Archive for June, 2005

 

Roleplay Radio

Thursday, June 30th, 2005

Asteroid went out and bought what is apparently the world’s largest dungeon book for roleplaying ever published. Doing so has gotten him thinking about ways to make money off of roleplaying (we’re talking Dungeons & Dragons type games here). Go read his ideas and then come back here. I think they’re all right, but I’ve been thinking about this as well, and I have some ideas of my own. First up, let’s talk about broadcast.

Broadcasting a roleplaying session as a morning radio show I think would have enormous appeal to a certain segment of the population. Such a show could be broadcast on a public radio station as a morning radio show, or it could be played on a Satellite radio station. With the advent of podcasting (to catch shows or portions one has missed) and with the advent of the web (to allow someone to read up on the characters and the storyline), the time is right for a revival or serial fiction on the radio.

Roleplaying on the radio offers two distinct advantages over scripted fiction. The first is that scripted fiction is subject to the outside influences of “in the know” types who use focus groups and statistics to determine what should be in the story. Much as they currently determine what is on commercial radio today. Roleplaying, by contrast, is fluid and dynamic, and virtually impossible to script. So it should be relatively immune from the influences of asshat know-it-alls.

Moreover, roleplaying on the radio offers an opportunity for audience participation in a way which scripted fiction does not. Audience members would have the ability to call in, and with an assistant GM on the phone coaching them on what to say, they could be that shopkeep or innkeeper or random villager who the adventuring party bumps into during their travels. I believe that offering such audience interactivity could prove very compelling.

Technologically speaking, the show would have to use computers for all mechanical aspects of the game, as show that wound up with people rolling dice and arguing over it for an hour would quickly be cancelled. Furthermore, if possible, I would prefer to use Skype for audience participation as the regular telephone lines always sound like crap on the radio.

The second element to my idea is more along the lines of Asteroid’s “let’s all go to Aruba for a month” idea. But in his idea, the players are paid to be there. I think that is incorrect. That idea needs to be turned on its head. Ask yourself for a moment, how many Microsoft millionaires are there? Or even, how many Apple millionaires? How many millionaires are there living within 20 miles of Silicon Valley or MIT who would be willing to pay mucho deniro to live on an island for a month, roleplaying with someone who was billed as “the best game master in the world,” with other players who have been prescreened for their ability to roleplay, so that no one sucks? I tend to think quite a lot. And the prospect of having to be screened to get in only increases the allure of the whole event.

Think about it: marketed as a travel agency would it’s vacation trips, these retreats would be marketed not only for the island paradises where they are held, but for the adventure to be roleplayed… “In a mythical, pre-industrial land, pirates have begun making raids on the ancient kingdom of Dalenden…” I think it would be a hoot, and I think you could charge quite a lot for it. Of course, you may also need a concierge to find things to occupy the player’s family while he roleplays, but then again how hard can that be?

My only question is, why aren’t we moving on these ideas now? Anyone want to help write up some marketing materials to send out to Silicon Valley and MIT millionaires? Anyone want to help write a proposal for a new radio show?

Why the hell Jeff H. isn’t blogging is beyond me. Oh well…

 
 

Surprises

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

I don’t like surprises.

 
 

Welcome to Earth

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

earth.google.com

 
 

Glockster

Wednesday, June 29th, 2005

What stunning reasoning:

In a decision announced by Justice David H. Souter, the Court said: “We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties” — that is, computer users using free downloading software.

Hmmm, how about restating it as the following:

In a decision announced by Justice David H. Souter, the Court said: “We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of shooting lethal metal projectiles through the air, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster shooting lethal metal projectiles through the air, is liable for the resulting acts of murder by third parties…”

or perhaps:

In a decision announced by Justice David H. Souter, the Court said: “We hold that one who advertises a car with the object of promoting its ability to go fast, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster speeding, is liable for the resulting acts of speeding by third parties…”

or maybe:

In a decision announced by Justice David H. Souter, the Court said: “We hold that one who distributes a television show with the object of glorifying risky sexual behavior, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to promote risky sexual behavior, is liable for the resulting acts of venereal disease infection”.

No, none of these is an exact fit, but they get the point across I think.

How about asking the SCOTUS justices a few basic questions:

  • Last time I checked, it was congress who made legislation, with the President’s approval. Did the Induce Act pass congress? Was it signed by the President? Not the last time I checked. Not that it needs to be passed now, since SCOTUS just conveniently did it for them.

  • As a piece of software, Grokster itself is copyrightable. Anything copyrightable should qualify for first amendment protections, no? So if I point out to a friend that that guy in the van over there is selling stolen merchandise, am I now liable for inducing him to make such an illegal purchase?
  • How can a court that evidently believes that a man doesn’t own his own home (Kelo) be so absolutist in its defense of “intellectual property rights” (or is it just that SCOTUS prefers to side with cartels given the chance)? Where does the phrase “intellectual property” exist in the constitution? Isn’t what MGM in possession of more of an exclusive right to make copies and derivative works for a limited time? Doesn’t Grokster’s existence and the activities that occur on its “network” say something about what the people think about the “limited times” set by congress? Doesn’t it say something about what people think of the price and the length of time congress has given to copyright holders? In a democracy, shouldn’t the representatives be reflective of the will of those they serve? Doesn’t the fact that this massive amount of piracy exists say something about the disconnect between the people and those who claim to represent them?

I think I’ve asked enough questions for now. In the meantime, read Cory Doctorow on it. Oh, and if you advertise, I would stop it now. Because who knows what ills you may be “inducing” your customers to engage in with your products.

 
 

Naked Women Wrestling

Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

I think I may need to buy this DVD:

Naked Women Wrestling League

It’s like naked coed insert-favorite-sport-here, except it’s not coed and they really are naked.

Obviously, not safe for work.

 
 

Drawing The Line

Monday, June 27th, 2005

Check out the new blog, Drawing The Line. If you like the samaBlog, you’ll like Neil’s new blog.

 
 

Remember The West End

Monday, June 27th, 2005

The Kelo SCOTUS decision has got me thinking. It reminds me of two business stories I remember hearing growing up. They’re worth considering given the decision handed down.

It used to be that about 40 years ago, central Florida was mostly swampland and orange groves. Not worthless land to be sure, but certainly not the place that it is today. It was around that time that a certain developer took a liking to the area, specifically because it had an unusually large number of sunny days during the year. The developer was Walt Disney, and he had a vision for building a new theme park, a true destination that would be a world unto itself. Today, we know it as Walt Disney World.

To be sure, Disney had learned some valuable real estate lessons from his first theme park venture, DisneyLand. In constructing DisneyLand, Disney bought just enough land to situate his park, a parking lot, and a hotel on. And while at first his neighbors in Anaheim thought his venture was nutty, after a while it became apparent that it was not, that it was a stunning success. It was then that the value of all the land surrounding the park became enormously valuable. Today, DisneyLand is surrounded by hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues, on land that Disney couldn’t purchase if it wanted to. That was true in Walt’s time as well, so when he set out to build Walt Disney World, he decided to take a different approach.

Disney announced his plans to no one. He set up a number of dummy companies and shell organizations, to quietly buy up the land he needed over a number of years. Presumably, he would pay slightly more than the going rate to be sure he got the land instead of someone else, but he wasn’t paying extortionist prices because nobody knew it was him buying the land. Of course, eventually the secret leaked out, and Disney had to pay much more for the remaining land he needed to complete his project. Eventually, he acquired enough contiguous land to fit the entire city of San Francisco within it. And in 1971, his company opened Walt Disney World to the public.

A much different scenario took place in Boston around the same time. John Hynes was the mayor of Boston, and his developer friends, the Rappaport family, wanted to build a new housing development in Boston (they also wanted to build a bunch of new government buildings). They had envisioned a series of skyscrapers, enclosed within a gated community along the Charles River in Boston. The problem was, of course, that Boston being a 400 year old city had no contiguous tracts of land on which to build a whole series of skyscrapers. So the Rappaport family turned to their political connections, to obtain land by eminent domain.

Now Boston is divided up into “ends” much as Chicago is divided up into “sides”. The North End and the South End still exist. The West End is gone. Before Mayor John Hynes and developer Jerome Rappaport decided to raze an entire end of the city for private use, the West End was the sister neighborhood to the North End. Both were ethnically Italian neighborhoods, with the picturesque sort of brick row houses that one typically thinks of as Boston architecture. The West End faced the Charles River, while the North End faces the ocean. Not that it mattered. It was the age of urban renewal, and the old historic architecture had to make way for the 1960′s utopian vision of a gated community a-la Logan’s Run but without the dome. So the West End was condemned as blighted, and its citizens were forced from their homes.

I had been told by some Boston old timers that at the time, the standard practice for eminent domain was to declare a home or area to be blighted, in other words, worthless, and asses the value at $1 or some such low value (that apparently, that was how the Massachusetts Turnpike had been built). The owner was then left with the option of suing the city or state for a proper assessment, or just letting the government steal their property. And if you think about it, how many people would have the resources to take on city hall or the state house once their largest asset, the one they could most easily borrow against, has been stolen from them? Apparently, West End real estate owners were promised fair market value for their homes. In most cases however, the amounts paid barely covered moving costs. Renters were left with an average payment of $69 for their relocation troubles.

Today the North End is a bustling and vibrant part of the city of Boston. The real estate values have gone through the roof, as people enjoy living in the historic brick buildings that make up the area, and like living within walking distance to the downtown financial center. Moreover, the area has come alive with restaurants and nightlife. While New York’s Little Italy is evaporating, Boston’s North End is bursting at the seams. There is perhaps no better place in the country to get Italian food than in Boston’s North End. It is a tourist destination, an historic part of town, and one of the liveliest places within the city limits.

The place formerly known as the West End, on the other hand, is now known as Charles River Towers. Abutting Sturrow Drive, a major artery into Boston, the complex seems to mock the former West End residents by advertising itself with a giant sign that reads “If you lived here, you’d be home by now…” The towers themselves are moderately ugly, with tiny balconies that dot their sides all the way up into the sky. The complex, a series of several towers, is completely walled off to the rest of the city. There are no shops, no attractions for people to see, its gardens are private for residents of the complex only. But occasionally, ever so rarely, you’ll see a car with a bumper sticker on it that reads, “I remember the West End.” Indeed, we should all.

The lessons here should be obvious. Not just about the inability of government to predict which real estate projects will have greater future value and which will not, but about the ability to assess an accurate value on a piece of property absent market forces (assuming that the government doesn’t just decide to wholesale screw people as it did in the sixties, assessing properties at $1). The problem is that the very act of planning, of announcing plans, affects the price of land in a given area. Disney’s announcement sent the prices up in Florida. Similarly, had the developers in New London announced a desire to buy all the land that they needed for their development, prices would have risen there too. In fact, rising prices is exactly what would have convinced many to vacate their homes for the new development.

The issue in Kelo is not whether or not developers could have undertaken such a large-scale project in New London, but whether or not they could afford to do it at market prices. Evidently, they either couldn’t or felt that it would be cheaper to use government fiat instead. But the idea that the development couldn’t otherwise happen is rubbish. If you want proof, I can point you to a San Francisco sized theme park in central Florida.

Consider also, the fact that in an eminent domain taking, the opportunity for competitive bidding is eliminated from the assessment consideration. Imagine for a moment that the developers in New London decided to go the Disney route instead of the eminent domain route. They could have bought up land over time, and developed it as they saw fit when they had acquired enough. But perhaps that timeline is too long for these developers, so instead they make a public offer to all the residents of the area for their homes. They announce that they’ll pay an X% premium over the current market value, contingent on everyone selling, and perhaps with a deadline on the offer. That would enable the residents to band together, and to collectively bargain with the developers. They could solicit competing bids from alternate developers with different visions of what should be built there. And in the end, they would have the opportunity to determine a real market value for the land.

It is impossible, however, for a government to determine what that real value would be without letting market forces do their thing. That’s why this is a real violation of the eminent domain clause of the constitution. Because when transferring private property from one private owner to another private owner, it is impossible to determine what the real market value of the land would be. And therefore, determining just compensation becomes impossible.

Neal Bortz gets it right (though I have issues with other parts of his essay):

Considering this ruling, how likely are you to invest in real estate at this point? If you saw a tract of land that was placed squarely in the path of growth, would you buy that property in hopes that you could later sell it for a substantial profit? I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be interesting in investing in that property because I know that when it came time to sell, the potential purchaser would lowball me on the price. I would never get a true market value based on the highest and best use of that property. And why not? Because the developer wanting that property would simply tell me that if I didn’t accept his lowball offer he would just go to the local government and start the eminent domain process.

In the West End, the city of Boston auctioned off the land it had taken, after having paid “market price” for it. How they managed to perform that feat, determining market price before the auction took place, is beyond me. In fact, it’s simply not possible. What they did was pay for the land a price that assumed the land would be used for the same purpose it was being used for, and then sold it to another developer at auction. Which would normally be fine between private parties. But when the government forces the hand of one party, they are denied their opportunity to auction, to gain the highest price. Therefore, it is de facto theft.

Consider also, that pricing is decidedly not an issue when eminent domain is properly used. When the government takes land for a road, they are effectively erasing the market value of the land entirely. And therefore, there is no competing interest that may pay higher for it. In that instance, paying the current market rates for the property assuming it retains its current use is entirely appropriate, if only because there really is no other way to do it.

I think we may be in for some real estate havoc with this ruling. Time will tell, but autocratic municipal rulers may be undertaking massive urban renewal plans before you know it. Municipalities (at least in the Boston area) lose money on every new family that moves into town, due to the exorbitant cost of schooling the children. Towns thought of as wealthy around here are leaving their roads potholed and unpaved, for lack of funds because the schools ate them all up. Municipalities had been doing all they could to discourage new residential development, including enacting minimum lot sizes and moratoriums on teardowns. They also give tax breaks to seniors inclined to move out of town so that new children won’t move in.

Now SCOTUS has handed these municipalities a new weapon in their fight to keep their budgets in line: the bulldozer. Simply bulldoze your poorest residents and get them out of town, and put in a giant box store instead. Now you’ve replaced a series of property owners who were a net drain on the town, namely families, with one that actually pays taxes into the town, a store.

Welcome to the new America. You live here. You’re home now.

How do you like it?

Remember the West End.
(click here here for some rather disturbing before and after arial photos)

Update: It appears that great minds are thinking alike on this one. Howie Carr has written a column that appears to use the same metaphor (subscription only, so i can’t say I’ve read it).

Update 2: The Globe is on the same page here too.

 
 

KITTENWAR!!!

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

May the cutest kitten win…

 
 

Broadcast Flag Redux

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

The US Senate has snuck the broadcast flag provision into an appropriations bill that is about to be voted on. This is an underhanded and conniving way to attempt to get back what they lost in the courts.

Read more here, and call your senator!

 
 

Alien

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

In 30 seconds, performed by bunnies.