Promptapalooza – Your skill at Math has increased! (i )

Today’s prompt was introduced by Stingite over at The Friendly Necromancer: What skill do you want to improve the most?

My true answer is always “yes,” but if I had to pick just one at the moment, I would say research design and documentation would be a good one. This is less about research itself and more about the technical math and writing skills involved.

There are many subtle ways in which we misinterpret or perceive the truth poorly. I am no exception. However, I have long felt that the best way to get good at something is to simply do it. We attribute much to talent and overlook the many hidden time sinks that the talented have invested.

Well before I chose to start a blog, I made a bet with myself of sorts. I wished to demonstrate this belief to myself. To either confirm or deny it. So I acquired a book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, from the local library. I said to myself, if I am correct, then I should be able to demonstrate an improvement in my ability to draw. One of those tasks that I, like others, had largely considered the domain of the talented.

One of many incomplete sketches I have laying around as “evidence.”

I typically consider it having been a success. Of course, it was never my intention to be “good” at art or drawing, merely to prove to myself that it was to some extent a learn-able skill. That innate ability and learned skill were, to some degree, interchangeable.

In many ways, many things such as this blog and my degree-work are very similar experiments. If I could do that thing, through application of effort, then I should be able to do this new thing too, yes?

The purpose of starting the blog was to refine my ability to communicate the unspoken ideas and thoughts in my head. Taking classes is part escaping the manufacturing sector and part improving my math and research ability in a documented and marketable way.

Maybe I should consider spending some time working on my “having some kind of point” skill.

Y’all take care.

Promptapalooza – Favorite Quote(s)

The timing of this prompt seems quite… synchronistic… but we’ll get to that. Favorite quote is the daily prompt for the Blaugust Promtapalooza, as covered by Wilhelm of The Ancient Gaming Noob.

So, both the beauty and problem with addressing my “favorite quote” is that it’s such a mutable thing. There are a great many quotes in this world that I have taken a liking too, for various reasons. I’m not really a big fan of the idea of a single favorite above all others. It’s too… absolute.

However, at any given time there may be one that stands out at that moment. Not the greatest among all quotes, per se, but the one currently swimming around in my thoughts.

The current one is from the webcomic Digger, by Ursula Vernon. Here is the first, if you’re so inclined, but be warned that it contains some relatively dark and heavy material at times. Among those topics is the nature of “evil.”

http://diggercomic.com/blog/2007/11/09/digger-264/

The sort of moral relativity derived from the phrase “Evil is having reason, always,” feels very comfortable to me, as a concept. Though I feel it’s a bit of a given. People rarely do anything for “no reason.”

It is mirrored by a comment toward the end, “there really aren’t that many evil men out there. It’s mostly just good men working at cross-purposes.”

Of course, it seems almost obligatory for me to believe this. If I hold true that all individuals are inherently human and deserve to be given the respect due to them, even though we may find ourselves at odds, it seems to assume that generally “it’s mostly just good [people] working at cross-purposes.”

Either way, those are the quotes on my mind at the moment. Y’all take care, and be awesome to each other.

Unidentified Signal Source – Coming from the Graveyard

What better mood to return to posting than intense sleep deprivation? I’ve spent a lot of time wondering how my scheduling problem would solve itself, and taking the required steps to deal with it. Most notably, the inability to work a first shift position and take classes during the day.

This has taken many forms, mostly in the form of internal resume submissions in the workplace. Imagine my surprise when I hear… absolutely nothing. Roughly a dozen resumes in about 8 months, only to never hear a word about any of them. Directly, that is. I tended to find out by word of mouth that a position had been filled. This culminated in me sending a very stern but direct email to the plant manager about this lack of feedback. Of course, that does not solve my problem, but neither did I expect it to.

As always, my problem was solved by seemingly random chance. Due to business decisions involving forces far greater than myself, an opportunity presented itself in a more direct manner within. One within my current department. A lateral move, but one that solves the problem. I have actually been training on that particular job for about the last month.

The end result being that I am writing this post on my first day (night?) on 3rd shift. A 9-5 sort of deal, but with AM and PM backward. I have tried to ease in to it a bit, but after a lifetime of working first I fear the immediate result is that my body is… confused.

In many ways, I am reminded of Lovecraft’s definition of cosmic horror. It’s as though I have woken up and everything in the world has been replaced with an exact replica, with only the small detail of the clock to indicate that anything is awry.

The upside is that it seems I will have plenty of time to read, write, and do school stuff. At least until the dust settles.

I’m also following and participating in our slightly modified Blaugust this year. Hopefully I’ll be more on top of that tomorrow, provided I’m not entirely comatose. Progress, or Progresso? I’m not entirely sure myself, at the moment.

Y’all take care, I’ll catch you on the other side?

Separation of Powers – SCOTUS and Judicial Review

As a general rule of thumb, I try to avoid political discussion. It is often heavily mired in team and identify-based thinking and I don’t really know how to work with that. Every once in a while, I find something more neutral and interesting, however, like this political cartoon by Michael Ramirez.

First off, I don’t intend to type out Supreme Court of the United States repeatedly, so we will adopt the oft-used SCOTUS. This characterization of the supreme court as trying to illegally usurp the power of the legislative branch is hardly a new one.

Within the Constitution, the SCOTUS in a very brief and vague way. As I understand it, there was not a precedent for them to draw on in defining the limits, but state sovereignty was an important subject at the time and they wished to establish a body who’s job it was to settle disputes across state lines as well as those issues related to the government.

 The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;—to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States;—between a State and Citizens of another State;10 —between Citizens of different States, —between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

U.S. Constitution. Article III, Section 2, Clause 1.

While history displays a certain amount of… power creep… within judicial review, I usually find the court’s opinion reasonable and well considered. A recently delivered opinion that has received a lot of attention is the review of cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals put in place during the Obama administration. Some people refer to it as or associate it with the DREAM act, though they appear to be similar but distinct, the latter being a legislative action that never passed.

During his time in office, Obama did attempt to expand DACA’s coverage, but was ultimately prevented from doing so. There were already a number of cases challenging DACA as an over-extension of executive power.

Then, when President Trump took office, he publicly stated that he was going to stop this program and issued and internal memo to that effect. This is arguably within his power to do, but was challenged as being “arbitrary and capricious” as defined by the Administrative Procedure Act.

The SCOTUS recently agreed with that assessment based on the reasons provided by the head of the department at the time it was originally challenged. Several of the SCOTUS judges filed a partial dissent which appears to suggest that if it was wrong from Trump to do it, it was wrong for Obama to do it, and the program should be found unconstitutional and terminated, but that the majority opinion was unwilling to make the correct legal decision for political reasons. Personal ethics aside, that’s a fair argument.

Regardless, the SCOTUS serves a very important purpose, it acts as a check against both the executive and legislative branch. In recent history, it typically errs on the side of protecting and preserving individual rights and choices from executive action and a scant legislative majority.

Taken as a whole it looks like the system is functioning as intended. Slowly, as intended. Executive action is… complicated. As much as it pains me to admit this, if we cannot muster enough collective agreement to pass a proper legislative solution, then perhaps this program does not represent the “will of the people.” If we, as a nation, cannot engage in civil cooperative discussion long enough to find a compromise, then we deserve to suffer the consequences. Instead of laying the blame on any one party or branch of the government, we should be asking “am I helping move the dialogue forward or simply stonewalling?”

Okay, I’m sick of writing about this. Y’all take care. Hopefully games and screenshots tomorrow and not… whatever this is.

EBITDAC – Good Idea or Bad Idea?

It’s very common in the business and investing world to use Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization (EBITDA) as a metric of health and performance. In a more general sense, we could call it net income, gross income – cost of goods and operation.

I have seen several headlines and even an episode of The Indicator, a podcast, speaking about a more recent trend, EBITDAC. It’s basically the same thing, but also adds back an amount of money allegedly equal to the losses due to COVID-19. I say allegedly because nobody can necessarily know what that number is, only guestimate it. Since we’re just sort of guestimating financial numbers, why not do so in your favor yes?

I… find that prospect horrifying. It’s not entirely unfair, allowing those adjustments. I realize there are business losses far above and beyond anything we could have predicted and it’s a bit harsh to force a lot of companies into default because COVID pushed income below the level allowed in their debt agreements. This also softens the blow to the workers they employ and helps rein in things like unemployment and furloughs.

It also seems like a massive level of burying our head in the sand and denying reality. How long are they allowed to report EBITDAC? A year, two years, a decade? What happens when they stop and the numbers snap back to reality? As always, the infamous 2008 questions, what if they fudge the numbers to pick up too much debt, or the wrong kind of debt, on a large scale that’s eventually going to lead all those companies into default anyway? Could we be using this recession to set up the next one?

Of course, I am by no means an expert on corporate finance. Everything I have been taught in my formal education has focused on the importance of accuracy and ethical reporting, and this seems to fall somewhat short.

On the bright side, I don’t think it’s in widespread use. The only report I’ve looked at recently is Activision-Blizzard and I know they did not use it. With the amount of fuss it’s stirring up, maybe it’ll die out before it becomes an issue.

Worker welfare and investment risk seem to represent a hard balance to find. We really don’t want to see the widespread unemployment and losses that stem from the collapse of large companies, but if we prevent them from failing entirely, where’s the risk that’s supposed to match the reward? On that same note, most of these debt agreements were signed before COVID was on the radar. Quite plainly, that was the risk the investors and corporations took when they accepted the arrangement, knowingly or not. If we take away the consequences of that risk, what incentive remains to invest or use debt wisely?

Okay, that’s enough of that for today, I think. Y’all take care. Invest carefully, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, and keep your head out of the sand, yeah?

Reading and Gaming – Forced Balance

I have found myself on the receiving end of some tendinitis of the arm as of late. Whether we regard that as a positive or negative thing seems a bit subjective, however the culprit was likely too much time spent playing PSO2.

The silver lining is that it has forced me to limit the amount of time I was investing in gaming. The very constant and rapid clicking required to keep up in the Ultimate Quests has been especially painful after only an hour or so. I chose to balance this by reading books sitting in what I have affectionately began calling “the tinderbox.” So called because I told my coworker about this pile of mostly econ and investing books while discussing one of them. He told me that “having that much dry material in one place was a fire hazard.”

I have greatly enjoyed the change of pace, though in some cases it seems to have created a rather strong mental bias toward discussing it as I work my way through the details. I have also began to draw my wife’s attention, as she asked me the other day just how many books I intended to order. I didn’t exactly have an answer, though I believe I’m largely settled for now. If nothing else, it is some much-needed balance.

In fact, the real problem has become which book to read. I do have an immediate goal, I think, though it didn’t become apparent until recently.

Just based on my reaction to Friedman’s work, I felt that maybe Hard Heads, Soft Hearts was a good next choice. Other things in the tinderbox, in no particular order:

It’s actually quite the deviation from reading roots of Fantasy/Sci-Fi. And wow is that more books than I thought it was. Maybe I should chill out for a while. Though it’s hard to compare one book to another in terms of reading time, even at two weeks each that’s around 34 weeks worth of reading consistently.

As always, I’m sure I’ll be discussing most of these in turn. They will require a considerable degree of internal debate, and that has a habit of ending up in blog posts.

Y’all take care, and maybe keep an eye on that book pile. Probably shouldn’t let it get quite as big as this one.

When does research become meaningful?

I mean, is it even possible to answer that question. I dunno. This comes back, of course, to my MMO-related economics projects. One of the pieces of feedback that’s stuck with me a bit is the statement, “I don’t see why I should care.” I think, to the non-gamer, that’s a very valid opinion. Why should you care if it has no real bearing on society at large or at least helps us understand economics as a science?

Perhaps my thoughts have simply turned on themselves, but when I read about something like the ongoing economic woes of Lebanon, it makes my project seem… irrelevant. How can I justify the idea of devoting large amounts of time to MMO-related research when there are real problems causing real suffering?

It’s a bit larger than that too, though. Lending plays such a large part of a modern economy, but it approaches entirely absent in online gaming. There are a number of reasons for that, lack of contract enforcement being the biggest. Why should you loan Rustled Jimmy the paladin gold when you know that he’s probably not good for and you just have to eat the loss. The interest rates and/or collateral you would need to make this profitable is probably on par with payday loans. Maybe higher.

Is a sans-finance economy comparable enough to a real one to be of value? I don’t know. It would need more research. I’ve been trying to come up with a plan to test that.

Of course, having said all that, I do believe that answering these questions is useful in its own right. Even if MMOs are not a valuable avenue of research, having determined this will allow me, and hopefully others, to allocate our efforts more efficiently.

Okay, I need to chugg off and occupy myself before I sink further into this hole.

Y’all take care, especially if you’re in Lebanon. If not, send them some food or something. They seem to be in rough shape over there.

Mixer, Free Markets, and Monopolies

While I continue to reflect on the ideas and suggestions of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, I cannot help but look at the showdown/sale of Mixer in that context. If there were to be a nutshell version of the book, it would be an argument that less government regulation and more free market leads to more efficient outcomes.

He is, however, notably opposed to monopolies as a violation of freedom by way of reducing available choices. This is, effectively, what the shutdown of Mixer represents. It is noticeable blow to the choices of both content creators and viewers because there are few other choices. As pointed out by Belghast, the difficulty of transferring viewers from one platform to another is going to directly harm the creators that used Mixer. I would almost venture to say that most of them must likely return to Twitch if they wish to retain as many viewers as possible.

What struck me about all this is that it seems to be a situation in which the “free market” is consolidating power and working against competition rather than toward it. Of course, let’s be honest, I hardly considered Facebook a serious player in this game. Facebook plus Mixer is hardly a monopoly, it represents the loss of options for users.

All things considered, it seemed unusual to me that the move didn’t require review by the Department of Justice, as most of these large mergers and acquisitions tend to. Upon looking into it, I was a bit surprised to learn that the review process only applies to transactions valued greater than 96M$. The numbers I’m seeing for Mixer are… less than that. This means it doesn’t need review, apparently.

What bothered me most about this was that it almost seems that a giant corporation such as Facebook could, in theory, run around eating up all sort of smaller companies to maintain a more monopolistic position, so long as they got them while they were still below the limit.

I think in the real world someone would eventually file an anti-trust suit, and if you managed to fly in low and get a nice initial public offering you could go public with enough value to exceed the limit. That, and a corporation cannot easily force you to sell something. You could just refuse to sell. At least until they made an offer to your liking.

It was just a thought and an observation though. I have no dog in this fight. I do you Twitch, but only rarely. This is usually because developers and publishers have developed a habit for not showing enough gameplay footage to get an idea of how a game plays. A live stream gives me a much better idea of gameplay and flow.

Y’all take care. I’m going to go stare at the wall and think about this a bit more.

Reflection – Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom

Some time back I came across a “Summer Reading List” on Greg Mankiw’s blog. I figured since I wasn’t originally taking classes during the summer I figured I would put my money where my mouth was and actually acquire some of these recommendations and begin reading them. After all, he’s the one with a Ph.D., so I figured his choices were likely wiser than mine. The fact that I had previously read and enjoyed one of the titles on the list also helped.

The title I started with is the subject of this post, Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman. Now, to be fair, I haven’t actually finished the book yet. I’m somewhere around 2/3 of the way through it. I have discussed various sections with my coworker as I have gone through it, and for time and readability do not intend to repeat that commentary here. Instead, this is a more of a general impression and commentary on a specific section.

First, I would like to point out that this book was originally published in the 1960s. Taken in context, I feel this works in the book’s favor by offering a contrast between where we were and where we are. Some things have certainly changed, though not always in the direction our author would have preferred.

It has a perspective that most people would currently describe as libertarian, I think. There’s a tendency toward small government and a free market with minimal regulation. He often uses the word “liberal” to describe this position, not to be confused with the modern political thought of the same name.

While I do not always agree with his points, they are at least well reasoned and argued. My disagreements tend to be in the form of “Yes, but” style statements, and most of them stem from the fact that I place a higher social cost on human suffering than he does.

While somewhat out of context, there are certain statements I find extraordinarily relevant to the situation in the US. “Mistakes, excusable or not, cannot be avoided in a system which disperses responsibility yet gives a few men great power, and which thereby makes important policy actions highly dependent on accidents of personality.” (pg. 50) He was largely speaking of the Federal Reserve and central banking system, but I feel this applies equally well to both political leadership and law enforcement. I also feel that the phrase “Mistakes […] cannot be avoided” is generally true regardless of what other conditions are imposed.

I find my thoughts dwell rather long on the section regarding government subsidization of higher education. By default, he is opposed to such programs as necessarily inefficient. The taxpayer bears the burden of cost while the individual reaps the reward of increased personal income. That point, in itself, is valid. Especially in a case like mine where a federal grant is covering the costs I’m currently incurring. In fact, it’s the only thing enabling this adventure at all, and I do often feel some measure of guilt about this.

As a result, though, what I lack in financial investment I try to make up with time and effort. It seems the least I could do. The biggest problem is that it seems nearly impossible to accurately assess inherent human potential. If you were to take only my past history in education, it would paint a quite different picture of my potential than my current record does. This suggests that past performance is not always the best indicator, though how recently past may be a factor also.

Things that really rub me the wrong way are “the reluctance to think of investment in human beings as strictly comparable to investment in physical assets.” With all due respect, Dr. Friedman, we cannot accurately assess the unrealized potential of humans quite the same way we can with physical assets. Physical assets do not live, do not suffer, do not innovate. While I understand the underlying logic, any attempt to seriously compare living things with inanimate objects is… inhumane. Does this mean we should run full tilt into free college for everyone? Probably not.

In his defense, he does go on to describe a form of government revenue sharing, a trend that has only recently begun to make headway in the private lending sector. In exchange for financing the education, the educated promises a certain percentage of future income instead of a standard loan payment. It only took, y’know, 60 years. I think that would be a fair modification to the government grant as well, though many people today would be willing to allow the government that far into “their business.”

I have yet to read the sections that will be of greatest interest to me, though, so expect to hear about this book again. The next section is about discrimination which is quite a prescient topic, to say the least.

I am well beyond my standard length, though, so y’all take care.

EVE Online – Outsider’s Perspective on Virtual Property Ownership

Now, it’s worth pointing out that I haven’t been following this issue all that closely. It’s one of those little fringe items that I hear about and think is interesting food for thought for reasons above and beyond the circumstances that lead to them.

I am of course referring to the somewhat controversial decision to open player structures to destruction and looting while having previously promised that they would be safe from such actions. Without a system in place to adequately warn people who’s items are at risk, it’s a bit of a dick move.

Eve is also unique in that many headlines like to report item losses/finds in USD amounts. A value that is, at best, only implied by the exchange rate of Plex and Isk. That doesn’t mean those values are wrong, but you cannot convert these things back into USD. While they are assets, in a sense, they are not assets from an investing standpoint. They’re like…. durable consumables?

That aside, one of the things they teach when you’re taking a business degree is that property ownership and property rights are one of the foundations upon which capitalist business thrives. If the government, or someone with a lot more guns than you, can come along and claim all your effort as their own, there is little incentive to build in the first place. This is also one of the main arguments against communism.

Eve seems to be facing a similar issue. If “assets” that were previously promised to be safe are now being offered up to grabs without the owners’ consent, well, the net effect would be to discourage trust and entrepreneurship. In this specific case, though, Eve as a game has always had a lawless/”trust nobody” sort of tone to it. I would say that anyone who played Eve long enough to be familiar with it should probably have realized that this was inevitable. At the very least, it’s consistent with how I’ve personally interpreted the tone of the game and the community.

There is another angle to this, though. I spend a bit too much time thinking about game economies and how decisions like this impact them and the pros and cons flowing out of that. I would bet that if you added up the total item value of all owned items in an MMO, you would find that the majority of it resides unused in banks and storage. It could be said that these unused “assets” are wasted in that state when they could be producing some ethereal form of macroeconomic value. At the very least it’s “unused capacity” which is typically regarded as bad in the real world.

If that is our premise, then it would make some sense why the developers might wish to release those valuable and unused assets back into the mix. On top of that, it created a sort of player-driven treasure hunt as people went in search of valuable loot. At the expense of others, of course, because this is Eve.

Is any of it worth it, in the long run? I don’t know. I think maybe it’s okay to have virtual environments where people can hone their business acumen and/or exert their power over others in a way that is less destructive to the greater fabric of society. To the people who have lost items of value though, that sense of loss and violation is just as real as if the property had been “real.” I’m not even going to attempt to compare one to the other. It’s hard to overlook human suffering, and I’m sure there’s plenty of that to be had here.

Y’all take care, and remember, all those other usernames are people too.