Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Merger of Equals

This will be my last post at Divided Answers - I'm moving the full archive over to Integrated Questions and then, hopefully, diving back in to some regular blogging.

Check out my post over at IQ regarding the changes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Sydney Morning Herald Calls Out the RBA

A couple of days ago the SMH posted an article in which it stated that "The Reserve Bank has been involved in the payment of multimillion-dollar commissions to shady middle-men in its drive to win banknote printing deals with foreign governments."

(side note: The URL I was using now points to a SMH website, though my initial observation (and the RBA's response) refer to an article in the Age)

It then goes on to imply that the RBA has been involved in some sort of bribery or corruption scandal.

It soon becomes apparent to the reader that it is not the RBA iteself which is being accused, but a firm, Securency - the RBA being a 50% shareholder in Securency.

Later in the article, the SMH presents four pieces of evidence upon which it seems to have rested its entire argument.

Evidence Part One:

* Made payments to a London firm, Contec Global, which was accused in an official Ugandan inquiry of having a corrupt relationship with a Ugandan minister found to be "fronting and lobbying" for the company.

What's this? Securency paid a separate firm for services rendered and that firm was accused (not found to have mind you) of having a corrupt relationship (which is what exactly? bribery? family ties? the director went to the same school? the Ugandan government didn't like him and Contec wasn't mean to him?). So, the RBA is guilty because it is associated with an organisation that was (no comment on whether it still is) associated with an organisation that may have been involved in a corrupt relationship of an undefined nature and magnitude.

Evidence Part Two:

* Been linked with a controversial South African casino tycoon, Vivian Reddy, who was embroiled in the recently aborted corruption trial involving his friend, the President, Jacob Zuma. Reddy denies the allegations.

Wow! The RBA is associated with an organisation that has links to a significant financial player in one of the many countries it operates in and that financial player possibly has links to a third (fourth? fifth?) party who was recently tried for corruption, but the trial was aborted...

* Made payments to companies linked to a South African businessman, Don McArthur, who last year was convicted for fraud. McArthur denied any link to Securency.

Securency made payments to a company that is linked to a businessman who committed fraud. One has to wonder if the SMH has ever paid a business in Australia for a service rendered, and at some point after that said business was found to have committed fraud somewhere along the way.

* Paid million of dollars in commissions to a Vietnamese company, CFTD, whose subsidiary, Banktech was managed by the Vietnamese central bank governor's son at the time the bank decided to switch to polymer notes in 2002. A 2007 Vietnam corruption inquiry found the governor's role in the deal was irregular.

Finally, something with some vague substance to it - at least in this one there was a definitive finding of frau... corrrup... oh, irregularity. On the part of the RBA through Securency linked to a company which owned another company which was managed by the son of a guy who was found to have acted irregularly.

I don't want to suggest that Securency shouldn't be in great amounts of trouble and an appropriate investigation launched if there is some actual substance to the claims made by the SMH. (I note that the RBA has let us know that the Board of Securency has referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police, so I guess we'll find out eventually). However, it is grossly negligent of the SMH to make such accusations if this is the strongest evidence they have (and one has to wonder, if they have stronger evidence, why didn't they present that too?)

Is it really enough in today's society, that if you know someone who knows someone who knows someone who may have done something that might not have been completely upstanding, then you yourself have acted immorally, improperly, and committed a crime?

Sadly, I guess that is the case. It seems to be increasingly prolific in our increasingly interconnected world. Two relatively recent examples being:
* the increasing levels of separation that ACMA is happy to hit you up for
* Mr Rann's disgustingly anti-freedom and, in my opinion, immoral anti-bikie laws (of course, it should be noted that whilst they are sold as targeting the bikies, there is little reason that they couldn't be used against other groups in the future)

It's getting towards the point where I need to be able to buy a small pacific island and live out the rest of my life there, free of the growing authoritarianism, hatred, and censorship of our governments.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Budget First Thoughts

I've spent the last fifteen or twenty minutes taking a very brief look over some of the budget papers released tonight. I intend to post a more considered and detailed response to the budget late on Thursday evening.

But I thought I'd throw my first two or three thoughts out here for your perusal.

Overall Impression: Good on the surface, but full of holes on even a slightly closer inspection.

Specific Notes:

Changes to Youth Allowance - probably quite good. I've little problem with removing the impetus to take a gap year. Dropping the age to 22 is a strong idea as well, though it'd be nice to see it done a little quicker than is proposed (of course, I also see the need to spread the costs at least a little this budget). Increasing the amount you can earn before losing YA is a god send. This is one section I will definately be having a closer look at - one of my main concerns remains the effect YA has in delaying entry to the workforce, which is by-and-large detrimental to your ability to get a good job once you've graduated. But, overall I think the YA changes are quite positive.

Uncapping University Places -!!! I have died and gone to heaven if I've read this part correctly and if the details follow the general direction in the way that I hope they do. I will definately be returning to this section for some detailed commentary.

Infrastructure Projects - good to see some cash flowing this way, though I withhold judgement until I've had a closer look at which projects the cash is flowing towards.

Paid Parental Leave - Yay! Finally we're not completely backwards in this regard. Again, I reserve judgement until I've seen the details. I'm ecstatic (and surprised) that it's parental leave and not maternity leave. I hope there are no provisions requiring employers to increase the parental leave they already offer. Real wages need to drop (and will one way or another), and relieving some of the parental leave burden from those employers that do offer it is a nice way to do this (plus, forcing them to do so would punish those employers that had already stepped up and offered parental leave whilst those employers who haven't the moral decency to step up will now reap the benefits... And that's enough hypothetical conjecture).

First Home Owners Boost - the FHOG is still bad economics. I wish they'd axed it.

Age of Retirement - I am absolutely amazed that they were prepared to move the age at which you become eligible for the aged pension, admittedly it's only a small increase from 65 to 67 (and I've yet to look to see for changes in superannuation access age and the like). Still, I'm amazed they were willing to do this. Without real investigation my greatest qualm is probably that they should've taken the opportunity to up it a little more. Given the ageing population, it's likely it will need to be increased again and I wouldn't count on future governments having the political will to do so (I didn't expect this one to have the will, I guess that's an advantage of being able to point to the GFC and blame it).

Nurse Practitioners to get access to MBS and PBS - Fuck Yes! About goddamned time. Now, they need to expand the role and increase the number of nurse practitioners. (I can only imagine the current howling of hatred and "you'll kill everyone" that must be flying through the AMA at the moment). I will definately be taking a closer look at these changes.

Defence Spending - The word 'dubious' doesn't begin to cover my reaction to this area of the budget.

All in all, I'm quite optimistic that this is a good budget, especially if the projections for a return to surplus are accurate and feasible. The proportion GDP of the deficit is less than I had anticipated. Many of the changes are superficially brilliant, I am most eager to take a closer look at these changes and see if their details hold up to their promise.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Incompetence and Competence of the Gaming Industry

Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has announced that they are no longer providing any of their products as electronic downloads. DriveThruRPG.com and RPGNow.com have already taken down all the WotC products they offer - including for the people who already purchased them under the belief that they would have multiple downloads if necessary...

WotC haven't issued a press release explaining why they've blocked all pdf sales, but it seems likely to be related to the news that they've launched legal action against 8 individuals for copyright infringement (source). Allegedly, these individuals purchased copies of the pdf of the supplement and then made said copies available for download on the net.

I can appreciate being angry that people are stealing your product, but punishing your entire consumer base for this is stupidity incarnate. Many of the gaming events I've been to have utilised multiple LEGAL pdf copies of the books. Having the laptop out with the handily bookmarked pdf speeds gameplay nicely.

Why punish us all for the actions of a few?

I've always been dubious about Dungeons & Dragons. I outright hated the previous edition, though I've taken to the current one with gusto. I own a legitimate hard copy of more than half the supplements (not counting adventure books), but I mostly play with pdfs. Whilst I prefer the hardcover books, it is not practical to lug six books to town and back again for the weekly Arena matches. Pdfs solve this neatly.

I buy gaming books for two reasons - research for my own gaming developments and to have fun playing the game. Beyond the first rule-book released, D&D is of no use to me for my own game design. When it comes to my buying the books for having fun, that is dependent on my playing the game regularly.

Several years ago, Games Workshop ran a weekly gaming event (Veteran's Night) at their Tea Tree Plaza store. I went most weeks. I bought product most weeks.


Because I had fun and because my interest was constantly maintained.

A couple of years ago I stopped buying Games Workshop products all together.


Because GW cancelled my beloved Veteran's Night and turned their monthly hobby magazine, White Dwarf, into little more than a glossy brochure for their product.

There was nothing that held my interest anymore - the game was still fun (though ridden with stupid ideas that seemed to be implemented merely to boost sales), but so are other games. Veteran's Night and White Dwarf kept me constantly interested, constantly considering new ways to play. They kept me playing and tinkering, and that kept me buying.
After Veteran's Night and White Dwarf, I started playing less, I started tinkering less, and then I started buying less. Eventually I decided that Games Workshop products weren't enough fun for the dollar and wandered over to mainly playing White Wolf products.

So, why do I buy D&D products?

Because we play the game regularly and I have fun.

But if the pdfs are no longer available and I have to lug my hard copies everywhere I go, I'm going to have less fun. If it becomes a choice between playing D&D and playing something where I don't need to carry 20 kilos of rules with me, I'm going to play the something.

And if I start playing something else, I'll start buying something else.

Wizards of the Coast have hurt me as a legitimate consumer and I am likely to turn my attentions elsewhere.

The likely source that I'll turn to is White Wolf.


Because White Wolf is awesome.

If for no reason other than their response to WotC's stupidity.

They made the current version of Exalted available as a free pdf download (go and get it now from DriveThruRPG.com). They've also dropped the price on their entire Exalted range by 10% for the weekend - check out the news on the White Wolf site.

Why is this smart?

Exalted is a direct competitor to WotC's flagship Dungeons & Dragons. It's also an easy gateway between the stark mechanics of the D&D system (and it's predecessor, the d20 system) and the wonders of the narrative-driven Storytelling system used by White Wolf.

Pissed-off D&D fans will, no doubt, hear about the free download of Exalted. Those that have thought about playing it will take this opportunity to do so. Some will enjoy it more than they do D&D. They'll stop playing D&D and they'll start playing Exalted (and maybe other White Wolf games). They'll stop buying from WotC and start buying from one of their major competitors.

White Wolf have stayed true to their fans and customers, and they've managed to do it in a way that makes them look principled and reasonable (here's hoping they are and it isn't just a marketing ploy).

There are many things you need to have in place to be a great gaming company - a quality product being at the forefront. But you also need a player base. Playing an rpg is a social exercise, without other willing players the game never gets played, no matter how compelling the story, no matter how awesome the setting, no matter how intuitive and fun the system.

Once you get the basics of a role-playing game down, it takes something extra to make it a success. I have long believed that those that are successful are those who act in the same way as players and storytellers do. It's those who love their hobby and still treat it as a hobby and not a ticket to financial success, that write the best books, make the best games, and craft the best stories.

I stopped playing Games Workshop games because it stopped being my hobby and started being a faceless cardboard cut-out. Previously when I looked at GW, I saw a living and energetic being that loved our hobby. You could see the arguments about the direction to take on the latest rule changes, the thematic decisions for the new races, and the the loving joy infused in every product by the hobbyist come games developer. Then it all turned faceless and shiny. The personality disappeared as the developers seemed to become focused on creating a product that would sell, rather than one that would entertain and engage. Myself and a number of other long-term gamers I know walked away.

I fear that Wizards of the Coast are doing similar. The articles in WotC's monthly hobby magazine, Dragon, still read like an old White Dwarf article. Written by someone who is a hobbyist first, a businessman second. This is heartening, but with the decision to punish every WotC customer, I see no hobbyist and merely a businessman plagued by short-sightedness.

Being a hobbyist is good for business. Nurture your players, don't punish them. It's playing the game that sells the books.

Update: EN World has published the following comment from Ryan Dancey, former WotC Vice-President:

This is a classic example of Death Spiral. As things go bad, the regressive forces inside the organization (lawyers, commissioned sales people, creative folk who feel stifled by history, precariously tenured executives) are increasingly able to exert their agenda. It always makes a bad situation worse, but there's no magic bullet that would likely make the bad situation better so you get a rapid unbalance in the Corporate Force towards the Dark Side.

> OGL? Risky (someone might make us look bad, steal our ideas before we print them, or create a competitive brand that siphons off sales), and lack of faith in network marketing devalues ROI assumptions. Kill it.

> PDF? Causes endless problems with hardcopy partners creating pressure on sales team they could really do without, and revenues are so small as to be non-strategic. Cut it.

> Online? Every time you talk about it someone produces a $10 million minimum cost estimate to "do it right". After spending 3-5x this amount in a series of failed initiatives (lead by utterly unqualified people), executives assume Online is plutonium. No qualified lead or team will touch it.

> Evergreen? Sales of each unit are going down and few products have any staying power. The only (seemingly viable) solution is to put more books in production - make up for the revenue hole caused by lack of evergreen sales by getting more money out of each customer. The Treadmill.

The next things that will take hits are the RPGA (costs a lot to operate - slash it's budget), then quality (put fewer words and less art on fewer pages and raise the price), then consistency (rules varients generated by inexperienced designers and/or overworked developers start to spawn and cohesion in rulings breaks down leading to ad hoc interpretations as the de facto way to play).

Meanwhile sales just keep going down, the gap in the budget keeps getting bigger, and no matter how many heads roll, there isn't any light at the end of the tunnel.

Wizards is about to be forced into the D&D end-game which is something that many publishers have gone through but none ever with a game the scale and impact of D&D (TSR walked right up to this cliff but WotC saved them from going over the edge). There are 3 outcomes:

1: A total collapse, and the game ceases meaningful publication and distribution at least for one gamer generation and maybe forever.

2: Downsizing until overhead matches income; could involve some kind of out-license or spin off of the business - think BattleTech in its current incarnation.

3: Traumatic rebirth, meaning that someone, somewhere finds some way to cut out the cancers that are eating the tabletop game and restarts the mass market business for D&D.

Note that 2 and 3 can be mileposts on the road to 1.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

O-Week 2009 - Good, Bad, Ugly, and Outright Stupid

What follows is a largely unedited list I compiled during O-Week this year. The titles are relatively self-descriptive.

The Bad:
* The ABSS trying to get their own way without regard for anyone else, the legalities of any existing agreements, or basic common sense.
* The Engies being sexually-exploitative and harrassing arseholes
* People who steal giant rubber ducks
* Almost every club being stuck in a cul-de-sac
* All bar one of the club's that I spoke to recruiting less members than last year
* The CS Club trying to work its way around the rather reasonable restriction on selling food and drinks
* Ash, the main organiser for the Clubs side of things, having to miss the Wednesday due to an injury on the Tuesday.

The Ugly:
* Certain people gloating about how they put the best O-Week ever together, with no mention of the phenomenal team of people who put a veritable ton of effort in. To be fair, the person I'm thinking of put in a fair bit of work, but share the love around would you please... (not to me, I did very little)
* Several people complaining that some of the Union's volunteers were idiots and shouldn't have been allowed to help. Their largest complaint? ... Their faction is evil... Sigh.
* Myself on no sleep and twice the recommended dose of energy drinks (1 can mother, 1 can V, 1 can Red Bull ftw)
* Moffatt looking like a zombie
* Ash's ankle on the Thursday
* Red Bull being used in water pistols and sprayed all over people (thank you, Lavinia...)

The Outright Stupid:
* The number of energy drinks I consumed over the four days.
* The attempted joke (dear gods, let it have been a joke) about Alex's being female (Are you sure...?)
* The CS.Club's supposed work-arounds for selling products... and their gloating about having found a work-around to anyone who'd listen
* The ABSS thinking that they were being unfairly punished for having to live by the same rules as everyone else.
* Ash falling down stairs whilst carrying bananas.
* The Engies
* Fear

The Good:
* AURPS and GAMES getting (relatively) insane membership numbers
* The number of extra people willing to help out at the QUAC stall
* Christian and co plugging for Stoke in amusing costumes
* Thursday starting a little late
* Breakfast with a monkey
* Wristbands
* Free drinks
* The weather
* We all survived

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Three Thoughts, Three Failings

Too often of late I have found myself saying three things.

The first is cursing the ideology of those around me. Though, to be fair, it is not their ideology itself that I curse. It is the blindness and zeal with which they pursue that ideology. Conviction and fortitude are desirable traits, but they must be tempered with wisdom and questioning. Too many ideologies concern themselves with solely the means or solely the ends. Both must be fully accounted for. Sometimes evil must be done to avert the greater evil. Sometimes nobility must be sacrificed for the greater good or the lesser evil. Always you must question and review your beliefs. Nothing is permanent. Nothing is always right. Some moderation if you please.

The second is "the author had a great idea. It's a pity he got most of the way through it, took a sharp right turn, and drove deep into the fields of stupidity". Ideas are attractive. New ones, old ones, shiny ones, disturbing ones. They have a way of festering within us. It is tempting to consider the world a simple place of black and white where our one idea can explain everything, where our one ideology can answer everything. The world is not that simple nor that easy. Our world is a wondrously complex and confusing place. We must resist the urge to apply our ideas in an extreme manner. Moderation is valuable, and whilst there are oftentimes when moderation must be applied in moderation, there are far more times when moderation should be applied without moderation. Extremism of any form is undesirable – most of the time.

The third is a self-explanatory statement:
Too often we fight against that which we hate and despise, instead of fighting for that which we love and believe.

It is this last idea that I have dwelt on the most of late. The affliction seems so prevalent. In myself, in my friends, in student politics, in life.

Terror. Hatred. Anger. These seem to be our motivations to fight. Where are the noble reasons? Where is the love? the honour? the belief?

Why must we always be laid low by our desire to survive? Where is our will to stand in the gaze of history and unflinchingly put ourselves forward for what is right and proper?

For what is right and proper both in means and in ends. For what is right and proper not only for ourselves but for our loved ones, our neighbours, and those we have never met.

George Bernard Shaw wrote "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

I disagree with him. The reasonable man adapts himself. The unreasonable attempts to adapt the world. Therefore, all change depends on the unreasonable.
There is a difference between progress and change. All progress depends on a different person. It depends on the ideal person. The person who is both reasonable and unreasonable. The unreasonable person seeks to impose their vision of the world upon everything. The reasonable changes their vision. The reasonably unreasonable person imposes their tempered vision upon the world. They take the truth, the belief, and the loves that they know and they bring them to the world as best they can. They ignore their hatreds, their prejudices, their biases. The unreasonable person believes they can reshape it all to their supposedly perfect vision. The reasonably unreasonable person knows their vision is just as flawed, just as horrid as the world around them. They seek not to do away with what they hate, but to nurture and support the good that is already present. It is through their actions that true progress, true improvement is achieved.

Pliny the Elder said "True glory lies in doing what deserves to be written, in writing what deserves to be read".

Fighting that which we detest deserves no story. A diatribe against those we hate deserves no readers.

The truly great fight for their beliefs not against their fears.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Two Evils Do Not Make A Good

There are moral absolutes.

Killing another human is always wrong.
Torture is always wrong.
Standing idly by whilst someone unwillingly dies is always wrong.
Allowing someone to suffer is always wrong.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things that are always wrong. Just the first couple that come to mind to make my point in this rather short post.

There are moral absolutes.
There are situations in which all of your options involve the violation of a moral absolute.
There are situations in which you must choose which evil act to commit.
There are situations in which you must commit an evil act to stop another evil act, lest you commit an evil act by allowing an evil act to commit.
That still means you did something evil. Even if it was the least evil of options.

And yeah, that means you're pretty much screwed when it comes to getting through life with a clean conscience.

Deal with it.

Life isn't fair. Life doesn't understand the concept.

Sometimes the best we can do is to try to minimise the harm we do.

The world would be a better place if more people realised that:
we cannot always do the good or right thing; and
the necessity of committing evil to avert evil does not render our evil act good or right, nor excuse or justify it.

Life isn't fair. Life isn't just. Life just is.