Sunday, October 31, 2010

The colour of skin

I read in a book a little while ago that there have been some interesting studies done on how children perceive race.  In particular the book was examining how different parenting strategies work and how children view race based on the style their parents choose.  The most common idea the investigators encountered was that parents should not discuss race and that they should try to lead by example, treating everyone the same.  That theory goes that parents should of course express a desire for equality and answer questions honestly but that the best way to prevent racism is to not make race an issue.  It turns out that that technique does not work all that well because children raised with no negative stereotypes about race still find it to be a very important factor and when tested seemed to rate it as a more important factor in dividing people into groups than gender or age.  Kids notice race and come to their own conclusions and since children often come to amazingly bizarre conclusions when given no guidance it is important to talk about these things directly.

Keeping that in mind I had a few talks with Elli over the last few weeks about race and ancestry and her perception of it is really intriguing.  She clearly understood when I brought it up that the topic is extremely sensitive and important even though I made every effort to phrase the questions in a natural, casual way.  Somewhere she has picked up that race is something really powerful but she doesn't very well understand why that is or how it works; even the simple idea that people look mostly like their parents was not something she entirely grasped.  I tried to teach her that people that look different can trace their ancestry to different parts of the world but her concept of the world as a whole is pretty far from reality so I don't know that an understanding of where ethnic groups come from geographically is possible.

The trick to these things is that if I get too deep into a topic and too far along a chain of "why?" I think she ends up losing any sort of real benefit from the conversation.  I need to explain that it isn't ok to discriminate against someone based on their race but she doesn't even seem to understand the idea of doing so, or her idea of it simply isn't being triggered by the words I am using.  To talk about discrimination I need to make her understand about the sorts of things people could do, why they might do them and how this is harmful and by the end of the talk she is quite out of her depth.  I could just give her some basic rules to live by but I don't think those are especially helpful if she doesn't grasp their implementation or the reasons behind them.  Simply asking her to do things she doesn't understand fully is indoctrination rather than teaching so I suppose I will have to stick with basic education for now.

For the moment I will work on simple concepts like 'people look like their parents' and 'different looking people have families that come from different places' and 'you need to treat everyone nicely, regardless of how they look' and hope for the best.  This is probably going to be a long process as she grows older and her horizons widen for me to slowly introduce more complicated (accurate) information about the world that she needs to know.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Big swings

It has been a long time since I have talked about FMB because I pretty much felt like the game was in a finished state - aside from marketing and large scale production there wasn't much to do.  I had an idea this week though that seemed like it would make the game better by removing big swings.  Right now the way things work is that you draw 1 spell each turn; some of them buff your units and some smash your opponent's units.  The way it used to work is that the buff spells were reasonably balanced on their own but some of them multiplied together in very powerful ways so if they were combined they could be extremely devastating.  Example:

Flaming Swords:  Pick two units to get + 3 to attack this turn.
Berserk:  Pick one unit to attack 2 extra times this turn.

Each one individually worked fine but when both were played on the same unit at once that unit attacked 3 times with + 3 which was extremely overpowered.  It was even possible to Berserk both of the units that received Flaming Swords with two Berserk spells and end up with an absolutely outrageous turn.  There are two problems with this.  The first is that if you draw these spells together and your opponent has no answers you probably win the game with such a combo, assuming the game was close at the time.  The second problem is that some of the spells just flat out prevented a unit from acting for a turn so you could end up using multiple spells to power up your units and then have your opponent negate everything with a single spell.  Example:

Wave of Force:  Pick one unit to not get any actions this turn.

If you managed to get your combo off it would be absolutely dominating and if you failed to get it off you probably just lost the game.  There was an element of skill in figuring out when to try for combos and when to wait it out but in the end there were definitely games where you just got wrecked and there was little to be done about it.  The bigger problem was that buff spells didn't feel very fun.  Knowing that you stand a good chance of using your spell and getting wrecked takes a lot out of the enjoyment of it, especially since you simply can't know what your opponent has.  I came up with a solution, which is that any unit targetted by a spell cannot be targetted by another spell this turn.  This accomplishes two things.  Firstly it completely removes the super combo possibilities from the buff spell and secondly it prevents your opponent from using a spell to stop a unit you have just powered up.  This means that you never have to worry about getting completely blown out by a lucky spell draw from your opponent and you also can cast spells to power up your units strategically to prevent a spell being used against them later.  I am confident that some strange things will come of this and I will probably have to rewrite some spells a little but I think it will give me a lot more flexibility in designing effects since I don't have to worry about them conflicting with each other nearly so much.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Strange assumptions

To conclude my little series on the mayoral election in Toronto... Rob Ford won.  For all those uninformed about my fair city, Ford is the drunk driving, racist homophobe who neatly combines cluelessness about economics with anger about overspending.  I rarely bother myself much about local politics but this guy just made me sad and despite me going out to vote for his nearest competition he ran away with the election taking 47% of the vote.  It is unfortunate for the city and particularly so for those who want to use mass transit but the deal is done and now we just need to make the best of it.  The very interesting part to me though is the scene I witnessed in the dentist's office just two days after the election.  One of the people working there started to talk about how terrible Ford is and how awful it was that he won with a tone that suggested that obviously everyone in the room supported that point of view.  Some people did, but some people did not, which is no great surprise since he got roughly half the votes!

I wonder about how people can delude themselves so greatly to think that everyone around them must agree with their feelings on things when it is absolutely crystal clear that so much of the population completely disagrees.  The conversation I witnessed was very strange and stilted as the initial person continued to talk as if anyone who voted for Ford was crazy while also trying to not directly insult the Ford supporter sitting 1 meter away.  Stranger still the initial speaker continued to talk to the rest of the room as if every one of them obviously hated Ford despite the fact that that particular assumption had been proved dramatically wrong 30 seconds ago. Most people in that situation tend to just be silent and let it drop after someone speaks up who is clearly against their point of view but in this case they did not and kept on with their 'well anyone who voted for him is an idiot' rant for quite awhile.

The fact that people believe things very strongly is not surprising nor is the fact that they find it completely baffling that someone would believe anything else.  The really crazy part is their reaction when they are presented with absolutely firm evidence that mostly people do not believe like they do (like an election result) is to continue to assume that everyone must believe as they do and just ignore the facts.  This is clearly demonstrated in all kinds of other ways though religion is obviously a big one.  It is very common for people to know intellectually that their particular religion is 5% or 20% or whatever of the population and yet be aghast that a person they have met and liked is not part of it.  That assumption that anyone I like must obviously believe the things I believe  is so clearly wrong that is cannot be mistaken and yet we in general are terrible at integrating that understanding into our everyday lives.

I ended up talking about how terrible Ford is with a number of people over the course of the election but I tried very hard not to make the assumption that they felt the same way.  Whenever the topic of politics came up I would try to figure out what the other person's views were prior to taking a noisy stand because I don't think those sorts of confrontations actually accomplish much of anything.  I suppose the ability to put yourself inside someone else's head and understand that your views are not their views varies in strength between people; too bad we can't all be good at it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I or E?

I am a big fan of using Myers-Briggs personality types.  I first got tested in university at around 20 and came out as an ENTP meaing I am Extroverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, Perceiving.  These in order mean that I like lots of people and exciting social situations, I tend to look at the big picture and like ideas more than details, I use rational thought and logic rather than feelings to make decisions and that I tend to be spontaneous and like flexibility rather than scheduling.  At the time I read the description of the ENTP and was astounded at how well it fit my personality, particularly little quirks that I only really noticed once the personality test remarked on them.  I read over the other types and found that ENTJ was fairly close but none of the other descriptions were at all correct - I was an ENT? for sure.

Having just spent more than a year at home as a homemaker I have begun to question that evaluation.  One might think that a social person who loves new people and groups would go completely bonkers sitting alone in an apartment for 8 hours a day but I have not felt that at all.  I have no desire to head out and join groups, meet people and be sociable aside from meeting up with my established friends here and there.  Nothing socially has changed for me from the times when I was a salesperson dealing with new people all day every day, which is strange because I expected that a salesperson might need some alone time after work while a homemaker would be busting at the seams to get out and get some people time.  I think perhaps the sorts of people I was around during my university days really warped my answers to these questions and made me out to be something other than what I am.

While I do very much enjoy time with a few friends I really don't like going out to meet people.  Small talk makes me insane and mostly I just want to be left alone when I end up at a party.  Often people figure I must be unhappy or lonely when I sit in a corner but generally I just prefer to sit and think about numbers instead of meet new people.  When I was younger, prior to university, I found things much more difficult and felt like the world just didn't contain people who understood me.  When I got to university and found a group of people that thought like me and who understood me (to a degree...) I became drastically more sociable with them in particular but never really had much desire to meet all kinds of other people.  I think that intense desire to be around these people who made me feel so much better really made me believe that I was a social creature when in fact my tendencies really lie elsewhere.  It seems strange that an introvert would enjoy sales but I think my view of that situation was really quite different than most; I saw each sale as a game to win, a puzzle to solve, rather than a friend to be made so it wasn't really social.

Realistically I am not E or I to any extreme degree.  There are always shades of grey and that is clearly one of them; I can deal with a sales career so I am obviously not an extreme Introvert but I can deal with being at home all the time by myself so I am obviously not an extreme Extrovert either.  Nonetheless my understanding has shifted and when I took the test again today I tested out as an I, rather than E.  This reminds me a bit of the time I spent convincing Hobo that he was a T instead of an F.  For a long time he was sure he was a Feeler, but eventually I managed to convince him that he really belonged to team evil - Thinkers.  Strangely I even remember the exact moment I finally got him to admit I was right.  It is strange how strongly we cling to these definitions of self we find out in the world; we seem to take them and make the definition part of ourselves.


These last few days Wendy and I have been redoing our condo layout.  We have been putting in new bookshelves, getting rid of furniture and most of all trying to make space by ditching possessions we really don't need.  The process of getting rid of stuff is a very educational one as different categories of things have completely different sets of rules.  For example, we have an old stroller that is pretty beat up but served us well so I tried to get someone to take it through FreeCycle along with our old coffee table and got absolutely no bites.  This is a new thing for me as every other time I have put something up on FreeCycle to give it away I have had people stumbling over one another to take it off my hands but this time only the sounds of crickets chirping greeted my post.  I suppose our entirely functional though admittedly well worn coffee table and stroller will end up in the dumpster out back.

It was a different story with my old Magic cards.  There have been several iterations of me selling all my cards for cash and last time I checked I was up about $1300 net on the hobby.  I figured the stuff I had left was not worth much but I knew I had a couple of cards I could probably sell so I went online to find out what the local store was willing to buy and how much they would pay.  It turns out I can hand them just a small fraction of my remaining collection (the valuable fraction, mind) and I should be carting home something like $2000 bucks.  Even then I still will have thousands of valuable cards that they don't need right at the moment but may yet be worth something.  So I have this crap that has been taking up shelf and locker space that I need to get rid of and somebody is going to pay me thousands of dollars for just a small part of it?  Good deal.

I figured getting rid of old books might be a little like Magic cards.  Surely mint condition hardcover books must sell for a fair bit right?  Turns out the answer is no!  Used book stores don't want hardcover books because they are too bulky and customers only want softcover.  The local store in fact has a rule that they will not buy hardcover books at any price because they are so worthless.  I did manage to carry 4 big shopping bags full of books down there and got $70 for them in total but at least half of the books I delivered I didn't even get paid for.  The bookstore was willing to take them for free and put them on their 'any book for a buck' rack but they weren't willing to give me any money for them.  I still gave them the books of course because it is far better to have them back in circulation than to throw them in the recycling bin but my expectations for how getting rid of books would go were obviously dead wrong.

Wendy has actually been on a 'get rid of stuff' project for a month or so now.  Every day she finds a new object that we don't need anymore and shows it to me before pitching it in the recycling or garbage.  We aren't particularly packrats but the sheer volume of things we have sitting around that we don't need is shocking.  Medicine 5 years beyond expiry?  Check.  Objects we cannot even identify the use of?  Check.  Electronics that have not worked in multiple years?  Check.  Books we actively dislike and yet still have on our shelves?  Check.  The thing I found most shocking is she didn't get rid of anything even remotely questionable over the last month and yet finding a new thing to get rid of every day was dead easy, even in the 5 minutes before bedtime.  We have not much space in our condo but I think we would be much better served purging our crap than thinking about how we would love a bigger place to live.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Addicted to the pot

Now you might think that the title above referred to marijuana but you would be wrong in thinking so.  In fact it refers to a neti pot, which both Wendy and I have been using lately to help clean gunk out of our heads.  This may sound bizarre but the idea of it is to pour saltwater into one nostril, have the water wander around through your sinuses and nasal passages and then pour out the other nostril.  The pot itself looks like this:

There are a plethora of videos on youtube explaining it, here is a link to one that gives you an idea of what using it looks like.  Wendy first found this on the internet, tried it out and immediately attempted to recruit me.  We had some really strange conversations about it, particularly because of the drowning aspect.  You see, while using the neti pot it can feel like you are drowning because there is water moving through your nasal passages.  Unlike drowning there isn't any sense of panic and it feels more just 'weird with a flavour of drowning' than 'I'm a' gonna die!' but we talked about how strange it was to introduce that feeling into another activity.  The other thing that was extremely remarkable was how incredibly effective this was at dealing with congestion.  I sometimes get pretty unpleasant sinus headaches when I get a cold and using the neti pot completely stops them while getting all the mucous out of me at the same time.  I use the pot, blow my nose and then am truly flabbergasted at the sheer volume of icky stuff that was residing inside my head clogging me up making me feel miserable.  Instead of blowing my nose constantly and feeling like everything inside my head is stuck to everything else I feel remarkably normal which is a tremendous upgrade to using cold medicine from the drugstore that makes me feel high as a kite.

I use the neti pot only occasionally when I get sick to fix myself up but Wendy uses it constantly.  It helps her sleep better and breathe easier at night so I heartily approve of its use but it does seem a little strange for her to be needing her pot fix every morning and night.  She gets grumpy and feels terrible if she doesn't get it like any other addict but at least she admits it.  Of course she doesn't want to quit and shouldn't quit, which isn't much like other addicts, so I suppose the analogy isn't really particularly strong.

For anyone curious, yes, you do have to use warm saltwater.  If you don't it burns and feels terrible but the warm saltwater, if salted and warmed to the correct degree, feels really quite comfortable and normal.  I am often fairly derisive of 'natural' health remedies but this one passes the test.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


A a week ago I was on the playground at a local school with Elli and ended up chatting about politics with the other parent there.  Our conversation was really interesting because it outlined some real differences in how people go about choosing who to vote for.  The other parent was going to vote for Rob Ford for mayor because one time he called up Ford to complain about the city workers taking too long to repair his yard after some work was done there and Ford got it fixed quickly.  He was not interested in all of the issues that plague Ford like incompetence, cluenessness, and brushes with the law among others.  He seemed to think it was clear that if someone is willing to help you when you call him that he must be the best candidate for mayor and I felt like that particular attribute was nearly useless for figuring these things out.

When I vote for a person or party I try very hard to look at the big picture.  What are they going to do for the country/city/province, do their long term policies make sense, do they understand what is necessary to make things run smoothly?  I suspect that most voting decisions are not made this way at all though as they end up being based on who your friends are voting for, what radio stations say about the candidates, what the newspapers report, which party your parents always voted for and other similar factors.  One big thing that must swing a ton of votes is a singular experience that creates a powerful emotional connection to a party or candidate.  In this case the other parent obviously was really frustrated at the city workers and Ford helped him so regardless of any other consideration he wants his good friend to win; he doesn't know anything significant about the other candidates and has no reason to go hunting for information since he already knows who he wants to win.

Following the logic that you really should find out a lot of information about a candidate before voting may actually end up leading you to not vote at all.  I have had people try to get me to vote in elections before and I argued that I didn't actually know enough about it to make an informed choice.  In every case they immediately responded that it was important for me to vote even if I didn't know who to vote for because just getting out was a big part of citizenship in a democracy.  I disagree with that sentiment.  Getting out to vote is important if you actually know who you want to win and have good reasons for why they would be better than the opposition.  Getting out to vote just to pick the same party you always do or to support whoever you happen to have a tenuous positive emotional association with has no benefit aside from making it harder for new or fringe groups to get votes, which you may or may not like.

I will actually be getting out to vote in the mayoral race for Toronto this time around.  Normally I don't actually know enough to think my vote is an informed one so I stay away but this time my strategy of "Vote for whoever is winning that isn't Ford" is informed and important.  It isn't a particularly idealistic viewpoint but it is the optimal one from where I stand.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The ideal AI

Perusing CiV forums over the last few weeks has made me wonder a few things.  In particular I have been thinking about what exactly people would want their ideal AI opponent(s) to do if they could set the behaviour themselves.  Obviously the intent here is not to make the AI a pushover since that is fun for a very short time and it also isn't to make the AIs team up and gang the player to death either but rather to have an AI behaviour that gives it a good chance against a variety of human strategies and makes the computers do interesting things with each other.  A good bit of the complaints about the CiV AI talk about how the AI is an extreme warmonger and will almost inevitably attack a player who is situated near them.  Some people evidently want to be friends with the AI in the long term and are frustrated by the fact that they end up in conflict with their neighbours.

The trick is that the easy solutions to that problem create bigger problems.  If you have an AI be very peaceful then the player simple makes a big army and surprises them with an assault and crushes them every time - not much challenge there.  If you have the AI make a huge army but be friendly then the player simply does not make any military at all and gets a fantastic economy going and smashes the AI once they get very powerful units and technology.  Setting up an AI to attack opponents far away is just setting them up to suck so they must either attack their neighbours or not attack at all.  The only real solution to making the AI survive against the inevitable player assault is to make them very aggressive towards people close to them and particularly so towards people who have a very small military.  Of course this leaves players who simply want to be friends and have few/no military units out in the cold but it does mean that the AI isn't simply fodder.

I think there are real challenges when talking about human behaviour in the context of games and in the context of real life.  In real life people generally behave according to the rules and try to keep others happy because long term it isn't helpful to anger those around you.  In a game like CiV though there is no long term; if you get wiped out by an attack you don't get revenge later on so there is every incentive to be the one doing the attacking rather than the one doing the dying.  It is certainly true that players act this way; even though I obey the laws in real life I am extremely aggressive in games and I will happily backstab someone I have been cooperating with up to this point to gain a sizable advantage if I think it will work.  If you don't take those sorts of risks you almost certainly can't win since others will be going for it and one of them will succeed.  In that sense AIs that recklessly attack, break alliances and backstab their former partners are behaving exactly as humans do; and I say this from a long history of playing diplomacy, risk, civilization and other such games.

Of course the AI is terrible in many ways, especially at managing combats and tactics, so even if it attacks with an overwhelming force it will get wrecked against a strong human player.  This doesn't mean that it shouldn't attack though, as the only way any wargame AI can ever consistently keep a player challenged is by constant offensive pressure.  This is true in Starcraft 2, it is true in CiV, and it has always been true in any similar type of wargame.  The computer needs a massive resource advantage to be competitive and it competes by being constantly aggressive - any other strategy is doomed to failure.  While it would be nice to know that others will play nice with you in your game it is guaranteed to make the game trivial to others who seek to exploit that behaviour.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Combat Modelling

I am working on building a combat modelling program in Excel for the WOW expansion due out in December.  The only really tricky part about building such a program is figuring out how to model exactly what happens in combat and let the user know what sequences of abilities will be the most effective.  The hardest part about doing this by far is the random elements that are sometimes involved.  For example, in the last expansion I had to model an effect where 40% of the time a weapon swing would cause an ability to be usable right away.  I ended up modelling it by having the program keep track of a variable that started at 1 and incremented each time it was checked and when it got to 21 it was reset to 1.  I preset 8 different numbers (1,2,4,5,8,9,13,15) that would trigger a 'yes' result and otherwise the program assumed it was a 'no'.  Doing this allowed me to make sure that over time 8/20 or 40% of the results would be yes, and this system worked out well.  It wasn't random so it would generate the exact same results each time for any user but it gave results that were extremely close to actual game values.

The trick this time is I have % chances for specific things to occur that are not fixed.  For example, my Hand of Light (HoL) ability has a chance to go off on each attack but the chance of it going off starts at 8% and goes up with the gear I wear.  I need a modelling system that has the ability to model any particular % chance including decimal places and I want that system to also produce identical results each time it is run.  Unfortunately the only way I know how to do this is to make the program run the simulation for huge time periods so that the really large numbers can smooth out the data; otherwise the results will be different on each run and will ultimately make it very difficult to draw useful conclusions.  As I understand it I can control the seed that the program uses to generate random numbers but if that seed happens to be really wonky in some way my data would still be useless.

The only kludge I have been able to think up is to have a preset start sequence and then have the program check to see if the overall percentage so far is over/under the theoretical one and pick the next result based on that.  For example, I just assign the program to have the ability go off on the 4th, 14th and 24th try of the first 30.  On the 31st try we know that the current result is 3/30 or 10%, so if the theoretical chance is over 10% it goes off on the 31st try, and if the theoretical chance is below 10% then it does not.  Either way it follows up by calculating either 3/31 or 4/31, checking against the theoretical chance and going again.  This would at least give me identical results each run but it has big problems with plateaus.  If I run a test with 300 attacks I might raise the chance from 9.99% to 10.01% and see a significant gain because it made that 300th result change in value, whereas going from 10.01% to 10.03% no difference at all will be recorded.  I suppose I really have no way to avoid plateaus without using *immense* simulations so this may well be the best way to make this work.  If anyone else has any suggestions please feel free to let me know though.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How hard can it be?

I wrote awhile ago about how crazy the highest difficulty setting (Immortal) in CiV is.  The computer receives absurd advantages to try to compensate for its shortcomings at strategy and I found that sometimes nothing I could do could stop it.  At the time I wrote about it before I really felt like many of the normal ways to win simply weren't feasible against the Immortal AI, it was simply too hard.

I was wrong.

You see, I had to learn to play politics, CiV style.  You might imagine that when you conquer a city you would take it over, or burn it down, or put a governor in charge that you like and let it do its own thing.  These are the normal 3 options.  However, you can make a fourth option for yourself which is to take over the city and then sell it to one of your opponents instead of keeping it.  The AI will give a tremendous amount for a city so I would smash one opponent and sell their cities to the other AIs as bribes to give me huge wads of cash or to start wars with each other.  I could get all of the AIs to gang up on whoever was winning at the time by selling them cities and keep roaming around the map smashing people.  Eventually I had to go burn all their cities to the ground but the incredible control I had over who was fighting who and the huge sums of cash I got paid made things drastically easier.  I also found that I could get resources that aren't really very useful and sell them off.  Being extremely diligent about constantly selling resources, even ones the AIs couldn't realistically use, for the maximum amount gave me more money and thus more power, not to mention that it kept them broke a lot of the time.  None of these tactics required being better at fighting, just being better at playing the AI for a fool, which you have to do when they get twice as much of everything as you do.

Of course I also just got better at managing my empires and fighting my wars.  I now pretty much don't lose units in battles unless something really weird happens and have beaten Immortal games by crushing every single enemy militarily without losing a single unit in battle throughout the entire game.  Today I decided that it was time for the real challenge:  Beat the game on Immortal with only a single city.  You see, you need lots of cities.  The enemies not only get more stuff for each city, but they will have a dozen (or fifty) cities building things and attacking you and the less cities you have the more likely they are to attack as they think you are weak.  Also since I cannot possibly field a real army I can never go smash them even if I do wipe out their armies in the field - I must just sit and wait for the next wave.  If you had asked me 10 days ago if this was possible I would have laughed at you... how can you beat enemies that have drastically superior units and drastically more units when every single one is going to attack you as the target of choice?  It is possible however, and although I have not yet won I have managed to survive to turn 450 where there are 3 enemy AIs left who all have future technology and immense armies.  I have 5 military units, mid 1900s technology and one city but I am still alive and closing in on a cultural victory.  At least one of the computers is rushing to build a spacecraft so my win is somewhat in doubt but I am absolutely certain that it can be won and if I had anticipated the challenge just a little better I will definitely defeat it.

The trouble of course is what could possibly be left after that?  I start myself on a huge continent full of enemies who get incredible bonuses over me and refuse to build more than one city.  I set myself every disadvantage the game settings allow and victory is surely feasible, if not necessarily assured.  Alexander the Great, who I play as in this scenario, wept that there were no more enemies for him to defeat.  I think I understand how he feels.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Crystal clean... Instantly!

I remember many years ago seeing ads on TV for CLR, a cleaner that was supposed to remove calcium, lime and rust stains from bathroom fixtures, kitchen tools/utensils, etc.  The ads had a constant tagline of "Crystal clean... Instantly!" and showed people washing white residue from shower walls and coffee pots in moments.  At the time I wondered if the stuff really was as good as the advertising claimed it was and how nasty the chemicals in it actually were.  Fast forward 15 years to last week and my shower has residue building up on the tap and in the tub and is slowly looking worse month by month.  It is just normal buildup from water drying on the surfaces over years so my 'this must be cleaned now' trigger took a long time to go off since it was so gradual.  I had tried scrubbing most thoroughly with regular spray and got absolutely nowhere so finally I decided to bite the bullet and go find some CLR someplace to get rid of it.  I must say that my hat is off to whatever marketer made those original ads since I have not seen one in well over a decade and yet still I remember them and still I went looking for that exact product.  I did not find that exact name brand, but I did find the generic version of the same thing, and I figure the generic brand 15 years later must be as good as the original.

I bought this stuff, took it home and tried it out.  I was expecting it to be a lot less effective than the commercials but I was not expecting it to be a complete failure.  I tried soaking things, I tried scrubbing things, I tried everything I could think of and the only conclusion I could come to is that this stuff is absolutely useless.  I normally don't sweat it if a cleaner can't handle something but since this stuff is extremely unhealthy, not particularly cheap and *specifically* designed to handle the thing I am trying to clean I expected it to do something instead of nothing.  After an hour of trying things I eventually decided to test the ultimate weapon.

I figured that if super strong cleaner didn't work maybe super strong cleaner with a steel scrubber would.  In fact it worked marvellously.  I scrubbed everything off that I had been struggling with with little effort, which was great and all, but I began to wonder if the CLR had done anything at all or if it was just the scrubber.  I tried scrubbing things that the CLR had not been applied to and lo and behold it worked great.  I got all the junk off I had been wanting to clean and the useless CLR I went out to buy had no part in it; all the credit goes to the scrubber I had sitting below the sink all these years.

So I want to say to whoever created and marketed that CLR all those years ago:  Your ads were very, very effective.  I will remember them forever and they made me think your product worked.  Your product is shoddy, useless, a mess for the environment and a disgrace.  There may not be eternal punishment for people who do such things, for which I am grateful, but there are times when roasting some marketing people would bring a little smile to my face.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Patch day, once again

Tuesday was patch day in WOW.  In particular it was the 4.0 patch, which means that WOW is undergoing massive changes to prepare for the new expansion.  Talent trees have been totally redesigned, combat systems are completely different, gear is not the same; the numbers of the game are completely rewritten and new though the world remains unchanged.  As must always be the case when so much happens in a single day there are some classes that end up way too good and some that are way too bad.  I logged in on Tuesday and discovered that I was in the second group.  My damage was paltry compared to what I managed before and I was totally unable to beat anyone when I went to try pvp - even against people of inferior skill and gear I simply had no way to win.  I found this experience really interesting considering how things went in the 3.0 patch 2 years ago where I was incredibly overpowered.

I remember how fun and hilarious it was years ago when the developers made mistakes that made Retribution Paladins (my particular variety of character) really too good.  I walked into battlegrounds and just blew people to pieces with no effort.  I wasn't any tougher than them but I killed everyone within 4 seconds or so and it took them 10 seconds to kill me so no one could stand up to me.  I often jumped into fights with 4 opponents at once with the expectation that I would kill at least 2 of them before I died and often ended up beating all of them by myself if they were stupid or badly geared.  I had enough self awareness to know that it wasn't by any great skill of mine that I was smashing all before me but rather through a mistake of the developers.  Of course Blizzard noticed how absurd the situation was and fixed it but it was a fun 3 weeks of mauling people, which I considered great justice for the years of being terrible I had endured prior.

This week though the shoe is on the other foot.  I was terrible and it is hard to go out and play when you know for a fact that you are going to be bad regardless of what you do.  No amount of practice, skill, or preparation would allow me to defeat a Mage who was even barely competent and it is the most disheartening thing in the world to know that your inability to win is completely in the hands of someone else.  Of course, many others who experienced this went to the forums and spewed hatred and vitriol everywhere, cursing Blizzard and begging for release from their torment while I just logged off and did something else.  It is easy to think that the best way to fix your problem is to blow up in anger and join your fellows in apoplectic explosions of vulgarity, giving in to the misconception that somehow the people who program the game hate your class and in fact you personally.  They don't, and by and large they want the game to be both balanced and fun and they are getting pretty good at it.  Not as good as me, mind, but one must be realistic.

Blizzard, not wanting to wait 3 weeks this time, stepped in and made some drastic changes today.  They said that they were buffing Retribution Paladins as well as a few others and I wondered if they really understood just how much was going to be necessary to achieve balance.  I logged in and noticed that most of my abilities hit for about 50% more than they did the day before and it seemed clear that now I was suddenly competitive again.  No more angst necessary.  Chalk one up in the win column for Blizzard Entertainment.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Burning out on blogging

The title to this post is entirely misleading.  I am not burning out on blogging so much as I have seen a few other high profile gaming blogs make that assertion and I thought it warranted talking about.  In particular both Tobold and Larisa announced recently that they are going to cut back on their posts on their very widely read WOW blogs.  In both cases they have hundreds to thousands of readers, tremendously busy comment sections after every post and have been posting regularly for multiple years.  Both talked about wanting to do other things, not wanting to feel obligated to post and not feeling inspired, and yet both are still making posts and seem very excited about the recent WOW patch, though not all positive.  This makes me wonder why most people make blogs and what reasons they have for making sure posts go up on a constant basis.

Tobold tried putting up a donation button on his blog to see what kind of responses he would get from it.  I believe he made about 100 dollars over 6 months with thousands of loyal readers so I figure that I stand to make enough to buy a candy at the 7-11 if I put a donate button on my blog.  I know some people who have tried out putting ads up on their blogs and gotten zero dollars in return, so obviously it isn't worth doing for the money unless you are one of the extremely tiny top few.  I blog for a bunch of reasons:

I like the writing practice.
I have lots of opinions and I want to share them.
I find it interesting to see which opinions get ignored and which get torn apart by my readers.
I want to learn from all the experience of my readers and provoking them to respond makes that happen.
Blogging helps clarify my thoughts and forces me to really sharpen the edges of my ideas.
I like sharing things with my friends and family so those who want to can keep up on what I am thinking/doing.
I want to know if I can get a lot of people reading or not.

There are some days that I don't have much to say but I find that ideas come when I ask for them.  The very act of sitting in front of my computer and absolutely needing to find something interesting to say makes me look around at the world and hunt for remarkable things, so obviously just needing to make a post is helping me learn.  There are other days where I have lots of ideas and not enough time to get them all out so I end up saving them for the next day.  I think if there were ever to come a time where I really didn't want to post and felt like the act of looking for a topic wasn't going to bring me any joy I would need to stop there but that has never occurred.  I think one thing that must be challenging for most bloggers is the necessity to say something every day with no immediate reward or punishment involved. Once there is an obligation there things can become very frustrating and writing can feel more like a job with no pay instead of a labor of love.  I understand very well the feelings Larisa and Tobold have though, since I am sure it is similar to raiding in WOW.  At some point the obligation to show up for 10 hours a week feels like a chore instead of an opportunity and you need a break from it if only to show yourself exactly why you do want to go back.  I have taken my break from WOW for these past few weeks; I wonder if I will ever need the same sort of thing for blogging?


In CiV there are a number of different factions you can choose from when you begin your game like Greek, Roman, Ottoman, French, etc.  Each of these factions has some special bonus to make their style unique and 1 or 2 special units that are upgrades over the normal ones.  Depending on what sort of terrain you start in, what sort of game style you are playing, what happens during the game and who you are facing each of the different special bonuses can be very useful, though certainly I have opinions on which ones are the most powerful!  (Hint: Americans are bad!) A really tricky part of the evaluation of how good a faction is must include when their unit appears in the game timeline.  For example, the Greeks get Companion Cavalry (CC) which are a mounted unit that appears early in the game.  You should get access to CC in nearly every game you play and they are really powerful so having them is a big advantage.  On the other side of the equation is the B-17, which is an American special unit that appears when you are able to build bombers in the modern era.  As such by the time the B-17 is available usually one side has already won the game or is in such a dominant position that nothing can change the outcome.  In many cases you will wipe your opponents out or be wiped out before you even get access to muskets so the B-17 is almost always going to be irrelevant.

The trouble with this sort of situation is it is pretty much impossible to balance it.  I am trying to imagine how good a B-17 would have to be to overall be as useful as CC on average over many games and the idea is hilarious.  Imagine if the B-17 were to be improved so that it instantly destroys anything it attacks and is completely invincible.  This would mean that generally speaking you still never build one and when you do it is just to have fun bombing your opponent's musketeers into oblivion.  In 90% of games it would make no difference that the B-17 is totally unstoppable.  However, in the last 10% of games where you get to use modern weapons and the game is still close it would be absurd - the Americans would build B-17s and automatically win from that point.  Having a special unit turn 10% of games from 'close' into 'rout' isn't even good enough, and yet clearly if I was in a close game and then my opponent built an invincible unit that just beats me I would find that terrible and ridiculous.  It turns out that it isn't possible to make the B-17 powerful enough to make it a strong faction bonus without making the game completely stupid once it does get built.  Of course these same objections exist with the Japanese Zero jet fighter, the German Panzer tank and a few others.

So in theory what you do if you want to assign a unit like a B-17 to a faction is you just make it a little bit better than the other units available to everyone else and then give that faction another really powerful unit or an amazing special bonus; you find some way to compensate them for the fact that their unit rarely matters.  What actually happens in the game though is some factions (Greeks!!!) have early game units that are very powerful and so they are just much better than the factions that have late game units.  The faction balance in CiV isn't wretched by any means - there are lots of interesting choices and even now with a lot of games under my belt I find it challenging to figure out the best faction for a specific strategy.  Unfortunately there are a few lame duck factions that although they would be fun to try out to test they aren't really going to be competitive.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Don't call it a comeback

I played a new 4 player game today.  Strangely enough I am not confident of the exact name of the game but I believe it was called factory manager, and if not then at least factory manager is an apt name for it!  In the first 2 turns I wasn't exactly sure how things would play and I ended up being about 6-10 dollars behind Ziggyny in points and was fairly sure there was no way to make up the difference unless he did something really foolish.  When the game ended at the end of turn 5 I lost to him by 8 points (276-284).  The game was quite enjoyable generally and seemed well put together but it distinctly lacks a way for those who end up at an early disadvantage to come back into the game barring a serious blunder by the person in the lead.  Obviously someone who leads early and plays flawlessly should have at the very least an extremely high chance at victory but it felt bad looking at our respective positions and noting that they were nearly identical except his was just a tad better.

This makes me wonder how much of a comeback mechanism a game needs to be enjoyable.  In Settlers of Catan for example it is absolutely trivial for three players to crush 1 player who gets an early lead; they could simply refuse to trade with him and stuff him at every opportunity or they could just hand all their resources to one guy and watch him win the game in no time.  The problem with those sorts of situations is it becomes all about politics and convincing people that your game position is worse than it is so they spend their time beating down on somebody else.  I have played Settlers games where the entire game boiled down to two loud, stubborn people arguing about which of them was in the lead and the other 2 players refused to play the game again after that.  On the opposite extreme is Dominion, where in many games the players interact in virtually no way and it is often nearly impossible to actually do anything about a person who is running away with the victory.  Clearly some people really like games where they have tremendous flexibility to get together and stomp the leader flat and some people hate it but I think there must be some kind of middle ground where you have some control over other players but you can't simply take them out of the game entirely.

I think the easiest example of that middle ground is Puerto Rico, though I am very biased here since it is one of my favourite games.  You can certainly rain on somebody's parade if you want to and make the game more challenging for them but you absolutely cannot remove their ability to play nor can you guarantee that you both lose on a whim.  If you have 3 strong players and players A and B decide that they are both playing for A to win and C to lose they will certainly succeed but at the very least C will always feel like he is playing the game and getting things done which is much better than Settlers played against a team.

FMB does not achieve this middle ground that I am talking about unfortunately.  Just like Settlers if A and B decide to gangpile C and refuse to back down from that then C won't have much of a game.  I feel like I succeeded in that if everyone is playing to win then C should never be out completely because the A and B should backstab each other as soon as a substantial lead over C is established and C should have an opportunity to come back.  I figure in any freeflowing war game there is no way to prevent an alliance of players from crushing a single player if that is their goal but at least I made comebacks possible and made it optimal to break alliances fairly quickly.  Perhaps it isn't as structurally impregnable as Puerto Rico is but given the genre of the game I think it is excellent in this regard.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Shoes, or not

It is remarkably easy to get back into the habit of wearing shoes.  After months of going barefoot I found it really uncomfortable and odd to wear shoes again but I was left with no choice since most of the places I regularly visited on a daily basis made shoes mandatory for no good reason.  I go barefoot here and there when it is possible but now I am back into the habit of putting on shoes every time I leave my house and often find myself wearing shoes while going places where shoes are not required just out of habit.  We had a cold snap recently too where I ended up wearing hikers and socks instead of just sandals as it was often wet and only a few degrees above zero.

It seems the experiment is well and truly over.  I very much enjoyed and still enjoy going barefoot whenever possible but the irritation of being hassled about it and the inconvenience of limiting my destinations makes it largely more trouble than it is worth.  Since the last time I wrote about this I have had a few interesting encounters and I will share them here.

I was walking down the street barefoot with Elli who was also barefoot.  She finds it incredibly entertaining to go barefoot in the city and for a long time was insisting on doing so everywhere when I was around since her mom largely made her wear her shoes.  I was accosted on the street by a couple of gentlemen with a Indian subcontinent kind of look to them who were positively jovial at seeing us walking around barefoot.  They talked about how wonderful going barefoot was, how they loved feeling connected to the earth and how it reminded them of home.  I asked where home was and they told me they come from Afghanistan where people go barefoot all the time and it is considered entirely normal to do.  They were wearing shoes, whether to fit in, to follow somebody's rules or for some other reason but they sure seemed to think that we were the best thing around.  I don't generally use terms like 'connected to the earth' since they have a strong spiritual overtone that I don't agree with but I am sure the source of the sentiment is the same.

I was in Elli's classroom dropping her off on a very rainy day and another parent, myself and her teachers were talking about how kids love to jump in puddles.  The other parent commented that jumping in puddles is something only someone under the age of 10 would ever want to do.  I corrected him and told him that I love jumping in puddles and playing in streams of water in the rain and he should try it some day.  In particular I recommended running through the city streets barefoot during a warm summer shower and following rivulets of water down the street to where they finally vanish underground.  He looked at me as if I was suggesting ritual murder, politely said he would consider trying that and left rapidly.  While I am sure that some adults really don't want to jump in puddles I think there are an awful lot that do have a desperate urge to play in small trickels of water, to splash in them, dam them up and watch the dam break.  Mostly they resist that urge for various reasons, though I think it would do them good to ignore those reasons for awhile and plunge right in.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Just one small thing

Normally my posts are all large, but I felt I should put up something both wonderful and small:  A single link.  This is an interview of a web cartoonist that I read regularly and it is wonderful.  You see, most interviews ask a series of boring, predictable questions that get uninteresting answers.  This interview is a savage mockery of interviews in general and of the site that hosts it in particular.  I *love* it.

Bargaining with a Giant

Bargaining when you are forced to take an offer and only have one person you can take it from gets pretty crazy.  I was thinking about this issue in regards to the recent posts I have made about unions and strikes and in particular the comments I got on them.  The thing is that in the sort of job market I have always found myself in the idea of needing a union was pretty ridiculous because everyone taking a job had literally a thousand other companies they could work for doing similar work.  When you are a salesman you can always find a job and the idea of a single employer monopoly is pretty ludicrous so you don't need protection from a company that wants to offer you terrible compensation.  If a company tries to pay its sales force 25k a year they are going to end up constantly turning over people and employing only those who are too wretched to be working anywhere good.  If they pay 75k they can be fairly choosy and only keep the people that perform well so there isn't any need for worker protection that goes beyond the basics that government offers, the system corrects itself.

However, (and this is where my particular experiences let me down) this is not true in situations where there are monopolies on hiring, especially when the cost of getting trained for the job is substantial.  Most salesmen are perfectly able and willing to do other work and their 'training' for their job consisted of learning to talk to other people so they give up virtually nothing to exit the field or swap jobs.  In the case of skilled tradesmen or teachers, among others, the situation is different because the person in question spent a lot of time and money getting the specific training they need so they can't easily go to another job or industry.  It is much easier in that situation for an employer to be in a monopolistic position so it is entirely reasonable for the employees to respond by setting themselves up as an opposing monopoly in an attempt to level the playing field.  There are other times when an employer, whether it be a government or a company, ends up in a monopoly and the only way to avoid the employees getting really reamed is unionization.

So if you are a teacher, like my brother Matt, you can't easily swap professions logistically even if you weren't emotionally committed.  You also face a government employer that would happily chop your wages and benefits to nothing to balance budgets if they could get away with it so you need some bargaining power to prevent that.  If you are a salesman like me you can swap employers or fields with minimal cost and can negotiate with a thousand different companies for the best terms so you need nothing to support your negotiation other than your own skills.  If you are a garbage worker in Toronto you have minimal investiture in the field, you can swap jobs easily and yet you have a union working for you that regularly gets you into strikes, takes a chunk of your wages and gets you 18 sick days a year.  In the first situation a union exists and seems necessary, in the second no union exists (I would *love* to see someone try to set up a salesman's union, that would be comedy for the ages) and is patently unnecessary, and in the third a union exists and it is a terrible mess.

So I was wrong.  There is a time and a place for unions.  However, many of the unions out there right now aren't useful entities preventing monopolistic disaster but simply leeches on the system, producing nothing of value of their own.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


I have been slowly working my way up the difficulty chain in CiV.  The difficulties are as follows:

1 - Settler - hilariously easy
2 - Chieftain
3 - Warlord
4 - Prince - normal - max AI difficulty - above this the AI cheats.
5 - King
6 - Emperor
7 - Immortal - insanely hard

Most of my games have been on King difficulty and today I just won for the first time on Emperor.  I am sure I could have ratcheted up the difficulty faster but I am having a lot of fun playing different civilizations and trying different strategies to win.  The tricky thing on the top two difficulty levels is that the AI cheats to an extent that is really shocking.  To win today I had to do some really silly things to abuse the AIs strategic weaknesses to eke out a victory, far more than just moving my units tactically or building the correct buildings.  By the time I defeated the other civilization on my island and struck out for new territory across the sea the most powerful enemy AI - The Germans - already had an incredible 34 to 23 technology lead on me and their army was roughly 4 times the size of mine.  So not only did they have an unbeatable horde of units but they also had drastically better units and better technology.  It quickly became apparent that no amount of skill or strategy could allow me to defeat them on the field of battle with their ludicrous advantage so I had to win by going directly for the United Nations and voting myself the winner.  Anyone who knows how CiV works will tell you that this is the cheesy way to win as you abuse a huge hole in the AI's logic - they simply wait for the UN vote and vote for themselves while players know that everyone gets one vote from the lowliest city state to the gigantic world spanning empire.  I bought the loyalty of a bunch of random city states one turn before the vote and won the game despite being 17 technologies behind and hopelessly outgunned.  They call the UN victory the diplomatic victory but really it should be called the economic victory as you get it by having a boatload of money to buy 'friends' to vote for you.

I can see more now why people would complain about this AI's behaviour.  At the highest difficulties it is unbelievably overpowered, so much so that no amount of tactics, positioning or cleverness could save the player.  The only way to win is to find the holes in the algorithm and abuse them hideously.  The computer doesn't cope well with extreme situations as it focuses on building a diversified military so a player can build a 20 unit navy and hold off the computer's 10 unit navy and 60 unit army because of the sea between them.  Because the AI enjoys such incredible technology and cultural advantages it is simply inadvisable/impossible to try to defeat it through normal means and the UN vote is the obvious answer since the AI just doesn't quite get how to stop that technique.  The unfortunate part of turning up the difficulty is that instead of just playing the normal game better and better you must play the game in a twisted, bizarre fashion dictated by the gaps in the AI's strategies.  It is still fun but it surely isn't as good as if we could somehow create an AI to rival the best human players.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


A couple posts back Here we were talking in the comments about how the outgoing mayor of Toronto got the city into a garbage strike and lost a ton of popularity over it.  Ziggyny in particular suggested that either caving in right away or holding the line forever would be acceptable but that holding for awhile and then giving up is simply not okay.  I think this is a really good example of a very difficult situation that is made very simple in hindsight.  Obviously if the mayor knows that the union will literally strike forever unless they get their deal he is much better off just giving them what they want right away but he does not know that at all.  When he makes the decision to force a strike he only knows that they might back down and that the city cannot afford to pay what they are asking.  Once he is in a strike situation his choices are entirely different; he must eventually give in and has to hope that the opposition will blink first.  He can give in at any moment and gain public approval for ending the strike but he will have to suffer public anger at either increased taxes or lowered services elsewhere to pay for it.

Another consideration is that fact that he is dealing with many unions.  Running the garbage strike forever simply isn't viable and giving in right away to any union that threatens a strike will bankrupt the city.  Sad as it is a big part of negotiating is convincing the other side that you are absolutely willing to screw both groups over to strike a favourable bargain.  I experienced this all the time in sales - the customer tries to convince the salesperson that they will walk out and never return if they don't get what they want and the salesperson tries to convince the customer that they will give up the order entirely to avoid lowering the price further.  In sales it is merely a matter of both sides not wanting to give up the time they invested together but in city/union negotiations it is both sides not wanting to give up popularity, service and/or pay.  Here is the bitch of the matter:  The city simply cannot negotiate reasonably without the unions being convinced that the city will force a strike if they have to and the only way to make the unions sure that the city means it is to let strikes happen now and again.  I bet that many of the strikes that happen really are just one side or the other trying to send the message that they won't be messed with and quite frankly that is just how things are always going to be until we get rid of huge union negotiating groups.

Note that doesn't mean necessarily that Miller or the city did the right thing in forcing a garbage strike but it does mean there are very good reasons for them forcing strikes sometimes and outsiders are going to have a hell of a time picking out which times are right and wrong.  I tend to have a pro city slant to my thoughts because I have a lot of problems with big unions in general as I find that any job that ends up being done by unions ends up with nothing but problems to show for it.  Unions had their place in times past but the basic protections they demanded are available to all employees now and at the moment they mostly act as giant parasites sucking off dollars from employers by getting their members more money and then taking that money in dues.  While unions continue to fill public sector job categories wholesale we will continue to have these painful strikes and consistent overspending, no way around it.  Sometimes the city is to blame for an individual strike but the situation as a whole really isn't their doing.

Monday, October 4, 2010

So, anyone want to pay me for sex?

This title of this post just got a lot less illegal.  An Ontario Supreme Court judge just ruled that all of the laws Ontario has surrounding prostitution are not valid and will cease to be in force within 30 days.  Even prior to this exchanging money for sex in Ontario was not illegal, though communicating with the intent to do so was, as was living off the avails of prostitution.  For some reason we ended up with a perfectly legal activity that was surrounded by laws making it nearly impossible to do that activity without running afoul of the law.  My response?


Sex between consenting adults that does not result in anybody being injured or otherwise put out has no business being regulated by the government regardless of whether or not money is being exchanged.  Current prostitution laws have not had any success in getting rid of prostitution but they have managed to make it exceptionally dangerous for those who end up there whether by reasoned choice or desperate circumstance.  Prostitutes are easy to find, brothels are widespread and sex for money is available to anyone who wants it.  The primary things these old laws have accomplished is making it easier for pimps to control prostitutes because those prostitutes cannot seek legal help without risking jail time and making anyone who honestly wants to be a prostitute work very hard to avoid jail for doing a job that doesn't hurt anyone.

This feels very much like the argument surrounding marijuana to me.  If it isn't hurting people and policing it is wasting more money than preventing it can possibly be worth then legalize it, tax it, regulate it and move on.  Now prostitutes will be able to hire bodyguards, work out of their homes or licenced businesses, pay taxes and feel like they are a part of society again.  Prostitutes in dire circumstances, like those who are drug addicted and being controlled by a criminal pimp, will have the ability to go to the legal system for help without the fear of being arrested.  To be fair there will still be people caught in terrible situations who can only manage to make money by selling themselves sexually but that will be true either way; the main difference is now the path out of such a wretched place will be easier for those who really want to take it.

In general I find the attitude that sex is dirty and only redeemable by monogamy within a marriage to be pretty pathetic.  I personally am very happy with the monogamous married lifestyle but there are plenty of others who are not and though I might find that decision smart or foolish in any particular case I can find no reason for the state to be involved.  Just as with alcohol, cigarettes, high fructose corn syrup, high heels, downhill skiing, boxing and football the government needs to regulate lightly.  All of these activities have downsides and can be considered a bad idea for the individual but nonetheless we as a society accept that people have foolish habits and as long as most of the time things are okay we simply regulate the worst behaviour, tax it appropriately and sigh at the foolish mistakes of others.  Let's take that attitude a little more often, I say.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

1 Angry Man

Toronto is in the middle of a mayoral race to succeed the fairly popular, successful, and strongly left wing outgoing mayor David Miller.  Miller left behind a legacy of general improvement and lack of corruption that I find quite pleasing and the real complaint people have about his time in office is a really long garbage strike that took place in the summer last year, which I find hard to blame him significantly for.  The frontrunner of the current campaign, Rob Ford, has a platform that primarily seems to consist of anger and disgust.  He projects the aura of a man very angry and bitter at the excesses of a left wing city hall that has wasted money over the past 8 years or so and vows to 'end the gravy train'.

The trick to Ford's campaign is a emotional appeal to drivers who feel that public transit and bicycles have no place on their roads and an attempt to make everyone believe that Ford can somehow save them all a bundle on fees and taxes by chopping the fat from the city budget.  The strange thing is that every single time Ford is asked to give specifics about the changes he intends to make he either says something that makes absolutely no sense from a fiscal *or* service standpoint or simply refuses to say anything at all.  All of the newspapers in the city seem to have a ball mocking him, talking about how he makes up ridiculous numbers on the spot, has no idea how much money is spent on various things and laughing at his impractical ideas for transit.  This notwithstanding he is the leader in the race at the moment and so seems to have somehow caught the ears of Torontonians despite his total lack of understanding of the process of running a city.  Usually I try to present the idea that things are complicated and that we don't necessarily know the whole picture but in this particular case there is simply no crack in the evidence; Ford is a fool with no idea what he is doing and he looks like he will be running the show in another few weeks.

So obviously the people of this city have been taken in by anger and disgust at the wastefulness of the Toronto government.  Given that Canada has weathered the global recession drastically better than nearly every other country on earth it is hard to accept that people would be desperate for some kind of radical solution but apparently times are hard enough that there are a lot of folks around here hoping that a revolutionary can show up and save them from the evil bureaucracy.  I suppose when people are feeling the pinch monetarily they want to make sure nobody else is doing too well either and they are willing to follow whoever seems interested in enacting revenge on the fat cats draining their wallets through taxes.  It might also be explained a little by having a left wing mayor for two terms straight; maybe people tend to become bitter at whoever is in power and try to get something as unlike the old government as possible.  I do find it sad though that drivers would so wholeheartedly get behind idiotic schemes like removing public transit to improve the roads for drivers - how exactly is removing 1 streetcar and adding 20 cars to the road going to make anything better?

On election day if you live in Toronto I strongly suggest figuring out who is currently polling as the best competition to Ford and vote for them.  Normally elections are about who you want to win but this one is shaping up to just be 'please, anyone but that guy!'