Wednesday, 27 October 2004

It's Irony On A Base Level

(via Boing Boing)
Only people in America can access

As always someone will try and fill an available gap. Apparently everyone can access, though. It bills itself as the "Official Re-selection Site" for Dubya, but this might be one of those "exaggerations".

Update: The BBC is reporting that the blocking has been done on purpose for "security reasons". It also gives an alternative address that you can use that actually works:

Two points of interest here are that the BBC also gives the .ORG parody site address as an alternative and that the real site and the parody site aren't particularly different in tone, it's just one of them is more ready to compare Kerry to the devil than the other (see if you can guess which, I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised).

John Peel: RIP

I didn't really listen to John Peel as often as I should have, but always appreciated him when I did. Thanks, then, to ACME for having a good tribute to him:
Peel had his World Service show as well as the domestic ones, of course. He made us look good all around the world. Better than we are, sometimes. But exactly what you want the BBC to be doing. You hope there are people in Micronesia saying "yes, I know what they listen to in Britain: Dub Creator, Allen Shaw and The Woggles".
John Peel: I get letters from people who say "I hadn't listened to your programme for twelve years, and I was driving home the other night and heard something I thought was fantastic. I've listened every night since, and it was just how it used to be." Sometimes kids write in and say, "I was listening to your programme in my bedroom the other night when I was doing my homework, and my mum came in and said, 'What are you listening to?' I said, 'John Peel,' and she said, 'Oh, I used to listen to him when I was your age.'" It's nice being woven into people's lives in that way.

Update: No Rock N Roll Fun are linking to just about every Peel tribute on the 'Net.

Monday, 25 October 2004

Myths About Games & Gamers

PBS has a brief but footnoted article about "large gap exists between the public's perception of video games and what the research actually shows". The Myths debunked are as follows:
1. The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.
2. Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.
3. Children are the primary market for video games.
4. Almost no girls play computer games.
5. Because games are used to train soldiers to kill, they have the same impact on the kids who play them.
6. Video games are not a meaningful form of expression.
7. Video game play is socially isolating.
8. Video game play is desensitizing.

Wednesday, 20 October 2004

A Modest Proposal

I like The Edge of England's Sword. It mostly seems to be the thoughtful face of Right Wing UK blogging and therefore, for me, a valuable look at almost everything I used to march against when I was Young and Socialist.

A recent post, however, moved me to swearing. Especially:
Because let's face it, a bad day in America is still far better than a good day anywhere else.

To which the only real answer is: Fuck right off!

Then again, a person who seems to primarily define themself by their relationship to someone else is bound to be a little off kilter.

Update: And the funny just keeps on coming... I get accused in the comments of the linked to post of not having a sense of humour, which in this case is probably true. I take it gracefully.

Pointy Haired Bush

Making Light picks up pretty much the same things I did in the last post, but are a bit more thorough in the exploration if it.

There's a nice diversion to look at corporate culture in general and motivational posters in specific. Making Light has collected the slogans from a number of these. Looking at them in one big lump is really quite disturbing:

Reflections on the relationship between labor and management:

  • Destiny is a matter of choice, not chance
  • Power gravitates to the man who has courage.
  • We make way for the one who pushes past us.
  • The block of granite which was an obstacle in the path of the weak, becomes a stepping stone in the path of the strong
  • It is a sad fact that regardless of effort or talent, second place really means you are first in a long line of losers.

There's something horribly wrong about that last one in particular.

Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Fool On The Hill

A while ago I read an article that portrayed George W. Bush as just about all the shitty managers you've ever had. He would be informed of issues by his staff and then brow beat them in to coming up with ideas and solutions in a way that he probably thought was motivational, his lack of knowledge on a subject giving him, to his mind, a position of purity with regards to the issues. I'm sure we've all been in meetings like that. They probably have special management courses to teach you just the right note of uninformed bullying and annoyingly smug expression to use, right after the one where you're taught how to fiddle your expense account.

Scary stuff. Then I read this:

Forty democratic senators were gathered for a lunch in March just off the Senate floor. I was there as a guest speaker. Joe Biden was telling a story, a story about the president. ''I was in the Oval Office a few months after we swept into Baghdad,'' he began, ''and I was telling the president of my many concerns'' -- concerns about growing problems winning the peace, the explosive mix of Shiite and Sunni, the disbanding of the Iraqi Army and problems securing the oil fields. Bush, Biden recalled, just looked at him, unflappably sure that the United States was on the right course and that all was well. '''Mr. President,' I finally said, 'How can you be so sure when you know you don't know the facts?'''

Biden said that Bush stood up and put his hand on the senator's shoulder. ''My instincts,'' he said. ''My instincts.''

Scarier still, no?

Give Biden his due, though:
Biden paused and shook his head, recalling it all as the room grew quiet. ''I said, 'Mr. President, your instincts aren't good enough!'''

This all reminds me of my favourite psychology article (slightly spun by the fact that it's probably the only psychology article I've ever read): Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. This is an article that will either put a huge dint in your self-confidence or have you going on your way as before blissfully unaware of your own inadequacies. Just look at the abstract:
People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses linked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.

One of the things it does is back up that old saw about "The more I know the more I realise how little I know". In order to be a competent judge of how good you are at something you have to be competent at it in the first place...

Monday, 18 October 2004

Ron Gilbert Speaks

Idle Thumbs have posted the first part of an interview with the Grumpy Gamer, Ron Glbert. Well part of it is him seeming to interview them, but Ron, as always has some ideas about games that he's spent time thinking about (that is, I don't know if he is right or wrong, but you can tell that he's not just spouting off, I agree broadly with what he says and very much miss the style of game he is advocating).
I think the main thing that really bothers me is that the games business is in this dangerous cycle, where a lot of people are spending a lot of time satisfying this very small group of very vocal people, and every time they do that, they really knock out this fringe group of people who would really like to be playing games. I'm not talking about this, you know, "mass market," of moms out there who would supposedly "love to be playing Doom 3 if it just eren't so violent." I'm just talking about people who go into stores, they look for stuff, and they just don't find anything. Or maybe they buy one game, they're disappointed with it, six or nine months later they'll try something new.

"I think for those people, we could really be doing a lot more to bring them into the games industry, a lot more creative things with the games. I wish the publishers were a little more adventurous in terms of things they'd like to do, and not completely obsessed with "everything has to be so driven," you know? I guess it's a little bit frustrating to me that we're really not actively trying to branch out a little bit more.

I'm not sure if he quite gets away with comparing Monkey Island to Citizen Kane, though.

Idle Thumbs, by the way, is rapidly becoming about the only on-line games site worth visiting. Sure, it doesn't do reviews with any kind of timelyness, but that's not the point. They care about games, and write insightfully about them. They manage to do this with quite the fanboy glee in what they're doing but without devolving into the immature gibber that most games site do.

Though if you do need immature gibber, there is always UK Resistance and for timely reviews there's metacritic.

Friday, 15 October 2004

Play To Win!

The strategies and discipline needed to win at sports and games offer lessons that we can use in the real world. So far, so obvious. But not so obvious people can't be told it over and over again in books and after dinner speeches.

Marc Prensky has taken this a step further. It's not particularly a step in the right direction and it's probably not and advisable step, but he's written an article called "The Seven Games of Highly Effective People". It looks at how computer games can instill in us effective habits for success. For example:
Be proactive. This is the habit of doing, rather than waiting. You don't beat a game by waiting around for things to happen to you. You have to be there making decisions, testing strategies, defending, attacking, and pulling information from the players and characters you meet. There are many Windows games that can help hone these skills. Whether you're flying a plane in Flight Simulator, running a historical world in Rise of Nations, or building a theme park in RollerCoaster Tycoon, in games, as in life, the world is constantly changing. Those who don't learn to anticipate proactively don't succeed.

As I've mentioned before, games have their own set of acquired behaviours, shooting barrels, etc. and some of them might not quite translate as well to the real world as a Flight Sim's lessons might...

There's always a key (or hidden button, whatever). That door is there for a reason. It's to stop you from progressing. Somewhere nearby is a floating key icon, or a pressure pad, or a guard who needs shooting. As in life, a locked door shouldn't stop you, it should be seen as an opportunity for further advancement.

Killing things increases your charisma. And wisdom, dexterity, intelligence and endurance. If you are having problems at work try going for a walk in the woods killing anything that you come across then going for a nap. It's good experience and you might level up enough to cast that Level 10 Procrastination spell.

Always go for the head shot. It takes less bullets and the animation is usually a lot better.

If at first you don't succeed. IDDQD IDKFA. No problem. (Though it should be noted that not every game has cheat codes. Resign yourself to never finishing them.) In real life there are no cheat codes, but having lots of money is close enough.

Frantically pressing any button can work. OK against a suitably skilled opponent button mashing isn't going to work, but it will get you right to the end of just about any console beat-em up. Some times the appearance of work will fool most people.

Annihilating the opposition is much more satisfying than a diplomatic victory. It's also a lot easier. Winning the race to Alpha Centauri is also good, but can take ages. Better to just research Mathematics early and start buidling catapults.

Sex with hookers in the back of your car restores your health. Actually...

Thursday, 14 October 2004

The Pedantry Is Revolting

The Graun has a look at the history of pedantry. Surprisingly it is sympathetic. However, you can't help but be a but non-plussed by this:
In a letter to Saturday's Daily Telegraph, Dr Ross Watkin of Chipstead wrote [of the shower scene in Psycho]: "Someone should have told Hitchcock that a dead person's pupils are widely dilated. The final shot of the murdered Janet Leigh on the shower floor showed normal-size pupils. It quite ruined the film for me ..."

Plenty of things can ruin a movie for me -- the words Stephen Sommers in the credits, for example, or the presence of a colon in the title -- but the size of someone's pupils has never been much of a factor.

I think the spotting of movie mistakes like this tend to fall in to two categories: those which are related to the expertise of the spotter and those that are the product of the spotters obsessive need to spot something wrong. The example above falls in to the former definition, it has to be noted that it's a Doctor making the observation and on-screen errors that fall in to your area of expertise are bound to cause a niggle. The difference between the two is that Dr. Watkin had his suspension of disbelief broken, whereas disbelief was never much part of the reason for watching the movie for the other spotter. At least you get that feeling looking at a site like Movie Mistakes. For instance Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is listed as having 267 mistakes, probably about 2 per minute, which, if you really spotted all of them, would be annoying. However most errors are of the order of:
Continuity: Jack walks past the dock master, behind Jack the desk is on a wagon and the handle is leaning on the left side of the desk. Also the feather quill on the desk is leaning towards the back of the desk. When Jack walks away and takes the sack of money, the handle of the wagon isn't leaning on the desk and the feather quill on the desk is leaning forward towards the front of the desk.

It takes a special sort of person to notice that sort of thing. Actually for a couple of weeks I did try this. You can watch a movie in such a way that it's more about the process of the movie being made than anything that's happening emotionally on the screen. At the end you know a lot about the movie and you can guess a lot of things but you don't really know the story or have any idea about the motivation or lives of the character. It's a completely empty way to watch a film but it's easy to do and also gives you a lot of facile insights into the movie that no-one else will have except all the others who do this (they can then chat about it on the Internet).

Sometimes it's just better to accept the whole than pick out the imperfections of the parts that make it up.

Wednesday, 13 October 2004

Moe Szyslak Unavailable For Comment

Here's a tip for any potential Mr & Mrs Peacocks -- proud parents of baby Drew -- out there. Say the name out loud at some point before signing the birth certificate, preferably in front of a 12 year old boy (or equivalent). It will save a lot of heartache and pain later.

Monday, 11 October 2004

Nah Then, Si Thee!

I should have linked to this article when I found it. Involving as it does Austrians, Doncaster and Dialect. So here it is: GPs confused by 'manky' patients
A group of foreign doctors left baffled by South Yorkshire slang are being taught the local dialect so they know when their patients feel "champion".
The seven Austrians are fluent English speakers but were left confused by patients feeling "jiggered" or "manky".

But now doctor-patient relations in Barnsley and Doncaster have improved after the local NHS trust compiled a special Yorkshire language guide.

It's nice of the BBC to include a small glossary, too.
Ey oop = Hello
Fizog = Face
Lughole = Ear
Jiggered = Exhausted
Manky = Rough
Our lass = Wife
Gipping = Vomiting

As always with these sort of reports there's a slight air of "Don't those Northerners talk funny?" about it, though I imagine a glossary for foreign Doctors would be useful in any part of the country, just as an English Doctor with Hoch Deutsch would need a little time to understand patients in Vorarlberg or Tirol.

To me it seems that Doncaster West Primary Care Trust have spotted a problem and dealt with it, which should be a good thing not the target for slightly snide articles from the BBC.

The Truth About Dr. Strangelove

It's the 40th Anniversary of Dr Strangelove and the inevitable "Special Edition" DVD is being released. Fred Kaplan in the New York Times, though, looks at how accurate the movie really was:
Those in the know watched "Dr. Strangelove" amused, like everyone else, but also stunned. Daniel Ellsberg, who later leaked the Pentagon Papers, was a RAND analyst and a consultant at the Defense Department when he and a mid-level official took off work one afternoon in 1964 to see the film. Mr. Ellsberg recently recalled that as they left the theater, he turned to his colleague and said, "That was a documentary!"

Tuesday, 5 October 2004

Bono Makes Effort To Forget Rattle & Hum & 90s

Some things don't really need much of a punchline, eg:

Bono reveals U2's deal with fans
"There's a real deal. A real deal, between us and our audience.

"Which is we don't have to worry about where our kids are going to school, paying a hospital bill, paying the mortgage, in return we don't make a crap album.

"Two crap albums and you're out. That's our deal with our audience."

I mean, there's shooting fish in a barrel and then there's having the fish has jump out of the barrel suck on the end of the revolver.

Apparently, the grovelling apology that was "All That You Can't Leave Behind"1 wasn't actually for spending the 90's noodling about and being all ironic (or postmodern or a bunch of wankers whatever that was -- though I must admit it was probably my favourite U2 phase). And that best of 1990-2000 where all the songs were remixed to sound more like the U2 that the fans actually wanted to hear, that was probably forced on them by their label, or something.

Of course, the cruel might say that this deal would have their career stopping somewhere just after October was released.

1 Alternative title: "sorry about all that electronic stuff, we can still sound like we did before, please come back, please"

Monday, 4 October 2004

Keepin' Those Hits Up

Chris Avellone is an RPG Designer with an impressive list of credits to his name (Fallout 2, Icewind Dale, Icewind Dale 2 & Planescape: Torment). Now he's lead designer on what should surely be the second biggest X-Box title ever1 Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords (KOTOR 2 for those who can't remember all that).

The first KOTOR is probably the greatest Star Wars product since ... well depending on your preference Empire Strikes Back, Tie Fighter (the Lucasarts game) or the LEGO UCS Tie Advanced. It has a decent story2 with an excellent twist in the last third, great production values and characters you actually feel something for (and in HK 47 a fine comic character). So Avellone has a lot to live up to with KOTOR 2, I think he's up to the challenge and In this Gamespot article he explains how he's doing that, suffering for his art and our enjoyment:

Step 51 B: Do Your Research

Before sitting down with your story, do some research. For example, with The Sith Lords, I sat down and watched each of the Star Wars movies again, read every single Star Wars novel and comic book, and even shackled myself to a chair and endured the "Star Wars Christmas Special." (I incurred minimal drain bamage but did experience mildly impaired arithmetic skills that prevented me from counting or scripting anything properly.)

Anyway, the reason for this is simple: If you are working in someone else's universe, know it inside and out. Know what's been done in it, know what adventure seeds or game ideas have been done to death (or not done enough), know what bad ideas to stay away from, and know the parameters of the universe. If you're using someone else's genre, it usually comes with its own set of story-based bookends and parameters you need to consider when writing a story.

When not using someone else's universe (which is a lucky thing in today's role-playing-game market), there's still research to be done. Know what other games have done the genre you're working in, and know what's going to make your game stand out when compared to the others.

1 Halo 2 being the biggest, obviously.
2 Given that it's 40 hours of gameplay if you do most side-quests, it tells all of the seven archetypal stories and most combinations of them and happily ploughs through Joseph Campbell's 12 Step Hero Programme.

Follow Up From Way Back

In accordance with prophecy, Metallica are the new Spinal Tap.

Friday, 1 October 2004

Some Follow Ups

As sequel to Peter's post here's a comic that deals with Han Solo's trial for shooting Greedo.

As a sequel to one of my own posts, I should really mention last night's Stand By Your Man in the style of Bill Shatner (me as Bill, Peter taking up the Joe Jackson parts) at the Blues Bakery Jam Session. But you really just had to be there...