Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Know thyself

Always good advice, that. In particular, try to know yourself well enough to avoid falling victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect, from either side.

One thing I've frequently been heard to say is that I know just enough about working with natural gas to know I don't know enough about working with it to be safe. This is, from a distant perspective, probably untrue, not least because I know enough to be cautious. Sadly, whoever was responsible for much previous gas work in this house was a victim of the effect from the low side; he didn't know to seal threads, which almost led to the house burning down before we moved in, and it turns out he didn't know enough to realise that gas hardware and water hardware are Not The Same Thing, despite both working on pipes.

I would love it if the gas standard became left-hand threads. That would make gas line idiot-resistant, in many ways.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The morality meter in games

Lately, I've been playing Fallout 3. Reasonably fun, for the most part, but it does have a mechanism called "Karma", which is essentially a measure of how "good" you've been by the game's standards. Sadly, this is a one-dimensional line. You can completely wipe out the effects of, for instance, blowing up an entire town, by repeatedly giving water to certain NPCs. It's also rather broken; I've had clearly "evil" characters attack me, and once I've done the game world a favour by removing them, been reprimanded by the karma system for taking their belongings. They're not using it any more, they were evil, I was told I was being good for killing them, but taking their stuff is bad, wrong, and evil. This seems distinctly broken, as does the entire concept; it essentially boils down to a count of puppies kicked versus kittens cuddled.

Such systems in games seem to be universally unpopular. They're generally heavy-handed. The least terrible version I'm aware of is in the Mass Effect series of games, which I've not actually played myself, but their morality meter is actually a two-axis job; it has scales for both "paragon", which is idealist (with a side order of "spineless wimp") and "renegade", which is pragmatic (with a side order of jerk-for-the-sake-of-being-a-jerk), and the two are essentially independent of one another. Unfortunately, the second game does some heavy-handed behaviour modification by means of altering your appearance based on how you've acted, and I dislike that. What I'd like is for each NPC to have their own preferences for "how people should act", and to react to the player character based on what actions of yours they're aware of (which requires a change in how such things are handled; currently, there's rarely if ever any restriction on what player actions an NPC can know of) and how well those actions line up with their concept of correct behaviour. Make it somewhat mor complex than the above-mentioned puppy/kitten count.

Of course, that's an unattainable pipe dream, and I doubt such a game would sell well, but I'd quite frankly rather have no morality meter than such a simple-minded one.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

You don't need it.

One thing I'm constantly astonished by in the US is the prevalence of what I can only call monster trucks. Pickup trucks in general are far more commonly seen over here than in the UK, no doubt because over here they're available with far more plush interiors and lower registration fees than cars, not to mention laxer controls on emissions and consequently less strangled engines, but a truly amazing number of owners seem to have decided that now they have their pickup truck, they must of course modify it; which they achieve by altering the suspension and wheel sizing such that the truck now rides with the floorpan at roughly shoulder height to an average person. This lifting is generally described as being a benefit to off-road performance, which makes it all the more remarkable in its popularity; the vast majority of the moster trucks I see on a day-to-day basis are in near mint condition, with perfect, undented sheet metal, suspension components blazingly orange, and paintwork so carefully shined one could use it as a shaving mirror, although the acres of chrome brightwork would be somewhat preferable. I will admit to having seen a few trucks which had been lifted and had been offroad. I could identify them by the fact that they appeared to be held together by dried mud, rust, and maybe the odd wodge of chewing gum, and if they'd ever been painted, the ripples in what sheet metal remained were ample evidence that it had all flaked off long, long ago. There's no real middle ground when it cones to lifted trucks.

I suppose that this fad, much like the fad for putting two foot diameter mirror-finish wheels with tyres of approximately the aspect ratio of a rubber band (a cost of roughly a grand per corner) onto clapped-out rustbuckets worth maybe $200 on a good day, and whose handling may once have enabled them to negotiate the corners needed to parallel park, or the fad for replacing reasonably functional suspension with hydraulics with all the compliance of a housebrick (but which can cause the car to jump in place), will forever remain a mystery to me.

It would seem that I've become one of those people who doesn't understand the youth of today. I like my car because its seats don't hurt my back. I drive at reasonable speeds. I park carefully, unlike the inspirer of this post, who this morning parked their monster truck in four spaces at once. There were multiple cars circling the parking area looking for spots...