Sunday, May 30, 2004

The Shield coming to Xbox

The Shield is coming to the Xbox. Interesting. The Shield is one of the best shows on TV, but I never would have expected it to appear in video-game form. There's not enough action to make a traditional action-based game, and as a cable show I don't know if The Shield has a large enough audience to make up for the trouble that licensed games generally have. Now that I think about it, though, there are some interesting gameply possibilities as the strike team walks the fine line between maintaining order and profiting from the chaos. One problem that comes to mind is that a large part of The Shield's appeal is the "I can't believe they just did that" factor. When a game turns that into "I can't believe I just did that", the results can be unsettling (see Manhunt).

Arbitrary numbers

Some interesting uses of arbitrary numbers have come up in the news recently. The threshold used for the PSA test for prostate cancer was chosen "just sort of arbitrarily" (via Educated Guesswork). The threshold was set very low in an effort to catch cancers early while they're still most treatable, but now it's becoming clear that the correlation between such low levels of PSA and cancer is much weaker than previously believed.

Also in the news this week is that the launch codes for America's nuclear missiles was set to 00000000, and this fact was (relatively) widely known. I know this wasn't the only layer of security, and maybe it's not true (perhaps a select few knew the real code, but spread rumors of this fake one), but I'm still amazed sometimes that we haven't managed to blow ourselves to smithereens yet.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Lousy Seventh Amendment...

I just spent two and a half frustrating days in jury selection (across the street from the site of California's last lynching). This is probably old hat to most people out there, but this was my first time, and the inefficiency of the jury process is really horrendous. Some number of people are called randomly to the courthouse, and a subset of those people are selected (again randomly) to be the real candidate jurors (in this case they picked about 20 out of a group of about 70). The rest have to sit through the entire jury selection process, but do nothing. If they don't get picked, they're sent home - they can't get picked for another trial. It seems crazy to me that it comes down to a binary decision on a particular case. It would be much more efficient if prospective jurors were given a more general questionnaire and then assigned to an appropriate trial.

While I'm on the subject, I feel compelled to rant about the particular case I was on. It was a civil product liability case involving some allegedly defective siding. The kicker is that the trial was estimated to take six to ten weeks. I find it extremely difficult to believe that whatever claim is being made here justifies the enormous cost of the trial - ten weeks for twelve jurors and four alternates is over three person-years of jury time alone (and they racked up the better part of another person-year with jury selection).

It's also interesting how the little slivers of information available during jury selection can shape your opinions. The lawyers asked many questions of the prospective jurors, which established pretty clear battle lines without ever laying things out explicitly - the plaintiff contends the defendant knew about defects and should have recalled the product, while the defense claims that reports of failures were not statistically significant and the siding was not installed in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. The thing that really propelled me to my premature conclusion is that the judge said that this trial originally had 20-30 defendants, but nearly all of them had settled. Sounds to me like they're firing shots in the dark.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Way We Eat Now

The Way We Eat Now: Harvard Magazine has an interesting look at the evolution of the modern diet. Fun fact: "Chimps spend about six hours a day chewing." (via evhead)

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Form vs. Function

My Tivo's hard drive just died, but thanks to information on the web I was able to replace it myself. The background research for this task turned out to be an interesting illustration of how much difference the basic form of a web site can make.

The tivo hacking community has traditionally been housed in a couple of web forums: TiVo Community (which seems to have fallen out of favor because topics like video extraction are not allowed), and DealDatabase. Web forums are great for regular participants, but they're awful for new users. Forums have no clearly-defined entry point, which leads new users to ask a lot of stupid questions, which in turn breeds intense resentment and hostility among the regular community members. Some threads are made "sticky" so they're easier to find, but a lot of necessary and useful information falls through the cracks. Questions are frequently answered with "search for 'X'", but if you do the search, you'll find that posts saying "search for 'X'" have drowned out the posts where 'X' was originally discussed.

By contrast, the best starting point for tivo hacking is a wiki on Wikis work well for this sort of thing because anyone can help keep them up to date, and they can easily be structured in a way that new users can pick up easily. But Wikis introduce peculiarities of their own - the WikiNaming convention of running two words together hinders their visibility in web searches. Of course, it's not as easy to keep track of all the changes to a wiki as it is on a message board, but as a starting point for newcomers that's not a problem.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Just when you thought reality TV couldn't sink any lower - Foxlife - 'Superstar' Producers Lied to Studio Audience: "At a taping for the upcoming 'bad talent' series, 'Superstar USA' (search) producers lied and told audience members that the talentless contestants were actually terminally ill patients from the Make-A-Wish Foundation (search)."

It's good to know that Angel will be replaced with such quality programming.