D&D and UX

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

I don’t know if enjoying this video means you’ve made or failed your save against geek-hipsterism:

Japanese Communist Mascots

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

The 91-year-old Japanese Communist Party has decided to rebrand itself with its own yuru-kyara, or cute mascots:

Mr. Tamura’s team and the ad agency pored over every detail of the proposed characters—from names to personalities. In one meeting, members discussed Master Poken, the constitutional expert, making him younger than initially proposed, and a martial-arts expert. In another, Mr. Tamura’s team decided the group needed a character to represent families with children. When the ad agency came up with the mother-of-ten Ikuko, Mr. Tamura says he was initially nonplused by the number of offspring.

Japanese Communist Mascots 1

“That was debated, but we ended up keeping it,” he says.

Japanese Communist Mascots 2

His favorite character is the Proliferation Bureau chief, a moon-faced figure whose lower body, and hairstyle, are shaped like megaphones.

Japanese Communist Mascots 3

Among the other characters are a purse that walks on its cheeks and discusses taxes, and a jolly sun that turns demonic when nuclear issues are discussed.

Japanese Communist Mascots 4

With the cartoon crew ready for action, there was one more concern: how the party’s older members would take some of the offbeat details.

Japanese Communist Mascots 5

“We were actually kind of worried initially that there might be a [negative] reaction from some older people,” says Mr. Tamura. “That didn’t happen at all. Rather, people were cheering us on do to more.”

Japanese Communist Mascots 6

Japanese Communist Mascots 7

Japanese Communist Mascots 8

Mr. C and Mr. K

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Arnold Kling imagines a conversation between Mr. C and Mr. K — a classical economist (C) and Keynesian economist (K):

K: See that man, Uri, sitting on the bench over there? He is involuntarily unemployed.

C: How do you know that? Do you know his reservation wage? That is, do you know the lowest wage that he would accept to go to work? Do you know what his best offer has been?

K: Yes. He won’t work for less than $12 and hour, and his best offer has been $11.50

C: So he is not really unemployed. He has withdrawn from the labor force, because he can’t find a job that will pay him what he wants.

K: No, according to the Department of Labor, as long as he is looking for work, he is unemployed. Besides, in his last job, he earned $14 an hour and what he produced was worth $15 an hour. But when the economy went into a slump, the demand at his firm fell, and he was laid off. His problem is that there is a lack of effective demand.

C: I’m not sure what ‘effective demand’ means, but ok. What should Uri be doing instead of sitting on the bench?

K: He could be digging a ditch for the government.

C: But he’d rather be sitting on the bench. Why should he dig the ditch?

K: The government can pay him to dig the ditch. They can pay him $12 an hour.

C: If his ditch-digging is worth $12 an hour, that’s fine. The taxpayers should be happy to pay Uri to dig a ditch if it’s a worthwhile use of his time.

K: Actually, the ditch is not worth so much. Let’s say his ditch-digging is worth only $5 an hour. But this way, he’s working instead of sitting on a bench, and as taxpayers we benefit from the ditch.

C: No! As taxpayers, we pay $12 and hour for ditch-digging that is worth only $5 to us. That makes us worse off.

K: Would you rather pay unemployment benefits of $8 an hour and get nothing?

C: No….But if we are going to redistribute income to Uri, why not encourage him to take the offer for $11.50 and pay him just $.50 an hour as a subsidy to do that?

K: Hmmm. Not such a bad idea. But the ditch-digging puts more spending into the economy.

C: No it doesn’t. You give $12 to Uri to spend, but that $12 comes from those of us who pay taxes, and now we have $12 less to spend. It’s just a transfer.

It continues.

The Fundamentals Of Double Action Revolver Shooting

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

This 1961 FBI training video on the fundamentals of double-action revolver shooting is fascinating from a modern shooter’s point of view:

A few things jumped out at me:

  • The quick-draw holster is cut out along the trailing edge, so it doesn’t cover the trigger or trigger guard, but it’s not cut out along the leading edge, to let the barrel clear early.
  • The FBI’s idea of shooting quickly is shooting from the hip — but not really. The shooter is supposed to draw, extend, and point the gun at his target, without bringing it up to eye-level. How much time does that save?
  • I loved the advice to keep your second hand near the gun.

(Hat tip to pistol-training.com.)

Bash mobs sweep through Southern California

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

The “youths” of Southern California have caught on to the bash mob craze sweeping the nation:

These so-called bash mobs of “flash mob” crime waves are organized through social media and have been a problem in Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington. In April, 28 Chicago youths were arrested on suspicion of attacking pedestrians along the city’s famed Magnificent Mile. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation in May enacting stiffer penalties for people who text or use social media to organize mob attacks.


Long Beach experienced such a gathering July 9, when more than 100 people descended on stretches of downtown in an organized, sudden crime rampage.

On Monday, a group of unruly young people broke off from hundreds gathered for a Trayvon Martin prayer vigil and rushed into a Wal-Mart on Crenshaw Boulevard, where they tossed merchandise and tried to break into a jewelry display case.

In Hollywood on Tuesday night, a flash mob of thieves rushed down Hollywood Boulevard, stealing phones, knocking over tourists and vandalizing shops, according to police, who said it may have been related to the George Zimmerman verdict. Twelve people — 11 juveniles and one 18-year-old — were arrested on suspicion of robbery.

On Wednesday night in Victorville, authorities arrested 17 people after a group allegedly tried to force its way into the Mall of Victor Valley.

Oh, those unruly young people!

Because It Pays

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

In 1911, Booker T. Washington wrote:

There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs-partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.

(Hat tip to Mark J. Perry.)

Science Prodigy Zhao Bowen

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Chinese science prodigy Zhao Bowe has decided to study the genetics of intelligence:

After being identified early as a science prodigy, Zhao raced through China’s special programs for gifted students and won a spot in Renmin, one of the country’s most elite high schools. Then, to the shock of his friends and family, he decided to drop out when he was 17. Now, at 21, he oversees his own research project at BGI Shenzhen — the country’s top biotech institute and home to the world’s most powerful cluster of DNA-sequencing machines — where he commands a multimillion-dollar research budget.

Zhao’s goal is to use those machines to examine the genetic underpinnings of genius like his own. He wants nothing less than to crack the code for intelligence by studying the genomes of thousands of prodigies, not just from China but around the world. He and his collaborators, a transnational group of intelligence researchers, fully expect they will succeed in identifying a genetic basis for IQ. They also expect that within a decade their research will be used to screen embryos during in vitro fertilization, boosting the IQ of unborn children by up to 20 points. In theory, that’s the difference between a kid who struggles through high school and one who sails into college.


Zhao’s improbable rise at BGI began in the summer of 2009, when one of the firm’s founders, a geneticist named Wang Jian, noticed a skinny stranger lurking in the hall. “Hey, what are you doing here?” Wang asked the high school student with a spiky mess of hair. Zhao was 17, and he was there taking part in BGI’s science summer camp. “Why aren’t you in class?” Wang pressed.

“It’s boring,” Zhao said.

Wang took an immediate liking to him. On a hunch, he pushed Zhao into the hands of Li Yingrui, a recent college dropout who was already one of BGI’s leading scientists. “Do you know any Perl?” Li asked him. Perl is a programming language often used to analyze genomic data. Zhao admitted he did not; in fact, he had no programming skills at all. Li handed him a massive textbook, Programming Perl. There were only two weeks left in the camp, so this would get rid of the kid for good.

A few days later, Zhao returned. “I finished it,” he said. “The problems are kind of boring. Do you have anything harder?”

Perl is a famously complicated language that takes university students a full year to learn. So Li gave him a large DNA data set and a complicated statistical problem. That should do it. But Zhao returned later that day. “Finished.” Not only was it finished — and correct — but Zhao had even built a slick interface on top of the data.

The next morning Li marched into Wang’s office. “This guy is a genius,” he said. “You have to keep him.” So Zhao dropped out of high school, said good-bye to his mother and father — he is an only child, like most Chinese of his generation — and moved to Shenzhen to begin a new life.

Despite Wang’s open-door policy for young dropouts, BGI doesn’t provide much of a safety net for its incoming prodigies. Zhao had a rough arrival. His starting salary was minimal. He had no friends. “It was hard,” he admits. It was also crazy. Zhao didn’t drop out of just any high school. He dropped out of Renmin, one of the best prep schools in China. He had won his place there by acing a series of academic tests when he was in sixth grade. Zhao seemed to be forfeiting his future. He asked his parents for their blessing and they agreed, but with one condition: He had to get permission from Renmin.

The Renmin principal, Liu Pengzhi, had watched Zhao’s growth with pride; she had identified him early as one of the school’s — and hence the country’s — most gifted science students. She flew down to Shenzhen to tour BGI and meet Wang in person. Only then did she give Zhao her official approval, as well as a parachute: “If you change your mind, you can come back to Renmin and finish your studies anytime,” she told him.

That bit about Perl’s complexity cost the piece some credibility.

Relaxed Presence

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

A state of relaxed presence is where we rendezvous with luck:

A U.K. psychologist ran experiments in which he divided self-described lucky and unlucky people into different groups and had each group execute the same task. In one experiment, subjects were told to go to a café, order coffee, return and report on their experience.

The self-described lucky person found money on the ground on the way into the café, had a pleasant conversation with the person they sat next to at the counter, and left with a connection and potential business deal. The self-described unlucky person missed the money — it was left in the same place for all experimental subjects to find, ordered coffee, didn’t speak to a soul, and left the café. One of these subjects was focused in a more stressed way on the task at hand. The other was in a state of relaxed presence, executing the assignment.

How do free-to-play games make money?

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

How do free-to-play games make money? By tricking players into buying just a little help:

A coercive monetization model depends on the ability to “trick” a person into making a purchase with incomplete information, or by hiding that information such that while it is technically available, the brain of the consumer does not access that information. Hiding a purchase can be as simple as disguising the relationship between the action and the cost as I describe in my Systems of Control in F2P paper.

Research has shown that putting even one intermediate currency between the consumer and real money, such as a “game gem” (premium currency), makes the consumer much less adept at assessing the value of the transaction. Additional intermediary objects, what I call “layering”, makes it even harder for the brain to accurately assess the situation, especially if there is some additional stress applied.

This additional stress is often in the form of what Roger Dickey from Zynga calls “fun pain”. I describe this in my Two Contrasting Views of Monetization paper from 2011. This involves putting the consumer in a very uncomfortable or undesirable position in the game and then offering to remove this “pain” in return for spending money. This money is always layered in coercive monetization models, because if confronted with a “real” purchase the consumer would be less likely to fall for the trick.

Gut microbes keep species apart

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Gut microbes keep species apart:

Robert Brucker and Seth Bordenstein, biologists at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, have found that the gut bacteria of two recently diverged wasp species act as a living barrier that stops their evolutionary paths from reuniting. The wasps have subtly different collections of gut microbes, and when they cross-breed, the hybrids develop a distorted microbiome that causes their untimely deaths.

A Natural Fascination with Phones

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

We may think that kids have a natural fascination with phones, Linda Stone says, but that’s really not the case:

We learn by imitation, from the very start. That’s how we’re wired. Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl, professors at the University of Washington I-LABS, show videos of babies at 42 minutes old, imitating adults. The adult sticks his tongue out. The baby sticks his tongue out, mirroring the adult’s behavior. Children are also cued by where a parent focuses attention. The child’s gaze follows the mother’s gaze. Not long ago, I had brunch with friends who are doctors, and both of them were on call. They were constantly pulling out their smartphones. The focus of their 1-year-old turned to the smartphone: Mommy’s got it, Daddy’s got it. I want it.

We may think that kids have a natural fascination with phones. Really, children have a fascination with what-ever Mom and Dad find fascinating. If they are fascinated by the flowers coming up in the yard, that’s what the children are going to find fascinating. And if Mom and Dad can’t put down the device with the screen, the child is going to think, That’s where it’s all at, that’s where I need to be! I interviewed kids between the ages of 7 and 12 about this. They said things like “My mom should make eye contact with me when she talks to me” and “I used to watch TV with my dad, but now he has his iPad, and I watch by myself.”

Kids learn empathy in part through eye contact and gaze. If kids are learning empathy through eye contact, and our eye contact is with devices, they will miss out on empathy.

Self-Publishing Success

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

This story of self-publishing success emphasizes marketing:

So, I researched it a bit and to make a long story short, one thing led to another and this month, it looks like I’ll clear somewhere around $15,000 for my fiction titles.


Not being a writer myself (thank God for Word’s spell and grammar checker!), I relied heavily on my ability to do market research and understand the Amazon ecosystem throughly (in terms of keywords). In my mind, this is definitely what has made me successful in this so far. Aside from that, I am an expert in creating catchy titles, coming up with eye grabbing covers, writing enticing descriptions and hooking folks when they “Look Inside” at the first 10-12% of my books. Of course, I do the very best job I can as a writer but I’m no Shakespeare. Luckily, it turns out that it doesn’t matter at all.

My formula is simple.

Step 1 – Look at what is selling.
Step 2 – Come up with my own spin/version of it and sell it.


Beyond the time, it took me 34 titles (ranging from 8,000 – 20,000 words each) to break the $10,000 earned in a single month threshold. You see, once I ironed out what worked (and didn’t) in my market, it all turned around – my last three titles have been awesome sellers.


I sort of dug around before I got started to figure out the average sales rank of the top sellers in the biggest fiction categories. Then, I just narrowed it down to a few that I thought would be relatively easy for me to get into within 3-6 months. From there, I picked one and stuck with it. It’s one of the most competitive categories on all Amazon so I figured if I went where there was lots of money, that some of it would come my way. There’s people that makes wayyyy more than I do so there’s plenty of room to grow.

As an aside, that’s the biggest mistake I see people complaining about on writer’s forums – lack of sales. But if you read between then lines, I’d say that 95% of the time their work isn’t targeted to a deep pool of buyers. So, instead of trying to fix the problem, they carry on about how their novel which took them five years to write doesn’t sell. Then they blame Amazon or whatever when in fact they are just ignoring the needs of the market. It’s sort of like the karate studio example MJ gives in MFL. Same thing. People doing something for their own selfish desire instead of producing what the market wants.


I would sort by New and Popular and then examine each listing for the following for at least the first several pages of results in Amazon. Compile your results in a spreadsheet and it’ll give you a rough idea of the market’s profitability.

  1. The Sales Rank (if it’s anything above 10,000, I generally ignore it unless it is at least several months old – I’ll explain below).
  2. Whether or not the title is published just on Kindle (by someone like us) or is offered through a publisher. In my experience, this is a much better apples to apples type of comparison than comparing your work to something that has the backing of a publisher.
  3. The number of pages. This will let you know basically what the market expects in the category in terms of book length. It’s not set in stone, you can do whatever you want, but it’s good to have a feel for it.
  4. The publication date. Here’s the thing about this. What I like to see is a title that has good age (>3 months and a rank of <10,000). This will tell you a couple of things. The first is that if it can maintain a rank of 10,000 it means that it has probably had ranks in the low 1,000s at some stage. Once you get down to this level you are going to be selling 75-100 copies a day of whatever it is. But books are wasting assets (sort of like a stock option) and as time goes on, more people purchase it and demand starts to wane. So, if I see a title that still has a low rank after 90 days, I know that this is something I may want to model in my own writing. Usually you will find that this is a person who has been around for a while and has a decent catalog. It’s worth taking the time to look at how they market on Amazon (cover, description, etc.) and learn from it.
  5. The price.
  6. Now add everything up in a spreadsheet and assign a dollar value to it. An easy way to do this, is to just make a spreadsheet with columns for the title, the length, the pub date, the sales rank and the price. A formula that I came across for estimating sales rank in Excel is =EXP(10.526-(0.92*LN(A1))). Basically, put the Sales Rank value in column A1 (or whatever column you want) and then copy the formula to B1 (or whatever). It will spit out a value that is roughly the number of sales made per day. Multiply that times the list price to come up with a gross revenue number per day for that title. The formula isn’t terribly accurate but it’s better than nothing and will give you a feel for market viability which is really all you are after. Once you have all the gross revenue numbers together, total them and that will tell you roughly how much money all of those titles make as a group each day. From there, it’s up to you as to whether or not you want to give it a shot.

By the way, you can also do this whole process by entering a keyword first and then seeing what pops up. You could start at the root directory of Kindle e-books or drill down to Fantasy and do keyword research from there as well. Keyword research is a whole topic within itself that I don’t have time to get into at the moment.

As you know, you are going to be entering 7 keywords with your title anyway, so you want to do solid keyword research also.

Lessons from a mass-murder

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Chief Inspector Knut Grini, a part-time SWAT operator with Norway’s National Police, was on holiday with his wife and their two daughters, heading for their car after a shopping jaunt near the government complex in Oslo, when the bomb went off:

He remembers “a lot of dust” from the blast getting in his wife’s eyes.

He recalls, “We looked at each other and said, ‘F___! The s___ just reached Norway.’ ”

Grini told his wife, “Get the kids, get in a taxi, and get out of here.”

Then, with no gun — police in Norway cannot be armed even on duty without special permission — he headed around a corner and down the street toward an enormous crater left by the bomb and toward buildings spewing flames and smoke.

He would be the first responding officer to the scene. Others followed within two minutes.

As first to arrive, you may need to be more a medical responder than a law enforcer, Grini says. As he moved among the injured, he wished he had carried a trauma kit in his car, including tourniquets and blood-stopping agents, even when off duty.

When he came upon an injured woman who had no pulse, he wishes now he had yelled out to the crowd beginning to form to see if anyone knew CPR so they could attempt to resuscitate her while he moved on to others who needed help.

But with his quick, informal triage of those downed around him, he was able to direct the first-arriving ambulance crew to those who seemed in the most dire condition. These included a severely injured man with a mangled foot and a punctured chest on whom Grini applied a makeshift tourniquet to slow the bleeding and used a scrap of plastic to seal the sucking chest wound.

He also stopped a public bus that approached the area and directed the driver to take on less-injured victims for transport to medical facilities so ambulances would be free to serve the more critically harmed.

Grini found himself enraged at the ghoulishness of onlookers with cameras, some of whom pushed in to get close ups of bleeding faces and bodies.

Then it occurred to him that terrorist collaborators might be in the crowd photographically documenting the damage for bragging rights.

“I saw someone with a big camera and asked him to take pictures of everyone who was taking pictures, thinking this might be useful evidence later on, perhaps even helping to identify a suspect,” he explains.

(Hat tip to Greg Ellifritz.)

Self-Directed Play

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Linda Stone talks about maintaining focus:

Let’s talk about reading or building things. When you did those things, nobody was giving you an assignment, nobody was telling you what to do — there wasn’t any stress around it. You did these things for your own pleasure and joy. As you played, you developed a capacity for attention and for a type of curiosity and experimentation that can happen when you play. You were in the moment, and the moment was unfolding in a natural way.

You were in a state of relaxed presence as you explored your world. At one point, I interviewed a handful of Nobel laureates about their childhood play patterns. They talked about how they expressed their curiosity through experimentation. They enthusiastically described things they built, and how one play experience naturally led into another. In most cases, by the end of the interview, the scientist would say, “This is exactly what I do in my lab today! I’m still playing!”

An unintended and tragic consequence of our metrics for schools is that what we measure causes us to remove self-directed play from the school day. Children’s lives are completely programmed, filled with homework, lessons, and other activities.. There is less and less space for the kind of self-directed play that can be a fantastically fertile way for us to develop resilience and a broad set of attention strategies, not to mention a sense of who we are, and what questions captivate us. We have narrowed ourselves in service to the gods of productivity, a type of productivity that is about output and not about results

I think we can agree that self-directed play is excellent for future Nobel-prize winners.

Jim Jones

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

The “Reverend” Jim Jones was an avowed Communist who decided to “infiltrate” the church and then went on to form his own People’s Temple:

Religion was the vehicle for Jones to demonstrate his Marxism in the 1950s and initially he did so by organizing things like soup kitchens for the homeless and other charitable works. By the 1970s, the Peoples Temple was running nine residential care homes for the elderly, six organizations for orphaned children and a state-licensed 40-acre ranch for the mentally disabled.

Jesus was a Communist, he taught. Jones himself was the “ultimate socialist” and often hinted that he was a prophesied revolutionary messiah, a reincarnation of Jesus, Gandhi, Father Divine and Lenin!

Jones carefully studied Mao’s moves during the Cultural Revolution and used the same propaganda/mind control techniques that the Chinese Communist Party had perfected, in particular the “we’re the vanguard of a new age” and “us vs. them” aspects of “outcast” group think. Since he was so paranoid himself, this talent came easily to Jim Jones.

When you look at the composition of the followers in the videotape, at first it looks like all of the People’s Temple members were black, but then the camera finds an entire contingent of young white people sitting together who are dressed conservatively. Whenever Jones starts hitting the high notes about socialism, these folks stand up and cheer like Pentecostal apparatchiks.

Nearly 80% of the People’s Temple congregation was comprised of working class blacks. If you examine the format of the service, Jones kept the trappings of “old style religion” that his African-American followers would have felt at home with at the same time they were being politically re-indoctrinated. One of Jones’ standard dramatic tropes was to throw the Bible on the ground and stomp on it, telling his African-American followers that the white man’s version of Christianity was a boot on their necks.

The young white people were the inner circle and had law degrees and other skills that would be useful to a barely disguised flim-flam man like Jones. Some knew how to work the public relations levers or deal with politicians or were good at keeping Jones’ various mail order scams going. Most were Communist “true believers” and felt that they were a part of an exciting social movement. Many of them also acted as de facto social workers, interacting with the State of California on behalf of the poorer members.

And then he convinced his flock to move to Jonestown, Guyana and to drink the Kool-Aid — pardon, Flavor Aid.