t a successful hack will just make it easier for the enemy’s passive sensors to detect you. And quite possibly let him know you’re not one of the good guys or even a neutral.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        Ken Burnside (The Hot Equations) definitely gets credit for my thinking about this.

      • kokotajlod@gmail.com says:

        What about, instead of hacking, you shoot a laser or a big flash-bang at them to blind their sensors?

        I also like AlexOfUrals false targets idea. Insofar as the problem is the emissions you give off, perhaps it is possible to have lots of little emissions-generators that you fling off in all directions… no?

        • John Schilling says:

          What about, instead of hacking, you shoot a laser or a big flash-bang at them to blind their sensors?

          What about if, instead of letting themselves be blinded, they put smart nonlinear filters on their sensors to exclude photons beyond the level necessary to clearly indicate “hey, someone right exactly over there is shining a big laser at us”?

          perhaps it is possible to have lots of little emissions-generators that you fling off in all directions

          Little emission-generators are unlikely to emit the megawatts to terawatts of waste heat of a spaceship engine. And if they do, it probably won’t be doppler-shifted the way it should be if it were coming from an exhaust jet moving at astronomical speeds. And if it were, it would be a spaceship-engine-sized exhaust jet, which means it will exhibit anomalously high acceleration if it isn’t coupled to a spaceship’s worth of mass.

          By the time you’ve circumvented the obvious filters, your little emission-generators are going to be basically full-scale target drones.

          • AlexOfUrals says:

            To be clear, that is what I meant, material false targets. Throw a bunch of small asteroids and debris at the enemy and let him figure out which of these are your projectiles or drones, completely powered off for a moment, and which are just rocks. Or build 10 interstellar invasion armadas – 1 made of actual ships, and 9 more are just hulls or even pieces of rock size of a ship, with ship engine attached, send them.in from 10 different direction and let your enemy take 1 in 10 chances in where to send their forces to intercept you (you can also have your actual ships running at the minimal energy profile practicable so that your false ships’ engines and power sources don’t need to be quite as big). That kind of thing, not actual ECMs. It doesn’t have to be a practical approach, but it can be, depending on the technologies, resources, etc.

          • John Schilling says:

            All of these approaches require that your “false targets” have engines roughly equivalent to real targets. And guidance. navigation, control systems, etc. At that point, they pretty much are real targets. You’ve built ten interplanetary warships and only put guns on one of them just so you can say “Haha! the enemy is 90% certain to guess wrong as to where my warship-with-actual-guns is!”

            You go do that; I’ll just build five “decoys” instead of ten and use the money I save to put guns on all five. Now I have zero decoys and am not at all stealthy, but why do I need to be when my fleet outnumbers yours six to one?

          • Lambert says:

            Depends on the relative costs of engines vs everything else.

            And a space-warship will need a lot of ‘everything else’ to be of any use.
            Life support, point defense, fire control, sensors, redundancy, comms.

            I can’t imagine guidance, navigation and controlls to be too hard, given what we’re capable of already. (sidling up to an asteroid, shooting it with a HEAT round, then hoovering up the debris etc.)

          • bean says:

            Look. I’m going to short-circuit this and just point at the relevant Atomic Rockets page.

            TL;DR:
            Yes, we’ve thought of all the clever variants you just brought up. None of them work. No, not even that other one you’re so excited about.

          • bean says:

            @Lambert

            Rockets will of necessity be high-performance, expensive pieces of machinery. On the whole, improved technology is likely to go into making the rocket better than to making it cheaper. A $1 billion laser with a $1 billion drive that can reach anywhere in the asteroid belt in a few weeks is a lot more useful than one with a $100 million drive that takes 5 times as long. And if somebody does decide to go with the $100 million drives to make decoys feasible, then they get defeated in detail by the people who now have the ability to go out and check each incoming ship/decoy before it shows up.

            Also, it’s worth pointing out that sensor developers are fiendishly clever, and will take great delight in coming up with ways to tell decoys apart from the real ships. Make sure that you have a radiator for the “hab”, as well as the engines, and that it varies in a way that is indistinguishable from that for one with people actually in it. Make sure that the albedo and color are close enough to the real one that they can’t just point an optical telescope at it and notice that it looks like a rock. Do you have a set of whatever sensors are usually used during cruise to watch out for space debris? Is the decoy transmitting data back like the real ship, just in case they have someone with a radio antenna around your planet?

            And then watch it all come undone as they use disposable drones to get a close-range inspection of each one of these decoys.

    • beleester says:

      Technically possible, but a spaceship’s computers are basically the ultimate air-gapped system. I suppose in theory you could install malware on the enemy ship in advance, and then program it to discard thermal signatures that fit a certain pattern so that your ships stay hidden, but that’s going to be a big job. Hope your enemy doesn’t regularly test their equipment.

      Asking @bean how hard it would be to hack the sensors of a Navy ship at sea would probably be a good baseline for how tricky this is to pull off.

      Also, you’ll probably have to hack a number of targets, not just one ship. In space, there’s nothing to hide behind, so every infrared telescope in the solar system is potentially able to spot you.

      • bean says:

        Asking @bean how hard it would be to hack the sensors of a Navy ship at sea would probably be a good baseline for how tricky this is to pull off.

        Assuming that you don’t have insider access and you’re not just talking about electronic warfare, I’m going to go with it being essentially impossible. Going in through the sensor doesn’t work because you can’t predict how any signals you send are going to be picked up at the sensor precisely enough to do something like code injection, and because the code for that stuff is not easy to get your hands on. Going in through something else, like the radio gear, is probably a bit easier, but you still are dealing with a bunch of special-purpose software and hardware, some of which only communicates over interfaces that are designed for the data it needs, and don’t leave a lot of room for compromised code.

        • albatross11 says:

          If you can put malware on the enemy warships’ computers, it seems like you don’t need the stealth so much–there’s probably a lot you can do to them at that point. (Maybe just open all the airlocks? Sabotage the fusion drive so it won’t work without a major refit? Fire off all the missiles while far out of range so they have nothing left to shoot with when you come into range?).

          • bean says:

            Pretty much, although it’s going to take some malware to install a fusion plant on a destroyer….oh, right. You’re still talking about spaceships.

            More seriously, military cybersecurity is a thing, including concerns about malware. If the compromise is deep enough, you can’t do much about it, but it wouldn’t be too hard to do things like interlock the airlocks at a level that’s really hard to hack.

    • AlexOfUrals says:

      Not exactly the same, but one thing that I think can plausibly work in some situations is overwhelming your enemy’s defense with false targets. I can think of a few examples of this being done in sci-fi.

    • helloo says:

      Skimming through the Atomic Rockets page, I haven’t really seen much on this but besides the brief mention on the solar sails part –

      What if your primary thrust is not local?

      The main way I can see it is through some planetary beam (or really powerful railgun), but I suppose you could use a sort of project orion except rather than nuclear bombs, throw some “disposable” lasers or something that will give you thrust from a distance.

      That doesn’t hide heat emissions from the ship itself so it’ll still have to be crewed by AI. Maybe you can shape it so your ship also looks like one of those disposable lasers?

      • beleester says:

        You can move your energy source, but the propellant still has to be on board. You can’t move without throwing mass away, and that means an exhaust plume. Maybe you could use a laser-powered solar sail, but the energy requirements are probably obscene.

        I’m not sure how you’d use a railgun to deliver thrust remotely. Unless you’re trying to literally knock the spacecraft in the direction you want it to go, which I guess is possible, but you’d need a spacecraft with a really impressive set of shock absorbers.

        A bigger problem will be steering. The remote source can only push you away, so if you need to change directions suddenly you’ll need on-board power.

        • helloo says:

          Sure you can, in fact, laser propulsion is one of the many systems that have been considered for orbital propulsion.
          There’s probably other ways like maybe a reverse ion thruster that could also work. Or simply creating a “localized” solar winds to be used for the solar sails.

          And yes, by railgun I meant using kinetic energy to force to repel the vehicle. Remember that I referenced Orion Project too.

          The reason I included the “primary” part is to still allow on-board thrusters. Having some on-board power for sudden changes and other things like landing maneuvers is fine as long as it’s used only for those.

  4. theredsheep says:

    https://www.exurbe.com/machiavelli-s-p-q-f/

    Somebody brought this to my attention, and it was an interesting read. It’s about the political and cultural background to Machiavelli. Author says s/he is a Renaissance scholar.

    • SamChevre says:

      Awesome series.

      People may know the author (Ada Palmer) as a sci-fi author–Too Like the Lightning. I’d expect this blog to also enjoy the History of Skepticism series.

    • Nick says:

      Yep. Palmer is always an interesting read. Her spot the saint series is cool too, and I liked her review of “The Litany of Earth.”

      • Deiseach says:

        This is very strange, because on the face of it Ada Palmer is everything I should and do enjoy, and I did like her “spot the saint” series.

        But.

        But I waded through that long not-a-review-reviews-are-icky piece wondering “Why should I read The Litany of Earth?” and came to the end of it thinking “I shouldn’t”.

        Look, Lovecraft is racist and sexist and classist and misogynist and all the -ists you want to hang around his neck, there’s no arguing against that. But you can’t turn his Mythos into some kind of “X-Men mutants are an allegory for racism” flipped ‘let’s make the dispossessed the heroes’ story, because no matter how devout or faithful the cultists are, the Great Old Ones do not care. They are so alien that the gap between them and humans is even more than the gap between humans and amoebae. There is no possible sympathy of minds between us and them, and at best we’re fodder to fuel their eventual return.

        I wonder would she be so rhapsodic about a novella rehabilitating for us the much-Othered society that is where young Adolf, a dreamy Austrian adolescent whose one ambition is to be a great artist, finds brotherhood and his destiny? Or the loving descriptions of the tender, intimate, blood and flesh rituals they carry out once in power? “After reading it, whenever we reread original Hitler, or anything set in his world, the memory of Heinrich Himmler and his tender prayer will forever change the meaning of “ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer…” That’s the level of standing things on their heads that you need to make the cultism of the Old Ones into “they’re the real good guys”; that you could construct various individual cultists as sympathethic characters with understandable motivations for wanting to serve the old gods against modern society, it still does not change that if their gods return, it would be very, very, very bad for all humanity including themselves.

        So, weirdly not my cup of tea though it should be catnip to me!

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Deiseach, there are Old Ones and there are Old Ones. Worshiping the crinoids introduced in At the Mountains of Madness would be a harmful error, but not much more so than believing one’s king to be divine, because “whatever they were, they were men!” 😛
          Yes, when talking about the Cthulhu cult, we’re talking about human extinction and anyone who helps those “Great Old Ones” is as bad as Hitler and a French collaborator with the Nazis fused in a transporter accident.

          The issue is that it doesn’t seem like the woman who wrote “Litany of Earth” is capable of intellectual discrimination. Discrimination is bad, and all minority religions are equally superior to Christianity, whether we’re talking about Judaism or praying for Cthulhu to convert us all into food or paperclips.

          As to your other point, yep, Lovecraft was very racist, had few female characters, and all the rest. To which we say “Yeah, so?” I’m not going to take that as an order that he’s Badwrongfun unless we subvert the work in the standard cliched way.

          • Deiseach says:

            That is part of what is so good about “At The Mountains Of Madness”; we start off with the crinoids very definitely as the bad, strange, aliens but as the narrator moves through the levels of their cities, and finds out a bit about their history, we learn more about them as well and at the end, when faced with true ultimate cosmic horror, then they are more like us than not, they are understandable in a way that the outer beings will and can never be. They are life as we are life, and as things like the shoggoths and the Old Ones are not.

            My bit about Lovecraft was that yes, he is as bad as he’s painted, but even given all that, (a) ‘do not read these works of badthink!’ is the wrong attitude and (b) simply flipping the baddies on their heads so that “are we the real evil ones, persecuting these poor harmless nature worshippers, huh huh?” gets the whole thing backwards. I’ve read a modern Mythos story where the well-meaning anti-cultist forces are blundering into a situation they don’t understand, and it’s explained without having to hit us over the head with a shovel why Congolese enslaved under Leopold’s administration might think invoking the Old Gods to burn it all down is a better fate than the one they currently suffer, but it still acknowledged that the anti-cultists are right in principle and have suffered with direct experience of the malign effects of such cult activities elsewhere, and that the best result the cultists are hoping for is simply quick destruction and ‘we don’t mind going if we can take you with us’, not some kind of beneficient answer to prayer.

            A Litany of Earth does not sound like that kind of story.

        • I didn’t make it to the end–she really likes the sound of her own voice. But I did get as far as:

          the fragile little Penguin Classics collections of Eddas and fragmentary sagas which preserve what little we still have of the Norse mythic cosmos.

          Sitting on my bookshelf is the five volume collection of sagas published in Iceland. They are not fragmentary. And they are not about the Norse mythic cosmos. There are a few witches and a little magic in them, but mostly they are highly realistic stories. The mythic stuff is in the Elder Edda, not the sagas.

          It’s barely possible that her reference is not to the sagas in general but to some small and fragmentary subset that deal with mythology, but since lots of the sagas are in fact in print from Penguin Classics, I don’t think that is a likely reading. A more plausible interpretation of the passage is that she is trying to sound knowledgeable about things she knows little about.

          One of my tactics for judging things people write is to look at where they overlap something I already happen to know about. By that measure, Palmer is not a reliable source of information.

          • Deiseach says:

            Sitting on my bookshelf is the five volume collection of sagas published in Iceland. They are not fragmentary. And they are not about the Norse mythic cosmos.

            *shrugs* Well, she’s one of the Renaissance fanboys and girls scholarly lot, what can you expect when they move out of their little patch? 😀

            Actually, I think I figured out why I don’t get on with her blog the way I should do; her tastes are probably too modern for me, I tend to stop at about the 12th century/start of the 13th where she starts by stretching on her tippy-toes to go as far back as she dares outside her period of study.

          • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

            I think it’s quite obvious that she is referring to the fragmentary legendary sagas (hence the reference to “fragmentary” and preserving the Norse mythic cosmos). Wikipedia informs me that there is a Penguin Classics edition of the Völsunga saga. She’s adapted some of the Eddas into a song cycle so I’m pretty sure she knows what she’s talking about.

            In any case, you should read her Terra Ignota series for its ancap relevance.

        • Nick says:

          The part of the review I like is emphatically not the treatment of the cultists as a poor, oppressed people, it’s… all the other stuff, pretty much. Arthuriana and Petrarch and Diderot. And especially the acknowledgement that the Cthulhu Mythos has ample potential for the horror of seeing all mankind’s knowledge and history and achievement turn to dust. This is virtually unexplored territory, so in that respect I thank “The Litany of Earth” too—but I really was recommending the review, not the story.

          • Deiseach says:

            Arthuriana and Petrarch and Diderot.

            Arthuriana I will happily compromise on, Diderot I will give his meed of respect as a scholar though as 18th century French intellectual I don’t much care one way or the other, and Petrarch I have Opinions about (mainly that IT’S HIS FAULT EVERYONE DUMPS ON THE MIDDLE AGES CLASSICS FANBOY OH YEAH AND WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT AVIGNON AND THE SCHISM HUH?) 😀

          • Nick says:

            I have no personal love for Diderot, unlike Palmer, who practically fawns over him. But I certainly respect the goal very much (what amateur Wiki editor doesn’t?), and the Petrarch library bit is a real punch to the gut.

            (…With some chance reserved that a correction like David’s will come in that no, Petrarch’s books actually weren’t lost at all, or weren’t in a fetid warehouse, or weren’t as valuable as Palmer makes them out to be.)

    • Radu Floricica says:

      And I just realized where Voldemotr/Quirrell and pretty much every smart bad guy come from. Thank you.

    • Very interesting but I don’t think I buy her “Machiavelli was an athiest” argument for a few reasons:

      One of her points is that since Machiavelli made some modern arguments, it’s not hard to see how he could be modern in his idea of religion. But people don’t really work that way. When someone proposes a novel idea, they rarely see the logical consequences of where this idea leads. It’s already enough of a challenge to come up with a genuinely new thought, there’s only so far we can go. The roots of natural selection can be found in the works of Malthus but he never got there. It took a generation later for Darwin to work out what followed.

      Another reason she gives is that Machiavelli seems so concerned with Earthly concerns to the detriment of his soul:

      He also painted a world of politics in which he recommends actions which are the same that one might take if there is no God watching.

      But people generally treat religion differently than an outside observer would reasonably suspect. If you were a rational religious person, then you would never sin and if for some reason you did, you would be extremely anxious about that and you would do everything you can do to make up for that action. Why would anyone risk eternal damnation for momentary pleasure? It’s like the Marshmallow test where you delay eating one marshmallow now and get two later, except instead of two marshmallows, it’s a billion dollars. Martin Luther’s life before the Reformation is a great example of this kind of anxiety. But many people seem unconcerned about that. They may think of themselves as Christian and they go to service but outside of the rituals, they seem relatively unconcerned about the sins they are committing. They must be compartmentalizing their beliefs to some extent. This doesn’t mean their religiosity isn’t sincere, but it does mean you can’t really infer their beliefs from their actions.

      More speculatively, we know that Machiavelli loved Florence and he probably saw Christianity as inherently tied to that devotion. It would be like trying to separate the American flag from American patriotism. It just doesn’t work.

      The author says that Christianity was tied up with all these other beliefs and I think that’s right. Even if Machiavelli found a political philosophy that didn’t depend on God, that still leaves everything else. I think it takes a lot of intermediate steps for a person from that time to get a point where they can even understand why someone would be an atheist.

  5. sandoratthezoo says:

    Question: For probably at least 20 years, I’ve heard the claim that men get their hair-loss pattern from their maternal line. I’ve kind of always thought that this seemed suspicious, but when I thought about it today, I was like, “Hey, that sounds suspiciously like a claim that you get a meaningful phenotypical trait from a single gene, and basically the only things that you get from one gene are Huntington’s Disease and your blood type, right?”

    Am I right? Is this like that depression gene, just nonsense that was accepted when we didn’t understand genomes? Or is it an exception to the rule that everything is massively polygenetic?

    Signed,
    A man whose paternal grandfather had much more hair than his maternal grandfather

    • quanta413 says:

      I’ve never heard of that, but one way to get a pattern like that could be to have most of the genes involved on the X chromosome. The phenotype would be massively polygenic, but your father’s genes would contribute little.

      Of course, your maternal grandmother’s genes would matter too. But women’s hair lasts longer, so you wouldn’t be able to tell what genes she had.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Your maternal grandfather is immaterial for this hypothesized line of inheritance.

      You want to be looking at your mother’s (or maternal grandmother’s) brothers.

      • Well... says:

        My mom has three brothers, all now in their late 60s/early 70s. One of them has a head of hair like Joseph Stalin. One is mostly bald on top. The other has all his hair but it’s thinned just a bit. What do I make of that?

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Perhaps that only one of her X chromosomes carried the gene for male pattern baldness? That this isn’t male pattern baldness (remember this is posited to only to apply to a specific kind of baldness, not all baldness)? That one of your brothers uses Rogaine?

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Huh? The postulated mechanism is that it’s a trait on the X chromosome. You’re 50% likely to have your maternal grandfather’s X chromosome, if you’re XY.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          You are correct, I shouldn’t have said immaterial. I was in error. The maternal grandfather can provide the gene.

          However looking at the maternal grandfather is not sufficient. The gene can come from the maternal grandmother as well.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Yeah, both of my mother’s brothers are bald. My brother went bald in his 20s. I held out until about 35 or so and am steadily losing the fight. Thankfully my wife’s brother has a great head of hair, so perhaps my son will do all right.

    • a reader says:

      Or is it an exception to the rule that everything is massively polygenetic?

      There is no such rule, especially about physical traits. There are traits that are massively polygenic, like height, and other traits where a few genes have large impact, like eye or skin color. About male pattern baldness:

      […] the team of researchers lead by Stefanie Heilmann-Heimbach of the University of Bonn, looked at data from more than 22,000 people […] the researchers found 63 genetic variants associated with male pattern baldness, 22 of which are novel.
      […] Six of the genetic variants identified are on the X-chromosome and may account for some of the resemblance of hair loss between men and their grandfathers on their maternal side, according to the researchers. The remaining variants found in this study are on the autosomes, the non-sex chromosomes.

      source: https://blog.23andme.com/23andme-research/the-role-of-genetics-in-male-pattern-baldness/

    • John Schilling says:

      Or is it an exception to the rule that everything is massively polygenetic?

      No such rule exists, else Gregor Mendel never would have figured out peas.

      Traits that offer a massive fitness advantage are going to be massively polygenic, at least in terms of observed variation. If any single gene resulted in most of the variation, natural selection would rapidly hammer that gene into a narrow region around the fitness optimum and lose interest about the time its influence dropped below the noise floor. And usually it’s the traits with massive fitness advantages that we care about, and so we bemoan the difficulty of making genetic predictions (or modifications) of e.g. IQ.

      But for something of little relevance to reproductive fitness, like eye color or male-pattern baldness, it is quite possible for the biochemistry to be that one gene coding for one protein drives most of the variation, and yet evolution leaves the gene pool cluttered with diverse versions of that gene.

  6. DragonMilk says:

    The Steam Summer Sale has begun.

    What are you guys going to buy?

    Edit: I’m buying Stellaris’ Synthetic Dawn DLC which lets you play as a machine empire, currently the most powerful with the latest patch…I swear I was going to buy it before it became OP!

    • acymetric says:

      Oooh, good question. I need to get a computer that can run steam up and running and then figure out how to recover my account given that I’ve lost access to my .edu email (that I was told I would have access to in perpetuity forever) which is required for 2FA. I’m interested in seeing the suggestions listed here.

    • Matt M says:

      Perhaps it makes me a bad libertarian, but I’m a little bummed that Steam seems to have lost its monopoly on digital PC games. Particularly as someone who mainly likes AAA titles and isn’t really that into indie games…

      • acymetric says:

        I haven’t actually used it, but I think I like the GOG platform more.

        • DragonMilk says:

          I used GOG to get Alpha Centauri but haven’t gone back since

        • Matt M says:

          I’m thinking less GOG and more Origin/UPlay/Epic/Battle.net.

          It seems we’re quickly moving towards a world where every developer of any reasonable size is only going to offer their games through their own platform.

          • Enkidum says:

            “Reasonable size” there has to mean “big enough to forgo the 95+% of gamers on Steam, or to convince them to install another app”. Which is a very small subset of companies.

          • 10240 says:

            [I don’t buy software, games or other.] AFAIK most software companies have always sold their software to customers directly, without a middleman. Why is a middleman needed in the case of games (sometimes two middlemen, a publisher and a platform)? Why is it bad to buy directly from the developer (which is basically equivalent to buying through the developer’s own platform)?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @10240

            For the same reason it’s impossible to buy .MP3 files of songs directly from record labels, more or less.

          • 10240 says:

            @Hoopyfreud I don’t know what the reason for that is either. And in particular I don’t know why it would be a bad thing.

          • dick says:

            Because the rights-owner, for better or worse, decided that going through a middle-man would lead to more profit.

            In the case of games, they’re right, at least as far as this consumer is concerned. I’ve bought games on steam that I probably wouldn’t have bought from some-indie-game-company.com. And part of the reason I avoid AAA titles is that I don’t want to sign up for yet another stupid downloader/launcher/advertisement-portal/social-media-thing/platform.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @10240

            Because between distribution, IP protection, (effective) kickbacks, and payment processing, there’s a lot of reasons to not. The only people on Bandcamp are the people whose music isn’t popular enough to need those systems.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Almost all my current games come from GOG – they don’t force updates on me at whim, sometimes breaking the games I “own” badly enough that the only way to ever play them again is to get a new computer.

          Steam insists I be online and logged into them to play “my” games (extra load on computer and network) and use the opportunity to advertise to me. They also don’t correctly document the way in which their malware interacts with firewalls; I couldn’t get them to work at all for a year or so, after they made some changes they didn’t document. (Admittedly, I didn’t try very hard; if I’d bothered to packet sniff my own network at the far side of my firewall, I could have determined what additional ports they were using.)

          About the only good thing about Steam is that, as with GOG, if you buy a game for your PC and a Mac version also exists, or vice versa, you find you also own the other version. So several years after Steam enabled the producers of Civ V to make their game unplayable on my PC, I found I could play a somewhat different version of the game on the Mac I eventually purchased to replace the PC.

          • Lillian says:

            Yes i have hated the Steam client for every reason you list, and i’ve so hated it since it was new. In fact i hate it so much i make a habit of pirating games i own on Steam simply so that i can run them without their atrocious goddamned client. As i’ve said before, the boys at Skidrow and Codex are doing the Lord’s work.

            The fact that GOG lets me download an installer and install the game without any extraneous features i don’t want is basically my ideal for online distribution, which is why i will preferentially buy games there.

            Though of course Steam still fucks me over because i love game mods and Steam Worshop doesn’t let me download mods for games i don’t own on Steam, so if the modding community is primarily on Workshop then i’m SOL mod wise. Seriously, fuck Steam.

          • dick says:

            I think this has more to do with you guys having eclectic tastes than Steam being evil. Most people like automatic updates and not having to deal with installers. Those aren’t ancillary things they foisted on you, those are core features of the app.

            Also, IME the option to play offline works just fine, it’s like two extra mouse clicks. Perhaps it used to not work as well?

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Dick

            It still doesn’t work great (but I like Steam anyway). And to be fair, it’s possible to launch like half of steam games with their executables without opening the client.

          • Lillian says:

            I think this has more to do with you guys having eclectic tastes than Steam being evil. Most people like automatic updates and not having to deal with installers. Those aren’t ancillary things they foisted on you, those are core features of the app.

            GOG also has automatic updates and a client by default, however unlike Steam you get the option to download an installer, an option that i take every single time. If Steam also gave me that option, then i wouldn’t hate it so much.

            Also, IME the option to play offline works just fine, it’s like two extra mouse clicks. Perhaps it used to not work as well?

            You still have to run the client and i resent having to run third party software to play my own damn game.

      • DragonMilk says:

        Which games have you liked playing over the years?

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Looks like Starbound for coop play. Otherwise, maybe Hollow Knight. Apart from that, I just started emulating Fire Emblem Awakening and still have to get through Prey, so probably nothing.

    • Machine Interface says:

      Got Below, Feist, Patchwork, Sonic Mania and uFactory.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Nothing, because CoH is back and that is the best thing ever.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Nothing because my gaming PC is broke and I’m not going to be building a new one until after our new house is finished in ~2 months.

      What I am going to do is continue stewing about how awful the Switch port of Bloodstained is, return my unopened pre-order to Amazon and pick up an Xbox One copy at Best Buy on my way home.

      ETA: And before anybody jumps on me about getting what I deserve for preordering, I almost never preorder, and I didn’t place the order until last week after reviews/forum posts from people gushing over the game on PC/PS4/XB1. It just never occurred to me that the game would be great while the port was garbage.

      • acymetric says:

        I’m considering buying a current-gen console in the next several months. If you had to choose one, would you go Switch of Xbox One (I’m assuming you don’t also have a PS4, but if you do include that in the mix)? I love the idea of the switch, but I feel like the other systems have more/better games to choose from. I don’t care so much about graphics so much as I want to play the games I want to play (and also I’m not a huge fan of motion control which it seems like a lot of Switch games rely on).

        I feel like the PS4 library probably suits me best, but even though this might not be the best reason to choose a system I vastly prefer the Xbox style controllers over Playstation (this has held true across all generations).

        • Randy M says:

          I don’t think a lot of Switch games do rely on motion control. Pops up now and then in Mario Odyssey, not never required.
          It’s seems like a choice between more games & better graphics vs handhold & Nintendo exclusives.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          To be honest, unless you want a Switch I would hold out. The next gen systems are going to be out holiday 2020. You’d be spending $400 at the tail end of the console life cycle.

          I do not have a PS4, but I’m planning to buy whatever they call the PS5 to get access to the PS4 library for stuff like Spider-Man, Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, etc, as the report about the next PS system I saw said backwards compatibility, but who knows at this point. I do think the PS4 has the stronger library, unless you really really like Halo and Gears of War. I do love Halo and Gears, but the recent games in both series have been meh compared to their 360 glory days. The big thing the Xbox has going for it is backwards compatibility. I have my own library of 360 games and sometimes when I want to mine the back catalog, it’s incredibly cheap to get 360 games off eBay, or the Microsoft e-shop. Like I had missed the Deus Ex game on 360 (was that human revolution or mankind divided? I can’t remember which), and I got it off the e-shop for two measly dollars. That is not a bad deal. I think Sony shot themselves in the foot by not making the PS4 compatible with the PS1-3.

          As for the Switch, very few things have motion controls, and most of the time I like them. In Breath of the Wild you can use the motion controls for pinpoint aiming with your bow. It’s awesome. You make the big aiming motion with the sticks, and then just tilt the controller a tiny bit for the headshot and there you go. It’s great. But then they ruin it all by having a couple of shines with these god-awful motion control puzzles. Pro-tip: if you’re doing the one where you have to tilt the maze to move the giant ball through it, just flip the entire maze upside down and bat the ball into the hole with the bottom of the maze.

          If you don’t care that much about graphics, get a Switch, especially if you like the indie games that don’t rely on photorealistic visuals. The portability is great, it’s cheaper than the other systems, the first party games are 10/10 (Mario Odyssey, BoTW, Smash Ultimate), watch the eShop for sales on great indie games you can get for $10-$15, and it won’t be obsolete next year (unless they do a hardware revision, which is possible). I have 50 games on my Switch right now (well, 49 because f**k Bloodstained), and it’s great being able to take that anywhere or play during lunch at work.

          So, yeah, my advice is get a Switch now, and look at the next Xbox and/or PS next year to see what you like.

          ETA: Oh, one other point of differentiation between the systems is online multiplayer. The Nintendo online multiplayer service is hot garbage but I don’t have any real complaints about Xbox Live.

          • acymetric says:

            The big downer for the Switch is what appears to be a total lack of the more old-school jrpg type games, but maybe I’m missing some key titles. That is good advice though…I do find the portability of the Switch highly appealing.

            I suppose I could get a Switch and then just get an old 360/PS3 to scratch my RPG itch.

            I also want to get back into FIFA and I’ve heard that the Switch version leaves a little to be desired but I don’t know how much the complains people have about it would be problematic for me.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            What do you mean by “old-school jrpg type games?” I’m playing Final Fantasy X and X-2 right now (I imported the cart from Hong Kong because the Asian version has both games on one cart), and they’ve got VII-X and XII remastered on the eShop. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was excellent, and the Torna expansion pack was in many ways even better. If you mean like 16-bit era, stuff, Octopath Traveller was also really, really great. 9/10.

          • acymetric says:

            FFX definitely qualifies, although I would be hoping for new titles in that vein rather than replaying the older titles (granted I haven’t played X2 or XII yet). I actually didn’t know they had released FFX for the Switch, I don’t think it had been released when I was looking into what games were available which would have been early this year.

            I don’t know if I have a good definition, not so much 16-bit so much as the kind of titles that were ubiquitous on the PS1/PS2/Dreamcast etc.

            Some combination of:
            Rich story
            Interesting system for leveling/classes/abilities/gear (not required, but always a plus)
            Ideally not real time combat
            Graphically interesting (this doesn’t necessarily mean extremely high quality graphics, just compelling graphics for abilities during combat and such…like FFX summons and the like)

            I have really weird preferences about real time combat that I’m not sure I can properly explain. I definitely play and love games that are in real time (Elder Scrolls, Kingdom Hearts, any Zelda game, obviously FPS type games among others). If it isn’t totally open sandbox for exploring/combat (FPS types, Zelda, Elder Scrolls) and relies on a combat/encounter system but the encounters are in real time it can be hit or miss for me. I’ve seen Xenoblade Chronicles 2 mentioned a lot, I would want to try it before I bought it.

            Do the Xenoblade games carry on the tradition from Xenosaga of brutally long cut scenes?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Also Dragon Quest XI’s about to drop. Ys VIII I hear good things about. You could always go to /r/NintendoSwitch and ask for recommendations and they might know more than I. I like JRPGs but I have very broad tastes. I like basically anything that’s good.

            Do the Xenoblade games carry on the tradition from Xenosaga of brutally long cut scenes?

            Run 50ft. 30 minute cut scene. Take two steps. 30 minute cut scene. They’re good but…but man. XBC2 was a lot of cut scenes.

          • Randy M says:

            If they ever port XBC X, you need to give that a whirl. It’s better than XBC 2, imo. More interesting combat and environment.
            High pitched Chibbi aliens still unfortunately present.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I have XBCX on my Wii U, I’ve just never gotten around to playing it. Backlogs are a bitch.

            ETA: Oh, and I picked up XBC1 on 3Ds off eBay and haven’t gotten to that either.

        • Jiro says:

          If this matters, older Switches (there’s an online list which you can use to check the serial number) are fully hackable. The hack takes place so early in the process that it can never be patched.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Just got back from Best Buy with my XB1 copy of Ritual of the Night, so I sure showed them! Take that, Koji Igarashi, you try to sell me a crappy…version of a game and I’ll go buy it on another…platform…

  7. Le Maistre Chat says:

    RPG thread: battlefield edition

    When running outdoor combat in an RPG, there are two main options: “tactical”, where you use miniature figures in conjunction with a chess-like grid or measuring tape, and “theatre of the mind”, where you abstractly picture the enemies and they and party members take turns targeting each other. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
    Early C(omputer)RPGs like Wizardry implemented something like TotM. The first one to put characters on a grid may have been Ultima III. The C(onsole)RPGs adopted the former, with Dragon Quest directly copying Wizardry’s first=person perspective, then Final Fantasy introducing a third-person side view of a party facing off against random enemies or a boss. The advantage of this is that it’s quick: fantasy games with grid combat became a different genre in Japan, where a couple dozen hand-crafted battles become a game unto themself, apparently too slow to incorporate into wilderness and dungeon exploration. The disadvantage is that there’s no difference between ranged attacks and melee: you always stumble into punching range of enemies.
    After awhile, the extra time tactical grid combat takes wasn’t such a big deal in Western computer RPGs: Pool of Radiance, the beginning of the D&D Gold Box series, presented random encounters straight from the Monster Manual this way. However, a disadvantage is that ranged weapons still weren’t depicted realistically: the minimum estimated combat range of longbows is 200 paces (150 yards), which at D&D’s 1″=5′ would be 90 inches on a physical tabletop… and you can estimate the computer equivalent in terms of how small creature sprites would have to be on, eg, a modern 1920-pixel-wide screen.

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I prefer Theater of the Mind. If precise positioning is important, I would still rather draw on a whiteboard at 1″ = 5′ or 10′ and keep a ruler handy rather than use a grid. My players, on the other hand, are the opposite and prefer a battlemat with a grid.

      The grid has a lot of advantages for nitty-gritty tactical combat. Movement and attacks of opportunity are easily handled, as are the relative positions of individual enemies in groups. It’s really easy to figure out precisely where to place an area spell so that it only hits enemies or find a path in between a bunch of enemies and an objective. If you take a lot of enjoyment from D&D combat then it makes sense to use it.

      Personally, though, I feel like the combat minigame sucks up way too much thought as is. It’s enough hard to train players not to react to every situation as a fight to the death and remind them that avoiding fights is smarter and more profitable. Setting up the battlemap gladiatorial arena undoes all of that, implicitly removing nonviolent resolution from the table. Why else would Nabil have set up the map if it wasn’t a fight, right?

      • Gobbobobble says:

        I find it works well to not set up the map until Initiative is rolled. You get a little fussing now and then about exact positioning but nothing too serious IME (and certainly no worse than in mapless)

        As for once combat’s started, map >> mental. With “theater of the mind” (which, imho, is a super pretentious term) I have to start every action with a boatload of questions to make sure I’m on the same page as the GM. Even when I’m following along religiously, it’s not worth getting zapped by some detail that didn’t replicate properly.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I find it works well to not set up the map until Initiative is rolled.

          Yeah, I think this would help with Nabil’s problem, and I recall this is how the Gold Box official D&D CRPGs handled it.
          “You see some seedy-looking orcs. Do you parley, flee or fight?” accompanied by an image out of the Monster Manual, with a grid only appearing if someone chose fight.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      Strong preference for Theater of the Mind. Complex, highly-tactical combat puzzles are fun when they don’t waste everyone’s time. If you like heavy simulationist combat it’s a good system for it, but dear god why would you?

    • vV_Vv says:

      However, a disadvantage is that ranged weapons still weren’t depicted realistically: the minimum estimated combat range of longbows is 200 paces (150 yards), which at D&D’s 1″=5′ would be 90 inches on a physical tabletop… and you can estimate the computer equivalent in terms of how small creature sprites would have to be on, eg, a modern 1920-pixel-wide screen.

      The English longbow was a warfare weapon, it was intended to be used by large group of archers to shot volleys at enemy aimed at the general area where enemy soldiers were. At a distance of 140-150 meters you couldn’t aim at individual targets.

      Battles in an RPG are often close-range few-on-few engagements. As a point of reference the statistics on police shootouts indicate that they usually occur at a range of 1 – 5 meters (3 – 15 feet).

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        The English longbow was a warfare weapon, it was intended to be used by large group of archers to shot volleys at enemy aimed at the general area where enemy soldiers were. At a distance of 140-150 meters you couldn’t aim at individual targets.

        Battles in an RPG are often close-range few-on-few engagements. As a point of reference the statistics on police shootouts indicate that they usually occur at a range of 1 – 5 meters (3 – 15 feet).

        That doesn’t solve the issue, though, unless your position is that it’s sufficiently realistic to rule that arrows fired at an individual from more than 5 meters auto-miss. What about a fight with 50 sea raiders who bunch up into a shield wall? Or when PCs are doing overland travel and an armed man out standing in his field says “You have six seconds to get off my land or pay a piece of gold for the privilege of crossing it”?

        • Lillian says:

          For long range combat you can just use a different grid scale. In games i’ve played we’ve depicted gun battles at hundreds of metres by using a scale of 1 hex = 10 metres. Very little is lost since the finer details of tactical movement matter less at those ranges. As the combatants close in range, you switch to more zoomed in grids since finer tactical movement matters more. Like, at 100 metres someone moving 2 metres to the side has changed your bearing to them by only one degree, so such a small movement just isn’t significant. What matters is whether they are moving or standing still, and whether they are in cover or not. Whereas at 5 metres someone moving 2 metres to the side has changed your bearing to them by 23 degrees, which is much more significant, so you want a zoomed in grid to depict it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            As the combatants close in range, you switch to more zoomed in grids since finer tactical movement matters more. Like, at 100 metres someone moving 2 metres to the side has changed your bearing to them by only one degree, so such a small movement just isn’t significant. What matters is whether they are moving or standing still, and whether they are in cover or not. Whereas at 5 metres someone moving 2 metres to the side has changed your bearing to them by 23 degrees, which is much more significant, so you want a zoomed in grid to depict it.

            Huh, I never thought of that.

          • John Schilling says:

            Similarly, in a gun battle at hundreds of meters it is reasonable to assume that anyone in a forest who isn’t moving has found a tree to hide behind, and anyone who is trying to move 10+ meters at a go is going to be somewhat handicapped by the zig-zagging around trees, but flat modifiers for cover and movement for a “forest square” will suffice. For a sword duel in a forest, it starts to matter where the individual trees are and you go to the finer-grained map for that.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Yeah, I want to emphasize this point. Essentially nobody ever had a single yeoman shoot a single, real, mobile target at 150 yards.

        RPGs have traditionally taken a weirdly expansive view of weapon ranges. It’s not uncommon to see pistols in modern games listed as having ranges of like 100′ if not more. That’s not how pistol fights work.

        • Nornagest says:

          Especially with firearms, there’s range and there’s range. I can reliably hit steel plates the size of a dude’s head with a service pistol at 25 meters, which isn’t too far off from a hundred feet, and I’m only a moderately good pistolero if that. But put me in a situation where I have to move around and acquire targets and suddenly I’d be lucky to hit torso-sized stuff at a third that distance in the same amount of time.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Good point. Triple range on a stationary target half the size sounds like a good rule, at least for pistols.
            Not sure how that translates to bows: Henry VIII made a rule that Sunday archery practice with flight arrows had to use a minimum range of 220 yards. If those targets were, say, as to a human torso as a torso is to a head, that gets you 67 meters for a yeoman shooting a man or deer etc. out in the open. This is apparently the farthest really good hunters can hit a deer with modern sights on their bows. There’s a lot of debate about the ethics of shots beyond X meters because of the suffering if you can’t get a kill shot, which complicates things.

    • John Schilling says:

      With tabletop gaming, you need to be able to do both and you need to be able to shift at need. For any remotely complex bit of combat, a battlemap is worth a thousand words of descriptive text in providing the players the situational awareness they need, but there are some encounters where you don’t need a thousand words of tactical information and setting up the map would be an immersion-breaking distraction. But when in doubt, err on the side of formalism, because a player who thought his character’s flank was covered by terrain being sneak-attacked because the GM thought differently is even more immersion-breaking.

      One advantage of miniatures, and in particular of miniatures but not an explicit battlemap, is that you can get in the habit of having the miniatures on the table at all times and plopping down the NPC minis even for what are expected to be non-combat encounters. That way, if things do escalate to the sort of fight that needs tactical formalism, you’re already halfway there and the potential for really serious misunderstandings is greatly reduced.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        One advantage of miniatures, and in particular of miniatures but not an explicit battlemap, is that you can get in the habit of having the miniatures on the table at all times and plopping down the NPC minis even for what are expected to be non-combat encounters.

        This is what I was doing last time I ran a game in-person rather than Discord.

        • Lillian says:

          Playing on roll20 we always had our character sprites on the map regardless of whether or not we were in a fight or not. It was convenient for knowing where everyone was, like if someone was close enough to overhear a conversation, or whether you could sneak up on someone, and that sort of thing. It was also possible to just draw a quick map by just tracing some lines and squares on the grid, which was convenient if we went somewhere the GM wasn’t expecting.

    • dndnrsn says:

      For any combat where movement and terrain is likely to be an issue, and where combat is going to last more than a turn or two, mat or miniatures is the way to go. TotM combat more often than not ends up in a weird territory where everyone is within range of each other and one turn’s move away from each other, in my experience.

      It means a faster, looser, experience. Sometimes this is good, to keep things moving, but it makes everything really inconsistent and potentially arbitrary, especially in more complicated situations. And too often it plays into a style where reality morphs to fit what the GM wants/needs to happen.

  8. Scott Alexander says:

    How has the US not passed a carbon tax yet?

    Has any Democrat tried something like telling the Republicans “Support this carbon tax, and we’ll give all the money to whatever cause you want, maybe tax cuts for the rich and new border guards”? How is that not a winning bet?

    What about “Support this carbon tax, and we’ll cut an equal number of other taxes elsewhere, maybe more taxes elsewhere, including on big business, so everyone wins”?

    What about “Looks like we need two Republican Senators to defect in order to pass this carbon tax, if two Republicans should happen to support it, we’d spend the whole $150 billion raised in their districts”?

    How is a policy that makes hundreds of billions of dollars this hard to get through?

    • The Nybbler says:

      Has any Democrat tried something like telling the Republicans “Support this carbon tax, and we’ll give all the money to whatever cause you want, maybe tax cuts for the rich and new border guards”? How is that not a winning bet?

      I believe the closest they came was Washington State initiative 732, to pass a carbon tax and reduce the sales tax to pay for it. On the national level, nothing. There isn’t enough trust available to do any such thing even if a Democrat would propose it. The Republicans would figure that the Democrats would immediately work on chipping away at anything they got out of the deal.

      • Matt M says:

        My understanding is that the one in Washington failed mainly because the left turned on it, because they were mad about the “compromise” being offered that the tax would be fully offset and revenue neutral.

        They wanted a revenue generating tax and all of the revenue being applied towards “green” pet projects.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        “There isn’t enough trust available to do any such thing even if a Democrat would propose it.”

        How is trust relevant?

        If there was a bill that said “Carbon shall be taxed at X%, and all the money shall go to the Department Of Homeland Security to hire new border guards”, why do Republicans need to trust Democrats in order to believe the bill will do what it says? Or am I not understanding how bills work?

        • Gossage Vardebedian says:

          Carbon shall be taxed at X%, and all the money shall go to the Department Of Homeland Security to hire new border guards

          But you know that’s not how funding works. Like how state lottery money ‘goes to schools,’ but then they just reduce the amount of other state funds that go to schools.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          And the instant those new border guards actually did something involving guarding the border the Dems and the media would be screaming about concentration camps and kids in cages and “no person is illegal” and all the rest. You have to have trust that after the compromise is agreed to, the other side will abide by the compromise and not immediately start trying to undermine it.

          • Randy M says:

            Which brings up another point–when the Democratic leadership starts offering concessions to get Republicans on board, they’ll lose Democrats.
            You don’t spend time shouting about defunding ICE to turn around and offer to give it more money.
            I know Scott likes to take his beliefs seriously, but not everyone who claims an impending end of the world can be expected to act like it.

        • LHN says:

          In the near-to-medium term, money is fungible and the next DHS budget can be adjusted so that it gets about as much less non-carbon tax money as it gets from the carbon tax. (See the way state lottery money tends to be “reserved” for education.)

          In the longer term, I would tend to expect the earmark to go away at the next Democratic administration, while the carbon tax remained as a permanent fixture (since types of taxation seem to be relatively sticky once put in place). If Republicans thought likewise, then they’d be looking at a temporary and possibly illusory gain in exchange for a permanent loss.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I’d be slightly more tempted if the offer were a border wall rather than border guards. It’s a lot harder to tear down a wall than to lay off guards.

            ETA: And like Matt says below I would have little faith I’d actually get my wall. Maybe some contingent like the carbon tax scaling with the number of miles of wall built. And then I’d want some guarantees of what we mean by “wall.” None of these “vehicle barriers” a toddler can climb over.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s a lot harder to tear down a wall than to lay off guards.

            That’s what Erich Honecker thought.

        • Matt M says:

          It’s also worth noting that a lot of voters don’t really trust elected officials in their own tribe/party either.

          Speaking personally, if a “carbon tax for border wall” bill was up for debate, I would trust 100% that the Democrats intend to do whatever is necessary to implement and collect the carbon tax, but have little to no trust that the Republicans would actually build the wall. As such, I would oppose such a bill, even if I wanted a border wall marginally more than I don’t want a carbon tax.

          • 10240 says:

            When does it matter whether voters support the tax or not? At election time. Even if you would oppose the tax at first because you don’t trust the Republicans, you would presumably still support the bargain the next time you vote if they do actually build the wall by the next election.

        • bean says:

          The problem is that Congress doesn’t have a good way to make such compromises stable. Sure, we make the deal now, but what if the “Abolish ICE” crowd does well in 2020? Suddenly, they decide that they don’t really want to fund border guards, and now they have a big pool of money to spend on stuff I don’t approve of.

        • Deiseach says:

          why do Republicans need to trust Democrats in order to believe the bill will do what it says?

          Because as soon as the money starts coming in in appreciable quantities, there will be strong pressure on the Democrats to steer it towards pet policies of the Democrats which their voters/supporters like, and screw those fascists with their police-state border guards, is why.

          Same applies if it was the Republicans, of course; screw those commie pinkos and their globalisation, why not put this money to (pet Republican cause)?

          I’ve seen too many instances in my own country of “cross our hearts and hope to die, this money will be ringfenced for Good Cause” and then that money somehow goes elsewhere and Good Cause can go whistle.

    • Randy M says:

      Has any Democrat tried something like telling the Republicans “Support this carbon tax, and we’ll give all the money to whatever cause you want, maybe tax cuts for the rich and new border guards”? How is that not a winning bet?

      This has been discussed here before. Conservatives see it as giving progressives something they, purportedly, desperately want, so they should get something back.
      Progressives either don’t trust the conservatives, or see it as a purity issue and find compromise distasteful.

      What about “Looks like we need two Republican Senators to defect in order to pass this carbon tax, if two Republicans should happen to support it, we’d spend the whole $150 billion raised in their districts”?

      If there are two holdouts, and you offer them 12 figure bribes, suddenly you might find you have ninety other hold outs.

      How is a policy that makes hundreds of billions of dollars this hard to get through?

      That’s phrased really funny. Taxes “make” money at the expense of the tax-payer. That’s like asking, “why is a massive income tax hike so hard to pass, it will raise a ton of money?” Obviously unless the voters are convinced the sacrifice is worth it, they are going to resent it–even, likely, if that money is put into their district.

      In the end, though, does it matter what the US passes if our emissions are going to pale compared to an industrialized China?

      • Scott Alexander says:

        “If there are two holdouts, and you offer them 12 figure bribes, suddenly you might find you have ninety other hold outs.”

        I guess I was imagining the Senate is 49-51, and so the Democrats say “First two Republicans to defect get all of the money”.

        “That’s phrased really funny. Taxes “make” money at the expense of the tax-payer.”

        Yeah, but from the perspective of politicians it’s just giving them more money to play with/disperse to their pet causes, so I would expect it to be pretty popular.

        • Randy M says:

          I guess I was imagining the Senate is 49-51, and so the Democrats say “First two Republicans to defect get all of the money”.

          There’s just something about human nature that, even in the face of calamity, rankles when you see someone profit so dramatically off of mutual danger. Hence I think it’s understandable, if maybe not rational, for democratic voters to dislike the idea of nigh explicit bribes to get climate change action. For an analogy, see how they view “price gouging” in the wake of a hurricane.

          Yeah, but from the perspective of politicians it’s just giving them more money to play with/disperse to their pet causes, so I would expect it to be pretty popular.

          Oh, I’m sure it is, but we’ve got these things called elections, which leads to politicians not wanting to even hint that they want to take money from demographically large groups, which “everybody” is.

          I guess you’re saying that elected Republicans should pretend to believe in climate change disaster in order to pass taxes giving them lots of money to play around with. But, well, if you want voters not to punish politicians who broadly support anti-climate change actions, that’s not a sentiment you want to express.

        • Deiseach says:

          I guess I was imagining the Senate is 49-51, and so the Democrats say “First two Republicans to defect get all of the money”.

          And you really don’t think there would be some Democrats going “Now hold on a second, you want us to spend all the money in Republican districts? What about my constituents? I’m feeling suddenly uninclined to vote with the party whip on this one…”

          Grand statesmanlike gestures are lovely, but politicians know that when it comes down to it, what gets you elected (and re-elected) is not bestriding the national or global stage like a colossus, it’s “what goodies did you get for us from Congress/Dáil Éireann/the Mother of Parliaments?”

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I’m not a Republican lawmaker, or even a registered Republican, so not sure what my answer is worth. But my 2¢ is that I don’t trust that there’s a sane upper-bound to any “carbon tax” short of the petroleum industry ceasing to exist.

      The attitude of people pushing these schemes seems less like internalizing an externality, with a good-faith attempt to make sure not to overshoot the cost, and more like a sin tax pushed in lieu of a full ban. I don’t ever expect the tax rate on cigarettes to go down: even if we discovered tomorrow that the cost of smoking was one tenth of the tax imposed on cigarettes, people who support those taxes would still push them because lowering the price might encourage someone, somewhere to smoke. It’s become a matter of moral purity and not an accounting exercise.

      The modern environmentalist movement behaves in much the same way. Carbon is seen as a moral failing and the goal is zero emissions. Given that, there’s no real way to compromise without getting salami-sliced.

      • Jiro says:

        I think that part of the cause is that the left just doesn’t believe that climate change is as catastrophic as they claim. If you really think climate change is going to destroy the world, you’d be willing to do almost anything to stop it, including grant all sorts of concessions that you normally wouldn’t. In order to avert world destruction, the left should be willing to build a border wall–a border wall isn’t good, but total destruction of the world is so much worse that the tradeoff isn’t even a question.

        Instead you see the left exaggerating climate change when it comes to trading away things they want gone anyway, but not when it comes to trading away things they really want to keep.

        That also explains the failure of the Washington initiative. If you really want to avert the destruction of the world, the fact that you don’t get the revenue should be a pretty minor thing in comparison to saving the world.

        • Matt M says:

          And this results in an additional sort of feedback loop, wherein the right observes this behavior and then adjusts their priors of “this whole thing is just a hoax the left made up to help them implement socialism” accordingly…

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Kruschev said “we will bury you” in industrial output by having a command economy. When that was proven false, the Left made a quick switch to “industrial output is immoral and will make Earth uninhabitable unless we abolish the market economy.”
            I think the connection between factories and machines releasing CO2 and the greenhouse effect is solid, but mitigating the harm will have to be done without placing any trust in the Left.

          • Hoopyfreud says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            I think the connection between factories and machines releasing CO2 and the greenhouse effect is solid, but mitigating the harm will have to be done without placing any trust in the Left.

            This sounds a lot like declaring yourself defect-assumption-bot, who is inevitably defectbot in a fake mustache.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Hoopyfreud:

            This sounds a lot like declaring yourself defect-assumption-bot, who is inevitably defectbot in a fake mustache.

            Seems like tit-for-tat to me. How often has the Left cooperated with my people, for me to cooperate in turn?

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      Two things here: First, most climate change related policies are, uhm, selected specifically for maximum ineffectiveness. The voters want something done, but are not actually super committed to what “Something” is.

      Actually doing something effective – Like “Say, could someone translate the Messmer Plan from french?” would inflict mortal wounds on the totality of the coal mining and gas extraction industries within ten years, and oil not much after that – You would not have to dump all that much funding into ammonia cycle fuel cells to render oil technologically obsolete.

      So Effective Plans meet lobbying resistance from hell. Carbon tax would be an Effective Plan, thus the politicians who are in the pockets of the fossil lobby would commit seppuku on the senate floor before passing it.

      Second: You cant actually raise any real amount of money from a carbon tax.
      What happens is, you pass it, and within 3 months, some enterprising soul has licensed every bit of IP India and Russia has on cheap and breeder reactors, within a year, ground is being broken on around 300 reactors, and in seven, the entire economy is zero carbon. At which point it does not matter what the carbon tax is, nobody is paying it.

      • johan_larson says:

        within a year, ground is being broken on around 300 reactors

        Huh? Where? There is strong and consistent anti-nuclear sentiment in much of the world. Building a nuclear plant in the US is a political and legal death-march. Other places, with the notable exception of France, aren’t much better. That’s not going to change quickly.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          It is a legal death march because fossil fuel interests and their arms-length patsies make it one. Anti-nuclear groups get a heck of a lot of money from natural gas interests. Hundreds of million.

          If you are willing to declare war on fossil fuels to the extent of actually passing a carbon tax, you are presumably also willing to raise the Atomic Energy Commission from the dead. If you are not so on day one, you will be by day 21 after every trade group and industry association that depend on cheap energy drops by and has a word.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Anti-nuclear activists are my outgroup. I think they’ve fucked up our best bet to stop global warming.

            But they aren’t an all-powerful ZOG that infiltrates everywhere.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            No, they are useful idiots to the fossil fuel industry, which.. kind of is ZOG. Completely outsized lobbying clout.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        What happens is, you pass it, and within 3 months, some enterprising soul has licensed every bit of IP India and Russia has on cheap and breeder reactors, within a year, ground is being broken on around 300 reactors, and in seven, the entire economy is zero carbon

        How many levels of irony are we on right now?

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          India and Russia have the most interesting IP, because their nuclear industry did not take a 30 year nap. India in particular only cared about two things : “Cheap to build” and “Endless fuel supply”. Their entire nuclear fuel cycle is a tad.. nightmarish from a proliferation standpoint, but if you want to build a nuclear energy sector yesterday and run the entire economy on it, their closed fuel cycle and rock-bottom construction costs are in fact very appealing.

          Russia has the best breeder design currently operating.

          Beyond those, everything is research projects, mostly without enough money behind them. Only one I would actually not be shocked to see go online is Bill Gates little project, which, if I read the prospectus right is the resurrection of a Swiss project – The Fast Spectrum Molten Chloride Salt reactor, which has the virtues of being the simplest possible reactor design to build (it is basically just a big tank) and being a very high gain breeder, so you can supply second and third build generation plant with fuel by bleeding off excess from the first gen.

          The downside is.. that first generation? at least five tonnes of plutonium to make the salt, per reactor.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        Good luck on those 300 reactors. I lived within a few hours drive of a nuclear plant and people had been organizing to shut it down since before I was born. It is scheduled to close, permanently, before Trump leaves the White House. As much as I would love it, Americans specifically and Westerners generally are irrationally afraid of nuclear energy.

        I’d also be curious to see whether these ammonia fuel cells ever materialize. Fuel cells have been in a similar state to fusion power for as long as I can remember: they’re always ten years away. It would be a nice complement to petroleum based energy if they were developed but it would be nice to see them in practical use first before we set the entire petroleum industry on fire.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          Direct Ammonia cycle fuel cells exist. If you wanted to build a container ship or cruise-liner powered by them, you could start that project tomorrow – The master machinist would be pretty buzy babying them along, but the ship would work fine. Getting them small and reliable enough for use in a car would be a substantial effort, but not one likely to run into any real show-stoppers.

          Again, the problem is that approaches that seem likeliest to work get the least funding. Lots of money for pure-hydrogen fuel cells, and that is in large part because nobody tries to stop the funding for those – hydrogen, is, after all, pretty nightmarish to store.

          • Nornagest says:

            Great, now explain that to the protesters. You’re closer to their politics than I am, so it should be easy, right?

    • John Schilling says:

      Has any Democrat tried something like telling the Republicans “Support this carbon tax, and we’ll give all the money to whatever cause you want, maybe tax cuts for the rich and new border guards”? How is that not a winning bet?

      It’s not a winning bet for Republicans, because the carbon tax is forever but the promise of paying for new border guards is not legally binding beyond the current fiscal year.

      Granted, it might be theoretically possible to repeal a carbon tax in the future, or even to enact one with a sunset clause. In practice, new taxes are remarkably hard to get rid of, much more so than changing discretionary budget allocations. So this deal is structurally biased in favor of the Democrats.

      It might be possible to change that if, in exchange for the carbon tax, the Democrats agreed to either completely repeal some existing particularly-noxious-to-Republicans tax, or to create from scratch a new government program with the permanence of, say, Obamacare. In both of those cases, status quo bias would apply to both sides of the deal and allow for some stability. But, while Republican claims to being the “party of small government” are vastly overrated, I don’t think they presently want any government programs are fundamentally new and of sufficient scale to trade against a carbon tax. And most of the taxes that are uniquely obnoxious to the Republicans are too small for this either.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I’ve encountered lots of resistance to carbon taxes from conservatives, but nearly as much from liberals. It’s regressive and why should we bother with that when there is a huge pot of money we can get from The Rich if only we elected the right strong man to properly tax them like Europe does.

      • souleater says:

        Right, I don’t think the democrats want a carbon tax as much as they pretend to.

      • Randy M says:

        Is there greater support for Carbon Regulations or some similar thing that would be harder to evade though money?

      • Protagoras says:

        Absent the snark about the huge pot of money, I would agree that the problem is that a lot of liberals are hostile to carbon taxes because of their being regressive. And the story that you can offset that by using the money to cut other regressive taxes or fund redistribution projects runs into the same problem of nobody trusting that that’s what would actually happen as Matt M complains about from the conservative side.

    • souleater says:

      I imagine talking about a carbon tax is much more popular than enacting a carbon tax. Isn’t a carbon tax basically a tax on gas and electricity? Unless there is a carveout for the poor, I imagine the democrats would have some very angry voters.

      As a Global Warming skeptic and conservative/libertarian I would actually be all in favor of a carbon tax based on the expectation that it would work out to be a flatter taxation structure overall. Assuming the revenue goes to pay down the debt or reduce the tax burden in other areas, of course..

      If the carbon tax is passed alongside some new spending initiatives I obviously wouldn’t be as pleased.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      A new tax is forever (remember when income tax was an emergency measure to fight the World War I?) and Democrats aren’t offering Republicans anything that would still exist in 2119.
      Maybe if a carbon tax raised enough money to build a string of hydroelectric dams from El Paso to the Gulf fully connected by uncuttable 10-foot fences.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I’m having trouble with knowing if this is a serious question. Is it a rhetorical device intended to elucidate responses? Or is the political process this opaque for you?

      First, the Democrats would need to control the House, Senate and Presidency to make your plan work. Right now McConnell can prevent the bill from even being considered. Trump can veto the bill.

      Second, and extremely important, is that raising taxes on voters is painful. It will be used against you in the next election cycle. You need to have some way of ensuring that, for any painful vote, this will either be a vote that doesn’t cost you your seat (primary or general) or that the benefit of the vote is enduring and therefore worth a lost seat (or even a lost majority).

      Third, extremely relevant to the first, is that carbon taxes, and whatever you give up to get carbon taxes , aren’t durable. Either side can defect and cut the other half of the deal if they have control. You aren’t proposing something that can’t easily be undone. That’s the objection others are raising, but it’s downstream of the first two. In order to make it durable you would need it to bring tangible benefits to either the populace or the powerful.

      • Doctor Mist says:

        Your first point is questioning the hypothetical. Scott is proposing some kind of trade between Republicans and Democrats, where each side presumably gets something it values more than what it gives up. Such a trade does not require either party to have the whip hand. Such a trade fails if Democrats value a carbon tax lower than anything else or Republicans value its absence above everything else, but neither is likely.

        The second could in principle be addressed by making the tax revenue-neutral — lower other taxes in compensation. In practice, of course, this is very hard to do because most of our taxes are steeply progressive while a carbon tax is steeply regressive. Neglecting that difficulty, you still run into the dynamic that good Democrats are likely to feel that revenue-neutrality is a big concession to the Republicans and therefore to offer little else in the trade, while good Republicans are likely to regard it as a necessary precondition to any start of serious negotiations.

        The third point is sound, but as you say, it is the main thing everybody else is saying.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          My first point explains why his hypothetical cant exist you cant just get any random two senators. Between filibusters, committee control and schedule control, there isn’t a plausible path to doing with a bare few senators bucking leadership (plus, bucking leadership is itself hazardous).

          If you don’t have the Presidency you need the support of either the Republican president or 67 total.senators. plus the 2/3s of the house.

          Even with a Democratic Senate, the filibuster is in play unless you use reconciliation. Assuming you use reconciliation on a budget bill,
          you would still lose Manchin and maybe some other red state Dems. That’s when you would need 1 or 2 GOP senators, when Dems hold the Senate 49-51 or the like.

        • LHN says:

          You also have to make a persuasive case that it will stay revenue neutral to tax-averse Republicans, for whom the example of the income tax going from a small tax on the very rich to something much larger and broader is well-remembered.

          The presumption will be that it’s the camel’s nose in the door for a similarly large increase in both overall tax levels and enforcement bureaucracy, and I’m not offhand sure what plausible assurances could be given that it wasn’t.

          (Maybe combining it in a constitutional amendment with the abolition of some other major form of taxation? But Democrats certainly wouldn’t trade the progressive income tax for a possibly-regressive carbon tax, and I’m not sure if there’s another one that would serve as a satisfactory trade.)

          • hls2003 says:

            But Democrats certainly wouldn’t trade the progressive income tax for a possibly-regressive carbon tax

            While I can’t speak for him, I imagine Scott’s reaction might be “Why not?” If literally the only way to prevent the Earth from becoming uninhabitable and the rising seas from killing billions is to repeal the 16th Amendment and make the tax burden less progressive, seems like it would be worth it.

            Republicans then nod smugly and say “Uh huh, turns out they knew all along it wasn’t world-threatening consequences, we see through your Chicken Little act.”

            Democrats then nod sagely and say “Uh huh, we knew Republicans would prefer to literally hold the whole world hostage and kill us all, we were fools to try to reason with them.”

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Wait, what? If we can replace the income tax with a carbon tax I’m all for it. I do think it would almost certainly need to be heavily regressive, though, so I can’t see the Dems actually offering it. I would curious to know just how much more energy/carbon the middle and upper classes use than the poor. Usually when I see a car spewing black exhaust it’s some poor person’s beater, while the rich guy is charging his Tesla up off the solar panels he installed in his roof. (I don’t know if you can actually solar charge a Tesla, but you get my point. Energy efficient stuff costs more money).

          • Matt M says:

            My impression is that in terms of total CO2 emissions, cars are almost an irrelevant factor that can basically be rounded off.

            Rich people own bigger houses and travel more by air. Those are the things that start to move the needle.

          • brad says:

            Which brings up a big issue with a carbon tax. We can’t even get ranchers to pay rent for using federal land for their herds. How are we going to get them to pay a per head tax for methane emissions?

            A carbon tax is relatively easy to assess and collect on oil/gas/coal and pretty much nowhere else.

          • Faza (TCM) says:

            A carbon tax is relatively easy to assess and collect on oil/gas/coal and pretty much nowhere else.

            This seems like a feature, to me.

            I’m cynical, so I expect any political proposal to emphasize looking good over actually doing what it’s supposed to. Oil, gas and coal are the Terrible Threesome and have been for two decades now, more or less, as far as the voters who would support such a tax are concerned. You can just pick the low-hanging fruit and still look quite the World-Saving Statesman.

            As for cows? My bet is that if we’ll ever see anything, it will be a tax on beef.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            How are we going to get them to pay a per head tax for methane emissions?

            What Faza said. You tax beef.

          • Conrad:

            If we can replace the income tax with a carbon tax I’m all for it.

            Doubling CO2 increases the yield of most crop varieties by about 30%. Why are you in favor of global hunger?

            Or, to put the point more generally, you are simply taking for granted a claim that is popular but, so far as I can tell, weakly supported–that the net effects of increased CO2 are negative and large.

            It’s my impression, possibly mistaken, that you believe the U.S. government should be primarily concerned with the welfare of Americans, not that of humans in general. If so, the argument for a carbon tax is even weaker. Costs and benefits of increased CO2 will not be evenly distributed. The major predictable costs are to countries that are very hot (India), very low lying (the Nile Delta looks like the most vulnerable area), or both. The major predictable benefit is to countries in the far north or far south, where human activity is currently limited by cold.

            The big winners in that respect would be Canada, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, and Russia, but Alaska should become a good deal pleasanter. Also Minnesota and other northern states. Overall, the U.S. should be doing better than average out of global warming, not worse, although Louisiana might be an exception.

            Also, note that the costs of a U.S. carbon tax—the switch to more expensive ways of producing power—would be almost entirely born by Americans. The benefits would be shared with the rest of the world.

            So if your bias is pro-U.S. …

          • Randy M says:

            It’s my impression, possibly mistaken, that you believe the U.S. government should be primarily concerned with the welfare of Americans, not that of humans in general. If so, the argument for a carbon tax is even weaker.

            Just to go off on a tangent, I see the US as not having moral obligation to benefit non-citizens, but to indeed have a moral obligation not to harm them where ever possible.

            In matters such as climate change it’s very complicated and mostly intuitive. I don’t think we have an obligation to cripple ourselves economically in order to avoid a chance at inconvenience to Nile river villages, but inasmuch as there is strong evidence that we are directly harming others, I find it persuasive that we need to take costly measures to avoid doing so–for instance, we shouldn’t pollute rivers running into Mexico even if they are unable to militarily or diplomatically contest the action.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Why are you in favor of global hunger?

            To starve out my enemies.

            More seriously, I prefer consumption taxes to income taxes because I can more easily control my consumption. “All for it” was too strong a statement, but if Dems seriously proposed a carbon tax while abolishing the 16th amendment I’d think that’s a win. They couldn’t reinstate the income tax without another constitutional amendment. I don’t think it would have any serious impact on global climate, but if it makes them feel better and I get rid of the 16th amendment…okay!

            So I think it’s not the Republicans who would be opposed to this plan, it would be the Democrats because they want both the income tax and the carbon tax and would not make the trade.

            I’d be even more interested in trading a carbon tax for a wall. They can solve their existential crisis and I can solve mine. Again, I don’t think they’d go for it.

          • Nick says:

            I’d be even more interested in trading a carbon tax for a wall. They can solve their existential crisis and I can solve mine. Again, I don’t think they’d go for it.

            Eh, I don’t think that trade would be as good. The bigger problem for the foreseeable future is funding border guards and other facilities and workers to manage the vast number of asylum claims. Even a wall would still need guards, and maintenance for that matter. It sounds like a much less permanent, and perhaps relatively ineffective, concession compared to getting rid of the sixteenth amendment.

        • Jaskologist says:

          To expand on HBC’s point, it matters a lot who controls the chamber. The majority leader is very easily able to nix any bill that most of his team doesn’t like (see, for example, the non-binding Hastert Rule). So you can’t just win over 2 Republican senators right now and pass your bill on through the Senate. You would need to have a substantial part of the Republican caucus who feels strongly about it to even get on the docket.

          And even if the Democrats have the Senate majority, that doesn’t mean all 51 of them are actually in favor of your bill, and everything you put in to sweeten the deal for a few Republicans shaves off from your left flank. And if this is something that is going to be strongly opposed by Republicans (which a massive tax increase would be), you need to peal off enough to overcome the filibuster, which makes the problem even harder.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I still think you’re staring at your feet instead of the horizon. If the deal is attractive to both sides, why should the majority leader nix it in the first place?

            It sounds like what you and HBC are really saying is that there is no such trade that might be made. That’s a legitimate claim — and indeed the burden of proof is on Scott to offer a counterexample.

            But that’s very different claim than saying that they could never cut such a deal because of procedural obstacles like the Speaker wouldn’t let it come to a vote or the President would veto it, which is certainly how I read HBC’s objection.

            If each faction would rather thwart the other than get things it wants, it does not bode well for the future of the republic. (Or maybe it bodes very well; I forget whether I am an anarchist or a reactionary today.)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Doctor Mist:
            I’m not arguing against the proposition of a deal attractive to some large faction of Republicans and Democrats. That isn’t What Scott has proposed. I could argue against this as well, but one thing at a time.

            I’m arguing against Scott’s proposition, that some small number of Republicans defecting could make this happen, and that is just plainly false, no matter how attractive it was to those Republicans.

          • Clutzy says:

            I’m arguing against Scott’s proposition, that some small number of Republicans defecting could make this happen, and that is just plainly false, no matter how attractive it was to those Republicans.

            I think you have a strong point that stands alongside a half dozen+ other strong points. This is tingling my conspiracy sense that the idea of this is some sort of farming expedition or informal survey being done by Scott. Or that the poster is an imposter.

          • Plumber says:

            @Clutzy,
            Conspiracy for what purpose?

            I think it absolutely is our host, and he thinks differently than most not just because he’s young and from a “UMC” background, but also because he just has an unusual mind that gives him amazing unique insights and ideas, but also has him every so often not guess the way many of us commoners think (not that you in particular are a commoner, I meant a more general “us”).

          • Clutzy says:

            Conspiracy for what purpose?

            Not like a real conspiracy, with lots of people. Just kind of an idea fishing expedition. My conspiracy sense was tingling, as in, I felt like maybe we are being played.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Scott is going through the process I went through 10 or 20 years ago. I recognize it. He listens to wonks, he knows a carbon tax is the way to fix things, so let’s do it.

            He is wondering why there is so much problem passing a carbon tax. He thinks the problem is in front of him, with the conservatives. And in some ways it is. But almost as much of the problem is behind him. The liberals don’t want a carbon tax either. It is very surprising and hard to believe until you’ve lived it.

          • Plumber says:

            @Edward Scizorhands,
            +1 to this.

            Back in the 1980’s, when I was a high school student on a field trip, I asked my congressman (Ron Dellums, Democrat) why he voted against an oil and gas tax, and he told me “Because it will hit the poor most”.

            Also, while greatly diminished, private sector labor unions are still part of the Democratic Party coalition, and I know that my union, while very pro-nuclear is even more supportive of gas and oil pipeline projects.

          • Another element in left wing opposition to a carbon tax is moral/emotive. The idea that people can buy the right to pollute is offensive, just as the idea that rich people can buy the right to commit crimes would be.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I’m arguing against Scott’s proposition, that some small number of Republicans defecting could make this happen

            Ah. I thought you were arguing with the general thrust of the posting, rather than the reductio ad absurdum in his penultimate sentence. I completely agree that that suggestion was the silliest part of his question.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Doctor Mist:
            Well, the rest of it falls apart just as easily.

            Why haven’t Democrats assembled a coalition of enough Republicans to overcome a Trump presidential veto?

            This is just as silly a premise as “Why can’t Democrat’s get two Republicans to defect and pass the legislation”? Republicans don’t want a carbon tax to pass. How are you to get 20+ of them to defect and override their own president’s veto? They won’t even do that for things they actually want, like the bill that would have ended the declaration of emergency, which passed 59-41 before a veto.

            Why can’t Democrats win over Trump and McConnell and get a grand bargain on climate change in exchange for whatever Trump and McConnell want?

            At least if Scott had asked this question, it would have been more in the realm reality. It’s at least a valid question where there is some plausible path to success.

            But in order for this to work there has to be some room for good faith negotiations, and there are so many roadblocks to this. Perhaps not the largest, but the first impediment which would have to be overcome, is that Trump hasn’t shown any ability to negotiate with his own caucus. In addition, efforts by Democrats to negotiate bilaterally with Trump on smaller deals that ostensibly are actually priorities for him like infrastructure have ended over the smallest thing, like Nancy Pelosi ostensibly saying something mean. Any carbon-tax is a muuuch harder lift than infrastructure.

            It’s like asking the guy who has never broken a 10 minute mile why he doesn’t just go ahead and break the world record. Yes the incentives to do so are very big. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

        • Paul Zrimsek says:

          Such a trade fails if Democrats value a carbon tax lower than anything else or Republicans value its absence above everything else, but neither is likely.

          And regardless of the probabilities, if either of these is true there isn’t any puzzle in the first place: you’ve already got all the explanation you’ll ever need for why there isn’t a carbon tax.

    • Phigment says:

      Because we’ve spent decades converting everyone to playing the same game.

      It used to be that a congressional representative in New York and a congressional representative in Nevada kept their jobs or lost them based on mostly disconnected systems. The game in New York was “appeal to New York voters” and the game in Nevada was “appeal to Nevada voters”.

      It was therefore possible to construct mutually beneficial trades; a law that helps the New York rep with New Yorkers and helps the Nevada rep with Nevadans is a win-win, and what it does to New Jersey is irrelevant, because they don’t vote for New York or Nevada representatives.

      Now the national level systems are getting increasingly coupled together, so the elected officials are playing “appeal to Democrats” and “appeal to Republicans”. But Democrats and Republicans, unlike New Yorkers and Nevadans, are direct competitors; what one supports, the other tends to oppose. So, it’s a zero-sum game. Republicans and Democrats can’t easily team up to both win, because if you help the other guys win, you’re seen as disloyal and George Soros starts writing checks to people launching primary challenges at you, or Rush Limbaugh starts badmouthing you on the radio, etc.

      Kind of inevitable, given the tendency towards increasingly centralized power. If controlling the national government allows you to win at state and local levels, Moloch is going to show up with a Powerpoint presentation and helpfully explain to people that, no, really, there’s no room for compromising on national issues to get local benefits, that would make you a dirty traitor, and what you really need to do is hold the line against those others who are trying to destroy everything good in the world.

    • 10240 says:

      Democrats wouldn’t have needed to compromise when they controlled both houses of the Congress and the presidency in 2009–2010. Why didn’t they pass a carbon tax then?

      • Matt M says:

        Presumably for the same reason Republicans didn’t do anything to reduce illegal immigration from 2016-18…

      • Plumber says:

        @10240,
        And Republicans “controlled both houses of the Congress and the presidency in” 2017 and 2018, yet the border wall didn’t get extended signifigantly (or at all). 

        I don’t think nominal majorities are enough to get a Parties verballized agendas enacted (and I’m increasingly inclined to believe both parties are conning their voters, Democrats could have eased union organizing many times since 1948, and when Alabama passed an anti-abortion law, congressional Republicans and Trump himself distanced themselves from the Alabama abortion law).

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Schedule, schedule, schedule

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      There isn’t a very powerful constituency behind a carbon tax.

    • Plumber says:

      @Scott Alexander,
      My guess is that too many livelihoods are dependent on the fossil fuels industry.

      I know that far more union members work extracting fossil fuels than install solar panels.

    • dick says:

      I have had close relatives who were in the legislature, and from hearing them talk, these are my best answers:

      What about “Support this carbon tax, and we’ll cut an equal number of other taxes elsewhere, maybe more taxes elsewhere, including on big business, so everyone wins”?

      Legislators generally don’t like win-win deals, not because they’re jerks but because one party is almost always more powerful than the other. If I have more power than you and I offer you a fair trade, I’m leaving something on the table, by definition. This is more or less why the Democrats didn’t support the WA state carbon tax discussed above. The guy who wrote the tax’s position was “Hey, maybe if we don’t festoon this bill with unrelated stuff that the other party hates, we can actually get it passed” and the Dems’ position was, “Hey, this bill is so sure to pass that we would be crazy not to festoon it with unrelated stuff the other party hates.”

      What about “Looks like we need two Republican Senators to defect in order to pass this carbon tax, if two Republicans should happen to support it, we’d spend the whole $150 billion raised in their districts”?

      The parties (and, to a certain extent, the voters) have come up with the same solution to the Prisoner’s Dilemma as the Mafia – develop a reputation for punishing defectors severely. Goodwill within your party is more important than goodwill across the aisle, partially to move legislation but mostly for re-election purposes, so defection is pretty rare. This isn’t a universal law; there are legislators in swing districts who can (or must) defect sometimes, but the other side knows that, and takes it in to account when deciding how much unrelated stuff to festoon the bill with as described above. So in practice, any deal that any side offers is already maximally distasteful to the other side. And that doesn’t happen because a person at the top of each party enforces it, it’s an emergent property of the intra-party tit-for-tat dickering that has to occur for the bill to get written (because even within the party, Democrat A has more power than Democrat B and can use it to include more of what he wants at B’s expense).

      So, basically it’s another coordination trap. Sometimes a particularly charismatic deal-maker gets everyone together, sometimes a particularly adept wonk crafts legislation that looks like a win to both sides, but usually Moloch prevails and a bunch of individuals act in their own best interests and fail to serve the best interests of the larger group. The exceptions are cases where both sides fear no deal more than a bad deal (Omnibus spending bills, e.g.) and the cases where no coordination is necessary because one party can ram through whatever they want. The latter’s not true, and judging by their behavior even the leftiest Dems don’t seem to view climate change as urgent enough to accept a less-than-optimal trade.

    • Clutzy says:

      I, frankly, don’t understand the last part of the question:

      How is a policy that makes hundreds of billions of dollars this hard to get through?

      Obviously all the billions it “makes” comes from taxpayers, and there is additional dead weight loss caused by the imposition of the tax.

      Given that confusion I’ll move to your other point.

      What about “Support this carbon tax, and we’ll cut an equal number of other taxes elsewhere, maybe more taxes elsewhere, including on big business, so everyone wins”?

      The most logical explanation for this is that a carbon tax is mostly favored by Democrats because they favor additional taxes, not because of anything carbon-specific. Thus, your plan is basically the opposite of what they want.

    • BBA says:

      After the 115th Congress accomplished almost nothing with unified control of government, I’ll be surprised the next time Congress passes anything at all. Even post office renamings aren’t passing anymore.

    • Andrew Hunter says:

      This thread is getting bogged down in questions about the ability to enforce bargains and game theory, and ignoring the briefly-mentioned fact of Washington State.

      A carbon tax was proposed. It was revenue neutral. The Sierra Club, the Democratic Party, and all other relevant players on the left opposed it, as they weren’t interested in taxing carbon unless they also were handed a pile of cash to distribute as they wish.

      From this I conclude strongly that they don’t actually believe in carbon pricing, but in some combination of power and virtue signaling. But in any case it answers your question neatly: the purported proponents of the tax would not be in favor of this in any configuration.

      • Plumber says:

        @Andrew Hunter,
        In majority Democrat California a “cap and trade” system was implemented in 2013, and there has been a cutback on emissions.

        • Clutzy says:

          That isn’t a rebuttal. They got something they wanted (government control over energy) for nothing.

          • Plumber says:

            @Clutzy,
            True, it’s also much easier to sell to voters than a gas tax, ’cause there’s a small (infinitesimal) chance the cost will be borne by shareholders (as if!) instead of passed on to customers in higher prices.

            The State gets credit for “Fighting climate change”, and P, G & E gets the blame for higher prices (except by informed libertarians, but you guys are a pretty tiny part of the total electorate).

            It’s a winner!

          • Clutzy says:

            Heh.

            That is why I have always said that a fascist is just a pragmatic socialist (modern practical definition not pre-WWI idealist “workers own the means” version). You get 95% of the control, with only 5% of the accountability.

      • dick says:

        Not wanting something at a certain price is not the same as not wanting it at all. Evidence: I want a Tesla but do not own one.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Why would the Sierra Club care about regressive taxes?

          https://www.sierraclub.org/washington/sierra-club-position-carbon-washington-ballot-initiative-732

          Communities of color and low-income people are almost always the ones most impacted by pollution and climate change, and as a result they need to be at the front and center of discussions for how to address the problem and

          So, intersectionality is taking over everything? The NRA can’t just be a gun-rights group, they need to support every conservative position. The ACLU can’t just be a civil-rights group, they need to support every liberal position. Or, like phigment says below, every issue becomes national and it’s just one giant blob of “Democrats” and “Republicans” stomping on each other’s faces, forever.

      • cassander says:

        From this I conclude strongly that they don’t actually believe in carbon pricing, but in some combination of power and virtue signaling.

        I suggest a more generous interpretation. they care about carbon pricing, but they’re not nearly as excited about it as they are carbon pricing + money.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          I suggest a more generous interpretation

          I *live* here. This was the first social-restructuring ballot issue I voted *for* instead of against, *ever*. I went to the discussion meetings, and I heard the reasons for opposition spoken out of the mouths of the reps from the progressive orgs.

          There is no need to fake up a false “generous interpretation”.

          They wanted moar money. Period. And they did not want anything to do with anything that may take any oomph out of the excuses they have been using to demand moar money. They did not give two wet turds for the projected CO2 emmission drops under the proposed plan, nor did they care about the reduced tax burden on the poorest.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            The thing is, the bulk of the current environmental movement is overgrown astro-turf.

            The sierra club went to bat to get diablo canyon built, then natural gas and coal money started flowing, and suddenly there were a lot more environmental movements around, and all of them had “Kill nuclear” as their number one priority.

            https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/03/28/the-dirty-secret-of-renewables-advocates-is-that-they-protect-fossil-fuel-interests-not-the-climate/#6849a6b01b07 Summerizes a lot of this shit.

            Disinformation is the game, and fossil fuel industry is very, very good at it. You think climate change denial was their only angle of attack?

            This is a problem, because fossil fuels are an ongoing genocidal disaster worse than just about anything, excepting only energy poverty (Not having power is about the only energy policy that kills more people)

            Its not virtue signaling. The people on the ground are lied to and kept engaged via constant cognitive dissonance – They cant admit error, because that makes them the villains of the tale, the upper ranks include people who damn well know what they are doing, and a bunch of people who are keeping their eyes closed and going “The horse will sing any day now”.

            Honestly, the one thing the world could really do with is a set of techniques to allow people to get off high horses without breaking their damn fool necks. Trump is building concentration camps without loosing support via this exact same mechanism – His supporters cannot permit themselves to realize he is fucking Evil, because what would that say about them.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Trump is building concentration camps without loosing support via this exact same mechanism – His supporters cannot permit themselves to realize he is fucking Evil, because what would that say about them.

            I would prefer the foreigners stop illegally trying to enter my country (and no, fraudulent asylum claims are not “legal”). These are the only concentration camps in the world people are desperate to get in to. So, no, I don’t think Trump is evil, I think the foreigners and their enablers are…some word that basically means evil but sounds charitable.

            Just saying, your model of Trump supporters is definitely wrong, so your model of environmental activists might be suspect too.

          • Randy M says:

            some word that basically means evil but sounds charitable.

            Desperate?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Edit: Deleted. None of this is charitable and I don’t want to get into it. Point is, Thomas, no, Trump supporters are not secretively disgusted by Trump’s evil but too stubborn to admit it. We have a very different idea of who’s the good guys and who the bad guys are here.

          • Plumber says:

            @Thomas Jorgensen,

            For the record I didn’t vote for Trump (his Party is still too anti-union for my tastes), but I feel some sympathy for his supporters, and when if comes to immigration what looks like “the right thing” depends on where you are, who you are, and who you feel more solidarity with. 

            As far as I can tell the cases for more immigrants are:

            1) Christian solidarity/humanitarian, basically they’d be better off here than there (otherwise they wouldn’t want to come here) and it’s nice to be nice. 

            2) The U.S. birth is falling, the population is getting older, and we could use willing hands that grew up somewhere else (so our tax dollars didn’t pay for their schooling).

            As far as I can tell the case for less immigrants is:

            The rent is too damn high, wages are too low, roads are crowded.

            From 1941 to 1973 the majority of Americans, especially including the “least among us” (i.e. African-Americans, Appalachians, et cetera) had living standards rise at a rate not seen since.

            It just so happens that from 1921 to 1965 immigrantion was restricted more than before and afterwards, and it can be argued that the less competition for jobs, places to rent, et cetera, helped the working class already in the U.S.A. thrive, and not just because of raw numbers, because just by being able to get here immigrants demonstrate ambition, physical endurance, and/or cleverness, and employers know this and that makes it harder for many Americans to compete for jobs with them.

            Frankly I think dying towns (i.e. Detroit in the ’90’s) that are being abandoned may be helped by more immigrants, but in places where the problems are unaffordable housing and overcrowding (San Francisco today) less immigrants could be helpful for the folks already there. 

            It’s often been noted that while Trump’s voters are usually in the top half income wise for the areas they’re in, the areas themselves tend to be poorer than the areas that voted for Clinton (the rural poor tend to vote less), and it’s reasonable to assume that Trump’s voters notice the relative decline in the areas they live in and wanted that turned around and “Make America Great Again” is an effective slogan.

            I don’t know about other areas that voted for Clinton, but in San Francisco (where I work) most of my co-workers in the last decade have been immigrants, and in the last two years most of my co-workers have been the children of immigrants (I’ll note that both of my wife’s parents were immigrants, as is the mother of my brothers wife, and I’ll further note that the majority of my peers growing up left town because housing was unaffordable with the wages they could earn), and it makes sense that in areas with so many who are immigrants or have relatives who are voters here would be more sympathetic to allowing more immigration (yes I’m area of the irony that I think the places most hurt by immigration are more supportive of it, and that some areas that are against further immigration may be helped by it).

            I really don’t think either view is “Evil”, it’s a case of feeling more solidarity with desperate foreigners or of feeling more solidarity with desperate Americans.

            To be clear: I don’t like Trump, he seems to me to be a boss of the type I don’t like, but I really don’t think his voters are “deplorables” either, but then I also think that I (a Democrat) and it least one SSC commenter who’s pro Trump were in Congress together we could come up with enough agreement and compromises between us that would be more pleasing to both the majority of Democrats and the majority of Republicans than the status quo (though I also think that we’d get so few donations and so much resistance from others in our respective Parties that our chances of re-election would be slim).

            I’ll also note that both Democrats and Republicans who earn less than $40,000 a year in annual income, and those who make more than $200,000 in annual income tend to be more sympathetic to some of the policies of the other Party than the average voter in their respective Parties, and really it’s folks with college educations who earn between $80,000 to $200,000 (especially whites) who are the most partisan.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            1) Christian solidarity/humanitarian, basically they’d be better off here than there (otherwise they wouldn’t want to come here) and it’s nice to be nice.

            2) The U.S. birth is falling, the population is getting older, and we could use willing hands that grew up somewhere else (so our tax dollars didn’t pay for their schooling).

            As far as I can tell the case for less immigrants is:

            The rent is too damn high, wages are too low, roads are crowded.

            From 1941 to 1973 the majority of Americans, especially including the “least among us” (i.e. African-Americans, Appalachians, et cetera) had living standards rise at a rate not seen since.

            1) Yeah, this is a big concern, since we’re talking about letting in people who are basically the existing Red tribe except for not being Anglophone and exact Catholic/Protestant ratio. A “Sailer strategy” where we throw open the Mexican border but reward Mexicans for speaking English and identifying as white would pose no threat to our culture.

            But then, the rent is too high and the labor supply is quite high too…

          • albatross11 says:

            Plumber:

            Another argument for more immigration is the belief that it will make the whole US (including the current residents) better off overall, in the long run, by expanding the economy, providing labor and consumers that will drive business, etc. Historically, the US has done really well with lots of immigration, so this isn’t an obviously nuts argument, and there’s a fair bit of data that suggests that immigration doesn’t generally make the existing residents worse off.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Plumber,

            The rent is too damn high, wages are too low, roads are crowded.

            My own concerns about immigration come from a pretty different source.

            America’s culture for two centuries after the founding was a transplant and blossoming of a culture that started in Western Europe, which had invented a particular suite of ideas like individual liberty, limited government, self-reliance, motivation based on dignity rather than honor, popular sovereignty, and the separation of church and state. We don’t have a clear idea of why that particular suite of ideas arose when and where it did; at least part of it has to do with the development of English Common Law. It proved possible for the English to transplant it in places like India and Hong Kong, but other parts of the world in more recent years have proven tougher nuts to crack.

            We also don’t have a clear idea of how robust or fragile this suite of ideas is. Even a considerable stream of immigrants can be assimilated to this culture if this is something both they and the existing residents want, but in recent years the will to do this has largely evaporated.

            If we suddenly doubled the population of the US by adding an equal number of, say, Somalis (yes, I know there aren’t that many Somalis), I fear it would mean that the Congress was half-full of representatives like Ilhan Omar — which, while terrible, would only be a symptom of the accompanying changes in our culture and society. Nobody expects that sudden an influx, but what level of influx can we support without turning into a low-trust society that is no longer based fundamentally on that suite of ideas? I don’t know.

            I’m not worried about rent or crowding or wages. Our society and economy is more than capable of providing a place for lots more people than it does — if those people share the values that make that society and economy work so very well. In that regard, I’m afraid our society is running on fumes already, as we seem to have stopped even trying to teach those values to our own offspring.

          • Another Throw says:

            Suppose you have two countries; Country A has 10 residents with $100 of productivity apiece, while Country B has 100 residents with $10 of productivity apiece. Through a miraculous bit of politicking, Country B is annexed by Country A.

            On the one hand, you have

            expanding the economy, providing labor and consumers that will drive business, etc

            I mean, common, you just freaking doubled the GDP overnight!

            On the other, exactly nothing has changed. In order for this to actually make anyone better off, their productivity needs to increase.

            This may or may not happen.

            For the sake of argument we will say that productivity changes are driven by either capital investments, or policy choices/societal institutions. Capital (and goods) are substantially more mobile than people are. The mobility of capital and goods is essentially the reason that however many billions of people have been raised from global poverty in the last however many years. Insofar as people are mobile, they really, really like to bring their policy preferences and societal institutions with them. If Country B’s relative lack of worker productivity is the result of the lack of capital, the merger may tend to increase worker productivity and make everyone better off; however, if Country B’s relative lack of worker productivity is the result of the policy preferences and societal institutions of its inhabitants, the merger may on net decrease productivity and make everyone worse off.

            It would be really nice if, before blinding charging into this bit of politicking, someone tried to determine which way it is likely to go. Again, we notice that capital is really, really mobile and has been raising billions of people from poverty. If Country B is not already being pumped up by global capitalism, there is a reason to suspect that, maybe, the policy preferences or societal institutions of its residents has something to do their relative lack of worker productivity.

            This would argue for maybe not throwing the borders completely open to all comers, but limiting the rate to a level were you’re not likely to overwhelm the policy preferences and societal institutions that enable higher productivity.

            (ETA: I have never looked into it, but I suspect you would find that the people most likely to want to illegally immigrate by border crossing to the US (and migrate to Europe) are from countries that global capitalism seems to be leaving behind.)

          • albatross11 says:

            The whole point of immigration is that the people coming to the US from Mexico/Venezuela/Nigeria/Bangladesh/Albania/etc. are coming to participate in in our economy–they’ll be looking for work in the US, and if they find it, they’ll be paying rent/buying homes, buying goods and services, etc., here. And their kids will grow up here speaking perfect English and largely assimilated to American norms.

            There’s an argument that this will make us better off as a country, made by economists with a fair bit of data on their side. They may be wrong for various reasons, but it’s not a crazy argument. Similarly, we can look at US history and see that we’ve assimilated a whole lot of immigrants from lots of very poor and backward places, and done pretty well out of the deal as a country. So again, this argument may or may not be correct (I’m not certain either way), but it’s not crazy or obviously wrong.

            FWIW, my biggest qualm with open borders is the potential volume of integration. I think with no restrictions, we might have a billion people who’d like to come here and participate in our first-world economy rather than the shitty third-world economy they currently have access to. And I’m worried that a billion immigrants (or anything remotely close to that) would radically change the US on all kinds of levels, perhaps in ways that wouldn’t be fixed by eventual assimilation and economic growth.

          • albatross11 says:

            Le Maistre Chat:

            If past experience is any guide, Mexicans and Central Americans who immigrate to the US will assimilate just fine. Their kids will mostly be blue collar and won’t (if history repeats) perform as well in school as white Americans, but they’ll otherwise do okay. The grandkids of the immigrants will largely intermarry with white or black Americans, think of themselves as 100% American, and maybe know a little Spanish they use for talking with their older relatives who don’t speak much English.

            This may be good or bad for other reasons, but if there’s one group we’ve demonstrated we can assimilate into US culture really well under current conditions, it’s Mexicans and Central Americans.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            albatross11:

            Well, yeah. Unless you were a FOB Latino in the 1950s, the normative model was someone like Desi Arnez, which shows that assimilation was fast and led to intermarriage. This was as good a thing as bringing in the Irish or Germans.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        A carbon tax was proposed. It was revenue neutral.

        Not only that, it was carefully designed to actually make WA state’s regressive tax structure progressive for the bottom quintile, so the very poorest would be paying much less and everyone else a little more.

        The “progressives” hated THAT too, because they instead wanted to raise money to then build complicated full-time-staffed new state agencies to dole out money in complicated ways in order to buy favors and voting interest blocs out of the very poorest and out of a brand new cohort of state and muni employees, instead of just making the very poorest all a little less poor.

        I learned the same lesson Andrew did: PNW progressives do not actually care about carbon and they do not actually care about the regressive state tax system they constantly complain about. All they actually want is virtue signalling, buying voting favors, and paying salaries to all the the people with useless degrees staffing the well-connected progressive non-profits in Seattle who are literally *literally* in bed with members of the Seattle, King County, and WA State elected chambers.

    • vV_Vv says:

      Talk is cheap. Putting taxpayers’ money where your mouth is hard.

      When Macron tried to increase fuel taxes, with the explicitly stated purpose of reducing carbon emissions, he provoked the yellow vest protests. There were other underlying issues, of course, but there are always underlying issues, politicians really don’t want to give all the people who are pissed off a clear flag to rally under.

    • David W says:

      In order to support a carbon tax, you need to accept certain positions. First, you need to believe that global warming is a real problem and CO2 driven. Second, you need to believe that neither government experts, nor scientists, nor environmentalists, know how to cut CO2 emissions. Third, you need to believe that Big Business does know how to cut CO2 emissions, and that they will respond to a tax by cutting emissions rather than finding a loophole to evade the tax.

      I don’t think it’s hard to convince Democrats of the first piece of that syllogism, but it’s very hard to convince Democrats of the second and third. It’s not likely that they trust business more than government and non-profit experts. That also means that they don’t believe businesses are speaking the truth when complaining about the cost of direct regulations. It all results in a distrust of a solution that is indirect and only works by way of complicated accounting. I assume that a carbon tax operates on net CO2 emissions, but that introduces a lot of opportunity for ‘this CO2 doesn’t count because…’

      All of that means that I don’t think it’s obvious to a majority of Democrats that they should even want a carbon tax, let alone want it badly enough to give up concessions and political capital to get it. It’s probably pretty easy to see as a distraction from the simple regulations that would get the job done. If not a distraction, maybe it’s a way for bankers to make a fortune moving numbers around without actually changing the atmosphere.

      Finally, there are a lot of practical concerns. What’s the right price? How do you implement a carbon tax fairly, that doesn’t end up shaking down the homeless for the privilege of breathing? Once you accept one exception, how do you draw a principled line around what is and isn’t net CO2 emission? How does it apply to government entities such as the TVA and the military? How do you audit this?

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        If we don’t know the social cost of carbon, then we can’t do the cost-benefit analysis that would tell us which simple regulations are beneficial and which are not. So this “practical concern” is really yet another political concern: the debate over the correct level of carbon tax threatens to lay bare the uncertainty that’s already there. If Democrats were the only people we need to be on board, this could perhaps be worked around: take the same Top. Men. who would have been in charge of arbitrarily laying down simple regulations, and have them arbitrarily set the social cost of carbon instead. But how do you get Republicans to trust the result?

        • Matt M says:

          If we don’t know the social cost of carbon, then we can’t do the cost-benefit analysis that would tell us which simple regulations are beneficial and which are not. So this “practical concern” is really yet another political concern

          Bob Murphy has done some great work on this – specifically on how a lot of opaque assumptions (such as, what discount rate to use) can have dramatically large affects on the calculated value of the social cost of carbon, thereby suggesting dramatically different policy proposals.

          Basically, depending on which guidelines you pick for which discount rate you should use, the answer to “what should we do about climate change” can be anything from “do nothing at all” to “ban all emissions now” and anywhere in between, and that’s all fiddling with a single economic assumption about time preference that takes “the consensus science” at face value and doesn’t make any assumptions about it whatsoever.

    • Lillian says:

      What about “Looks like we need two Republican Senators to defect in order to pass this carbon tax, if two Republicans should happen to support it, we’d spend the whole $150 billion raised in their districts”?

      This is called “pork barrel”, it’s one of the things that allows legislature to function when they need to pass particularly difficult bills, but it’s ludicrously unpopular with voters so Congress has been steadily doing it less and less, which is part of why it’s become increasingly dysfunctional, grid-locked, and partisan.

    • PedroS says:

      I see two ways for a carbon tax to work: either as a way to levy exactly the amount of revenue needed to offset the externalities imposed by CO2 (i.e. as a way to fund a “climate-insurance” or to e.g. build dikes against rising ocean levels, etc.) or as a way to make fossil fuel use more expensive and therefore accelerate the phase-out of CO2-producing industries. In the first instance, decreasing other taxes would hurt state budgets (since the newly raised revenue from carbon tax is locked away in the novel 2climate mitigating strategies fund” ) In the second instance, I think the simultaneous decrease of other taxes (if levied from the exact same population) would prevent the real increase of price of fossil fuels and therefore counteract the expected causal connection between the carbon tax and the decrease of CO2 emissions.

      • In the second instance, I think the simultaneous decrease of other taxes (if levied from the exact same population) would prevent the real increase of price of fossil fuels and therefore counteract the expected causal connection between the carbon tax and the decrease of CO2 emissions.

        The point of a carbon tax isn’t to reduce fossil fuel consumption by making people poorer, it’s to reduce it by making fossil fuel relatively more expensive. There are all sorts of margins where you are balancing the cost of different ways of achieving the same objective.

        Consider keeping your house warm, which is one major use of energy. One way is to put in more heat. One way is to have more insulation. One way is to move south. The cost of the first mostly depends on the cost of power, the cost of the other two doesn’t. Similarly for the choice of a power company between burning fossil fuels, using nuclear power, using solar or wind power. The choice of a driver between a car that gets more mpg and one that is heavier, safer, able to carry more people and stuff.

        • PedroS says:

          I agree that the objective is not “to make people poorer”, but rather helping to channel demand into non-CO2-emitting energy sources or reducing energy demand. I simply do not see how that can be achieved in a revenue-neutral way IF the tax decreases falls on EXACTLY the same population that has to pay the new CO2 tax, since the overall effect would be the equalization of fossil fuel energy prices pre- and post- CO2 tax.

          To say it in another way: if (p. ex) , to decrease the regressiveness of a 50-cent per gallon tax on gasoline, a tax credit in the same amount is given to every taxpayer, the final gasoline price ends up being exactly the same (since otherwise the policy would not be revenue-neutral). However, if only the poorer 10% people get a tax credit, the policy can only be revenue-neutral if their tax credit is 10 times as large as the average CO2-tax paid be everybody. Would that be politically feasible? On the one hand, this means an effective increase in the purchasing power of the bottom 10%, which should be attractive to people who favour tax-redistribution. On the other hand, this would be denounced as an unconscionable hand-out by those who fear that such wealth redistribution may disincentivize work.

          • IF the tax decreases falls on EXACTLY the same population that has to pay the new CO2 tax, since the overall effect would be the equalization of fossil fuel energy prices pre- and post- CO2 tax.

            The tax decrease on you doesn’t depend on how much energy you consume or in what form. The effect of the CO2 tax does.

          • PedroS says:

            “The tax decrease on you doesn’t depend on how much energy you consume or in what form. The effect of the CO2 tax does.”
            You are right, but aggregate tax-neutrality is only achieved if the total tax decrease is made to fluctuate to match the revenue generated by the carbon tax. Individually, there will always be a fraction of the population who is paying more in CO2-tax than they are getting in rebate. I do not have any problem with that. But THOSE people will feel cheated and lied to when they see that a tax that was claimed to be neutral is hurting them. Just witness the Yellow Vests protests in France over their increased fuel tax: they are not protesting that the State is getting more revenue, but rather protesting that they are requested to pay more. They would protest jsut as much (or even louder) if they were told that their fuel costs are increasing in the same amount but somebody else is getting tax breaks. I favor a carbon tax but I want it to be honest: just admit that the CO2-tax is a way to internalize the externalities of fossil fuels and indeed set that revenue aside for climate-change mitigation/insurance.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Has any Democrat tried something like telling the Republicans “Support this carbon tax, and we’ll give all the money to whatever cause you want, maybe tax cuts for the rich and new border guards”? How is that not a winning bet?

      The electorate doesn’t want problems solved. If they did, they would elect people who solved problems.

      The electorate wants people who smash the other tribe.

      • Alternatively, the electorate wants problems solved, but since the individual voter has little information on what will solve problems and almost no incentive to get more, the system elects people who offer solutions that make sense to someone who doesn’t know much or think very hard about the problem, and those are rarely good solutions.

    • Urstoff says:

      They’re just not popular with the public, right? My guess is, no matter the political party, people see carbon tax as a tax on gasoline, and if there’s one thing people hate, it’s paying more for gas. Being revenue neutral doesn’t mitigate the fact that people see prices at gas stations going up. So we get lots inefficient regulations that indirectly increase the cost of lots of things rather than attacking the problem directly.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Bloomberg weighs in.

      https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-06-25/the-republican-case-for-a-carbon-tax

      This time, the national Democratic Party enlisted the support of organizations like the Sunrise Movement to ensure that the plan would be compatible with the so-called climate-justice movement. The final product includes language “guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security” to all Americans as well as a vow to repair the “historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, [and] people with disabilities.”

      Yeah.

  9. Paul Brinkley says:

    A few comments disappeared, starting with a reply to Garrett in the divorce subthread. I don’t know why.

  10. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I find I’m still fond of the idea of a full-sized Everest climbing wall, even if it might not take the pressure off Everest. I bet people would use it. It might be used as a qualification for climbing Everest, too.

    What do you think it would take to build one and keep it from falling over? How about building on to the top of existing mountains to get more height?

    • HeelBearCub says:

      No Everest climbing wall will take the pressure off of Everest. K2 is a harder climb but it’s not “the best” (i.e. the highest) so no one cares.

      But, if we are in hypothetical land, you don’t need the height, you need the low atmospheric pressure. Build a series of simulated climbs inside a very, very large pressure chamber so you can simulate the Everest death zone.

      • acymetric says:

        What? I’m pretty sure people are attracted to the height (I climbed the tallest mountain!) not the low pressure at the peak. I don’t think simulating the atmospheric conditions at the peak gets you anywhere, unless you’re going full Truman show and simulating the atmosphere as part of an elaborate setup that convinces people they actually climbed Everest when really they were just messing around in your weird structure.

        To the original question, I suspect that the engineering challenges involved overlap quite a bit with the challenges in building the space elevator, so that would be a good starting point.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Yes, people are attracted to the height. I explicitly made that point.

          And no ersatz structure will take the pressure off of the real thing.

          But if you want people to be able to practice or qualify for Everest, I was thinking of something far more likely to be buildable than an 8848 meter tall structure that is the same volume as Everest.

          If you really, really want something as tall as Everest you will have to try build something on one of the nearby peaks that are nearly as tall as Everest. Good luck with building in the death zone though.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Building a fake wall as high as Everest would be incredibly, possibly prohibitively, expensive, but HBC’s idea to build an Everest-simulator is much cheaper. You have a series of rooms with decreasing pressure per room, and if someone has a medical condition, you can either re-pressurize, or send in rescue workers who are completely fresh.

            If built, it might be the first real-world X-Men Danger Room.

          • acymetric says:

            I sort of misread the original post as having the goal of replacing the Everest climb, which it explicitly said might not be the goal.

            That said, I don’t think the pressure chamber really helps with qualification, as it is your actual climbing ability that is necessary to qualify.

            Of course, an Everest sized climbing wall would actually be harder than climbing Everest, assuming it is a standard, vertical wall.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            That said, I don’t think the pressure chamber really helps with qualification, as it is your actual climbing ability that is necessary to qualify.

            Uh, not to be a jerk but, re-read my post?

            What I am trying to convey is that if you want to simulate Everest (in hypothetical world), build simulated versions of actual Everest topography in the largest low-pressure chambers ever devised. I believe that the actual ascent of Everest, even in the death zone, is broken into climbs followed by rests. Simulate the climbs and use the rests to reposition the participants for the next climb.

      • Urstoff says:

        So we just need to add a few hundred meters onto K2; should be pretty simple.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      Crazy idea: why not build it on the actual Everest? We don’t need to make it “as hard” as the real deal – quite the opposite (plus, less chance of getting sued).

      I’m thinking this might take pressure off Everest, by making it totally uncool to climb, regardless of height. True, we might attract even more people who’d never actually attempt the real deal, but fancy their chances on the climbing wall.

      To avoid this, we must endeavour to make the experience miserable in all respects, with long lines, bland, expensive food and not enough toilets.

    • Lambert says:

      Do you really need the whole wall to be there at once?

      Why not put on of those treadmill rock walls inside an airliner, and ask the pilots to match your simulated height?

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I don’t know about *need*. I think a full scale climbing wall is much cooler. Also, any of the cheaper versions don’t have the view from the top.

        If you want the details of Everest, then you do want something better than a treadmill.

        If you want something relatively sensible, you could have a series of walls– you climb one, then you have a elevator to take you to the next wall. Each room has suitable temperature and air pressure.

        I was going to say a down elevator, but you’d use up elevators when you do the whole thing in reverse to finish.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          You keep saying climbing wall. I don’t think that’s an accurate way to describe something that mimicked Everest.

          It’s a mountain, there are sections that require climbing, but most of it is hiking. Some sections of the trail are quite steep, but still you’d hike up the trail, not climb it like a wall.

          • Lambert says:

            Yeah. What you want is a really steep indoor ski-slope/ wind tunnel.

            Any skiiers/mountaineers here know if you could reasonably cut or kick steps in indoor snow?

          • brmic says:

            My stock answer is to point out that I’m a climber, and that Everest isn’t a climb, but a walk. This usually gets the person at the other end a bit confused and flustered as they check their notes. “Yes” I usually continue “If you have to step over a dead body half way up then it’s classed as walk. On real climbs the bodies fall to the bottom”.

            https://andy-kirkpatrick.com/blog/view/everest_sucking_on_the_barrel

  11. Hey says:

    Shares for Andrew Yang’s victory in the 2020 US election are currently trading around 14 cents on PredictIt (one cent on this market corresponds to a 1% probability of the event happening). It seem pretty clear (at least to me) that these odds are overestimated, and that there is some money to be made by betting as much as possible against it. I sadly can’t do so myself, because I’m not a US citizen, but from what I’ve seen, any US citizen could buy some shares and make a decent profit, even with the 5% withdrawal fee.

    So, Americans of SSC, why don’t you short these shares ? Do you think Yang actually has such a high chance of winning ? Is there something weird about the order book or about the way the site works that can’t be seen without an account ? Is it too much effort for too little money given the bet limit and the fees ? Or did nobody notice the $20 bill that’s been lying on the ground for the past three days ?

    • Plumber says:

      @Hey,
      I simply never heard of the “opportunity”, but even if I had I’m extremely wary of doing any financial transactions on-line.

      • souleater says:

        Maybe consider a blockchain based coin, specifically Auger which was designed for prediction market betting.

        I never used it personally, haven’t researched it and I’m specifically not recommending it. But I like the idea of a safe decentralized prediction market, if that is what it is.

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      Withdrawal fees, setting up another account, what’s the minimum purchase, any holding periods, when does this actually pay out, does this affect my taxes, will my purchases affect the actual trading price because volume is so low…

      Honestly doesn’t even sound worth my time to research, but back-of-envelope.
      Purchase Price: 86 cents
      Return: 14 cents
      Fee: 5 cents
      Actual Return: 9 cents
      Actual Return: 4.65%

      So you’re talking about a 4.65% return at maximum, but that’s not over the course of a year. That’s at LEAST through November 2020, so the actual annualized return is less, and inflation is going to eat up a good chunk.

      Yeah, I think I’ll just drink some mojitos and sit outside rather than going through the work to set up another account that’s inevitably going to be hacked.

      • Hey says:

        OK, I file this under “too much effort for too little money”. I think the volume isn’t too low (the real limitation is the $850 per contract limit), but taxes, fees and inflation do take a very significant chunk of that money. Where did that 4.65% figure come from ?

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        You don’t need to wait until November 2020, right? You can sell it off when the price falls.

        Of course, I ain’t doing it either.

    • Atlas says:

      Or did nobody notice the $20 bill that’s been lying on the ground for the past three days ?

      On the basis of the argument that Nassim Taleb made in The Black Swan, I would be very careful about assuming that it is in fact a $20 bill.

      • Hey says:

        Which argument are you referring to exactly ? The efficient market hypothesis (if this was $20 lying on the ground, someone would already have picked it up), or the fat tail risk argument (the risk taken to get this bill is akin to picking pennies in front of a steamroller) ?

      • Cliff says:

        As a former semi-professional arbitrager of bets like these, I wouldn’t be skeptical at all. I have done virtually the same thing many times.

    • Matt M says:

      Because I’m already too busy betting against Buttgieg…

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Bet against both and you stand to make even more money and are arbitraged against the risk of either one actually winning.

        • Matt M says:

          Way ahead of you, except the other person I’m betting against is Elizabeth Warren.

          And those two together have reached the maximum threshold of money I’m willing to spend betting on elections.

        • pqjk2 says:

          arbitraged

          (partially) hedged?

    • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

      I don’t believe in gambling or speculation. There’s a difference between investing, where you buy something with value and accept the possibility that it may decrease in value, and buying something just because you expect other people to bid up the price.

      That’s also why I never got into cryptocurrency. I don’t have any actual use for owning Bitcoins, the only reason for me to buy them would be to try and time the market and unload them right before the price starts falling.

      • Hey says:

        In that case it isn’t pure speculation, the shares have actual value : if you short shares now, even if every other trader suddenly stops trading tomorrow, you’ll end up getting a dollar from PredictIt for each share next November (unless Yang wins).

        • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

          Obviously the shares have value in the sense that you can exchange them for money. But that’s a category which includes WoW gold and Dogecoin. It’s not value in the ordinary sense of the word, which is what I was talking about.

    • Prediction markets aren’t useful until you can lose millions of dollars on them.

    • honoredb says:

      I’ve shorted everyone, but Yang most of all. Every candidate gets supporters artificially increasing their odds, but I’m pretty sure Yang gets way more of that. I’m mad about the general election market; I shorted Yang at a measly 4%. Not that I’m losing money on the deal, even in the short term, because luckily there I shorted everyone about equally.

      • Lambert says:

        Am I correct in my hunch that shorting everyone makes sense only if a dutch book exists?

        • honoredb says:

          Technically no because it’s always possible that “none of the above” will win, but in practice there is often an actual dutch book for many-candidate predictit markets, where not only are you guaranteed a net win but you’re paid the guaranteed net part of your winnings up front immediately after completing your suite of bets–it is actual free money, protected mainly by interface friction.

          • honoredb says:

            An example of a non-dutch-book market where the winning move was to short everyone was Who will be put on the new $10 bill in 2016? Because a runaway hit musical being written about the existing face on the bill acted as a ridiculous little black swan.

          • Lambert says:

            So the limit is the number of man-hours it takes to find a dutch-bookable market, and limited maximum exploitation per person?
            Sounds possible to scale up to the point where the free money lying around dries up.

            If n unemployed people browse PredictIt all day, and agree to tell each other about any dutch books they find, shouldn’t they be able to each make almost n times as much money as they could individually?

            Is there even any disadvantage, after making the largest dutch book you can, to telling the rest of the world about it?

    • Doctor Mist says:

      PredictIt has an upper limit of $850 on any given bet. This makes it a fair bit of trouble to go to for a relatively small absolute return. I did make a little money last year betting that Hillary would not be indicted before April, and that Trump would be still be in office at the end of the year, but the odds I got those for were ridiculous — I think the opposition for the Trump bet was like 40% and for Hillary bet was like 25%, both obviously the result of partisans who were putting money on what they wanted to happen — but by the time I took the money out the result was pretty much just entertainment. Before I withdrew it, I did look around for any other sucker bets, since the 5% fee is for withdrawals, not for closing a bet, but didn’t see anything as obviously skewed as those two.

  12. Well... says:

    Bob Lazar was recently on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Anybody watch it? Did it move the needle for you at all?

    Personally I’m experiencing some cognitive dissonance: I find Lazar to be very credible, but I just can’t buy his story.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      The kicker for me was that there’s no evidence at all he went to Caltech or MIT. The government is powerful, but they’re not *that* powerful to erase all records. Given that he was in the bottom third of his high school class, the prior on him getting into MIT weren’t all that high to begin with.

      If anything he said were remotely true, CIA goons would have suicided him already. They’ve done more for less. Instead he talks about how all his associates get IRS audits every year. That’s an inconvenience. Nothing more.

      TL;DR: He’s full of shit.

    • thisheavenlyconjugation says:

      Who (in any context) is less credible than Lazar? I’m struggling to think of anyone.

    • Plumber says:

      @Well…,

      I didn’t catch the podcast, and it wouldn’t have “moved the needle” so much as create one because I don’t know who Bob Lazar is.

    • convie says:

      I watched and couldn’t finish because it seemed so obvious to me he was lying.

    • Well... says:

      To clarify why I think Lazar is credible: if there was a scientist trained in the things Lazar claims to have been trained in, I’d expect him to do and say the kind of things Lazar did and says. Plus, I dunno, watching him, aside from the outlandishness of his story, I just don’t get scammy BS vibes from him. He talks the way other scientists I’ve known or seen also talk, for the most part. If he’s full of BS, he’s doing a really good job at acting like someone who isn’t.

      @chrisminor0008: I agree, the bit about erasing him from MIT/Caltech is hard to believe, but it doesn’t strike me as impossible. Lazar’s defense, that he doesn’t want to ask his former friends/roommates to vouch for him because it would cause bad things to happen to them if they came forward, is suspiciously convenient but also reasonable and understandable.

      For me the biggest hurdle is just believing the US government had (has?) a bunch of alien spaceships hidden away that they were trying to reverse-engineer. And that these craft are apparently designed for small humanoids to operate. IF there’s life on other planets and IF it’s technologically advanced and IF it’s visited here and IF it’s somehow ceded or lost ivehicles to us (all nine craft, all secretly in the custody of the US government???), the notion that these life forms are basically shaped like small humans is just too ridiculous to swallow.

      • Jaskologist says:

        The life that’s from the other planets is not humanoid, but they long ago abducted/uplifted a few humans to work with locally. The spaceships we have are for the space humans.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        Assume UFOs are fake but incorrect belief is scattered among the population at random, 1:1000. The smartest of those guys is still going to look smart and sound smart.

        It’s amazing that he got along so well with everyone in college, both times, that there’s not one person he’s willing to get blackbagged by naming him as a roommate.

        If he spent time at those schools, someone else who went there at a similar time would know the lingo and culture and events and he’d be able to talk about them.

        • acymetric says:

          It’s amazing that he got along so well with everyone in college, both times, that there’s not one person he’s willing to get blackbagged by naming him as a roommate.

          Or that there wouldn’t be someone who came out in support of him despite the perceived risks. Actually, I would have expected someone to have done this already even if it weren’t true.

      • Enkidum says:

        You’ve said you find him credible on the one hand, but his story is nuts on the other.

        But your stated reasons for finding him credible are precisely the same ones you would use to judge that an actor is good at portraying a scientist. And there is very good reason to think that he might be, essentially, an actor, namely that there are enough gullible people out there that he can make a pretty good living doing so.

        And his story is still nuts (at least what you’ve described, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of the guy and based on what you’ve said I have no interest in learning more).

        So… I’m not sure what the conflict here is. The man’s a fraud and/or insane. Nothing else is even worth considering. (Unless there’s something major you’ve left out, but my priors strongly indicate there isn’t.)

        • Well... says:

          I’m not a Bob Lazar or UFO expert; I knew who he was when I was a kid and could draw the spaceship he described from memory, and I’ve watched the Joe Rogan podcast with him — that’s it. I haven’t been interested in UFOs since I was about 12 years old. (The one lingering thread might be that I like to read realistic sci-fi novels set in space?)

          Yes, he could be a very good actor portraying a scientist, but he would be not just a good actor but an extremely good and extremely dedicated one playing a long game that’s almost as long as his whole life: he did fiddle around with rocket engines since he was a kid, and he does currently own a business that sells scientific materials and equipment. Plus, the motive to lie like that is unclear although I suppose some people are just nuts in weird ways.

          To me a more likely alternative explanation might be that he was indeed a scientist employed in a top-secret position but that he saw things, or was made to see things, that weren’t what they appeared to be (to him). During the Cold War the government did a lot of odd things in the name of beating the Russians at 5D chess. I wouldn’t be completely surprised if hiring scientists, making them think they were witnessing alien technologies, and then waiting for one of them to “leak” the info (which the Russians were paying attention to) was part of that playbook.

          • Enkidum says:

            But you know there are frauds out there, lifelong ones, right? Joseph Smith, W.D. Fard Muhammad, Eric Von Daniken, Uri Geller, Alex Jones, etc. All of these people are/were highly authentic in appearance, and spent their entire adult lives convincing people to part with their money, precisely because they were so good at appearing authentic.

            Nothing else you’ve mentioned makes me think that this is anything other than one of these cases.

          • Well... says:

            I don’t think Bob Lazar ever asked anyone to part with their money, did he?

          • Enkidum says:

            Ah fair that’s a meaningful difference.

    • Protagoras says:

      Has he changed his story on the silly element 115 stuff over the years? The credibility of that seems to be a little lower now that we’ve made element 115 and it doesn’t seem to have any particular unexpected properties. Lower from an already incredibly low starting point, of course.

      • Auric Ulvin says:

        You mean that it’s been reported by the scientific establishment that 115 has no particular unexpected properties? I don’t have a world-class particle accelerator at home, neither do you, nor does anyone but the Russian-American team who made around 80 atoms of it (supposedly).

        You can’t attack a conspiracy theory by saying that an obscure scientific experiment disproved it. If it did have superweapon or superanything properties, that’s the sort of thing that would be concealed.

        • John Schilling says:

          You mean that it’s been reported by the scientific establishment that 115 has no particular unexpected properties?

          It has been more specifically reported that “element 115”, aka muscovium, has a half-life of approximately 0.6 seconds for its most stable isotope. This is pretty much a deal-breaker for any claim that the United States Government has a secret stash of the stuff that it got from the Zeta Reticulans and that Bob Lazar spent even the length of a short coffee break studying at Area 51.

          At the time Lazar started peddling his story, there was a sincere belief within the physics community that a confluence of nuclear symmetries would result in sn “island of stability“, where elements like 115 would be as insanely difficult to synthesize as any other transuranic element but would last for millions or billions of years if they existed at all. That made them an obvious hook for hanging dreams of superadvanced technology.

          Now that we’ve acquired the ability to synthesize even minute quantities of these elements, and in academic laboratories in multiple countries, it has become clear that the “island of stability” is more of a submerged seamount, a cluster of elements that are only slightly less intensely radioactive and short-lived than their neigbors. And so Bob Lazar’s credibility, also, has sunk beneath the surface where it will not endure more than a few hundred milliseconds’ scrutiny.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            the “island of stability” is more of a submerged seamount

            Ah, I had not heard that. I’m surprised to find that this gives me a little twinge of sadness. I wasn’t counting on any particular “superadvanced technology”, but it seemed like a cool thing and scratched my itch for the universe being more interesting and surprising than I thought.

          • John Schilling says:

            My thoughts as well.

          • Protagoras says:

            Indeed, I was also saddened that the island of stability has turned out to be less than hoped. I wonder how long it will be before science fiction starts to finally sour on the trope of alien or far future technology using entirely new elements.

  13. johan_larson says:

    From WIRED:

    https://www.wired.com/story/internet-made-dupes-cynics-of-us-all/

    Social scientists distinguish high-trust societies (ones where you can expect most interactions to work) from low-trust societies (ones where you have to be on your guard at all times). People break rules in high-trust societies, of course, but laws, regulations, and norms help to keep most abuses in check; if you have to go to court, you expect a reasonable process. In low-trust societies, you never know. You expect to be cheated, often without recourse. You expect things not to be what they seem and for promises to be broken, and you don’t expect a reasonable and transparent process for recourse. It’s harder for markets to function and economies to develop in low-trust societies. It’s harder to find or extend credit, and it’s risky to pay in advance.

    The internet is increasingly a low-trust society—one where an assumption of pervasive fraud is simply built into the way many things function.

    • Well... says:

      That roughly maps onto something I’ve said, that Twitter and Facebook were apps made by Ivy League kids for themselves and their dorm-mates, and they expected them to keep working the same way when they invited the whole world in to use them. Roger McNamee’s book “Zucked” gives a nice little history of Silicon Valley and it’s basically the same thing: a bunch of smart, conscientious nerds had themselves a little utopia with the early internet, and never considered that the social rules that made it work might not apply at larger scales. This was also Jaron Lanier’s lament about why everything horrible on the internet is now “free with ads”.

    • The Nybbler says:

      if you have to go to court, you expect a reasonable process

      Ha ha. Said like someone who has never been to court.

      • johan_larson says:

        Have you gone to court in a high-trust society?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Joke is obvious, but the US is normally considered a high-trust society, though not in the highest tier. In court… well, the cop’s word is gospel and yours is garbage.

          • J Mann says:

            Yeah, I have a high level of trust in the cop. 🙂

          • Mark Atwood says:

            The last time I went though vore dire, it was obviously a frustrating experience for the prosecutor, because even the grey haired grandmothers from the sleepy well-off neighborhoods were asking pointed questions about the trustworthyness of cops. Especially undercover drugwarriors. (It didn’t help the prosecutor at all for there to be a cop rep seated in the courtroom who looked like a poster child of jacked and swol roid rage.) I learned later that that court burned through 3 panels before they managed to seat a jury.

            One small but important change I would make is I would eliminate vore dire. It’s one of the major places where prosecutors corrupt justice.

          • John Schilling says:

            In court… well, the cop’s word is gospel and yours is garbage.

            I, in fact, have been in court for the purpose of testifying that the cop who accused me of fare-jumping was making an error of fact, and the judge promptly agreed that this was probably bullshit and asked me if I wanted to pursue the matter further or just have him dismiss the complaint on the spot.

            But “judge finds that obvious lying cop is obviously lying, expresses this finding tactfully”, is not particularly newsworthy. And “judge and everyone else in the courtroom finds that obvious lying criminal is obviously lying”, is solidly in “dog bites man” territory. So beware of selection bias when it comes to determining, without actually spending a lot of time in court, that courts always believe the cop.

          • acymetric says:

            This is probably highly dependent on the court/judge, and different people are going to have very different experiences.

            My personal anecdote is that an officer lied on the stand, in direct contradiction to his written report, and the judge opted to rely almost entirely on the “revised” version without regard to the discrepancy (I am not inferring this, the judge said it explicitly).

          • The Nybbler says:

            John, you’re an established expert in, I believe, multiple fields of endeavor. You have a high-level position at a major aerospace firm, not to mention a pilot’s license. I don’t know if the court knew any of this, but I’ll bet it shows and you came across as an Extremely Respectable Citizen. Most of those who come to court have none of that, and the judge doesn’t even look up as he repeats everything the cop said and proclaims us guilty.

          • bean says:

            I don’t know if the court knew any of this, but I’ll bet it shows and you came across as an Extremely Respectable Citizen.

            Counterpoint: I’ve met John in person several times. He comes off as solidly average in terms of respectability. He’s too much of a nerd to make Extremely Respectable Citizen, I think.

          • Andrew Hunter says:

            I don’t know if the court knew any of this, but I’ll bet it shows and you came across as an Extremely Respectable Citizen

            Hi, my name is Lord High Techbro. I’m 31 and look somewhere between five and eight years younger, read as somewhere between deeply nerdy and cocky, and am just autistic enough to be a little out of place in normal society.

            I have been in court on three occasions (traffic once, small claims twice [1]) In all three occasions I dressed like a sober professional, spoke to the judge politely and responsively, and came out extremely well. (Got the smallest possible penalty in traffic court when I was blatantly guilty and won both small claims cases.)

            If your thesis is responsibility politics, the bar is not deeply respectable graybeard, it’s normal member of society, and it says more about you than it does John.

            [1] Small claims court is amazing and I love it. For the record, I’m not a vexatious litigant; I sued a landlord once and defended my employer once.

          • John Schilling says:

            In all three occasions I dressed like a sober professional, spoke to the judge politely and responsively, and came out extremely well.

            I was a starving grad student at the time, IIRC, but yeah, this.

            And there may be an element of “white privilege” in my ability to do so, but I’m fairly confident that what matters to a judge is “This person is/is not at least trying to respectfully adhere to the social norms appropriate to a court of law” more than “this person does/does not know how to tie a flawless half-Windsor”.

          • The Nybbler says:

            One time I went to court the judge didn’t even bother to look up from his papers before finding me guilty. Or anyone else, for that matter. Another time (for the same incident, but a different judge) the judge listened to my story, found me guilty, and told me I was lucky the other judge wasn’t there or I’d be going to Rikers’ (New York’s Rikers’ Island, a serious prison where I’d probably be killed the first day, for riding my bike on the sidewalk… rather than running into the cop who stepped into my path). Another time (this one in NJ) the judge told me explicitly that the ticket was sufficient evidence of my guilt. Maybe some of you can expect a fair process. But I’m as much a stereotypical techie as Andrew, and over 15 years older, and I’ve never seen it, and will never expect it.

          • dick says:

            “You may claim that it’s possible to pick up women in bars, but I have evidence on my side – every single one I’ve asked said no!”

            I kid, I kid. But I’m pretty sure the thing about US courts being high trust is relative, not absolute.

          • brad says:

            I’m sure John is telling the truth about what happened. But if hundreds of judges are asking thousands of Johns if they want to pursue the matter further, where are the perjury convictions?

          • John Schilling says:

            @brad: Almost impossible to secure due to proof-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt concerns, which is why I didn’t pursue the matter further. If i’d had a few days to spare, I probably could have arranged for the cop to get a stern talking-to by the judge and maybe another quiet one by his boss, is all.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            stern talking-to by the judge and maybe another quiet one by his boss, is all.

            If I, at my job, lie in a ticket or CR about something that affects a customer even indirectly, I will get “talking to” too, but it will not at all be comfortable or kind. The second time, I will probably get managed out. The third time, the “manage out” process would be “prompt”.

            Why can’t cops and prosecutors manage to meet that bar?

          • John Schilling says:

            Cops have unions. Powerful unions. Prosecutors, in most places, have apathetic voters who vaguely approve of their “tough on crime” shtick and then get bored and go away.

          • Controls Freak says:

            If I, at my job, lie in a ticket or CR about something that affects a customer even indirectly… Why can’t cops and prosecutors manage to meet that bar? [emphasis added]

            Dr. Schilling can’t take his tax dollars to a different police company very easily.

          • acymetric says:

            Dr. Schilling can’t take his tax dollars to a different police company very easily.

            Crap, now I’m a libertarian in favor of a free market solution to policing.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            customer

            Unless you just want cops to do the bidding of those who pay them directly, I think you have found your intractable problem.

            And if the first clause is appealing, then you are in the market for mercs, not cops.

            ETA: To be more charitable in argument, the hypothetical person being mistreated by a cop is never the customer.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            My statement about customer impact is an artifact of the particular company I work for. I suspect that even things that don’t have customer impacts, if I had a couple of strikes of being “the guy who will lie to make my job easier”, I would be promptly managed out.

            As to my question as to why cops and prosecutors can’t hit that bar, my question was rhetorical, I knew the reason, it’s the reason that John stated. It was intended to make apologists either have to try harder to steelman a defense of this cesspool, or at least have a moment of feelbadz.

            That a cohort of different unions can all talk themselves into being ferocious defenders of some made up “workplace right” to *lie* by people who like to call themselves “sworn” because their recurring literal oaths to tell the truth, most such oaths now mere rubberstamps, that says a lot about many things, none of it good.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            I suspect that even things that don’t have customer impacts, if I had a couple of strikes of being “the guy who will lie to make my job easier”, I would be promptly managed out.

            Ah, but if you lie to make your boss’s job easier (or make shareholders richer), then you get promoted.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            Ah, but if you lie to make your boss’s job easier

            Then I’m a terrible boss, because I’ve “recommended for termination” people who I caught exhibiting “lack of candor” that, if I had let it slide, would have made my job easier and made it easier to at least appear to have hit delivery goals.

            I’ve seen other managers do the same, over my career. If someone will lie *for* you, then they also will lie *to* you, and they will lie *about* you.

            I freely admit I’m lucky, in that the dynamic you describe is a real thing. At lower levels in large companies, in my own observations, that dynamic plays out in ways that can be very CW.

          • Matt M says:

            Unless you just want cops to do the bidding of those who pay them directly

            This sounds a lot like the system we have now. The cops just do the bidding of the state, because that’s who pays them. I’d much rather the cops work for me, personally, and write them a check, personally, than under the current system, where they are trained to see me not as their boss, but as an enemy combatant.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Matt M:

            You definitely don’t want to live somewhere the cops expect to be paid by you, the individual citizen. That’s every “bribery is how I make my living” dysfunctionally corrupt dystopia out there.

            As to privately paid police, I think you will find that they rapidly devolve to exactly what we have now, with a side dish of “richest guys have de jure control of their own police force”.

            If what you really mean is you want anCap, that is an entire system, not piecemeal, and you still won’t be the real customer when you get hassled by the cops.

          • brad says:

            I wish there was some party that wanted to disband cop unions and civil service rules as they apply to cops. Even if I wasn’t going to vote for that party for other reasons at least I might expect them to win occasionally and put in place my preferred policy on those issues. Alas there is no such party. The Republicans won’t rein them in because they’re cops and the Democrats won’t rein them in because because they’re public sector workers.

      • HowardHolmes says:

        +1

    • theredsheep says:

      I don’t know, I’ve sure seen a lot of people accept a lot of plainly wrong or at least questionable things at face value because they were shared on FB–like that stupid Momo thing. Presumably Twitter is the same way.

    • Faza (TCM) says:

      Hmmm.

      Is it just me, or is it a very specific subset of the internet that is (turning into) a low-trust society?

      One of the most recent entries in my “stuff I did online recently” ledger is: ordered a mic stand, paid for with online bank transfer. I am reasonably confident that the bank will execute my payment and that the ordered merchandise will arrive in a couple of days.

      Overall, it seems a pretty high-trust environment situation.

      What the article talks about is the seedy side of the internet: the Googles, the Facebooks, the Amazons. These are people who’ve built mega-companies based on the (not unfounded) assumption that normal rules don’t apply to them. Are we surprised that the systems they created aren’t particularly good at enforcing rules that lead to high-trust societies?

      Less flippantly: the internet remains high-trust where it mostly replicates the kind of relationships and customs that you find offline. Whenever you get some Silly Valley joker with a wad of VC money burning a hole in his pocket proposing a “revolutionary, paradigm-changing model” or to “move fast and break things”, beating him with sticks is probably best for you, him and society at large.

      • John Schilling says:

        One of the most recent entries in my “stuff I did online recently” ledger is: ordered a mic stand, paid for with online bank transfer. I am reasonably confident that the bank will execute my payment and that the ordered merchandise will arrive in a couple of days

        I think the cash-for-goods market economy is going to be one of the highest-trust segments of any society, relatively speaking, because it basically can’t not be. “The merchant took my money and didn’t give me the stuff I paid for” is so blatantly, obviously, immediately fraudulent that this sort of untrustworthy actor is going to be cleared from the market in very short order, and selling grossly defective goods or paying with bounced checks won’t be tolerated much longer.

        So if you’re saying the internet is a high-trust society because when you pay merchants money you get the merchandise you nominally specified, that’s a pretty low bar that’s just as easily cleared in any tourist-trap market in Tijuana.

        • Faza (TCM) says:

          So if you’re saying the internet is a high-trust society because when you pay merchants money you get the merchandise you nominally specified, that’s a pretty low bar

          What I’m saying is that the parts of the internet that need to be high trust, are, in fact. When I was starting to muck about with this whole internet business in the mid/late 90s that was a hope and dream, not a given.

          That much of the rest of the internet is a wretched hive of scum and villainy shouldn’t surprise, because it was designed to be that way.

          • Matt M says:

            Agree. I think the internet is low-trust in areas where much of larger society is also low-trust.

            People have low trust in unsolicited emails that purport to offer them something of great value. Of course, they also have low trust in people coming up to them on the streetcorner and offering to sell them snake oil for a bargain price. Or asking to borrow money with a solemn promise that they will totally take your address down and repay you with interest.

            People have low trust in obtrusive advertising that promises to solve some sort of difficult and embarrassing medical problem. Of course, they also have low trust in low-budget 3 AM infomercials for the latest “wear this device and do nothing and you’re guaranteed to lose weight and look fantastic” device.

            The internet just tends to deliver these sorts of unsolicited/low-trust messages at a higher rate than society at large does, and they’re often harder to avoid.

      • johan_larson says:

        My thinking is that as long as you are a traditional customer, paying money for an actual service, things are mostly OK. The service provider has a lot of incentive to keep you happy. They may be tempted to offer less for more, but we’ve been dealing with that for a long time.

        The problem comes when you are getting a service for free or “free”. Now suddenly the company either has to get money from you in round-about ways, or it has to get money from someone else entirely. And now the service provider’s motives and reasons to keep you happy become more complicated. Adding third parties (who by the way are the ones with the cold hard cash) just has to make you matter less in the relationship.

        • Gobbobobble says:

          Re: the vidjagames thread elsewhere, you get additional problems when you are paying money for an actual service and the service provider tries to double-dip the cookie jar by adding on all the round-about crap. This erodes trust in even the traditional providers.

          • DinoNerd says:

            Hell yes. Apple and Google both – I paid for an Android phone; it uses/requires gmail which is a you-are-the-product “free” service. And Apple is running things on customer macs designed to serve those customers advertising … doubtless via an internet connection the customer is paying for.

            And Amazon tries so hard to get me to buy “sponsored” products that I’m likely to abandon the effort to buy whatever I went there for. For that matter, even my bricks-n-mortar grocery store gets paid for “product placement”, such that what I actually want is hard to access or unavailable.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I recently had to walk away from an Amazon purchase because I could not get their UI to just charge my credit card instead of using credit card points.

            It’s gotten bad enough where I am trying to de-Amazon my life the same way I try to de-Google it.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m not sure why you’d do that? I’m always telling my wife, just use the points, money is more fungible than Amazon credit.

          • bean says:

            I’m always telling my wife, just use the points, money is more fungible than Amazon credit.

            Depends on the points. If they’re trying to get you to pay with points you earned on, say, a Chase Sapphire Preferred, then they’re only giving you about .8 cents/point, which is strictly worse than several other uses you could make of the same points. It’s about half the value you get if you transfer said points to Southwest and use them for air travel, which is a reliable use of those points, but certainly not the most you can get out of them. I think the travel reimbursement (using them as cash) is something like 1.25c/point.

          • Randy M says:

            Well that makes perfect sense. Afaik, our card just gives points for Amazon, with no other special way to redeem them.
            Obviously I am not trying hard to de-Amazon my own life. Massive convenience is hard to walk away from.

          • bean says:

            Oh, right. What I wanted to include, but forgot when I was writing, is that this doesn’t apply to the Amazon credit card, which is I presume the one you have. That just gives Amazon credit, and it’s decent for regular spend, although not that great. I have one that only gets used for Amazon purchases, but that adds up for me. And yes, those are just fungible with cash.

          • Randy M says:

            I’m considering looking into getting one with better cash back rewards. But Amazon credit is pretty close to cash for us, while things like airline miles are largely irrelevant.

          • bean says:

            Fair enough. I was mostly pointing out that I would also walk away if Amazon was trying to make me pay with my Chase points. I can’t say exactly what the best cashback card is right now, but you’re not likely to get more than 2-2.1% from it, which is I think what the Amazon card gives on unbonused spend.

          • brad says:

            @Randy M
            Assuming you don’t want to play games with categories or hop around for intro offers, your best bet is Citi Double Cash if you plan to put less than $20k/year on it or Alliant Cashback Visa Signature if you plan to put more than that on it.

          • Randy M says:

            I appreciate the follow up, brad.

    • Matt M says:

      The Internet is really the first time that the entire world can come together to form a community/society.

      Which means it can only be high-trust to the extent that you automatically assume high-trust of everyone in the entire world. So long as you posit the existence of an outgroup, anywhere, that’s not worthy of your trust, and that has an internet connection, that means the internet itself can never be “high trust.”

      That said, much like in real life, sub-communities of high trust can form. Here on SSC we trust each other reasonably well enough to show up to meetups, to solicit and follow advice, etc. We wouldn’t extent that same trust to the internet as a whole, and for good reason…

    • eyeballfrog says:

      Wait, since when was the internet a high-trust society? After all, on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.

  14. Rock Lobster says:

    I just read Henry George’s Progress and Poverty since Georgism has made a resurgence within the econosphere and I was just curious to read about it from the horse’s mouth since so many smart people in history thought George nailed it.

    Now, I think the case for some land value taxation makes sense on the moral grounds that George lays out, i.e. you’re entitled to the value you create yourself or through exchange thereby, but not to the value of land you did nothing to create (putting aside the wrinkle of recent purchasers of land). It also makes sense on economic efficiency grounds, viz., it can’t be moved, it’s got a vertical supply curve, yadda yadda. George says “viz” a lot in the book and now I’m doing it too. Pinky’s out!

    However, I was surprised to see how far George goes with the theory underlying his proposals. The motivating question of the book is, why does there seem to be just as much poverty in the “progressive” world as there’s always been despite the enormous increase in productive power brought by industrialization? George’s explanation is that all of society’s productive increase gets sucked up into land prices, leaving nothing above subsistence for labor and capital. Why? Ricardo’s law of rent: “The rent of land is determined by the excess of its produce over that which the same application can secure from the least productive land in use.” Therefore wages will only go so high as the produce of free/marginal land, with any additional product of labor being captured by landlords as rent. And so we see wages highest in sparsely settled and developed places like San Francisco (ha!) vs. New York, which was itself a higher-wage environment than London.

    So what I’m wondering is, what do modern Georgists make of the original theoretical basis for Georgism? Does the fact that America is not in fact a subsistence country ex-landlords make them walk it back, or try to reconcile it? Do modern economists still subscribe to some form of Ricardo’s law of rent?

    I jotted down a lot more on the book but want to get to the point here.

    • 10240 says:

      [Not an economist, nor really a Georgist, though I see a point in it.]

      Ricardo’s law of rent: “The rent of land is determined by the excess of its produce over that which the same application can secure from the least productive land in use.”

      Firstly, increase in productivity could have happened in all land, both productive and less productive, which could increase everyone’s income, not rather than rents. However, it’s likely that, in an absolute sense, the bulk of productivity increase goes to more productive land.

      Secondly, while there has been an increase in the amount produced by a given land in the past centuries, an even bigger effect has been generating a given amount of products from a given amount of land with much less work. The rest of the people could then go to work in sectors other than agriculture.

      Thirdly, the produce of a given amount of land is not a fixed value, even at a given level of technology. It depends on the number of farmers working the land. More farmers are “added” to a given tract of land as long as the market value of the labor of one farmer is less than the extra productivity achieved by one more farmer working the land. The landlord’s profit at n farmers will be (total product at n farmers)–n*(market-clearing wage of a farmer), whether the farmers are tenants or employees. The point where the marginal benefit of a worker is equal to his labor cost is reached much sooner on low-value land than on highly productive land, thus there will be a higher density of farmers on high-productivity land.

      If a landlord rented out low-productivity land to n farmers, and high-productivity land of the same area to n farmers, then indeed, the difference between his profit from each land would be equal to the difference between the product of the two tracts of land when each is worked by n farmers. However, he can get even more profit by renting out the high-productivity land to perhaps 5n farmers. While the total value and profitability of the high-productivity land is much higher, the profit is divided among 5 times more farmers, so the ratio of profit to labor income is not necessarily higher than on the low-value land.

      Really, a small parcel of high-productivity land should be compared to a large parcel of low-productivity land, each worked by one farmer, and probably producing a similar amount of total product. If productivity increases by 50% on both parcels, that doesn’t increase the difference between the productivity of the two parcels. Even if the productivity of the high-value land increases disproportionately for some reason, that means that it’s worth adding more workers to that land, and as a result some of the increased product goes to labor.

      Assume that landowners hire farmers as employees. If the prevailing wages were low enough that adding more farmers to some farmland increases its product in excess of a farmer’s wage, then landowners would compete for farmers, and the demand would push their wages up. If landowners rent out their land, the equivalent process is that individual landowners can achieve higher profit by dividing their land into smaller parcels and renting to more tenants; then competition between landlords for tenants pushes rents down. In societies where agriculture was a large part of the economy, this effect may have been important in determining farmers’ income.

      • Rock Lobster says:

        Those are interesting considerations, especially the first one. If productivity improvements are consistently raising the productivity of even marginal land, then labor and capital would capture some of that. I think George would argue that this would just cause ever more marginal land to be utilized, bringing labor’s share back down in equilibrium.

    • baconbits9 says:

      The moral argument holds no real weight, if I don’t have a right to the land I am working why would the government have a right to it?

      • That’s been one of my objections to the Georgist argument. The fundamental moral problem with ownership of unproduced resources is how anyone gets it, and the conclusion would seem to be that such resources are a commons–nobody gets to exclude anyone.

        Having my front yard or my wheatfield a commons raises some serious practical problems. I discuss one way around the problem in a chapter of the third edition of my first book, but I don’t find it very satisfactory, just less unsatisfactory than alternative solutions.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Anarchism raises very serious practical problems in settlements larger and more specialized than medieval Iceland had. Given the need for a state and taxation, do you consider a land tax the best tax to fund one with?

          • I don’t think I agree with you on what raises problems with anarchism. The two most serious problems I see with my version are the risk of cartelization–rights enforcement agencies getting together to reinvent government for their own benefit—and the problem of defending against aggressive nations. I would expect both of those problems to decrease, not increase, with size.

            That said, I agree that a tax on the site value of land is a relatively efficient way for the government to get money. The problem is finding a way of measuring site value that can’t be gamed by the people doing it or the people being taxed.

      • Rock Lobster says:

        The land would not actually be owned by the government, but most of the rent of the unimproved land would be taxed away to fund public services. Nobody created the land so why should its value accrue to private individuals instead of the public as represented by the government?

        Part of the moral argument stems from the theoretical claim that land rents absorb excess production above subsistence level. I’m more interested in that claim than in relitigating Locke.

        • baconbits9 says:

          In this situation the ability to tax is functionally a form of ownership.

          Nobody created the land so why should its value accrue to private individuals instead of the public as represented by the government?

          The public is made out of private individuals, and people do not benefit equally from public services. When you tax you are transferring from one private person to another or to many, calling one the ‘public’ doesn’t shift this.

          • Rock Lobster says:

            Really I am just looking to talk about the “land eats everything” claim, not the morality of land ownership stuff which I now sincerely regret mentioning as an aside.

  15. beleester says:

    Bug report: If you start a reply to a comment, then click “Hide” on that comment, the reply box will be hidden but the comments below it will not be.

  16. Matt M says:

    I am considering buying an engagement ring online. Is there a reason this is a bad idea?

    I guess for a purchase this large it’s something you might typically inspect in-person, but the thing is, I know absolutely nothing about jewelry or diamonds or whatever. And I’d be buying from a respectable and reputable company so I don’t think there’s much risk of it being a giant scam or whatever. I feel like I’m just as likely to get scammed in person, given my complete lack of knowledge on the topic (and little desire to learn).

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Educate yourself, then buy. You can petition either Paypal or your bank to reimburse you if there’s any fraud on the part of the person who takes your money. I bank with Chase and they’re very generous about account holders’s fraud claims.
      If you get scammed because you didn’t know what all to ask the jewelry company, that’s on you. Whether you visually inspected the product or not, that would be the case.

    • hls2003 says:

      The thing you are buying is more-or-less defined by how it looks (assuming that, as you say, the place is reputable and you’re not getting cubic zirconium passed off as diamond). I know only an interested amateur’s amount about jewelry, but even without much expertise most people can look at a piece and see if it looks cloudy due to inclusions, or has obvious dark spots due to cut angle problems, etc. Basically, if it doesn’t “look nice” (but you know it’s really a diamond) you don’t need to know the reasons why it doesn’t look nice in order to say “no thanks, show me something else.” So that’s one reason to inspect before you buy.

      A second reason to use a brick-and-mortar is that jewelry tends to require a rather surprising amount of upkeep. Setting prongs get bent, cheap-but-attractive diamond chips get knocked out, etc. A regular jeweler will be able to do that stuff for you, sometimes for free, as part of the cost of the ring. Or if not, at least you’ve researched a reputable place for repair at the same time as finding your purchase place. It’s like servicing your car at the dealer – at least you know where to take it, and you know they’re a baseline level of competent, even if Joe’s Automotive might be cheaper.

      Finally, if you want anything custom, you’re going to want to work with a jeweler. You can custom-design rings online, but it really does help to be able to examine examples and consult with a knowledgeable person if you want to consider various setting or band options.

      One thing I did as a sort of compromise was purchasing my wife’s stone separately at a hybrid retail/wholesale jeweler, then going to a higher-end place to design the ring and set the stone. That’s where I go now for repairs. I got a pretty fair deal on a stone I was happy with, and the ring design worked well.

      EDIT: Congratulations by the way!

      EDIT 2: I should add that I have ordered jewelry online from reputable places and have had about 80% positive experiences. So I’m not saying you’ll regret it, but this ring is larger and more special than most pieces, so I’d lean more towards looking in person.

    • Gobbobobble says:

      We got ours online and it worked out just fine. Just make sure it has a return policy: we had to send the first back for not being quite as expected and then the 2nd one was what we wanted.

    • Well... says:

      I went to a brick-and-mortar jewelry store when I was thinking of engaging my wife. A salesperson sat down and taught me about the 4 Cs[*] etc., and did not try to pressure me into buying anything. (I don’t know, but I sense this lack of pressure sales in the jewelry sales business is becoming increasingly common.) I then took that knowledge and bought my wife (then-fiance) a ring online.

      But, a piece of advice based on my experience: unless your fiance is very materialistic and has been very specific about what she wants, don’t go too crazy over an engagement ring, or the wedding ring either for that matter. Make sure you get a metal she’s not allergic to, and that she likes the way the ring looks. Beyond that, it’s not a great investment; rings wear out, they get lost, and tastes change. I ended up replacing my wife’s wedding ring because after a few years she developed an allergy to the metal used in the one I put on her finger when we got married, plus later on I had a better job and more money to work with. Take that money you saved and spend it on a nicer honeymoon, or put it in a retirement account, or use it to make having kids feel a bit less expensive.

      *The 4 Cs are a set of heuristics used to evaluate diamonds. I think they comrpise color, clarity, cut, and carat (a.k.a size).

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        But, a piece of advice based on my experience: unless your fiance is very materialistic and has been very specific about what she wants, don’t go too crazy over an engagement ring, or the wedding ring either for that matter. Make sure you get a metal she’s not allergic to, and that she likes the way the ring looks. Beyond that, it’s not a great investment; rings wear out, they get lost, and tastes change.

        I’m married, and pointed the Tomcat to 90% off diamond rings at Sears. The one I got was appraised for homeowner’s insurance at most of the pre-markdown sticker price. Note that it was not a solitaire, which is the DeBeers-approved only correct engagement ring.
        So rings aren’t always a bad investment.

        • dick says:

          Ever tried to sell one?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Well, no. 🙁

          • dick says:

            “Investment” probably was not exactly the word you meant, I’m sure you weren’t suggesting that you’re hoping to sell yours later for a big return or something. But jewelry, and diamonds particularly, generally don’t appreciate and are kind of famously hard to sell.

        • Well... says:

          My understanding is that gold and diamonds are sometimes a good investment, but much less so when they’re in the form of jewelry.

          • Randy M says:

            I would expect gold to hold up better than diamonds.
            The price of gold is supported by the consensus that it is a pretty metal, which could change but historically has been pretty stable.
            The price of diamonds is supported by the consensus that they are pretty rocks, and that rocks indistinguishable from them that are made by science are totally not the same. And science has been getting pretty good press lately.

          • John Schilling says:

            The price of diamonds is supported by the consensus that they are pretty rocks,

            Also that pretty girls will not have sex with you unless you give them one of this specific sort of pretty rock, and the advertising that has traditionally made this kind of sort of true has been getting pretty bad press lately. Gold has a somewhat broader user base in the decorative arts.

            Gold is also more fungible than diamonds, in that a karat of gold is a karat of gold regardless of color, cut, or clarity and you don’t need a complex negotiation involving a trained professional to determine how much your collection of Krugerrands ought to sell for. If you’re going to bet any part of your financial future on your ability to sell your stockpiled shiny at need, gold is almost certainly a safer bet.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            This is totally correct. Adorn your wife in plain gold with confidence!

          • bullseye says:

            This is totally correct. Adorn your wife in plain gold with confidence!

            My dad did that and I never heard a complaint.

          • Viliam says:

            Also that pretty girls will not have sex with you unless you give them one of this specific sort of pretty rock

            It all makes sense now! The criticism of pick-up arts is secretly sponsored by De Beers.

          • Well... says:

            This has always confused me because gold and diamonds have industrial uses too. I guess I find it bizarre that aesthetic qualities alone can so enduringly endow materials with value.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            The psychology of gold makes it a terrible investment, generally. The idea of buying gold occurs to people when the world is full of (financial) fears, and thus they all bid up the price at the same time, then when the world is in a less fearful frame of mind, a bunch of that gold gets sold off again at a loss, and the rest just sits behind locks earning no return.

            In order to actually make money in the gold market, you have to buy gold when the world entire is full of confidence and yelling at you to invest in Hot. New. Thing! and then 3 years later, when everyone is talking about fiat currency turning into the new toilet paper, you need to liquidate your entire gold stock, and buy fiat currency, or perhaps, stock in toilet paper manufacturing. Something boring and stable.

            The number of people that bloody-mindedly contrarian is really, really low.

            If you like the way gold jewelry looks, by all means, buy some. Do not think of it as an investment. It is decoration.

          • ana53294 says:

            The idea of buying gold occurs to people when the world is full of (financial) fears

            Gold prices fell in 2008.

            There is an increase in buying when the market is down, but when firms need liquidity, they start selling their assets. Credit was tight during the Great Recession, so lots of assets had to be sold at below value.

          • Matt M says:

            The psychology of gold makes it a terrible investment, generally.

          • Matt M says:

            Sorry, having weird issues with the quote feature again. What I meant to say, below the quote, was that I travel in circles with a lot of gold bugs, and I really don’t know anyone whose investment thesis for gold is anything like “I expect gold will return 7% per year, while the S&P will only return 5% per year” or anything remotely like that.

            People buy gold mainly as an insurance policy against a hyperinflation, or other general SHTF scenario. It’s a tangible way to bet on the government/the fed behaving irresponsibly.

          • John Schilling says:

            This has always confused me because gold and diamonds have industrial uses too.

            The diamonds that have industrial uses are relatively cheap, common, and aesthetically unappealing, and have almost no overlap with the gem-quality diamonds under discussion here. They are not interchangeable in practice.

            Gold is gold, and if your old bling is more useful as an oxidation-resistant contact surface on an electronic component, or vice versa, that’s a straightforward and reversible substitution.

          • baconbits9 says:

            Gold prices fell in 2008.

            There is an increase in buying when the market is down, but when firms need liquidity, they start selling their assets. Credit was tight during the Great Recession, so lots of assets had to be sold at below value.

            Gold fell in in 2008 (technically it gained a tiny amount in 2008), but that is largely end point selection, the S&P 500 hit 5 year lows at the end of 2008 and gold hit lows 14 month lows at its bottom point and was back up at August 2008 levels at the close of the year. You only took losses in gold due to the crisis if you bought between spet 2007 and august 2008 and were forced to sell between september 2008 and early december 2008.

            If you were leveraged and forced to sell that is the nature of leverage, not the underlying asset. If you held gold and were forced to sell bit by bit to cover expenses due to job loss or a hampered income stream then you likely did fine to well overall (as long as you didn’t buy in one lump at a particularly high point). This can’t be said of stocks during this period, if you were selling bits and pieces of your S&P holdings for after the crisis began you were selling at pre 2004 prices well into 2010.

            This is the hedge factor that gold provided during the last crisis, and why it needs to be a part of your portfolio and not as a desperate switch as the next crisis becomes evident.

      • beleester says:

        I did the same thing as you. Talking to a salesperson was really helpful since I’d never bought any sort of jewelry, and it’s hard to picture what, say, a 0.5 carat stone looks like and how it compares to the size of a finger when all you’ve got to go on is an image on a screen. But buying online was cheaper and easier.

    • souleater says:

      I’m in the same boat as you, I’m planning to pop the question in late august. I’ve heard carat and cut are what people focus on the most. and imperfect color isn’t noticeable except by professionals.

      One thing to look into, is a Moissanite stone

      Just as durable
      Higher index of refraction
      Price isn’t artificially inflated by De Beers
      No ethical issues
      Looks just like a diamond

      • dick says:

        Also, just abandoning diamonds and getting any old ring you like.

      • hls2003 says:

        We went with a non-traditional stone. In my case it was sapphire, but really any hard gem (other than emerald, partly for reasons of wear, partly for reasons of cost) can be a great choice. I preferred that to a diamond substitute, which can sometimes suffer in the comparison.

        • The engagement ring I bought for Betty was a Tsavorite.

          • hls2003 says:

            It’s a lovely mineral and usually has fewer inclusion problems than emerald carat-for-carat, but have you had any trouble with wear and tear? If I recall correctly, it’s even softer than emerald.

          • Unfortunately the ring eventually got lost, so I don’t have long term evidence. Tsavorite is 6.5-7.5 on the Mohs scale, Emerald 7.5-8, so Tsavorite is softer but not soft.

            On the other hand, Emerald is fragile, so I would expect more risk over time than with Tsavorite.

      • Jon S says:

        +1. My wife just wanted a shiny rock on her ring and was very happy with the Moissanite I picked out.

        Two minor quibbles:
        – My understanding is that Moissanites are slightly less durable (on the scale of decades I think you’re more likely to get scratches/etc.).
        – I think experts can visually distinguish them, even with the naked eye. Moissanites are a little too perfect and are also more ‘fiery’ than diamonds. My wife got a couple over-the-top comments about how fiery/sparkly/etc her ring was, we were guessing one or two of those people were guessing what it was.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Been way to long since I bought a diamond to have any meaningful advice, but congratulations!

    • Plumber says:

      @Matt M,
      I’ve no advice on rings, but congrats and best wishes!

    • A Definite Beta Guy says:

      IIRC, there are 2 major online sellers that can get you industrial-made diamonds. My understanding is that these are basically indistinguishable from “real” diamonds. They are also, from memory, substantially less expensive (something like 30-40% less expensive).

      1. You need to know what your bride-to-be would like, because there are a bunch of different designs.
      2. Price generally increases non-linearly when crossing the 1 carat threshold. IE, going from .99 to 1.01 carat is, like, 30% more (can’t remember exactly what it is).
      3. Cut. Some girls really like the Princess Cut, yours might be one of them. Round Brilliant is the traditional diamond cut and is mathematically optimized to maximize the “shiny.” I think it’s better, but this should be based on her preference.
      4. Color. I don’t remember much about this one.
      5. Clarity. You will pay a lot more for the highest clarity rating, unless it is artificial (again, my memory may be off). If you want to buy “Real” and go with maximum clarity, you will also want to buy maximum clarity for any OTHER future diamond purchases (like diamond earrings) because there is a major difference between the highest clarity rating and the other higher ranked ones.

      • Cliff says:

        there is a major difference between the highest clarity rating and the other higher ranked ones

        Are you sure you’re not thinking of color? There is literally no difference between any SI and anything better than that VS, VVS, etc., unless you’re looking through a scope. SI means the inclusions are not visible to the naked eye.

        • hls2003 says:

          Inclusions that cannot be seen individually will nonetheless substantially impact the overall brilliance of the gem, from what I understand. Even if I can’t see the individual dirt particles on my window, I know when it’s grimy and when it’s clean.

    • Deiseach says:

      Congratulations! June really is the month of wedding (announcements) here on SSC! 😀

    • baconbits9 says:

      I got engaged without a ring and then we paid to have a stone from her (deceased) grandmother’s engagement ring reset into a new fitting (her idea). Not possible for everyone, but a good way to have the ring mean something without spending a ton on it.

      • Eternaltraveler says:

        I used my grandmother’s engagement ring/stone. She had the orignal stone set in a more modern white gold ring in the 70s. I dont think either of us would have chosen a diamond if it wasnt for the sentimental value.

        I made our wedding bands from Iridium.

    • DragonMilk says:

      So I went through this about a year and a half ago – I made sure my fiancee signed off on the ring. This takes the surprise out for most people, but since she’s the one wearing it, I wanted to make sure she was ok with it.

      If you’re ok with that, I’d suggest you do the same. Most online purchases do come with a money back guarantee (minus shipping), so stay away from those that don’t

    • Drew says:

      How much does your fiancee want to be involved? Mine “happened to have” a pinterest board of rings she liked. This let her be “surprised” by the fact of the proposal, and the specific ring, while still having it be in the right general style.

      I wouldn’t worry too much about scams, especially if you’re ordering from somewhere that does a bunch of business / has a physical retail store somewhere. An Etsy seller might flake out. But Leigh Jay & Co isn’t going to burn their relationship with visa so they can steal a consumer-order’s worth of money.

      If you’re not going for a surprise, you can get a bunch of costume jewelry off of Amazon for cheap.

      The advantage here is that you can try it on and see what style you like. I did this when figuring out how thick of a band I wanted. (And ultimately decided that a tungsten carbide placeholder looked the way I wanted, and wasn’t something I worried about losing)

    • dodrian says:

      I ordered online – I ensured that it had a good reputation and a good return policy (in the event the ring in person wasn’t what looked good online). We did have to get the ring re-sized by a jeweler afterwards which was included when we bought our bands direct from a jeweler.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      I got my ring from a local jewelry store, since I’m too paranoid and far too picky to buy expensive jewelry online. This may or may not be useful, but here are some alternatives to consider:

      1. Try local jewelry stores, preferably ones that are family-owned. I found several family-owned jewelry stores that had competitive prices on engagement rings. Some of them even had pre-owned bands, which looked to be in like new condition and were much cheaper than the new bands.

      2. Pop the question with a cheap stand-in ring and then have your girlfriend pick the real ring and wedding band out herself. This saves you stress and hassle, and also gives your girlfriend a sentimental substitute ring for times when she can’t wear the expensive ring. (I’ve heard there are women who would not like this option, though their reasoning baffles me. It’s all the excitement of a surprise proposal, but without the anxiety of spending hundreds/thousands of dollars on a ring she hasn’t seen. I trust you know your girlfriend well enough to tell if this is a good idea or not.)

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      We got our engagement ring online and were very happy with the experience. This was 2002, so a quite different Internet, but still, it worked out well for us to get a better deal on a less-typical cut of diamond, and a setting more in keeping with my wife’s aesthetic preferences, than we could have gotten at a local store.

    • chrisminor0008 says:

      > Is there a reason this is a bad idea?

      You mean other than engagement rings being a scam invented in living memory?

      My wife and I chose not to exchange rings, not because we couldn’t, but because the whole idea is just designed to make other people rich.

      • engagement rings being a scam invented in living memory

        That does not appear to be the case. Engagement rings are mentioned, among other places, in the mid-seventh century Visigothic code. See the relevant Wikipedia article.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Early in the Bible, Rebekah is given a gold nose ring and some other jewelry when she becomes engaged to Isaac. I’d say the basic idea of giving the bride-to-be some expensive token of commitment/demonstration of value goes very far back, although I’m sure the detail where it specifically needs to be a diamond ring is more recent.

    • Gossage Vardebedian says:

      I second Lord Nelson’s suggestion that you do the asking with a stand-in ring and then go shop together for the real one. Alternately, you could just ask her what sort of ring she’d like if someone wanted to, you know, marry her. I did this and my reputation as a wildly romantic, suave dreamboat of a man didn’t suffer at all. I also got her the very specific sort of stone she wanted.

      I’m sure online is fine if you go to one of the bigger places. The trouble is that stones in a fairly narrow range, let’s say G-J color, 1.1-1.3 carats, brilliant cut, VVS2-SI1, will vary in price widely. You’ll really, really want an idea of the cut (shape) she likes, and a size she’ll be happy with, and then you’ll have a chance. However, I know a fair amount about gemstones, and shopping online for yellow diamonds, which is actually simpler, nearly caused me to blow a gasket. You might feel less overwhelmed and actually more sure of getting a decent deal if you just find a local guy or wholesaler.

      Congratulations!

    • deltafosb says:

      Probably unrelated, because these diamonds are not as popular or pretty, but carbonados possibly originate from exploding supernova (or at least extraterrestial source; epistemic status: I don’t want to learn the truth, since it will probably ruin the story).

  17. souleater says:

    I had a couple of app ideas I wanted to run by everyone before I put any work into it… I’m a fair hand with Java so I would be building it on android.

    a Chess game with RPG elements, You gain experience points and gold by playing the game, and you use choose starting position and buy new pieces with gold. new pieces are unlocked as you gain Exp.

    This idea seems like a ton of work… I wouldn’t be able to do this without significant financial investment. 90% sure its not worth it.

    An app where people can, using a QR code, take photos and seamlessly uploaded to a cloud server. So for a concert, wedding, or other event, you use the QR code (or regular text code) as you walk in and have access to all the photos taken at the event. Maybe a moderation option and a voting system for very large events.

    This idea seems much more doable/practical.. Thoughts?

    • Randy M says:

      Are you familiar with The Duke or For the Crown or Onitama?
      These are board games, not apps, but they offer some variability to a chess like game that may inspire you.

    • Murphy says:

      first one: seems like it could work. Puzzle Quest did something similar and did it well.

      They even had a novel crafting system based on the same: want to make a ridiculously awesome item? sure but it’ll take actual skill. You could do the same with chess puzzles. that there’s big databases of chess puzzles graded by difficulty works to your advantage.

      Second one, 2 big problems.

      1: nobody except marketing people have ever seen a QR code stamped on anything and gone “I must scan that!”…. ever.

      2: for the intended use you’re gonna struggle to get over the initial hump: the one where nobody bothers with your app because there’s no content and there’s no content because nobody bothers with your app.

      people already share their photos through their favorite social network.

      • souleater says:

        1: nobody except marketing people have ever seen a QR code stamped on anything and gone “I must scan that!”…. ever.

        That’s a really good point. Thanks for taking the time to reply. I’m thinking now to move to a 5 letter code.. The shared albums will only need to exist for the duration of the event + a little extra so I imagine the room codes can be reused to keep complexity down.

        2: for the intended use you’re gonna struggle to get over the initial hump: the one where nobody bothers with your app because there’s no content and there’s no content because nobody bothers with your app.

        Can you elaborate on this? What you’re saying makes sense for social media, but what I’m talking about is a temporary content hosting site.
        You’re at a wedding and there is a sign/text/announcement that says “Download APP and enter code ABCD to see/access Jack & Jill’s wedding photos in real time, without an account.”
        The app would also explicitly and clearly asks permission to automatically upload all photos taken over the course of the event.

        • Murphy says:

          Most people won’t download every app they’re prompted to download.

          For a wedding though they’re likely already mostly on the same social network like facebook.

          Grandma barely copes with facebook as it is. She’s scared of technology and there’s no way in hell she’s gonna download an app and learn how to use it just for this one event.

          So any photos she takes are going up on facebook.

          So right off the bat you have a huge factor pulling everyone else to just use facebook for swapping the photos.

          Also people rarely want auto-upload. They want to be able to select the photos where they or the person they’re interested in looks good and are gonna be afraid of accidentally leaving it turned on and sending photos they don’t intend to send to grandma.

          Also curious whether such an app might suffer bugs from desynced clocks. if I don’t have geolocations turned on and my clock is wrong it might decide the photos I took last night with my girlfriend are event photos from today and auto-send them to grandma and everyone we know.

          • DinoNerd says:

            Grandma barely copes with facebook as it is.

            *chuckle* I know what you mean, but an awful lot of the over 60s of my acquaintance were on social media before facebook and don’t especially like it, if they use it at all. They have concerns about privacy, and click bait, and algorithms that don’t show them the updates they want to see.

            My own mother – who would have been 83 this month – never properly adapted to GUIs – she could handle command line, but with no scrollback to see what she or someone else had done, she just got confused and frustrated.

          • Murphy says:

            my mother was a fortran programmer and computer operator back in the days when part of the job was inferring whether something had gone wrong with the milti-story machine from the patterns of blinking lights, watching for infinite loops as you walked around inside and she’s an extremely smart woman.

            But she similarly struggles with newer email clients and apps.

          • Matt M says:

            and algorithms that don’t show them the updates they want to see.

            Yeah. I’ve found it very difficult to explain to my parents that sometimes you simply won’t see a post that I make, and it’s not because I’m blocking you or hiding it from you or because you’re doing something wrong on Facebook… it’s just because Facebook has a weird black box that sometimes decides you don’t really want to see my last post, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to force them to cut it out.

            I think they don’t believe me. They insist that can’t possibly be true because “Why would Facebook do that?”

          • Nick says:

            I think they don’t believe me. They insist that can’t possibly be true because “Why would Facebook do that?”

            Which is a great question. I hate the transition from simple systems with easy to understand rules to black boxes that try to be smart and predict what I want. When I need something slightly different from what it thinks I want, I can’t reason with it or about it—I just have to route around it.

          • Nornagest says:

            “Why would Facebook do that?”

            Because they don’t want my business. But they haven’t figured that out yet.

    • helloo says:

      The first idea has been tried before. For example – this old flash game
      It isn’t a good time to do so either as you’ll be facing the new DoTA Chess Apps.
      Not sure why you’d think it’ll be that hard though.

      Second idea – I’m not sure what you mean by it, but still probably done before.
      QR codes can point to an URL, and when QR codes were more ubiquitous, some landmarks had their name/info markers contain a QR code that lead them to a site with either more info or a sort of virtual tour guide that played an audio desc. of that landmark.

      • souleater says:

        It’s not that the chessRPG idea is that hard… but it seems like it would be too much work for it to be done in my spare time and without injecting too much starting capital. Getting the chess engine, multiplayer, graphics, playtesting and then possibly advertising, and long term gameplay balance seems like it would be a fulltime job

        A cloud based, shared photo album accessible via QR code Alpha-numeric code seems like the kind of project that I build a working prototype of in 50-100 hours or so. I would be targeting it for use at weddings or birthdays and usable without a login, where you have a large number of people that you may not know personally, but would want to have a shared photo album. I might not know the bride’s great-aunt Sally, but if she takes a nice picture of the wedding, I might like to have access to it.

        edit: Also, good point about the DoTA chess apps.. I wasn’t really aware of them.

        • tossrock says:

          Generally speaking, it’s a financially terrible idea to make a game. Almost all games make negative money and languish forever on page ~infinity of their relevant store, ie Steam, Google Play, the iOS app store, or whatever. When it comes down to it, game quality has very little to do with success, which is determined primarily by inscrutable ranking algorithms. You have to be either extremely lucky or a marketing genius to cover your costs.

          That said, if you want to waste a bunch of time and money, I’d strongly recommend using an existing game engine rather than trying to build everything yourself. If you’re not experienced in graphics programming, entity/component systems, low level networking, performant serialization, etc, then you will be be reinventing a whole semi-trailer worth of wheels, many poorly. Being experienced with Java doesn’t mean you would be able to roll your own game engine ex nihilo in a reasonable timeframe.

          I’d recommend Unity, which can build for Android (as well as for iOS, and ~every other common platform), and uses C# as the primary scripting language, which is almost exactly the same as Java syntactically. Other options include Unreal Engine, which is nicer looking out of the box but harder to learn and use, or Godot, which is a much less fully featured platform, but free and open source.

          • Nornagest says:

            The problem with making a game as a financial investment is that there are a million and one people out there making games as passion projects and willing to take a loss on them to do it.

            It’s kinda like how many men and more than a few women, somewhere between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five, will at some point end up thinking “hey, I should really open a bar!”

    • Incurian says:

      The digital coordination of arbitrary, ad hoc meatspace groups in a way that’s simple, fast, and flexible is an interesting problem. I think that’s a path worth taking, though I’m apathetic about the QR codes and photo sharing specifically.

    • Incurian says:

      Maybe that chess-rpg could work as a rogue-like?

    • Björn says:

      For the first project, you should read resources about chess programming, like the ones linked in this forum post. Building a chess engine is doable in 3 to 6 months, if you do your homework and read about how to do it. If you do it correctly, you should then have a chess engine that can be changed fairly quickly to represent and play similar games. Then you can iterate the game in your engine, and see if you can get some fun gameplay going.

      You can also get a chess board and some pieces, and start iterating on the gameplay right away. You probably need some skilled chess players that can tell you what gameplay is good and what stinks. I warn you, there are one million variants of chess already, and the only ones that are played in chess clubs for fun rather than for novelty are bughouse chess and bullet chess. The first is a 4 player variant, the second is blitz chess with ridiculously low time limits.

    • dick says:

      I like the second idea in theory, but I’m unclear on how it would work exactly. How are you getting the users’ photos? Are they installing your app and then using it to take pictures, as opposed to taking pictures with the default phone app and then manually adding them within your app? However you imagine this working, are you sure it can’t be done within a webapp? That would be way, way lower friction.

      • souleater says:

        I can see it going 2 ways

        1. Basically as you describe. a webapp similar to whats used for the “jackbox” games (rot13) wnpxobk.gi where you can punch in your 4 or 5 letter code and upload/download the event specific pictures.
        Pro: Fast, Easy, low friction, People have to affirmatively upload the images so no risk of inappropriateness
        Con: Images can’t be uploaded automatically for the event

        2. An app that gets downloaded that shows the images from the event, when first downloaded it explicitly and clearly asks for permission to automatically upload all images taken for as long as you’re at the event, and, gives access to the event photo album
        Pro: See the images load in real time, lots of images, downloads can be tracked and used to show best images
        Cons: Risk of unintentional sharing, Risk of Trolling, A little bit more legwork to get the app.

        The big advantage of the general idea, is that you can share and receive photos to a large group of people, you may not be friends with, without needing any sort of social media account.

        • dick says:

          I’m warming to the second option. The first one seems too high-friction to me – I think most people just take a shitload of pictures and then go weed out the bad ones hours/days later, and will have forgotten about the app by then. For the second one, obviously paranoid types might worry but I think a lot of people are okay giving access to the camera roll for an app that obviously uses it, especially if it doesn’t also try to get the contact list. “This app can access all of your pictures, but it will only upload the ones you take from 4-6pm within 500 yrds of 1234 Main St” doesn’t sound too scary.

          How would it be monetized? If someone is paying directly (the event organizer presumably) I can see some people paying for it, but you have a big hill to climb for advertising and SEO. You might even target it specifically to wedding photographers as an add-on service they offer to the bride, rather than marketing it to the bride. If it’s paid for indirectly (ads and add-ons, e.g. printed photobooks) then I think you’d get a lot of users but might struggle to make it profitable – the decimal points on how big your cut is and how many people order might make or break it.

          • souleater says:

            I’m thinking primarily banner ads. I would be doing this as a side project, in my spare time so my expenses would be pretty low. Just cloud storage and a web portal.. maybe $5/month?

            I’m not looking to replace my income with this project, and a utility like this seems like something that would bring in a small steady profit for years while not requiring too much work after launch.

            I am also thinking about having a “premium” service for wedding photographers where the album is branded with their advertising, and they have a consistent custom room code.

          • dick says:

            None of my apps are ad-supported so I’m talking out my butt here, but I’m worried about the costs. Best case scenario, the app is great and works well and people use it, so a wedding might have 50 people uploading 100 photos each, and then wanting to download everyone else’s, and they’re all super high-res, sounds like a lot more than pocket change for the hosting. And banner ad yields ain’t what they used to be… But I guess all I’m saying is, make sure the math adds up before you write any code, which you were probably going to do anyway. And with some kind of purchaseable stuff, like photo books or mugs or whatever, it might well work out.

          • souleater says:

            I really appreciate your expertise here. I’m a decent programmer, but I’ve never done any work in data storage or app development, so the points you’re making are really helpful.
            On your advice I ran the math and its definitely more than pocket change.
            Assuming 50 people upload 100 photos each = 5000 photos
            5000 photos @ 5mb each = 25,000 Mb or 25 Gb
            50 people download 25 Gb of data each = 1000 Gb
            1000 Gb downloaded by AWS ~ $900

            I don’t imagine most people actually would take 100 pictures at a wedding or subsequently download 25 Gbs of data but its still a failure mode I’ll have to put more thought into.

          • dick says:

            No problem, it’s fun to spitball app ideas, but sadly I don’t know a ton about this either (don’t deal with paying for or economizing on bandwidth either professionally or in my off time). Maybe users pay for full resolution? Er, actually not, you’d need them to upload the full size pictures and then you’d be paying for the cpu cycles to resize. The more I think about this, the more it seems like it might be something the bride and groom just pay a flat $20 for beforehand (not super dissimilar from the old practice of buying a bunch of disposable film cameras and putting one on each table).

        • Christophe Biocca says:

          I have to recommend the webapp route. Context: We built a very similar product for a different use case. Homeowner calls insurance company, call center handler sends an SMS/email link that homeowner can click, which lets them download the app. Once installed the app guides the homeowner through taking pictures, and “just knows” which claim to upload the pictures to.

          This worked but we ran into 3 main problems, in increasing severity:

          1. Download sizes were an issue.
          2. Getting the app to know which link was clicked prior to its installation is a mess. On android that’s straightforward enough (there’s a basically-undocumented API for this purpose, but it works), but on iOS, most methods (one of which was infamously called the “browser flip”) run afoul of Apple’s rules. They’re adamant that the app should work even if you never clicked such a link, and so we had to add a button for the sole purpose of adding photos to a claim no one else would ever actually see. We lost 4-5 weeks over the back and forth with reviewers (because if they don’t understand why you’re doing weird things, their feedback inevitably is “this feature should not be present at all” and so you have to password-guess your way to an app they’ll consider compliant).
          3. One of our customers had to discontinue the pilot because about half their iOS-using customers (so about 25% of all the calls) did not remember their app store password and so could not install the app.

          That last one made us rewrite the whole product as a mobile-web app, using input capture=camera, and a small-ish react web app.
          You lose the ability to customize the camera flow (you get whatever default camera app is on the device), but:

          1. The loading time is much lower (and launching involves fewer clicks).
          2. The “claim/user identifier” is a uuid that’s part of the URL. Therefore the webpage already has all authentication information ready to go.
          3. No one ever is asked for a password. You can easily re-click the link later if you need to add more images (and it will work just as well as the first time).

          If you’re going to have people print QR codes, you don’t need the jackbox-style code approach at all. Just include the identifier in the URL.

    • Well... says:

      One of my pet peeves is going to concerts and seeing the glow of everyone’s phones held up in the air the whole time. Same thing for conferences, where people are photographing every other slide. I understand taking a single photo, maybe as a cheeky way of saying “Guess where I am?” but why do people feel the need to experience the whole thing through their screens?? It’s distracting and annoying.

      So, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you not to develop an app that would further encourage this kind of behavior. (Although really it doesn’t matter; the ship has sailed, and as someone else said, people just post their crappy pics and videos to social media websites anyway.)

      • souleater says:

        I hate that too, and I’m actually hoping that if people have real time access to photos and videos from the front row, they might be less inclined to try to zoom in from the nosebleeds.

        • Well... says:

          I don’t know but if I had to guess, I’d say they won’t be less inclined to zoom in from the nosebleeds. Still guessing: taking your own pictures and posting them on social media websites is a way to boost your status, especially if other people share your post. “I was there for this thing” and “I will now wear this as a partial representation of my identity” are pretty alluring to people.

          • Matt M says:

            Yes. 100% accurate. You take the picture to either remind yourself of a cool event you were at, or to boast about being at a cool event to others. Taking your own picture is the point. Someone else’s picture, even if from a better view or whatever, is completely without value.

          • acymetric says:

            This is accurate.

            I go to a lot of concerts, and although I don’t do a lot of photo taking (I’ll take one or two just to have something from the show) and don’t take any video it has never bothered me when other people have their phone out. I can still see/hear everything I need to, and it also means I can rest assured that the awesome rendition of [some awesome song] will almost definitely end up on Youtube for me to relive.

            Of course, I also don’t understand why people get so bent about (silent) cell phone use at movies although I find it more understandable than the same concern at concerts…maybe I’m missing some gene that makes me outraged about phone use.

          • Well... says:

            For me it’s 95% the annoying distraction, and it often obscures my line of sight as well.

            The other 5% is the sad feeling I get thinking about the reasons why they’re holding up their phones.

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            Two things here: Snaps and video. People are going to take their own still photos no matter what. If concerts routinely put up well shot video after the fact, not so much point in recording the whole thing.

    • Drew says:

      The second idea seems like “Facebook Moments” which used a GPS location / timestamp to figure out which people attended the same event. I think the problem is that people can be reluctant to install apps.

  18. baconbits9 says:

    I had some ideas for MMORPG mechanics that I think are interesting and could be novel or semi-novel, so I thought I would post them here to see what you guys think (I don’t really play them, I played the Diablo series years ago and I might be way off in terms of how these games have progressed and what options are currently available). What I am interested in is the ability of the players to create a really rich world.

    Idea #1: New character creation. So many games have classes of characters where each class has different maximum point levels. A warrior class might have a max of 100 strength and 50 magic, and a sorcerer class might have a max of 50 strength and 100 magic. In this game there would be a basic number of classes that you could start with but then you could create a hybrid character by mating a male and a female. Basic idea is if you mate a male and a female of different classes then you get an average of the two classes, with our example above you create a W/S character with 75 max strength and 75 max magic. However if you use a male and female of the same class then you get a boost to your top end stats, and a loss to your bottom end, so a warrior+warrior would then have offspring with 110 max strength and 40 max magic.
    This can go on indefinitely, because each new hybrid is a new class, so you can combine a w/w with another w/w to create a class with 120 strength and 30 magic, or hybridize a w/w with a sorcerer and get a character with 80 strength and 70 magic. Each of these would then be a new class on its own.
    There would also be breeding restrictions, conceptually every account would cost $ to set up, and each account could hold a reasonably large number of characters but there would be a ban on incest. No character could breed with another character of the same account. Then breeding has to occur across accounts, and part of the agreement to breed would be which account the new character would join. To add to this each female character could only breed once in a while, something like once a month it would reset and they could create another offspring, and the offspring’s starting level would be based on the level of their parents making higher level partners more desirable. My thought/hope is that this would create a market for pairing up and would work with other game mechanics that I have in mind.

    • Randy M says:

      I’m sure the typical MMORPG player would approach that concept with the maturity it deserved.
      But seriously, that sounds better suited to a single player game. We recently discussed Massive Chalice, which is similar.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I’m interested why it sounds better for a single player game to you, one of the big aspects for me would be having so seek out other players and negotiate with them to create the bloodline that you want and creating long term alliances of trust (other aspects of the game play would make this part clearer).

        • Randy M says:

          What is the generational timespan? In a single player story game it’s easier to skip 30 years and get to the next iteration than in a game where everyone is moving along at their own pace. I guess you can gloss over that.
          Secondly, you can have more control over the experiment in a single player game. You can control the breeding over many generations to get what you want, rather than, well, “having so seek out other players and negotiate with them.”

          That said, I’d be interested to see more details.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Maybe gender imbalance in MMORPGs isn’t as bad now as it used to be, but you’re going to get an awful lot of IRL females really annoyed with gamer nerds aggressively demanding you mate with them. With the state of woke clickbait “journalism” being what it is, I fully expect all the usual suspects on twitter and youtube to condemn it as a “rape simulator.” Then again, free marketing.

          • baconbits9 says:

            You could go the reactionary marketing route or just make every player a hermaphrodite where your player can create a new player 1/X days by mating with another player, and also limiting how frequently you can impregnate (for lack of a better term) another player.

            However my guess/intention with this is partially to shield female players, by giving female characters some extra value lots of male players should choose female characters which should (might?) stop some of the assumptions when you run into a female character.

    • Incurian says:

      Maybe this is an idea that would work better with pets (like pokemon!) than characters as such. What were the other mechanics you had in mind?

      • baconbits9 says:

        Some broad strokes, with some half thought out ideas.

        1. Basic game play is a combination mining/fighting game with a traveling option. You can go off to areas with ghouls/demons etc and fight them and pick up what they drop, with the usual increasing difficulty as you get deeper into their territory with occasional bosses, or you can go off looking for resources deposits. For example if you come to a river you can pan for gold, and if there is gold a few pannings will give you an idea if there is a rich gold mine upstream or not (or in a well developed game you could tell how much gold was being washed down the river but not know if it was from one or many different sources and would only allow you to estimate the total value to be mined). The traveling option would be to go out and look around places and then sell that information to other players you happened across, if you ran across a mining character you could sell them the location where you found evidence of a gold vein etc, or a warrior directions to a caves mouth where demons lurked. You could optimize characters for any one role, or play ones that are jack of all trades or play multiple specialist characters (where the breeding comes in) and use them to explore specific areas.

        2. The world is large and you’re first character is dropped into a random village/town setting. Each town has NPCs who can perform tasks for you, sell you goods etc and have limited knowledge of the surrounding area. You get a dark map to start with and every time you talk to an NPC with knowledge of an area it shows up on your map. The world is generally fixed so every time you play you can expand your vision of the world. You can also pay other players to see their maps (or you can exchange maps, or just let someone see your map to be nice).

        3. The map is not the territory though. Roads on the map will be graded at the time you are walking on them, areas that are frequently walked will have few resources to find/demons to fight, but will also be safer/faster to travel. The grades will be based on certain fixed aspects like terrain (ie mountain roads are more dangerous/slower per mile) and also on how many people have traveled on them recently. The less a road is used the less safe it becomes, and perhaps even things like river crossings could be destroyed when you get to them.

        4. There are two types of travel speed, one is active where you can look for things along the side of the road/fight/talk to other travelers, the other is passive where you cover the distance faster but can’t interact. The latter is only possible when your character level is high enough relative to the safety of the road, but also requires not playing that character for that period of time while they cross.

        5. Stashes, exchanges and theft. The town you spawn in is your home town, and you get a location (house) there where you can stash your goods and they can’t be stolen. New characters that you create spawn under the same account spawn at this location, and stuff can be shared between them here (dropped off by one and picked up by another passing later). You can abandon your town and create a new stash location in any other town you come across as long as that new town isn’t full, creating a new permanent stash location for a cost of two way travel time (ie going back and bringing your stuff from your old stash) or just abandoning your old stash that can be looted by passing players.

        Other stashes can be created as you move but these can be discovered and looted by other players, there will be methods of concealment and methods of breaking concealment. There will be two types of goods as well- commodities and personalized goods. Commodities will be common things with no tracking that can be exchanged freely, and are things like unrefined gold or basic weapons and tools etc. Personalized items are things like basic weapons imbued with powers and linked to the rightful owner. If you create a personalized weapon you can sell it and then the buyer becomes the rightful owner, however if you steal a personalized weapon then it is still linked to that owner and their character name. The rest isn’t fleshed out yet but it goes something like this: It is obvious if someone is trying to sell you their own item or a stolen one (for non commodities), if you are caught trying to sell a stolen item by the rightful owner then they can kill your character and loot their corpse and become the rightful owner of any of their personalized items. You can also give power or attorney to people, if one of your agents comes across someone selling your stolen goods they can kill and loot from that person- however their loot will not become legitimate until they return the stolen good to you. This section gets complicated and to make it work (ie so there is an equilibrium with some stealing but not just everyone stealing indiscriminately), I think you need rating systems where if someone offers you a stolen item from someone you aren’t an agent of and you refuse to buy it you can then flag them as selling stolen merchandise, and likewise if you have agents who get your stuff back and message you to meetup to return it and you never reply then your rating gets dinged and people won’t agree to be your agents.

        I think if you built these features well into the game then the breeding aspect becomes useful, where really obsessed players could basically delve indefinitely deep into the game but without making it unplayable for newer or less obsessed players despite them existing in the same world.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      In this game there would be a basic number of classes that you could start with but then you could create a hybrid character by mating a male and a female. Basic idea is if you mate a male and a female of different classes then you get an average of the two classes, with our example above you create a W/S character with 75 max strength and 75 max magic. However if you use a male and female of the same class then you get a boost to your top end stats, and a loss to your bottom end, so a warrior+warrior would then have offspring with 110 max strength and 40 max magic.

      You have my interest. 😛

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      One thing you would want to make sure you do is have hybrid classes not be garbage. In 9 out of 10 games the swordmage is worse than the swordsman or the mage.

      • Plumber says:

        @Conrad Honcho,
        And that’s how it should be: “Jack of all trades, master of none”.

        Besides, the old word for “Gish” was “Elf”, and there were level limits on them for a reason dagnabbit!

        Also, magicians most properly belong on the end of a hero’s sword, there’s too many Elric’s and not enough Conan’s, Gandalf and Iucounu are NPC’s dagnabbit!

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          If you’re talking about a pen and paper RPG where it’s more about the story than min-maxing, that’s fine. But in a video game, if a swordsmage using their mix of swords and magery doesn’t do as much damage as a swordsman using his swords and a mage use his magic then nobody’s going to want the swordsmage in their party.

          Source: played hunter in vanilla WoW.

      • baconbits9 says:

        I agree with this, I lay some more details out higher up but the way I hope the game would address this is by putting the character into a world that reveals itself to the player and the directions that they go would determine which skills are best. You could create just a warrior and go hunt demons but in doing so you would have to pass up resources along the way that a jack of all trades could pick up while being worse at fighting demons, but leveling as fast or faster perhaps.

        • baconbits9 says:

          One example would be to steal from Tolkien and the mines of Moria, if you create a mine the richer the vein the more likely your mine will be attacked by or expose demons living within. If your character is maxed for a miner every time you get flooded with demons you have retreat to the town and find someone to help you kill them or hire mercenaries or something.

          On a side note- one thing I have always wanted in a game that lets you hire mercenaries is that the price should go up for people who walk them into death constantly, and lower for people who manage them well/take care of them.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            I know that the Endless Sky community discussed whether to implement exactly the idea you are suggesting; I think they decided it would be ‘unfun’ though.

    • souleater says:

      Guild Wars 1 had a class-combining mechanic. it was great, but I think I remember hearing that they moved away from it because it was too hard to balance the PvP. Maybe look into that for ideas?

    • dick says:

      After you get done breeding these characters, what do they do? Kill monsters, fight other players, something else? For a game like Diablo, the point of having variegated character classes is replayability, but it doesn’t sound like that will be part of your game if it takes a month to change your stats incrementally.

    • Hoopyfreud says:

      To add to the proposed issues:

      People who pay for more subscriptions will have Bene Gesserit breeding programs that will seem (and seem likely to actually be) unfair.

    • Thomas Jorgensen says:

      As someone who has played MMOs all the way up to server-top guild, here is what I want in a game before I go back.

      No Whack-A-Mole.

      In fact, No Minigames Forced by the UI, Whatsoever.

      A good experience in an mmo is a joint fight to overcome an adversary. However, in non trivial content, you usually end up with healers looking at peoples health bars to the exclusion of looking at the fight, dps being focused on maintaining complicated ability rotations to the exclusion of looking at the fight, and if the game has boss-fight mods, even the tank ends up looking at timers half the time to know when the next time the boss is going to use a great big special attack is coming up.

      Thus: Here is what I want: No UI inside the game. You set your keybinds and mouse preferences before you log in, but in game, the UI is just a window into the world the art team has made. No health bars, no ability icons, Nothing. 100 % of screen real estate is the world.

      Dps and healing abilities are all point and shoot. No target locks, if you want to heal someone you better actually hit that character with the Divine Beam of Healing Radiance. If you want to dps the boss, well, there is not going to be any floating numbers telling you how hard you hit, but the boss will have weakpoints and defenses. Hit the ogres shield, not going to notice that. Land a ray of incineration or arrow on the ogres left knee…

      Goal here is to maximize actual fun by forcing both the design team and the players to focus on the imaginary world you are playing in. I want a game where no healer ever ends up dying because they were too buzy scanning the raid interface for people to heal to notice they are standing in fire.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        However, in non trivial content, you usually end up with healers looking at peoples health bars to the exclusion of looking at the fight, dps being focused on maintaining complicated ability rotations to the exclusion of looking at the fight, and if the game has boss-fight mods, even the tank ends up looking at timers half the time to know when the next time the boss is going to use a great big special attack is coming up.

        Seems realistic to me.

        In the real world, in high-stakes coordinated small-team activities, the generally correct thing to do is “fly the instruments, not the window” and “stick to the runbook” and “keep track of the clock”.

        This is true from things ranging from “save the passengers on this airplane after losing an engine” to “sev2 outage in AWS, get it back online” to well, actual military combat, so I am told.

        Even high performance team sports, despite not being tech mediated with a glass UI, they are still playing out a decision-tree runbook in their heads, while physically executing “macros” out of muscle memory, while running healthbars and timers in their heads.

        to notice they are standing in fire.

        Also realistic. Losing situational awareness is a real thing.

        • Thomas Jorgensen says:

          It is terrible gameplay, because it makes you annoyed at your fellow players, not the pixel monster you are there to fight.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            A close family member is a world class FFXIV player.

            makes you annoyed at your fellow players

            From what I can tell, that is the *point*. The pixel monster is just an excuse and part of the coordination exercise. The actual fun and the actual challenge is getting all the players on a team coordinated. Nobody cares about the pixel monster, they come to care (both positive and negative) about the other humans they raid with.

        • John Schilling says:

          Seems realistic to me.

          Reality rarely provides us with guidance as simple and authoritative as e.g. the health status bar in an online RPG (or for that matter the hit-point score in a tabletop one). Even a glideslope requires cross-checking the other instruments to make sure the one you are focused on isn’t lying to you, and then the glidescope gives way to “look out the window or give up already” at about 200′

          And the objective here isn’t realism, but entertainment. Even if we’re looking for realistic entertainment, that almost always means cutting out a lot of material to get to the most entertaining subset of reality.

          Because of the fuzzy nature of reality, humans are evolved to find exhilaration, excitement, entertainment, in holistically evaluating a broad sensorium to acquire situational awareness and develop imprecise responses to uncertain threats. Needle-chasing, not so much fun even when it is realistically necessary.

          So I would not be surprised to find that game designers, who necessarily reduce their simulated reality to simple, quantified metrics like “health” within their engines, have generally presented an entertainment-suboptimal level of detail to the players via simplistic “instruments” rather than broad contextual clues. I find no fault in Thomas Jorgensen’s desire to see more of the latter.

          I also have some idea how difficult it would be to implement effectively, alas.

          • johan_larson says:

            In my experience, the game version of anything is much simpler than the real thing. The Rock Band guitar is an extreme simplification of a guitar. Also, games are set up to deliver a lot more ego-bumps than actual paxis or training. Practicing a martial art will see you leveling up formally every few months initially; playing a game will have you leveling up after a few hours of play.

          • Matt M says:

            MMOs also add the complication that everything worth doing is based on group performance, and therefore, there is a strong desire for mechanisms by which you can easily evaluate the performance of each and every individual in the group.

            The reason people in MMOs concentrate on their damage rotation even while standing in the fire is because they know the group leader is judging them, primarily, based on their overall damage.

            Part of this is simply a social attitude, that is already within the control of any particular group to change. I’ve been in some pretty successful WoW PUGs where the raid leader said, at the beginning, “For these fights, I don’t care how much damage you do, but if you die to something preventable, I will kick you.” This results in a whole lot more attention being paid to mechanics.

      • Matt M says:

        I want a game where no healer ever ends up dying because they were too buzy scanning the raid interface for people to heal to notice they are standing in fire.

        I feel like feedback like this is exactly why modern WoW content is so over-loaded with a crap-ton of gimmicky mechanics on every single boss fight, including ones where “a single person messes this up and you wipe.”

        The simple fact of the matter is that yes, while healers will mostly be looking at their heal bars, a healer who isn’t aware of what’s going on in the fight isn’t going to do well, at all, in any remotely challenging content. “All you have to do is hit your rotation and ignore everything else” hasn’t been true, in WoW at least, for nearly a decade.

      • DinoNerd says:

        I enjoyed many aspects of MUDs much more than I’ve enjoyed most MMORPGs, and the need to focus on complex combat rotation mechanics is part of that. With many MUDs, most classes could simply attack the opponent – one action – and the game engine would keep them using effective combat moves until they did something else explicitly, or one or other combatant “died”. Healers often had to pay a bit more attention – but it was still repeating the same action, and sometimes one could get that effect by simply holding down a single key. (Other times, timing mattered, so as not to run out of spell points).

        IMNSHO, online shared RPGs lost when technology and fashion advanced to the point where they became tactical combat games in an explore-and-level-up setting, rather than explore-and-level-up games that included combat. (And much the same happened to single player RPGs.)

        The last good MMORPG I remember was Runescape, before they updated its combat system to make it into a poor imitation of World of Warcraft and similar.

  19. silver_swift says:

    Here in The Netherlands Shell has an action going where they let you to pay a little extra for each liter of fuel to compensate for the CO2 expelled from that fuel. They use the money to buy CO2 credits from various reforestation/forest protection charities equivalent to the amount of CO2 expelled in acquiring, transporting and finally burning the fuel.

    The thing that got me was that they claim to be able to do this for 1 cent per liter. Does anyone know if this claim is remotely close to being plausible? I don’t know how CO2 credits are calculated exactly, but €0.01 sounds unreasonably low to me. Given that the fuel itself already costs €1,60-ish per liter, that would mean we would be able to completely zero out our CO2 emissions from fossil fuels by making everything 0.63% more expensive.

    If that number is plausible, why the hell are we fiddling around with electric cars and sustainable energy sources instead of just making this process mandatory?

    • bean says:

      I’d guess it’s a matter of marginal improvements vs major ones. Right now, you can offset the CO2 released by a liter of fuel for a very low price by planting trees or improving the efficiency of a factory somewhere in Bangladesh. But there are only so many places you can plant trees, and so many factories in Bangladesh that run on boilers dating back to the 19th century. Once those cheap gains are all used up, the price starts going up. I’m sure David Friedman or someone else has better numbers for what it’s going to be if we’re trying to be Carbon-neutral.

      (All of this assumes it’s not somehow subsidized, either by Shell to get people used to checking the “yes, I want to neutralize my carbon” box before they jack up the price or by the government in some way.)

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      A liter of gasoline produces somewhere around 2.3kg of CO2 emissions, so this translates to about €4.34 per metric ton of CO2. Most offsets I’m aware of cost more than that but not wildly more, e.g. Carbonfund.org charges $10/metric ton in the US and Terrapass charges $4.99 per short ton. I would question whether Shell is being as careful about “additionality” (i.e. a good answer to “would this reduction have happened anyway without us”) as other providers, but maybe they are and have got an unusually good volume discount going. Also, what bean said about picking low-hanging fruit is totally right; if everyone tried to offset their vehicles’ footprint either the marginal cost would shoot up or the additionality would get iffier.

  20. Edward Scizorhands says:

    I am studying quantum mechanics. (I did in college, but not much stuck.) I have a question about my intuition.

    Here is one thing I understand: A single qubit can be in a state that is represented by a 2-by-1 vector. (I am going to represent them here as 1-by-2 vectors, because of the text medium.) The sum of the squares of the two elements must be one, so we have a vector pointing to a unit circle.

    That visualization worked well while the two elements of the vector were real numbers. However, either of the two elements could be imaginary or complex. I tried to imagine a positive imaginary number rising up into the third dimension, and a negative imaginary number going underneath. But I have two numbers in my vector. So I would need to visualize 4 dimensions, which I don’t know how to do (yet?).

    Is there some trick I could use here, or do I just need to abandon visualization and stick to symbolic interpretation?

    • Hamish Todd says:

      Nobody can visualize four dimensions in the way that humans can visualize three dimensions (if someone tells you they can then they are just showing off, I have talked to fields medal winners about this, nobody can do it).

      However, you don’t need to abandon visualization, but you do either have to get creative or stretch things a bit. One thing that helps is a place where you’re a little wrong: it’s not the sum of the squares of the complex numbers, but the sum of the squares of the *modulus* of the complex numbers, which you can picture as the length. So the question becomes simpler: “how do I picture a pair of positive numbers such that their sum is equal to 1?” Well that is simple, it’s just a point confined to the straight line y = 1 – x such that x and y are positive!

      This picture has thrown away some information, namely the phase of the complex numbers. Note that this is not too bad, because we never get to measure the phase (in a manner of speaking), only the modulus. But we certainly want to think about the phase sometimes. So one thing you can do is:
      Picture two arrows, one pointing along x axis and other along y.
      Their lengths are equal to the modulus of the two complex coordinates in your wave function.
      Now you COLOR in those arrows such that their color is equal to the phase of those complex coordinates. Phase varies over 2*pi (tau!), so it maps directly to the color wheel.

      https://www.ibiblio.org/e-notes/webgl/gpu/schrodinger.htm Here’s a webpage where someone has done something kinda like this. I thiiiiiiink there’s meant to be a particle confined to the square, starting in the middle. Then we simulate its position, and for every point on the plane, we get the complex number corresponding to the probability of it being there, and then set the height of the surface to be the modulus of it being there, and we color based on the phase.

    • k10293 says:

      A lot of what Hamish said is right for unconstrained 4-dimensional spaces. But because of the constraint that the sum of the squared norms is equal to 1, this is a system with only three degrees of freedom. You can subsequently go down to two degrees of freedom once you notice the absolute values of the phases is not observable and only the difference is.

      The best visualization tool I know of for a qubit is the Bloch sphere.

    • I W​ri​te ​B​ug​s No​t O​ut​ag​es says:

      According to Scott Aaronson [link would be here if the post didn’t keep getting blocked], you can do practically all of quantum computing using only real numbers. Assuming your primary interest is QC, this suggests the possible solution of simply disregarding the imaginary axis. (But I’m just a symbol manipulation guy myself.)

      • k10293 says:

        I haven’t thought deeply about real number quantum computing so correct me if I’m wrong. But I’d imagine that converting from complex number QC to real number QC is more complex than just ignoring the imaginary parts.

        • I W​ri​te ​B​ug​s No​t O​ut​ag​es says:

          Yeah, there are some things like that. But a lot of the most important stuff like Grover’s algorithm is already normally done with only real numbers.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      Thank you for the responses. They will take some time to internalize.

      I am also primarily interested in QC, so knowing that I can ignore some things is great, especially if I know I have left a big asterisk by them.

    • smocc says:

      For single qubits there is a visualization called the Bloch sphere. It is a useful visualization because it gives you a way to physically interpret the state.

      Every qubit state is the +1 eigenvector of the spin measured along some unit vector. So (1,0) is the +1 eigenvector of the spin the z-direction, and (1,1) is the +1 evec of the x-direction, etc.

      To visualize, first write the qubit in the form (cos(θ/2), sin(θ/2)e^(iɸ)). You can make the first component real by multiplying the whole vector by a complex phase, which does not change the state. This state is then the +1 evec of the unit vector (sinθcosɸ, sinθsinɸ, cosθ), which you can visualize in 3D space.

      This visualization can be extended to qubit mixed-states, which map to 3D vectors with magnitude less than 1.

      However, let me emphasize that too much reliance on visualization may turn into a block. The Bloch sphere is useful not because it gives you any old picture. It is useful because it gives you a physical interpretation about possible measurements. There are lots of other visualizations you could use but they wouldn’t be useful. And systems more complicated than a single qubit quickly get near impossible to visualize usefully.

    • Soy Lecithin says:

      Just seconding what others have said. The good visualization here is the Bloch sphere. I’d go so far as to say it’s not really a visualization, as the space of distinct qubit states actually is a sphere.

      What’s especially nice about the Bloch sphere is that you can generalize it to get the Bloch ball, which gives a correct visualization of mixed state qubits.

  21. Bobobob says:

    Toy Story 4–the existential horror! There’s a character called “Forky,” a spork with googly eyes, created from a pile of trash. He spends the first quarter of the movie trying to throw himself into various garbage cans, chanting “Trash! Trash!,” and the other characters have to keep him from committing suicide.

    I am not making this up. Even my wife thought it was seriously weird, and she is the last person to read negative messages into movies.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I haven’t seen yet, but it’s what sporks are intended for.

      The ability for humans to create souls was already established in the Toy Story Cinematic Universe. They’ve just confirmed that little kids can do it, in addition to mega corps.

      • Bobobob says:

        Yeah, my patience for the epistemology/phenomenology/whatever you want to call it of the Toy Story universe ran thin after #2. To what extent does a toy have to be anthropomorphized to become conscious? What if you gradually removed its eyes, arms, etc.–at what point does it stop springing to life when no one is around? (This is why my kids don’t like going to the movies with me)

        • helloo says:

          To be fair, I don’t think humans have a good grasp on that question either.

          Of course, consciousnesses is a lot clearer and easily defined for toys than humans.

        • j1000000 says:

          I watched Toy Story 1 yesterday for the first time in maybe 20 years, and I had a new question every minute about its complete lack of internal logic. Still enjoyed it though!

        • It must be that when humans (1? 5? 7?) decide it looks like a character that confers it with life… but this would also mean comic book characters would be alive and stuck to the page, conscious of every moment but unable to move, and cartoon characters would be killed and resurrected every time you changed the channel. This is indeed a disturbing universe.

    • Lord Nelson says:

      I’ll be honest: Forky is the only reason I want to see this movie.

      One of my pet peeves is when movie studios release a new sequel after the previous one was heavily marketed as being “the final chapter”. I was planning to skip Toy Story 4 out of a combination of spite and boredom. (Pixar, please just let Woody and Buzz rest.)

      But a suicidal spork? I changed my mind, I will gladly pay money to watch this.

  22. Aapje says:

    So I’ve been thinking about a problem of modern, socially liberal society: that it is really bad at helping people achieve their goals and teach (the actual and full) norms to people who are bad at picking norms up organically.

    In socially liberal society, the often espoused ideal is that people should be free to make their own choices, as long as they don’t harm others. Yet this ideal obscures that most human behavior has benefits and harms to others. So in reality, the only reasonably standard is to accept harms that are below a certain threshold and/or that are relatively low compared to the benefits. Furthermore, because people are incredibly diverse, it is impossible to make a full set of manageable rules that are fair to everyone. Any rule that is simple enough to teach and is also fair, is going to be at the extreme end of the harm-scale. No such thing is possible for the grey area where most actual behavior happens.

    So this results in a quandary, which social liberals often resolve by:
    – only making rules explicit against extreme behavior
    – denying that the grey area exist and portraying everything they don’t want to happen as extreme behavior

    For example, anti-sexual harassment training never seems to actually teach something reasonable for people who are not asexual, like what legitimate displays of affection and interest are, what behaviors are conditionally OK & where they cross over into behavior that is never acceptable. Also, the more socially liberal people are, the more they seem to respond to undesired sexual behavior by interpreting it as an extreme transgression, even if merely exceeds their preferences a little.

    In general, what I see is an immense resistance (and not in the least among social liberals) to voicing displeasure directly to a person, negotiating compromises, etc. Arguably, doing this is extremely unpleasant and thus felt as a great harm. So many people who have social liberal ideals where many different desires and behaviors are valid if other people are fine with that behavior, nevertheless often expect strict adherence by others to their specific needs/desires and are unwilling to make their needs/desires explicit. This result in a contradiction: how are people supposed to know these needs/desires?

    The increasing urbanization, globalization and multiculturalism makes this even harder, as we are more likely to meet people who don’t know us and are so different from us that they have a hard time recognizing our needs (or seeing them as valid). Without the willingness to communicate and to react moderately to minor transgressions, only those with very high social skills can negotiate this.

    A related issue is that socially liberal society espouses the ideal that differences are valid and people should not be shamed for them. This ideal obscures that they do have an effect on outcomes. Regardless of whether being fat is or is not considered a personal failing, it does reduce the number of people who want to date you. Yet the mere act of correctly stating the consequences is now considered indistinguisable from shaming/policing, which makes sense. A statement like “if you do/are X, society will cause negative outcomes for you,” is both norm-explaining and norm-setting. So if you want to change the norm, you need to punish those who merely seek to explain/teach causality.

    With socially liberal society rejecting the idea that exclusionary preferences are wrong, but either ignoring that these are not random or assuming that the patterns are merely due to shaming that will dissipate without that shaming, we see a great reluctance to teach these patterns.

    How bad this has become is perhaps best exemplified with Peterson’s adage: “Clean up your room!” Basic advice that makes most people like you more and want to hang out with you, is relevatory to many people.

    • JPNunez says:

      I think this is a huge problem, yeah. Particularly as we become more secular and throw away the group traditions of church, which at the very least is a contact network -although it is not without its issues-.

      Not sure what to do about it; I think more political participation should be a thing. More secular festivities that are more than just a family meeting.

      It’s possible technology could solve this; imagine Pokemon Go with a more social component.

      Reminds me of the post about the israeli army from a few threads back, where people meet in different ranks, so someone high status may become a lower status inside the army.

      That but…without the army.

    • DinoNerd says:

      The old ways didn’t teach either – at least, they didn’t teach those on the autistic spectrum. Instead, they punished. I suspect it was much the same for normal children, except that they were better able to figure out the never-stated rules, and hence less often punished for “willfully” violating them.

      • 10240 says:

        Also, with informal norms, very small violations lead to very small punishment, moderate violations lead to moderate punishment etc. Thus people can figure out what is acceptable by trial-and-error without causing major harm or getting into major trouble. On the other hand, with formal norms there is usually a large jump between no punishment and the minimum punishment.

        That’s OK when the formal rule is precise, or when the behavior that violates the formal rule is much more serious than similar behavior that violates informal norms. That’s the case with most laws, but not sexual harassment law.

        • DinoNerd says:

          Thus people can figure out what is acceptable by trial-and-error without causing major harm or getting into major trouble.

          Hmm, wouldn’t you have to know what the norm is, in order to reliably miss it by only a small amount?

          And then there’s the problem (for autistics) that if you don’t recognize looks of disapproval, distancing, attempts to change the subject, gossip etc., the first you notice is when someone actually hits you. Or explicitly and clearly says “don’t do that”, with enough description to figure out what “that” means, but that seems to be far less common 🙁

          • 10240 says:

            Indeed, you have to know roughly where the norm is, just not precisely. Much of the time you do get told or hear about the norm, if vaguely. It’s not always enough for everyone, though.

          • John Schilling says:

            Hmm, wouldn’t you have to know what the norm is, in order to reliably miss it by only a small amount?

            The norm is not a point, but a volume that almost certainly includes “say nothing, do nothing”. So right there, you know where the norm is. Not all of the norm, but enough to be safe. If you then make small steps in whatever direction seems best to you, and note the feedback as you step slightly out of bounds, then as 10240 says you can safely “figure out what is acceptable by trial-and-error”.

            Not recognizing the negative feedback, breaks this. Obviously trial-and-error doesn’t work if you can’t identify the errors. That can be a big problem in some cases. But it’s pretty much the whole of the problem, not a minor perturbation on the imagined harm of society requiring you to know the unspoken norms up front.

          • DinoNerd says:

            The norm is not a point, but a volume that almost certainly includes “say nothing, do nothing”.

            Wouldn’t that simply generalize to “the safe thing to do is to do nothing; if I do anything at all, people may more or less randomly attack me.” (Again, in the presence of poor recognition of subtle clues.)

            Perhaps that accounts for females on the Asperger’s spectrum often acting as if they were “shy” – even if actually extroverted. It’s safer to wait till someone else does something, and then either imitate them as best you can, or continue to do nothing. (But males get negative responses to acting shy, so don’t seem to take up that strategy.)

          • John Schilling says:

            Wouldn’t that simply generalize to “the safe thing to do is to do nothing; if I do anything at all, people may more or less randomly attack me.

            Not usually, because the reaction is not random and will rarely go from zero to “attack” on the basis of a single misstep.

            For a person who does not recognize the indicators most other people use for “hey, those last three steps took you right to the edge of the retaliatory attack threshold, why haven’t you backed off already?”, then yes.

    • 10240 says:

      Liberal society is capable of having informal norms against moderately harmful behaviors (in addition to laws against extreme ones). We handle many forms of assholery using informal norms. That’s also how most countries other than the US and perhaps a few others handle most sexual harassment, and how the US handled it before the 90s. Consequences for violations of informal norms range from being told you’re an asshole, to people gossiping about you and distancing themselves from you, to being fired by an informal decision of your boss that you cause more trouble than you’re worth. I doubt that informal norms against sexual harassment are weaker in liberal societies than in others; it’s not an inability of liberal societies to enforce informal norms that led to creating laws against it.

      The issue is that informal norms are imperfect (even more than laws): they don’t prevent the harmful behavior completely. American society has decided that any amount of harm is unacceptable if it falls disproportionately on women. (Or, rather, courts and Congress decided, and Americans went with it.) Most people have no problem picking up informal norms (with occasional minor violations). However, the formal norms (laws) that now exist in the US are vague, potentially risky behavior includes actions against which no informal norms exist, and behavior that would have previously lead to minor informal repercussions can now lead to major formal repercussions.

      • Viliam says:

        Suppose the asshole is higher on the progressive stack than you. The asshole violates some unwritten rule, and you punish them according to the informal norm.

        The asshole documents your behavior on internet and accuses you of being anti-X (where X is the trait that puts them higher on the progressive stack than you). Who is the bad guy now?

        • 10240 says:

          If I get in trouble for that, that doesn’t point to society being unable to have and enforce informal norms. It points to society having informal norms that are, IMO, wrong: that rules are relaxed for minorities etc., and that the norm against being anti-X is too strong.

          Or it may point to the existence of legal rules that force people to be too strict against alleged anti-X-ism, preventing the enforcement of informal rules in this case. However, that’s not the situation that Aapje has suggested, were society treats some behavior as extreme, and creates legal rules against it, because it couldn’t have norms against at all. I’m unaware of cases where a legal rule has been created against something because informal rules have proved impossible to enforce against minorities.

    • 10240 says:

      In general, what I see is an immense resistance (and not in the least among social liberals) to voicing displeasure directly to a person, negotiating compromises, etc.

      Is this resistance common? I’m not American, but I’ve always assumed that most Americans most of the time handle these issues in an informal way as before, and the people who make (e.g.) harassment complaints are those who are unusually sensitive, or have ended up in an environment that’s unusually unwilling to enforce norms in an informal way, or want to get rid of a coworker, or if the harassment is unusually serious (and probably criminal but they prefer to make a complaint to their workplace or college than go to the police).

      • Aapje says:

        In The Netherlands, the number one thing people complain about when surveyed is antisocial behavior. However, willingness to confront it seems at an all time low. So people stew and complain to their friends & family, but rarely police norms. They seem to expect authorities to do so, but those are often not around or have the same mindset. Also, the behavior is often legal, so then authorities have no legal right to make people stop.

        The lack of norm enforcement means that a number of people feel entitled to selfish behavior and react very angrily to norm setting. This sometimes causes nasty incidents when they get corrected, which get pointed out in the media, which makes people consider it more common than it is, which in turn makes people even more wary to enforce norms.

        The people who do enforce norms often let their anger stew a lot before they dare to say anything, causing a huge outburst & they often expect a bad response, which feeds into the anger even more. So the people who do correct others, fairly often do so aggressively and angrily, expecting the worst from the other person.

        My newspaper had an undercover story with the people who direct traffic at road works and events, where they expected these people to constantly have to deal with violence (they actually found that their primary problem is boredom and bad behavior by coworkers).

    • Jiro says:

      I think that this analysis assumes that people’s motives are what they say they are. They might not even intend to make a set of rules that is easily manageable; the fact that it is hard to define boundaries is a feature, because a rule with hard to define boundaries is easy to use as a weapon against people you don’t like.

      Don’t be too charitable and don’t be too quick to assume mistake theory.

      • Aapje says:

        See my comment above. I think that one issue is that we are losing a set of shared norms, so people have personal norms (and get angry when those are violated), but there is no Schelling point that people can commonly rally around. So when people do succeed at gathering a mob or when they are in a position of power, punishing a person becomes cathartic. Bob doesn’t just get punished for what he did, but he also gets punished for what Jack said, what Bill did and what a random twitter user said to another woman.

  23. johan_larson says:

    I recently started play Arena, the online version of Magic: the Gathering, and noticed that it seems to be possible to play this game for absolutely nothing. Does anyone here know enough about the economics of online games to comment on the distribution of paying vs non-paying players, and of the amounts spent by the paying players?

    Is it typical for nearly everyone to play for free, or do most people pay a little?
    Among paying players, is there a broad middle group of people who pay moderate amounts, or it is more like a high-order power law, with a few people dropping big bucks and everyone else paying token sums?

    • ManyCookies says:

      If you’re playing higher ranked constructed, you’ll either need to spend money or grind for long enough where spending money looks attractive. Set releases are a big incentive too, since you can’t quickly accumulate the new cards from grinding (unless you stockpile a ton of wildcards I guess).

      I was a successful f2p Hearthstone player, but I played a lot of its limited (in an era where people suuuucked at limited) and that game has a kinder economy than Arena’s.

    • Murphy says:

      It’s the F2P model. It’s similar to the freemium model but slightly less horrible.

      The model is basically that teeeeeeechnically everything in the game can be acquired through grinding (drop rate 1 in 1000000000000 mega-boss kills)

      They know people will try to play for free but people with jobs/money will eventually find themselves grinding for something needed to be competitive.

      Eventually such people aren’t having fun grinding and do the math

      “well it will take 20 hours grinding… or I could spend 5 bucks…”

      So they spend 5 bucks. But then the next week there’s something else and pretty soon they’re in the habit of just pulling out their wallet and very fast they’ll pay 100 bucks for a game they wouldn’t spend 60 bucks to buy.

      Often the game itself suffers because so many design decisions hinge around making the players sick of the grind to the point where they’re willing to spend money to make it stop.

      The only game I know that really made it work without harming game mechanics was Eve online but that’s because they just sell game-time tokens as an ingame item that people buy and sell and let players make money however they want to trade for them.

      • baconbits9 says:

        This explanation sounds incomplete, you have to make the game enjoyable enough to get players to this point of buying to avoid the grind.

        So they spend 5 bucks. But then the next week there’s something else and pretty soon they’re in the habit of just pulling out their wallet and very fast they’ll pay 100 bucks for a game they wouldn’t spend 60 bucks to buy.

        Spending $100 on a game you know you enjoy is better than spending $60 on a game you might enjoy in a lot of situations.

        • Murphy says:

          No,It has to be just barely fun.

          South park did what can only be described as a documentary on mobile gaming.

          Minister of Mobile Gaming: And so in conclusion, the successful fremium game is based on five principles: Entice the player with a simple game loop, use lots of flashing cashings and compliments to make the player feel good about themselves, train the players to spend your fake currency, offer the player a way to spend real currency for your fake currency…

          Prince of Canada: So they’ll forget they’re spending money.

          Minister of Mobile Gaming: …and make the game about waiting. But let the player pay not to wait. It’s a surefire way to make lots of money.

          Phillip: We understand micropaying, but can’t the game hidden inside the charade just at least be fun?

          Minister of Mobile Gaming: No no! It has to be just barely fun. If the game were too fun, then there would be no reason to micropay in order to make it more fun.

          https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/3fe73cf0-fd46-477e-9ed7-00c997d079eb

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yes, this is why I never play f2p games and won’t let my kids near them either.

            I like the model where if you want to make a video game, you set out to make a game as fun as possible, and then sell it for money. I give the developer money and they give me a fun game.

            For a f2p game, you start from “let’s make a fun game. Okay, we’ve made a fun game…now make it intentionally bad and annoying so people will give us money to get back to somewhere sort of fun.” No. This is evil and I will not support it.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            For a f2p game, you start from “let’s make a fun game. Okay, we’ve made a fun game…now make it intentionally bad and annoying so people will give us money to get back to somewhere sort of fun.” No. This is evil and I will not support it.

            You’re being too kind to them. F2P starts from “there’s a lot of money being spent on games; how can I cash in with the least possible effort?”

            Making fun games is hard but that doesn’t stop people from wanting to hop on the gravy train.

          • baconbits9 says:

            It has to be fun enough that they stick with that game and not the other free games using the same model.

          • Murphy says:

            @baconbits9

            Ah but this is where pressing peoples addiction buttons comes in.

            things don’t have to be fun to be addictive.

            Eventually people are sitting playing games they’re not enjoying but just chasing the next loot drop.

            It’s why the fun tends to fall off rapidly while the push towards basically-gambling stuff gets intensified in these games.

        • Bamboozle says:

          It starts off being really fun and then the economy shifts once enough people are bought in. Then the sunk cost fallacy kicks in where you think you can reclaim that fun feeling if you just drop 5 bucks and you don’t want everything you’ve earned and especially the time exclusive content you got at the start that offers prestige to be worthless. They pit your own investment in their product against you.

    • Matt M says:

      I don’t have any links or references handy, but my general impression is that these games are financed by a small handful of “whales” who spend hundreds/thousands on bonus “vanity” content, while the vast majority of players play for free and never spend a dime.

      The “middle group” is essentially irrelevant, from an economic standpoint.

      • Nick says:

        That’s my impression too.

      • Paul Zrimsek says:

        Like air travel, then, only more so.

      • Murphy says:

        In theory whales are just people who feel like spending a load of money on a game.

        In practice it can simply be preying on people with gambling addiction problems.

        the number of games that gradually morph into slot machines inclines me to think it’s more the latter.

        Spin the wheel! you’ve used your free 2 spins for today!!!”

        • Matt M says:

          The irony is that the people who complain loudest about this system don’t seem to be the whales, who are psychologically manipulated into subsidizing hordes of free players… but the free players themselves, who find it morally offensive that other people are allowed to “pay to win.”

          The comparisons to real life politics are obvious.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            “Pay 2 win” can be a motte-and-bailey.

            There is a serious problem where the people who spend the most money are those who win. There is a huge gravity well that pulls the game in this direction, and unless constant and consistent effort is applied fighting this gravity well, the game will fall into the singularity: they are making more money, then more money, then huge amounts of money, and just as their financial model predicts they will be making infinite money, they are spaghetii’d apart as players mass quit.

            That’s the motte. The bailey is that any spending of money by other people is “pay 2 win.”

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t think there’s actually a significant Pay2win problem in games. At least not in any I’ve ever played.

            The Steelman for such systems is that “pay for advantage” is actually necessary to maintain something resembling a competitive balance between casual and hardcore players.

            Let’s say there are two ways to gain an advantage in any particular game: Gear, and skill. Gear can be bought directly. Skill requires dedicating several hours to practice. In a very general sense, the people who have the means and desire to buy gear directly are the ones who don’t have/want to put in the time to practice and develop the skill.

            I think the problem here is that “gaming culture” and gaming forums and gaming media are still dominated by young-ish people with much more free time than disposable income. But if you consider things from the perspective of a working adult, who wants to play and compete (but not necessarily dominate) a game without being instantly and immediately destroyed by a bunch of high-schoolers who play the game for 8 hours a day, the dynamic seems both fair and necessary.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’ve played games which do it right. One of the best was a three-tiered model:

            a) free-to-play which is actually an unlimited-time preview, so you can decide when to start paying to compete

            b) pay a certain amount to level up into the competitive ranks, with everyone paying essentially the same

            c) a bunch of cosmetic or limited-use items, such that spending a crapload does not have any noticeable improvement on your chances of winning.

            I have also seen online economies blown apart by a new marketing team that decides to throw away 10+ years of currency stability.

          • Murphy says:

            Sure, most people don’t care if someone else gets conned.

            but they do care if their opponent in a skill based game can suddenly just buy advantage.

            “and so bill gates wins the 7th world chess championship in a row. He used a daring strategy of paying the competition runners to upgrade all his pieces to queens at the start of the game. This adds to his accomplishments as an athlete where he recently won an Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters after paying the Olympic committee to chain all the other runners to large granite blocks at the start of the race”

            Since the game makers incentives all align around trying to convert non-paying players into paying players they also take every opportunity to rub free players faces in it.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I had totally forgotten about an online game I was in where I was there at rollout, and then one day the other player brought out a bunch of cards that were way better than anything I would ever have access to.

            The whole thing shut down ~3 months later.

          • Matt M says:

            but they do care if their opponent in a skill based game can suddenly just buy advantage.

            The thing is, the non-paying players are also “buying advantage.” They just pay with time, rather than with currency.

            If you’re a working adult with a full time job and a family, should any and all “skill based” games just be assumed to be closed to you because, while you can easily “invest” $50 to buy gear, you can’t invest 100 hours of practice to “get gud?”

            And when the game companies themselves tend to prefer to receive actual currency rather than “hours played,” why shouldn’t they cater, or at least make some minimum effort towards serving the needs of the “willing to spend cash, but not time” demographic?

          • Drew says:

            @Edward Scizorhands’ 3-tiered model sounds really reasonable.

            I could imagine companies setting things up as “seasons” where I’d buy access for a 3-month season, and get the same access to good cards as anyone else.

            I’m OK paying finite amounts of money. I just want to know (1) that the amount is actually finite, and (2) that I’m not going to get slaughtered by someone who dumped $10,000 into the game.

          • Spookykou says:

            There are different ways to use money to circumvent a lack of skill. Game coaching services exist for video games, and I have never seen anyone seriously complain about them as being pay to win.

            I think that ‘gaming culture’ in this case is similar to ‘sports culture’ or ‘music culture’ or really any other culture that values individual skill.

            Edit:

            If you’re a working adult with a full time job and a family, should any and all difficult piano pieces just be assumed to be closed to you because … you can’t invest 100 hours of practice to “get gud?”

            Yes.

          • Murphy says:

            @Matt M

            Sure, the companies see it as a cash cow, it’s the players who see it as something to get skilled at.

            How would you feel watching a version of the Olympics where half the long distance runners were normal runners, competing and showing their ability… and the other half were obese millionaires who thought it was totally unfair that those silly athletes were able to “pay with fitness and training” to get into the Olympics… so they paid an extra fee to be allowed to use a quad bike in the race.

            The winners podium for the 5000 meters is entirely obese people with quad bikes.

            How much is that a 5000 meter foot race and how much is it a competition about who can spend the most on quad upgrades?

          • Matt M says:

            If you’re a working adult with a full time job and a family, should any and all difficult piano pieces just be assumed to be closed to you because … you can’t invest 100 hours of practice to “get gud?”

            A restrictions that exists because of technological limitations we have not yet figured out a way to overcome.

            But let’s suppose we do. Assume a Matrix-style ability to “download” skills directly into your brain. Should we make the sale of the “learn to play Mozart” skill illegal, under the grounds that it would be unfair to all the people who learned to play Mozart the hard way?

            Would that make society better off?

            The entire chain of reasoning is based on nothing other than petty jealousy and tribal turf wars. Online multiplayer games are good when a: there are a lot of players available to play with and b: when the competitive balance is such that the game is reasonably challenging for all involved (not too easy or too hard for anyone).

            Giving people the ability to increase their competitive viability based on either time spent or cash paid, depending on which of those resources is less scarce for them, increases competitive balance, and makes games more accessible to a wider audience.

            Most of the adults I know who pay money for good items in competitive online games, if you took that option away from them, wouldn’t say “oh well, guess I need to spend the 100 hours now.” Rather, they wouldn’t play at all. Who is made better off by that, exactly?

          • Matt M says:

            @Murphy,

            I can’t tell whether my biggest objection is that you’re making a false comparison (the Olympics to some random no-stakes game of whatever online) or whether you’re proposing what you think is an absurd hypothetical that by and large already exists.

            Go to a random triathlon in a small city and you’ll see a wide mix of competitors. Some will have got there by pure practice and dedication. They won’t have the fanciest bike or shoes. They won’t have private coaches. They’ll be competitive through brute force training. Of course, you’ll also see other people who are a little different. People who are less “I was a gym freak my whole life” and more “I’m a rich techbro who just started doing this a year ago.” They won’t be “obese” but they probably won’t be as well practiced or as in-shape as the first group. They have less time, more other commitments. They will have absolutely top of the line gear, private coaches, etc. This will make them competitive. Sometimes, they even win.

            And yet, life goes on. Triathlons are more accessible to people, and everyone is better off for it. Society in general becomes more fit, and Ironman makes more money in entrance fees, thereby being able to stage more triathlons in more places.

            And there are no obese triathletes winning major races, because buying the best equipment only takes you so far, and at the upper levels of competition, everyone is going to have the best equipment anyway.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Matt M

            So for your piano future the question is how they handle piano competitions. If we find a way to trivialize human skill in something, then we might stop competing in that thing, or we might place restrictions that mean in order to compete you have to use human skill anyways.

            We have cars that will let you move faster than a person can run, so we don’t have Speed contests*, we have foot races. (see Murphy’s comment)

            *Well we do have speed contests, but those are done by machines and the human skill in question is the engineering/piloting.

            Edit.

            Based on your reply to Murphy you seem to be using a different kind of ‘competitive’ from myself. As for the triathlon, You can buy a high end computer with a 120 hz monitor and a mouse with twenty keys on it, you can pay for a coach, and nobody is going to complain about pay to win.

          • Matt M says:

            “Pay for the best lootboxes” does not seem to be a viable competitive strategy at the high levels of any videogame I’m aware of that has high level competitions. I’m not aware of any successful pro gamers whose primary attributes are a huge bankroll and very little practice.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I think we hit a whole ‘nother motte-and-bailey when talking about making buying advantages illegal.

            Regulate lootboxes as gambling, sure. At the minimum, if you can spend real-world money to open a lootbox, the game should publish the complete odds of the distinction of players getting what they want out of it. I’d probably want to go further than than, but let’s start there for now.

            But making advantages illegal to buy is just capital-D dumb. Deciding what’s fun and what isn’t will be handled by the market. If people like watching a pay-to-win Olympics, well, good for them. If they don’t, they won’t watch and it will disappear. Stop trying to micromanage an industry for its own good.

            This doesn’t mean this discussion is worthless. It’s good for people to debate what makes a good game or doesn’t, because people want to have those experiences, and if there is something we can’t have we should understand it.

            (Also, that Robot Congress link does have a date on it. I probably just missed it before. It was October 2017. Sorry for any false aspersion I made against the site. I’m listening to it now and will try to summarize Mark Whipple’s point about the distinction between pokemon cards and loot boxes.)

          • Matt M says:

            Regulate lootboxes as gambling, sure.

            I might also point out the irony that the push to de facto outlaw lootboxes by classifying them as gambling is occurring right alongside a generally growing public acceptance of obvious, no kidding, actual gambling.

            Online sports betting has recently been legalized in a number of states, and is projected to be legalized in a majority of them within the next few years.

          • Spookykou says:

            I am confused by the core premise, you play a competitive game, your skill sets you at rank 5, with 1 being the best and 6 being the worst. Why do you want to spend money to get to rank 3? In as much as rank reflects something you value, might people who earned that rank with their skill, be equally and oppositely invested in you not being able to buy your way up to their rank?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I didn’t say to make them illegal. I wanted this:

            If you can pay money for a loot box, the publisher needs to publish the odds of what’s inside it.

            Is this too burdensome?

          • Matt M says:

            Why do you want to spend money to get to rank 3?

            Are you asking me?

            It’s a good question. In my view, most people don’t. “Pay2win” is a derogatory term created and used by people who don’t pay and care a lot about winning.

            My impression is that the vast majority of people who do pay for “advantage” items don’t see it as “paying to win” but rather “paying to compete” or maybe even “paying to survive.” They aren’t obsessed with winning for its own sake, so much as they want to be able to play and enjoy the game online, in a competitive environment, without being instantly killed by people vastly above their own skill level.

            That said, the general attitude of “I want to be as good and competitive as I can at Activity X, within the constraints I face as it regards the amount of time I have to spend on activity X, seems to be universally common, whether X is video games, triathlons, or piano playing.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            They aren’t obsessed with winning for its own sake, so much as they want to be able to play and enjoy the game online, in a competitive environment, without being instantly killed by people vastly above their own skill level.

            The usual solution is ranked matchmaking. If you’re a teenager off for the summer you can grind train your way up to Diamond and play against other people who’ve invested the time to git gud. If you’re a Busy Adult With Many Important Things To Do you can bum around on Bronze League Heroes in your spare time (which, imho is actually more fun).

            If hanging out in the lower ranks rankles, that sound awfully like wanting to win for its own sake, now doesn’t it?

          • Matt M says:

            Yes, matchmaking does also attempt to solve that problem. It’s just less effective when there are fewer players, and more specifically, fewer players of your same approximate skill level.

            And typically, people aren’t willing to wait very long for matches to be made, so when the game can’t quickly find opponents of your skill level, rather than keep you waiting, it throws you into whatever is available at the moment, which for lower skilled players, means a game full of people who can kill you before you even see them coming.

          • Spookykou says:

            I am just not familiar with competitive multiplayer games that will regularly result in the kinds of skill mismatches you are describing. Competitive games with ranks/skill indicators normally use an ELO like system to insure that people of comparative skill get matched up against each other, save the occasional Smurf.

            I would add that I don’t think pay-to-win is a problem in any games I play, but ELO boosting is, and the motivation for that behavior is clearly low skill players wanting to appear to be high skill players. They value rank, as a reflection of skill, as much or more than everyone else.

            Edit: Well actually I had exactly this experience last night. The new player experience in Hearthstone is a nightmare, using the default paladin deck I was getting absolutely monstered by other chickens with decks full of rare cards. But I don’t think of Hearthstone as Pay-to-win any more than MTG, or Warhammer, etc. Some games do require you to pay to play, so if that is what you are talking about, we might be talking past each other.

          • Jaskologist says:

            There are a lot of F2P models that aren’t oriented around lootboxes or anything resembling gambling. Some let you pay for aesthetic in-game items like a nifty-looking hat with no stat boosts at all. Some let you pay to get at things faster than you would have to grind for them (which can incentivize them to make the game grindy, but games were grindy even before this business model). Some do let you buy special, more powerful items, which might make existing content easier, or might open up new areas of content, just as game expansions would in an earlier era.

            It still feels wrong in my gut if these end up mostly being funded by a few players who pay thousands a month, but they’re not playing on the gambling instinct, and it’s really hard to even call it shady when the player is knowingly buying a purely aesthetic item.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            https://headgum.com/robot-congress/robot-congress-52-are-loot-boxes-gambling-ft-marc-whipple

            1. Gambling is a state law. In general, current gambling requires:

            * Consideration
            * Chance
            * Something of value

            “Chance” means there are components out of your control. If skill is a portion, it still includes chance.

            “Something of value” is very broad. If you can exchange it to someone else for consideration, it’s something of value. If there is no trade or exchange system, you are probably escaping gambling laws. This is one reason that game companies work hard at stopping account selling.

            2. “But what about baseball cards?” as an analogy.

            This starts around minute 27.

            First, if you are using an analogy to defend yourself, you are in a lot of danger, because the judge/prosecutor/regulator have huge power and could blast you away if that analogy happens to fail. You often have to prove your gambling scheme is legal.

            One reason the analogy doesn’t work is that judges have said so. Another is that you always get something out of the baseball card pack. You were getting something of value, while often in video game lootboxes you are getting useless crap. There is a discussion of phone-card-sweepstakes, where you buy a phone card for $5 worth of phone time for $5, and get entered in a sweepstakes. But no one was actually using the phone cards, so it was decided to be gambling. There are many court cases where people have lost for selling useless crap for money with sweepstakes-as-a-side-channel. Another point is that physical gambling machines often have required minimum payouts, in Nevada it’s 80%.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The new player experience in Hearthstone is a nightmare, using the default paladin deck I was getting absolutely monstered by other chickens with decks full of rare cards.

            I’m guessing that this is the type of experience that grinds the most people’s gears. Namely, artificial excellence.

            It’s like the example brought up earlier of the athlete who figures out and perfects the fastest or best way to perform, versus the rich newcomer who powers through with steroids. Set aside the intuitive unfairness of buying your way in, and there still a gut feeling I have that the veteran athlete knows how to figure out ways to physically excel. Faced with a future physical problem, I think the veteran can figure out a solution, while the roided newcomer will just flail.

            If the newcomer instead studied the veteran’s skills for problem solving, and combined that with the newcomer’s wealth to solve a problem, I think I’d be impressed. An athlete who also works as a chemist and perfects his own drugs would not bother me.

            But a game with cards you can simply improve by incrementing the numbers on them is giving you power for free. It doesn’t matter whether you grinded 64 commons and fused them into a rare, or paid $50 for them; you’re not showing me anything clever. More importantly, any game that incorporates buffs like this strikes me as a game for casual players. Contrast this with online card games with a draft feature – given a random list of 30 cards, say, choose 10 for your play deck within two minutes. Skill should be the greatest differentiator.

          • Jiro says:

            The thing is, the non-paying players are also “buying advantage.” They just pay with time, rather than with currency.

            But the incentives on the game creator are different when it comes to players paying with time and with money, since the creator doesn’t benefit when the players pay with time.

          • Matt M says:

            Yes, I agree. Which is precisely why it’s weird that people act as if game companies have some sort of moral obligation to prioritize the money-scarce people and to ignore the time-scarce people.

          • Murphy says:

            @Edward Scizorhands

            Where did i say anything about illegal?

            My point comparing to the Olympics is that matt seems to be taking personal offense that others look down those who “pay to win.”

            My only point is that it’s utterly reasonable to look down on such people. They enter a skill game and buy a victory.

            He poses a false dilemma between penniless kids with nothing but free time (painted as some kind of outgroup) and poor little rich adults who just want to even the playing field but in reality it’s trust fund kids with nothing but time and a pile of money vs everyone else. they have the hours and the cash so victory becomes primarily about who can buy more advantage.

            There’s a reason “pay to win” is a criticism of a video game. Often a very damning one which will prompt a large fraction of the player base to quit if it appears true.

            the entire model pushes companies towards design decisions that make their games less fun… but always trying to dangle the temptation of “if you just spend a liiittle bit more”

            Socially, there’s also nothing wrong with openly mocking people who pay to win in games of skill and still somehow feel proud of their “achievements”.

            That’s somewhat separate to the issue of games basically becoming casinos targeted at children while desperately pressing every addiction button they can. “pay to win” is just one small hook of that issue.

            @Matt M

            Online sports betting has recently been legalized in a number of states, and is projected to be legalized in a majority of them within the next few years.

            Sure, but not targeting children.

            I have no issue with gambling in general, it’s only an issue when it targets children and to a lesser extent when it goes out of it’s way to target people with mental health problems and gambling addictions.

        • Spookykou says:

          I think the diminishing value of money is a bigger factor than you imply and while these kinds of games increasingly include gambling elements whales predate them. League of Legends for example was largely supported by whales for years before their first loot box.

          There are also other examples that seem similar enough to possible cover the same cohort of people. The random twitch donor who totally financially supports some small time streamer with hundreds of dollars a week, the people buying thousand dollar T-shirts, apple products, etc. It is easy to ascribe ulterior motives to spending that seems gratuitous to me, but I think it often just reflects different preferences and means.

          I can believe the gambling model makes more money and that is why everyone is moving to it, but is it responsible for a 50% increase or a 10% increase? Either way everyone would still move to it.

      • Tarpitz says:

        I think in the specific case of Arena, there is a large group of players (myself included) who spend exactly $5 for the welcome bundle (or whatever it’s called), which is heavily discounted.

      • dick says:

        Whales are a major part of, sometimes the only important part of, how ome small mobile games get paid for, but I don’t think they’re very relevant for the very largest and most expensive ones, which certainly includes Arena. They really need typical players to be making purchases.

    • CatCube says:

      They call high-paying players “whales,” having stolen that term from the gambling industry for the high-paying players that keep casinos afloat. As you might surmise, they’re responsible for a large fraction of the revenue.

      Here’s a link from a consultancy firm for mobile games:
      https://deltadna.com/blog/how-whales-spend/

      One of the harsh realities of the free-to-play (F2P) model in games is that the vast majority of revenue is generated by a fraction of a percent of the player base. In the best F2P games, these whales can spend $1,000s, but even modest F2P games will likely have players spending well over $100.

      How to find and manage high speding players is the holy grail of F2P monetization, and to do this, you need to understand their spending behavior.

      One of the common misconceptions about whale-like spenders is that they are indiscriminate spenders who can afford anything offered to them. However, in many cases whales are anything but; they may not even know that they are whales! i.e. they do not realize how much they have spent in a game over time. The proof of this is in their spending patterns.

    • Randy M says:

      Remember the slogan, if you don’t pay them, you’re the product.
      People pay into this because they can play, which works better with a larger player pool. I assume their server costs are low enough that the marginal player who wouldn’t otherwise pay them basically costs nothing to add.

      I play this and Eternal without paying, but I could probably participate at a slightly higher level by buying packs and having more cards quicker; but I’m not trying to compete, just have fun, and it serves that need without dropping a cent. As far as Magic goes, they get my anyway money for the cardboard (though I’ve moved to second hand singles mostly).

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        There’s the good argument that the free players are the content for the whales.

        One issue is that the game companies could set up bots acting like people to be the free content for the whales.

        My wife was playing an online game where she thought she was competing against real people. One day the Internet died, and she could still play the game. We discovered it was being done offline against simulated players. The game had never explicitly said otherwise, and my wife hadn’t put money in so there was no fraud. But people enjoy the social aspect of beating humans more than beating bots, and online card games make it trivial enough to simulate players, so someone actually trying could get pretty far by making people think they are taking on tens of thousands of humans when it is actually just hundreds of humans plus lots of bots.

        • Matt M says:

          My wife was playing an online game where she thought she was competing against real people. One day the Internet died, and she could still play the game. We discovered it was being done offline against simulated players. The game had never explicitly said otherwise

          Almost every big, phone-based f2p “multiplayer” game is actually doing this. True, live, PvP is quite rare.

          • souleater says:

            I never realized that, but now that you mention it… that makes a ton of sense… huh..

            I imagine they are able to calibrate the opponents difficulty to help entice you to buy boosters.. Just enough wins so you don’t get discouraged.. and the sense that if you just buy that one new item (that all your opponents coincidentally have) you can really dominate

        • Randy M says:

          One issue is that the game companies could set up bots acting like people to be the free content for the whales.

          But none of those bots will ever be converted to whales.
          Unless the AI is really, really good, I guess.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The point wasn’t to convert those bots to paying. The point is to create the magic content that will keep whales paying and/or make whales pay more and/or convert dolphins to whales and/or convert f2p’s to dolphins.

            In rank order, people prefer

            1) Beating other humans
            2) Playing against other humans
            3) Beating bots
            4) Playing against bots

            Maybe 2 & 3 are swapped.

          • Randy M says:

            But you don’t need to create the content if people are clamoring to provide it for free. And some of those ftp players might be converted to paying customers.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I bought the $5 welcome bundle, but have spent no further money since. I don’t play every day, but I have access to pretty much every competitive Standard deck and a significant reserve of rare and mythic wildcards. I think this is typical of the experience of fairly strong limited players (not pro level – I expect to day 2 GPs, and have a couple of PTQ top 8s and an English Nationals top 16, but I’ve never qualified for a PT/MC; my limited rating on MTGO used to hover around 1850), but not of the average player.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Related: Last week the UK Parliament was holding hearings about loot boxes/gambling in video games, and the lawyer from EA informed us that these are not, in fact, “loot boxes,” but “surprise mechanics.” And people love surprises, so I guess problem solved.

      To see a clip, just go to youtube and search for “EA surprise mechanics” and pick your favorite gaming youtuber’s rant on the topic. I’m not going to link anyone specifically because any video I pick will just be a torrent of obscenities hurled at EA.

      • JPNunez says:

        I assume when this hits the USA they will go with first ammendment issues, tho in Europe that won’t fly.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I don’t think the first amendment has anything to do with it. It’s gambling marketed indiscriminately to children and adults. We absolutely regulate gambling.

          The obvious counterargument is “but what about baseball cards and kinder eggs and trading card games?” Jim Sterling addressed that in his rant on the topic. Now that I think about it…yeah giving somebody money for a chance at getting something valuable is gambling. I would not be terribly surprised if such things also get regulated. If I were the company that makes MTG or baseball cards or whatever, I would be begging for EA to shut the f**k up right now before they ruin the scam for everyone.

          This is also the reason I don’t play Magic. I would probably enjoy it a lot. It looks right up my alley. I had as much if not more fun playing Gwent in Witcher 3 than…playing Witcher 3. But I have no interest in buying packs of cards hoping I can build a deck I want. Just let me buy the cards I want for my deck and play the game. Maybe that will eventually happen, because…yeah everybody hates EA and everybody hates loot boxes.

          • acymetric says:

            Can you paraphrase/bulletpoint Sterling’s rant? I’m curious about his points but don’t especially enjoy consuming video/audio content for stuff like that.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            Our occasional community member Marc Whipple has an interview with Robot Congress a year or two ago about the legal situation. (They don’t date their podcasts so I can’t tell you exactly when. The lack of date-information is probably also a result of Moloch.)

            https://headgum.com/robot-congress/robot-congress-52-are-loot-boxes-gambling-ft-marc-whipple

          • Randy M says:

            Just let me buy the cards I want for my deck and play the game.

            You can absolutely do this for physical releases.
            Buy a couple of commander decks to play against your son. Never buy a pack after that.

          • JPNunez says:

            The first amendment is really vague, as is the loot box bill recently introduced by a democrat in the american congress; for example it tries to outlaw pay to win mechanics in competitive games, where you can buy a better weapon than your opponent and thus help you beat them.

            That will probably fall into free speech. Random loot boxes may not tho, dunno.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Can you paraphrase/bulletpoint Sterling’s rant?

            Most of it is just the usual “F*** you, EA, you do not get to change the language once the thing you do becomes unpopular.” These companies promoted “loot boxes,” a term they themselves used when, for instance, proudly announcing that the new Jedi: Fallen Order game will not have, quote, “loot boxes” and now claim “we don’t use that term, we say ‘surprise mechanics.'” Lie lie lie lie lie. They also promoted “microtransactions,” and now that everyone hates “microtransactions” they’re called “recurrent user spending.” Reminds me of George Carlin’s bit about “shell shock -> post traumatic stress disorder.”

            EA is getting called on the carpet here because games are big business, and they’re tying in with other very big businesses like the NFL and FIFA. The Madden and FIFA franchises are also loot box hell now. The insightful part of Sterling’s rant, though, was about the reexamining of “surprise mechanics” in other businesses. EA likes to defend themselves by pointing out other “surprise” items marketed at kids, like card games, kinder eggs, the “LOL dolls” or I think “neopets” or something? And yeah we let that stuff slide for a long time, but when I think about it now…maybe little kids blowing their allowance on Pokemon cards hoping they get the rare card they want, not getting it and then saving up their allowance to blow it again is an awful lot like gambling. Maybe that’s not okay either. So EA might want wind up ruining the “surprise mechanics” biz for everyone else, too. Maybe. This could all go nowhere, but I’m not sure. Nobody who isn’t EA likes loot boxes. EA is frequently way up there on those “most hated companies” surveys. First world problems, sure, but if you’re a politician who wants to stick it to corporations for big applause…this one’s kind of a no-brainer.

            ETA:

            @JPNunez

            Yeah that’s a bit of a different thing. I could see that failing. But with loot boxes the problem is 1) chance, 2) non-disclosure what the odds of ‘winning’ are, 3) no independent regulation to verify the odds really are what they say they are like we have with slot machines and state gaming commissions and 4) marketing all of this to children.

          • Matt M says:

            The Madden and FIFA franchises are also loot box hell now.

            I call BS on this. These franchises have lootbox mechanics in place for a few very specific entirely optional game modes that didn’t even exist a few years ago / pre-lootbox.

            If you still want to play these franchises the way you did back in 1998 and not have to worry about lootboxes, you can. I still play the NHL franchise every once in awhile. I just play random matches against the AI just like I did on my Super Nintendo. No lootboxes.

          • birdboy2000 says:

            Competitive TCG players almost never buy booster packs, they buy singles on the secondary market. At least I know that’s the case for Pokemon, and AFAIK it’s the case for other games like Yu-gi-oh and Magic. I’m kind of worried about a too-broad lootbox ban hitting said games though, if only for selfish reasons; I get the sense the casuals who do buy boosters are indirectly subsidizing the competitive scene.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t play Madden anymore, but I was under the impression that online play had all the grindy progression and loot box stuff in it. Not so?

          • Matt M says:

            I don’t play Madden anymore, but I was under the impression that online play had all the grindy progression and loot box stuff in it. Not so?

            Certain very popular modes of it do, but you can play online without any of it.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            But does anybody do that? Or is this just the “but you can play for freeeeee!” response to pay-to-win mechanics in f2p games?

          • Tarpitz says:

            No sensible person builds a constructed deck by buying booster packs. There’s a thriving secondary market in singles, which is how every competitive player and many casuals acquire most of their (relevant) cards.

          • aristides says:

            @Conrad Honcho, not everyone hates lootboxes, but everyone hates EA’s loot box. They really killed the golden goose by charging for the game and charging for the lootboxes. There are plenty of other lootbox games that are not hated, because they are F2P normally. In particular, I like several gatcha games, which are just lootboxes in Japan, that all disclose what winning odds are and formed a coalition that promised that all odds were accurate, that make them more fair. It’s a shame that EA is probably going to ruin it for gatcha games as well.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            No sensible person builds a constructed deck by buying booster packs. There’s a thriving secondary market in singles, which is how every competitive player and many casuals acquire most of their (relevant) cards.

            The primary market, the one the companies making the thing are doing, is gambling. I’m buying the pack, hoping to get the card I want, or cards I can sell on the secondary market. If I have bad luck, I’m worse off, with cards I don’t want and nobody else wants to buy. When you spend money on a chance to wind up better off or worse off, that’s gambling.

            Also, to the extent these things are being marketed to kids, the kids don’t understand this. “Somebody’s selling the card I want for $50, but I only have $5, so maybe I’ll get lucky if I buy a pack…”

          • dick says:

            This is also the reason I don’t play Magic. I would probably enjoy it a lot. It looks right up my alley. I had as much if not more fun playing Gwent in Witcher 3 than…playing Witcher 3. But I have no interest in buying packs of cards hoping I can build a deck I want.

            @Conrad, you might be interested in Keyforge. It’s essentially Magic except every deck is a unique (and in theory, balanced) combination of cards that can’t be swapped out.

          • JPNunez says:

            Some modern loot box games disclose the odds (particularly those from japan), and those with big fanbase size have people check the chances by mass efforts.

            Kids get this marketed to, yes.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            “F*** you, EA, you do not get to change the language once the thing you do becomes unpopular.”

            Oddly, I like that EA uses the euphemism treadmill so baldly and haplessly. People can learn from it. If EA can do this, so can anyone else, so people are now being careful to look at what other people mean by a new term they are defending.

            Cf. “global warming” -> “climate change”; “torture” -> “enhanced interrogation”; etc.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            @dick: looks neat, I’ll check it out, thanks.

            @JP: EA would have been wise to start working out some kind of “ethical lootboxing” before the government gets involved. People maybe wouldn’t be quite so mad if they knew what their chance of getting an epic Star Card in Battlefront II* was. Also, there’s no secondary market for electronic lootbox stuff.

            @Paul: This is a good opportunity to link Orwell’s Politics and the English Language for anyone who hasn’t already read it.

            * Also, I’ll take this time to plug Star Wars Battlefront II. The game was great to begin with…when they killed the MTX lootboxes before release. They didn’t give up on the game and it’s now really excellent. I hadn’t played in awhile but came back last week to try out the new characters, maps, modes, units, etc. My son and I spent all week playing and leveled up Count Dooku, Anakin, Obi-wan and Greivous to level 25 (full epic cards). And I love the infiltration droid with the vibrosword. Was a lot of fun. Game is now incredibly cheap, too, if you’re looking for a fun Star Wars FPS.

      • Nick says:

        I’m not going to link anyone specifically because any video I pick will just be a torrent of obscenities hurled at EA.

        You say that like it’s a bad thing!

        • Paul Brinkley says:

          And what if we redesigned the videos so that they only fed you a handful of obscenities hurled at EA, and only gave you the torrent if you took enough surveys or bought a subscription?

    • acymetric says:

      I’ll just point out that while I’m not a fan of F2P or freemium models, they are actually kind of reasonable for card collecting type games…given that is essentially the model for the actual physical card games as well, right? The fact that you can even attempt to play for free might arguably be an improvement (although probably outweighed by how easy they make it to overspend for the highly susceptible).

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        they are actually kind of reasonable for card collecting type games…given that is essentially the model for the actual physical card games as well, right

        Maybe they’re unreasonable for physical card games, too. That’s why I don’t play them and wouldn’t let my kids play them. It’s gambling, but without the fun of gambling.

        • Matt M says:

          Don’t you think that at some point, your kids need to learn to resist the various attempts to psychologically part them from their money?

          “Play this free phone game and have the patience to wait for your farm to finish building rather than pay $5 to make it build immediately” seems like a low-stakes enough version of teaching them such a lesson.

          I don’t have kids yet, but I feel like I’d prefer to expose them to frauds and hucksters and manipulators as soon as possible. Teach them young so they don’t fall for a far more serious scam when they’re old…

          • JPNunez says:

            I think that is a valid worry but I’d rather try to immunize them with something not as well designed to make them part with their money.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Don’t you think that at some point, your kids need to learn to resist the various attempts to psychologically part them from their money?

            Maybe do that with something that doesn’t actually part them from their money, then? Also, I’m not going to give them money to do that, so the lesson they would learn is “if only I could give these people money I’d have a fun time with this.”

            Also, I’d rather them just play good video games. Thankfully daddy’s addiction is “buying good video games.” My son has his own Switch and access to daddy’s account, so he’s playing Cuphead, and Dead Cells, and now My Friend Pedro and all that kind of stuff.

          • aristides says:

            Another good tip, is to give your kids physical money, not access to a credit card. If they want to buy something digital, they have to physically hand over the money and realize what they are loosing , plus at one point you can cut them off if they try to spend more than $100 on a F2P game. Seems basic, but there seems to be plenty of people that don’t do it

        • Randy M says:

          Heh… and as I walking through a casino last week, I though “Gee, I could get all the skinner box thrills of this, plus an actual game by playing Magic.”
          But that mostly applies to slot machines, card games can be fun.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            If you’re looking at slot machines, sure, there’s no real game, there. But I enjoy playing blackjack. So I will go into a casino with $200, knowing I’m going to get the enjoyment of $200 worth of blackjack playing at least. And since I’m not awful at it…I mean, last time I went with my drinking buddies to New Orleans, while they were all passed out from day drinking, I went over to Harrah’s, played for an hour and a half, won $600, treated myself to a $100 steak dinner at Brennan’s and came out ahead on the whole trip 😉

          • Randy M says:

            You either definitely should or definitely shouldn’t play Magic, then. $200 will get you 3 months of weekly gaming in a draft format, where you can recoup some of the cost by selling off the cards or make your own decks to play at home, with probably at least as much actual enjoyment of the game. And in a draft, it’s all luck and skill, you can’t buy an advantage since you all use the same number of random cards given at the site.

            There’s a few MtG pros or comentaters who come from the professional poker scene.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            For $200 I can buy a dozen or more excellent video games (eBay, Steam or eShop sales) that I’ll have forever. I think I’ll pass on MtG.

          • Randy M says:

            Sure, and I recently bought a switch partly on your recommendation–stayed up all night last night playing Dead Cells with a buddy.

            But you are the one who said, in the post I replied to, that you’ll go spend $200 on blackjack in one night.
            Unless you are regularly getting 300% returns on that, in which case more power to you, I’m suggesting that you get longer and more interesting (in terms of depth and variety) gameplay from Magic than blackjack.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            “Regularly,” no absolutely not. Once a year at most, and right now I haven’t been in a casino in probably 2 years. And usually I break even, so it’s mainly just I get to drink for free. That time in New Orleans is the only time I ever won big. But I’ll always look for an excuse to tell the story because it was awesome.

            And glad you like Dead Cells. I got burned out after 2 BSC, though and couldn’t bring myself to grind out more cells for the S rank forge.

          • Randy M says:

            Fair enough–everyone has their own sticking points. You couldn’t talk me into paying my way into a movie theater this century, for instance.

        • silver_swift says:

          It’s gambling, but without the fun of gambling.

          I’m kinda conflicted on this topic. On the one hand, boosters for mtg (and similar card games) are definitely gambling when you buy and open them to get the cards you want. Which is also definitely, at least to some extent, the way those boosters have been marketed by the companies that make them and there are almost certainly kids out there that are blowing their allowances hoping to get the one card they want.

          On the other hand, nobody who gets even slightly serious about magic (including myself and every other casual player I know) actually buys boosters for the cards they contain. You buy them to draft, which is a separate game mode that is based on the randomness and to some extend the defined rarity distribution of cards in a pack. Afterwards you keep the cards you want and optionally sell the rest to recoup a (small) fraction of the cost of the draft .

          I happen to really like drafting and I think it is a legitimate business model, but I also really want lootboxes to go away and I can’t think of a plausible law that allows one and forbids the other.

          By the way, there are card games now that have deliberately stepped away from booster packs and are instead just selling boxes with some pre-specified number (1-3) of every card in a set. They’re called Living Card Games, might be a good alternative for your kids if they want to get into card games.

    • Deiseach says:

      Does anyone here know enough about the economics of online games to comment on the distribution of paying vs non-paying players, and of the amounts spent by the paying players?

      Very very limited experience, but even the best “free to play” games eventually hit that barrier where if you want to advance to higher levels/play the cool fun areas, you need the better gear. And you can either grind for eternity and stay stuck at level 50 until you get that one in X million drop for every single piece you need for that set of killer gear, or you can buy your build.

      There’s also cosmetic effects for people who want to splash out money on looking flash, which do nothing about gameplay just look fancy, and games do that as well to raise money.

      Any complaints from the ‘doing it the hard way’ players usually get met with “But the game is FREEEEEEE” and yeah, that’s a very valid point – until you’re stuck on a loading screen that eventually times out and boots you back to log in because it’s a chokepoint with everyone and their fancy cosmetics eating up the bandwidth. Ahem, not like this has been happening recently after the latest patch in a particular online game or anything…

    • Dack says:

      Arena doesn’t seem to have any of the typical F2P pitfalls. It’s fairly easy to make a good deck on a new account, and then you have it forever.

  24. johan_larson says:

    Your benevolent dictator for life has observed that there are no readily available slapstick comedies about hilariously incompetent time travelers who try but fail to assassinate Hitler. That’s surely a market failure, but those can be remedied by some concerted effort from the Right People. Who we have right here.

    Let’s start with a plot summary and a proposed cast.

    • Murphy says:

      Ripping off SMBC:

      The constant barrage of time travelers attempting to kill Hitler has made him the worlds most skilled fighter of time travellers.

      Eventually the time travellers give up until the world is threatened by time travelers from an even more distant future… only one man is skilled enough combating time travelers to save the world from them.

      http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=3266

      Ripping off “everybody kills Hitler on their first trip”

      A time-cop is tasked with maintaining the integrity of the timeline. Unfortunately everybody kills Hitler on their first trip so he spends his life constantly saving hitler from time travelers.

      https://www.tor.com/2011/08/31/wikihistory/

    • Nick says:

      You’re forgetting Doctor Who‘s Let’s Kill Hitler.

    • broblawsky says:

      I’d want Will Ferrell and Melissa McCarthy.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Will Ferrell as Hitler?

      • I W​ri​te ​B​ug​s No​t O​ut​ag​es says:

        Melissa McCarthy attempts to kill Hitler by injecting him with anthrax. But as it turns out, the bacteria had been stored at the wrong temperature and died before the assassination attempt. Not only does Hitler not die; he develops SUPER ANTHRAX RESISTANCE!

    • The Nybbler says:

      There’s ample written fiction about this. Good hooks for slapstick include Hitler being protected by the timestream so the attempts always somehow go wrong, and so many time travelers taking shots at him that they interfere with each other.

      A few attempts to include:

      An attempt during the Beer Hall Putsch. Unfortunately, our assassin is told only to shoot “the man with the funny mustache” and he kills Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter instead. (cut to time traveler, who is sporting the popular-in-the-25th-century toothbrush mustache)

      The real-life assassination attempt. From Wikipedia: “It is presumed that Colonel Heinz Brandt, who was standing next to Hitler, used his foot to move the briefcase aside by pushing it behind the leg of the conference table”

      Not in our version. In our version, the time traveler decided to substitute more powerful explosives, believing the problem was the bomb just wasn’t big enough. Lots of crawling around under the table and trying to avoid being discovered. Our hapless traveler substitutes more powerful explosives, but moves the bomb behind the table, preventing the assassination.

      The last attempt: A time traveler finally manages to shoot Hitler. Outside his bunker, on April 30, 1945.

      • Paul Brinkley says:

        My favorite twist on the plot is still the one I concocted a while back, where a gang of young idealists travels back to kill the evil dictator, just misses him, then finds him again through sheer luck, because Plans Go Awry for the bad guys as well. So they kill him. Mission successful.

        Except, his name is Francis Ferdinand.

        And we’re all living in the new timeline.

    • Civilis says:

      Our protagonist is a genius inventor that has built a time machine, and takes it back in time to kill Hitler. He arrives in 1934, manages to sneak into Hitler’s residence, and shoots Hitler, but before he can make sure Hitler is dead, he’s distracted by another time traveler arriving. The new time traveler catches sight of our protagonist and immediately attacks, and the running battle takes them away from Hitler. The protagonist manages to lose the attacker, but in the process manages to catch a glimpse of himself in a mirror, only to find that he’s suddenly acquired a suspicious hairstyle and short black mustache…

      Turns out, there’s only so much paradox that the timestream can take, and in extreme cases, the corrections aren’t always subtle. The existence of Hitler is so necessary to history that killing him would cause untold paradox, so somehow, anyone that kills Hitler ends up being forced to take his place in history…. the hard way. And it also prevents the new Hitler from leaving the current time period, as he’s now a necessary component in history.

      The good news is that the original Hitler (or the previous Hitler, at any rate) isn’t quite dead yet. Our protagonist can avoid becoming Hitler if he can get someone else to kill Hitler before he dies of his wounds. The bad news is that our protagonist is noticing his body develop a mind of its own (cue Strangelove shout-out), and the fact that our hero now looks like Hitler means that the other time-travelers are gunning for him. Throw in a Nazi mad scientist keeping the previous Hitler alive (and secret) and trying to both find a worthy replacement Hitler and get his hands on a time machine, and the mess as our protagonist tries to get someone else to kill Hitler so he can go home is a recipe for a quite entertaining disaster.

      I have no idea who should star in such a movie (or be willing to star in such a movie, for that matter), but this is absolutely calling for Mel Brooks to direct.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I propose a mash-up of Hollywood’s two most successful time travel franchises. Our hero is dispatched to 1880s Braunau am Inn. His mission: to prevent Hitler’s conception by breaking up his parents. Of course, future Antarctic/space Nazis send a Nazi cyborg back in time to stop him. And of course of course, he falls in love with Klara Hitler, and in July 1888 he knocks her up…

      We can probably even work in a Freud-as-Silverman scene.

    • Deiseach says:

      This sounds like the basic template for ‘Allo ‘Allo would be the way to go (slapstick farce is plainly the only way to portray the German occupation of France), and if anyone isn’t looking we could probably steal pay homage to the title of It’s That Man Again – It’s That Adolf Again?

      Pilot episode plot summary: we open with a long line of variously outlandishly dressed people queuing up outside a small Austrian town. Just like everyone queuing up to climb Everest, the sheer volume of time-travellers who want to kill Hitler means that there’s a traffic jam of potential assassins.

      Thus it is that we are introduced to our plucky gang of loveable misfits, and they are introduced to one another – time travellers from different eras who aren’t all that very much successful in their own time, so decide that the quick way to fame (and possibly fortune) is to be The Person Who Killed Hitler And Saved The World.

      Naturally, they don’t – but each week they fail in an even more convoluted and hilarious way! The gags write themselves (which is why I’m leaving it to someone actually funny to write them). Potential cast – haven’t a clue, who’s famous and can act, who’s irritating but box office magic for incomprehensible reasons (e.g. the televisual equivalent of Adam Sandler), who’s a sexy blonde with big bazooms – I’ve seen an episode of The Expanse, I thought it was a good show but I was constantly distracted wondering if the leading lady was going to have her girls plop out of her unzipped top, I know what you need in a modern SF lead actress – who’s comic relief who is genuinely funny unlike the irritating star, and so on?

      • The Nybbler says:

        Incidentally, it’s a testament to how boring I found _The Expanse_ to be that I don’t even remember the lady you refer to.

        • Randy M says:

          Oh, I’m not the only one? I’m about four episodes in and trying to like it… but it’s not hooking me.

        • Deiseach says:

          It was only one episode, and she may not have been the lead female, I was very distracted by her bazooms wondering “Yeah but this is a spaceship, it’s climate controlled, she has no reason to be walking around with her top unzipped and if she has a reason, then she has no reason to be walking around in her push-up bra when all the guys have their tops zipped up or are wearing tops that cover their torsos and arms”.

          Apart from the fact that this is a modern gritty(ish) SF show and she’s the lead female (or this week’s guest star) and so she has to have bazooms for the fan boys (and any fan girls that like lady bazooms).

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            “Yeah but this is a spaceship, it’s climate controlled, she has no reason to be walking around with her top unzipped and if she has a reason, then she has no reason to be walking around in her push-up bra when all the guys have their tops zipped up or are wearing tops that cover their torsos and arms”.

            I haven’t seen the show yet, but this may be a case of art imitating life.

            I spent a few years in a very snowy part of the country, where the temperature would stay below 0°F (-18°C) for most of the winter and a 3-4 foot snowfall was considered normal. If you went out on a Friday night you would still see young women in fishnets and miniskirts plodding through the snow on their way to a bar or house party.

            “Bazooms” know no temperature.

          • J Mann says:

            Hmm. If it’s the blonde love interest in Episode 1, the climate control is probably a little off, because they’re flying a piece of junk hauler ship. Of course, that doesn’t explain why all the men are fully clothed, but there are worse problems, like sbhe bhg bs svir crbcyr frag ba na njnl zvffvba sebz guvf perj bs ynfg-punapr qebc-bhgf ghea bhg gb or nzbat gur orfg crbcyr va gur jubyr flfgrz ng gurve fcrpvnygvrf, naq gur svsgu vf xvyyrq (enaqbzyl engure guna nf n erfhyg bs gurve eryngvir pbzcrgrapr) juvyr gur sbhe rffragvny zrzoref fheivir and that the love interest is sevqtrq.

            If you mean the engineer in episodes after episode one, well, my understanding is some people just like showing off their bazooms for reasons other than climate control. (Although I can’t remember if she does or not.)

          • Deiseach says:

            If you went out on a Friday night you would still see young women in fishnets and miniskirts plodding through the snow on their way to a bar or house party.

            That happens in certain parts round here as well 🙂

            Well, I mostly noticed it because nobody else had visible bazooms, including one or two other ladies (who were plainly the efficient get the job done professional crew types, thus not the lead female/guest star but supporting cast). If there had been a hunky gentleman or two (perhaps down in Engineering or the likes) showing off his manly bazoom with unzipped top, I could have continued suspending my disbelief re: ‘goodness, who turned the thermostat up?’, but everyone else (including the guy who was setting up a romantic dinner in his cabin for the lady?) was fully dressed, and she had unzipped top and visible bazooms which, as I said, I was genuinely concerned might spill out of her space bra 🙂

            And to be fair to The Expanse, I might be taking its name in vain – this was something I saw while channel-hopping so I jumped in in media res (and in media bazooms).

          • Thomas Jorgensen says:

            …… you mean you wanted something like this:
            Scene: Scantily clad crew people visibly glistening with sweat all over the place.

            Captain, toweling off abs: “…can you do something about this intolerable heat?”.

            Engineer With Large Knockers, And a slightly homocidal glare starts ticking points of on her fingers:
            “I did. The coolant pumps are going to have to be replaced months ahead of schedule, I am running them that hard. The navigator and bursar are currently playing chess with an entirely imaginary chess board because I turned off all the non-critical computers, I just got done isolating the cargo hold to the maximum extent possible – and if you want anything from there, fuck you, not getting it until after we unload.”.

            Navigator. In boxers. And nothing else. “Knight to D5”.

            Captain: “… So. Nothing for it?”

            Engineer: “I. Am. Not. The person who thought it was a good idea to buy 30. Again, I feel this needs repeating. 30 fucking tonnes of p-238 from the French”.

            Captain, with a shit-eating grin: “We are going to be so fucking rich when we reach Ceres”.

          • Matt M says:

            Come on D, this is a proud tradition in SciFi, dating at least as far back as Deanna Troi having a custom-made cleavage-accenting uniform that apparently has never been worn by anyone in Starfleet other than her.

            Delightfully lampshaded when the Enterprise gets a new captain, and one of his first orders is for her to put a shirt on, already.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Delightfully lampshaded when the Enterprise gets a new captain, and one of his first orders is for