“HTC Is Dying And Running Out Of Options”

Yours truly, over at Business Insider – HTC Is Dying And Running Out Of Options:

HTC, the one-time king of the Android phone makers, is on a downward course with few options left to correct itself.

Last November, Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson wrote that HTC was the biggest tech business disaster in 2012. Things have only gotten worse for the company since then.

It’s incredibly difficult to climb the income ladder in the South

If you’re poor and raising kids in the South, you owe it to your children to move elsewhere as soon as possible. David Leonhardt, for The New York Times:

Especially intriguing is the fact that children who moved at a young age from a low-mobility area to a high-mobility area did almost as well as those who spent their entire childhoods in a higher-mobility area. But children who moved as teenagers did less well.

Income ladder

Why Nate Silver should stick to politics and sports

Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum, on why Nate Silver should stick to his strong points of politics (which is almost purely data driven) and sports (which he has a lot of expertise in):

But weather, economics, and education? I’m skeptical that you can just parachute into those fields and add a lot of value. They’re far more complex, are already heavily populated with sophisticated statistical modeling, and generally require some serious subject matter expertise in addition to raw number-crunching skill.

It’s possible that I’m just overreacting to a brief throwaway mention in the Politico piece. If all Silver is trying to do is improve on mainstream news reporting of number-heavy topics, that shouldn’t be too hard. Still, I’d hate to see the basic 538 model get naively overextended into anything that has lots of numbers attached to it. It’s one thing when bloggers (like me) throw up simple wonk-lite analyses of complex topics. After all, no one really takes us seriously as experts. But the 538 brand is all about expertise. It’s inherent in everything that appears there. I hope Silver is careful about what he takes on as he extends his brand.

“Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition” PC review

Dark Souls Prepare to Die Edition

Thanks to the recent Steam Summer Sale, I finally own a copy of Dark Souls. Unfortunately, I own the worst version of the game. 

It’s my own fault for not looking at reviews of the port before purchasing.

Dark Souls on the PC is almost a straight port of the Xbox 360 version. The game assumes that you’re going to be using a 360 controller – even if you’re using a keyboard and mouse, all button prompts show the icons from the 360’s controller, which only increased the already steep learning curve.

Despite my computer’s vastly superior hardware (the 360 did come out 8 years ago, after all), there aren’t any noticeable improvements to the graphics in the PC version. It also runs in a windowed mode by default, and at an awkward resolution at that.

In addition, the game’s innovative multiplayer is stifled on the PC by requiring the use of Games for Windows Live. I haven’t used the service in so long that I couldn’t remember my account details, so I decided to forgo multiplayer altogether. That’s a shame, because the online experience on the PS3 is unlike anything I’ve seen before. You can either summon friends/random players to assist you on your quest, or “invade” another player’s game world, essentially becoming another mini-boss for them to deal with. Here’s a video demonstrating the co-op play.

Thankfully, I was able to fix most of the issues with the help of mods and a helpful community on the Steam forums. The game now runs at my screen’s full resolution and I was able to rebind the keys (something you can’t do in the game!) to something more usable.

Once I got past those issues, the game is still fantastic. Insanely difficult, but fantastic. “Prepare to Die” isn’t just marketing language – you die over and over in even the earliest segments of the game. 

Dark Souls strikes an interesting balance between frustrating and rewarding. Each kill earns you souls, which you can spend at checkpoints to level up your various attributes. When you die, all of the souls that you carry are dropped where you fall. At times, this can be devastating. Conversely, the fact that you can retrieve them gives you a reason to press forward one more time

Every enemy encounter in Dark Souls can be deadly. Giants rats and skeletons, fodder in other RPGs, can  easily kill you if you let your guard down at the wrong moment. You have to be constantly aware of your surroundings and be ready to block, parry, or dodge attacks.

The bosses in Dark Souls are all impressive sights to be seen and challenging to boot. While each has a set of attacks that can be learned and adapted to, you will die several times before you figure out how to do so. Don’t expect Zelda-style bosses where you figure out their weakness and spend another 10 minutes repeating some pattern.

The game lets you combat your enemies in a wide variety of ways, with no particular play style seeming particularly overpowered. One can use a single-handed weapon of choice and a shield, two-handed weapons, bows, and magic. While the game certainly lets you become a “jack of all trades,” I’d advise focusing on one gameplay style per character and becoming really good at it.

The game doesn’t offer as many options when it comes to the story. This isn’t an Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect. The plot is sparse and if you want to learn about the world’s lore, you have to spend some time exploring to find it. That’s not to say that the story is boring – it’s just not what most gamers have come to expect from role-playing games of similar length.

If you’re the type of gamer who doesn’t quit because of a few hours of frustration, I can’t recommend Dark Souls highly enough. Just be sure to buy it on PS3 or Xbox 360 so that you can have decent controls and experience the multiplayer elements.

College students have surprisingly tame sex lives

Lisa Wade, a professor of sociology at Occidental College, writes:

If you do the math, this is what you get: The median number of college hookups for a graduating senior is seven. This includes instances in which there was intercourse, but also times when two people just made out with their clothes on. The typical student acquires only two new sexual partners during college. Half of all hookups are with someone the person has hooked up with before. A quarter of students will be virgins when they graduate.

In other words, there’s no bacchanalian orgy on college campuses, so we can stop wringing our hands about that.

Laird argues that students aren’t interested in and won’t form relationships if “they are simply focused on the next hookup.” Wrong. The majority of students — 70% of women and 73% of men –report that they’d like to have a committed relationship, and 95% of women and 77% of men prefer dating to hooking up. In fact, about three-quarters of students will enter a long-term monogamous relationship while in college.

Russia is using typewriters to prevent leaks

The Telegraph’s Chris Irvine reports that the Russian Federal Guard Service, in charge of protecting secret communications and President Vladmir Putin, is increasing its use of typewriters in order to prevent the kinds of leaks that Edward Snowden brought to light last month:

The FSO is looking to spend 486,000 roubles – around £10,000 – on a number of electric typewriters, according to the site of state procurement agency, zakupki.gov.ru. The notice included ribbons for German-made Triumph Adlew TWEN 180 typewriters, although it was not clear if the typewriters themselves were this kind.

[…]

Unlike printers, every typewriter has its own individual pattern of type so it is possible to link every document to a machine used to type it.

[…]

Nikolai Kovalev, the former director of Russia’s Federal Security Service, told Izvestiya: “From the point of view of security, any means of electronic communication is vulnerable. You can remove any information from a computer. There are means of defence, of course, but there’s no 100 per cent guarantee they will work. So from the point of view of preserving secrets the most primitive methods are preferable: a person’s hand and a pen, or a typewriter.”

Florida’s “stand your ground” law is absurd

According to Florida law, you can pick a fight with someone and then legally kill them if it looks like they’ll win:

Use of force by aggressor.—The justification described in the preceding sections of this chapter is not available to a person who:
(1) Is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of, a forcible felony; or
(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself, unless:
(a) Such force is so great that the person reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that he or she has exhausted every reasonable means to escape such danger other than the use of force which is likely to cause death or great bodily harm to the assailant; or
(b) In good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.

(Via Ta-Nehisi  Coates)

Disney is mostly a television company

According to The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson, individual box office flops like The Lone Ranger aren’t a huge problem for Disney because a majority of its revenue comes from its broadcast and cable television divisions. Cable is here to stay for the foreseeable future – as long as that’s true, Disney properties like ESPN and the Disney Channel will continue to do just fine: 

How Disney makes money

The movie business is a rotten thing. American audiences don’t go the movies every week, so they have to be lured with egregiously expensive marketing campaigns for a handful of tentpole movies that, if they blow up, can destroy quarterly earnings for the film division and take down careers. The TV business is somewhat the opposite. The subscription fee model (wherein a sliver of your cable bill goes straight to the networks’ pockets) guarantees that cable networks get paid with or without a “hit.”

“Pacific Rim”: A loving tribute to anime

Pacific rim

Pacific Rim is the best blockbuster movie released so far in 2013. If you want to know whether or not it’s worth seeing, the answer is a resounding yes.

Pacific Rim is Guillermo del Toro’s love song to mecha anime and kaiju film. Everything about it, including the characters, set pieces, giant robots, and monsters will stir up nostalgia within anyone who’s been a fan of Evangelion, Power Rangers, or classic films like King Kong or Godzilla.

There’s the protagonist who’s a good guy by all accounts. There’s the general who has a rough exterior but a heart of gold. The shy love interest who is submissive to authority until she finally finds her voice and kicks all kinds of ass. Oh, and the asshole rival to the protagonist who completely redeems himself with an act of self-sacrifice.

The fact that the main cast fits so well into these archetypes has been polarizing among critics. Among all of the reviews that I’ve read, it’s the one thing that’s been consistently called out as a flaw in the film. Here’s Twitch’s Greg Christie:

And then the film starts introducing all of the other supporting characters, each one an iconic archetype, although stereotype might be more fitting.

[…]

There’s no room or time for the characters to breath. Everyone is practically introduced in a way where they might as well turn to the camera and say, “Hi, I’m the bossy but cute Asian love interest for the white man.”  “Hi, I might seem like a hard ass military black dude, but there’s more to me than just that.” “Hey there guys, we’re the comic relief for tonight.” “Ah, ya know I’m the prick you’re going to hate but I’m totally going to redeem myself with a huge sacrifice later.” ” Yo, I’m Ron Perlman, I don’t have to be anything else cause I’m mother fucking Ron Perlman and that’s enough.”

For most other films, I would agree with Christie’s take. In fact, that’s been one of the biggest problems I’ve had with the Star Trek reboots: the characters were simply hollow clichés based on the characters from the original series. But with Pacific Rim, I found myself feeling the same was as Scott Weinberg did in his review:

The Pacific Rim heroes are as deep as they’d be in issue #1 of a new comic book, and frankly it’s a little refreshing to have some basic heroes after dealing with so many emotional superheroes with daddy issues.

None of the characters in Pacific Rim are going through a Man of Steel-style identity crisis. Even though one of the characters does in fact have “daddy issues,” the conflicting universal themes that the film is working with – wanting what’s best for your child and wanting to take your own path in life – are reliable anime tropes that add a necessary emotional center to what could have easily been a shallow Transformers knock-off.

The cast does a fine job working with what they’ve been given. Charlie Day stands out as a character that’s basically the result of his character from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia being Doc Brown’s apprentice instead of Marty McFly.

Del Toro doesn’t disappoint with the action. Like 2008’s underrated Speed Racer, the visuals are heavily influenced by anime’s style, though (as Christie notes) Guillermo also brings in his signature color palette. The fights between the robots (or “Jaegers”) and the monsters (“kaiju”) are visceral, with each hit given just enough screen time to let you soak it in – unlike Transformers, you won’t get dizzy or have trouble keeping track of who’s doing what in a fight. The result is a visual feast that you can’t take your eyes off of. 

The film even surprised me with some of the summer blockbuster clichés that it avoided. For instance, the potential for romance between the protagonist and his love interest is set up rather early in the first act, but the film makes no attempt to overtly sexualize her and when the day is saved there’s no “now kiss” moment. Seriously, Man of Steel, hundreds of thousands of people just died. Not the time.

Reflections on the George Zimmerman verdict

Not guilty. That’s what the jury for this case decided.

Thoughts:

1. Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old, would not have died that night if George Zimmerman hadn’t followed him.

2. “Stand your ground” should not mean “chase and engage”.

3. As Glenn Fleishman notes, this verdict tells African-Americans living in or around white neighborhoods in Florida to go home before it gets dark out. 

4. I can’t say what I would have done if I had been among that jury. Besides Zimmerman, there were no eye-witnesses. That would give anyone reasonable doubt.

5. To those who state that that the verdict would be the same if the races of those involved were different: tell that to Marissa Alexander, the Florida woman who fired warning shots at her abusive husband back in 2010 and was sentenced to 20 years in jail.