Tuesday, December 15, 2015

New Star Wars....but is it actually NEW

So as pretty much everyone on the Earth knows, the new Star Wars movie is coming out this week.  As a Star Wars fan, I am thrilled.  I love the franchise and I love movies so this is the best of both worlds for me.  But as I talk to my other geeky friends about the possibilities of what the movie is going to be about I came across a weird thought.

Aren't all movies the same?  They have good guys, bad guys, some sort of confrontation and someone wins.  Now I know that this is a problem that Hollywood has had in a long time.  Even best selling books follow some sort of structure.  However, this thought has led me to another.

What if we can't create anything new?  One could argue that even the most basic technologies we created weren't new, they were just used to solve a problem in a different way.  For example, fire existed before humans conquered the flame and were able to use to it themselves.  Same goes for the wheel.  The physics of what a goes into a simple machine existed before they were put into practice.  Humans are able to use things in new ways but I don't think we can actually create something new.

Lets say that I am wrong and we create some new technology that was never used before and created from scratch.  If you look at the tiniest parts of this technology its atoms.  Those atoms have existed since the start of the big bang.  We can't create new atoms unless Newton was just some asshole who made up some laws that mean nothing.  Therefor, even the ingredients for those technologies existed, the only thing missing was putting the ingredients together.

This leads me to this conclusion: Eventually, if humans never go extinct, we will run out of new inventions and innovations.  Everything will have been tried before and nothing will be new.  The only way to create something new is to create a new element or go to a different dimension.  All which is probably impossible.

So can we always create something new?  When will we run out of ideas?

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The potential consequences of being good or bad at video games

At the beginning of this year, I decided to go to a video game tournament. It was called APEX 2015, and was considered to be one of the largest Super Smash Brothers tournament series of all time. It was in Secaucus, so very close to Hoboken, making it hard to justify not going. Well, the price tag made it hard to actually justify going, and things were further complicated when the venue was switched to Somerset as the original was deemed unusable mid-tournament. I decided that I was committed at that point, and went through a ridiculous series of public transportation adventures to get there and back. In the end, I dropped more than $150 on just this one thing. I figured that I was paying for the experience of being there more than the actual competitive gaming I might be doing.

That aspect, however, did not end well for me. I registered for two games, and was eliminated from one fairly quickly. The second wasn't going to occur until the next morning, and I had already spent too much to make showing up then worth it. I didn't perform nearly well enough to end up on a live stream. In the end, you'd never have a clue that I was actually at the venue until I dug up my part of the tournament bracket to show the matches I was in.

I took a break from tournaments until towards the end of September. There was a Smash Brothers local in the city, and I decided to check it out. I did so 3 times, and they really ended up being experiences that I'd rather forget. I definitely felt pressure being put on my wallet, being nowhere near good enough to land in the prize money part of these tournaments. When the person signing me up misheard my name and wrote down the wrong one despite my appearance at prior events, I decided to call it quits. I was basically a ghost that made weekly donations (of money and victories) to the venue, and after so many of these donations I disappeared. I get the feeling that nobody there remembered me.

The reverse of this began when Rivals of Aether, a Smash inspired game that almost looks too old-school for its own good, appeared on early access. I found this game to be more comfortable than the actual Smash series, Coming back to the present, I've actually taken first at some online tournaments for this game (and them being free to enter helped as well). If I were to disappear from this scene, people would actually notice. It's interesting to show up in the live streams of people and have them recognize you, or to have a stream of your own that can draw a significant number of viewers. Suddenly, I feel like a core community figure. Being good at the game seems like taking a shortcut towards being recognized, while the struggle of being a donation ghost will still continue for those that are not. Looking at things from the other side, I don't think there's a solution, and am currently not sure if it's even a problem. Individuals not at the top of the ladder can still make it big in their community by helping out in other ways (like hosting their own tournaments), which is a different kind of work. That's taking the long way around, and I think the shortcut is still more satisfying.

Ethics of being a youtuber

So I'm going to preface this blog with "I am not a youtuber so don't take this article as fact. However, I do have some opinions on youtubers from a non youtuber perspective."

I saw this video from H3H3productions on youtube which is basically a channel where this guy Ethan Klein (no I'm not related) does reaction videos about other youtubers and videos.

An example of one of my favorites and what this article is based off of is:
Feed The Homeless Challenge

In the video Mr. Klein talks about a youtube challenge that famous youtubers have been doing.  The idea is to give back to the community and give $$$ or food to the homeless.  Sounds like they are being nice and communal.  However, many do not do this from the good of their hearts.  They're doing small acts of kindness that don't cost them a lot of money and then soaking in all the views from their channel to receive even more money.  To me this is very backwards and selfish, which is the exact opposite message people see when they watch these videos.

These videos have a lot in common.  Most of them are black and white and have sad music playing throughout them like a Sarah McLachlan commercial.  The youtubers are trying to get the viewers to feel bad about homeless people while simultaneously showing how awesome they are by helping feed them.  It's heartless self promotion and I hope that people realize this.

Now I'm not saying the act of feeding the homeless or giving to charity is heartless.  However, if you are giving a dollar away only to make thousands off of a video I don't think you are a saint.  In fact you are probably a piece of shit asshole.

I think in this day and age that youtubers, especially ones with millions of views per video, have a duty to be transparent with their viewers about their videos.  If they want to inspire others do well in their community they need to do more of an effort.  For example, they should donate all the proceeds they receive from the video to a charity and show proof of it.  Maybe this is a little too much but in the whole point is giving back than this is how they should do it.

It's crazy to think about how little kids and pre-teens watch all these videos all day and they really take a lot to heart.  Youtubers need to be transparent and open with what they are doing so people can understand their true motives.  It is too easy to lie on the internet and spread miss-information.

It's not even just these challenges that can be an issue of integrity.  There are a lot of youtubers who steal others videos and give to no credit to them.  Many do this on their facebook pages as well to get more views. To me this is insulting and a giant loss of integrity for those that do this.

My biggest problem is there is nothing as a regular person I can do about it.  Of course I could go and make youtube videos about it like Ethan Klein does but I'm not even sure how much that helps.  I agree with pretty much everything he says but I'm not going out of my way to stop these youtubers from doing what they are doing.

If you have any suggestions please comment below.

Do Ted Talks Matter?

            It seems like an incredible idea; professionals from every industry convening at a single conference, freely discussing concepts that cross the boundaries of profession. An opportunity not just for networking, but for learning and evolving ideas.
            That’s the perception of the Ted conferences, the umbrella term used to refer to more than a dozen subtypes of conference run by the Sapling Foundation. Initially a conference aimed at tech professionals, it has since evolved to include people from every field of study. From this has emerged the Ted Talk, short presentations on anything from art or science by notable people like Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, and Bill Graham. Since 2006, videos of these have been recorded and posted online, free to access, and this has led to their booming popularity.
            However, this popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to importance. Ted Talks have the benefit of fame; but do they have value?
            At first glance, it would certainly seem so. An open forum to thoughtfully discuss ideas is an amazing tool for communication. There has to be some power in allowing the rich and famous, intellectuals and artists, to speak about their revolutionary ideas to the poor, starving masses.
            Oh, wait, sorry. I think I just tipped my hand and gave away my point. I don’t actually think Ted Talks are that great.
            There are actually a lot of problems with Ted Talks. A common criticism is that the conference itself is incredibly elitist. At over $6000 a ticket, the event is only open to people who can afford to pay out of pocket. Not only is it expensive, but horror stories about the experience behind the event is intimidating as well. One speaker, Eddie Huang, has spoken online about how difficult it is to work with the organizers.
             Ted Talks are also suffering as a victim of their own success. As they exhaust their lineup of talented speakers – Bill Gates can only speak so many times – the overall quality of the speeches has been decreasing. More often, the talks trend towards the soundbiteable – things that can be chopped up into short, interesting clips. Unfortunately, I can’t give an objective measure of quality. However, I can link two Ted Talks that I feel really demonstrate the quality of the conferences. First: The coolest animal you know nothing about... and how we can save it. A painful talk with a worse title. And on top of that: A Beatboxing Lesson from a Father Daughter Duo. If you don’t have time to watch, the talk is eight minutes of beatboxing, and one note that beatboxing started in New York.
            That’s not to say that none of the talks have value. In the past, Ted Talks have generated some truly insightful discussions on ideas. However, I believe that without a major reworking of the conference, and an examination of the principles behind it, things will only get worse.

            Here’s a Tedx talk.

Computers, Carbon, and Climate

The farther away from our reality a situation or event occurs, the less likely we are to notice it. For this reason, it can be difficult to understand the consequences of using the many technologies present in our everyday lives, including laptops, desktop computers, smartphones, and even less tangible systems such as the internet. In honor of the pledges made by 195 participating countries at COP21 to reduce global emissions, let us examine how our computers indirectly participate in the production of climate-altering greenhouse gases.

The possibility that our planet may soon become hot enough to liquify the polar caps, rising ocean levels by a sizable amount is frightening. Warming of our climate by just 2 degrees Celsius will guarantee this, although our current course has us set to raise the global temperature by more than just 2 degrees. The culprits responsible for the escalating climate are greenhouse gases, a set of gases that lie in our atmosphere, trapping heat emitted from Earth toward space. These gases allow Earth’s surface to remain at a steady, life-supporting temperature, whereas without them Earth would likely be a desolate, barren rock. The greater abundance of these gases floating about in our atmosphere, however, the higher the temperature will rise.

25% of greenhouse gas emissions are produced from the burning of natural gas, coal, and oil to generate the electricity which powers our lights, appliances, computers, and more. Most individuals trying to reduce their carbon footprint (or the electric bill) will begin by limiting excessive use of lighting and air conditioning/heating. I suppose that the computer differs from excessive lighting in that many people find it useful for a variety of things that they would not sacrifice so easily. Those many things, all part of what is known as the information, communication, and technology (ICT) sector, are responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions.

So if we treat computers as excessive lighting and turn them off when not being used, etc. this number should fall, right? Yes, but there is a much larger entity at play that we ordinary computer users cannot control: the internet, or more specifically the many data centers spread around the globe which host all of the cloud-based applications we use and all of the web sites we visit. To get an idea for how much power the internet needs in order to function, just imagine the amount of energy consumed by a warehouse filled with stacks upon stacks of high powered computers that are running virtually nonstop, and you will have imagined one of thousands of facilities which collaboratively form the internet.

Many companies, such as Apple and Facebook have taken an initiative to use renewable energy sources to power their data centers, but many remain dependent on electricity obtained from burning natural gas and coal. With our nation’s promise to reduce emissions by 25% of what was observed in 2005, remember to stay mindful not only of excessive lighting, but also of how you use your digital devices.

Final Class and Final Post

I was, to be blunt, frustrated and bored with today’s final session of Computers and Society. It felt like the class was discussing an endless chain of nothings over and over again. Many of the ideas presented about AI and the problem of The Second Machine Age felt, well, half-hearted. One, however, really made an impression on me, that idea being wage for automatons.
I think the idea of a wage for automatons is absolutely dastardly. The idea is simple: for every job replaced by an artificial intelligence, companies must pay some sort of tax, which would go into a pool and then be redistributed as base income. Future citizens of America could get paid by corporations to be replaced by robots. This would (hopefully) solve the problem of paying for base income and encourage corporations to employ real workers. 

It’s clever, but leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I’m not sure why. When the idea was first presented in class, I had visions of 1950’s-era caricatures of communists dance through their head, wringing their hands and smiling evilly against red and yellow backdrops as they plot the downfall of America. This could just be a knee-jerk reaction against socialism, or it could be my mind telling me that the math doesn’t make sense.

The math doesn’t make sense because all resources are finite. All of them. Eventually we will run out of everything – space to grow food, space for people to live in, clean water, fresh air, fossil fuels. It may take billions of years, but even the sun will eventually wither and die, and the Earth with it. If some other resource depends on a finite resource to work, then it is also finite. (This is why the Internet is inherently not an infinite resource, even though it appears to be at first.) This means, of course, that at some point humanity will reach its maximum population. While I am no economist, it seems as if a guaranteed income would eventually exhaust the finite resources of a country like the United States, sooner rather than later. If people supported entirely by base income had children, who also lived by base income, and their children had children, and their children… The profitability of US corporations would have to rise parallel with the growing population, presumably infinitely, or the system would crash and burn. It seems more likely and reasonable that the second option would occur. While humanity stays on Earth, there cannot be infinite growth.

Or maybe it doesn’t make sense. While resources are definitely, absolutely finite, human ingenuity doesn’t seem to be. There is no reason we could not find ways to squeeze more and more out of our finite set of resources, ad infinitum. Perhaps someone, or more likely a series of someones, will create a set of technologies that will allow us to farm or even colonize the ocean. Perhaps some sort of vertical farming technology will allow for, for all practical purposes, infinite amounts of food. At this point, the old capitalist notions of jobs and money will be obsoleted and the debate over AI robbing people with jobs will seem very silly, because there will be no more ‘jobs’.

This is the problem with fantasizing about AI: once we are willing to accept one bit of fantasy as a potential reality, there are infinitely many more potential fantasies that could be potential realities, which all stack onto of each other into a twisted, modern Tower of Babel, spiraling wildly into the realm of unsubstantiated nonsense. I felt like our class tried to climb that tower today.

Touring in Support of..

While doing homework this week, I was listening to a KEXP live in-studio music playlist.  During one of the set breaks, the radio host asked Tamaryn, the performer, a fairly forgettable question prefaced with "it's been almost two years since you've been here."  Tamaryn responded with an equally forgettable answer, prefaced with "yeah, that's because we haven't released an album in two years."  This forgettable exchange forced me to ask why artists constantly tour 'in support' of a recently released album, when it seems that we as consumers are consistently told that labels steal all the album revenue, while the artists struggle to make it by touring and selling merchandise.

When I think about successful mega-artists from decades past, I think about platinum singles and signed LP's lining the wall.  Today, I see exclusive streaming deals and verified status on Spotify.  Are these artists really touring to drum up enough album sales to be Apple Music's next exclusive offering?  Is making it onto one of Spotify's hundreds of curated playlist really that much of a monumental stepping stone in an artists career?

I think it's clear that today's music industry is suffering from an unsolvable dilemma: recorded music is no longer a novelty.  Since its inception, recorded music has undergone a plethora of revolutions.  We've seen EPs, LPs, cassette tapes, compact disks, mp3 files, and finally, today, we are in the golden age of music streaming services.  While all these revolutions have stark differences to their previous iterations, streaming has one that stands out from those before it: consumers no longer need to make a choice.  I never need to think about what label put our the most recent Blink-182 record.  An exclusive bonus track will never entice the masses to pre-order the next big hip-hop phenom's mix-tape.  A latecomer will never again be able to find a "Greatest Hits of Miley Cyrus" collection outside of some poorly constructed playlist posted by an unknown lurker on her subreddit.

The only choices we really have left are towards live music and merchandise.  While I can stream upwards of 20 albums in a day, I'd be hard-pressed to purchase tickets to see 140 artists in a week at every bar in Williamsburg.  Artists aren't touring in support of their increasingly devaluing albums, but touring in support of themselves and their live music as art in and of itself.  I'm not entirely sure if this is how it should be and I'm not sure if it's how I want it to be, but as long as artists can continue to support themselves, and I can help them out by enjoying an awesome show, then I know, at least, that I'm not worried.