July 2012


Did you know this is a good defensive posture? I didn’t!

Well, by the time you see this, the Kickstarter will probably be over.  It’s OK, it made its target.

I heard about this earlier– oh, Neal Stephenson is making a swordfighting game, that’s nice.  But I checked it out tonight, and it looks like it’ll be awesome.  It’s going to use a motion controller, starting with the Razer Hydra, which is $99.  I may do my own Kickstarter to be able to afford one.  They want to make it controllable by mouse/keyboard as well, but they judge, correctly I think, that this is the one application that actually needs fine motion control.

But they really had me when they talked about basing the system on the longsword combat described in the Fior di Battaglia of about 1420.  When researching the PCK, I looked a little at swordfighting– enough to know that most people’s ideas about it are terribly wrong, and that much of our real knowledge comes from a few medieval and Renaissance manuals such as this one.  So it was evident that Stephenson knows his stuff.

Interestingly, the actual mechanics translate well into a game situation.  You generally start in one of a small number of defensive stances.  Each stance allows certain attacks, and these in turn invite certain counter-attacks.  It makes a rich strategic system which nicely tracks with computer animation.  (If you want, you’ll be able to stand any way you want, and swing the sword around according to gut instinct.  You’ll get chopped up, of course.)

Getting the UI to model the fight in a satisfying way should be tricky, but it seems like they understand the challenges and I’m eager to see what they come up with.


I posted this link on my Facebook page, and one of my friends commented:

“This was written in 2000. In the wake of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco,
TARP, the looming collapse of the euro, staggering debt and inverted-
pyramid demographics throughout the first world, I wonder if he still stands by this analysis?”

and I thought… why not ask you?


Sure, why not?  I assume he means the predictions at the end; as they’re intended to look up to a century in advance, not much can happen in ten years to throw them off.

Of course, the first one (that Republicans would find they like governing) looks the worst.  It’s somewhat baffling why the Repubs get crazier and crazier.  Traditional political science says that two-party winner-take-all systems produce fairly similar moderate parties, and that’s what we had for most of the 20th century.  But now the GOP goes more off the deep end every year.

The usual cure is to lose elections, but it takes several in a row. But the problem today is that the voters have short memories.  The Republicans did their best to destroy the country, and lost accordingly in ’06 and ’08.  Two years wasn’t enough to clean up their mess, but the voters gave them another chance in 2010.  Maybe this cycle will continue for awhile; but demographics are against them.  The Republicans can’t keep alienating women, blacks, Hispanics, gays, lesbians, and the young forever.

Your friend’s list is pretty miscellaneous, but let’s go over it briefly:

  • Subprime mortgages: The damage done by deregulation is basically over.   We don’t have the housing bubble as a problem any more; our problem is the ongoing recession.  And half the country doesn’t want the recession to end, because omigod Obama would be reelected.
  • Bush’s TARP: no one likes the idea of a bailout, but this one saved us from a depression and the taxpayers got their money back.  The alternatives would have been worse.
  • The euro crisis is mostly notable for showing that the European right is just as self-destructive as the American right.  Large currency unions are a bad idea; ours only works because we have an ongoing commitment to support weaker regions.  The Europeans will either have to give it up, or actually decide to make it work (by making the same kind of commitment).  Chances are they’ll do neither by November.
  • Staggering debt: nonsense.  We’re in a liquidity trap; government debt is not the problem.  And debt has been far higher (as a percentage of GNP) before.
  • Aging populations: for the US, there’s no reason we should face a problem anytime soon.  Japan does, because it foolishly doesn’t allow much immigration.  We can allow as much as we like.

If you look at the daily paper, the world is always going to hell.  If you look at the history books, things have been steadily improving for two centuries.  Sometimes we rationally avoid a crisis (the Horse Poop Apocalypse one might have expected in 1900 was averted by the invention of the automobile).  Sometimes we make the worst choices, have the catastrophe, and learn our lesson.

On the other hand, since I wrote that essay, I’ve also written an sf novel whose future history assumes that in the next century we keep making the wrong decisions and cause a global collapse.  So my sanguinity has its limits.


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