RIP Arthur C. Clarke

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Arthur C Clarke is dead, just a day after I found a reference to Rendez-Vouz With Rama in my company’s source code.

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It’s been a bad month; first Gary Gygax, and now Arthur C. Clarke.

Eerily, I found these comments, while going through some source code, here at work, yesterday:

StoreParameterChanges();

// Scheduler was written by Ramans. Everything must be done three times...
if ( (m_lLastParamIndex != CB_ERR) && (m_lLastParamIndex != iSel) )
{
StoreParameterChanges();

// Scheduler was written by Ramans. Everything must be done three times...
if ( (m_lLastParamIndex != CB_ERR) && (m_lLastParamIndex != iSel) )
{
StoreParameterChanges();

// Scheduler was written by Ramans. Everything must be done three times...
if ( (m_lLastParamIndex != CB_ERR) && (m_lLastParamIndex != iSel) )
{

Which, as well as being a strange foreshadowing, just goes to show how great a cultural impact he had1.

  1. OK – so a programmer quoting sci-fi isn’t that spectacularly unlikely, but you get the point. []

Are Religions Virtual Worlds?

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Terra Nova have posted an article positing the idea that religions are virtual worlds. I disagree>

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There’s a fascinating post over at Terra Nova today, positing that religions might qualify as virtual worlds. It raises some interesting points, and is certainly thought provoking, but I don’t think I’m quite convinced.

Certainly, there are similarities, but I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that because two things tap into the same human desire for easy success according to clearly defined rules of progress, that they must be the same kind of thing. Even if we allow that a religion is false, and thus has a “fictional history” and attendant cast of fictional characters, and that it offers a sense of achievement and reward for otherwise meaningless actions, it still lacks what is, in my mind, the fundamental defining characteristic of a virtual world, which is, well, a virtual world.

believers do not inhabit, or have access to, some other virtual realm, reserved for people of faith. They operate entirely within the same world as the rest of us. They may interpret that world differently, even incorrectly, but if you argue that being wrong is the same as being in a virtual world, then we have to describe everyone as being in one at all times.

Bush Vetoes Torture Ban

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President Bush has used his presidential veto to prevent a bill passing into law that would have outlawed the CIA’s use of torture.

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This speaks for itself really. How can anyone who claims to stand for freedom, democracy and human rights, veto a democratically passed law that would have prevented innocent people from being tortured? I think we all know the answer.

The guy makes my skin crawl.

UK Blasphemy law to be repealed

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The law against blasphemy in the UK is to be repealed. This is great news. But how come this is the first I’ve heard of it?

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I gather this isn’t exactly news, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it.

The Lords have just approved the change, by a significant majority. I couldn’t be happier; blasphemy is a ridiculous, archaic offence that has no place being enshrined in the law of a civilised nation. In fact I’ll call it the first good news about the British legal system I’ve heard in a long time.

The world is not fair

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Wil Wheaton earns less than I do. I don’t see how someone like me can be richer than a talented writing with thousands of fans.

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So, I’m a software engineer. I work for a large-ish company that is a major player in the digital TV arena, and I think I’m considered pretty good at my job. I think I’m paid slightly shy of average for a developer of my age and experience, but I like my job and my co-workers enough to let that slide. I have a reasonably good income and no dependants, and if I wasn’t paying out a staggeringly huge amount in debt repayments each month, I’d be very comfortable (rather than just pretty comfortable.)

So far, so average. So can someone tell me how the hell I earn more than Wil fucking Wheaton? This guy was in Star Trek for crying out loud! And on top of that (or, depending on your opinion of Wes, despite it,) he’s grown into one of the best, most natural writers of the blogging generation. Oh, and he’s a great spokesman for unashamed geeks everywhere too; I mean, did you hear his PAX keynote?

Honestly, it’s a sign of his talent that it’s been years since I’ve thought of him as “that kid who played the annoying one in TNG.”

So how come he writes entertaining, uplifting, even self-validating blog posts every day1, produces books that are truly a joy to read, is capable of whipping a conference full of high income geeks into a frenzy, and yet is still worried about how to provide for his kids, while I show up to an office every day, write code designed to make rich people richer, which may or may not ever be released, and somehow earn enough that my biggest worry is whether I can afford that new monitor this month without curtailing my pizza habit?

Is that fair?

Hell no. So here’s my plan. I bought “Just a Geek” ages ago, but have lost my copy somewhere along the way. I borrowed “Dancing Barefoot” once, and to my shame have neither bought nor Read “Happiest Days of Our Lives” yet. So I’m going to buy all three of them. This month. I’m not doing this as a charity thing; I genuinely love his writing, and want to own his books; I’ve just not got around to to buying them. So I want the books, I’m sure he’d like the money. It’s a win/win situation.

Because I know he’d hate the thought of people buying his writing out of charity, I’m not going to suggest everyone goes out and does the same, but I will point you all at his blog. Add it to your blog-roll (if you haven’t already.) Read it for a while. I’m pretty sure that, if you’re a geek or a gamer or just love good writing, you’ll end up buying his books for reasons he won’t hate.

Go. Now. Read.

  1. I smile to myself, genuinely cheered, when he writes about his kids—who I’ve obviously never met—getting into roleplaying, or Monty Python, or the right computer games, or any of the other things I love. []

RIP Gary Gygax

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Gary Gygax is dead. I reflect on what his impact on the world of entertainment has been.

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So, it’s not news to anyone by now, but Gary Gygax, who is widely regarded as the inventor of role-playing games, has died.

I think it’s safe to say that without the influence of Gygax (and others like him; Dave Arneson,Marc Miller, and Kevin Siembieda leap to mind,) I would not be the man I am today. Reason enough to visit his house and make sure he’s dead, some might say. But that would be unfair — he did so much more than lead me to a life of geekery; he invented a new type of game that, you could argue, fundamentally changed our perception of play, and led more or less to every game that came after it. From the kids (young and old,) who still meet weekly to eat pizza and playDungeons and Dragons, through all of the other games that brought their own style and personality to the hobby he invented and all the computer games that aim to recreate that same feeling through a keyboard and a monitor to the global juggernaut that is World of Warcraft, they all owe a debt of gratitude to E. Gary Gygax. Put simply: the world of entertainment would not be where it is today without his input.

Epic Fail! (3)

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I have corrected xkcd’s erroneous fruit comparison chart and made it available for the public good.

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It pains me to have to do this; xkcd is so often a bastion of sense and logic. But I am called upon to root out muddled thinking and superstition wherever I see it and, my friends, I see it on xkcd. If it were a simple mistake, I could forgive it, but Randall has persisted in his misinformation, even revelled in it.

He leaves me no choice.

I give to you, the truth:

Fuck Peaches!

Click to enbiggen.

Saudi Arabia: The Equal-Opportunities Oppressors

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The Saudi authorities have arrested 57 young men for flirting with young women.

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Turns out that the Sadui authorities aren’t above persecuting young men for behaving like young men any more than they are above oppressing women for being women.

Of course, there is still a difference; I doubt these men are going to be publicly beaten for their actions.