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May 14th, 2013

New SolForge column!

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As some of you know, I've become a little obsessed with SolForge--a digital trading card game from Stoneblade Entertainment, the people who made Ascension.  SolForge is currently in beta; you can get a demo version for free on iOS, and I thoroughly recommend it.  The basic mechanics are pretty straightforward, but there's a lot of depth to the gameplay, and I've been having a lot of fun playing it.

I've just started writing a weekly column about SolForge deck-building at forgewatch.com--my first column is up now: http://www.forgewatch.com/deck-upgrade-1-how-to-win-at-solforge/

March 16th, 2013

So, ladybird97's recent fluff post reminded me that I hadn't had a fluffernutter in like forever.  Also, in the comments some of us speculated on the idea of creating a Nutella fluffernutter.  Fortunately, I have kids at just the right age for this experimentation, and for lunch today we made fluffernutter sandwiches.  For Science!

Methodology:
We made three varieties:

1.  The Classic (peanut butter (natural, crunchy) and marshmallow fluff (technically, Kraft Jetpuffed Marshmallow Creme--I couldn't find actual Fluff-brand fluff), on oatnut bread)
2.  The Fluffernutella (Nutella, same marshmallow fluff, same bread)
3.  The Excessive (peanut butter (natural, crunchy) on one piece of the same bread, same marshmallow fluff spread on the other piece of bread, and then a layer of Nutella spread on the marshmallow fluff before assembly as a sandwich:  bread, pb, Nutella, fluff, bread)

M and R each had between a quarter and a third of each sandwich; Orichalcum had one bite each of the Classic and the Excessive; I had the rest.  The sandwiches were not eaten blind.

Results and conclusions:
1.  Fluffernutters are awesome.  I enjoyed it immensely.  Both kids enjoyed it thoroughly as well.  (Orichalcum's conclusions are omitted on the basis of an insufficiently large sample.)

2.  Consensus was that all three varieties were great, but the Excessive (experimental condition 3) was the best.  R was unwilling to pick a favorite, reporting all 3 as strong "thumbs up" and "great."  M and I both considered the Excessive as the best of the 3.  I particularly liked the changing flavor profile over the course of a bite--the peanut butter and bread tastes hit early and then fade, the Nutella emerges over time, and the fluff provides a constant sweet undertone.  All in all, highly recommended.  That said, all of the varieties were great, and the Excessive was, indeed, excessive.

3.  Quantity is very important in enjoying fluffernutters as an adult.  I had somewhat more than 1 full sandwich between the various conditions.  This was more than desirable.  By the end of the process, the fluffernutters were slightly revolting, because of the sheer amount of sugar and fat involved.  They were still awesome and tasty, and I finished all of my fluffernutter.  But there was just a hint of "my stomach feels gross" involved.  I don't recommend eating more than 1 full fluffernutter sandwich in a sitting, and less than 1 full sandwich may be better (especially if you make the Excessive).  But I have no regrets about the sacrifices I make ... For Science!

June 1st, 2011

Our bestselling game, Choice of the Vampire, is now out for Kindle!  You can get it at the Kindle Store, http://www.amazon.com/Choice-of-the-Vampire/dp/B004QV9XPW.  We encourage you to buy it, review it, and encourage your friends to buy it as well!

April 27th, 2011

For the past day or so, I've been wrestling with some thoughts about an interesting legal ethics situation that recently made headlines. King & Spalding, a major law firm, had agreed to represent the House of Representatives in defending the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"). The House was seeking separate representation because, as I discussed in a prior post, the Department of Justice has announced that it will not defend the relevant portion of DOMA, on the basis of DOJ's conclusion that DOMA violates the Equal Protection guarantee of the Constitution. (Technically, actually, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, but that technicality hardly matters.) Yesterday, King & Spalding announced that it was withdrawing from its representation of the House (quitting as the House's lawyers). King & Spalding's decision appears to have been principally motivated by pressure from gay rights groups, who sought to publicize King & Spalding's involvement in the case to hurt its employee recruiting and to convince other, more lucrative, clients to seek other law firms for representation. In response, Paul Clement, a former Bush Administration Solicitor General and a very highly regarded lawyer, announced that he was resigning from the partnership of King & Spalding and would continue to represent the House at his new firm.

This raises several interesting questions to my mind. First, could King & Spalding have legitimately declined to represent the House in the first place? As I'll explain, I think the answer is clearly "yes." Second, in light of that fact, did King & Spalding act in a blameworthy way by withdrawing (and by extension, did Clement have an ethical obligation, even if not an enforceable obligation, to act in the way he did)? And third, if King & Spalding acted in a blameworthy way, is there something inappropriate about outside groups pressuring King & Spalding to do that--were the various gay rights groups criticizing King & Spalding acting badly by doing so?

Long discussion under the cutCollapse )

March 8th, 2011

It looks like my old MacBook may be dying.  It's spontaneously turning itself off.  For a while, it's been doing that occasionally, but after it turned itself off last night, it's only stayed on for about 10 minutes at a time, maybe less.  So I think the strategy is low use while trying to recover files and getting a new computer.

I'm interested in hearing thoughts about what computer I should get.  I definitely need a laptop--I use my computer frequently on the road, but also around my house in different places, so a desktop computer is not a good option.  For years, I've been a Mac devotee, but my loyalty has been badly shaken of late.  First, I'm not very happy with some of Apple's policies, including some of my interactions with them in the App Store context.  Second, I feel like the physical quality of their equipment is now at best comparable to other manufacturers.  It used to be that Macs were highly durable, highly reliable devices.  You were paying a premium, but you were getting premium equipment at both a hardware and software level.  I'm pretty sure I could plug in my PowerBook from college and it would still work.  But I've had repeated problems with failing power adapters, CDs and DVDs getting jammed in the stupid drive that doesn't have an ejectable tray (and, of course, is not at all user fixable), and similar minor hardware annoyances.  I feel like now the premium is going to style, which I frankly don't care about, OS, which I do still prefer, and reduced frequency of viruses, which is great.  So... I'm not sure.  Mac is still the default option, but at this point it's only the default, not "I'm looking to buy a new Mac."

In terms of usage:  I do a ton of word-processing, with some other light business-style app use (spreadsheets and the like), but very little particularly high intensity in terms of processing requirements.  (I occasionally run some debugging software on games I'm working on that takes a while to run, but I'm not sure there's much difference between a half-hour task and an hour task.  I fire either off in the background, go away, and come back later that day or the next day when it's finished.)  I do a lot of net surfing, although relatively little of that is video.  I do video chats and so forth relatively frequently.  I would also like to be able to play modern games--Civ V, Starcraft II, and Dragon Age are all games that I'd like to play, but that I haven't been able to up to this point.  I'd also like to be able to play games that aren't out now, but will be in the next year or two--Diablo 3 and Dragon Age 2 leap to mind, and there are probably others.  I'd like to have a computer that I can continue to use for AAA game titles for the next 2 to 3 years, at least.

I'm interested in any opinions of what computers I should look at.  Also, is now a good time to buy?  My impression is that Apple just did a major revision of their line, which seems like a pretty good time if I go with a Mac, but if there were compelling reasons to wait 3 months, I'd consider it.

October 27th, 2010

Local races: help!

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Okay, so here's my long overdue post about the Mountain View local races.  The starting point is:  Boy, I don't really know much of anything about these races.  I'm really not sure how to decide on them at all.  Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Candidate races:
City Council: (vote for 3)
I'm really not at all sure who to support here.  I've heard good things about two incumbents (Ronit Bryant and Margaret Abe-Koga), but Ronit Bryant has been actively opposing a high-speed rail stop in Mountain View, which is madness (many of the other candidates do as well, although at least Jabbari and Abe-Koga are more supportive).  Jac Siegel seems less impressive than the other two incumbents, but I'm not sure exactly why I think that.  Aaron Jabbari seems like the challenger with the best policy ideas, but he also seems pretty marginal as a candidate and possibly a flake.  Everyone makes statements in support of some growth, good fiscal management, parks, motherhood and apple pie.  I'm really not at all sure what to do here.  Maybe Bryant, Abe-Koga, Jabbari?

Water district:
Louis Becker is the incumbent, and a civil engineer.  Brian Schmidt is the challenger, an environmental lawyer.  Both seem reasonably qualified and interested, both assert caring about the environment.  No clue who is better.

Ballot measures:
Measure A:  This would impose a small ($29 per parcel of land) tax to fund health insurance for kids in Santa Clara County.  It has widespread support from business, health, and political leaders in the County.  It's opposed by some fringe-y anti-tax/Tea Party groups.
Position:  Yes.  Level of confidence:  Low.  Level of information:  Low.

Measure B:  This would increase car registration fees by $10 to fund the Valley Transportation Authority for road maintenance work, etc.  I know next to nothing about the relevant policies.  It's opposed by the same people as the people who oppose measure A--really, my main reason to consider supporting it.
Position:  Yes??  Level of confidence:  Negligible.  Level of information:  Almost none.

Measure C:  Term limits for the Water District board--would apply a limit of 3 four-year terms in succession.  No argument in favor was submitted.  The argument against is mostly incoherent.
Position:  Abstain???  Level of confidence:  None.  Level of information:  Almost none.

Measure E:  Would impose a $69 per parcel of land tax to fund the Foothill-De Anza Community College District.  Funding public education is really important, especially as the state cuts back funding.  The flat nature of the tax is regressive and bad, but oh well.  Plus, the opposition is from the same folks as in Measures A and B--i.e. all of the opposition is from "we should pay no taxes" sorts.
Position:  Yes.  Level of confidence:  Moderately low.  Level of information:  Low.

Measure T:  This would extend Mountain View's Utility tax to cover VoIP and similar technologies; currently, landlines and cell phones are taxed, but not other sorts of telephone systems.  The proponents claim (and the opponents don't deny) that the current tax could be subject to a legal challenge.
Position:  Yes?  Level of confidence: Very low.  Level of information:  Low.

So, that's my post about all of the local stuff about which I know very little.  Anyone have any additional information or thoughts?

October 16th, 2010

California elections

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So, it's time to start figuring out how to vote in the coming election.  This post has my thoughts about the statewide races and propositions.  I'll follow up with a local elections post later.  As always, I give my thoughts but I'd like to encourage a discussion.  In some cases, I'm not very confident and could be persuaded.  I'm going to start with the Propositions, and then I have some banal thoughts about the candidate elections.

Wall of text behind the cutCollapse )

September 10th, 2010

I just thought I'd give a very quick post about Log Cabin Republicans v. United States, a district court decision striking down the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy as unconstitutional.  This is a trial court decision; it's subject to appeal to the Ninth Circuit, and could in theory then be appealed to the Supreme Court.  The government is not required to appeal; in light of the Obama Administration's stated position opposing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, a decent argument exists that the government should not appeal.  However, Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a statute, and the government usually appeals decisions invalidating statutes, even when it agrees that the statute is bad.

The decision has a bunch of fact-finding--pretty much what you would expect:  testimony by and about a group of exemplary gay and lesbian soldiers, Air Force personnel, and sailors, presenting evidence that they are able and successful personnel, both before and after being outed; evidence about the weakness of the government's arguments, including testimony that "task cohesion" is what matters for unit performance, not "social cohesion," and that while sexuality may threaten "social cohesion" it doesn't threaten "task cohesion;" evidence that in time of war, the military has radically reduced discharges under DADT, thus suggesting that it is not actually essential to military performance (and that it delays discharges until after units have returned from deployments, again undercutting claims that sexuality impairs unit performance); and evidence that the discharges cost the military valuable resources and result in less able troops being in the field.

The decision rests on two independent grounds:  "substantive due process," which in this case amounts to a right of privacy, and freedom of speech (since soldiers are discharged for their statements and associations under DADT).  The court had previously dismissed the plaintiffs' equal protection claim, which is kinda weird because that's the most obvious basis for challenging DADT.  However, prior precedent pretty well foreclosed the equal protection claim.  The substantive due process claim applied a heightened standard, but not strict scrutiny, as established in Witt v. Department of the Air Force.  (Witt is a 9th Circuit case, binding on this court, that is currently on remand and scheduled to go to trial in September of this year.)  The First Amendment analysis is breaking new ground.

This case really all comes down to standard of review and deference.  If you apply a really lenient standard of review, like rational basis, or if you show extreme deference to the government because it involves military readiness, etc., then the government wins.  Under even slightly heightened review, the government loses, because the evidence does not provide much support for the government's concerns that sexuality impairs unit cohesion, morale, and performance.  The clear decision by the government to slow down discharges during war time really cuts to the core of the government's argument:  it's really that gay people can't serve because society doesn't like them, not gay people can't serve because their service would endanger their units in wartime.  Even so, with enough deference to the government, that wouldn't matter.  As it stands, this decision is reasonable and important.  We'll need to see how the government reacts.  If the government appeals, I think an affirmance is likely in the Ninth Circuit; en banc reconsideration is also fairly likely, and could go either way; the Supreme Court would likely grant cert if the Ninth Circuit ultimately affirms.

Obviously, if Congress gets off its butt and repeals DADT, the case becomes moot.

August 20th, 2010

Choice of Games is pleased to announce the release of Choice of Romance, by Heather Albano and Adam Strong-Morse! Play it on the web, or download the iPhone version or the Android version.

Play as a young aristocrat who comes to court looking for love... and catches the monarch’s eye. Will you find true love? Gain a crown? Lose your head? Choice of Romance is a text-based multiple choice game of romance, deception and court intrigue.

We hope you enjoy playing “Choice of Romance” and we encourage you to play it, tell your friends, and to recommend it on StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. Don’t forget: our initial download rate determines our App Store ranking. Basically, the more times you download in the first week, the better “Choice of Romance” will rank.

August 4th, 2010

A federal district judge in the Northern District of California invalidated Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage today in Perry v. Schwarzenegger.  This is a landmark event in the progress towards marriage equality.  I've just finished reading the opinion in the case, and I thought I would share my thoughts on the case, on the decision, and on what's next.  The opinion is available online at, among other places, http://www.ce9.uscourts.gov/prop8/FF_CL_Final.pdf.

My thoughts on the decisionCollapse )

July 21st, 2010

Inception

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 orichalcum and I watched Inception yesterday.  The non-spoilery review:  I really liked it and thought it was really interesting, although it continues to bother me that virtually all (perhaps all?) of Christopher Nolan's movies fail the Bechdel test.

There's some interesting stuff to talk about, so I thought I'd see if other people were interested in sharing their thoughts.  Under the cut and presumably in the comments, there be spoilers.

Cut because OMG the spoilersCollapse )

July 12th, 2010

There's an interesting law suit making its way through the federal courts about whether the size of Congress violates the Constitution.  In particular, the plaintiffs argue that the wide disparity between the number of people represented by each Representative in some states and the number of people represented in other states violates the Constitution.  Obviously, when each state is guaranteed one representative and there are a mean of between 8 and 9 representatives per state, some states will end up overrepresented and others will end up underrepresented.  If you take the states that are closest to deserving one additional representative and compare them to the states that just barely got an additional representative, the differences will be very substantial (as it turns out, the biggest swing is between Wyoming, with one representative for roughly 495,000 people, and Montana, which has one representative for about 905,000 people).  It's also obvious that increasing the size of Congress could greatly reduce those problems--if you changed Congress to have one Representative for every 100,000 people or major fraction of 100,000 people, then Wyoming would get 5 representatives and Montana would get 9 and the differential would be very small... and there would be 3,000 or so Representatives.  In the recent case, a three-judge district court in Mississippi held that the current allocation was within Congress's discretion, in a case named Clemons v. U.S. Dept. of Commerce.  Because this is an area that I have some expertise in, that I think is inherently interesting, and that is unlikely to receive much coverage elsewhere, I thought that I would give a recap and some analysis.  (I won't call it quick analysis to avoid getting mocked in the comments again. :) )

Details cut for lengthCollapse )

July 8th, 2010

The DOMA Decisions

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 As part of my irregular series of posts about interesting legal developments, I thought I'd write up a quick reaction to the decisions today striking down the Defense of Marriage Act.

I begin with a little background, then I give a quick bit of analysis.  Finally, I'll touch on what's next and what questions are left unanswered after today's decisions.
Cut for lengthCollapse )

June 24th, 2010

The Fifth Circuit recently decided a case in an utterly bizarre and, in my opinion, completely unreasonable way that violated the Court's duty to decide cases properly before it and that deprived the parties to the case of their (statutory) right to a first appeal.  I think this is an appalling result that has been underpublicized and that people ought to know about.  Basically, the en banc Court of Appeals dismissed an appeal (i.e. took substantive action) on the ground that it lacked a quorum, and thus could not take substantive action.  In doing so, it vacated a panel decision without ever providing a judgment on the merits from the court of appeals.  (If you're reading this and thinking this is really geeky and technical, it only gets worse from here, so you might want to stop here.  I'm not really a civil procedure specialist, but this has me really worked up and I want to let other law geeks know about this.)

Comer v. Murphy Oil is a case about global warming, although the substance of the case is completely irrelevant to the issue that I'm concerned about.  The District Court judge dismissed the case on political question and standing grounds.  I have no opinion as to whether that decision was substantively correct--it doesn't really matter for the issue I care about here.  The plaintiffs appealed, and problems related to recusal cropped up immediately.  The first panel to hear the case consisted of two judges (the third judge had a family emergency and missed oral argument); when one of the judges subsequently recused himself, the panel lacked a quorum, so the case was reassigned to a new three-judge panel, which reversed the district court and reinstated the case.  For people who aren't familiar with federal procedural rules, in almost all cases, including this one, there is a right to an appeal to a three-judge panel of the court of appeals.  Note that this doesn't mean that the plaintiffs would win, just that they would get to proceed further in the trial court.  This decision matched a decision in a similar case from the 2nd Circuit, although several other trial courts have gone the other way.  The defendants petitioned the full Fifth Circuit for a rehearing en banc (meaning a rehearing by all of the active judges of the circuit).  There is no right to an en banc rehearing, but courts of appeals can grant them in appropriate cases.

Many of the judges on the Fifth Circuit had conflicts of interest and recused themselves-- 7 out of 16.  But nine judges is a quorum, and they voted, 6 to 3, to rehear the case en banc.  By a local rule of the Fifth Circuit, when rehearing en banc is granted, the panel decision is vacated--rendered a legal nullity.  So far, so good.  Here's where it gets bizarre.  After rehearing en banc was granted, one of the judges recused herself--apparently because of a newly developed conflict, although I don't know if that's actually supported by any evidence beyond her say-so.  So that left the en banc court with a problem.  Their interpretation of the statute defining a quorum is that it requires nine judges (a majority of the total number of active judges) to constitute a quorum.  So, the eight judges left then voted, 5 to 3, to apply the law to the facts of the situation, and to dismiss the appeal.  You can get the order in Comer v. Murphy Oil here.  Mind you, they didn't dismiss the en banc proceeding--they dismissed the entire appeal, reinstating the district court opinion that had been reversed by a panel.  It's at this point that I start screaming foul and wondering when a referee will give the members of the Court red cards for blatantly violating the rules and spirit of the game.  (Or something like that.)  

Apparently, they didn't have a quorum to do anything, but "dismissing an appeal" is somehow not doing anything?  And it's worth noting that they say that they lack a quorum so they can't "transact judicial business," but that they can still state the facts as they exist and apply the rules to the facts--but what does it mean to transact judicial business except to (A) make findings of fact, (B) make holdings of law, and (C) apply the law to the facts?  What they claim to have the power to do without a quorum is precisely to "transact judicial business"--exactly what they just said that they could not do without a quorum.  Likewise, I find it shocking that they would consider a local rule vacating a panel decision as justifying violating a federal statute that umabiguously provides for a right to a first appeal.

The Fifth Circuit suggests that it had no choice, but this is blatantly wrong.  First, the chief judge could have asked the Chief Justice of the United States to designate another judge to sit by designation (may I suggest that one of the retired justices would have made a good choice?) to fill the quorum of the Fifth Circuit.  Second, if they had the power to dismiss the case, they surely had the power to conclude that the grant of en banc rehearing was not valid in the absence of a court capable of hearing it en banc, restoring the panel decision.  Third, they could have applied the Rule of Necessity, which allows judges to hear cases even when conflicted out if the alternative is the failure of a court to function.  Fourth, they could have waited for new appointments to render the court able to hear the case en banc--leaving it pending due to a lack of any court capable of taking any action (the logical consequence of a strict interpretation of quorum requirements) until such time as a court can hear it.  Fifth, (although not mentioned by the dissents), they could have declared that in the absence of a quorum and in the absence of an in-force panel decision, the case should be reassigned to a new panel for rehearing.  Instead, they took the extraordinary and totally unjustified step of failing to actually provide a substantive ruling on an appeal as of right.

This is monstrously irresponsible behavior on the part of the Fifth Circuit.  And it is particularly troubling because it smacks of judges manipulating the interpretation of the most formal rules of the court to produce the outcome they want.  Five of the eight judges left on the en banc court voted to grant rehearing--they probably all wanted to reverse the panel decision.  They lacked a quorum to actually reverse it--and that would have created a clear circuit split anyway.  So instead, they reversed it without admitting that they had reversed it, leaving no court of appeals decision from which to appeal to the Supreme Court.  (They assert that a petition for certiorari would remain proper, and I assume that they are correct--but that's a pretty hollow hope.)  Madness.

I hope that the Supreme Court accepts cert simply for the purpose of rejecting this insane procedure of the Fifth Circuit.

June 8th, 2010

 The most interesting part of today's primary in California isn't the candidate races, which are getting most of the coverage--it's the Propositions.  

Since I've found it difficult to find much info on the results, I figured I'd post what I have found here for other people's reference.  If anyone has additional info, comments would be appreciated.  I'll update this until I go to bed tonight (in the not too distant future), and then I'll do a wrap-up tomorrow.

Political reform:
It looks like the "jungle primary" or "Cajun Primary" proposition, Prop 14, will pass.  Current numbers are about 60-40.  As I said before, I think that's a mistake, but it will be an interesting experiment, and if ever there was a state where experimentation would be worthwhile, it's California with its totally broken politics.  There will surely be legal challenges to Prop 14.  I'll explain in a separate post why I think those should fail (i.e. why I think the proposition, while probably a bad idea, is constitutional).

The lower profile but closer to my heart Prop 15, introducing a very limited "Clean Money" public financing system (limited because it would only apply to Secretary of State), appears to be heading towards a defeat, by similar numbers (57-43 is what I've seen).  This wouldn't have done much, because it was limited, but it's still a sad result.  I'm inclined to believe that Clean Money or similar public financing systems are the only sorts of campaign finance reform that make a really big difference.  Not taking a baby step forward is a mistake.  (That said, the recent decision from the Supreme Court about the AZ system raises serious doubts about whether the Court will permit public financing systems to work in the future.  Again, more on that in a later post.)

Other Props:
Prop 16, the power proposition, appears to be passing, but the numbers I've seen were extremely close--52-48 or so.  So there's still hope that No will pull it out.  Update:  No is currently ahead narrowly.  This one will have to wait to tomorrow for resolution.  But yay hope!

No news on other props.

All told, another banner day for direct democracy. :P /bitter_sarcasm

Updated to add:
The Secretary of State's office has the most comprehensive coverage of the Prop results that I can find-- I think everyone is just yoinking their numbers.  http://vote.sos.ca.gov/returns/props/59.htm

Seismic retrofitting passing (the only statewide prop that's going the way I wanted it to), Prop 17 (auto insurance) passing.  Prop 16 is still in doubt, Prop 17 might conceivably lose, but they're both 17 is ahead currently.   The others are pretty lopsided so I think we can be confident on the other results already.

Final update:  16 and 17 both failed in the end!  Those results ended up a lot better in the morning than they looked last night--I'm still sad about 15, and a little worried (but also curious and interested) about 14.  But overall, not too bad as far as California proposition nights go.  :S

May 28th, 2010

There’s a primary election coming up in California (mail-in ballots due by June 8).  Perhaps unsurprisingly, though, the real action is on the Proposition side of the ballot (at least for registered Democrats—there are some real races among the Republicans).  This post contains my current thoughts and questions.  As always, I encourage other people to share their thoughts about the Propositions.  My post is as much about trying to get other people to help me decide on the tough Propositions as to influence other people.

Read more...Collapse )

May 6th, 2010

Following up on banana_pants's request, I've written a monster post about how we plan/outline/storyboard/etc. our games at the Choice of Games blog.  I think people interested in writing a ChoiceScript game (which should include you!) will find it interesting and helpful.  I'd also be very interested to hear thoughts or criticisms of our approach.

April 21st, 2010

I saw an interesting article (via Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution blogging about this article at Inside Higher Ed) about a new approach that the American Economic Association is taking to peer review in its journals.  The AEA publishes a flagship journal, which I gather is one of the top generalist economics journals, and several subject-matter journals, which are less selective and prestigious but still very big deals.  The new policy is that when the flagship journal rejects an article, the authors may, at their option, submit the article and the referee reports directly to one of the subject-matter journals.  The editor of the subject-matter journal can then accept, reject, or request additional referee reports, as appropriate.  That means that when someone gets a "this is a very good article, but not quite good enough for the best journal in the world, and really more appropriate in a macroeconomics journal rather than a generalist journal" rejection, they have a shot at turning that into an acceptance within a few weeks at a second-tier but still high prestige journal.  That's a huge improvement on waiting another six months for a second bite at the apple.  Conversely, if authors get a negative referee report that they disagree with (the referees have an ax to grind, the referees missed the point, etc.), they can choose to resubmit in the normal process, so they only lose something in that their competitors gain (which is still real, because publication competition is essentially zero-sum, but still...)

This strikes me as a really positive step.  The publication process is crazy currently--it's very slow, very haphazard, and small distinctions can have critical effects.  Anything that speeds up the rate at which really good but not quite good enough scholarship gets published is a big win.  I would predict that this will improve both the currency (in the sense of cutting-edge research) and the quality of the AEA's specialty journals, while helping ensure that academics who are just missing the brass ring of a flagship publication still get the professional advancement (hiring, tenure, etc.) that they need and are earning.  It also should improve the quality of the publications in the top journal; an author who is trying to decide whether to go for the top placement or go for a good, more likely placement in the specialty journal will now be more likely to swing for the fences.  If the top journal rejects it with a "not quite, try the specialty journal" sort of rejection, the author loses very little.  If the top journal accepts, great!  That means that the top journal will get some good pieces that would otherwise have ended up in the specialty journal to be safe, which is a big improvement.

Ultimately, I don't think this will save the peer-review system.  Modern technology means that publication doesn't make sense as the bottleneck that it is currently.  We would be better served by a system of open publication, with open (and probably signed) referee reports as a guide to quality.  "Editors" could then publish hyperlinked lists of their favorite articles for the past X time period, thus filling the credentialling role of peer-reviewed journals.  It would be faster, more efficient, and all around better than the current approach, and I expect that it will win eventually.  But in the meantime, half steps forward are still a good thing.

April 14th, 2010

 I'm pleased to announce that the iPhone app of Choice of Broadsides is now available!  

Choice of Broadsides is a multiple-choice swashbuckling naval adventure, in the spirit of C. S. Forester’s Hornblower or Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books, with a dash of Jane Austen.

Even if you've already played the web version, if you have an iPhone it would be very helpful if you installed the iPhone app of Choice of Broadsides.  Then tell your friends!

And if you haven't played it, what are you waiting for?  Someone needs to save Albion from the Gauls.
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