Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

May 31, 2009


Up is the name of Pixar's latest movie, just out in theaters. Adam took me to see it tonight, possibly so he could put off having to sit still and model for my drawing class. Whatever the reasoning, it was a lot of fun. Yet something about it doesn't quite add up.

I think the main problem is that the main character is not as well-characterized as any of the other characters. The old man, Mr. Fredrickson, is largely passive during the first half of the story. Things happen to him and he seems happy to go along with them. The other characters (Ellie, Russell, even the dog Dug) are initially a lot more active and motivated, so the events wander all over the place without a central unifying principle.

I think this is a result of a botched introduction of conflict. Mr. Fredrickson doesn't have any conflicted values early on in the movie. He's simply an old man with an empty future he desperately wants to escape, so he does. All of his desires and actions line up perfectly. Without a good dramatization of conflicting values, the later introduction of conflict falls rather flat.

It's really enjoyable and well worth seeing. Possibly I'm imagining these issues. But I think the movie is lacking something that would have made it fantastic instead of merely good.

May 30, 2009


So, I finally got to see this movie, and the only thing I had to say about it was "See, THAT'S the father they should have had in Fallout 3. THAT'S what you can do with Liam Neeson." I am such a gamer geek. Really, though, watching Taken has washed some of the bad taste left behind by the extraordinarily poor writing of that otherwise very fun video game.

The premise of Taken is pretty simple. Hence, it's also a pretty short movie. Liam Neeson plays Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA spy/assassin guy whose daughter is abducted during a trip to Europe. He is not pleased. He spreads his displeasure around with a big, big spatula. It didn't really have to be a very complicated movie, though, and what it does it does very well. First, it establishes Bryan Mills as the Scariest Badass in the History of the World. Hmm. I was going to say "second" now, but there really isn't a "second". Scariest Badass in the History of the World pretty much covers it.

Unlike many films of a similar stripe, Taken doesn't do a lot of tear-jerking or emotion-playing. It's a very intellectual film. The action is intellectual, the rage is intellectual; you can watch the man thinking one step at a time, conquering each setback as it comes along. There's no energy wasted on style, panache, or posturing, which makes Mills even scarier as a character. The few characters who do have emotional histrionics, instead of dominating the scene, are sidelined and made me wonder, "why are they wasting all this energy when they could be doing something productive?"

The central premise of Taken is neatly summed-up in Mills's favorite word: "Focus."

May 29, 2009

The Android's Dream

There's a bit of a funny story involved in how I came to be reading this book--Adam went to the birthday party of a friend of ours and the author, John Scalzi, was there and gave Adam this book. Of course, now I'm thinking I ought to get the friend to introduce us. For years, I thought of authors as remote people who rarely conversed with the book-reading public. Then I got old and realized that running into semi-famous people is actually not all that uncommon.

I read and reviewed another book by John Scalzi some time ago--Old Man's War, and while it was enjoyable it wasn't great. The Android's Dream, on the other hand, is just insane. I mean, the book is nuts. It's terrific fun to read and I absolutely recommend it, but I can literally picture Mr. Scalzi sitting at his desk and saying "What's the most absolutely ridiculous situation I can come up with? Okay, now how do I get a bunch of characters to arrive at that end?"

The book is reminiscint of Neal Stephenson and Tim Dorsey all mixed together with a liberal dash of military SF thrown in. There's a lot of fighting and cussing and a great deal of urbane wittiness. There's also a lot of what a witty, urbane person might call Realpolitik but which I will just call political bullshit involved. The plot is very, very obviously contrived--I think the major flaw apart from the often one-dimensional characterization is that Scalzi telegraphs events a bit too much in some instances--but it's still very fun to read if only to see where all the pieces fit together in the end. The absurdity of the plot elements serves to make them feel real in a sort of ridiculous unreal way (like most politics).

It's worth reading once, but it's too complex to read and enjoy while you're sick. This is the sort of novel you read on vacation while you're sitting on the beach getting a tan. It's too shallow to read more than once, I think, so I'm giving it a 2.5 even though I consider it well worth the one read for entertainment purposes.

Rating: 2.5

P.S. I'd at least try to include a synopsis or at least an explanation of the title, but unfortunately this is the type of book where any information of any kind whatsoever is a serious spoiler for SOMETHING. Read it and you'll see what I mean.

May 28, 2009

Hard Work Ain't the Trick

One of the things I hear a lot--in fact, I even say it myself--when people are confronted with some sort of deficiency or failing is "I work hard!". On its face, this seems like a pretty simple statement. Working hard is a virtue, right? Surely that earns you *something*, right?


Hard work by itself is utterly irrelevant. What you work at and what you accomplish are the important aspects. I could work very hard at digging ditches and filling them back up and produce exactly nothing. Actually, I'd produce less than nothing because resources would be consumed in the process. Nor would I earn anything by so doing. Donald Trump, on the other hand, may step out of his jet, say a couple of words to his assistant and make millions. The difference is that Mr. Trump actually did something *valuable*.

I'm not saying that hard work isn't important. A willingness to work hard when and as it is necessary to accomplish certain goals is an important adjunct to living a productive life. But a pathological need to overexert yourself without first choosing a goal and having an idea what you're going to get out of it is silly. This is why many people work hard all their lives and never get anywhere--they are pursuing some activity that is only marginally more productive than digging ditches to nowhere. The fact that their labors were mighty does not provide any excuses.

The proper response when someone says "I work hard!" is "And accomplish what?"

May 27, 2009

Angels and Demons

A brief note in case anyone was wondering--I haven't blogged over the past several days because my job apparently decided to try and work me to death. I've been just a teensy bit busy.

Adam hauled me along to see this movie because, like most guys, he can't go into a movie theater by himself. Apparently, in the Guy Code, going to the movies by yourself is Lame. I was a little curious to see it anyway and I like Tom Hanks, so there wasn't a LOT of dragging involved.

If Angels and Demons were purely a fantasy movie involving a fantasy church and fantasy characters, it'd be a pretty cool movie. The plot pacing is good, there are twists and turns, and they've got a pair of really good actors--Tom Hanks and Ewen MacGregor--who take turns passing the focus back and forth between them like a couple of really good basketball players.

Due to the non-fantasy nature of the movie, however, it winds up looking like an effort to convince people that the Catholic church and ivory-tower academia are, well, cool and some junk. It's even explicitly said that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the Church is just a big ol' teddy bear who heals the sick and comforts the dying and preserves the treasures of centuries blah blah blah yeah I've heard this already. The academic, Robert Langdon, is *apologetic* about the fact that he doesn't believe in the invisible sky ghost, which is just pathetic.

This is one reason why I haven't read the book, which Adam said was a lot better. Some of the exposition in the book that made events clearer was left out of the movie due to time constraints (that, and it's the type of exposition that's really difficult to deliver in a movie). So my final conclusion is that it's probably not worth seeing if you haven't read the book, and if you have, you'll likely be disappointed.

May 21, 2009

That . . . is a Large Number

Okay, so this is a vanity post, but I just noticed that I have over eleven thousand profile views on Objectivism Online. (At least one of the more prolific members has even more than I do--I didn't check everyone).

I'm sure that doesn't seem like a lot to more active netophiles, but I've only made about 3700 posts over there, and I don't look at my own profile very often, either. Somebody sure is interested, that's all I can say.

May 20, 2009

The Implications are Stunning

I check out customers a lot in my current job, and just about every fifth person cannot figure out how to work the credit-card machine. It baffles me because it is just not that complicated. I try to be patient, though. The thing that really gets on my nerves, however, is what they invariably say after pushing random buttons for a while. "All of these things are different. They ought to standardize them!"

It's amazing how many philosophical implications you can fit in a statement that short. Look at just "All these things are different." Well, yes they are, they're all made by different companies FOR different companies and it would actually be illegal for them to copy each other too closely--patent infringement, you know. Phrasing this statement as a complaint is like declaring that you have no desire to pay attention or think at all, you prefer to operate strictly from habit without ever once having to engage the gray matter.

And who is this mysterious "they" that ought to be standardizing credit-card machines? The companies that make and use the machines actually have an interest in being different. It's hard enough to distinguish one big-box store from another these days, and every little bit helps. Is it the government that they're talking about? They'd really prefer that the government dictate what kind of *credit card machines* get used? Of course, the government probably already *does* this, to an extent, but how much freedom are you looking to give up here?

Do you seriously never want to be confronted by anything you haven't seen before a thousand times? What a way to live!! Even thinking about it makes me feel ill.

May 19, 2009


Here's a sketch I did for my first week of drawing class. It's pretty crude (not to mention all those fingerprints--they're not as visible in the drawing itself), but it's not bad for a start.

May 18, 2009

Tenure Podcast

My question about tenure made it onto Dr. Peikoff's podcast this week (podcast #62, the second question), although he only gave the shortened version of my question. That's to be expected, though. I asked this question way back in November and he's only getting to it now. He must have an incredible backlog.

I hadn't really thought much about the idea of tenure for professors prior to asking this question. If I thought anything, I vaguely accepted the notion that tenure was necessary to protect the "free speech" or "academic freedom" of professors so they wouldn't be squashed by the university directors. However, I ran across a brief, very brief mention Dr. Peikoff made on this topic in OPAR, so I sat down and thought about it for two seconds together. That's why I sent him the question, and I agree completely with his reply. I even agree that the entire notion of tenure protecting free speech or academic freedom is a Big Lie, most likely brought about by the current degree of goverment control over universities via grants and funding.

It's kind of neat to hear him answer my question, though. :)

May 16, 2009

The Stolen Throne

Since I'm so excited about the (still months away) release of Dragon Age, I decided to pick up David Gaider's prequel novel The Stolen Throne to see what I could see. As much as I'd love to be nice to Mr. Gaider, it's not very good.

That's not to say it's terrible--for game-related fiction it's actually fairly superior, but this is only because most franchise-related fiction is quite bad. I say this as a writer of gaming-related fiction, namely those reams and reams of game writeups that I doubt anyone else will ever read. Most fiction that falls into this category is simply too self-conscious to be good because the purpose isn't to tell a story but to set up or make use of another story. You can see this problem even in other fiction, like Lian Hearn's prequel Heaven's Net Is Wide to her Tales of the Otori series. When you're trying to write a background instead of a novel, it becomes very difficult to tell what you should leave out and what you should leave in, with the result that the narration often completely overtakes the dramatization and your book reads like a chronicle, not a novel.

From a style standpoint, this is the worst problem with David Gaider's book, as well. The plot is pretty straightforward. A young man, Maric, finds himself as head of the rebels in the kingdom of Ferelden after his mother, Queen Moira, is betrayed and killed. He acquires several friends along the way who aid him in regaining his throne: Loghain the ex-bandit, an amoral pragmatist, his promised future wife Rowan, and Katriel the treacherous elven bard.

Gaider has a good grasp of their characters, conflicts, and complex interactions. That's the best part of the novel, although sometimes it can be difficult to tell whose perspective Gaider is using to tell the story--he will sometimes seemingly switch mid-paragraph without any definite sign that he's done so. This makes a lot of the internal mental comments about other characters seem like descriptions out of the *author's* mouth, which they may in fact be. In either case, I consider this a stylistic mistake. An author should *never* offer his or her opinion about the events of the story in so obvious a fashion as giving an outright evaluation of a character or situation. (It's all right to put that evaluation into the mouth of a character, on the other hand.) The story should lead the reader into making that evaluation themselves. This is a vital part of the "show, don't tell" principle.

The other area where Gaider has serious problems is in characterizing the villains. Their motivations and actions are utterly one-dimensional with pat rationales--Severan the mage is "ambitious", for instance, while Meghren the usurper is a petulant hedonist who could have been pulled, whole, from any work featuring a corrupt ruler. If you've ever seen Disney's "Robin Hood" movie (you know, the one with the anthropomorphic animals and featuring this song), Meghren is IDENTICAL to Prince John.

I suspect that writers who rely very heavily on their sense of life often have this problem. If they have a benevolent-ish sense of life, they find it terribly difficult to write interesting, complex, or even real-seeming villains. If they have a malevolent-ish sense of life, their villains are often incredible beyond belief, but their heroes are wooden dolts. If they're in the middle, their heavily conflicted characters are the best, while both full heroes and full villains are kind of unreal.

There's no theme to speak of other than the most general sort of "good vs. evil" action-movie theme. There are some heavy-handed attempts toward the end to introduce a bit of ideology along the lines that a degree of ruthlessness is necessary in the pursuit of justice, but it doesn't gel with any other events. If anything, it contradicts most of the rest of the story and represents a lead-in to the game.

The plotting is competent, but it's so overloaded with narration that it doesn't come across as dramatic. Just when you're starting to get into the story there will be a ten-page retelling covering three years of vague perambulations doing things like hiding from the Usurper's armies and trying to gather support. There's also an unfortunate "setting tour" interlude or two where Gaider seems to remember that the Dragon Age game is going to contain a lot of elements that don't really pertain directly to this single struggle, so he wedges them in any old how.

As a novel, the Stolen Throne is extremely uninspired, but if you're as excited as I am about the game you may enjoy picking it up as an introduction or sneak peek.

Rating: 2.0

May 14, 2009

Best Strategy: Don't Go

There's nothing quite so funny as watching a bunch of impractical geeks fantasize about time travel into their favorite "romantic" era of the past. If any of them were to try this stunt (assuming it was even possible), I predict they'd be dead within hours.

It's simply not possible for a modern American to pass themselves off as a medieval European. I doubt that most modern Americans could pass themselves off as 19th century Europeans. There's just too much to know, and the most important things are the ones that are the least documented.

There's nowhere on the planet now (not that I can think of, anyway) that would be a comparatively hostile environment. You'd be up against an utterly alien culture where most people would have little or no compunction about killing you once they discovered that you were literally nobody. Not a good situation. Not a good situation at all.

May 13, 2009


Here's the banner I've been working on for my as-yet-theoretical webcomic. I know this seems like an excessively weird thing to start with (shouldn't I draw some COMICS first?!), but this is actually a design project for a college course. I had to pretend to design something for a real reason, so I figured I might as well try to get some mileage out of it. So, here it is.

See this Face? This is my Suspicious Face

Some poor sot recently wandered onto this blog after searching for "why is it so hard for men to compliment women". Honey, I feel ya, but it's not just a problem for men. It's generally pretty hard to give compliments to women because most of us (me) learn two things from an early age. Firstly, there's the compliments that aren't really compliments. Secondly, there's the compliments that come from an ulterior motive. After being burned a couple of times, you begin to suspect that all compliments of any type fall into one of those two categories and the, what, 5% of compliments you get that are real compliments get lost in the noise.

So, I will attempt to provide some guidance on how to give *real* compliments. The ulterior motive you'll have to deal with yourself by establishing a reputation for honesty.

1. Don't qualify your compliments. Any compliment that is accompanied by a qualifying statement is immediately disqualified. Don't tell someone "you did pretty well considering that you're sick!" (Especially since I'll guarantee you it'll turn out they weren't sick.) This will get an annoyed reaction from ANYONE with a functioning brain. See the recent Star Trek movie for a particularly good example.

2. Don't give off-topic compliments. I ran across an example of this recently when I was asking how to update an avatar. When I'm trying to figure out why I can't see my new photo, I don't want to hear about how you think it's a nice photo or I look cute or any other inane irrelevancy and I will be suspicious about the comment and wonder what's wrong with you. If I know you well, I may assume you were well-intentioned, but either way it won't come across as a real compliment.

3. Don't make subjective comparisons. Now, I'm well aware that some people do like to be compared to other people, but I'll tell you right now that those people are evil. There's only one type of subjective comparison that is okay in my book, and that's along the lines of "you're my favorite!", because it is honest and it doesn't imply that your standards are skewed. But telling a woman "you're much nicer than X" is likely to be equivalent to saying "well, at least you're not a TOTAL bitch". Don't do it.

4. Don't belabor the point. Telling a woman who has dressed up for, say, a wedding that she is hot once is okay. Telling her that she's hot by staring is okay. Telling her that she's hot, then telling her again when you get to the wedding, then telling her at the reception that someone else in the room said she was hot is not okay. She heard you the first time.

5. And above all, don't give compliments as an attempt to make peace or soften a criticism. I know for myself that the urge to do the latter, at least, can be overwhelming. I do it as a part of my critiques in college classes because we're supposed to be "nice" as well as critical, and it drives me insane every time I type one of those up. But don't *you* do this if you can possibly avoid it, because there's nothing guaranteed to get a person more emotionally involved in your criticism/argument/whatever than trying to give them a compliment at the same time. If they were impersonally detached and thinking before, they won't be after that "compliment". So don't do it.

May 12, 2009


One of my bad habits that I'm having the worst trouble with is my tendency, in some areas, to always over-prepare for everything. I see this trait more in women than in men, the women in my family in particular. This becomes problematic on family trips because my grandmother used to want to bring everything including the kitchen sink--my father once remarked, "I'm sure they have grocery stores where we're going, mom," out of frustration.

My mother, on the other hand, tends to spread the preparing around, chivvying my father and brothers into packing long before they think it is necessary and trying to orchestrate about a thousand chores that she needs "help" with. Of course, my reluctant brothers and father tend to perform these chores in a desultory fashion, which makes my mother even more annoyed. Usually by the time we've actually gotten out the door she has gone completely insane, sometimes to the point where she forgets to pack important items for herself. At that point, the rest of us tend to adopt a turtle defensive strategy and hope it blows over. Perhaps the next time we all go on vacation together we should begin our preparations with some Nitrous Oxide for Mom, like she's going to get surgery. Knock her out until it's all over.

In my case, this is one of the principle reasons why I eat too much--because I'm trying to stave off hunger as long as possible "just in case" something happens and I can't eat at the Regularly Scheduled Time. This, of course, is ludicrous, because you get hungry again at about the same rate no matter how much you stuff yourself. Granted, what you eat can make a difference, but stuffing yourself by itself has no real effect on how soon you'll be hungry again. I'm sure someone will disagree with that, but it has been my general experience.

The trouble with divesting myself of this particular habit is that being prepared is generally a good thing, but like many good habits it can reach neurotic proportions and turn into a bad thing. Limiting a good habit down to reasonable proportions once you're used to regularly exceeding them is terribly difficult. You don't want to train yourself out of the good habit altogether, and the best way to quit most habits is usually to quit cold turkey. I think I also have more than one bad habit going on at the same time. I've noticed a lot of people don't have single bad habits that they can't shake, instead they have a powerful cocktail of mutually-reinforcing bad habits that combine to render them unable to approach the problem successfully.

So, I think the solution for overzealous good habits is to pick a *part* of it that you *can* quit cold turkey, and then quit that with extreme prejudice. In my case, this would probably be eating out--which is difficult for me to quit right now because someone else is in charge of the food budget around here. But it's something to keep in mind for when I have more control over what's going on.

May 11, 2009

Star Trek

So, a brief warning if you somehow managed to avoid learning this on your own already: the new movie knocks the canon over, smashes it, and sets it on fire. This isn't an act of vandalism, it's done intentionally and for a good reason, because the "canon" of Star Trek is such a mess that there was no way to reboot the franchise without pulling a stunt like this. If they'd tried to stick with the canon, they'd have wound up violating some other semi-contradictory part of the canon and wound up in the same boat. So doing it intentionally was probably the best way to go. Still, it's startling.

Chris Pine does all right as Kirk, although I personally think that he was a bit too much hormone-driven kid and not enough Captain. Zachary Quinto (aka Siler for Heroes fans) does such a fantastic job as Spock that it's easy to forget Kirk is even there.

The movie itself is merely okay, with an exaggeratedly implausible time-travel plot that requires so much suspension of disbelief it becomes difficult to actually evaluate the movie in any useful way. If you drop suspension for long enough to be critical, you'll wind up buried under a heap of cumulative nitpicks that make it impossible to enjoy this Star Trek. If you don't drop it, the entire movie seems like more fun then several barrels of monkeys.

To take just one example, the movie opens with Kirk's father taking over the captaincy of a Star Fleet ship to fight a delaying action while the crew escapes, his wife among them. His pregnant wife who is, of course, just now giving birth. It's a well-done and very heroic and poignant scene except for one problem . . . why the heck is his wife aboard a military vessel? There are no *other* civilians shown as in The Next Generation when the crew of the Enterprise had their families with them. She's apparently the only non-crew on the ship. Well, I'm assuming about her being non-crew. But generally it's unwise to have a hugely pregnant woman as part of a military team, in the same way that it'd be unwise to have an 80-year old or a 13-year old.

This is part of the reason why Spock is so much more engaging as a character than Kirk. Kirk's next major scene consists of a joy ride in a car. No reason is given for his indulgence. Apparently he's "just" an adrenaline junkie and maybe having lost his father he has lacked discipline or a role model. But this is never conveyed in any solid way, and "just" is bad characterization for a main character.

So, in conclusion, it's worth seeing, but everyone is likely going to have a very different reaction depending how much SoD they can manage. Don't blame me if you don't like it.

May 9, 2009

Habit and Automatization

Like most people, I have a number of habits. Some are good (buckling my seat belt when I get in the car) and some are bad (overeating). Enacting personal change is really a matter of tackling these habits to establish new good ones and get rid of old bad ones. This can be really difficult. Some things seem incredibly resistant to habit-forming (exercise), while other habits are so deeply ingrained that it can seem impossible to combat them. I'm gradually accumulating a list of observations that I hope will help me out. Here's what I have so far:

1. I have NEVER EVER been able to form a habit of doing something that I really don't like to do. Doing it remains a conscious process, consciously assumed no matter how many times I do it. Unfortunately most exercise falls in this category. The sad part is that I enjoy physical activity, but I hate getting exercise just to exercise. Anyway, I digress.

2. I get in the habit of doing things I like to do (eating lunch in a particular place), really, really quickly--so much so that it's hard for me to break out of it if I have to do something unusual, like go to the bank during lunch. I think this is why most smokers have such a hard time quitting. They enjoy their smoke breaks and they feel weird if they don't take them.

3. The more precision a given activity requires, the longer it takes to form a habit and the more quickly I lose the habit when I stop. Getting lunch doesn't require much precision--I just meander in the right direction and things take care of themselves. All the activities involved (walking, driving, eating) are automatized. I can do ALL of them while reading. (Although reading while driving is pretty ill-advised.) Most video games use pretty much the same button combos so I don't usually have any problem learning to play them--even if I haven't played in a while, I can become proficient again in about 15 minutes. I remember when I first learned how to type, though. That's a skill that requires a lot of precision. It took me YEARS to become proficient and I still become awkward at it if I'm confronted with a different keyboard or typing position. Some other skills (swordfighting, for instance) require so much precision--whole body precision, too--that you have to practice pretty much daily to maintain your proficiency. If I take a break from drawing for a while, I have to re-learn it all over again and I'll usually waste a bunch of paper or time producing crap for a while.

4. It's possible to mentally form a "habit" without actually doing whatever-it-is. I picked this idea up from a friend of mine and I use it whenever it's ABSOLUTELY necessary that I remember to do something. I'll picture myself doing it ten or twelve times (and you have to PICTURE yourself doing it, not just say "Remember to take out the trash" a bunch of times). Usually, it works, but I have what seems to be an abnormally good memory so I'm not sure of the precise mechanism at work, here.

That's all I've got for now, I'll continue making observations in the hopes that I'll conquer this habit problem sooner or later.

May 8, 2009


Okay, wow, apparently that little comment I made about Kajeel in Mysteries of Westgate has brought in a whole bunch of traffic. I can understand why, as that's a pretty ambiguous part of the game and no doubt a lot of people want to know what to do.

So, if you are one of those people, I provide this free hint gratis for nothing:

Just kill him. No, seriously. No, I know the game makes it sound like something horrible will happen, but nothing happens. Just kill him. Kill him, kill his thralls, take the key, go in the back room, and go through the trapdoor.

You're welcome.

May 7, 2009

Now I'm Embarrassed

I hadn't realized how badly I've been neglecting my blog until I finally went to update the index. Whew! I hadn't updated that sucker (except the Cold Blood entries) since the middle of last year. Well, it's updated now, and as you might have already realized, I'm going to be blogging more consistently now. I've found it's a lot easier if I schedule posts in advance instead of trying to come up with something every day.


I'm not a big TV watcher. I (usually) catch House if I happen to be home on Monday or whatever day it's on since Fox seems determined to switch days every three months, but I'm not too fussed if I miss an episode or three. But I had to miss Fringe last night due to work and I spent a couple of hours sitting around clicking "refresh" and waiting for them to post the episode online so I could watch it.

I seriously think this is the best TV show I've ever seen. It's nominally science fiction, which puts it in my "preferred genre" area, but when the trailers started I wasn't impressed at all. I figured it was going to be another anti-science, anti-corporation "things man was not meant to know" hack job. I have since learned that this show is in the hands of people who would never do anything so obvious, if only from a desire to be unique and surprising.

I adore all of the characters. They are complex and fascinating, yet they remain like real people, getting temporarily knocked askew when shocking things happen but returning, like a gyroscope, to their center of gravity. This is how people rightly act, grounded by their principles into a powerful sense of self.

Anna Torv's character Olivia Dunham is, by far, my favorite. If I had a mental image of what I would like to be, myself, it would be Olivia Dunham. I think she should play Dagny in Atlas Shrugged, that's how much I love this character.

From a science fiction aspect, the show is popular fare at best--the science is bunk. But as a drama, Fringe is second to none.

May 6, 2009

I Don't Think It Means What You Think It Means

All right, something has been bothering me for a while and I just have to speak up. Everyone listening? Good. Please learn to speak clearly. Please, please, please, please. You have no idea how much grief you are causing me and everyone else who has to deal with your weirdly ambiguous statements. I know it takes a little more effort to word your thoughts in a precise manner, but you will save yourself so much grief down the road.

Why is this bothering me, you ask? Because part of my current job consists of asking people questions--the same questions over and over and over, usually--and so often I'm stuck with an answer that gives me no clue as to what I should do. Perhaps some examples are in order:

You: "Can you price check this for me?"
Me: *beep* "It's 3.49."
You: "Okay."


You: "Did you ring up this cereal?"
Me: "Yes, you said it was okay."
You: "I told you not to ring it up."

I love this selective amnesia you're having. For those lacking a grasp of elementary grammar, "Okay" != "No". "Okay" = "Okay", i.e. "Yes".

Or, to give an even worse example:

Me: "Would you like to donate to {sponsored charity}?"
You: "That's fine."

IS THAT A YES OR A NO?! Now, I usually assume it means "yes", but from what I can tell most of my customers think it means "no".

People, there are perfectly good words in the English language for expressing precisely what you would like me to do. They are called "Yes" and "No" respectively. They have one syllable. They are easy to pronounce. And they are completely, totally, unquestionably unambiguous.


May 5, 2009

My Vote Counted!

The Escapist won the Webby award for best games-related website! Go Escapist!

Bioware "Gets It"

I don't often make a lot of commentary about Gaming Industry News, but one of the big and ugly problems currently in the industry is DRM. I won't write my own article about why DRM is useless, stupid, and annoying, I'll just point you to Shamus Young's article. He has the additional benefit of actually knowing something about the programming difficulties involved in DRM.

To make myself clear, though, I'm in agreement with Shamus, although I won't go to the lengths he does of eschewing games that I really want to play solely based on their DRM. I don't consider boycotting to be an effective means of combating a *single issue* in the same way that I don't consider voting for the other guy to be an effective statement. A different sort of communication is necessary.

That being said, I am so happy that I ran across this announcement on the Bioware Dragon Age forums:

"[Bioware is] happy to announce that the boxed/retail PC version of Dragon Age: Origins will use only a basic disk check and it will not require online authentication. In other words, the retail PC version of the game won’t require you to go online to authenticate the game for offline play. We have chosen not to use SecuROM in any version of Dragon Age that is distributed by EA or BioWare."

I am SO excited about this game--more than I have been about any game in years and years. I even applied for the beta test of the toolset and am busily propitiating the computer spirit in the hopes it will bestow favor upon me. It's nice to see that I can continue to love Bioware wholly and without reservation because they have done the right thing about this DRM fiasco. If they stand firm and are successful with it, they may even begin to coax EA away from their psychotic DRM policies.


May 4, 2009

Preliminary Sketchwork

Here's some of the preliminary work I've been doing for my comic idea. Right now I'm still in the "relearning how to draw using the Wacom tablet" stage.

Yes, she looks kind of like me, but what's the point in having a webcomic if you can't have an author-insertion character persona?

May 3, 2009

Neverwinter Nights 2: Mysteries of Westgate

I'm managing to squeeze along, so I thought I'd take a short break with a cheap game: the Mysteries of Westgate "Adventure Pack". Well, I'll tell you right now that the only reason I finished the thing was because I was planning to blog about it. At best, it gets a D+. I've played FREE modules by AMATEURS that were better than this thing.

Probably the worst problem right off the bat is that the thing is buggy. The game crashed more times with this module than it did the last time I played the original campaign all the way through. In addition, there are many "cut scene" dialogs where either there's no voiceover or the voiceover is broken in some way. In either case: BOOO!!!

From a gameplay perspective there's absolutely nothing new. If you've played the rest of the NwN2 releases you're not going to find anything surprising in this one.

The worst aspect of the adventure pack is, by far, the plot. It is *horrible*, like something an eleven-year-old might come up with if you asked them for something "devious". There's no intrigue, in fact, due to the way the module is set up it might even be the diametric opposite of intrigue. All of the areas are present (and most of them are LABELED ON YOUR MAP) from the beginning, the developers just make judicious use of mysteriously locked doors until you stumble upon the correct key/event/whatever that causes the door to become equally mysteriously *unlocked*. The results of this are predictable.

Take just one example: toward the end of the game you find a note from a, quote, "mysterious figure", named Kajeel. Well, if you've done any exploring at all by this point (and you have, it's pretty much obligatory), you already KNOW who Kajeel is--he's an illithid who runs a bar that is guarded by a Dao Genie in the "under city" area. This isn't mysterious! This is like finding a grocery list stuck to your refrigerator. Ooo, I wonder who it's from? Maybe it's from mom! Add to this the fact that you stumble upon at least a dozen of these accidentally dropped notes, necklaces, gems, conversations etc. etc. etc. throughout the game until you begin to believe the conspirators are throwing this stuff around like candy at a parade. They relentlessly beat you over the head with the clues and give you no opportunity at all to figure out anything by yourself. Your job is just to go where they told you to go and hope a new clue falls out of the sky onto your idiot head. It's a good thing they do, too, because you'd be lost otherwise.

The side-quests are awful, too. Most of them are downright silly (intentionally so), but they also tend to be unnecessarily convoluted, forcing you to run to four or five different locations all over the city (and, of course, endure several loading screens each time) in order to get the item for whatshisname. I'm sorry, but those obligatory fetch quests were tedious when they were straightforward. The silly aspect also makes the end of the game stupid, because there's a sudden change in direction as the writer apparently remembered he was supposed to be doing a horror story and threw in some blood and slavery and betrayal at the last second. Unfortunately, now there's no chance at all of you taking it seriously.

Even the NPC's who join you don't seem very impressed, spending most of the game bickering with each other and complaining about your actions. They're more caricatures than characters. There were several times I was actually pleased because I managed to annoy all three of them simultaneously by choosing to take the most direct route.

So, in conclusion, is Westgate worth $10? No. Give it a miss and go find a nice fan module to play if you're bored.

May 2, 2009

Procedural City

Shamus over at Twenty-sided has finished the programming part of his procedural city project and posted this REALLY AWESOME VIDEO. Check it out:

May 1, 2009

More Design Project

Here's another design project with circles, this one using gradients for a more 3d appearance: