Thursday, April 22, 2010

Transparency, Open Data, and the Rule of Law

This blog post tells the little known story of how open data revealed a multi-billion dollar tax fraud in Canada.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rings and diamonds

Two of my favourite sports for TV viewing are curling and baseball. I was contemplating their similarities recently and identified these common characteristics:

Both are games of anticipation. You must know the sport well to imagine what could come next.

Both are games with clearly defined roles for the different players, but every player must contribute.

Both are played on unconventionally shaped playing surfaces. Most team-versus-team games are played on rectangular playing fields with goals at opposite ends.

Both require every player to be able to throw well.

Both can require applying complex strategies to build toward scoring.

The biggest contrast between the two sports is in the type of participant at the highest levels of the sports. Major league baseball players usually develop a sense of entitlement that goes with their multi-million dollar annual salaries. Top curlers still need day jobs, and are people you could run into at your local hardware store, where they would fit right in.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day: The Movie

I've thought for some time that Groundhog Day is one of the most under-rated movies ever. Although it was a critical success and a box-office success, it won only a few awards from low-profile organizations - no Oscar nominations, no Golden Globes.

Yet it bears watching over and over again, revealing something new every time. And it's the most skewed approach to a testament to the redemptive power of true love I can imagine. Not to mention laugh-out-loud funny.

It's a minor irony that the latest Oscar nominations are released on Groundhog Day, 2010.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Driven to improve the metaphor: High-speed Diplomacy

I've always been a little perturbed by the consistent use of the description "high-speed chess" for the tactics and strategies NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers employ on the super-speedway restrictor-plate tracks at Daytona and Talledega. The commentators who use this expression mean to communicate that the drivers must plan ahead several moves (all while driving 200 mph) in order to be at the front of the field at the finish line.

I have no argument with the "high-speed" part. It's just that chess fits poorly. Unlike a car race, it's a head-to-head battle in which two people take turns moving. It seems to me that the board game Diplomacy is a better metaphor. It's a multiplayer game with simultaneous moves. Like the drafting partnerships that form and dissolve in the course of a race, alliances form and dissolve as players co-operate for their mutual advantage, all the while knowing that at some point it will be "every man for himself" (gender restrictions unintended).

Just as in racing, when two players try to occupy the same space at the same time, the resulting collision is unsatisfactory for both (although far less spectacular for the board game).

But since almost everyone, even NASCAR fans, has heard of chess, and far fewer people are familiar with Diplomacy, in the unlikely event that Darrell Waltrip or Allen Bestwick ever has this post brought to his attention, he would be ill-advised to change the old formulaic description. But it works for me.