It’s Ayn Rand’s America Now, Thanks to the GOP

Conservatism has turned itself into a civic religion and columnist Neal Gabler fears the damages wrought in the Trump era will be permanent and lasting.

Sad to say, this will be my last column for billmoyers.com, where I have written for the past two years. In recent months, in the process of trying to understand for myself the cataclysm of Nov. 8, 2016, I have tried to examine a number of forces — demographic, economic, cultural, media — that may help explain it. I am certain that the question of  “what happened” will plague us for decades and that Nov. 8, 2016, will join April 12, 1861; Oct. 28, 1929; Dec. 7, 1941; Nov. 22, 1963 and Sept. 11, 2001 as one of the most calamitous and tragic dates in our history.

Historians may determine that it was the date America’s second civil war began. By that perspective, just as the first Civil War was the last gasp of slavery, this second is very likely the last gasp of aging white Americans — their full-throated death rattle against an America that they detest for having changed so dramatically the traditions and power structures by which those whites had lived. Regressions are often like that. They are an angry attempt to prevent a threatening future from arriving. Republicans had long preyed upon these discontents, but did so tepidly — a wink-and-nod approach. Trump voiced them and validated them, making racism, nativism and sexism acceptable. It will be his primary legacy.

But I think the real lesson of 2016 lies not in politics, but in religion. We hear a great deal about tribalism as an explanation for the Trump phenomenon. We hear about how Americans have divided themselves into parochial groups that reinforce shared values and interests as well as grievances and hatreds. But if tribalism answers one question — why people seem to hold so firmly to their beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence and even moral opprobrium — it doesn’t answer another, more important question: Why did they join these tribes in the first place?

I believe religion rather than politics may provide that answer. One of the most important shifts in our culture has been the transformation of politics into a kind of civic religion. Religion has always provided a sense of identity — hence the tribalism — but it provided something else, too; something even more fundamental. In what historian Karen Armstrong describes as the Axial Age, from which modern religions grew, it pointed the way to a meaningful life with spiritual values. That was for nurturing the soul. And it provided a cosmology, a systematic way of thinking about and explaining the world and our place in it. That was for the mind.

I have written previously about how conservatism turned itself into a civic religion, which I think is one of the affinities between evangelicalism and conservatism — not just that they share some values, but that they share the very idea of orthodoxy. Armstrong describes in a religious context how the Axial Age lost its spiritualism to dogma. This is especially relevant in a complex, ever-churning world that seems to outrun our capacity to understand it. True religion, I believe, begins in doubt and continues in spiritual exploration. Debased religion begins in fear and terminates in certainty.

Modern conservatism, like debased religion, has an explanation for everything, and there is nothing mysterious or spiritual about it. Trump understood the desire for some all-encompassing answer, as demagogues always do. Demagogues assume the proportions of religious leaders, but without the moral instruction. Through a process of simplification, they purport to tell their followers what happened and who is responsible. In short, they provide cosmology, not for the purpose of enlightenment, but for the opposite — benightedness.

As religious observance has declined in America, as faith has declined and the religious cosmologies have weakened, political passions and political cosmologies have risen, and those old religious/conservative affinities have strengthened as religion tries to save itself by piggybacking on politics, rather than as some believe, the other way around. Roy Moore, the Republican senatorial candidate in Alabama, is the perfect example of religion’s surrender to politics. Many evangelicals embrace him despite credible allegations of child molestation, showing how morality has become so politicized that it no longer even makes sense. That is because politics is the new religion of America.

Other observers, many of them brilliant, have been less alarmist than I about the permanent effects of Trumpism. New York Times columnist David Leonhardt wrote this past week that the Republican tax bill, which is like a nuclear bomb to the economy and to economic equality, will likely not have as severe consequences as many critics, myself included, fear. He says that politics change, Democrats sooner or later will take power, and they will revise the law just as Obama revised Bush’s tax cuts. Nothing is irrevocable.

But this assumes that politics is still politics, not religion. Religions are not easily reformed, doctrines are not easily changed, disciples are not easily converted. History is punctuated with religious warfare. This new civic religion has already put Republicans in the position of turning every election, every legislative squabble, into Armageddon. Ten years from now they may still be trying to repeal Obamacare. In the long run, perhaps, Leonhardt is right. Things change. They always change. But then again, according to the old saying, in the long run, we are all dead.

And that is why I don’t think the Trump moment will pass without serious and permanent damage to America. Trump isn’t just a politician with whom one may disagree. Indeed, Trump really has very little interest in politics, none in policy, and no respect whatsoever for the political process, which he ridicules at every turn as “rigged.” Instead, Trump, like other creators of a cult of personality, is a self-proclaimed savior, who promises his supporters redemption. In a certain sense, he is right. Trump’s is a cosmology of an America — a world, gone wrong — an America decayed by changing values purveyed by nonwhites, non-Christians and nonmales. He tells his supporters he will make it right. They believe him. And they will not be dissuaded. In Trump they trust.

So what to do? When liberal commentators discuss how Obama voters drifted to Trump and must be courted if Democrats are to win, I am deeply skeptical. I am skeptical of the data, which draws questionable conclusions about voting behavior, and I am even more skeptical of the effort to attract them. Thomas Edsall is as wise a columnist as we have, and he has been indispensable in trying to decipher this crisis in national sanity. But I think he too underestimates the forces that feed Trump and that Trump feeds. Last week’s column enjoined liberals to take their fingers out of their ears so they could hear the complaints of those Trump voters and win them back, even as he admits to the near impossibility of a liberal democracy, committed to freedom of expression, containing its more extreme elements.

I am not at all opposed to listening to Trump supporters. Quite the opposite. It is an imperative that they be heard and understood. I just don’t think there is much common cause between progressives and them. They are not all racists, nativists, sexists, homophobes and Islamophobes, but a healthy percentage are, and I think it’s probably a fool’s mission to attempt to change their minds. Just watch the people at Trump’s rallies. That is what makes the future so perilous. They are not going to convert.

Moreover, I am convinced that the worst is yet to come. Heading into the special election in Alabama, Moore seemed likely to win, confirming the utter depravity of the Republican Party. Thankfully — mercifully — that was not the case. Trump will issue blanket pardons in the Russia investigation and eventually fire Robert Mueller. The attacks on environmental protection, conservation, economic equality, the social safety net, a free press, voting rights, higher education and reason, diplomacy, women and morality itself will continue unabated with the full support of the Republicans. We shouldn’t fool ourselves. America is under siege, and this civil war has already taken a grave toll.

So I am not hopeful, but I don’t want to leave this space with a sense of hopelessness or futility. The resistance movement has already borne fruit, and there is a chance, albeit small, that Democrats will retake Congress next year and the counterattack will begin. I always remind myself, as you should remind yourself, that while the forces of hate are powerful, unshakable and mobilized, there are more of us than of them — Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote, after all.

But just as I don’t think politics is the real engine for the Trump movement, I don’t think that politics is entirely the solution. Religion, which in its corrupted form is an engine, may be — by which I mean the moral and spiritual underpinnings of life. Rather than abandon our values or downplay them, as some suggest, I think we should double down on them. The religious historian Karen Armstrong, in describing those early religious principles of the Axial Age, wrote, “First, you must commit yourself to the ethical life,” and concluded that “religion was compassion.”

These are important things to remember. Let the conservatives continue to eschew ethics and compassion. Let them sow hatred. Let progressives hold firmly to ethics and compassion and to love. Morality, not moralism, is an almost ineluctable force. We talk a lot about grass-roots politics. We need to talk as well about grass-roots morality. Put simply: If you want to defeat Trump where it really counts, live ethically. The rest will follow. As Martin Luther King memorably said, paraphrasing Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Moreover, when it comes to cosmology, progressives need to provide an alternative narrative to Trump’s and the conservatives’ that will explain the world without distorting it. It should tell the story of economic inequality, and of plutocracy, and of the role of conservatives in enabling these things. It should also provide a positive vision of community and mutual assistance and global interdependence. It should promote compassion and empathy. It should be simple, powerful and affirmative, and it should be repeated endlessly the way Trump repeats his racist/nativist/sexist/phobic narrative. I am convinced that you don’t fight fire with fire, which is why I am dubious of Democratic efforts to out tough Trump. You fight fire with water.

Here is hope. Even if 40 percent of Americans have gone to the dark side, there are still so many people who are good and decent and self-sacrificing and who will continue to fight for a just society. It has been my privilege to share my ideas with them (and you among them) these past two years. I hope I will be able to engage them (and you) again. Yes, it is a sad, indescribably tragic time in America, and now that we know what we know about so many of our fellow citizens, about the Republican Party, and about the incapacity of our political system to deal with extremism, there is no going back. But in spite of all that, I think we must keep the faith, and we must take comfort that we have one another, not as fellow tribalists, but as fellow human beings searching for our best selves.

 

 

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Republican Senators Are Making Out Like Bandits with Special Real-Estate Tax Break

The GOP isn’t even masking its greed and corruption.

When the U.S. Senate takes up the final tax bill this week, more than a quarter of all GOP senators will be voting on a bill that includes a special provision that could give them a new tax cut through their real estate shell companies, according to federal records reviewed by International Business Times. The provision…

 

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Elemental Evil: Sessions 16

In the previous session the group had after much hesitation entered Scarlet Moon Hall, the last of the four haunted keeps. They had killed the guards on the middle floor where they had come in and thrown the bodies down the big hole in the middle of the floor into a pile of rubbish burning there. But there were still two floors above them, and they suspected the leader of the fire cult to be on the top floor.

So they fought their way up to the next level. However that level was a trap: The floor appeared solid, but the middle was weakened and ready to break. With the druid in bear form and the cleric both standing on that part on the floor, it broke after 3 rounds of combat. That landed the druid and the cleric downstairs in the burning rubbish, where 5 magmins attacked them. Meanwhile the others had killed all the guards and progressed to the top floor. There Elizar, the keep leader, had cast a wall of fire across the room, which gave him time for an incantation to wake up the fire elemental outside the tower in the burning wicker giant. The elemental then came into the tower at the bottom, where the druid and cleric were. Between the boss and the elemental and already weakened from the fight against the guards, this was a rather tough fight. But the group won, looted the boss, and escaped the way they came before the rest of the camp arrived.

As this had been their strategy in the previous towers, kill the boss, grab his key, and escape, they never got the chance to interrogate any cultists on what all this was about. That was a bit of a problem, as they now had the 4 elemental keys to open the magical portals to the temple of elemental evil, but no clue what was in there or even why they should go there. So this time I had put a letter on the boss explaining the situation. Sometimes you just can’t be subtle as a DM. The letter told them that the 4 prophets of elemental evil were in competition, each trying to be the first to summon his prince of elemental evil. For that they needed to sow elemental chaos, which gave them the energy for the summoning. According to the letter the prophetess of elemental air was ahead in that game (I made that up because the air temple is the lowest level one).

Then in another not-so-subtle move I reminded the group that they had a friendly NPC junior cultist in the air keep. So they went there and got more information about the layout of the temple of elemental evil: A square of 4 elemental temples at the first level below ground, then the fane of the eye connecting everything, and then on the lowest level the 4 elemental nodes from which the princes would be summoned. Well, they got the message and now went into the air temple, but not before the group cleric cut the friendly NPCs throat and turned her into a zombie with his animate dead spell. From the entry point there was a long tunnel leading to a big cave with an old dwarven city, with a step pyramid in the middle. That was now the Temple of Howling Hatred.

While the sorceress didn’t have much opportunity to use her new fireball spell against the fire-resistant or immune fire cultists previously, she now could use that spell. So the first three rooms went: Door open, fireball, cultists mostly dead, wipe up the rest. As the third of the rooms was smaller than the other two, I used an old rule which I had in mind from previous editions, that the fireball had a fixed volume and would blow beyond his 20 feet radius sphere when cast into a too small room. That burned two of the group members. My bad, that rule doesn’t exist any more in 5th edition, so I had to apologize later and say that in future that wouldn’t happen any more. Oh, and lightning bolts don’t bounce of wall any more either.

Reaching the pyramid they noticed a mage on a wyvern on top, who promptly attacked them. That ended up being the second ultra-hard fight of the session. The mage used a lightning bolt to good effect, then turned invisible, and then used another lightning bolt on several group members. They managed to kill both the mage and the wyvern but then retreated due to being heavily wounded and out of resources. At that point we ended the session.

We will play more sessions, but probably not until the end of the campaign book. I told my players that I would like to stop being the DM later this year, and that somebody else should take over. I had somewhat run out of enthusiasm for this campaign, and after over 6 years as DM of that group I think I deserve a break. The next DM will take some months to prepare his campaign, and he is planning to let everybody keep their characters. So I’ll make a character of their level and join the group.

Is Your D&D Character Rare?

FiveThirtyEight, a website better known for predicting election results with statistical methods, a few weeks ago posted a statistical analysis of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons characters regarding their choice of class and race combination. The result is boringly predictable: People overwhelmingly choose a race that gives at least a +1, if not a +2 bonus to their main class stat. As the race system has been designed to favor combinations that appear in the cast of Lord of the Rings, you get a lot more elven rangers than dwarven rangers, etc. However that is much less an attempt to emulate the classics but rather simple stat minmaxing.

I don’t know how these statistics look for other games or previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons. But I suspect that the “bounded accuracy” math of 5th edition D&D makes a +1 or +2 bonus a lot more important in this edition, because there aren’t so many other bonuses around. Unless you “roll lucky” (which is my way of saying cheat with your stats), an elf paladin is simply too bad stat-wise to be playable. That from a role-playing point of view a haughty elf might make a brilliant paladin if played well is of no importance. You choose your class, then take one of the few races that are good at that class, or default to humans who are good at everything.

As a role-playing challenge I would love to try a gnome barbarian. But as a 5th edition character with standard array or 27-point buy stats I’d end up with something not very fun to play in combat. The World of Warcraft system where your choice of race has only a very minor influence on your combat performance is more to my liking.

Understanding Out of the Abyss

*Spoiler Warning*: This post contains spoilers about the Dungeons & Dragons adventure “Out of the Abyss” (OotA).

My first contact with Out of the Abyss wasn’t great. I was a player in a campaign based on that book, but the DM was a) inexperienced and b) had removed the starting chapter and removed it by a series of other adventures before leading us down into the Underdark. Now I can see the motivation for that: OotA starts the players as slaves of the Drow, in shackles, without gear; a start that is both somewhat cliche for the genre, and not the most pleasant one for the players. However after preparing the adventure now for another group I see how this start is absolutely essential to the adventure. Removing it leads to exactly the problem we had, that is wandering through the Underdark with no motivation, being unclear of the goal and purpose of the adventure.

The whole first half of Out of the Abyss is motivated by that start: The players escape and are pursued by the Drow. They are looking for a way back to the surface, while having to survive a harsh and strange environment, and having to find means to equip themselves. It is dark fantasy, it is a game of survival. And it doesn’t work without that start in slavery. If you ever want to play this, ask your players first if they are okay with a dark survival campaign instead of the more generic heroic fantasy.

To understand Out of the Abyss one needs to see how it inverses the sandbox approach of certain other D&D adventures, for example Princes of the Apocalypse. In Princes of the Apocalypse the dungeons and encounters are described in much detail, but it is left to the DM and players to figure out how to get from one dungeon to the next. That doesn’t work very well, because the dungeons have different levels, and playing them through in an order other than by level results in problems. Out of the Abyss takes a very different approach: The main story from the start to at least the mid-point, escaping from the Underdark, is linear. You best play chapter 1 first, then chapter 2, then chapter 3, etc., because it makes sense geographically and story-wise. But what exactly happens in each of the chapters is left open and is to be created by the interactive storytelling between DM and player. Chapter 1 is very clear about this being about a prisoner escape, but how exactly the players escape from prison is left to them. If they don’t do anything the DM has some events that will push them in the right direction, but ideally the DM first lets the players try their own ideas, and allows any half reasonable plan to succeed. The goal is for the DM and the players to both drive the story forward. D&D should never be adversarial, and for OotA it wouldn’t work at all if the DM didn’t “help” the players to escape.

One of the early highlights of that approach is chapter 4, Gracklstugh. There you get a complete description of a Duergar city in the Underdark, complete with who the different power factions are and what their interaction is. But you are left to play that city as a sandbox, the adventure doesn’t tell you where to start or which faction to support. Played right this might be a great short city adventure on its own. The obvious disadvantage of the approach, and thus of all of Out of the Abyss, is that it requires a great amount of preparation and/or improvisation from the Dungeon Master. This is very much a campaign for expert DMs. And I’ll find out in how far it works with newbie players, because that is who I am going to play it with.

Best gifts for gamers

A lot of people who own smartphones and tablets use them for more than surfing the internet, texting, and socializing. They also use them a lot to play games. In a recent survey from Statista, 56 percent, or over half of the entire population of the US, are currently playing mobile games. That amount is expected to expand to 63.7 percent by 2020. But what sort of gifts are the right kind for hardcore gamers?

In this feature, we offer our picks for the best smartphones and tablets that are currently on the market for gaming, along with suggestions for a few accessories that could be great gifts for gamers. Finally, we don’t want to ignore the game consoles that you hook up to your big screen TV; we will offer our recommendation on which of the three current generation game consoles you should buy, and the answer may actually surprise you.

A jack of all trades — ZTE Axon M

Today’s smartphones make great portable gaming devices, while tablets are great for those times when we need a bit more screen real estate from our mobile gaming experience. But what about a wild card of a device that can serve as both your phone and your tablet? The ZTE Axon M is a unique device that is perfect for those that want to take their  gaming to the next level. 

The ZTE Axon M uses two 5.2-inch IPS Full HD panels that are connected to a hinge that, when it is folded out, it essentially turns the device into a 6.75-inch tablet. This is great for running two apps side by side, extending apps and games across both displays, and much more. In addition to the potential for gaming and media, the Axon M also makes for one heck of a multi-tasking device.

As you can imagine, this phone also stands out in a crowd, perfect for those who like to rock phones that are different from the endless sea of Samsung and iPhone devices.Without a doubt, this is one of the most unique phones you can buy right now. You can get it via AT&T for $724.99 without a contract, or for $24.17 a month for 24 months. 

Get it at AT&T

Best gaming phone — Razer Phone

If you want to get a smartphone that’s dedicated to offering the best mobile gaming experience, it’s really impossible to beat the Razer Phone at the moment. This is the first smartphone from Razer, who has been highly successful in releasing PC accessories for hardcore gamers, and more recently has launched critically acclaimed Windows-based gaming laptops. For their first, but likely not last, entry in the smartphone industry, Razer put in a bunch of high-end hardware, including a couple of features that are not in any other smartphone.

Editor’s Pick

The biggest feature for gamers is the Razer Phone’s big IGZO 5.7-inch 2,560 x 1,440p display, which can run at up to 120 Hz. The higher refresh rate, compared to the normal 60 Hz on other smartphones, should allow games, especially high-end titles with advanced graphics, to play and look smoother on the Razer Phone. The display also uses what Razer calls Ultra Motion technology, which is similar to NVIDIA’s G-Sync tech that is supported by many PC desktop monitors. Ultra Motion allows the Razer Phone’s display refresh rate to sync up to the output of its GPU. This is supposed to get rid of any screen tearing and, again, make games played on the phone look and run better compared to other handsets.

In addition to the high-end visuals, the Razer Phone has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor inside, which, at the moment, is the fastest chip you can get on a phone. It also has 8 GB of LPDRR4 RAM, which again should help graphically intensive games perform better. There’s 64 GB of onboard storage, and you can add more with its microSD card slot. In terms of audio, Razer claims it has the loudest phone on the market, with two front-facing speakers with Dolby Atmos technology. There’s no 3.5 mm headphone jack in the Razer Phone, but it does include a dongle for its USB-C port that includes support for 24-bit DAC audio that is THX-certified. Finally, it has a large 4,000 mAh battery that Razer says should allow for up to 8 hours of gaming on one charge, which should be plenty if you are on a long trip.

Simply put, mobile gamers won’t be able to get a phone quite as good as the Razer Phone for a while, and it’s actually a great first effort from a company that has never launched a smartphone before. The price is also right at $699.99 unlocked, which is very reasonable when you consider the high-end hardware inside. If you can ignore its non-gaming issues, the Razer Phone is one of the best gifts for gamers you can buy.

Get it at Razerzone

Alternate gaming phone — Samsung Galaxy Note 8 

 
Bigger is definitely better when it comes to mobile gaming. The Samsung Galaxy Note 8, with its 6.3-inch Super AMOLED 2,960 x 1,440 display in an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, offers up the biggest and best screen you can get in the US on an Android smartphone. It helps that the phone also comes with a speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor and 6 GB of RAM. You even get an old-fashioned headphone jack with the Note 8. While it doesn’t have a 120 Hz screen refresh rate or the advanced sound features that the Razer phone does, gamers should get a lot out of its huge screen combined with a fast processor. It’s not cheap, but at least you can pay for the Galaxy Note 8 over time if you get it from a wireless carrier.
 
Get it at Amazon

Best gaming tablet — Samsung Galaxy Tab S3

 
Samsung’s recent high-end Android tablet is the best among gifts for gamers. It has a 9.7-inch Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 pixels, with support for high dynamic range (HDR) features that should allow games to look and play well. While the Tab S3 doesn’t have as much in the RAM and processor department as some smartphones, it uses the older Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 chip and 4 GB of RAM. However, the well-designed display, combined with four speakers, makes the Tab S3 the best, at least for now, for Android gaming, although perhaps not as good of an overall choice compared to many high-end Android phones.
 
Editor’s Pick
 
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 was launched earlier this year at $599, but you can snap it up now on Amazon and save over $100, at $498.
Get it at Amazon

Alternate — Amazon Fire HD 10 

 
If you are looking for a solid but inexpensive gaming tablet, you really should look no further than the Amazon Fire HD 10. The 10.1 inch 1080p (1,920 x 1,200) display can handle any game, and it has a decent 1.8 GHz quad-core processor and 2 GB RAM. While it’s not as powerful as the Galaxy Tab S3, those folks looking to save some money will still get a good gaming experience with Amazon’s highest-end tablet. You can get it for as low as $149.99 (with 32 GB and with “special offers” on its lock screen).
 
Get it at Amazon

Gamer accessory gifts 

Chromecast Ultra
 
 
Want to play thousands of Android games on your big 4K TV? You can. if you connect the Chromecast Ultra HDMI dongle to one of your spare HDMI ports. Just cast your games onto the screen with this $69 accessory, and play like you would on a game console.
 
Get it at Google

POWER A MOGA Hero Power Game Controller

 

No matter how powerful your gaming smartphone may be, it can still be hard to control games with its touchscreen, especially for games like racing and shooter titles. The POWER A MOGA Hero Power Game Controller allows you to connect your smartphone to a Bluetooth-based console gamepad, and you can even attach any smartphone up to 6-inches to the controller, letting you play for hours without having to worry about holding your phone on its own. It also comes with its own rechargeable 1,800 mAh battery. If you want a portable console experience for your smartphone, this controller will fit the bill nicely.

Get it at Amazon

Samsung Gear VR — 2017 edition

The current 2017 version of the Samsung Gear VR mobile headset (co-developed by Oculus) lets you play VR games, many of which are exclusive to the Gear VR. Owners of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8, along with the Galaxy S8, S8 Plus, Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, Galaxy S6 Edge Plus, and even the Galaxy Note 5 can all use the headset, which comes with its own controller. If you happen to own one of these phones, it’s perhaps the best way to experience high-end VR gaming.

Get it at Amazon

 Anker PowerCore Speed 10,000 mAh Battery Charger

The simple fact is that even if you have a big batter on your smartphone, like the 4,000 mAh battery on the Razer Phone, it will still run out in less than a day if you play on it constantly. That’s why it’s great to have an external battery charger like the Anker PowerCore Speed 10,000 mAh model. It can charge up your Razer Phone twice on its own, giving you more time to play on your high end handset. It’s also available for just $29 at Amazon.

Get it at Amazon

Best Game Console – Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch is perhaps the best game console you can buy for a gamer on the go. Simply put, the Switch can turn quickly from a high-end game console that you hook up to your TV over to a portable handheld console, where you can play for up to six hours on its own battery. You can play it with two of the console’s Joy-Con controllers, one on each side, or you and a friend can play games on the portable screen, each with a Joy-Con in your hands. You can even put a pair of these new controllers in a Joy-Con grip accessory, if you want a more old-fashioned console experience.

Plus there’s the fact that the Nintendo Switch is the exclusive way to play some of the most acclaimed games of 2017, including Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and many more. Finally, it’s likely that the hardcore gamer that you want to spend your money on already has a PlayStation 4/4 Pro, or an Xbox One S/X. He or she might think that the Nintendo Switch is for kids or families, but the purchase of Nintendo’s latest — and possibly best — game console in years might convert them into fans.

Get it at Amazon
 
Those are just some of the best gifts you can get for gamers. We want to hear from you about which gifts for gamers you would pick out for fans. Let us know your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!
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Quantum computing is now a commercial reality !

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing is the area of study focused on developing computer technology based on the principles of quantum theory, which explains the nature and behavior of energy and matter on the quantum (atomic and subatomic) level. The quantum computer, following the laws of quantum physics, would gain enormous processing power through the ability to be in multiple states, and to perform tasks using all possible permutations simultaneously. Current centers of research in quantum computing include MIT, IBM, Oxford University, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. D-Wave Systems is the world’s first quantum-computing company.

quantum computing

Classical computing relies, at its ultimate level, on principles expressed by Boolean algebra, operating with a (usually) 7-mode logic gate principle, though it is possible to exist with only three modes (which are AND, NOT, and COPY). Data must be processed in an exclusive binary state at any point in time – that is, either 0 (off / false) or 1 (on / true). These values are binary digits, or bits. The millions of transistors and capacitors at the heart of computers can only be in one state at any point.
The Quantum computer, by contrast, can work with a two-mode logic gate: XOR and a mode we’ll call QO1 (the ability to change 0 into a superposition of 0 and 1, a logic gate which cannot exist in classical computing). In a quantum computer, a number of elemental particles such as electrons or photons can be used (in practice, success has also been achieved with ions), with either their charge or polarization acting as a representation of 0 and/or 1. Each of these particles is known as a quantum bit, or qubit, the nature and behavior of these particles form the basis of quantum computing. The two most relevant aspects of quantum physics are the principles of superposition and entanglement.

What Commercial Applications are Being Adopted?

It appears that while this is going to expand rapidly that current commercial applications are fairly narrow.

Lockheed Martin

In 2010 Lockheed became D-Wave’s first commercial customer after testing whether (now 7 year old) Quantum computers could spot errors in complex code.  Even that far back D-Waves earliest machine found the errors in six weeks compared to the many man-months Lockheed Martin’s best engineers had required.
Today, after having upgraded twice to D-Waves newest largest machines Lockheed has several applications, but chief among them is instantly debugging millions of lines of code.

Temporal Defense Systems (TDS)

TDS is using the latest D-Wave 2000Q to build its advanced cyber security system, the Quantum Security Model.  According to James Burrell, TDS Chief Technology Officer and former FBI Deputy Assistant Director this new system will be a wholly new level with real-time security level rating, device-to-device authentication, identification of long-term persistent threats, and detection and prevention of insider threats before network compromise and data theft occurs.

Westpac, Commonwealth, and Telstra

While the Australians are committed to getting out ahead their approach has been a little different.  Commonwealth recently announced a large investment in a Quantum simulator, while Westpac and Telstra have made sizable ownership investments in Quantum computing companies focused on cyber security.

QuantumX

There is now even an incubator focusing solely on Quantum computing applications called QuantumX with offices in Cambridge and San Francisco.
As for operational business uses these applications are not overwhelmingly diverse but this harkens back to about 2005 when Google was using the first NoSQL DB to improve its internal search algorithms. Only two years later the world had Hadoop.

Quantum Computing and Deep Learning

Here’s where it gets interesting.  All these anomaly detecting cybersecurity, IV&V, and Monte Carlo simulations are indeed part of data science, but what about deep learning?  Can Quantum computing be repurposed to dramatically speed up Convolutional and Recurrent Neural Nets, and Adversarial and Reinforcement Learning with their multitude of hidden layers that just slows everything down?  As it turns out, yes it can.  And the results are quite amazing.

Quantum computers are made up of parts called qubits, also known as quantum bits. You may have read that IBM Q’s Quantum machine available in the cloud via API is 17 Qubits while D-Wave’s is now 2,000 Qubits.  Does this mean IBM’s is tiny by comparison?  Actually no.  IBM and D-Wave use two completely different architectures in their machines so that their compute capability is roughly equal. D-Wave’s system is based on the concept of quantum annealing and uses a magnetic field to perform qubit operations.

IBM’s system if based on a ‘gate model’ which is considered both more advanced and more complicated.  So when IBM moves from 16 qubits to 17 qubits its computational ability doubles.

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The NBA 2K franchise back with NBA 2K18 now in the Play Store

2K, Inc

  • NBA 2K18, the newest entry in the iconic franchise, is now on the Play Store
  • The game includes updated mechanics, an expanded script in career mode, and a new game mode
  • The soundtrack features artists like Kendrick Lamar, Naughty by Nature, and Nas

It’s never been a better time to be a sports fan with a smartphone. Not only are there an endless amount of apps like theScore and 365 Sports that keep you up to date on your teams, but sports games are getting better and better. Most of the important sports franchises are available as mobile versions now. The list includes ultra-popular titles like Madden, Fifa, NBA 2K18 and more.

The latest version of NBA 2K just hit the Play Store with a ton of improvements over last year’s version. New features like an improved MyCAREER mode and “The Association” mode join an improved soundtrack. In the updated career mode, the script has been expanded and more interactions are available for your player. Association Mode is a new multi-season mode that reminds us a lot of Dynasty Mode from other games. 

See also

Music has always been a staple of sports games and it’s no different for NBA 2K18. 2K promises an “eclectic mix” of music with artists like Future, Kendrick Lamar, Shakira, Nas and more. Gameplay controls are now improved and new gameplay mechanics like sprinting on defense are now included in the game. 

2K came under fire earlier this year for the console version of NBA 2K. The game is packed with microtransactions for everything from improving your career mode player to giving your player a new haircut. Sadly, it looks like the mobile version is no different. On top of the $7.99 price tag, NBA 2K18 features in-app purchases that range all the way up to $49.99. Ouch.

People don’t seem to mind, though, because the game currently sits at a 4.0 rating on the Play Store. There are only about 250 reviews so that may change, but we’ll have to wait to find out. If you want to check out NBA 2K18, hit the button below.

get it at google play

Test Your PL/SQL Fundamentals

In Oracle database management, PL/SQL is a procedural language extension to Structured Query Language (SQL). The purpose of PL/SQL is to combine database language and procedural programming language. The basic unit in PL/SQL is called a block, which is made up of three parts: a declarative part, an executable part, and an exception-building part.
Test your PL/SQL knowledge by solving following 49 MCQ’S

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