The Origins of Grand Theft Auto

GameSpot shares a chapter from Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto, by David Kushner. DMA Designs (which would eventually become Rockstar Games) originally titled the game “Race ‘n’ Chase,” and the player was initially cast as the cop, not the criminal.

One day a new build of Race ‘n’ Chase arrived for Sam and the others to try out. At first, it seemed the same. With the top-down perspective, the gamer felt as if he were hovering over a city in a balloon, looking down on gray and brown rooftops. Puffy green trees poked of out of green parks. Horns honked. Engines roared. When you tapped your forward arrow on the keyboard, you saw your unnamed character, a tiny guy in a yellow long-sleeved shirt, stride across the street.      With a few more taps of the arrow keys, you maneuvered the character toward a stubby green car with a shiny hood, then tapped the Enter key. That’s when it happened. The door flew open, and the driver–some other little dude in blue pants–came flying out of the car and landed on the pavement in a contorted pile. He got jacked. As you held down the forward arrow, the car careened forward, supple to the flick of the side arrows–left, right–with a satisfying vroooom. You headed toward a flickering traffic light. Why stop? This was a game, right? A game wasn’t life. A game takes you over, or you take over it, pushing it in ways you can’t for real.

The QWERTY Effect

Kyle Jasmin and Daniel Casasanto, co-authors of The QWERTY Effect, argue that a keyboard’s arrangement may influence the way we perceive certain words. Due to the QWERTY’s asymmetrical layout (more letters on the right than on the left), it may be easier to type letter combinations on the right side of the keyboard. And according to Jasmin, “If it’s easy, it tends to lend a positive meaning.”

In their first experiment, the researchers analyzed 1,000-word indexes from English, Spanish and Dutch, comparing their perceived positivity with their location on the QWERTY keyboard. The effect was slight but significant: Right-sided words scored more positively than left-sided words.      With newer words, the correlation was stronger. When the researchers analyzed words coined after the QWERTY keyboard’s invention, they found that right-sided words had more positive associations than left-sided words.      In another experiment, 800 typists recruited through’s Mechanical Turk service rated whether made-up words felt positive or negative. A QWERTY effect also emerged in those words.      Jasmin cautioned that words’ literal meanings almost certainly outweigh their QWERTY-inflected associations, and said the study only shows a correlation rather than clear cause-and-effect. Also, while a typist’s left- or right-handedness didn’t seem to matter, Jasmin said there’s not yet enough data to be certain.

Inventing the Wheel

Robert T. Gonzalez:

To most of us, wheels seem pretty intuitive. You’ve probably known from an early age, for example, that circular or rounded things roll more easily than boxy or angular things. Knowing this, it’s hard to imagine that our earliest ancestors did not come to similar realizations on their own — and yet, the first wheels don’t show up in history until around 3500 BC. By that time, people were already writing, farming, and even casting metal alloys. So what was so damn elusive about creating a wheel?

See also Why It Took So Long to Invent the Wheel, by Natalie Wolchover at Life’s Little Mysteries.

(Via Matthias Rascher)

The Personal Analytics of My Life

For over two decades, Stephen Wolfram, the creator of Wolfram|Alpha, has collected personal data about himself. We’re talking every email he’s sent or received since 1989, the keystrokes he’s typed, meetings he’s added to his calendar, right down to the number of steps he’s taken each day and at what time.

One day I’m sure everyone will routinely collect all sorts of data about themselves. But because I’ve been interested in data for a very long time, I started doing this long ago. I actually assumed lots of other people were doing it too, but apparently they were not. And so now I have what is probably one of the world’s largest collections of personal data.

Every day—in an effort at “self awareness”—I have automated systems send me a few emails about the day before. But even though I’ve been accumulating data for years—and always meant to analyze it—I’ve never actually gotten around to doing it. But with Mathematica and the automated data analysis capabilities we just released in Wolfram|Alpha Pro, I thought now would be a good time to finally try taking a look—and to use myself as an experimental subject for studying what one might call “personal analytics”.

A truly fascinating blog post. Stephen’s conclusion may either excite or intimidate you:

I’m looking forward to being able to ask Wolfram|Alpha all sorts of things about my life and times—and have it immediately generate reports about them. Not only being able to act as an adjunct to my personal memory, but also to be able to do automatic computational history—explaining how and why things happened—and then making projections and predictions.

(Via Waxy)

A World Within a Tumour

Excellent article. Ed Yong (Not Exactly Rocket Science) explains just how complex cancer can be:

For a start, cancer isn’t a single disease, so we can dispense with the idea of a single “cure”. There are over 200 different types, each with their own individual quirks. Even for a single type – say, breast cancer – there can be many different sub-types that demand different treatments. Even within a single subtype, one patient’s tumour can be very different from another’s. They could both have very different sets of mutated genes, which can affect their prognosis and which drugs they should take.

Fortunately, understanding cancer’s complexities helps explain why many treatments fail. According to Yong, “‘Personalized medicine’ is the next big thing for cancer” — drugs that target mutations present in all parts of the tumor, not just some.

(Via Steve Silberman)

The Split Brain: A Tale of Two Halves

Since the 1960′s, split-brain patients have been a boon to neuroscience. In this fascinating Nature news feature, David Wolman recounts a history of the corpus callosotomy and how this field of science is winding down.

In the first months after her surgery, shopping for groceries was infuriating. Standing in the supermarket aisle, Vicki would look at an item on the shelf and know that she wanted to place it in her trolley — but she couldn’t. “I’d reach with my right for the thing I wanted, but the left would come in and they’d kind of fight,” she says. “Almost like repelling magnets.” Picking out food for the week was a two-, sometimes three-hour ordeal. Getting dressed posed a similar challenge: Vicki couldn’t reconcile what she wanted to put on with what her hands were doing. Sometimes she ended up wearing three outfits at once. “I’d have to dump all the clothes on the bed, catch my breath and start again.”