Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lost in the Sauce

I was gonna comment
over at Cathode Ray Tan, but stupid beta blogger won't allow comments on regular blogger. Why that wasn't a primary concern before urging me to upgrade I'll never know. And while I'm bitching about it, they should really add the functionality to tag posts from the actual post listing, so I can go back and tag all my archives without having to enter edit mode and re-publish everything.

Regarding Lost, I'm beginning to think that there is nothing special (i.e., supernatural) about the Others. When the plane first crashed, they had to infiltrate the Tailies and spend a few days in order to make their lists. Ethan seemed abnormally strong, but died all the same - I've known a few wiry guys that could regularly bench 250, so it's not impossible that Ethan could be a brute without positing superpower.

A few responses, going on the assumption that the Others are "just folks":

Sawyer's Age
While the Others have access to volumes of information, they don't necessarily know everything, and can still be surprised. Assuming they have a decent investigator in "the world," Jack's info would naturally be easier to acquire than Sawyer's, since Sawyer no doubt left a trail of lies whereas Jack wasn't actively trying to hide every aspect of his life.

Crash Cart
No mystery there. I'm pretty sure they said it was broken. Even with technical knowledge, without parts it's gonna stay broken.

I'm in agreement that The Amazing Desmond shtick doesn't bode well for his character.

Polar Bear
This is from an earlier CRT post. The bears were explained on the Hatch Map. The Dharma Initiative was experimenting with radical environmental acclimation, e.g., getting polar bears to survive in a tropical climate. The big question, then, is, "Why?" I think if we knew that, we might have at least some idea of exactly what Dharma was trying to accomplish. One idea is that they were looking to colonize other worlds/dimensions (and that they had a way to get there). I assume that it might be easier to alter an organism's structure than terraform an entire world.

The Others
The motivation of the Others seems to be a major puzzle. If we go off my assumption that there is nothing supernatural about them, then their actions can be explained by (relatively) mundane matters.

The Others have been on the island (well, their island) for a long time, some of them supposedly their whole lives. I'm thinking they were either family of Dharma members, experimented on by Dharma, castaways, prisoners, or some variation/combination of all of those. Ben for one remarked that he grew up on the island.

While the Others appear to act truly bizarre, they react just the way a tightly-knit, very isolated community might toward the sudden appearance of other, unfamiliar people. It's very possible that the island of the Others exhibits none of the strangeness of the Island, so they feel relatively safe. However, people that land on the Island end up going a bit nutty, maybe, and end up threatening the Others (or have in the past).

Thus, the Others infiltrate and spy and attack and threaten and set boundaries.

Now, what of their lists? Let's assume that Dharma messed with these people. Some torture, some mindless work, disorientation, mixed with random bits of decency (for whatever purposes - at this point we don't know quite enough hard facts about Dharma's goals). It's likely that the Others only know how to react in a like manner - with good cop, bad cop mind games and sinister, mysterious motives. They've been on this Island in the middle of nowhere. They receive television and books and supplies, but imagine if all you knew of society was media and pop culture. You might have some messed up notions, too.

Anyway, that's my basic feeling. The Others were once abused and now carry on that abuse because they never had any other examples. Maybe Dharma even left specific orders, contingency plans, the like.

And there's always the idea that Dharma leaving is all part of a very long con, manipulating the Others to manipulate the Losties to manipulate the Island.

The best part of the show is that you can come up with ridiculous theories like those displayed above and you won't sound crazy to any other Lost fan.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Game revolution has
a pretty interesting feature that breaks down three aggregate video game review sites (RottenTomatoes, Metacritic and Gamerankings) and shows why they're all just fantastic pieces of shit.

I'd care, except I never use aggregate review scores. I find those sites useful because they collect a wide range of reviews in one place. Relying on a fudged average of letters and numbers from sites of varying import is something that seems a little silly. I kind of assumed that nobody else took those scores seriously, either.

When I do check out a game on Metacritic I read a large sampling of the individual reviews, noting each reviewer's unique perspective. If I'm on the fence about a game, I'll rent it or wait for a friend to purchase it. In fact, friends have more influence on my game-purchasing habits than anything else.

Ah well, I do so love reading about flawed methodologies.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Game the System

If you've ever wanted to set up a dream team of congresscritters, look no further than Fantasy Congress.

I'm in the WesternDemocrats League, with a team called The Extended Middle. It's meant to evoke images of flipping the bird. I really am that juvenile.

The great thing about drafting up a team is that you earn points based upon actual bills and whether any members of your team participate in different parts of the legislative process. How cool is that?

In this post I asked whether a game could lead to political action. I would consider Fantasy Congress a step in that direction. I think a small amount of competition could make politics more interesting and accessible.

I'd like to see stat pages with lists of donors, especially the corporate sponsors, so I could see at a glance who owns which congressperson. And extra points should be given for number of earmarks.

Hell, I can't see any reason why we shouldn't have some fun with this broken fucking system before it self-destructs.

Oh, and for a rollicking fun time take a look at the list of 2005's Top 100 Contractors and tell me how many are producing things for the "Defense" Industry. Or "Health Care."

Then try and figure out how much your Reps and Senators raked in from those big names.

What a racket.

Why Take This Asshole Seriously?

I know people love
the crazy. I, personally, enjoy a good dose of lunacy now and then.

But can someone tell me why the media treats Jack Thompson as credible in any sense? I don't care so much about his hijinks with the law - that's just a part of the American system available to all of us. I just can't seem to figure out why the news media would ever put him on as a voice fit to speak on anything relating to video games. He doesn't have an opposing viewpoint - he's a fanatic teetotaller, lacking either brains or a substantive understanding of the issues.

So it is that we come to two juicy tidbits of news.

First, the bisexual smoochfest that is Bully. Jack Thompson, after hearing of the schoolboy action, exclaimed, "Gay stuff? That gay game is gaying it up in the gayborhood. Gay." No, actually, he said something equally bigoted and nonsensical: "We just found gay sexual content in Bully, as Jimmy Hopkins makes out with another male student. Good luck with your 'Teen' rating now, Patty."

Kissing is sexual content? Holy fuckbeans, Batjack! I guess I'll have to destroy all my copies of that kiddie porn, My Girl.

Oh, wait, no. Thompson singles out the boy-boy kissing. I'm sure he'll claim that the game will tear apart the fabric of society. I'm going to guess he's a 'social conservative', which means that he masks his bigotry behind a stunted morality.

The other bit of news is that Thompson may face contempt charges for his courtroom behavior during his Bully media stunt. If I had to take a guess, I'd say that Jack was throwing his feces all over the place.

I'm not asking why gamers keep talking about JT. He's the ultimate gamer supervillain.

What I'm wondering is why he shows up in newspapers. Why he's allowed to advise politicians. Why he pops up on talking heads shows.

The short answer's probably, "Ratings."

It's still annoying. How can we destroy this guy's credibility, considering he has none?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Missing the Point

This article from Forbes
discusses Richard Stallman's attempt to re-write the GPL (the GNU General Public License) under which Linux operates.

Some of the proposed changes include "new restrictions on IBM and any other tech firm that distributes software using even a single line of Linux code. They would be forbidden from using Linux software to block users from infringing on copyright and intellectual-property rights ("digital rights management"); and they would be barred from suing over alleged patent infringements related to Linux."

Forbes says this new "crusade" could topple the Linux "revolution he helped create."

Stallman sounds like a bit of a tool, there's no doubt about that, but this article is such an abject lesson in corporation and capitalism-worship that it reads like parody.

Frankly, I would delight in dividing the forces of Linux between the money-hungry and the anarchists. Companies can either join completely with the idea of open-source or spend their own green to develop software from this point on.

The gist of the schism (which Forbes describes in delightful Cold War language - "putsch" and "radical" and "Orwellian") is that Stallman wants to keep DRM off Linux, and keep patent protections off Linux. Those are two sweet fucking ideas that make perfect sense if you consider the very nature of Linux.

When Forbes puts a big whine job like this on the web, bitching about "which tech companies Stallman's attack could hurt" I think, "Fuck 'em. It's not like they have a soul. Stallman, on the other hand . . . "

Economic magazines are always like that, though. If there's an underdog in the story (a union, a nonprofit, an open-source crusader) fighting against a GRUNCH of Giants, the econ rag will always side with the GRUNCH.

My heart breaks for the corporations. Really, it does.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Not Quite the Open Source Band, But . . .

Palast, one of the best investigative reporters ever (and largely unpublished in the US, naturally), has put together an audiobook of his latest work, Armed Madhouse. Special guests include Jello Biafra, Amy Goodman, Randi Rhodes, Larry David and More.

Not only is it free on the Intertubes for your listening pleasure, but Greg has made each chapter available for download under a Creative Commons license.

But wait, there's more. There is a re-mix contest going on. Simply snag whichever files you desire, mix them together with a thumping industrial bassline, the ethereal sounds of a theremin and barnyard animals bleating in the background and submit them to the contest.

At the very least, give them a listen. And then go ahead and buy The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.

It's a great way to further shatter your faith in American elections.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Opening my Brain

I'm gonna dump an idea
I had awhile ago onto the web. I've seen similar things, but nothing that takes the form I'm going to describe.

Still, I wouldn't be surprised if something like this has been done before.

I've dubbed it the Open Source Band. It's built around the Creative Commons License, specifically the Attribution-ShareAlike.

Boiled down to its essentials:

1. A Band Name is Chosen. This name is free to be used by any band/musician for performances or recordings. The name is completely hackable. Change it completely. Under no circumstances can it be trademarked.

2. A Website is Built. Registration is free, but contributors must get a special pass from a moderator. Regular registrants can post and add to the sheet music database. Contributors can upload sound clips.

3. Standards are Decided. Sheet music and sound clips will use common filetypes, carefully limited to ensure maximum compatibility among all involved.

4. Music is Created. Musicians write songs. They upload the songs to the website. In addition, they upload the components of a song (the separate parts before a mixdown). Participation is contingent upon accepting the terms of the license.

5. Music is Remixed. All different song parts are tweaked and chopped and remixed and reversed. New songs are formed. Those songs become a part of the Band's setlist, usable by all for any purpose: benefits, albums, concerts, soundtracks.

6. New Bands Form. Given enough interest among contributors, a Band Name might rotate, or a new one might be created.

What I really imagine is a concert poster. The lineup starts out SCREAMER in big bold letters and underneath that "Opening for" and underneath that SCREAMER and then "Followed by" SCREAMER'S SISTER and then REMAERCS and then "Next Week:" and then SCREAMER.

And every band plays something wildly different but wildly similar - some of the lyrics sound just right but a bit off, so people have trouble singing along. Riffs repeat, bandmates merge in and out, wondering if they're with the right version of SCREAMER and ultimately not caring.

And when the people leave the club and are walking to the Metro, they struggle to put it all together. Someone on the street asks if they liked the band and they wonder, "Which part of it?"

Not necessarily earth-changing, but at least a small bit of reverse branding. Instead of attempting to force a symbol to take on certain meaning, a symbol is morphed and twisted until it evokes a wide range of feelings and reactions and defies predictability.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Don't Fear the Round Table

This month's Round Table
concerns the topic of fear.

I associate fear with Leary's first consciousness circuit, bio-survival. This circuit controls fight or flight response and territorial concerns, what could be termed avoidance behaviors.

A large percentage of videogames utilize fear, though many people may not recognize it as such. When a player must keep Mario away from the Hammer Brothers' terrible hammers, fear drives the reactions. Platformers, first-person-shooters, racing games - what are typically known as "twitch" games rely primarily upon activation of the fear response.

Working in tandem with fear is another emotion: dread.

Where fear is predicated on acknowledgment of an antagonistic situation, dread is predicated on anticipation. Dread is about hidden knowledge; Fear is the recognition of a threat.

Dread is more often used in horror games, where the use of visual and aural cues can alert the player to unseen danger and build tension. An RTS with a fog-of-war component also sparks low-level dread - will you run into a fleet of carriers or a weak gatherer?

One game that struck a great balance between fear and dread was Resident Evil 3.

RE3 carried over most of the tropes of the previous games - shuffling zombie creatures, sparse ammo, dreary ruined environments. Avoiding the denizens of an undead city provided constant doses of fear.

Then we come to Nemesis. Most game bosses appear every few levels to taunt the player, have a quick battle and retreat to grow even more powerful. Not Nemesis. He follows you through the entire game. The very idea of him appearing starts to gnaw at you. His points of entry onto the screen are semi-randomized. He screams "STARS!" constantly and is unstoppable.

The only places safe from Nemesis are the save rooms, a lone typewriter the only adornment. I would spend a lot of time in a save room, building up my courage to tackle the next few sections of Nemesis' relentless hounding.

All of that tension naturally builds to a stirring boss battle, but that's not all. The endgame becomes a race against time as you try to escape before a nuclear strike annihilates the city. Fear and dread merge as you struggle against time itself.

Constant invocation of the fear response can grow tedious, which is why using dread to ratchet anxiety works so well to alleviate some of that tedium. A lesson that would be interesting applied to many different genres.

Following Up

A follow-up to the previous post. It was running long in the comments.


Q: If military folk have a flame war on a forum, does that mean the loser has to die?
A: Naw, but I hear that Marines have to kill their families to earn their stripes.


Q: But are those tendencies institutional--that is, are they encouraged by the military? And are they unavoidable? Clearly, some people do leave the armed services without becoming misogynistic bigots. But it also seems like there's been a fair amount of misconduct in the Iraq war, even assuming that there are always atrocities in war, and I'd like to know if those attitudes are the reason why.

A: Definitely not encouraged, but on the other hand largely institutional. You see similar attitudes in nearly any kind of male-dominated environment, especially in ones where a certain level of aggression/anxiety is maintained. Couple that with the current socio-political climate and a lot of ignorance bubbles over. Price of the patriarchy, perhaps.

I don't know that there's more misconduct in the Iraq Invasion than any other war, which to me is a sad fact. But there's no doubt we're seeing a lot. There are lots of explanations, I'm sure - a few off the top of my head:

1. Mission creep - with no clear goal, either on a strategic or tactical level (if you have to clear a city every few months, it's obvious you're getting bullshit missions), unit cohesion, morale, training, community relations break down. Familiarity breeds contempt, not just for Iraqis vs Americans but within military units themselves. I still find it ridiculous that the Marines are even involved at this point - they aren't Swiss peacekeepers.

2. Dehumanization - Dehumanization of the enemy is almost standard practice at this point, and it's especially dangerous. Everyone uses slurs and repeats the worst kind of racist myths about, not just the enemy, but civilians. While this makes combat easier, peacekeeping is much harder. A lot of people joined after 9/11, and got shuttled off to Iraq revenge-minded - they're idiots, but I put more blame on the bastards at the top for pulling off the deception.

3. Broken military - Not enough time/money for training/equipment, way too many deployments (when I went in, a deployment was 6 months max - now it's over a year), loads of risky vaccinations, a completely poisoned environment in Iraq (they ask you if you were exposed to various things - radiation, burning fuel, etc. - and I ask "How would you know?").

They've done a good job pretending that recruitment is fine as they lower the minimum test score and raise the maximum age, but they're hurting. They can fix the numbers because a unit is only required to have a certain percentage of job spots filled in order to claim 'readiness' - I think my comm unit was at 74% when I left over a year ago. You have two companies, essentially mirror units, the idea being that one deploys, one stays behind to train, then replaces the first unit, but we were cannibalizing the other company and even other units just to get the minimum numbers (and other units were doing the same to us). Juggling will keep it going for awhile, but meanwhile training is going to shit (very hard to stay current in the sandbox) and people are getting promoted just because spots are opening up, not because they're qualified.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Le Sigh

read a story about a group of Gitmo guards allegedly bragging in a club about beating detainees.

Then, if you dare, go to the forums. Read a few threads until you start to feel ill.

That's why I avoid military/prior service forums and functions.

If I wanted inane conservative talking points, media-bashing, woman-bashing, bigotry, violent fantasies and piss-poor excuses for unprofessional behavior, I'd visit Little Green Footballs.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Television Uber Alles

I watch
too much TV.

My wife is in charge of the television schedule, because I can't be bothered. I've never liked to pore over schedules and set up recordings and plan out blocks of time, juggling shows like flaming chainsaws.

Of course, she plans out seasons worth of shows, researching time-slots and when to catch repeats. Her idea of a bad day is when the DVR messes up. As a result, I watch a lot of shows, and I watch them chronologically. Were she not here, I probably wouldn't even have cable.

So I'm listing a bunch of shows coupled with throwaway critiques. Since I have no concept of seasons, some of these shows have already had their finales and some are just starting.

There will be a shitload of spoilers. You have been warned.


Blade - This was one of those rare shows that I actually suggested watching, so naturally it's been canceled. It started off weak but found its groove. Alas, too late. The end of first season set the stage for a great second season. Nuts.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip - Lawyers, Guns and Money has much to say, as does James Wolcott, and while I've enjoyed the episodes thus far I also see the much-discussed flaws. It doesn't bode well when negative criticism rings true for someone who actually enjoys the show. Warren Ellis talked about the tv history revisionism on display (remember the golden age of tv? neither does anyone else) and I think that holds as well. What helps me is that Sorkin doesn't seem to write gritty expose' so much as pedantic wouldn't-it-be-nice-isms. I've only seen bits of the West Wing, but what I have seen resembles a Frank Capra version of government doing work - purposeful striding, earnest, competent employees, can-do attitudes and nobility even in the villains. Of course, I like Frank Capra's body of work, so that my be why the unreality of Sorkin's dramas don't unnerve me.

A scene that bothered me occurred in the third episode. The Christian character, Harriet, comes in to complain about a sketch mocking a town that banned The Crucible from being performed. Of course, she comes in with a great little story about how it's just a small town and they all work in a bread factory. It breaks my fucking heart, really. And of course Matthew Perry's character caves. And the thing is . . . given everything that Sorkin has set up thus far, he shouldn't have caved. I've lived in small towns, and let me tell you that people there are just as worthy of mockery as big-city folk or what-have-you. If you're running a sketch comedy show going for bite, then don't dance around your targets. So right there this show that Sorkin's writing about, this failing show that wants to be edgy and biting - drops a sketch because of a misreading of the nature of power. Harriet convinces everyone that the small-towners aren't worthy of mockery because they aren't powerful or hypocritical enough. But exercising censorship over local plays is an abuse of power, and in a free society it is hypocritical - it's not the scope, it's the act itself. Rant ended.

[Warren on Studio 60:1] [Warren on Studio 60: 3]

Heroes - Masi Oka is awesome as the space/time manipulator. Ali Larter and her evil reflection have enough menace that it's unclear whether her role will be hero or villain. Greg Grunberg plays a psychic cop with measured steps - awkward but not bumbling. The flying Petrelli brothers are boring. Even Nathan's exploitation of Peter's "suicide attempt" for political purposes didn't come off as sleazy as it should have. Hayden Panettiere as the indestructible cheerleader isn't terrible, but she's not interesting to me for this reason: Joss Whedon already covered the whole 'popular, pretty adolescent with tremendous powers attempting to just fit in while clearly called for greater things', and covered it with such tragedy and humor that Heroes doesn't have a chance to compare. So it's not that her character is poorly done, it's just that I've seen it all before, all seven seasons of it.

The drug-addled future-painter (Santiago Cabrera) isn't really a character at all, he's a plot device attached to a conflict. As for caveats, I'd like to see sub-plots over the season instead of stretching out the nuclear situation for a whole season. I also wonder how the show will change assuming that all the interconnected heroes actually make contact with one another - will it turn into a Superfriends villain-of-the-week? The show reminds me a lot of The 4400, which bored me as a miniseries and didn't draw me in first season, but got decidedly better and better. We'll see.

Help Me Help You - I keep hearing that Becker was good, but never heard that when it was on. Anyway, Ted Danson is funny, his deadpan delivery unchanged since forever - he's not quite as bitter as House and not quite as straight-faced over-the-top as Dr. Cox. It also has Charlie Finn from Life On A Stick, a forgettable sitcom that my wife and I loved. Thus far all of characters in the therapy group have gotten good lines and decent jokes, and while the show takes the trope of 'each person has a disorder that leads to wacky situations' it's not as slapstick as the Deuce Bigalow movies (let's have the narcoleptic fall asleep everywhere! well, yeah).

The Nine - Hated it. This was my wife's choice, I watched out of the corner of my eye. The show's trying way too hard to be high-concept. The characters all felt slotted into their reactions - okay, you're the guy who acted bravely, you're the guy who was a coward, you're the person with a secret - and never go anywhere beyond those roles. It feels like a playwriting exercise brought to life. The aforementioned heroic person was, before the siege, a nebbish dork - do you see the contrast between those two roles? Well, if not, don't worry, because they'll hammer that contrast into your brain before the episode is over. I know, I only saw the premiere, but it failed on two major counts: I don't care about any of the characters, and i don't care that they were hostages in a bank robbery. Boo.

Lost - I'm completely biased here, this is one of my favorite all-time shows. Ever. They make me care about every little look, every background character, every turn of phrase. The season premiere started off with a stunning revelation, and then downshifted, leaving some people disappointed. Not me. I like that this show plays off of expectations. the season two premiere was pretty low-key, as well. The second episode gave more Jin and Sun backstory - I like that I go from thinking Jin is an asshole to thinking he's a big softie. No revelations about Sayid, though. I'm gonna make a guess here and say that third season is going to really be all about the Others. Next week looks like it'll deal with the losties, especially Locke and Mr. Eko, my two favorite characters.

Smith - Canceled already. Good. The first episode was impossible to follow and I didn't even care. I think I asked 'what the hell is going on?' about five minutes in, and then gave up.

Standoff - Laughable, but I like Ron Livingston. I don't see this one lasting very long. It's Moonlighting, except they're hostage negotiators. Far fetched crime dramas are a dime-a-dozen, but this one has the unenviable task of coming up with a plausible hostage situation week after week. As if they're regular occurrences.

Law and Order: SVU - Finally convinced my wife to give it up. I've regularly bashed the show even as I watched for its plodding, heavy-handed moralizing and stuck-in-a-rut characters, who have now morphed into complete caricatures of their tropes. Stabler's the hot-headed anger-ball - give him another case about child molestation and watch him bug out - he has a teenage daughter, for crissakes, won't somebody think of the children! The worst of this was a recent case where a young woman who had a disorder that rendered her physical appearance forever childlike was mistaken for being actually underage. Stabler continued to be mortified by the whole thing long after the facts came out - she looks underage! the guy's only going with her because he's a pedophile, except he's not since she's of age! - but don't worry, Stabler will get him another time.

Also, with Mariska Hargitay on a leave of absence, they chose to pair Stabler with a partner more hot-headed and prone to violence than himself. What a great move, two characters I can't stand. Put that together with the secondary characters relegated to ever more background parts and the show has nothing going for it anymore. I should have quit a few seasons ago when they did their bullshit Grand Theft Auto episode, with obligatory footage making the whole point of the game out to be beating prostitutes to death (a fictional game, but we got the point). The shtick at this point is to take a story from the headlines, get the stock conservative and liberal viewpoints, have different characters defend each side and then throw up hands in frustration that it's just too hard to figure out, now let's find someone to prosecute.

Especially egregious was an episode concerning a journalist protecting her source, an obvious stand-in for Judy Miller going to the clink, and they tromped out the idea of a federal shield law, which was a big conservative talking point about that particular case even though Miller wouldn't have been protected by a shield law (and neither would've the fictional journo, so far as I could tell). I can't really explain why I stuck with this show at all except to say that I multitask while I watch, so shitty shows don't really take time away from other endeavors.

Justice - The first episode was so boisterous and noisy and filled with MTV quick-cuts that I very nearly got vertigo. They've pulled back on that, though it's still Bruckheimer sound-and-fury, signifying nothing. I like the lead lawyer, he's a complete dick and never pulls back from that, but I don't see him as a villain - a fine line to walk. The Nancy Grace-styled "reporter" character had an atrocious, nasally accent that has all-but-disappeared, making her overbearing but bearable. The other lawyers lack any emotions other than competent and strident, but there have been small attempts at development. The big reveal at the end (what really happened?) has worked so far, but how can they keep it fresh? Haven't yet seen one where the 'good guys' got it wrong, which will be inevitable. But then what?

America's Next Top Model - Guilty, guilty pleasure. I can't stop watching this show, cracking snarky commentary along with my wife the whole time (unless Nigel's on, in which case my wife becomes speechless). I mean, the season opened with a nude shoot - how could I not watch? Tyra is completely ridiculous, which makes her a great representative for the fashion industry. Jay Manuel is great as the perky no-bullshit slavedriver. Twiggy (looking good now that she weighs something) is a voice of moderation. J. Alexander is, well, J - his personality defies description.

Everything hinges on whim and a bevy of unwritten rules (I've opened a text file with ideas for an ANTM board game). The girl who cries during judging always goes home. The girl with short hair will hate her hair, no matter how many times she is admonished to get over it and focus on modeling, until she goes home. There will always be a trash-talking loudmouth who stays in long past her due. The only time I dislike the show is when Janice Dickinson is on, since the sound of her voice physically grates on me. I get it, Janice, you're a bitch and you don't care what people say. You weren't even relevant when people thought you were relevant.

I just discovered, during the writing of this post, that the episodes follow the naming convention 'The Girl Who . . . '. Sounds like great fodder for a series of card-based challenges.

Eureka - Season's over. Coming back next season. It's extremely light fare, fluff even, but the characters are rock-solid and the plots are basically modeled after the funny episodes of the X-Files. Warren Ellis labeled this a 'tween' show, and he's probably right, but I like it anyway. I mean, Miles Dyson from Terminator 2 and Max Headroom in the same show? More fluff, please.

Gilmore Girls - Do I get to have a second guilty pleasure show? With the creator gone, people were worried about this one. The season premiere rubbed me the wrong way (none of the dialogue popped) but it's gotten better. I'm still not happy about Lorelai and Luke being over, mostly because it felt oh-so-forced - that, and I liked them together (word is the whole plot was trashed by Amy Palladino before leaving because of a contract dispute). Lorelai getting back together with Chris is blah territory. Rory remains a judgmental idiot. Lorelai's parents are still fantastic, they manage to be sympathetic characters even though their uber-rich classism is repugnant. Really, this show shines with its quirky/lovable side-characters - Lane, Sookie, Michel, Paris, Miss Patty, Babette. Even Kirk, straight out of A Confederacy of Dunces, is amusing. This will be the last season, so even if it gets worse at least it doesn't have a long decline.

Bones - An all-around great show, and this comes from a person with an intense dislike for David Boreanaz (hated him as Angel, until around Angel third season). This is one of the first shows I've seen that actually fleshes out its geeks. Their social dysfunction comes off as a tone-deafness to social niceties, not a goofy Jerry Lewis routine. The science isn't as fast-and-loose as CSI (though the artist's holographic 3d projector is a little science-fantasy), possibly because the show's concept is based on a book about a real-life forensic anthropologist. I'm a little mad that they got rid of the old museum director - he was, loosely, an opponent in the bureaucratic sense, but his poetic archaeological musings (which infuriated the facts-only team) were a good reminder that research of the past based on remains is in large part an act of imagination as well as detailed scientific rigor. Even the superhero cosplay episode a few seasons ago was well-presented.

Supernatural - Middling spookfest with two actors who do a convincing job of being brothers. Also, this has the greatest tv soundtrack ever (though Reunion would probably take that honor had it not been canceled). You get Zeppelin and Blue Oyster Cult and AC/DC and a lot of other gutchurning footstomping rock and/or roll. The first season of the show didn't impress me, but it didn't repulse me, either. Usually I was mad because I'd already read the folk tales from which they draw their plots, said tales typically unchanged in the slightest.

Still, last season ended in grand style, and this season opened with perfect tragedy. The father which the boys spent most of first season tailing is now dead, having made some deal with the demon he'd been tracking his whole life. I assume the new carrot will be the demon, the boys leaving a trail of solved mysteries and tragically-killed allies in their wake as they go to confront their father's killer (and that of their mother/younger bro's college girlfriend, so far as we know).

Nip/Tuck - There's almost no way to compare this show with any other. It's melodramatic and cheesy and the main characters oscillate between do-gooders and sleazoids, often in the same episode. The plots are admixtures of Jerry Springer reruns, urban legends, soap opera schlock and sexual peccadilloes. But I don't think I've ever rooted for a more ambiguously gay/bi couple to finally get over themselves and shack up than I have for Sean and Christian. Matt's sponge personality went from an Oedipal relationship with a life coach to attraction to transsexuals (after the life coach's gender switch was revealed) to white supremacy to, naturally maybe, Scientology. This show should probably have been called people behaving like absolute shits to each other, but that wouldn't look good in the TV guide.


I want to be watching/have watched The Wire, but it's impossible to wring any more viewing time from the week.

I'd also like to recommend Veronica Mars, even though I don't watch it (though I'm well-versed, owing to the wife's insatiable love for the program and everything surrounding it) and don't like it at all. That doesn't make sense, you think? I thought the show was put together well, but Veronica grates on me personally. She's an insufferable know-it-all, and the perilous situations never really felt particularly perilous. I remember seeing the first few episodes, and while they talked often about how Veronica's date rape was awful and terrible, it never really conveyed that she felt that way about it. I never saw that it had damaged her at all - maybe it had soured friendships and disconnected her socially, but that's tangential. There were times when it almost drew me into the compelling mystery of the season, but I was immediately turned away by its cloying snark. Veronica's father, however, is brilliant. Steve Guttenberg's great, too, but wholly unrelated to the show itself. Anyway, take a look, see if you like it, and if you don't like it immediately, I doubt it'll grow on you.

Simpsons, of course, is on the menu. That almost goes without saying. I will continue to watch long after they do the 'bumble-bee man runs for mayor' episode (h/t William). Daily Show and Colbert Report are required viewing.

The wife also crams in scores of soap operas, which I catch out of the corner of my eye. As a result, I've merged them all into one single Vast Opera Of Soap (VOOS). I've managed to pick up on some of the character names, but can't spare any brainspace to divide them up by show.

I will say this: there are a lot of attractive women on soap operas. This is the main draw for me.

'Honey, who's that?'
'That's Kendall.'
'She's fuckin hot. Who's that?'
'That's Susan Lucci. She's like 60.'
'And smokin. Damn. I'd do her.'
'How nice to know.'

I first started paying attention to soaps when I was told that two gorgeous women were lesbians.

'Lesbians? On daytime TV?'
'Yeah, it's pretty raunchy.'

Yes, I am that shallow. [see: "Bianca Montgomery" played by Eden Riegel]

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Company Man

After spending some more time with Company of Heroes, I feel confident in giving a fairer assessment.

I think it's a great extension to the RTS genre. The things that feel innovative in the genre tend to be small add-ons and refinements of certain ideas. It's not quite Advanced Squad Leader, but there are lots of ideas taken from grognard games. Cover is very, very important, so placement is a priority. The enemy loves to harass your control points with one or two platoons, which makes well-placed defenses key. Tanks have variable armor which means that flanking those Panther tanks is just about the only way to survive.

Most of the new elements work well, but there are still some sticky mechanics that seem to be problems in every RTS.

Top of my list is the vehicle pathfinding - it stinks. You don't notice so much in the earlier maps because you won't have many tanks and neither will your opponent, but on later maps the Axis will start pulling out lots of armor - you'll feel it then. Tanks won't line up properly when you right click and choose their facing. They won't turn around when their rear armor is getting hit - you have to click furiously and hope that they'll turn while traveling.

Then there's my most common complaint for all RTSes: When moving grouped units, the speed isn't capped at the slowest member of the group. Also, there seems to be no move order. Those kind of things should be automatic at this point. If I've grouped a tank, a platoon of infantry and an armored car, the tank should move slow with the infantry to its rear and sides and the armored car should be on a wide dispersion looking for panzerschrecks and snipers.

Defense is also a little weak. While there are lots of good defensive structures, it takes time, careful planning and a unit's attention. It would be nice to automate some of that process, or allow the engineers to queue up actions - you could plan your whole base defense in one go and just let them work.

A lot of the complaints can be mitigated in single-player by utilizing the Pause button. You can still issue orders while paused, so the whole game can play out as a semi-turn-based affair. This saved me during Mission 13, which was far too tough for Easy difficulty.

I'd love to see more cross-pollination of ideas between Company of Heroes and THQ's other big RTS property, Warhammer 40K, especially the detailed cover options and taking over unmanned battlefield weapons.

And it'd be great to have Dog Company go up against Chaos Marines.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Why I Hate Programming, Vol, 1239

First, thanks for
the comments. I was given some good advice.

I was told to focus on an API.

I tried SDL. Bloodshed Dev-C++ couldn't find the SDL Devpack. Then I had trouble figuring out how to link mingw. I've got the folders and some files, but nothing that matched the tutorial. So that was all for naught.

Then I tried Allegro. That installed correctly and I was able to open up a template in Dev-C++. Naturally, this template didn't look anything like the stuff I saw in the tutorials. The differences were subtle, but every little thing matters to a compiler. Consequently, nothing fucking worked. I loved how the debugger could tell me that a command was deprecated but not tell me the new command.

Every tutorial I look at seems to do things in a completely different manner. Haven't there been enough programs written that some basic patterns have emerged? And can't those patterns be integrated into a decent IDE? Why doesn't my template ask me questions? What kind of window would you like? Is this a game? Then it points out all kinds of points of interest. Here is the main loop. Here is the rendering loop. Put your input commands here. Set up a buffer and animation loop here.

The struggle continues.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why I Hate Programming, Vol. 508

Take a look at this C++ tutorial I found.

It's bullshit.

Ninety percent of the time this is what a tutorial looks like for beginning programmers. A neat little list repeating all the great things you can do with the language, which happens to be a neat little list of things you can do with almost every language. It's worthless information, because none of it connects together.

What kinds of exercises do programmers do to memorize the different kinds of commands? Why can't anyone seem to write a simple, complete program that covers the basics?

An example: Usually there are a few things I'm looking to do. I want to know how to handle basic keyboard and mouse input. I want to throw a shape on the screen and move it around with that input. I want to put text where I want. I may even want to manipulate data.

I'm pretty sure there might be books out there with exactly what I want, but I haven't found them yet. The other frustration is that programming books are usually fifty bucks or more, and that's a helluva lot to spend on what eventually become sturdy doorstops.

Just a vent. Carry on.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Strange Game

"How can I save my little boy

From Oppenheimer's deadly toy?
There is no monopoly on common sense,
On either side of the political fence

We share the same biology,
Regardless of ideology,
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children, too . . ."
-Sting, Russians


I dreamt about this game a long time ago.

When I was younger, I was fascinated with nuclear war.

I don't know if this was a reflection of the politics of the 80s, with Reagan and his 'Evil Empire' speech. I doubt it. I don't think I knew anything of politics until I was about 15.

Regardless, I devoured books and movies about the nuclear threat. The notion that countries would make conscious decisions to produce more and more weapons by which to destroy humanity held fast in my mind. Even at the age of eight I recognized the craziness of it all. Mutually Assured Destruction was the lunatic doctrine staying the hand of unstable world leaders. We were at the mercy of madmen whose political grandstanding was no greater than schoolyard preening.

I read books. Big, full-color picture books with towering missiles laid out in a neat line. I learned that the MIRV (Multiple Independently-targeted Reentry Vehicle) could send up to seven warheads to seven different cities filled with unknowing people. I learned about SRBMs, MRBMs and ICBMs. Fusion and fission. I read On the Beach. A Canticle for Liebowitz. I read about the dangers of fallout and how radiation spreads.

I watched movies. Miracle Mile and its tragic ending. The Day After and its tragic beginning. Dr. Strangelove and its pitch-black humor. And, of course, Wargames.

Wargames was special - because the main character is young. And a gamer.

So we get Defcon, from Introversion, a tech demo turned game. Like Uplink and Darwinia before it, Defcon feels like a game from an earlier era. It has the flavor of a board game. The units are few, actions are limited. It's largely about timing and positioning. Knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

The main screen is the big board from Wargames. This is what I've imagined in my head so often. The soothing black and blue. The cloudy glow surrounding the landmasses. The clean lines showing the paths of subs and destroyers and missiles. The map zooms in and out and scrolls smoothly, the way it should.


I'm standing in the War Room, issuing orders. "Benson, zoom in on Tehran." No signs of activity, but the radar doesn't quite extend that far. "Scramble a fighter, get it in the air, to the west. We've got to find their silos." I can't make out land features, just a uniform surface. That's how the world looks to the high-level planners. No forest. No trees.

This shouldn't be a game. But it's so compelling. Picking and choosing targets. Life and death in you hands, the power to completely alter the makeup of our planet. I whisper to myself when a missile strikes true. "Delhi, 7.5 million dead. Beijing, 5 million dead." In the world outside the game, those numbers should be tripled, at least. Global Thermonuclear War. Millions, maybe billions dead or dying. Millions crawling through the aftermath, blinded, screaming, losing skin.

You don't have to deal with that. With the real effects. It's all clean lines and a glowing white circle where there used to be a city marker. How easy is that? How easy it must be to pick up a phone and send people to kill and die. So easy, how have we not yet destroyed ourselves? It can't be that we aren't crazy enough.

The game occurs in stages. Defcon levels. Each one allows an escalation of hostilities. I grow impatient and hurry time forward. Faster to the Apocalypse, please. Defcon 4, taunts and insulting haikus. I make fun of the Soviet Union's mother. Defcon 3, the skies are filled with peeping eyes, that get put out by pesky needles. Defcon 2, begin killing each other like civilized people. And for god's sake, boys, don't slouch! Defcon1 - goodbye, civilization, too bad we hardly knew ye. Oh, it's not like we were putting it to good use, anyway.


It's entrancing, watching the missiles go up, tracing their broad arcs across oceans, through the skies, aimed for their targets. Every air defense missile that goes up makes me hold my breath. Every time a missile disappears, victim of a working SDI*, I curse lightly. "Fuck." There goes my devious plan to wipe Dallas, TX off the map.

The board lights up. Launch detected somewhere in the South China Sea. Launch detected off the coast of California. Launch detected near the Arctic Circle. The Soviet Union is well and truly fucked, comrades. I'm desperate. I send up my last few salvos of ICBMs, hoping that at least one or two make it through. I watch a missile approach Miami. Tick. Tick. Tick. The defenses are launching their counter-missiles. Miami is saved.

But I got Atlanta. And Washington, D.C. Half the Eastern Seaboard. The radiation clouds will get pushed against the Appalachians and forced southward. Florida will act like a giant urethra, all the toxins flowing downward and out. So Miami is doomed anyway. I smile.

We should all know how this ends by now. Total dead: Soviet Union 125.4 million, United States 123.7 million. I lose, because Defcon keeps a score, and the person with the higher score wins. That's how a game works.

In reality, all the players lose. And all the spectators.

You aren't really winning, you're pretending to win. Like you pretend it's a game. Like you pretend that our leaders really aren't as crazy as they seem.

Hope you're right.

*Strategic Defense Initiative, aka "Star Wars". Famous hunk of government pork, billions have been poured into this great failure. Research "breakthroughs" are proven to be falsified, and yet politicians throw even more more money into this sinkhole. That's how you know Defcon is a game - your anti-missile defenses can actually shoot down missiles.

Update: I am become death, destroyer of worlds.

Update II: We will all go together when we go.