Modern Game Reviews or: How I Don't Trust Those Lying Sacks of [Redacted] Anymore.

What is going on with gaming reviews as of late? Why are games like Titanfall and Dark Souls 2 getting reviews even though the full experience isn’t available to the reviewer? The question is somewhat rhetorical, I know why, you need those page views (read ad revenue) which wi;; decrease if the review isn’t there day one. But you’re hurting the people who rely on those reviews to inform their purchasing decisions.

Like everyone else, a review before the online servers are even up and running.

It seems to me that waiting to see what the online is like for Dark Souls 2 is important for the reviews. You could easily argue it’s critical to the review because it changes the game experience (covenants, invasions, summons etc.). Just like how the having the servers working and stable are important for Titanfall (or Battlefield, or SimCity). But alas, most sites ran their reviews anyway.

I feel like Polygon owes me $60 for SimCity

I trusted Polygon when they said SimCity was a 9.5. Then they lowered the score, which really upset me. It was like an extra special fuck you for trusting them. EA got their money, Polygon got their ad revenue, and I was out $60 with an unplayable game. The same happened with Battlefield 4 (which is at least playable now but the “to be fixed issues” are still numerous. It’s kind of bullshit. They’re here to protect the consumers. They should be our advocates.

64 ways in which the game was unplayable at launch. But you'd know that had you held the review.

When reviewers attend review events, they take what the developer (or publisher) tells them about the server stability as fact, and relay it to us as though it’s a fact. And it’s wrong. It’s kind of like if Consumer Reports gave a safety rating based on what the cars manufacture said rather than testing it themselves. That wouldn’t fly, and neither should this. In fact the FTC says, “Advertisers are subject to liability for false or unsubstantiated statements made through endorsements, or for failing to disclose material connections between themselves and their endorsers [see § 255.5]. Endorsers also may be liable for statements made in the course of their endorsements.” A review is an endorsement according to the FTC. " A film critic’s review of a movie is excerpted in an advertisement. When so used, the review meets the definition of an endorsement because it is viewed by readers as a statement of the critic’s own opinions and not those of the film producer, distributor, or exhibitor."

So, can we trust reviews of games anymore? Why can’t game reviewers do their due diligence and test the retail version of a game? Why not forgo the ad revenue and do what‘s morally right? Jeff did right by me. He had his initial impression but held off on calling it a review. Bravo Jeff, thank you! It’s like Jeff said, “Stop pre-ordering games so you can actually get some use out of the reviews as actual purchasing advice.” But the advice I’m getting is poorly informed and created solely for purpose of generating page views, that is, ad revenue for the site. Reviewers aren’t fighting for us anymore.


Exploiting women?

Does anyone else find it strange that we find ourselves talking about women being exploited in video games, but not in real life? I mean we have talked about what Lara Croft is wearing in the New Tomb Raider, the art of Dragon’s Crown, the censorship of Bravely Default, and the like. No one is really talking about the daily news shows of IGN, GameSpot and Polygon.

Let me be clear with my point of view. Women can be, and should be whatever they want. If a woman chooses to be a doctor, a nurse, a striper, an escort, a soldier, a programmer, or whatever, that is great; if that is what they want to be, go for it. Moreover, a woman can wear whatever she wants. That having been said, I do feel like IGN, GameSpot and Polygon are exploiting their daily news hosts for page views/ad revenue. All of them are attractive (depending on your taste in women) white women.

This picture inspired them. At least the one in the center…

I also believe that games, generally speaking, are a product targeted at white middleclass males from the ages of 15 to 40. That is the target audience, not that more people do not enjoy them, but that is their market. That is also who IGN, GameSpot, and Polygon are also targeting by virtue of covering video games. This largely explains why they have the hosts that they do.

It really began with Jessica Chobot when she landed a job at IGN after the pictures of her, sensually licking the PSP, blew up on the Internet (whether or not that was related I could only speculate). However, she was the regular host for IGN’s "Daily Fix." There were a few episodes where there were guest hosts, but she was the star. She was the "Daily Fix." Jessica Chobot is still doing stuff for IGN’s YouTube Channel Start show “Mix’d Reviews.” Lately there has been a lot more Daemon Hatfield, but it is still mostly Jessica.

Now Naomi Kyle hosts IGN’s show. It is the same deal with Jessica Chobot, she is the main host and is synonymous with the "Daily Fix." She is also the host of and IGN show called "Cheap Cool Crazy" where you are shown items that are vaguely nerd culture related and readily available for sale. IGN seems to go the extra mile with her and has her wearing different costumes to promote different games and prizes. They also really love posting pictures of her on Instagram.

GameSpot uses Jess McDonell form their Australian offices. She does both the daily news video, cleverly tilted "GS News," as well as a show every Monday called The Gist. Stop me if you have heard this one, but she does the daily news show exclusively, unless she is out of the office for some reason, then Chris Watters covers for her. Here is the thing that really bothers me about this one. GameSpot has fantastic talent and diversity. Why not have Carolyn Petit cover the news? She is a transgender woman who does well on camera. Why not use her? Oh right, ad revenue. I forgot.

Finally Polygon. Polygon, despite all their diversity news stories fell into this hole too. They used Alexa Ray Corriea for their daily news show titled "Speed Run." For the first 80 or so episodes, it was exclusively Alexa, but to Polygon’s credit, when the users started calling them out on this, they started using other site personalities. And as their reviews editor Arthur Gies would say, Polygon even started using “brown people“ (I hate that term and fuck him for saying it. It is Samit Sarkar and he is pretty awesome). There is still a lot of Alexa, but it is not bad. As someone on the outside looking in, when you see other hosts (mostly Samit) being utilized regularly, it does not look as exploitative for Alexa.

So what do you think? Do sites use T&A for pages views? Is that OK if they do? Alternatively, is this just a nonissue? What expectation are these women establishing for women who want to be in the gaming press?


What is wrong with people?

So, when my five-month-old daughter gets excited she flails her arms. Yesterday I was at Walgreens (which is like a Johns or a CVS) buying Ibuprofen, because she is teething. While shopping, a random woman came over to me and asked, “Is she autistic?” I have never felt such levels of absolute rage in my entire life. There are levels of audacity that I am willing to accept from society: being told I’m a homosexual online, having political ideology thrown in my face at Whole Foods, being told I’m a dolt on the forums, even being harassed by my wife’s parents because I’m 30 and I’m still playing video games. I can deal with that. But this crossed a line.

I guess I just see society changing. When I am shopping, people are listening to their music, but not through their headphones, but through their phone speakers. Which is my newest pet peeve. There just seems to be more and more asshole like behavior. If you want to be a douche online, that is one thing. I get it I’m not a real person just an icon, but in the real world, I guess I just expect some sort of decency.

Has the Internet killed our empathy?

There is no way to tell if she is autistic yet, but it is a real fear. No matter what, that's what she said was fucked up in every way.


Want To Play a Game? How About Betting on Next Gen Review Scores

OK guys, you’re an awesome community and I want to find a way to give back (while having fun). I also want to empty all of my steam gift games. So, I had this crazy idea for a competition. We’re going to place bets on PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Xbox One (Xbox) launch game review scores. You'll tell me in the comments what you think IGN, GameSpot, Polygon, and of course Giant Bomb give these hot new releases, and the most accurate prediction wins.

What you can win:

Civilization V

Civilization IV

Company of Heroes

Company of Heroes – Opposing Fronts

Company of Heroes – Tales of Valor

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II - Retribution

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM: Enemy Unknown - Slingshot DLC

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – Elite Soldier Pack DLC

How to play:

Down below you’ll find a list of the upcoming titles for the PS4 and Xbox. You’ll need to guess all of the games and scores from IGN, GameSpot, Polygon and Giant Bomb. FYI, IGN uses a 100 point scale, Polygon uses a 20 point scale, GameSpot now uses a 10 point scale, and Giant Bomb uses a 5 point scale.

When the games are reviewed, I’ll check the average scores and find out who was the closest for each game and the overall accuracy of your predictions to determine the winner.

I will only be examining the PS4 and Xbox scores of the games. I realize that not every site will have a score for every game, and that won’t be counted against you. Reviews of the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 versions of the games will not be counted.

With your entry, tell me which game you would like to own. If there are multiple users who have the exact scores and want the same game, the winner will be the first entry.

I'll post the winners in the comments and I’ll contact the winners via PM for the best way to get you the game.

You must enter by Nov 1.

The cut off for the outlet's review scores will be Nov 20. If you nailed the Knack review, but it posted on Giant Bomb on the 21st, sorry, you're out of luck.

The games list:

Copy and Paste the table into the comment section as your submission. These are broken down by Cross-platform games, Xbox exclusives, and PS4 exclusives. For a chance to win you have to submit them all. As the review scores come in, I'll be filling in the chart with the official review score.

Good Luck, Have Batman.

Cross-Platform Titles:

GameGiant BombGameSpotIGNPolygon
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (PS4)xxxx
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (Xbox)xxxx
Battlefield 4 (PS4)xxxx
Battlefield 4 (Xbox)xxxx
Call of Duty: Ghosts (PS4)xxxx
Call of Duty: Ghosts (Xbox)xxxx
FIFA 14 (PS4)xxxx
FIFA 14 (Xbox)xxxx
Just Dance 2014 (PS4)xxxx
Just Dance 2014 (Xbox)xxxx
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (PS4)xxxx
LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (Xbox)xxxx
Madden NFL 25 (PS4)xxxx
Madden NFL 25 (Xbox)xxxx
NBA 2K14 (PS4)xxxx
NBA 2K14 (Xbox)xxxx
NBA Live 14 (PS4)xxxx
NBA Live 14 (Xbox)xxxx
Need for Speed: Rivals (PS4)xxxx
Need for Speed: Rivals (Xbox)xxxx
Skylanders SWAP Force (PS4)xxxx
Skylanders SWAP Force (Xbox)xxxx
Watch_Dogs (PS4)xxxx
Watch_Dogs (Xbox)xxxx

PlayStation 4 Exclusives:

GameGiant BombGameSpotIGNPolygon
Blacklight: Retributionxxxx
DC Universe Onlinexxxx
Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Editionxxxx
Killzone: Shadow Fallxxxx
Pinball Arcadexxxx
Putty Squadxxxx
The PlayRoomxxxx
Super Motherloadxxxx
Switch Galaxy Ultraxxxx
Tiny Brainsxxxx
War Thunderxxxx

Xbox Exclusives:

GameGiant BombGameSpotIGNPolygon
Crimson Dragonxxxx
Dead Rising 3xxxx
Fighter Withinxxxx
Forza Motorsport 5xxxx
Killer Instinctxxxx
Peggle 2xxxx
Powerstar Golfxxxx
Ryse: Son of Romexxxx
Zoo Tycoonxxxx
Zumba Fitness: World Partyxxxx

Example Submission:

GameGiant BombGameSpotIGNPolygon
WatchDogs (PS4):478.97
WatchDogs (Xbox One)378.67
Killzone Shadow Fall310106.5
Forza Motorsport 55101010
Ryse: Son of Rome1103.41.5

***I would like Company of Heroes.

Start the Conversation

Guns, Games, and Violence.

I am tired. So, very tired.

It’s the same bullshit every day. The Polygon editors are the worst. Now that the NRA has said that violent media is to blame.

I don’t know anymore. I feel oppressed. Like the Irish in the UK.

Do video games directly cause violence? No. That’s what people do. Do video games have a negative impact on our empathy? Studies have shown that they do.

Violent Video Game Effects on Empathy/Desensitization
Main analyses. Table 8 presents the main results on empathy/desensitization. VGV exposure was significantly related to less empathy (and more desensitization) regardless of research design and regardless of whether the zero-order or partial correlations were used.
When sex and Time 1 effects were controlled, research design was a significant moderator variable. Of course, because there was only one experimental study, comparisons across designs should be made with caution. Additional moderator tests— best partials data. There were too few experimental and longitudinal studies to do any additional moderator analyses. For cross-sectional studies, we were able to test the moderating effects of culture and video game exposure measure. On average, effect sizes were larger in Western studies than in Eastern studies.
Furthermore, culture and video game exposure measure were confounded; four of the five VGV-specific studies came from a Western culture, whereas all of the VGV-general studies came from Eastern cultures.
The present findings show that the social– cognitive theoretical view fits the existing data on video game violence effects quite well. This has important implications for public policy debates, for further development and testing of basic theory, and for development and testing of potential intervention strategies designed to reduce harmful effects of playing violent video games. Concerning basic theory, additional research of all three types (but especially experimental and longitudinal) is needed, especially on VGV effects on empathy, desensitization, and prosocial behavior. Additional longitudinal studies with longer intervals are needed for aggressive behavior and aggressive cognition. Furthermore, longitudinal studies with very large samples and very long time spans between the first time period and the last are needed so we can assess the impact of violent video games on very serious forms of physical aggression (i.e., violence). Concerning interventions, there have been a few studies with findings that suggest that specific programs involving schoolchildren and their parents can reduce exposure to violent media and the frequency of unwarranted aggressive behavior (e.g., Huesmann, Eron, Klein, Brice, & Fischer, 1983; Robinson, Wilde, Navracruz, Haydel, & Varady, 2001).
Concerning public policy, we believe that debates can and should finally move beyond the simple question of whether violent video game play is a causal risk factor for aggressive behavior; the scientific literature has effectively and clearly shown the answer to be “yes.” Instead, we believe the public policy debate should move to questions concerning how best to deal with this risk factor. Public education about this risk factor—and about how parents, schools, and society at large can deal with it— could be very useful.

There are a ton of research papers, dissertations, and legal documents (totaling over 1000 pages) of which I paid for (that my wife has called it my Christmas) that I can give you a link to. They all say the same thing. Violent video games negatively effect our empathy and aggression.

We can ignore the evidence that gun control does nothing like

Why are we so afraid to have this discussion? Why do we defend violence? We should be horried by it, and yet me glorify it.

I AM NOT SAYING BAN VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES, but I am saying that we need to talk about the negative impacts violent games have on us and how to counter act what they are doing to our empathy and aggression levels. In short, we shouldn't blindly defend video games.

*** Right now I am reading the 92 page article on the SCOTUS decision on video games. It's truly and interesting subject and one we need to pay attention to.


We Need to Have This Conversation

The Walking Dead was the VGA’s Game of the Year. I’ve enjoyed The Walking Dead game. It has played with my emotions, the characters were unique and had a strong voice, and forcing you to make decisions quickly was fantastic. What I didn’t like about The Walking Dead was the gameplay, or more specifically the lack thereof. It was more of an interactive movie than a game, which is fine, but it seems to me that gameplay should trump storytelling.

Aren’t games supposed to be about enjoyment? Did the gameplay bring you enjoyment?

Look at Far Cry 3. The gameplay is fantastic, but the story is total garbage. Far Cry 3 is a blast to play, and the game play is what carried the game.

What I’m trying to say is the difference between movies and games is the interactivity. Remember when Ebert talked about games not being art because they were interactive. The Walking Dead is close to proving his point. The Walking Dead’s gameplay reminded me of this

You had about as much interaction.

Did you have fun playing The Walking dead?

It’s great, just on the wrong medium.

What do you think? Should gameplay trump story.


Hey Listen! Voting

Halo 4 is out in a few hours, and you know what that means, it’s almost time to vote (if you live in the US and you're at least 18 years old).

We all have different political opinions and ideas. We all have a different view of the United States and where we want to see it go. So you should vote.

Truth be told, I really don’t care who you vote for as long and you’re voting for what and who you think is best for the United States and your state. Just please don’t go down a liberal or conservative check list telling you who and what to vote for. You’re better than that. Think about it; read the issues and ask questions; then vote.


Rock You Like a Hurricane

Year-to-Year Variations in Atlantic Hurricanes

There is quite a bit of variation in the number of Atlantic hurricanes from year to year as shown in figure 9.

Figure 9: The number of hurricanes in the Atlantic basin each year from 1944 to 2010. Red indicates the number of major hurricanes (category 3 and higher), while blue indicates all hurricanes.

An obvious question comes to mind: "Is there a significant temporal pattern in the number of Atlantic hurricanes?" Many researchers have concluded that there is a multi-decadal cycle, consisting of 20 - 40 year periods of increased hurricane activity followed by 20 - 40 year periods of decreased hurricane activity. Although a bit difficult to see, this cycle can be seen in figure 9 above. There appears to have been more and stronger hurricanes from 1944 through the mid to late 1960s, then fewer and less powerful hurricanes from about 1970 through the mid 1990s, then higher numbers of hurricanes again from 1995 through today.

Another piece of evidence is shown in figure 12 below. The figure presents a metric called Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE). ACE measures the total wind energy realized over the entire life cycle of all storms in a tropical season. ACE factors in storm intensity, frequency, and duration. Put simply, a long-lived very powerful Category 3 hurricane may have more than 100 times the ACE of a weaker tropical storm that lasts for less than a day. As the annual ACE index grows, it indicates that the total wind energy generated by tropical cyclones that year had a great deal of damaging potential. We see generally high damage potential during the period from 1950 to 1969, followed by generally low damage potential from 1970 to 1994, then generally high after 1995. In particular the 2004 and 2005 seasons stand out. Most researchers believe that these trends are significant. The reason for the trend seems to be related to natural fluctuations in the Atlantic sea surface temperature and wind patterns. During active periods, sea surface temperatures are high and wind patterns favor storm development. Based on this information, we should expect hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin to remain high for at least the next 5-10 years.

Figure 12: Seasonal Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) index for the North Atlantic Ocean basin from 1950 - 2010 (source Ryan Maue, Florida State University).

While variations in the total number of hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean is interesting, keep in mind that most people only remember the ones that cause death and destruction on the coast. Many Atlantic hurricanes stay out at sea or are relatively weak when they make landfall. Those few hurricanes that reach category 4 and 5, only remain at that strength for short periods of time, which on average is less than 24 hours. The chance that one of these monsters will hit the U.S. mainland as a category 4 or 5 storm is relatively low (see Table 4, which lists the 60 most intense hurricanes at the time of landfall in the United States from 1851-2004). Note that from 1851-2004 there were only 3 category 5 and only 15 category 4 hurricanes at the time of landfall with the continental United States. During the 2005 hurricane season, Katrina hit as a category 4 storm and Dennis, Rita, and Wilma hit land as a category 3 storms. The fact that major hurricanes hit the mainland U.S. so infrequently contributes to public unawareness of their potential devastion (see last section below). In particular very few powerful hurricanes struck the U.S. mainland from 1970 - 1990; People from that era became desensitized to the potential devastion of hurricanes and developed a false sense of security.

Link to Global Warming?

Public attention for hurricanes is primarily driven by lanfalling hurricanes that result in death and destruction, rather than fluctuations in the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic. In 2004, four hurricanes (three major hurricanes) hit the state of Florida, followed in 2005 by Katrina, the most costly natural disaster in United States history, as well as three other major landfalling hurricanes, Dennis, Rita, and Wilma. In fact, the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season was record-breaking. The 27 named tropical storms broke the old record of 21; 15 of these tropical storms became hurricanes, breaking the old record of 12; 4 hurricanes made landfall over the United States at category 3 or higher breaking the old record of 3 set in 2004. A good summary of the record breaking hurricane season of 2005 is given in the article:2005: A Hurricane season 'On Edge'. The result is that hurricanes are under public scrutiny. And anytime a weather disaster happens today, you can be sure that someone will try to link it to global warming.

The basis for a link to global warming is as follows ... As humans add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the average surface temperature of the Earth should increase. Exactly how much and how fast it may warm is a matter for debate. One consequence is that global sea surface temperatures will increase. Measurements do show that the global average sea surface temperature has been generally been increasing since 1900 ... Therefore, since hurricanes feed off warm ocean water, one could argue that the recent strong landfalling hurricanes in the United States directly results from global warming.

While the above argument seems plausible, it cannot be scientifically proven at this time. As mentioned above, the recent increase in Atlantic hurricanes can be better explained as a continuation of the multi-decadal cycle discussed above. The 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons are not overly abnormal when viewed in the context of hurricane cycles over the last 100 years and beyond. The multi-decadal cycle itself certainly cannot be attributed to global warming. Furthermore, hurricane development requires more than just warm sea surface temperatures -- how are these other development factors influenced by global warming? While we cannot say with certainty that global warming has had no influence on hurricane development, based on the best available scientific evidence, it is wrong to say that global warming has been directly responsible for the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes. I believe it is misleading to explain Katrina (or even the record-breaking 2005 hurricane season) through global warming because we have always had strong hurricanes in the Atlantic basic, some of which impact the United States. How can we be sure that a hurricane like Katrina would not have happened without global warming, when similar hurricanes have been observed throughout history?

On the other side of the issue, a 2005 study by Kerry Emanuel, a leading U.S. hurricane researcher, has concluded that while the number of hurricanes have not changed, the windspeeds (a measure of storm intensity) have increased in recent years. He even did a modeling study that seemed to support this idea. However, it has not been scientifically proven that the increased hurricane windspeed is defintely due to global warming. One problem with that study is that we can only look back about 40 years with satellite data; before that the hurricane record is somewhat unreliable, and 40 years isn't long enough to draw a definite conclusion. We certainly can't rule out the possibility that this is part of a natural cycle in hurricane activity. Before global satellite coverage, there are gaps in the historical hurricane record; thus, prior to 40 years ago, even strong storms that spent their entire lifecycle out at sea, were probably unnoticed. We are going to need many more years of good hurricane observations before we will be able to conclude without doubt that global warming is having a large impact on the intensity of hurricanes ... to be able to rule out the possibility that observed fluctuations in hurricane intensity are not part of a natural climatic cycle or attributable to prior gaps in our observations.

In fact, in a more recent study published in 2008, Emanuel says he will now reconsider his strong assertation of a link between global warming and more intense hurricanes (see Hurricane expert reconsiders global warming's impact) based on newer model simulations. He does not rule out a link, but the new study indicates that in a warmer world stronger wind shear may actually reduce hurricane activity. While Emanuel is an honest scientist, basing his statements on the latest scientific studies, the news media is much more likely to report on a possible negative impact of global warming, rather than presenting an honest evaluation of all current scientific evidence and uncertainty. The debate concerning this issue will continue ... see for example Hurricanes Have Doubled Due to Global Warming, Study Says dated July 30, 2007 and Warmer Ocean Could Reduce Number of Atlantic Hurricane Landfalls dated January 22, 2008, as examples.

Perhaps the most damaging evidence against a direct link between global warming and hurricane intensity is based on the fact that worldwide (global) ACE values are currently near 30 year lows in spite of warmer ocean waters (see Recent historically low global tropical cyclone activity). Here is a short statement from the author, Dr. Maue: "The perceptible (and perhaps measurable) impact of global warming on hurricanes in today's climate is arguably a pittance (or noise) compared to the reorganization and modulation of hurricane formation locations and preferred tracks/intensification corridors dominated by ENSO (and other natural climate factors). Moreover, our understanding of the complicated role of hurricanes with and role in climate is nebulous to be charitable. We must increase our understanding of the current climate's hurricane activity. Again, while this evidence does not rule out a link between global warming and hurricane intensity, it does appear that the link is currently weak at best. This was also pointed out in a recent USA Today artical Tropical cyclone activity at 30-year low in N. Hemisphere). You should take a look at this updated figure of global ACE. Note that in recent years global ACE is at its lowest levels since the late 1970s.

What does this updated ACE figure tell us about a possible link between global warming and hurricane intensity? The fact that the most recent years had low activity indicates that the simple predictions by some global warming alarmists, which predicted stronger and more frequent hurricanes following the devastating Atlantic storms of 2004 and 2005, have not happened. However, the figure does not rule out a link between global warming and more intense hurricanes either. I believe that we can probably say something like this: The impact of global warming on hurricane activity (if there is an impact) in today's climate is probably small compared to the variations of hurricane strength by natural climate factors, i.e., since 1950 the natural variations are much larger than any long-term trend that may be due to global warming.

In spite of the lack of scientific proof, many in the media flock to those who make assertations about influence of global warming on United States hurricanes. See Germany's Environment Minister, Juergen Trittin, cites greenhouse gas emissions as cause for Katrina. In my opinion, the German minister (among others) is using the Katrina disaster to further his agenda to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases for fear of global climate change. While this may be a noble agenda, he should base his arguments on sound scientific evidence, not scare tactics. Furthermore, one of the reasons often given as to why we must act immediately to prevent the devastating consequences of continued human-caused global warming is that tropical storms will become more powerful and perhaps more common. This is often reported as if it were a fact, not a theory. You should realize that recent observations do not clearly support this theory.

Arguments for a link between global warming and increased hurricane intensity are summarized in this short video segment produced during the 2005 hurricane season by PBS: Is global warming making hurricanes more intense?

Growing and Building Toward Future Disasters?

Much of the material presented in this section is taken from Normalized Hurricane Damage in the United States: 1900-2005 authored by Pielke, Jr. et al., published in Natural Hazards Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, February 1, 2008. A summary of their work, taken from the paper's abstract is provided below:

After more than two decades of relatively little Atlantic hurricane activity, the past decade saw heightened hurricane activity and more than $150 billion in damage in 2004 and 2005. This paper normalizes mainland U.S. hurricane damage from 1900-2005 to 2005 values ... A normalization provides an estimate of the damage that would occur if storms from the past made landfall under another year's societal conditions. Our methods use changes in inflation and wealth at the national level and changes in population and housing units at the coastal county level. Across both normalization methods, there is no remaining trend of increasing absolute damage in the data set, which follows the lack of trends in landfall frequency or intensity observed over the twentieth century. The 1970s and 1980s were notable because of the extremely low amounts of damage compared to other decades. Instructor's note: This is an important point. If we only compare post 1995 Atlantic hurricanes with the period from 1970-1995, essentially ignoring historical hurricane seasons prior to 1970, then how can we be certain that activity since 1995 has been abnormally high ... perhaps the 1970 through 1995 period had abnormally low activity. The decade 1996 to 2005 has the second most damage among the past 11 decades, with only the decade 1926 to 1935 surpassing its costs. The most damaging single storm is the 1926 Great Miami storm, with $140-157 billion of normalized damage: the most damaging years are 1926 and 2005. Of the total damage, about 85% is accounted for by the intense hurricanes Saffir-Simpson Categories 3, 4, and 5 , yet these have comprised only 24% of the U.S. landfalling tropical cyclones.

The study normalizes property damages over the years by making three major adjustments: one to account for inflation, one for growth in wealth (to account for fact that people generally have more "stuff" today as compared to the past and the real value of all this "stuff" has increased), and one to account for overall population growth along effected coastlines. It is very important to consider all three adjustments. Several past works have only considered the inflation adjustment and end up with a plot like figure 3 (from Pielke 2008), which shows that even after adjusting for inflation, total property loses in the US from tropical cyclones continues to follow an upward trend through 2005. However, this is very misleading, since much of the increased costs can be attributed to increases in wealth and population density. Some have even used a plot like figure 3 as evidence that global warming is resulting in stronger hurricanes in the US.

The US coastal populations are certainly more vulnerable to property damage today compared to past times due to the rapid population increases, especially along the "warm weather coasts" (see figure 2, Pielke 2008), as well as the tendency for building more lavish structures on the coasts. After considering these factors, Pielke finds no trend with time in the absolute damage caused by US landfalling hurricanes. The following summary and warning for the future is taken from the conclusion:

It should be clear from the normalized estimates that while 2004 and 2005 were exceptional from the standpoint of the number of very damaging storms, there is no long-term trend of increasing damage over the time period covered by this analysis. Even Hurricane Katrina is not outside the range of normalized estimates for past storms. The analysis here should provide a cautionary warning for hurricane policy makers. Potential damage from storms is growing at a rate that may place severe burdens on society. Avoiding huge losses will require either a change in the rate of population growth in coastal areas, major improvements in construction standards, or other mitigation actions. Unless such action is taken to address the growing concentration of people and properties in coastal areas where hurricanes strike, damage will increase, and by a great deal, as more and wealthier people increasingly inhabit these coastal locations.

There need to be discussions about whether or not we as a society should continue to build-in and populate hurricane prone areas. Given that people desire to live right on warm water coasts and the very high short-term value available to investors and politicians, it would seem very unlikely to me that we as a society will not continue to build new and more lavishly on coastlines that are vulnerable to hurricanes. Another possibility is to regulate through building codes that all structures be able to withstand the worst possible hurricane, but this is quite costly as well. We will probably have to accept that hurricanes will cause major property damage from time to time. One thing that should not be ignored is that urban areas on coastlines should not become so densely populated and congested that evacuations in a reasonable time become impossible. Urban planners need to have reliable evacuation plans.

Should hurricane damaged areas be rebuilt? Who should pay for the rebuilding? Current practice is for the federal government to reimburse people for their losses due to natural disasters. Thus most rebuild in the same disaster-prone area. In a sense the federal government encourages people to rebuild at a large cost to taxpayers. My opinion is that government should not outlaw building in hurricane prone areas, but the people that build in these areas have to assume the risks involved, that is, find private insurance or risk losing everything, i.e., don't expect to be bailed out with tax money. On the other hand, there are those who believe hurricane damages should be a shared public risk assumed by all taxpayers.

A new paper (February 2012) that has been submitted for publication in the Journal of Climate by Jessica Weinkle, Ryan Maue, and Roger Pielke Jr.: "Historical global tropical cyclone landfalls" comes to the same conclusions with respect to trends in worldwide tropical cyclone damage, i.e., economic damage from tropical cyclones has increased sharply in recent decades, and this can be explained by societal changes, not by changes in the frequency or intensity of tropical storms. Here is a preliminary excerpt from the paper: "In recent decades, economic damage from tropical cyclones (TCs) around the world has increased dramatically. Scientific literature published to date finds that the increase in losses can be explained entirely by societal i changes (such as increasing wealth, structures, population, etc) in locations prone to tropical cyclone landfalls, rather than by changes in annual storm frequency or intensity. However, no homogenized dataset of global tropical cyclone landfalls has been created that might serve as a consistency check for such economic normalization studies. Using currently available historical TC best-track records, we have constructed a global database focused on hurricane-force strength landfalls. Our analysis does not indicate significant long-period global or individual basin trends in the frequency or intensity of landfalling TCs of minor or major hurricane strength. This evidence provides strong support for the conclusion that increasing damage around the world during the past several decades can be explained entirely by increasing wealth in locations prone to TC landfalls, which adds confidence to the fidelity of economic normalization analyses."

Hurricane Deaths in the US

Although tropical storms and hurricanes are responsible for more economic damage per year in the US than any other type of severe weather, in general they have been responsible for relatively small numbers of deaths in recent decades compared with the early decades of the 1900s. The explanation for the decreasing trend in deaths is simple ... In the early part of the century before satellite imagery and sophisticated forecasting methods, people had little warning of an approaching hurricane, and many were killed. In fact the Galveston, TX hurricane of 1900 still ranks as the most deadly in U.S. history with from 8 to 12 thousand deaths. In modern times, people are warned of an approaching storm and either evacuate or make necessary preparations.

Of course, Katrina was the exception to this trend. Katrina forces us to reconsider the long-held belief that hurricanes will not cause many deaths in the United States because we have such a great hurricane monitoring system and no storm will catch anyone by surprise. Sure property damage was high, but we have come to expect that. The question here is Even with the ample warning provided by the National Hurricane Center, why did so many people die as a result of Katrina? Last count is over 1300 confirmed deaths. This is the most deaths related to a single hurricane since 1928. There are several reasons for the large loss of life from Katrina. Undoubtedly the vulnerability of the New Orleans area to levee failure and flooding was a strong contributing factor and had Katrina hit somewhere else there would have been less loss of life. However, the biggest contributing factor was the decisions made by many people to ignore evacuation warnings and remain home for the storm. The National Hurricane Center's forecasts made 72 hours prior to Katrina making landfall were almost perfect.

Yes, federal and local government screwed up in their response to the disaster, but the only sure way to save lives is for people to evacuate before the storm hits. One reason I heard over and over from survivors is that they did not leave because they didn't think things could get that bad. This reaction is probably due to the several factors: (1) major hurricanes don't strike very often; (2) many residents were either new to the gulf coast or never experienced a major hurricane before; (3) some had stayed and lived through other hurricanes, thinking that they are no big deal; and (4) some had evacuated for previous storms that may have missed their house or turned out to be not that severe, so they refused to leave this time. I am sure we can come up with some others. In my opinion, individuals need to educate themselves and make responsible decisions for themselves, their families, and anyone else who relies on them. People living in hurricane prone areas need to understand the devastion that hurricanes can cause, keep informed on hurricane activity in their area, and be prepared to make intelligent decisions. People in New Orleans had the additional responsibility to understand the vulnerability of their city to the possibility of levee breaks whenever a major storm is near. On the other hand, others believe that government should take on more of the responsibility to make sure that people evacuate.

Unfortunately, a Katrina-type disaster was foreseen by many people. In fact a New Orleans newspaper published an article in 2001 about a devasting senario very close to what actually happened. Others just warned about how the people living in hurricane-prone areas seemed unware of the potential damage that can occur when major hurricanes make landfall and would not take appropriate action. Quoting the sumarizing statement from a report generated by the National Hurricane Center (which was prepared prior to the 2004 and 2005 monster hurricane seasons):

"In virtually every coastal city of any size from Texas to Maine, the present National Hurricane Center Director, Max Mayfield, has stated that the United States is building toward its next hurricane disaster. The population growth and low hurricane experience levels of many of the current residents, form the basis for this statement. The areas along the United States Gulf and Atlantic coasts where most of this country's hurricane related fatalities have occurred are also now experiencing the country's most significant growth in population. This situation, in combination with continued building along the coast, will lead to serious problems for many areas in hurricanes. Because it is likely that people will always be attracted to live along the shoreline, a solution to the problem lies in education, preparedness and mitigation.

The message to coastal residents is: Become familiar with what hurricanes can do, and when a hurricane threatens your area, increase your chances of survival by moving away from the water until the hurricane has passed! Unless this message is clearly understood by coastal residents through a thorough and continuing preparedness effort, disastrous loss of life is inevitable in the future."

We can be optimistic about the well organized and rather smooth evacuations that took place before the powerful Hurricane Ike struck in 2008, which in large part was due to the memory of Katrina. In the near future I do not think we will see a hurricane death toll in the US like Katrina. However, after we go through another slow period in Atlantic hurricanes, like 1970-1995, will people remember how potentially deadly hurricanes can be?


My CAH black card submissions.

Giant Bomb CAH submissions have begun. You can submit them here.

Let's be honest, most of our submitted ideas aren't going to be chosen (unless you're a savant of some sort). So here is a list of the black cards I've submitted, maybe you'll find one you like. Or maybe I'm the king of the dolts and there is nothing there for you. Either way, enjoy.

________ is my anti-drug.

________ helps me to avoid ________.

I'm sorry, but your father and I are involved in ________.

The Internet is weird, it has pages dedicated to ________.

I'd rather have a bowl of ________.

________ m'm m'm good

The ________ melt(s) in your mouth, not in your hand.

A ________ a day helps you work, rest, and play.

________ because I'm worth it.

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to ________.

I stand before you tonight under indictment for the alleged crime of having voted for ________.

Frankly my dear, I don't give a <blank>

Mind your ________.

________ is the speech of angels

I live in America. I have the right to ________.

Whenever ________ is corrupted, so is the ________.

People demand freedom of ________ as a compensation for the freedom of ________.

Between two evil, I always pick ________.

A two-year-old is kind of like having a ________.

I love Micky Mouse more than ________.

Look out for the ________.

A ________ is like a ________ but sexier.

O Lord, help me to be ________.

I can tell I'm older because I find my self loving ________.

I ________ therefore I am.

I am bringing ________ back!

________ don't leave home without it.

We have the best ________ in the world.

There's a ________ in the ________.

________. Why? You only live once.

________ at work.

I'd rather die from ________ than drink from the cup of ________

________ it's what your right arm is for.

Here is my one white card submission:

Saving the ta-tas.

As I submit more, I'll update the blog.


Random Thoughts: Orbis, proprietary devices


Sony, as a company is between a rock and a hard place. Sony is expected to have a loss of 6.4 billion. ( That’s mind-blowing. Being a tech company, Sony has to innovate, so they have to have the Orbis. They just can’t afford another slow PS3esque start. The PlayStation 3 wasn’t profitable until July 2010; that’s 4 years after its 2006 launch. Sony can’t let that happen again. If the Orbis fails, Sony is finished.

My question is how does Sony innovate as well as keep up technically without sinking itself. My bet is that they will go with existing technology rather than trying to develop their own processor. I would expect them to use Intel based processors and an AMD or Nvidia graphics card; something that can be mass-produced relatively cheaply.

Does Sony have the infrastructure to keep online services free? In other words, will Sony be charging us to play games online via Xbox Live Gold? Will the Orbis be 2K and 4K capable?

Proprietary devices

Proprietary devices are the worst. My 2010 Macbook Pro’s HDD just failed. I took it into our local Apple Store to confirm my assessment and unfortunately, I was right. The Apple employee suggested that instead of pay Apple $200 to put in a new 500gig HDD I should order one and install it myself. My replacement 1TB 2.5 SETA HDD was $99. Everything is working great.

Now my wife needs a new laptop. She really likes OS X, so we’re looking into buying a the cheapest Macbook Air. However, the new Macbooks have proprietary connectors so I would be forced to take it to Apple to have them fix it, which is bullshit.

When I look at my Vita all I see is proprietary connections. The memory and the charging cable are all proprietary. What’s wrong with a standard USB and SD card? The same is true with the 360 HDD. It’s all garbage.

I hope price gouging isn't the future of video games.