Men, computer games and methodological flaws.

Researchers have appearantly found that reward regions in the brain are more active in men than women when playing computer games and, the researchers conclude that this is why men are more prone to be hooked on computer games. The video game they used in the experiment was “a vertical line (the “wall”) in the middle of a computer screen. When the game begins, 10 balls appear to the right of the wall and travel left toward the wall. Each time a ball is clicked, it disappears from the screen. If the balls are kept a certain distance from the wall, the wall moves to the right and the player gains territory” (see picture) and the researchers state that “This is a fairly representative, generic computer game” *sigh* Continue reading Men, computer games and methodological flaws.

Searle’s rational beer drinking in action

One of the modern works of philosophy that has influenced me the most is John Searle’s Rationality in Action — but probably not for the right reasons. I do not agree with all of Searle’s hypotheses (if they can even be referred to as such), but I do find the book incredibly thought-provoking. One of the reasons is that it reads like a novel. It’s a heck of a roller coaster where you find yourself nodding when reading one page, and vehemently shaking your head (or banging it into a wall) when reading the next.

When I first read the book almost 10 years ago, I used to make fun of it. Continue reading Searle’s rational beer drinking in action

Starry night — The Magic of Second Life

There’s a misconception in the department where I work that I spend all my time “playing” Second Life and that my PhD is dedicated to SL alone. This is far from the truth, and Second Life is but one instance of how virtuality might have a profound effect on the quality of our lives, which is the subject of my thesis. I tend to especially emphasize this point whenever talking to someone who know very little about what Second Life is and its possibilities and limitations. Second Life has unfortunately gotten the stigma that it’s either just another computer game, or that its primarily inhabited by perverts and leaches, verificationist researchers, and sensationalist journalists (not sure which one of those is worst). What people tend to overlook – or never allow themselves to discover — is that Second Life is ultimately about creativity. Continue reading Starry night — The Magic of Second Life

OpenOffice ups and downs

In starting my PhD dissertation I had to make a difficult choice on what word processor to use. I’ve heard bad things about Microsoft Word’s ability to handle large documents, and I have always disliked it because of the limited ways in which you can format paragraphs. The importance of tweaking different paragraph parameters and using consistent styles is something I really learned in Adobe Framemaker, which still remains my favorite program. I decided against it, however, in part because of problems with portability (converting to/from Word is a nightmare and some times you need to submit documents in .doc), but the thing that tipped the scale was something as simple as not being able to do multiple undos in the framemaker version I’ve got, and my current university not having a license for newer versions. So, I decided to go with Openoffice. I was extremely happy to find out that Openoffice offered many of the same formatting options that Framemaker does, and also heard good things about the way it handles large documents. Some months later, I’m starting to regret the choice, however. As with Framemaker’s achilles heal, the devil is in the details:

  • Openoffice does not allow you to view two pages side by side while editing. This is frustrating as hell.
  • Openoffice does not allow you to cross-reference autonumbered paragraphs. This works like a charm in Framemaker, but in Openoffice you have to manually ‘set reference’ everywhere you want to point a cross-reference to.
  • An imported image was suddenly lost from my document. Might be just a case of “shit happens”but trust is everything in this business, and I thereby lost a big chunk of it.

So, now I’m dreading that I some time in the future have to give up on openoffice and spend a lot of time transferring my document, formatting and all, to whatever I end up with. Oh well. As we say in Norway” “That time, that sorrow”. If anyone have experience with pros and cons of differen word processor when it comes to large documents, I’d be happy to hear about them.

Update, February 21, 2008:
I’m back with Microsoft Word. What did it for me was that I, after so many years of doing manual referencing, finally discovered that Endnote actually is a great program. I think I used to perceive Endnote in the same way that I perceived user manuals from IKEA, but I’m over that now. What makes Endnote great, however, is the seamless integration with Word and that’s what won me over. Strange how it somehow feels bad to “give in” to Microsoft.

Update, April 23, 2008
I somehow knew this was an ongoing process. I’m still with Word, but recently upgraded to Word 2007 and finally I’m starting to feel confident. I’ve seen reviews that its ability to handle large documents is vastly improved, the layout is much better, endnote integration (see above) even more seamless, and, at the end of the day, it just gives provides the reliability I need. Apperently, Microsoft isn’t all bad. Still, as a computer ethicist I somehow feel bad bad about relying on Microsoft (I’m also an avid user of Outlook [!]) — and for thinking that Google is the best thing that has happened to the Web.

Radiohead makes piracy unethical

I recently wrote about Radiohead’s release of their new album in digital form, downloadable from their Website with a price-tag that you decide yourself — ingenious. One of the interesting consequences of this way of releasing their album is that it make piracy unethical — beyond reasonabe doubt. One of the common arguments pro piracy (or, more politically correct, file sharing) is that sharing an mp3 file is radically different from stealing a album. The latter involves depriving someone (e.g. the record store) of their property, whereas file sharing does not. This argument has some credibility, since the claim is that we cannot simply transfer our moral judgment regarding traditional forms of stealing and apply them straightforwardly to file sharing. Importantly, however, we cannot deduce from this that that piracy is justifiable. This would be, in fact, a logical fallacy of the following form: Continue reading Radiohead makes piracy unethical

Radiohead release their new album — pay what you think it’s worth

Radiohead has always been one of my favourite bands. What I find fascinating is that every single album has been great, ranging from their mainstream, slightly juvenile Pablo Honey to their innovative experimentation on Amnesiac and Kid A. Their upcoming album, entitled In Rainbows, is only available through their Website. What is interesting is that you can pay what you think it’s worth. This is an ingenious idea, and I for one will certainly support it. The reason is that I believe this might be the only solution to piracy. Think about it for a minute. If you could pay, say, 1 USD for an entire album, would you ever go through the hazzle of trying to download it on e-mule, piratebay or any other pirate way? I certainly would not. Moreover, I would hardly bother burning it to a cd and transfer it to my other computers. I would simply buy and download it on every computer I have. 4 USD for having the album ready-to-play on any computer, without the hazzle of downloading a possibly corrupted pirated version and (if applicable) without any feeling of guilt sounds great to me. It’s about time the record companies realize that a digital copy just cannot be priced and treated like a physical copy. Thus, slapping a real-life price tag on a virtual product doesn’t work. Instead, they should focus on exploiting the peculiar characteristics of digital media in the way that Radiohead does. I’m pretty sure the record companies are following this closely, so I urge you to support Radiohead’s vision — even if you’re only paying 1 USD for the album (this still means 1 USD more in revenue with hardly any costs). If we show that this model works, perhaps the rest of the industry will catch up.

Virtual Reality is a big pool

As some of my (very few) readers might know, I’m doing research on the Philosophy of virtual reality. In crawling the Web for others who are trying to define the term, I came across a Chinese posting which looked interesting. I do not know any Chinese, so I tried Google’s translate function. As expected, the result was rather incomrehensible, but it was still an interesting read in a postmodern way:

“The main text of the definition of virtual reality, the first of a number of examples of virtual reality system and the right people previously definition of the concept of virtual reality, a pair of virtual reality that the original meaning of a word in Translation easily lead to misunderstanding. Then the author of virtual reality to the definition of three attributes: the simulation, interactive and imaginary. and that virtual reality system is the real world and the inherent nature of the things the simulation and emulation; Virtual reality system is a result of people moving, depicts a virtual reality system and human relations; Virtual Reality System operators can provide a reasonable room for imagination to operate staff can live virtual environment for effective operation. for more puzzling imagination of a footnote. Finally, virtual reality is a big pool, it is entirely possible as a subject.”

Perhaps most interesting, the finishing statement that VR is a big pool, and that it is entirely possible as a subject. In linguistic terms, I guess the latter could mean that we are legitimate in saying that “Virtual reality is…”. More radical, and not a position I’m willing to adopt, is the statement “virtual reality system is the real world” and it is, in fact, the inherent nature of thing that is a simulation. I guess this underlines the puzzling imagination of a footnote (sic).

PS! The illustration is for illustrative purposes only. I just found it using Google’s image search, and for some very odd reason it is signed with my real life initials O_o

Mediadefender and — Blatant entrapment

I’m not going to say much about this, since it has already been covered in great detail elsewhere. However, in case you haven’t come across it yet, I’d like to bring to your attention a somewhat shocking insight into the workings of anti-piracy companies. The company in question is Mediadefender, a company which offers services designed to prevent and stop people who engage in alleged copyright infringements. Recently, 700mb of mediadefender’s emails have been retrieved and posted online (see ‘elsewhere’ link above). Among the many disconcerting strategies revealed in the email, the most shocking one is that they launched a Youtube-like Website called, which was designed to lure hackers into uploading illegal content and then take action accordingly. One of the most clear-cut examples of entrapment I have ever seen. I am not one who supports large-scale piracy, but the use of entrapment is a serious violation of fundamental rule of law.

I crashed into my building today… with an F-16

I think that one of the reasons why many newspapers love reporting from virtual environments etc. is that it allows them to come up with fantastic headlines. Disappointment often follows, though. So, allow me to offer my apologies for not really having crashed an F-16 into my building… only virtually. I hope I can make it up, however, by pointing out a fantastic easter egg in Google’s newest version of Google Earth. Google Earth, as you probably know, is an excellent program that allows you to see the entire world (and even parts of the universe) in astonishing detail. The easter egg I’m talking about can be seen by opening google earth and pressing ctrl-alt-a. This starts up a flight simulator (!). Yes, you can actually take off, from a selection of airports, and fly around the actual earth. I cannot really describe how good it is, but as soon as you get used to the flight controls (which takes some time) you can experience what it feels like to fly 10 feet above the ground in Los Angeles, dive into the grand canyon… you name it. To my big suprise, one of the airports offered is the small airport of my old home town Trondheim. Imagine my joy when lifting off, just to look down on my house (which lies just next to the airport). Taking off from Hamburg, I also managed to fly my F-16 to the University of Twente Campus (where I’m currently living) and, although having lost complete control over the plane, managed to kamikaze myself into my building. In other (more complicated) words, I was sitting at home, flying a virtual airplane that crashed into the virtual building I was sitting in. If you click on the picture above, you can see my building to the right (where there’s a transparent pin) seconds before impact… I highly recommend you to find your own building and smash into it. Some pointers for doing so:

  • You have to press ctrl-alt-a to toggle the flight simulator the first time. This didn’t work for me the first time, but try searching for and zooming into San Francisco Airport first. This did the trick for me.
  • The slow plane is much easier to handle than the F-16. Unless you have to travel a long time in order to reach your destination, stick to the slow one.
  • If you’re lost, you can toggle back to the earth view (exit simulator) by pressing ctrl-alt-a. There you can orient yourself, and when toggling back to the flight simulator simply choose the option to continue where you left off.
  • City names, landmarks etc. do not show up in the simulator, but pins do. Thus, if you want to head for a specific destination simple place a pin there. However, the pin doesn’t appear until you’re relativele close, so if your destination is far away you have to travel blindly in roughly the right direction before being able to navigate towards the pin. This can be done by looking at the compass in top of the screen and/or by toggling as explained above.

Happy flying!

UPDATE (April 4, 2008): I am pretty sure the keyboard combination was ctrl-alt-a back then, but this does not work anymore. Try ctrl-a instead.

Violent computer games and decline in crime

I just came across this graph today, showing a correlation between crime victims per 1000 citizens and the release of some of the most criticized computer games (numbers taken from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics). I have been an avid critic of dubious correlations myself, but I thought this graph illustrates a nice point nonetheless (please note, however, that the graph is skewed since it starts at 20 instead of 0, thereby exaggerating the effect — a strategy too often seen in media and politics).

As usual, XKCD puts it nicely:

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