San Fran Fun Part One

So, we landed late on Friday, and took supershuttle to our friend Bryan’s place.

Saturday was brunch with Tom at Herbivore, board game browsing, then homemade dinner with Josh and Brennan on the peninsula, before coming back and dropping by Jeremy’s Birthday drinks.

Sunday was brunch with Tom at Saturn, board games at Nathan’s, then pizza and project Runway at Tom’s with Nathaniel.

Monday I finished drafting a union survey, we had brunch with Bryan, I got new shoes (tossing the old ones in a trash can right outside the store. They were seriously worn out.) Got a week membership at the most convenient (and coincidentally gayest) gym in town, did a leg workout, met Matthew and played RFTG and then Wizard (for the first time ever), had dinner with Nathaniel at Golden Era, and called it a night. And then I sent out the union survey.

Tuesday, I started off with a transition committee meeting for the new bargaining unit with our union, worked out chest and back, grabbed lunch at herbivore, played board games (glory to rome specifically) with new folks we met through the wonders of proximity based social networking (aka scruff), bounced on trampolines with friends new, old, and just-moved-to-SF-from-Chicago, then dinner, now back home.

Themes so far for vacation: vegetarian restaurants, board games, old friends, and a few people from chicago. =)

The Value of Democracy: Asking the Right Questions

I’ve seen a few people reposting this article which claims that people aren’t smart enough to make democracy work. I wasn’t sure about the author of the study behind the article, so I did a bit of digging. Most of his work is not related to politics directly, but rather to self-evaluation of skill. And according to a UK radio interview he apparently does agree with the political application of the work. And I think they’re missing something critical, which makes the direction they’re going with this rather pointless.

Democracy, whether representative or direct, is about political decisions ultimately being made by the people affected by them, not the technical competence of elected leaders or enacted policies. “No taxation without representation” is a slogan from the pre-revolutionary and revolutionary decades of what is now the United States, and a close variant of that shows up on DC license plates. That’s not a cry for more technically competent leadership, that’s a complaint about not being involved in the decision making process. They may have wanted more technically competent leadership, but really, they wanted their needs tended to. And that is what democracy looks like. Democracy is the answer to “Let them eat cake,” not the answer to “How do we determine the optimal arrangement of taxes and services?”

Democracy is a system of political decision making, a way of resolving conflicting interests. We may aspire to perfect governance, but for that aspiration to even make sense, we have to agree on our values. And we have chosen to express those values through a generally peaceful, mostly democratic framework. While I might have ideas for how this system could be improved, those two principles at the very least seem well worth maintaining.

I agree that a more technically competent electorate would produce more technically competent leaders and decisions. I support the idea of increasing the electorate’s technical expertise, along with our freedom, security, compassion, curiosity, hope, and creativity. But I cannot support that at the cost of disenfranchisement. No matter how technically inexpert, I think citizens have a right to contribute their voice to the definition of their governance. I do not buy that there is a single “competence” factor that would magically produce better governance for all.

A statement of values

Second favorite thing about blogging: getting to work out ideas in writing (first favorite was the community.  When I figure out how to get that back, I’ll be in touch).

1.  I love intellectualism.  Our brains are useful assets, we should use them.  And just because not everyone can follow what someone is thinking does not mean they are wrong (nor does it mean they are brilliant and misunderstood).  However, if you can take whatever insights you have, especially if they are esoteric and make them readily accessible, that’s great.  Especially if you can do it without losing the elegance and completeness of your thoughts.  Being right is not just good, it’s one of the most important things.

2.  Being different is not inherently bad, and may have some inherent value.  Evolution couldn’t happen without mutation.  Diversity makes a collective strong.  I don’t care if you wear funny clothes, talk different, or have obscure hobbies.  Who am I kidding?  I think all those things are awesome.

3. Honesty rules.  I spent too many miserable years lying about who I was and am to value privacy and secrets over open-ness and honesty.

4. One should generally assume the best about others’ intentions and attitudes.  Most people mean well, and we all make mistakes.

That’s all I really feel like writing on that front at this point.  This has been a test of Stephen’s RSS broadcast setup on facebook.


So, I’ve taken a shine to a new MMORPG, RIFT, aka, waster of much time.

While it doesn’t have a trial membership, per se, there are occasional event-based free-trial weekends.  I got in on one and liked it well enough to go in for the full deal a few weeks later, with a discounted download ($15) from amazon.  Current deal is only $10 down.

The game will be compared to WoW for a couple reasons:

  1. WoW is the biggest MMORPG out there, and the one with the broadest fan/familiarity base, so if you make that comparison, more people will get it;
  2. RIFT works like WoW. Even comparing it to the universe of MMORPGs including GuildWars, Everquest, and FFXI, the MMORPG I played the second most of, the game works far more like WoW:
    • Fantasy setting;
    • two opposing factions, with multiple races each;
    • purchasable mounts to speed up non-combat movement;
    • a character development system that looks and feels very like WoW’s talent trees;
    • very similar crafting and gathering systems (one patch fixed a tooltip to correctly refer to “Apothecary”, rather than “Alchemy” skill, which is what it’s called in WoW);
    • instances;
    • guild levels;
    • a nearly identical auction house and banking system;
    • similar underlying mechanics for character abilities;
    • dragons each affiliated with a particular other-worldly/elemental plane (all the dragons are bad guys in RIFT though); and more
    • The similarities abound.

However, there are noteworthy differences, some improvements, some deficiencies, and some just neutral.

Continue reading “RIFT”

WoW Mechanics Review

As I was writing a quick impressions piece on RIFT, I had to write a long diatribe on WoW’s mechanics.  This was out of place, so I’m giving it a post unto itself.

Character development in WoW

In WoW, each character has 1 class chosen from 10 at character creation, with some racial variation in available classes, but all classes have been available to each faction since the burning crusade, the first expansion.  In terms of the archetypal roles to fill (damage/healer/tank/buff), depending on how the player customizes the character, any class can do significant damage, 4 classes can heal and 4 classes can tank, including 2 that can do both, and there are at least two classes with substantial buffing powers.

Each class has three categories of abilities, and three corresponding “talent trees”.  For example, mages gain access to “frost”, “fire”, and “arcane” abilities, have “frost”, “fire” and “arcane” talent trees.  Characters gain access to abilities as they level, paying a trainer to learn new abilities.  Starting at level 10 and continuing with increasing levels, players also gain points to use in their talent tree.  Talents typically improve an ability associated with that talent tree.  Some talents also give abilities.  This system was expanded without fundamental changes in the first two expansions.  In the third expansion, Cataclysm, it underwent a more fundamental revision.

I’ll skip the historical versions and describe the current system.  Each talent tree has 9 tiers.  The first 8 tiers generally have 5 or more places to put points per tier.  In order to open up the next tier of talents, you have to spend 5 more points in the tree.  Generally higher tier talents are better, and so talent builds tend to put 5 in each tier until reaching the ninth tier, which has only one spot, which gives the player a .  WoW eventually added the ability to have two talent setups, with the ability to switch between them when out of combat.  After Cataclysm, characters had to choose one of their three trees, and spend all their points in it up until level 69. (hehe), with freedom to distribute the remaining 10 points after that in whatever talent tree the player chooses.  Characters gain special abilities appropriate to their initial talent tree.  A character may be able to completely fill in one tree, but will never hit the top of more than one talent tree.

Good weekend

We had a good first weekend in SF. My work obligations were actually pretty well taken care of when I left town. Friday we finished watching the second SciFi dune mini series disk before crashing. (it had been our primary in flight entertainment). Saturday was board games, and we started off with shadow hunters with its expansion (a reasonable length 8 player game), then we tried out dead_platypus‘s birthday gift to me, Vasco da Gama. and handed our butts to us. Then it was 5 player Mu. I kept bidding aggressively (as always). Until someone who actually knows how to play trick taking games () started bidding aggressively. He won. We followed this with an annoying struggle to get in to our apartment rental, and then vegetarian restaurant tastiness with nearby.

Sunday we hiked on the peninsula, watched simpsons & law and order with , and then had dinner with , , and , followed up by ticket to ride. Pliny decided he’d lost in the first couple of turns, and made it his life mission to block everyone else from scoring. He did so very effectively with me. With two routes that did him absolutely no good, he knocked me from 57 points to -17 points.

Monday is our most unplanned day out here. I’m currently thinking a bike rental and riding the three bears, followed by dinner of some sort, but that’s about all I have planned. Rest of the week pretty booked with fun things.