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Dreddnafious Maelstrom

Member Since 11 Jul 2002
Offline Last Active Sep 12 2014 08:20 PM

Topics I've Started

Carmack on government

28 October 2010 - 01:27 PM

With the caveat that being really smart and having uber-engine programming skills doesn't mean your political philosophy is inherently superior I recently read a short blurb by Carmack on his political philosophy, and as it mirrors basically my own beliefs I thought I'd share it.

Link to source


John Carmack on 10-28-2010

Almost everything that I write publicly is about technical details in software or aerospace, and the points are usually not very contentious. I’m going to go out on a limb today and talk about a much more banal topic -– government. This is sort of an open letter to my mother and stepfather, who are intelligent people, but we don’t see eye to eye on political issues. A couple brief conversations a year during visits doesn’t really establish much, and I have wanted to make a more carefully considered set of points.

I had nearly disqualified myself from discuss politics by not bothering to cast a vote for almost 20 years after I was legally able to. I was busy. I paid millions of dollars of taxes without any dodges, and just focused on my work. Listening to political speeches full of carefully calculated rhetoric is almost physically painful to me, and I diligently avoided it.

A couple things slowly brought me around to paying more attention. A computer game company doesn’t need to have much to do with the government, but a company that flies rocket ships is a different matter. Due to Armadillo Aerospace, in the last decade I have observed and interacted with a lot of different agencies, civil servants, and congressmen, and I have collected enough data points to form some opinions. The second thing that has changed for me is becoming a father; with two young sons, I think more about how the world might look in twenty or thirty years when they are adults.

I am an optimist on almost all fronts. Throughout history, there have always been those that argue that the world is going to hell, yet here we are, better off than any previous generation. Not only are things pretty damn good, but there is a lot of positive inertia that makes it likely that things will continue to improve for quite some time. We aren’t balanced at a precipice, where the result of any given election can pitch us into darkness.

However, trends do matter. Small, nearly painless losses accumulate over the years, and the world can slowly change into something you don’t want while you weren’t paying attention. It doesn’t take a cataclysmic crash, just a slow accretion of over regulation, taxation, and dependency that chokes the vibrant processes that produce wealth and growth. Without growth, you get a zero sum game of fighting over the pie that breeds all sorts of problems in government and society.

basic premise.


My core thesis is that the federal government delivers very poor value for the resources it consumes, and that society as a whole would be better off with a government that was less ambitious. This is not to say that it doesn’t provide many valuable and even critical services, but that the cost of having the government provide them is much higher than you would tolerate from a company or individual you chose to do business with. For almost every task, it is a poor tool.

So much of the government just grinds up money, like shoveling cash into a wood chipper. It is ghastly to watch. Billions and billions of dollars. Imagine every stupid dot-com company that you ever heard of that suckered in millions of dollars of investor money before leaving a smoking crater in the ground with nothing to show for it. Add up all that waste, all that stupidity. All together, it is a rounding error versus the analogous program results in the government. Private enterprises can’t go on squandering resources like that for long, but it is standard operating procedure for the government.

Well, can’t we make the government more efficient, so they can accomplish its tasks for less, or do more good work? Sure, there is room for improvement everywhere, but there are important fundamental limits. It is entertaining to imagine a corporate turnaround expert being told to get the federal house in shape, but it can’t happen. The modern civil service employment arrangement is probably superior to the historic jobs-as-political-spoils approach, but it insulates the workforce from the forces that improve commercial enterprises, and the voting influence of each worker is completely uncorrelated with their value. Without the goal and scorecard of profit, it is hard to even make value judgments between people and programs, so there are few checks against mounting inefficiency and abject failure, let alone evolution towards improvement.

Even if you could snap your fingers and get it, do you really want a razor sharp federal apparatus ready to efficiently carry out the mandates of whoever is the supreme central planner at the moment? The US government was explicitly designed to make that difficult, and I think that was wise.

So, the federal government is essentially doomed to inefficiency, no matter who is in charge or what policies they want it to implement. I probably haven’t lost too many people at this point – almost nobody thinks that the federal government is a paragon of efficiency, and it doesn’t take too much of an open mind to entertain the possibility that it might be much worse than you thought (it is).

Given the inefficiency, why is the federal government called upon to do so many things? A large part is naked self interest, which is never going to go away -- lots of people play the game to their best advantage, and even take pride in their ability to get more than they give.

However, a lot is done in the name of misplaced idealism. It isn’t hard to look around the world and find something that you feel needs fixing. The world gets to be a better place by people taking action to improve things, but it is easy for the thought to occur that if the government can be made to address your issue, it could give results far greater than what you would be able to accomplish with direct action. Even if you knew that it wasn’t going to be managed especially well, it would make up for it in volume. This has an obvious appeal.

Every idealistic cry for the government to “Do Something” means raising revenue, which means taking money from people to spend in the name of the new cause instead of letting it be used for whatever purpose the earner would have preferred.

again, this seems like a reasoned approach to me.


It is unfortunate that income taxes get deducted automatically from most people’s paychecks, before they ever see the money they earned. A large chunk of the population thinks that tax day is when you get a nice little refund check. Good trick, that. If everyone was required to pay taxes like they pay their utilities, attitudes would probably change. When you get an appallingly high utility bill, you start thinking about turning off some lights and changing the thermostat. When your taxes are higher than all your other bills put together, what do you do? You can make a bit of a difference by living in Texas instead of California, but you don’t have many options regarding the bulk of it.

Also, it is horribly crass to say it, but taxes are extracted by the threat of force. I know a man (Walt Anderson), who has been in jail for a decade because the IRS disagreed with how his foundations were set up, so it isn’t an academic statement. What things do you care strongly enough about to feel morally justified in pointing a gun at me to get me to pay for them? A few layers of distance by proxy let most people avoid thinking about it, but that is really what it boils down to. Feeding starving children? The justice system? Chemotherapy for the elderly? Viagra for the indigent? Corn subsidies?

Helping people directly can be a noble thing. Forcing other people to do it with great inefficiency? Not so much. There isn’t a single thing that I would petition the federal government to add to its task list, and I would ask that it stop doing the majority of the things that it is currently doing. My vote is going to the candidates that at least vector in that direction.

Here he's just bringing it home. So the upshot is that Carmack might have a hard time maintaining a decent rating here on GDNet [smile]

It's really odd that so many of the quality hackers I meet in real life are largely classical liberal and the general bent here is more socialist. That's part of what I love about this venue.

I'm sure most of it is where I live and the country I live in.

Brainstorming game mechanics for web applications

30 September 2010 - 08:39 AM

Many Web 2.0 applications are using game mechanics to further engage their users and I wanted to see if we could pin down opportunties where classic game mechanics could be leveraged to create more compelling sites.

Common examples of game mechanics are a badge system where you get "experience points" for intended useage and the badge serves to show off your rank. Additionally you could show an "XP Bar" and maybe play a neat graphic when a user "levels up"

While playing un-prompted sound via the web is generally considered poor design philosophy you could take a page from the "Tiger Woods" EA golf series and play a clapping sound and have the crowd Ohh and Ahh whenever performing some task that isn't so common as to drive you nuts.

I've also considered small mini-games that are fast and not too distracting as a possible area to expand on. A simple slide puzzle with a few pieces, although it could be a distraction depending on the type of content and what you use the app for.

What other possibilities lend themselves to translation? Or if not to translation, what other core mechanics can you identify and I'll see if I can translate them?

edit** to be sure everyone understands the context, consider the web app could be a spreadsheet or a facebook clone, or ebay. Meaning, an application that is not in itself a game.

More empiric data deflating global warming doomsday predictions.

30 August 2010 - 03:55 AM


If one thing more than any other is used to justify proposals that the world must spend tens of trillions of dollars on combating global warming, it is the belief that we face a disastrous rise in sea levels. The Antarctic and Greenland ice caps will melt, we are told, warming oceans will expand, and the result will be catastrophe.

Although the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) only predicts a sea level rise of 59cm (17 inches) by 2100, Al Gore in his Oscar-winning film An Inconvenient Truth went much further, talking of 20 feet, and showing computer graphics of cities such as Shanghai and San Francisco half under water. We all know the graphic showing central London in similar plight. As for tiny island nations such as the Maldives and Tuvalu, as Prince Charles likes to tell us and the Archbishop of Canterbury was again parroting last week, they are due to vanish.


But if there is one scientist who knows more about sea levels than anyone else in the world it is the Swedish geologist and physicist Nils-Axel Mörner, formerly chairman of the INQUA International Commission on Sea Level Change. And the uncompromising verdict of Dr Mörner, who for 35 years has been using every known scientific method to study sea levels all over the globe, is that all this talk about the sea rising is nothing but a colossal scare story.

Despite fluctuations down as well as up, "the sea is not rising," he says. "It hasn't risen in 50 years." If there is any rise this century it will "not be more than 10cm (four inches), with an uncertainty of plus or minus 10cm". And quite apart from examining the hard evidence, he says, the elementary laws of physics (latent heat needed to melt ice) tell us that the apocalypse conjured up by
Al Gore and Co could not possibly come about.

The reason why Dr Mörner, formerly a Stockholm professor, is so certain that these claims about sea level rise are 100 per cent wrong is that they are all based on computer model predictions, whereas his findings are based on "going into the field to observe what is actually happening in the real world".

When running the International Commission on Sea Level Change, he launched a special project on the Maldives, whose leaders have for 20 years been calling for vast sums of international aid to stave off disaster. Six times he and his expert team visited the islands, to confirm that the sea has not risen for half a century. Before announcing his findings, he offered to show the inhabitants a film explaining why they had nothing to worry about. The government refused to let it be shown.

Similarly in Tuvalu, where local leaders have been calling for the inhabitants to be evacuated for 20 years, the sea has if anything dropped in recent decades. The only evidence the scaremongers can cite is based on the fact that extracting groundwater for pineapple growing has allowed seawater to seep in to replace it. Meanwhile, Venice has been sinking rather than the Adriatic rising, says Dr Mörner.

One of his most shocking discoveries was why the IPCC has been able to show sea levels rising by 2.3mm a year. Until 2003, even its own satellite-based evidence showed no upward trend. But suddenly the graph tilted upwards because the IPCC's favoured experts had drawn on the finding of a single tide-gauge in Hong Kong harbour showing a 2.3mm rise. The entire global sea-level projection was then adjusted upwards by a "corrective factor" of 2.3mm, because, as the IPCC scientists admitted, they "needed to show a trend".

When I spoke to Dr Mörner last week, he expressed his continuing dismay at how the IPCC has fed the scare on this crucial issue. When asked to act as an "expert reviewer" on the IPCC's last two reports, he was "astonished to find that not one of their 22 contributing authors on sea levels was a sea level specialist: not one". Yet the results of all this "deliberate ignorance" and reliance on rigged computer models have become the most powerful single driver of the entire warmist hysteria.

Yes it's the Telegraph :)

There seems to be an ever more revealing trend related to the mass of the scientific community where science is chucked for the intended result. Using a "corrective factor" because you must "show a trend" is another way of saying that you fabricated evidence in an intentional attempt to defraud.

As always, I have to caveat that there is no doubt that as a species we're impacting some geography in negative ways, although in 99% of the cases it's the "tragedy of the commons" sort and not private property.

Adding game mechanics to businesss enterprise

15 August 2010 - 10:00 AM

This may not be exactly the right forum but it seemed the best fit.

This article is just one of the many attempts I've seen to incorporate game mechanics in traditionally non-game applications.

I do some consulting for an incubator/hedge fund here in Dallas and game mechanics is starting to become a buzz word in tech start ups.

One of the most sited examples is 4square.

The primary business I'm in doesn't lend itself well to game mechanics although I am certainly trying. I'd like to kick around novel examples if anyone else wants to play with the idea.

Another example is penny auction sites like Beezid.

Consider a simple coupon site for groceries, build in a mechanism for feedback, scoring and ranking. Grant titles to the volume users and interface liberally with Facebook and other social networks.

For those that find the mechanic interesting they may tout their rank of "Queen of the Soccer Mom's" because they best used the service.

This takes a mediocre concept and through the use of game mehcanics lends itself to a potentially viral marketing outcome.

[Edited by - Dreddnafious Maelstrom on August 15, 2010 7:54:25 PM]

The FDA war on cigarette alternatives

30 July 2010 - 05:18 AM

I found this article interesting as regards the typical over step of monopoly powers of the FDA.

Link to article

The E-cigarette comes in many different sizes, shapes, and manufacturers. Like any product, all of them naturally have their own pro's and con's. Some of them have great vapor production but have a horrible battery-life. Others have an excellent battery life, but they don't produce enough cigarette-mimicking vapor.

Yes that's right folks: vapor. The E-cigarette is more or less a personal nicotine vaporizer.

There is no actual "smoke," nor is there any actual tobacco, tar, or harmful chemicals. What you actually inhale and exhale is a mixture of Propylene Glycol (or Vegetable Glycol), Nicotine, some natural flavor or another, and water. Now that we mentioned Nicotine, this is the part where the FDA comes rolling in.

The initial argument that the FDA produced after a brief study, was that Diethylene Glycol was a health risk, as it is commonly found in substances such as anti-freeze. What the FDA did here was consciously derail and sabotage the E-Cigarette through their tried and true fearmongering technique of big-worded misinformation.

Here is a part of the original FDA quote:

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today announced that a laboratory analysis of electronic cigarette samples has found that they contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze."

Is DG (Diethylene Glycol) considered toxic? The answer is yes. But what the FDA failed to mention is that the tested E-Cigarette cartridges had about 1/10 the DG that can be found in aspirin, and about 1/40 the amount found in your typical tobacco cigarette. It can also be found in a variety of consumable products on the market that we use daily. It's actually not an ingredient in anti-freeze. It's an ingredient in coolants. They mixed that up with PG (Propylene Glycol) which is actually put into anti-freeze in order to make the anti-freeze child-safe and/or pet-safe.

Not that it really matters much. But DG is actually not a typical ingredient you find in E-Cigarettes. It is typically used as a humectant for tobacco products; which would explain its presence in one out of the 18 E-cig cartridges tested. The presence of Nicotine typically means you will also find DG. If you were to test real cigarettes for this chemical, you would find it in %100 of the tested cigarettes.

But, strangely, the FDA doesn't set an embargo on big tobacco.

DG and PG are actually considered "Safe for human consumption" in certain quantities by the FDA in several consumable products. To put it into perspective: You would have to consume around 12,000 E-cigarette cartridges loaded up with DG and PG within 24-hours in order to get yourself anywhere near toxic levels of DG/PG. Sounds pretty freaky until you find out that your average E-cigarette user will puff down 1.5 cartridges per day. The heavier puffers will inhale as many as 3.

So why the scary lingo?

I guess it is possible that the FDA made a mistake and used the "toxic/carcinogen" description for the wrong glycol. Plain Ethylene Glycol is indeed pretty toxic. But they didn't find any of that in the E-cigs, maybe they just liked the contents of EG's toxic properties description. So I suppose we could toss lying and/or being utterly incompetent into the equation. Do they actually have "scientists" under the FDA's employ, or is it just another team of monkeys throwing turds and screeching?

An anonymous commenter writes:

"So why is the FDA focusing on diethylene glycol? Because if they told you that e-cigarettes contain trace amounts of aspirin and nicotine you'd stare blankly and shrug your shoulders. But when someone starts throwing around a term like diethylene glycol people pay attention because nobody knows what the hell it means and it doesn't sound like something you necessarily want a tall frosty mug of."

Where can you find Diethylene Glycol and Propylene Glycol?

You can find it in toothpaste, wine, dog food, mouthwash, cough syrup etc etc etc. You can find it in the fog-machines that pump the air full of the annoying stuff at concerts. You can find it in many of the pharmaceuticals that you ingest orally, get injected with, or apply to your skin.

One would have to be incredibly stupid to think that the FDA doesn't know all these facts. They do. They approved all that other stuff; so why derail this?

It really boils down to simple protectionism and abuse of monopoly power. Like so much of the FDA nonsense which requires we in the states to buy our pharma from Canada, or outright disallows potentially life saving treatments for terminally ill patients to "protect" them.