This Weeks Reader June 1, 2008  

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Software Professional's Real Word Priority Scale
Lightning - You aren't assigned a project so much as you are struck by one. The only deadline is "now". Some would call this "Emergency" priority, but I prefer the term "Lightning" because such projects only strike the highest visibility employees and not those who have learned to keep their heads down.

Game Review: Age of Conan (PC)
You'll routinely fight upwards of three mobs at once, with little downtime. To add to the frenzy, you can dodge attacks with a variety of evasive maneuvers. Conan stands out as one of the few MMO games that could appeal to action game fans, as there is virtually no sitting around and waiting. It's all action, all the time. The game even includes fatalities, which, when activated, unleash spectacular effects. As a necromancer, my character's fatality stars a black shadow that wraps my foes in chains of darkness before disemboweling them. My warrior friend's fatality involves a two-sword, scissor-like decapitation. Brutal and satisfying.

Wild Tangent tweaks in-game ads, preserves player experience
The reasoning? St John doesn't think it's right to interrupt a player's gaming experience. WildTangent has let players buy its games for years with "WildCoins," which offer an alternative to purchasing a retail version of a game. Now, the company is offering an alternative to coin system and intrusive advertising. Instead, players can decide if they want to spend their own money on a game session or have a company, such as Coca-Cola, cover their play time.

"And if you say 'I'll take the free play from Coke,' Coke plays a little 30 second video ad while the game is loading—that's the time you are sitting there waiting for the game to load anyway, it plays the Coke ad. It's not doing anything else. Then you go into the game and play it for free," St. John explained.


Why doctors give out antibiotics you don't need
By my assessment, the child was not acutely ill: She'd had a low-grade fever for two days, her mother said, and a mild cough, but she had clear lungs and appeared well-hydrated. Her eardrum may have had some fluid behind it but wasn't red or bulging. Just as the baby was trying to put my stethoscope in her mouth, paramedics pushed through the ambulance doors with a patient who was having an acute stroke. I had to decide right then if I was going to give this mother the antibiotics she wanted, even though I thought her daughter probably didn't need them.

Obama and Auschwitz, Part II
To claim that American soldiers liberated Auschwitz is to perpetuate the myth that Americans played the dominant role in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II (with a little help from the British.) On the first day of the Fact Checker blog, I got into trouble with Fred Thompson supporters for taking issue with his claim that Americans had "shed more blood for other people's liberty than any other combination of nations in the history of the world." I pointed out the Soviets lost 10 times as many soldiers in World War II as American soldiers killed in all foreign wars combined. Winston Churchill credited the Red Army with "tearing the guts out of the Nazi war machine."

International News
Fortune-tellers targetted in new Consumer Protection Regulations
Fortune-tellers will have to tell customers that what they offer is “for entertainment only” and not “experimentally proven”. This means that a fortune-teller who sets up a tent at a funfair will have to put up a disclaimer on a board outside.

Why Women Should Not Appear on TV
Sir, when I play my part on TV, and when I claim my right to play a role in this professional field, I demand that my face, which constitutes my identity, be shown. Under no circumstances am I prepared to allow my identity to be obliterated.

Who are these people who wish to decide for me how I should behave? Why do you treat me as less qualified just because I am a woman? Why is there always a male voice deciding how I should behave? The Lord created me equal to you in my duties, punishment, and reward. When you fast, I fast. When you pray, I pray. When you steal, your hand is cut off. When I steal, mine is cut off. This is the greatest evidence that I am not less qualified. I know what I am doing, and I know how to maintain my honor.

The problems at Nottingham University
Systems function well, and gravitate towards some sort of integrity and truth when there is variability within those systems. Properly functioning systems require dissent. They require the diverse commentary of many individuals with differing perspectives on ethical standards. They require transparency. They require crooks, cooks and discussion over the definition of crookery and acceptable behaviour.

B.C. police probe infant offered for sale on Craigslist
A British Columbia woman looking for furniture for her son was shocked last Friday when she saw an Internet ad on Craigslist offering a seven-day-old baby for sale for $10,000.

"A new baby girl, seven days old, healthy and very cute," read the ad. "Can't afford and unexpected. Looking for a good home. Please call ASAP."

"I couldn't believe it," Marilyn Bateman of Pitt Meadows, about 35 kilometres east of Vancouver, said Tuesday. "I was shaking. I thought, 'This doesn't happen in Canada'."

The Stir Over Bill Henson’s Nudes
Unfortunately, we live in an age of sexual hysteria, when the mere image of a naked child plunges countless people around the globe into mindless panic. That panic is dangerous to our societies. It destroys trust, and turns every artist who works with nudes into a pornographer, every adult who cares for children into a predator, and every fool of a politician into a hero. In such an environment, the value of Mr. Henson’s work as “a counter-argument to the exploitation and commodification of young people” seems to have gone unnoticed.

Jack Thompson flails about, trying to save his law career
GamePolitics has the details on how Thompson is trying desperately to delay the process, or make sure the final June 4 hearing doesn't happen. If you came in here expecting the crazy, you won't be disappointed. Jack Thompson has:

* Tried to subpoena 33 people, including Take Two chairman Strauss Zelnick, Jeb Bush, and the judge who presided over the Bully hearings. Those subpoenas were shut down by the court
* Filed suit against the State of Florida
* Promised not to attend the upcoming hearing unless he can yet again file his own motions in the Florida Supreme Court
* Filed a motion asking for a delay of next week's hearing while he undergoes a mental exam

The Sameness of Imagination, The Astonishingness of Reality: Thoughts on Science and Religion
I'm not sure where I'm going with this. I'm not sure if I have a point. I think I just want to say this, something I've said before: Reality is more interesting than anything we could make up. And when religious believers critique scientists for being mundane, close-minded, unable to imagine anything beyond the puny reality of the physical world, then they need to shut the hell up. The reality of the physical world is wilder and weirder than anything in their religion, and science has come up with many more things, in the skies and on the earth, than they ever dreamt of in their philosophy.

A Fog Bow Over Ocean Beach

A View to the Sunset

Birth cry of a supernova
Because so many people observed this supernova from so early on, a vast wealth of knowledge was collected. The progenitor star probably started out life with about 30 times the mass of the Sun. Over a few million years, it shed quite a bit of its mass through a dense, super-solar wind, blowing off most (but probably not all) of its outer layers. When the core collapsed, the shock wave tore through what was left of the star’s envelope. Because there wasn’t as much material as usual surrounding the core, the energy of the blast could accelerate the gas outward at an unusually high speed. It’s also been determined that the explosion wasn’t symmetric: it wasn’t a perfect sphere, with the gas expanding in every direction equally. Instead it was off-center, with gas on one side of the explosion moving outward faster than on the other. This has been seen before, but never so early on.

WCI student isolates microbe that lunches on plastic bags
Now a Waterloo teenager has found a way to make plastic bags degrade faster -- in three months, he figures.

Daniel Burd's project won the top prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair in Ottawa. He came back with a long list of awards, including a $10,000 prize, a $20,000 scholarship, and recognition that he has found a practical way to help the environment.

Daniel, a 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Waterloo Collegiate Institute, got the idea for his project from everyday life.

What is a species?
So, what sort of "unit" might a species be? I can think of three alternatives. One is that species are, in fact, simply a matter of convention, which is to say something that makes things convenient for us in communication, just as John Locke said in the Essay (although that was about the logical species, not the biological one). Instead, say researchers like Paris polychaete specialist Frederick Pleijel and Rutgers geneticist Jody Hey, we need to replace the notion species with something like a "least inclusive taxonomic unit" (LITU, Pleijel) or "evolutionary group" (Hey). There are other replacement concepts in the offing. And the so-called "phylogenetic species concept" is not really a concept of species, at least in one of the versions under that name, so much as something very like a LITU that gets called a species.

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