Video Gambling Terminals Are Still A Mystery To Me

This interesting talk deals with the efforts that the designers of video slot machines take to make those and other facets of the Vegas experience optimally absorbing of gamblers’ dollars:

Natasha Schüll at Gel 2008 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

It’s a fascinating line of study, and it makes particular sense that gambling companies are powerfully incentivized to invest significant research into their products.

I recently took my first trip to Las Vegas. I wasn’t there to gamble, but I was planning on blowing some greenbacks to take in the feel of gambling anyway. So I sat down at few different gambling terminals and fed some sweaty bills into them. I should mention that I used to be an enthusiastic video gamer, and that the gameplay on these machines was closer to video games than the slot machines or card game simulations that I would have anticipated from my pop-culture understanding of Vegas infrastructure.

the back of the fabulous Las Vegas sign
what happens in Vegas might as well stay in Vegas

So why is that the games on those video terminals seemed so powerfully un-enjoyable to me? The gameplay was dull, the graphics and sound were too professional to be ironically vulgar, too amateurish to be impressive. The design and execution felt all-around lackadaisical. There wasn’t much happening on the screen to catch my attention or hold it. Some cows mooed, I think I tried to guess which virtual holes virtual lobsters were going to come out of, there was a half-hearted Aliens theme to one of them (I love Aliens! but not that game), and one of them had something to do with dolphins. I finally tried the spinning logos, reminiscent of actual one-armed bandits, and that was a little better, but a few digital spinning wheels connected to a mushy half-lighted button just didn’t get me into “the zone”.

Presumably I’m not the target market, but if these terminals are the ultimate physical instantiation of person-years of focused psycho-engineering effort, how is it that they’re so brutally boring?

Degrees of Change: The Good, the Bad and the Blind Spot

There’s been plenty of media coverage of the Degrees of Change report just released by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. The report predicts impacts on Canadian regions, with an economic focus.

Climate change: Is this what the future will look like? – National Post

Study seeks silver lining in climate change’s clouds — Globe and Mail

Don’t accentuate the positive on climate change – Globe and Mail

Global warming will vastly change Canada: study – CTV

How a 2-degree climate change would hit Canada — CBC

Both the report and the coverage it has generated are certainly interesting. There’s a little bad and a lot of good. But I think what’s may be most important is what’s been left out.

The Bad

The news media has always struggled with climate change reporting, in part because of the tendency to report both sides of the story, even if one “side” is consensus opinion of the credible components of the scientific institution and the other “side” is a slim minority of tangentially expert corporate-linked reactionaries. Any report that includes positive as well as negative predictions will inevitably play hard into that journalistic norm. So it’s not surprising that some of the coverage is giving as much weight to the potential positives impacts as to the negatives, regardless of their actual proportionality.

The Good

That said, there is so much that is good about this report, and the coverage.

Climate change is a global phenomenon to be sure, but the effects will be felt in highly regionally specific ways. This report gets that aspect very right, and that’s great to see.

By giving the issue a fresh framing, I think it will help nudge folks towards considering climate change as an actual impending event, rather than another political scuffle. Advocating for preparation for both the positive and the negative impacts will motivate people to think about preparation at all, and we’ve been sorely lacking a Canadian focus on the adaptation term of the prevention/mitigation/adaptation equation.

(As a rather lurid example of that, Canada just announced the specific allocation of our $400 million Copenhagen commitment to international climate change aid, and the adaptation portion — arguably the most important, in the context of aid to developing nations — works out to an even 5%.)

Even better, I suspect that people aren’t just going to be scared of the predicted negative impacts, they’re going to be scared of the positive changes as well. I just don’t think people like any kind of large scale lifestyle-affecting change at all. Especially the kind of small-c conservative folks who haven’t been much interested in climate change so far.

But let’s suppose that some people do get excited about the possible benefits to their region. People who want to log spruce trees in the north, or fish more cod, or (yes) golf in places they haven’t before, will see those benefits mostly just as pleasing possibilities. They’ll have relatively few resources to fight for them, given that they aren’t currently making money logging spruce fishing cod or selling tee times. But the people whose lives are currently tied to farming in places that will desertify, or cutting trees in places that are in danger of losing them to beetle kill, have a lot of skin in the game and are relatively likely to get politically involved. So I don’t mind a degree of focus on positive possibilities.


Areas at Risk of Desertification by 2050, National Post adapted from NRTEE

Also, it’s just true: there will be some positive outcomes somewhere. True facts deserve coverage regardless.

The Blind Spot

The problem I have with this report – or at least with the report as I understand it from the media – is that it leaves out some of the most important economic and ecological impacts that climate change will bring. Irregularity, cascades, thresholds, extremes. All the stuff that can’t be specifically predicted, but will happen anyway.

The climate system, and the regional ecologies that exist under it, are the way they are because of millienia of co-adaptive evolution. If the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation conflicted with the south atlantic thermohaline circulation, one or the other would have collapsed long ago. If the conifer forests of interior BC were vulnerable to infestation by beetles that could survive interior BC winters, then the forests (and, in turn, the beetles) would have had their distribution scaled back already.

The danger is that if you start forcing some of the controlling variables — such as average temperature — those cycles start to wobble, degrade, and generally bang around like an unbalanced washing machine.

current conveyor belt
The thermohaline circulation. Adapted from Alexandre Van de Sande.

On the weather side, extreme temperatures will start showing up, both at the high end and the low end. The timing of weather events will get less predictable. The general trend will (in most places) be towards higher temperatures, but the thermometer will probably sawtooth nuttily on the way there. That counts if you’re planting crops, investing in tourist infrastructure, or building your house in a flood plain.

Then there’s the biological side. Sudden species explosions have been rarer in real life than in mathematical models because any given species has evolved in a matrix of other predator and prey relationships, buffering extreme swings and selecting for calmly persistent dynamics. When temperature thresholds shift suddenly and new species move into environments where they don’t have established ecological relationships, those constraints fall away, possibly leading to outbreaks of any number of possible species — benign, nuetral or downright pestilential.

The poster child for that movement has been the colossal arrival of pine beetles in interior BC. Climate change wasn’t sufficient on it’s own to induce an industry-tanking biological outbreak, it also required the presence of single-age stands of trees, among other factors. But it did indeed require warmer winters for the beetles to survive, and when those ducks got in a row, problems happened. With more climate change we can anticipate more aligned ducks, more problems.

Could we possibly have predicted the pine beetle outbreak? Probably not, but it still happened, and it still had (and has) a massive economic impact. The Degrees of Change report, for all that I find good in it, doesn’t pretend to include those unpredictabilities or the economic impacts they would generate, despite that they will impinge directly on it’s stated goal of predicting ecological and economic outcomes. I’m not sure how it could. And yet those unpredictables will be all too real. When contemplating our economic and ecological future, we should be looking for ways to keep that in mind.

Hunter S. Thompson’s Application to the Vancouver Sun

The Vancouver Sun has posted an extract from a collection of Hunter S. Thompson‘s correspondence. It’s an unsolicited application for employment, written in 1958, long before Thompson developed his gonzo style and reputation.

“Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.

I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don’t give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.

I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.

It’s a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I’d enjoy the trip.

If you think you can use me, drop me a line.

If not, good luck anyway.

Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson”

Hunter S. Thompson’s brutally honest Canadian job request, Andrea Woo, Vancouver Sun

Shame they didn’t take him up on the offer.

The Upside of Environmental Complexity

Just bought a sockeye salmon off the dock at Granville Island. Hook-and-line caught in the ocean the evening before, gutted when it was brought in to the boat, and because we didn’t mind a little seal bite we got the big one for the regular price.

receiving the sockeye

According to the bathroom scale we paid about the same per pound as we would for factory farm hamburger, which is a somewhat sad economic consequence of the magnitude of this year’s incredible sockeye run. My complex systems teacher once made the point that at a certain scale, complex systems can be effectively equivalent to chaotic systems. Viewed from the commercial dock at Granville Island, the 4 year oceanic salmon cycle sure seems chaotic.

seal bite
seal bite

And tasty. We’ve never cooked salmon before, but we’re figuring on grilling up a chunk of it on bbq tonight with a little lemon.

Update: and that was exactly what we did.

A 45 Minute Tar Sands Radio Rant

The good folks at It’s Hot in Here radio invited me on today for a discussion of the tar sands, tankers, and Enbridge pipelines. Michigonian interest in that last topic has been substantially sharpened by the Battle Creek spill two weeks ago, but awareness of the Albertan tar sands is still thin in the U.S., even among enviros. So maybe I can be forgiven for launching into a petroleum diatribe fully 45 minutes long.

Here’s the audio. I start around 7:00 and finally calm down at about 52:00.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Two things I entirely forgot to mention:

  • The current footprint of tar sands operations is about 1.5 times the size of metro Detroit (it’s good to work in local units).
  • The BP spill. I totally failed to work that in in any way.

Things I Haven’t Blogged About Lately

It’s been a long time since I blogged. And I’m not going to right now either. Instead, here’s a list of some of the things that I’ve almost blogged about recently:

  • Context Signaling in US Military Communication
  • How the Scholarly Character of Wikipedia Responds to Perturbation
  • Ecologists Exchange Thoughts on Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management
  • Late/Early Thoughts on Tablet Computing
  • Analytical Implications of the Census Discontinuity
  • The Yasuni-ITT Deal

I advocate to new bloggers that they should maintain a consistent rhythm to their posts. The idea is that if you maintain a posting frequency, your readers will know roughly how often to check your blog. That way they won’t go away disappointed, even if you don’t blog all that often. I’ve been breaking that rule lately. Mostly I blame some of my friends who have recently gotten into blogging, and have raised the quality bar for me. Thanks a lot guys.

Incidentally, I appreciate that my peers are now arriving at blogging, just as we’re being told that blogs are dead. We’re also being told that the web is dead. Both are lies. The growth of blogging is slowing, and claiming that a decreasing acceleration is the same as death is a dependable fallacy of the western neo-capitalist mindset. And the growth of the web is actually accelerating. For heavens sake.

It’s just been a little quiet around this part of the web, that’s all.

Canadian Mining Is Hijacking Congo Debt Relief

July 15th: See below for an update

50 years ago today Congo DRC gained independence from Belgium. Since then the government has taken on massive debt eagerly offered by rich northern nations and institutions. Debt relief is held by some to be one of the most effective actions available to rich countries to facilitate improved governance in the global south. To that end, the International Monetary Fund was about to forgive its substantial portion of Congo’s debt, but that action is being actively blocked by a single country: Canada.

Why in the world would we do that? Apparently, we’re using debt forgiveness as a bargaining tool to force Congo to re-activate the operating license of a Canadian mining company. The company is called First Quantum, and the Congolese government recently revoked their right to operate three expensive copper mines after a review of mining practices. The mines are now being transferred to another international mining group, Highwind Properties. The Harper administration previously made a similar move to prevent that transfer when the Paris Club of Congolese debt holders considered abandoning their debt.

At the G20/G8 conferences, Prime Minister Harper claimed that the transfer of the operating licenses violated the rule of law and is framing the blocking of debt relief as stand for orderly governance. First Quantum has a dubious record in Congo. In 2000 a UN panel pointed out that international mineral development contributes directly to the brutal and ongoing conflict in Congo, and identified First Quantum as one of a group of companies failing to abide by OECD standards designed to lessen that conflict. Since then a Canadian-influenced second panel absolved First Quantum under a more lax set of criteria.

I don’t know much about how First Quantum currently operates in the Congo, or how Highwind Properties would operate, or what the specific motivations of the Congolese officials were who transferred the mines from one to the other. But I do know that Canadian mining companies have a bad record for environmental and human-rights choices in developing countries, and the available evidence suggests that First Quantum’s earlier Congolese operations may have lived up to that reputation. If First Quantum is indeed innocent of operational abuses, then I don’t doubt Canada can pursue their corporate rights in any number of international trade negotiation venues. Blocking an effort at debt forgiveness, in Congo DRC, on the Congolese 50th anniversary, in favour of a single Canadian mining corporation, is a despicable move.

Update July 15th:

The IMF and World Bank went ahead with the debt relief program, with Canada abstaining from the vote. I wonder what the status of the Paris Club debt relief action is?

“The decision comes despite opposition from Canada, which abstained from voting over Congo’s expropriation of Canadian company First Quantum’s rights to one of the world’s largest copper mines.

The Canadian company has taken its case to the International Court of Arbitration in Paris, and Canada’s objections had for months delayed announcement of the debt relief.”

But the World Bank and IMF announced Thursday — the day after Congo marked 50 years of independence from Belgium — that they will support $11.1 billion in relief under the program for heavily indebted poor countries and $1.2 billion under a multilateral debt relief initiative.

World Bank, IMF support $12.3 billion debt relief for Congo despite objections from Canada, SF Examiner/AP

Fissures in the Earth

I’m on vacation, or rather I’m in between two back-to-back vacations. Both involve visits to major fissures in the earth’s surface.

The first fissure was Nootka Sound, which is filled with salty ocean water and scruffy conifer-topped marine islands and sleek, curious sea mammals.

jane displaying nootka sound from a kayak

Tomorrow I leave for the second fissure, which is the Grand Canyon. I don’t yet know what’s in there, but I’ll let you know.

Richmond Is Really Lulu Island

While visiting a friend who lives on a boat, I noticed that on her nautical charts Richmond was labelled an island. Which I suppose it is. And that furthermore that island isn’t called “Richmond”. It’s actually called Lulu Island.

That’s a great name, but where does it come from? I checked the internet, and the consensus seems to be that Lulu Island was named in the 1860s, after a women named Lulu Sweet.

So who was Lulu Sweet? Not so clear. Here’s Wikipedia’s take:

“Lulu Island was named in 1862 for Lulu Sweet, a popular showgirl, possibly of Kanaka (Hawaiian) origin, who was dating the mayor of New Westminster when the island was named (she had bought property there).”

It’s always about real estate in Vancouver, even when it’s about showgirls. The BC Geographic Names Information System records a few similar-but-different theories about Lulu. Was she indeed a showgirl in the first troupe to visit New West?

“Named in 1862 by Colonel Moody, RE, in command of a detachment of the Royal Engineers then stationed at New Westminster, after Lulu Sweet, a young actress travelling with the first theatrical troupe that ever acted in that city. ‘Her conduct, acting and graceful manners gave great satisfaction, and were appreciated to such an extent by her friends and patrons that the island was named after her.'”

or was she actually in the employ of the Hudson’s Bay company?

“As reported in the 1897 British Columbia Year Book, Lulu was a Hawaiian or Kanaka, in the employ of the Hudson’s Bay Company. […. At times over the next years the majority of Fort Langley employees were of Hawaiian descent, but HBC archives don’t describe any incident or occasion that would warrant such a gesture.]”

Colonel Richard Moody was not, as the Wikipedia article is perhaps implying, the first mayor of New Westminster. He was a Royal Engineer and one of BC’s first Lieutenant Governors, back when that meant something. He also picked the site for New West, because he wanted to make it the province’s first official capital. (The first unofficial capital was Langley. Apparently the early British Columbians had poor taste in capitals.) According to the correspondence of his personal secretary, Moody was responsible for out-maneuvering the regional representative of the Hudson’s Bay Company. He also had a wife and 7 kids, so it would be interesting if he was spending a lot of time hanging around with a Hawaiian women in the employ of the HBC.

The Vancouver History website has some details which support the showgirl theory, pegs her at 16 years old at the time of the naming, and suggests Moody and Sweet may only have known each other in passing.

“On January 10, 1861 (a date of January 12, 1860 is also cited), during a tour of local waters, the commander of the Engineers, Col. Richard Moody, was showing Miss Sweet various features of the landscape. As they passed one island in the Fraser, she asked its name. “It has no name as yet,” Col. Moody responded, “but in tribute to you we shall call it Lulu Island.”

Unfortunately, they don’t cite their sources. Nor does this Richmond art project’s site, which carries on the water-tour narrative, and furthermore claims that Lulu was from San Francisco (not Hawaii?), revered by the newspapers for being chaste and beautiful, and that Moody was “one of her most ardent admirers”.

I happen to be a fan of the original name of North Vancouver: Moodyville. It wasn’t named after Col. Moody but we can pretend it was. Then we can resurrect the true names of both North Van and Richmond, and the ardent admirers can gaze across Vancouver at each other.

East Van is for Local Photographers (Maybe)

Eric Fischer used the locations of geotagged photos on Flickr to make a series of city maps he calls The Geotaggers’s World Atlas. Then he got even cleverer and figured out which of the photos came from locals and which came from tourists, based on the time lag in between photographs. The result is a new set of maps called Locals and Tourists.

Here’s Vancouver:

Red dots are photos from tourists, blue dots are from locals, and yellow are cases where Eric’s algorithm wasn’t able to conclusively differentiate. I notice two things.

  1. Vancouver is the 9th city on the list of 96. And according to Eric, he ordered them “by the number of pictures taken by locals”. So Vancouverites like to take photos of their city. (Although I suppose it depends on how big the other cities in the project were). Compare for instance with Las Vegas.
  2. Everything east of downtown belongs to the locals. Clark, Commercial, East Hastings, 2nd and for some reason Heatley are thick bands of solid blue.

crop

Except that I don’t entirely trust point #2. It just doesn’t make sense that Heatley would outshine Broadway as a go-to destination for photographers. Here’s what I think is happening: there aren’t actually that many people who go on blanket photo missions, then do the geeky work of linking their imagery output to GPS tracks and uploading them in bulk to flickr. Those few photomatic enthusiasts are driving the apparent patterns. That theory is anecdotally supported by this comment from Roland.

It’s a striking differential nonetheless. Next time I find myself visiting a new city, an interesting project would be to track down the places that the locals think are worthy of camera action, but don’t usually get much interest from foreign photogs.

newer posts · older posts