Thursday, December 30, 2010

An Open Letter To Fictional Characters

Dear everyone in a Rom-Com or Sit-Com,

Many doors, especially doors to bathrooms or the front doors of houses, have locks. If you're doing something embarrassing, or just expecting privacy, lock the door.

Also, if you hear people laughing when you're not with a crowd, that means you're in a show with a laugh track. Just kill yourself now.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

700th Post - Coen Brothers

It's my 700th post! Woo!

When it comes to the Coen Brothers, I think we can all agree that their movies are good. They're entertaining, and they have such confidence in their skills, they can do things with much more subtlety than most directors.

My issue about Coen Brothers movies is that I don't know how to think about them. Are they smarter than me, hopelessly pretentious, or both? It often seems there's an underlying metaphor, but I never can put them together. Example: What's the ending of No Country For Old Men about? Or the ending of True Grit? (Which I just saw and enjoyed. Jeff Bridges is great.)

I've read a few analyses of their movies, but they're generally a sort of crazy-person interpretation, where everything is a metaphor, every name is a weird code, and there's always someone that is standing in for God. While I know there are symbolic movies, I'm reluctant to accept such an elaborate metaphor based only on people's names, for example. I generally don't buy people's "elaborate metaphor" interpretation of stories.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

TF2 Australian Xmas Update

The new TF2 update is great. I'm going to have to re-rank all the hats, with the new hats added into the list. But first, the new items!

Boston Basher seems like an interesting idea. Slightly more damage with the bleed effect, balanced by bleeding yourself if you miss a swing.

Candy Cane is a good example of something Valve has been trying to encourage: using melee attacks as a means of finishing a fight. I think the theory is that both fighters will run out of ammo, get close, then go to melee. I don't think Candy Cane is worth it, 25% increased explosion damage is crazy bananas. Basically any explosion will bring you down so low that any more damage will kill you.

Back Scratcher would be good under two conditions: You have a bad team/bad medic, and you don't use the Axetinguisher. Generally, I think Axetinguisher is way to go, but health packs are really good.

Demo Set seems pretty legit, but the fire resistance seems like an unnecessary insult to the Pyro, especially since the Demo can already have fire resistance with the Shield

Loch-n-Load seems to be basically a Rocket Launcher that fires faster, does more damage, and has a smaller clip. I'd use it with the Demoknight build, since it'd be a way to Rocket Jump easily. Other than that, it seems Overpowered, but that's because everything the Demo has is OP.

Ullapool Caber is as awesome as it is ridiculous, which is to say, very. Massive damage in exchange for basically dying automatically.  TF2 wiki says it does about 150 damage to enemies with the explosion, then does 100 to you, which sends you flying into the air, causing fall damage too. Just another way for the demoman to kill a whole team all by himself: stickyjump in with grenade in hand.

Claidhaemohmor just seems irrelevant. The sword for people who can't go the whole way. Decent, but uninteresting.

Heavy Set is just nuts. It completely changes the way Heavy is played. The critical resistance is just odd. Does that affect Sniper Rifle headshots? Being able to survive a fully charged Sniper would be pretty cool. (Although you probably wouldn't survive, even with the resistance you'd be down to ~22 health.)

EDIT: The Warrior's Pride gives -20 health, which should mean that the Sniper Rifle can still one-shot the Heavy.

Brass Beast has a really cool model and sound, but the ludicrously slow speed of movement probably makes it too impractical for serious play.

Buffalo Steak Sandvich is crazy good right now, you can drop it like a normal Sandvich and it still heals for half HP. That's the way I generally use the Sandvich anyway, so it's like having both sandviches at once. The actual effect is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. The Heavy running across the map chasing people down with fists is something I didn't think could be that funny. It increases speed to 311, which makes heavy second fastest class in the game; you still don't have much of a chance of catching a Scout.

It's only really practical when you are in an ambush situation, since you take minicrits. This makes it almost irrelevant since I'd rather use a Minigun for 99% of ambush situations. Regardless, it's tons of fun.

Warrior's Spirit may as well say "Increases Steak Sandvich damage to ~118."

Fists of Steel would be great if they hadn't already released the GRU. As it is, they're certainly better than the other melee weapons, but the GRU's extra speed is far superior.

Jag is my new default Engie wrench, replacing the Southern Hospitality. Increased build rate is exactly what I need as a ninja-neer. The reduced damage will be a pain against Spies, but as El_Dawg points out, the 146 Crit damage is still enough to kill a spy, and Engie has roughly a 100% crit rate with Wrench.

Medic Set
The Medic Set is exactly what I've been asking for. The extra health regeneration is just gravy.

Crusader's Crossbow is still a question to me. You're basically trading extra healing ability in exchange for losing any real chance of defending yourself. The healing function does two cool things: It's a ranged heal, and it gives you a small "spike" of healing, since you can quickly switch to it, shoot it for 75 healing minimum, then switch back to Medigun without reloading.

The Reload is the primary weakness of the Crossbow, since it takes about 5 years. It makes the gamble of using it from extreme distances too risky, if you ask me. Unless you're targeting a heavy, (on either team), you're probably going to miss, and you can't just fire again really quickly like with the Huntsman. Also, you should be using that time to build uber, not reloading a stupid Crossbow. I think the Crossbow would actually be a more practical gun if you couldn't reload it.

Amputator is fantastic. The Medigun heals 24 HP a second to one person at a time, while the Amputator heals 75 HP a second for everyone around you. With only two people around you, it heals more than five times as fast as the Medigun. I'm not going to say it's a perfect weapon; it doesn't build Uber, and you're incredibly vulnerable while you're taunting. Despite those faults, this is my pick for Medic Melee slot now.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Some Movie Thoughts

First of all, Inception may not be a bad movie. The real measure of a movie is whether people like it, whether they feel like their 10$ is well spent. With that measure, it wasn't a good movie to me. I do maintain, however, that Inception is a bad story. Stories are about character, and the characters in Inception suck.

To be fair, Inception is nowhere near the worst movie of the year. One of the largest injustices of all time is that the turd of Alice In Wonderland is one of the 7 movies to make a billion dollars. Hereafter is so tedious, I only stayed in the theater because I assumed that it was building up to something.

Spoiler: Hereafter is like a Ayn Rand book. Reality doesn't support Objectivism or Hereafter's belief in the afterlife, so the author simply creates their own reality, where it's obvious that their belief is correct. This fictional "proof" takes precedence over character, plot, etc. Hence, the "climax" of Hereafter isn't an event of narrative importance, it's an event that shows that the afterlife is real.

Speaking of the afterlife, the reason people see a light when they have a near death experience is just because there's no oxygen going to their brain. It's a repeatable medical condition, not some magical connection to another world. All of these "glimpses of the afterlife" imply that god created a pretty crappy way of separating the alive from the dead.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Obama's Hostages, Redux

I know I've already rephrased this two or three times already, but one more time.

Imagine Obama was a real Hostage Negotiator. He refuses to deal with the hostage takers, until the hostage takers harm one of the hostages, which makes Obama cave immediately. What do you think will happen in the next hostage crisis? The next hostage takers will know exactly what to do to make Obama give in, and just skip to harming the hostages for no reason.

Obama didn't just lose this crisis, he created a whole range of new artificial crises.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Negotiating With Terrorists

Game Theory gives us a simple lesson about negotiating with Terrorists: DON'T DO IT. Even if the Terrorist is demanding $2.50 and a coke in exchange for not annihilating Europe, you CANNOT give them anything. 

The incentive to negotiate is simple; you can forestall deaths or destruction for some smaller sacrifice. So why not negotiate, under any circumstances? Because of the next threat. If someone has to kill some hostages to get some concessions in negotiations, then those concessions have killed untold number of future hostages. You can save some people in the room, but you've encouraged future attacks for the rest of time.

This is why Obama's reasoning on the tax cuts is wrong. He directly invoked the hostage argument, then did the exact wrong thing. Obama said that you don't negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage may get hurt. This says that any time the Republicans want anything at all, they only need to tie the bill to some looming disaster. Instead of putting the hostages at risk this time, Obama has put two years of future bills under the same terrorist threat.

EDIT: Let me make this clear: by appeasing the Republicans,  Obama has ensured that Republicans will sabotage every necessary bill until the last moment. Once a bill's passage becomes an emergency measure, the Republicans will present a series of new demands. Obama will presumably surrender to whatever the Republicans want at that time. The Republicans will still pass the bill, so they will receive no political backlash.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Orwellian Republicans

One of the things that Slacktivist likes to talk about is Pre-Millennial Dispensationalists (PMD). Personally, I find Bible interpretation to be quite interesting, but I'll skip the details of their Theology for the moment.

Specifically, I'm addressing the attitude of PMD members towards talking about Peace. In their system, the Antichrist, (a character never actually in the Bible) will come with promises of Peace, but will leverage his power into Violence, War, and Tyranny. Therefore, anyone who praises Peace is seen as a wolf in sheep's clothing, only addressing Peace for the purposes of gaining power. This paradoxically has led to people who theoretically support Peace only supporting politicians who praise War.

Republicans have a similar attitude toward a lot of things. It's possible that this is not a coincidence, since PMD members are generally Republicans. In particular, Republicans have completely reversed the meaning of Freedom. Democrats (theoretically) still celebrate the Four Freedoms of FDR,
  1. Freedom of speech and expression
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear
(Thanks, Wikipedia!)

And Republicans turn all of these Freedoms into a covert attempt to eliminate Freedom. Freedom of Worship has been transformed into "Banning Prayer in School". Freedom From Want has been turned into Socialism leading to Fascism. And Freedom from Fear has been Surrender to Terror.

Republicans, on the other hand, want to compel children to pray on Republican terms, want the poor to be free to freeze to death under a bridge, and want everyone on earth to be continuously in paroxysms of fear from formless Terror. Naturally, the President who frankly said "there ought to be limits to freedom" is celebrated as a freedom loving President. The one who thinks that arresting people without cause is wrong is a freedom hating President.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Why Obama Disappoints Me

Everyone has decided to pile on Obama lately, so I thought I'd join in. To me, Obama has two main problems:

  1. He's unwilling or incapable to sell or enunciate a left-wing philosophy. Instead of this, he simply fights for his positions, but lets the Republicans argue against them with no counter-argument. This leads to an image of someone passing laws that no one supports. What we need is a Barry Goldwater of the Democratic Party, someone who can sell the message.
  2. Obama doesn't know how to negotiate on the legislative front. In a traditional negotiation, both sides make some concessions until they both find a position that they are able to swallow. With Obama, Democrats just make concessions over and over again, then pass their bills without any Republican support anyway. It seems like Obama genuinely believes in his message of bipartisanship, and he just can't believe that Republicans would be so determined to undermine his agenda, even if it wrecks the country.
Let me make it clear, I do support Obama, and he's passed some good bills, but we really need a truly left-wing president some day. Ever since Reagan, we've shifted hard to the Right. I'd say that we haven't seen a truly Democratic President since Carter.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nicolas Cage Mystery

I have a profound question about Nicolas Cage. Why do I like him, even though all his movies are, at best, schlock? The best you can say about Con Air and The Rock, unarguably his best movies, is that you can have fun while watching them sometimes. He has been in so many terrible movies, he's essentially a B movie actor with a bigger paycheck.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Inception #5 on IMDB

I know this happens every time a new pretentious movie comes out, but this is particularly revolting. Inception is #5 on the IMDB list of the best movies ever made.I'm sure in a year it'll be much lower, but this is absurd.

Toy Story 3 is a much better film, and it's only at #20. LA Confidential is better than either of those, and it's only 65. I think we can all agree that the IMDB list is flawed, at best.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Megamind Review

Megamind is a surprisingly thoughtful film. Much more slowly paced than I would have expected. It reminds me of The Nightmare Before Christmas, in the sense that the driving force of the protagonist is ennui, something rare for a movie theoretically aimed at children.

I give it heaps of extra credit for the way they've controlled the trailers. They did a great job not spoiling anything. Everything you've seen in the trailers only covers the first twenty minutes or so.

I saw the AV Club gave a B+ to Tangled, so maybe it's not terrible? Rapunzel has a spunky animal friend, so it seems like it has to be bad, I dunno.

.8 Ron Perlmans out of a possible 5.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Home Rule For Football

I had a great idea for a home rule for American Football. When a team is ahead in points, any additional points it earns should be cut in half. This will make for closer games, and will enrage serious fans. It's perfect.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Retail Worker's Manifesto

I've been working retail for a few weeks now. Oftentimes, a co-worker will sigh and complain about how the customers have left the store a mess. In response, I always ask them, "would you rather be unemployed?"

When your job is to clean up a mess, if there's no mess, then you have no job. If customers all cleaned up after themselves, we'd be out of a job. Also, having customers clean the store would be terribly inefficient, since they have no training or interest in doing it properly. Essentially, they're paying a tiny fraction more in cost to reimburse someone else to clean up their mess. This is not wrong, and it is not a problem.

When you go shopping, if you want to do the regular workers a favour, don't tidy up after yourself. If you want to help the management/corporate overlords, feel free to clean up the place.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Winter Is Here

We've been lucky with the weather up to now; it's been unseasonably warm until today. Now it looks like Winter has officially arrived. Sometimes I wonder why people settle in such crappy places. (In case you were actually curious why people settle in terrible places, the answer is simple: the better spots were already taken.)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Market Analysts

I wish I were a "market analyst". You get to announce things with no justification other than your own preconceived notions, and people report it as news.

Every time I see a video game "news" article that is simply repeating whatever a "market analyst" said, I want to get rid of the internet. I'd feel better about the whole thing if they replaced the words "market analyst" with "some guy".

Example: "Some guy says that new Call of Duty will break sales records".

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Rock Band 3 Thoughts

Rock Band 3 is everything I'd want from a new Rock Band. The Key-tar is very good, and all the visuals, menus, and general functionality is improved. Being able to jump in or out of a song, change difficulty, and even change instrument, all while the song is playing, is really cool.

I really enjoy the visuals. The lip syncing is amazingly good, the characters really look like they're singing. My one complaint is the audience members; you'll often see two identical models doing the exact same animation at the same time. It seems like it would have been easy to at least change the colours of their clothing, if nothing else.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Reporters Are Stupid

Why do people keep saying that Obama will have to Veto all these Republican measures? I think it's because it's easier to have a "Republicans Vs Obama" story line. The problem is, we have a bicameral legislature, and the Senate is run (just barely) by Democrats.

If any bills get to Obama, it'll be a victory for bipartisanship.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Ultra-Summary: Hereafter

English Boy: Moi Bruvver doied. (My brother died)

Matt Damon: Get over it.

~The End~

Monday, November 01, 2010

Second Medic Update, Please

I think the next thing Valve needs to do, after making this mysterious new game mode, is a new Medic update of some kind. If you compare the Medic of today to the Medic of the release, he's almost the same. Sure, he has access to the Kritzkrieg, but that's it.

No wonder people get bored playing the medic, it's been the same thing for over two years now.

I also find it frustrating because it's so reliant on others' abilities. If your team is bad at fragging, the best healing in the world isn't going to win the game.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Most Beautiful Thing

I assume you've seen American Beauty. It's a good movie. One question: when that guy shows the video of the plastic bag, describing it as the most beautiful thing he's ever seen, are we supposed to think that it's actually beautiful? I always thought it was just another example of how completely devoid of beauty their world is.

Friday, October 29, 2010

TF2 Halloween Update

The TF2 Halloween update is pretty cool. The Horseless Headless Horseman is a great new game idea. Running in terror from a giant killer ghost isn't something I had expected to see in TF2, but it's lots of fun.

What I've really been enjoying is the new Art Pass Map. It is great for Engineers. Since the spawn doesn't move for either team, teleporters win the game. I don't like when the final control point is inches from RED team's spawn, it makes it far to easy for Demomen to hide in their spawn while maintaining stickies on the point.

I've never even seen the randomly spawning gift. The rewards aren't that great, so I don't really mind. There's no way I'd be able to summon up the 4 refined metal to craft any of the new Halloween items, so I'm not bothering to get any Haunted Metal.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Brown Eyed Girl

I think "Brown Eyed Girl" may be my favorite song of all time. For some reason, I just adore songs that are wistful and looking back. It's kinda funny, since I never look back at my own past with any sort of emotional attachment.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why Can't Democrats Communicate?

Republicans are really good at selling their message. Since they have no principles, they can change their agenda instantly with no shame, and they all will repeat the same talking points in unison, making it seem as though there must be some validity to their lies.

Democrats, on the other hand, barely even have a message. They've been so beaten down by the Republican media machine that they have no idea how to sell an agenda that benefits ordinary people over the super-wealthy.

America needs a Democratic Barry Goldwater, a man who stands by Democratic principles without shame, and tries to win minds, instead of winning votes. Yes, Goldwater lost, but the Republican party has been controlling the political dialogue ever since that loss, except for maybe a brief period of time following Nixon's resignation. Jimmy Carter was the last president to actually stand behind Democratic values, and he was crucified for it, largely because of economic forces outside of his control.

Obama tries to implement Democratic policies, but he does it the wrong way. He attempts to win over Republican votes in the Congress by weakening his policies. This would be a legitimate agenda, but there's a simple problem: The Republican's entire agenda is to prevent Obama's legislative agenda. It doesn't matter that the Obama health care bill has more ideas from Republicans than Democrats, Republicans would vote against anything with Obama's name on it.

This attempt at bipartisanship was sensible for the first major bill, but after that, it's better to just call out the Republicans as hypocrites and push through aggressive Democratic legislation. They should have forced the Republicans to actually filibuster bills that continue unemployment benefits and a tax cut that doesn't unfairly benefit the wealthiest classes. Instead, Democrats have allowed the Republicans to continue the anonymous silent filibuster, giving a single Senator more Veto power than the President.

It isn't that hard to have talking points for Democratic candidates. I'll make some up off the top of my head:

*Republicans will sacrifice the poor of America to benefit the rich.
*Democrats can regulate the industries that Republicans have allowed to trample average citizens.
*Companies should be forced to pay for the harm they've done, just like you or I have to pay for mistakes we've made.
*The Republican's economic plan will increase unemployment and the deficit.
*Republicans are tools of international cartels who are hostile to American values.

There's a similar problem in the Supreme Court, where Republican Scalia dominates the Judicial media in the same way the Republicans dominate the regular media. Scalia insists that all of his decisions are based on the original will of the Framers of the Constitution. This position is insane, but it sounds very good. Left-wing justices don't have a similar talking point to sell their agenda, probably because they're not as dishonest. After all, pretending that a complicated issue can be addressed in a single sentence is essentially dishonest.

I wish left-wing justices would just say, "Times change. We shouldn't use the 1800 definition of 'cruel and unusual punishment', just because that's when the Framers lived. We should read the Constitution by what it says. If we start trying to interpret it through the wishes of dead men, we descend into madness. If you don't want the Constitution to say something, then you should amend it."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ranking The Best Hats in TF2

Let's rank the best hats in TF2, using science! (Note, I'm not including items that can't be traded.)

In a purely scientific sense, the hats that give an in-game bonus must be the most valuable. This means we have to start with the Polycount hats.

Polycount Hats (Rank 1)
Familiar Fez
The Attendant
Ol' Snaggletooth
Grenadier's Cap

After the Polycount hats, things become more subjective. Market forces make it clear that one hat stands above the rest in value, though.

Event Hats (Rank 2)
Max's Severed Head
The Lumbricus Lid

It seems like not many people bought the Sam and Max games, so there aren't many of the severed heads to go around. After Max's Severed Head, it's even more subjective what hats have what value. There are some good statistics at

A special category of "Hat" are the second slot items. These have a high value because there are so few of them. Only three classes have their own. Where each medic may want a different hat, every medic wants the Physician's Procedure Mask, which makes it roughly 5 times as valuable as a given medic hat.

Second Slot Items (Rank 3)
Physician's Procedure Mask
The Whiskered Gentleman

Since the Camera Beard was being dropped at the rate of a regular item for so long, and it's kinda stupid looking, I'm putting it much lower on the list. Earbuds too.

The next set of hats are the hats that all the classes can wear. These have more value to those poor and Irish people who don't have a specific hat for each class.

All Class Hats (Rank 4)
Towering Pillar of Hats
Modest Pile of Hat
Noble Amassment of Hats

The bulk of hats don't fit into any particular category. Their ranking is purely aesthetic. I've grouped them by class.

Regular Hats (Rank 5)

Troublemaker's Tossle Cap
Bombing Run
Ye Olde Baker Boy
Whoopee Cap
Batter's Helmet
Bonk Helm
Stout Shako
Chieftain's Challenge
Dr's Dapper Topper
Killer's Kabuto
Sergeant's Drill Hat
Tyrant's Helm
Stainless Pot

Brigade Helm
Vintage Merryweather
Old Guadalajara
Napper's Respite
Triboniophorus Tyrannus
Respectless Rubber Glove
Pyro's Beanie
Tippler's Tricorne
Hustler's Hallmark
Demoman's Fro
Glengarry Bonnet
Carouser's Capotain
Sober Stuntman
Rimmed Raincatcher
Hound Dog
Pugilist's Protector
Heavy Duty Rag
Officer's Ushanka
Tough Guy's Toque

Texas Ten Gallon
Engineer's Cap

Otolaryngologist's Mirror
Ze Goggles
Vintage Tyrolean
Gentleman's Gatsby
Prussian Pickelhaube
Professional's Panama
Master's Yellow Belt
Shooter's Sola Topi
Bloke's Bucket Hat

Fancy Fedora
Backbiter's Billycock
Magistrate's Mullet
Frenchman's Beret

I've included a special category for hats that don't look like you have a hat at all. Also stupid looking hats.

Stupid Hats (Rank 6)
Scotsman's Stovepipe (Looks like the Gibus)
Soldier's Stash
Mining Helmet
Trophy Belt
Handyman's Handle
Hard Counter
Football Helmet

The second to last category is the "Hatless" hats

Hatless (Rank 7)
Hatless Sniper
Hatless Engineer
Hatless Scout

The last category is hats that basically everyone has.

The Common Hats (Rank 8)
Bill's Hat
Ellis' Hat

Camera Beard
Alien Swarm Parasite

Friday, October 22, 2010

Job Search Self-Doubts

I've been looking for a job pretty aggressively lately, and it's a pretty tough market out there. One of my problems is that when someone responds to my resumè, I assume that they must be trying to give me some sort of terrible job, since why else would they be hiring me? I am a great guy, but I have a pretty crummy resumè right now.

So I always assume that the role being offered is some sort of call center or commission based job, which are basically two of the three things I refuse to do. (The other is handling food). I have decided that I should pursue even these suspicious looking offers, at least until it's absolutely clear it's some sort of no-hope position.

Man, this is a boring post. Sorry readers!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


My teeth are sweet it turns out. My dentist actually made soft "ooh" and "aah" noises when looking at my teeth. Apparently I'm the dental equivalent of The Chosen One. Except I don't floss enough, and my gums are kinda sensitive.

Wow, spell check doesn't accept "gums".

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Romance Drake Equation

So I'm interested in the romantic aspect of life. This presents some difficulty to me, since I'm bad at meeting new people. There's also a demographic problem, which I can summarize in a formula similar to the Drake Equation*.

We take the current population of persons within a reasonable traveling distance,  let's say that's two million people. Then we divide that by the percentage of those persons that I would be compatible with. First, we have to eliminate all the dudes, so that's 50%, and we're down to 1 million. Then we have to eliminate all the ladies that aren't interested in dudes, that's another 10%, 900.000 left.

They'd have to be a High School graduate, minimum, but I'll use the statistic for "Attended College", which is 52.5%, according to the Wikipedia, leaving 472.500.

I'd like it if they were within 5 years of my age, which is about 27% of the population, 127.575 left.

Apparently 45% of people in my demographic are already married, so that's 57408. Then there's all the people that are in a relationship, but haven't married. That's a tougher number, so let's just say it's 50%, 28.704 left.

Religion is a tricky subject, since I don't mind if someone is mildly religious, but it would obviously have to be compatible with my Atheism, so I'll use the statistic for non-religious, which is about 15%, 4.305 left.

That's a pretty small number when you compare it to our initial number of two million persons, especially when you consider that I've essentially made no consideration for personality. How many of those 4305 could put up with my nonsense? I obviously can't assign it a number, but it's probably not encouraging.

Anyway, I guess what I'm saying is that I could use some help, so if anyone knows anyone that they think would work out, I'd appreciate the connection.

*I am aware that this approach is symptomatic of why I don't have any romance in my life right now, no need to point out the irony.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Best TF2 Hats, Part II

EDIT: Since this post, I've made a more comprehensive post, where I rank every tradable hat in TF2. You can check it out here!

I looked at my website statistics, and discovered that my ancient article calling the Scotsman's Stove Pipe the best hat in TF2 is the most popular thing I've ever written. This is rather depressing, since it's not a particularly meaningful article, and I don't even think it's true anymore.

The coolest hat in TF2 is the Stout Shako. Look at its majesty!
Picture courtesy of the TF2wiki.

In fact, if you're going to craft a hat, I'd highly suggest crafting a Soldier hat, even if you don't want a soldier hat. Yes, it costs an extra Refined Metal and a Soldier Token, but the Soldier has 4 new hats in the Polycount update, and they're all sweet. You have a 4/9 chance of getting a hat that someone would gladly trade two hats for. Only one of the Soldier hats, the Soldier's Stash, is truly bad. This leaves a 8/9 chance of getting a good hat, far better odds than any other class!

The Familiar Fez is my new favorite Spy hat, but really, all Spy hats are good.

The best thing with Medic is the Otolaryngologist's Mirror plus the Physician's Procedure Mask. It really plays up the medical side.

PS. Does anyone have a Shako to trade?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Why Vita-Saw is Bad

The popular logic seems to be that the Vita-Saw may be alright. The benefit is obvious, you get to keep your uber at 20% when you die, saving yourself 10 or so seconds for your next uber.

The disadvantage is the point of debate. Most people seem to think that -10 HP isn't very significant. After all, people say, how many times do you survive with 10 HP or less?

I think this argument is self-evidently false.  It essentially claims that 10 HP or less is equal to death. In other words, once you taken the first 140 damage, the last 10 damage is inevitable. However, this same logic can be applied to the Vita-Saw. If 10 HP inevitably results in death, then you're dead after taking only 130 damage.

In the end, -10 HP is significant, regardless of armchair generalizations.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Mann-conomy Items Review!

The new TF2 update is sweet. I'm going to briefly review all the new items. (Later I'm going to post about all the trading I've been doing. Basically, I've been robbing people, and they say "thanks" at the end.)

Vita-saw: Worst item in the game.

Gloves Of Running Urgently: Heavy has been waiting for this for a long time, and it is worth it*. This makes the Heavy infinitely more valuable for 5-point capture maps, since the Heavy can arrive at the center point with the rest of the team, and can run to capture the next point with the team, instead of showing up late to everything. I would pick these in 100% of situations.

The melee damage reduction is trivial. If you're doing melee with the Heavy, you're doing it wrong.

The damage over time can actually be beneficial if you're with a medic; the self-damage serves the same purpose as a soldier shooting himself, making the über charge faster.

The Scout Pack:
This one seems crazy overpowered. If you have the hat with these items, you get +25 HP. If you don't have the hat, you don't. How is this not getting bonuses from a hat?

The Holy Mackerel: The best item in the game.

Shortstop: Seems good, but I haven't had a chance to use it. The slow effect is hardly noticeable, mainly because you die before you have time to check what's going on.

Mad Milk: I definitely like the idea, but again, I haven't had a chance to try this one out. Seems like it would work very well if both teams were meeting in large groups and you milked a bunch of their team at once. It would basically become a heal effect for your whole team for the duration of the fight.

The Soldier Pack
The item bonus for the Soldier pack isn't as good as the scout pack, but it's still a pure bonus. Sentries are often rather binary: if you get in the range of a level three sentry, I don't think a 20% resistance is going to save you.

The Black Box
The Black Box works as a spam weapon for long distances. I don't see a place for it in competitive play, but I could imagine someone playing long range spammer in a public game. It's especially good in pubs because there are so few medics. There's basically no way to use this gun for dive bombing people or other close up fights though.

Battalion's Backup:  I'm not sure about this one. The true power of it is canceling critical hits, but I don't know a way to anticipate crits in a timely way. I'd be very impressed if someone managed to time this against the activation of a Kritzkrieg.

The Pyro Pack:
This set bonus is far more balanced. You get 10% more speed, (making you a little faster than a medic, but a scout is still much faster than you), but you gain a 10% vulnerability to bullets. I'd really like to give this one a try, even though I don't like the Powerjack.

The Powerjack: The natural comparison is with the Axetinguisher, and the Powerjack comes up short. The damage bonus for the Powerjack is trivial compared to the Axetinguisher's 195 damage crit. The bonus 75 health for getting a kill with the Powerjack is cool, but you have to be psychic to know when the enemy has enough HP to die from a single hit, and you really don't want to have to swing with it twice.

In other words: to get the bonus HP you need kills, and it's too hard to get kills with the Powerjack's damage output.

Degreaser: I love the Degreaser. The weapon switch is unbelievably fast. It's possible to set someone on fire, switch to the Axetinguisher, and get your free crit in about a second. It also makes it much more practical to switch the the Flare Gun or Shotgun for long-distance spamming, then switch back to the Degreaser for reflecting rockets and other projectiles. The reduction in afterburn damage is almost trivial; you lose 17 damage over the course of the fire.

I'm pretty sure this uses the sound effect of the flamethrower from Alien Swarm.

The Sniper Pack:
This is another "purely better" equipment pack. If you have the hat, you cannot die from headshots, and if you don't have the hat, headshots can kill you. There is no trade-off whatsoever. Top Tip: If you do have this hat, Don't move around when you're fighting another Sniper. You want them to headshot you, instead of killing you with a bodyshot.

Darwin's Danger Shield: I know I wouldn't use this item, I like Jarate too much. But maybe someone would run this with the Huntsman as a close range sniper.

Sydney Sleeper: This is the sniper rifle for the real team player. You're not going to be getting nearly as many pro kills with this thing, but you may get a lot of pro assists. A good team will focus their attack on the person you've "marked", which allows you to designate targets. If you want to use the Sleeper but still not use any teamwork, you could try it with the SMG. People would be much less willing to attack when you have a mini-critting hitscan to repel them.

Bushwacka: This crits instead of mini-critting. How are you going to get minicrits? You're probably not going to be going into melee with the Buff Banner, so that leaves Jarate and the Sleeper. This is basically a defensive weapon. If someone gets close, you throw Jarate or hope you shot them with the Sleeper, then you go for melee. I like it.

The Spy Pack:
This is one of those item sets that's like playing a completely different class. With the reduction in watch sound, this pack is clearly for the Dead Ringer. With the Eternal Reward, this means that you can't disguise and you can't turn invisible except in very narrow situations.

The item description "0.5 sec longer Cloak blink time" is rather obscure. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Valve has been bad at expressing themselves again.

Your Eternal Reward: This is a really neat item. As with all spy items, people will get used to it and return to hosing Spies soon enough, but right now, it's still taking people off guard. By instantly disguising as the person you've backstabbed, you're invulnerable to sentries. Since the backstabs are silent, it's much easier to chainstab people.

L'etranger: Getting a little more charge isn't that important, unless you have the Dead Ringer, which requires a full charge to activate. Unless you're using the DR, stick with the revolver.

They're good for trading to people with more money than sense. There's less than a 5% chance of getting a special hat. Logically, this means the unusual hats are worth more than 50$ of keys, plus the cost of getting the crates. Also, there's a good chance it won't be a very good hat. If there's a 50% chance of getting a hat you want, then those hats are worth 100$ of keys. To be clear, I'd love to have a hat with a particle effect, but there is no way in hell I'd spend real money to gamble for one, especially with a 50% chance of getting a normal weapon or normal hat.

*When they increased the speed of the Heavy's spin-up, spin-down, and walk speed when spun-up, I thought that was a replacement for the GRU. Now the he has both, Heavy will be a true beast.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Regulate Your Weight!

Do you weigh too much, or too little? I can solve that for you. Count how many calories you take in, then count how many calories you burn through activity. If you want to lose weight, make sure that your calories-in are less than your calories-out. If you want to gain weight, reverse the process. There is no other way to reliably regulate your weight.

A top-tip: if you want to reduce calories-in, an easy first step is to not drink any calories. That means no drinking soda or alcohol. Period. That's also an easy way to save a lot of money.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Random Rankings

I thought I'd rank a few things, in order of best to worst:

Star Wars: 4, 5, 6, 3, 2, 1
Star Trek Series: Next Generation, DS9, Enterprise, Original Series, Voyager, Animated
Noble Gases: Helium, Krypton, Neon, Argon, Xenon, Radon
Kubrick Films: Dr Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket, Clockwork Orange, 2001, The Shining, Barry Lyndon, and the rest.
TF2 Classes: Demoman, Medic, Scout, Soldier, Heavy, Sniper, Pyro, Engineer, Spy
British Colonies: USA, Australia, India, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand
Queens of England: Elizabeth 1, Victoria, Anne, Mary 1, Elizabeth 2
Whig Presidents of the USA: John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, William Henry Harrison

Lists are often not comprehensive, too much work.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Psychic Powers

A while ago, I linked a page that listed 5 things they want out of Science Fiction stories. There's one I forgot, Psychic Powers, and anything else that involves "Action at a distance". Faster than Light travel is more plausible than two things interacting without a medium to convey energy. Psychic powers also become a Superman ability, where the narrative often demands that the character forget they possess their powers until the end of the story.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sometimes, I Just Don't Know

Of all the arguments against the Islamic Community Center in New York*, I think the most ridiculous one is "Muslims can build a mosque in New York when Christians can build a church in [Iran/some other theocratic nation]."

I think even the most casual analysis of that argument logically means that the speaker is saying "The United States should only be as free as the least free country in the world."

Of course, all the other arguments are nearly that stupid, this one just barely takes the cake.

* also known inaccurately as the Ground Zero Mosque

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Republican Split

I don't know if I wrote it down anywhere, but I predicted there would be a split in the Republican party soon after the end of the Bush Presidency. My theory went like this: "The Republicans have been holding all three branches of Congress, and they haven't fulfilled any of their major promises*. The heart of the Republican party will insist that they enforce their ideological beliefs, and the political wing will want to continue their lack of action on wedge issues."

In other words, I thought the Republicans would have to hash out their political beliefs. Are they loyal to their corporate wing, (yes), or are they loyal to the Christian Right? Can they actually produce any results on reducing the power of the government, or actually start protecting the rights of Americans? I was completely wrong. It looks like the Republicans will be able to go through another cycle without deciding what they are.

The Tea Party isn't capable of debate because it has no positions. They have talking points, but "Fix the economy, lower taxes, and balance the budget" isn't a position, it's a wish list. Of those three, the government can do one at any given time, maybe two if they're lucky. The Tea Party's "position" is just being really really against the Democratic Party. They embody a sort of Stalin-esque unwillingness to compromise or agree with the enemy. If the Republicans retake a significant fraction of the government**, the Tea Party will cease to be.

*Ending abortion, prayer in school, ending gay marriage, etc.
** I'll bet that won't happen in the next 3 years

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Story Is About Character

Todd Alcott is a writer of screenplays. He also maintains a blog where he analyzes other peoples' films. His central rule of analysis is simple: "What does the Protagonist want?". I'm not sure that I agree 100% with the implications of that, but it is a good way to approach a story.

Kurt Vonnegut has a simple rule for writing: everything that you write must either,
  1. Advance the plot, or
  2. reveal character
If, at the end of the story, we haven't learned anything about the characters, then it's not really a story, it's more like a list of events. This is the weakness of a lot of movies, including Inception. At the end of Inception, what do we know about the characters?

Dom Cobb:
  1. Wife died, (sad)
  2. Children are inaccessible (sad)
  3. Used to be really good at dreamweaving, but issues with wife have made that impossible.
  1. Is a student
  2. Has a hopelessly pretentious name (This reveals more about the screenwriter than the character)
  3. Becomes relatively proficient at dreamweaving
And so on. If you want to know if a character is well fleshed out, imagine them in a different context. What would Dom talk about with a stranger at a bar? How would Ariadne act at a fancy wedding? Compare those "characters" to your favorite characters. Think of listing everything you know about Han Solo, or Andy Dufresne.

If you want to make a good story, create a character that we care about. Everything else comes second.

PS. Inception could have been shortcut entirely if Michael Caine had just brought Dom's children out of America.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Picks

I'm a big fan of Google Reader. If a normal Internet user wanted to know whether something had updated, they'd be forced to visit that website every time they were curious. This leads to a lot of wasted time and effort, and can result in websites being totally forgotten after a period with no updates. With Google Reader, I visit one site in the morning and it gives me every update to every website I've chosen to track, all in one list. It's great.

As I check out the Reader feed, I'll find articles that interest me and, I believe, would interest others. I share them on the top-right of this very website. It seems pretty prominent to me, but I don't know if anyone uses this feature.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Teaching Science

The title "teaching science" has a double meaning. Science needs to be taught more, and earlier, to American children in particular, and we also need to use science to improve teaching.

Far too often, a teacher enters into a school with a few methods that have been passed down without scientific analysis. They then settle into a rut that does not change, regardless of effect. We need to bring Scientific Management to teaching. Teaching can be optimized just like any other process. This is not to say that individual teachers should be robots, but they should be compelled to use methods that work better. This requires a lot of leeway for teachers and administrators to see if a particular teaching method is more effectual for a given educator, but that's what all Scientific Management features, in an ideal world.

People seem to think that Science and its cousin Math are advanced topics that are only fit for a small segment of students, and they only should be introduced at a relatively advanced level of schooling. Both of those principles are disastrously wrong. Everyone should have a basic knowledge of how science works, and anyone can learn it.

If science were better known, we wouldn't have nearly as many parasites on gullibility, our psychics, homeopaths, astrologers, mediums (media?), ghost hunters, and so on would have to move into industries that actually create value.

There's no reason younger children can't learn the basics of Math and Science. If a kindergartner can learn that "The cow goes 'Moo'", then there's no reason that they can't learn that the red line (below) is the radius of a circle.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Dear Followers

Dear people who follow this blog,

I've noticed that there are a couple more of you recently. Is there something that's prompted this? Why did you decide to follow me? Also, if you're unaware of my other activities, and are interested in Shakespeare, or Podcasts, you should check out my other blog, BardCast, The Shakespeare Podcast.

Also, what do any of you get from this blog? I never thought it was particularly interesting to a wider audience. My interests are all over the place, and I go in-depth in the things I talk about. I doubt there are many people with my particular set if interests, but maybe there are some. I don't know.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Superman Is a Tool

Just a couple posts ago, I criticized Superman stories. They inevitably feature Superman nearly losing, then inexplicably summoning the energy to win after all. I've thought about it since then, and that's not always true. Sometimes, Superman is the villain.

Obviously, Superman is never a traditional villain. He never wants to hurt people. It's his desire to help that makes him a villain in both Red Son and The Dark Knight Returns. We all know that Superman is a total tool, these stories capitalize on the fact. Bad Superman stories make Superman into just some guy that has more powers than a normal guy. Good Superman stories show that Superman is alien in every sense of the word, not just because he's from another planet, but because his abilities set him apart from anyone else in the world, except a  few other supers.

Anyway, I just read Red Son today, and it's fantastic.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lost Epilogue

These Dharma employees are told that Dharma hasn't existed for 20 years, and that they've been receiving directions from an automated system for that entire time. They're offered an answer to one question each.

Neither of them think to ask, "who's been feeding, supplying, and paying us for the past 20 years?"

Again and again, LOST is a lie. Even the answers to questions aren't real answers.

PS. The two last sentences of Lost are Walt asking Hurley, "Why?" and Hurley changing the subject. How absolutely appropriate. The novice of denying information to the audience has become its new captain.

Monday, August 30, 2010


Is it just me, or is every Superman story "Oh man, it looks like Superman's on the ropes! No, wait! He's summoned the energy to win, even though he couldn't do it a second ago!"? It's particularly egregious when he's on the ropes because of Kryptonite. It was my understanding that Kryptonite didn't just make him a little nauseated, it's supposed to make his powers not work.

The worst offender of all time is the latest Superman movie, where Superman is stabbed near fatally on an island of Kryptonite, and only needs to fly off to get some sunlight before he carries the entire island of Kryptonite into space.

Good heroes do things even though it seems impossible. Superman manages this by having his power levels fluctuate wildly for no apparent reason. Maybe there's a rich vein of Superman stories where this doesn't happen, but I don't know of them.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Problem

I've been raised on media that's created unrealistic expectations for me. Not just expectations about sex, looks, money, and happiness. I don't care about those things. My problem is the way that media has led me to think that one day, without me doing anything, my life will suddenly hit me. One day, I'll meet a girl, or discover some injustice, or find someone who needs help, and it will be significant to me in a way that is undeniable, and then the adventure part of my life will begin.

I know of injustices, but they're so large, and so abstract, I am paralyzed. I see girls, but I have no idea what to do on that entire scene. I know of lots of people with problems far larger than what I'm complaining about right now, but problems don't appear in the form of something visible, something palpable, something I can fight.

I assume this isn't just my problem. Most of our culture consists of false challenges, things designed to satisfy our desire to create positive change in the world, without actually requiring any effort. I love video games, both as an art form and as personal entertainment, but I would be an infinitely better person if I was allergic to them.

I think about people who have already done things when they are my age, people like Bob Dylan, Teddy Roosevelt, and Albert Einstein, and I suspect they didn't spend the time leading up to their work in meaningless self-indulgence.

With my current approach, I could be capable of doing something good, something meaningful, and no one would ever know.

Anyway, if anyone has a job, or a relationship, or a cause, they want to set me up with, I'm available.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Industry In A Postindustrial Population And Colonising Mars

Read this article trying to estimate the minimum population necessary to maintain a society at our current level of technology. It does require a great deal of labour and expertise; almost everything manufactured today has computers in them, and someone has to have the knowledge of how to produce and calibrate every one of them, not to mention manufacturing the rest of the product. In addition to the labour and expertise necessary to manufacture everything, you must maintain that level of education across generations, so teaching the next generation requires labourers in education in a proportion to the current population. The article also points out that we can provide all the food we need with less than 1% of our population. (This is probably the most significant change in human society ever, since it frees up about 98% of our population for non-agricultural purposes)

The estimate is based on the current population of industrial nations.  It basically says, "The population of the EU plus the US plus Japan is X, and they are roughly self-sufficient, so that's roughly what's necessary to perpetuate the technology level." The article ended with bounds of 100 million to 1 billion people, with a surprise ending insisting that any Martian colony must have at least 100 million to survive at our current level of technology.

This is wrong for several reasons. First of all, any Martian colony will exist with an Earth capable of communicating with it. With modern developments in telecommunications, automation, and manufacturing from digital instructions, the vast majority of intellectual processes could be off-shored to administrators back home. The article completely ignores the benefits of communications with another society. To meet the author on his own terms, I'll do the same for the remainder of the article. (I'll also ignore assumptions like the idea that there will be a 1:10 staff:student ratio in this theoretical society, there's no reason that it must be 1:10 instead of 1:20.*)

The central problem is his theory that the current population of the industrial world reflects (in some ratio) what is necessary to maintain the technology level**. This ignores the fact that the vast majority of human labour is unnecessary.

We live in a surplus economy, everything is produced in numbers grossly more than needed. Things aren't just produced in too-large numbers, they're also produced in too-large varieties. Our society only requires about 3-5 non-industrial automobile designs, (Small car, large car, SUV type car, truck for hauling things, etc.) but we have thousands. All this waste produces huge inefficiencies, which means that the persons responsible for producing those products could be removed from society with no harm to the technology level. We don't need people designing a new model of car every year, and we don't need people manufacturing a car for each person on the planet. If we put an emphasis on producing things that lasted as long as possible, and recycled materials aggressively, we could save labour than I can imagine.

So a large fraction of industry could be eliminated, but this is nothing compared to the vast swathes of our society that produce nothing at all. First, let's kill all the lawyers. Not really, but let's get rid of most of them in our theoretical society. Also into the dustbin of history can go products of fiction, like advertising, "alternative" medicine, real medicine that deals with superficial ailments, most people in the "news entertainment" industry, self-important bloggers, art, and any product that serves as a status symbol.

Even larger than our producers of nothing are our producers of marginalia. There are endless products in our society that technically serve a function, but could be effortlessly removed without a loss to society or technology. A glance around any room in America should confirm that thought instantly.

Inefficiencies are rife in our society. The article cites the civil aviation industry as requiring half a million persons to maintain. This ignores the fact that a well planned society wouldn't need one, and even if it needed some aviation, it certainly wouldn't need as much as we have now. All transport of persons in planes is unnecessary. Eliminate all personal transport from the aviation industry, and I think you'll find it doesn't need anywhere close to 500.000 people to maintain. Additionally, on Earth, planes may, arguably, be necessary to transport rare materials to manufacturing centers, but of course there are no oceans to cross on Mars, and rail could reach any place on the planet with equal ease.

I could go on about how our urban sprawl and distributed manufacturing centers create waste at every level of society, but this post is already too long and boring.

Instead, check out this reaction to the same article.*** It seems to be against reducing the world's population, but doesn't summon up much of an argument, "If 85% of the world's population disappeared, leaving only 5 million Nigerians, but everything else in the world's economy society was exactly the same, Nigeria wouldn't have as good an economy to export minerals to the industrial world!" This is a bad argument for two major reasons. First, it's absurd to assume that trade with other nations would be the same despite a world population drop of 85%. Second, Nigeria isn't a very good example of a "very poor nation" It has a "middle income status" according to the Worldbank, and has many industries and exports****. If you want to find an economy that wouldn't suffer from reduced population, try anywhere that has subsistence farming, like Europe before and after the Black Death.

Before the Bubonic Plague, Europe's population was so large that labour was incredibly cheap, which meant that no one would bother to invest in technologies to make labour was more efficient. Inefficient farming meant that farmers couldn't produce much more than enough to feed themselves, and farms had to spread into marginal territories, where farms were even less productive. With the death of 1/3 of the population, it was no longer necessary to cultivate marginal farmland, and the value of labour increased to the point where improved ploughs and farming techniques were rapidly adopted. This enormous loss of life resulted in an unprecedented improvement of every measure of well-being for the succeeding generations.

*Come to think of it, that 1:10 faculty:student ratio is a big variable. Of the 100.000.000 people in this minimum society, about one in eight will be a student in K-10, which means that one in 80 will be educating them, not to mention college level education. Tweaking this number even a little creates huge changes.

**After writing this, I looked back at the article to discover that the lower bound, 100 million, has no justification whatsoever. Only an allusion to the number of people necessary to maintain a civil aviation industry. I can't hope to rebut an argument through assertion, but I'll leave the rest of the article up, since our society is still worthy of analysis.

***An interesting detail about this article, it jumps from "maintaining our level of technology" to "maintaining our standard of living". Of course, they're not even close to being equivalent. After all, we could eliminate all subsistence farmers from the planet without harming our level of technology, and resulting in a net increase to our standard of living. To be fair, he may be changing the subject, not saying that they are the same thing. Also, "standards of living" and "quality of life" often are treated as the equivalent to "money spent on my benefit". So long as you're out of crushing poverty, money has very little relationship to happiness.

****Thanks, Wikipedia!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The "Ground Zero Mosque"

Since the beginning of the War On Terror, even George Bush was canny enough to repeatedly announce that we are not at war with Islam. No one is going to war with Muslims, or their faith. It's insane to say that Islam is responsible for 9/11, even if you think it's true; it alienates all Muslims, where we need all the Muslim allies we can get.

This is why the reaction to the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque*" is completely insane. When people object to building any Islamic building because it's associated with Terrorism, they are saying that the War on Terror is actually a War on Islam. They're saying that all Islam is responsible for 9/11. It's like objecting to building a Catholic Church near the site of a Baptist Evangelical White Supremacist lynching.

Let's be honest. This is another political controversy. There's no way that anyone seriously believes that this is a problem. The Republicans have adopted this attitude of vaguely complaining about it because they know they can score points. There's no attempt to make this building illegal, or to do anything other than complain. They know Fox News will broadcast every criticism of the President even on something this meaningless and ephemeral.

So if the objection isn't real, then why does it matter?
  1. The news can only focus on one thing at a time. Every moment dedicated to this nonsense is a moment taken from actual problems
  2. It needlessly antagonizes people who know that Islam isn't a monolithic culture, and weakens our ability to form alliances with Islamic countries and peoples.
  3. It makes a mockery of the liberties that we want to "export" to other countries. If we want to have liberty in other nations, we should show why the liberties are so good here.

*Which is not at Ground Zero, and is not a Mosque.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Science Fiction Clichès I'd Cut

I've been thinking about Science Fiction, and what I would like to cut out from it. (Un)fortunately, someone else has already written the list that I had been thinking of, with only the choice of words being different.

I don't think that Forerunners are a terrible idea in and of themselves, I'm just sick of them through overexposure. I don't know of a Science Fiction saga that doesn't have forerunners that left artifacts around the galaxy, not one. It does have negative effects on the story as well, it lets writers break the rules at a whim because someone can always find an artifact beyond our comprehension. If another species already came and invented everything, there's little use for our protagonists to do anything with technology, which is too bad, since Science Fiction is inextricably bound together with its technology.

Personally, I don't mind hearing explosions in space, I always figured that it was the sound local to the explosion, so we're hearing the sound that the people on the ship were hearing. I do agree that strategically using soundlessness would be a great way to add atmosphere (tee-hee) to a space-based story.

Absurdly Human Aliens is a problem for television, but I don't see why video games or fully animated programs can't have non-bipedal aliens. Let's be honest, there's infinitely more variety in mammals on our one planet than in a galaxy of science fiction races. I've developed an easy system with aliens: rate how human they are in appearance from 1-10. If they're 8 or above, they're probably going to have a romantic interest with one of the human crew. Come to think of it, I don't recall a single science fiction romance between a human and exotic alien. This might seem natural until you recall "deviant" sexual activity on our planet is far more expansive than to our one species. A species that actually had the intelligence to co-operate and reciprocate romantic feelings is far more approachable than, say, a horse.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Game Morality Systems

Lots of games try to model ethics, but I don't think any of them have really nailed it, mainly because ethics aren't formalized rules for most people.

The system I like the most is Mass Effect's Paragon/Renegade system, but it's not really a system of ethics so much as a scale of Friendliness/Politeness - Brusque/Selfish. It works really well with the game, since it still makes sense to follow the mission if you're really Renegade, where it wouldn't really work if you were Chaotic Evil. Games that let you be Evil, then still force you into the same story as someone that is Lawful Good, inevitably end up with characters politely ignoring the fact that you just killed someone just for the fun of it.

Everyone knows about the D&D system of Chaotic/Neutral/Lawful and Evil/Neutral/Good. I'll just mention that it's rather silly. It also has the dumbest philosophy of all time: Druidic True Neutral, whose practitioners will join whichever side is losing to help even the odds. Apparently the writers didn't realize that this philosophy will lead to the Druid only being able to rest when every single non-Neutral person is dead.

A much more obscure one is the system for In Nomine. It does a good job of summarizing "goodness" without being sectarian about it. It defines "good" as Selfless, and "evil" and Selfish. I think a lot of people would agree with that idea, at least in general terms. Of course, when people are being "Selfless" for a religion, they're generally not being selfless at all. Consider someone who gives a thousand dollars to a bank, only to withdraw it later with interest. Both the bank and the person get a benefit out of the arrangement, but no one's going to say our investor is being Selfless for giving the money to the bank, he only did it because he was expecting a larger return. In this same way, religious people aren't selfless, they're investors. When Mother Theresa went to the poor to teach them about Jesus,* she was simply investing time in this world with the expectation of greater returns in the next. When In Nomine says "Selfless", it only means selfless in this world.

*She didn't have the time to teach them about what food was like, you have to prioritize. Religion tells us that it's alright to let children die, so long as they've been converted to whichever sect you believe in.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

War Polling

It's funny how pundits deal with polling about the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. There's an understanding amongst the media that the occupation is necessary, and any opposition to that is outside the mainstream and irresponsible to discuss.* This makes discussing polls difficult, since polls have indicated that a majority of Americans are in favor of abandoning our Middle East adventure today. If polling got to determine our foreign policy, we'd have left both Iraq and Afghanistan years ago. We wouldn't even leave a government** in our wake; Every American soldier would just pack their bags and get into the nearest plane, with no concern whatsoever for the people left behind. The American people simply don't care about the people of the Middle East. Or rather, they care far more about their taxes, their family, and their friends that have involuntarily recalled back to a country that they hadn't heard of ten years ago.

Maybe that position is irresponsible, maybe we can't afford to leave either Iraq or Afghanistan in that state. But it's simply disingenuous to pretend that people support "Obama's policy" or "The Republican Policy". The only reason they say they support either strategy is that they weren't given the option of the "Let's Just Get The Hell Out Of Here Policy".

*This doesn't mean everyone has to support it, they just can't seriously voice the opinion that we should leave immediately.
**Or a occupation Vichy-esque government, which is what we have now in Iraq and Afghanistan

Friday, July 30, 2010

Why Inception Is A Bad Movie

Inception is a bad movie. I'm going to skip over some complaints that aren't a big deal, then I'll address the main problem.

Dreams are completely different in real life and in Inception in basically every way. Someone pointed out that the movie would work much better if they said "subconscious" instead of "dreams", so let's just pretend that's what they did.

The rules throughout the movie are completely inconsistent, and often ludicrous. Falling in your sleeping body is supposed to pull you out of your dream, but later in the movie, they pull a switcheroo and have the dream person fall to wake up the sleeping body. The entire Limbo thing was particularly dumb, if you can just kill yourself in Limbo to wake up, then Limbo isn't a real threat, or it wouldn't be if they were being consistent. The increasing speed at lower levels is an interesting idea, but completely unjustified by the (incorrect) idea that the brain can work hundreds of time faster than it normally does*.

The naming of the characters is particularly silly. Ariadne? Are you serious?

In defense of Inception, it's not actually that confusing or hard to keep track of or understand: Some guys use a magic dream penetrating thingy to insert the idea of breaking up a company into a businessman's psyche.

The idea that there's so much "meaning" and "interpretation" to be analyzed is just piffle. There's no subtext whatsoever, and the only interpretation anyone makes is "was scene X a dream or reality?" A popular interpretation is that the entire film was a dream, which could be said of any movie whatsoever, and is therefore completely inane. There's no logic to think that the "real world" of the movie is real or dream, there's no system to determine what's real or not. The most popular dream question is the final scene, which must be a dream, unless Christopher Nolan would have us forget that children age in the real world. The time that the apartment across the street was the same apartment that Dicaprio was in was an interesting, almost subliminal, visual trick, but it doesn't mean anything.

Now the big stuff, starting with the second largest problem: The "antagonists". Inception is interesting in that it has no character serving the rolê of antagonist, the obstacles they have to work against are psychological. At some point, the people making the movie thought this would be boring, so someone decided that dreams defend themselves with gun wielding characters who attempt to eject foreign dreamers. This makes for a constant video-game-esque gunfight against faceless goons for absolutely no reason. This provides no real narrative pressure or threat, since it's a dream, and we don't care about the protagonists.

That's the largest problem with Inception, we don't care about the protagonists**. There are only two people in the movie who actually have character, and they're both rather obnoxious. The businessman is just a stuck up clichè. Leonardo Dicaprio's character, oddly named Dom Cobb(?), is the person that we're supposed to sympathize with, but he's totally uninteresting. Without an antagonist, and without a sympathetic protagonist, and with action that's almost entirely in someone's subconscious, we're left with a plot about no one in a conflict with no one over nothing in a place that isn't real. No wonder I didn't care about what happened. For such a long movie, I'd like more payoff than "unsympathetic Dom Cobb gets over the guilt of his wife's death".***

I've heard people say that they were hit hard when Cobb actually got to see his children's faces. Maybe I'm just cynical in my old age, but they didn't see that coming from a million miles away? It's so shamelessly manipulative and predictable, I can't believe people accepted that as resolution.

PS. I don't care whether the end was in a dream or not, but the way the top wobbled just a little, then ending with a cut to black, that was genius. It's very rare you hear everyone in a theater groan. Even I had a visceral reaction to that trick.

* We do not use only 10% of our brains, a myth the movie alludes to without actually quoting. There's no way we would evolve the ability to think hundreds of times faster without the potential to do it. Evolution doesn't work that way. Interesting side note: they should hook up geniuses to the dream stuff to have them do centuries of theoretical mathematics over the course of a few months.

** We also don't care about the mission. "Stop an enormous energy company from getting larger!" That's our rallying cry? Really? 

*** Why didn't Dom just tell his wife that he had Incepted the idea that they were in a dream? "Honey, I stuck that idea in your head, that's why you can't get over the idea," is better than your wife killing herself.**** And why are there so many rules about Inception if no one else had ever gotten it to work before?

****Maybe we're just not supposed to notice, but every time it cuts to Dom and his wife waking up from their Limbo dream, they don't have any of the dream sharing equipment.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Inception In A Word


The Engineer Update

I really like the Engineer update. It, more than any other class update*, flat out increases the power of the class. The ability to move buildings is a huge bonus, and has no drawback whatsoever. More than a few times I've seen an Engineer plonk down a level 3 sentry near an enemy spawn, thereby winning the game. To be fair, this doesn't work most times, but occasionally it does. There's no way an Engineer could have reasonably done this before the update.

The Frontier Justice is balanced, if you ask me. Having only three shotgun shells is a pretty big drawback. The guaranteed crits are cool, but the Engineer is so fragile that you can't go on a roaring rampage of revenge. Revenge Crits don't survive after your death, so you'll rarely actually use the 14 crits you earned on that epic sentry.

It seems that most people agree that the Wrangler is basically a buff. The pistol is pretty crummy in most situations, and the Wrangler is HUGE in adding versatility to the Engineer. Now you can put Sentries in spots that would make no sense without the Wrangler. Basically, sniper decks are completely legit for sentries with the Wrangler. It seems to me that Wrangler sniping is de facto balanced, since it has essentially the same power level as a good sniper in the same spot, and has the same weakness to enemy spies and snipers that a sniper would have. A long range Wrangler is extremely vulnerable to snipers in particular.

I want to experiment with using the Wrangler while being physically distant from the actual Sentry. There's nothing requiring you to stick with the Sentry once it's built. Seems like you could use the shotgun to penetrate around corners, then back out into the open and wrangle people if they tried to pursue.

The Gunslinger is a lot of fun. Dropping mini sentries is sweet, and the extra 25 HP means you can get into the thick of it a little more. It requires a different mentality to use the mini sentries properly: you have to use them to add to the force around you, not as a force of its own. In other words, you don't use a mini sentry to defend a point, you run ahead with your team and drop the sentry in the back of the fight, hoping to get the extra damage in to push them back or finish of one or two people. The position of mini sentries is less important than the timing of mini sentries: if you can get one up while the enemy is still engaging your allies, the enemy has to deal with the sentry, your allies, and your shotgun.

I love carrying the mini sentry with me. When you're redeploying it, it goes up so fast, the enemy has essentially no time to react before it's shooting. I'll build the sentry around a corner, pick it up and drop it so it peeks around the corner to benefit from the faster build time.

The other thing about the Gunslinger is that you shouldn't protect or reload** mini sentries, so you're free to wander away from them. The true Gunslinger remembers to instantly put up a new mini sentry the instant the first one goes down, even if it's in a bad position, since you can move them now.

The big question now is, "will moving level 3 Sentries or the Wrangler be nerfed?" It's clear Valve wanted this to be an update that increased the power of the Engie, but is this a little too powerful? The way that level 3 sentries re-assemble can make it very difficult to destroy them; I've put up a level 3 under fire from a Heavy in medium-close range, and I ended up winning the fight. That doesn't seem right.

PS. The Southern Hospitality is almost purely better than the wrench. Who cares about a vulnerability to fire as an Engineer?

*Except maybe the Backburner, which was fittingly nerfed.
**Fully reloading a mini sentry costs about 100 metal, you may as well just build another.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Alien Swarm

Alien Swarm is a fun game, and it's free. It has shooting aliens, and it's free. It gives you a hat in TF2, and it's free. It has Achievement Grinding, and it's free. Did I mention it's free? It's on Steam. Go get it.

I was going to write more, but I'm off to play some Alien Swarm.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

High Heels

What do Jedi, Asari Justicars, Borg, Vulcans, Cylons, Aeon Flux, and many Super-heroes and Super-villains have in common?

They're all serious action-oriented types, people from cultures that reject humanity, or never had human culture in the first place. They all put practicality before all else; they're all function before form. They're often modest, and put their own interests after those of others.

And they wear high heels if they're women.

I hope I don't have to explain why this is crazy/sexist, because I'm not going to.

Am I the only person who's bothered when a practical character is wearing shoes that would make it impossible to do anything other than walk on a flat surface? There is a single excuse that I accept: the woman is short enough that you need to bring her head up to fit into a camera angle with the other characters. Even then, it shouldn't be part of her character that she wears high heels in her adventuring gear, it's just an unfortunate necessity.

The worst is when Digital characters wear high heels. If you want a digital character to be taller, just make them taller, don't put (Jedi/The Entire Cast of Mass Effect) in high heels.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mass Effect

The Mass Effect series is really good. It has many of the standard elements of an RPG of its type, but it avoids many of the flaws of its counterparts.

The first thing that has to be addressed for both Mass Effect games is their length. It's standard for games in this genre to be 80+ hours, with enough missions to occupy twice that length. Of course, a lot of that is walking overland, so that's not really content. In Mass Effect, you're either in a mission, or you're not. The closest thing to an overworld is the Capitol city space station, or whatever you want to call it. That place has plenty of missions to do, so there is never a place in the game where you're just trudging along, waiting until you get to the next city, or whatever.

Taking all that in mind, both Mass Effect games take about 20-25 hours, even if you do a lot of the optional quests. This is not necessarily a disadvantage though. People like to mock the idea of a hero tasked with saving the world wandering off and doing chores for losers. Although there are a few trivial missions available at the beginning of the game in the starting city, after that, any missions have lives at stake. This helps retain the idea that Shepherd is a real hero, who only does stuff that needs to be done.

Speaking of Shepherd, Mass Effect does a great job with character. The NPC's in Mass Effect 1 are pretty good, but Mass Effect 2's characters really shine. Even better than any of the NPC's is your own character. Shepherd is a one of the best starring characters in any games I've ever played, and it's largely because you get to choose who it is. You get to choose the appearance, (make sure to play without your helmet visible, the face is a big deal) and you get to choose the personality. Being able to import your character into Mass Effect 2 really helps, because it's hard to make a face that looks like what you want. The one thing I don't like about the advertising of Mass Effect is that they show us Shepherd's face. This would be fine for most games, "But that's not my Shepherd! Who's that impostor?"

The Renegade/Paragon dichotomy is infinitely better than the Good/Evil system of other games. I know Yahtzee has ridden this entire thing to the ground, so I'll be brief. In games with Good/Evil systems, Good and Evil are generally idiot options, with the Good options being stupidly moralistic and self-sacrificing, and the Evil options being cruel for its own sake, making you look like a jerk with none of the bonuses. In Mass Effect, "Paragon" isn't Stupid Good, it's "Relying on Principle", and tending to rely on people and the laws. Renegade isn't Stupid Evil, it's "cutthroat", or "Sick of all this being polite and ****". The best part is that the Paragon and the Renegade still have the same goal, Renegades feel like taking shortcuts along the way. This means you can realistically take a Renegade action even if you've been doing Paragon actions most of the time, and vice-versa. In other words, you don't feel constrained by your previous decisions, you feel free to be the character you want to be.

There are some minor complaints, no matter how much time you spend on designing someone's face in Mass Effect, they still end up looking like someone nicknamed "Fishface". In both games, there's an occasional pause between lines of dialogue, which can make the conversation stilted, especially when one person is supposed to be interrupting another*. The combat in ME1 is a little awkward, especially when compared to ME2, which has a hugely improved system. The dialogue system (which is still great) can have some really weird and counter-intuitive options sometimes**. Quick guide to dialogue: Go paragon, and you're basically a Jedi. You can give comically simple advice, and people will just follow it. You can tell criminals to reform, and they'll act as though they had never heard of the idea of going legit. It's not so much that you become really persuasive, as it is the people you're talking to become really gullible.

Despite all this, remember that I still think that Mass Effect 1 & 2 are really good.

*Despite this minor flaw, Mass Effect does a million times better job of constructing conversations in a way that seems like you're actually talking to someone, instead of just accessing someone's data files through an oral interface.
**There was this one time that I was talking with a reporter about the time I ***SPOILER ALERT*** let the Council die at the end of Mass Effect 1, and I wanted to say "It was more important that I save the whole Galaxy than saving the council, then all life in the Galaxy being exterminated, including the Council." That seems like a reasonable response to me. When I chose the PARAGON OPTION(!), Shepherd said "I felt that humanity needed to cut itself free of the Council's influences" or something to that effect. In other words, Shepherd said "I didn't like the government, so I let them all die." That is not the calculation I made, and it doesn't seem very Paragon-ish.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Engie Update Achievement Contest Results

Well, I think the results of our little contest is best summed up by el_dawg:

el_dawg: probably fair to just call it and say everyone lost

We did so bad, I think it would be too depressing to try to figure out who won.

Anyway, I may do a post about the new items for the engie later today, while waiting for them to actually release the update. (I think they're going to include the Polycount Pack with this update, so I'm expecting lots of items)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Engie Update Achievement Guessing Contest!

Doc Holiday

Get 1000 healing points in a single life as engie 

No Man's Land
Get 25 Defenses as engie
Trade Secrets
Kill 10 people carrying the intel
Death Metal
Get 10.000 kills with buildings. (Odd image, seems to be about wrecked buildings. Second guess: lose 10.000 buildings through enemy action)

Land Grab
Kill an engineer with a wrench with a wrench.
Git Along!
Destroy a sapper on something that was far away when it was initially sapped.
How the Pests was Gunned
Destroy 20 Sticky Bombs
Honky Tonk Man
Give some sort of Stat Bonus to your allies with the guitar
Breaking Morant
Kill ten snipers?
Rio Grind
Get 50 kills with the wrangler + sg
Patent Protection
Kill someone with the SG controlled by the Wrangler as you're under enemy fire.
If You Build It, They Will Die
Kill 3 people with a Sentry within 30 seconds of it being upgraded to level 3.
Texas Ranger

 Build the standard engie base ahead of the rest of your team's progress. (No way this one is accurate. Secondary theory: Blurred out area is the Robot.)

Assist or be assisted by another engineer 25 times.
Drugstore Cowboy

Destroy your dispenser, then build it in a spot where people are healed by it (other than you).

Circle the Wagons

Hide behind the sg with the dispenser healing you and repair your sg against damage for 10 swings.

Built to Last

(The Dispenser is backwards in this picture, no wonder it looks funny.) Have a single Dispenser accumulate 500 points of damage.

(Not So) Lonely are the Brave
Heal a single person for 30 cumulative seconds with a single dispenser.

Battle Rustler
Accumulate 100 teleports
Kill the person who killed your sg with Frontier Justice 10 times
Search Engine
Use the Wrangler to kill a fully invisible spy.
Pownd on the Range

Kill someone with a level 1 sentry that's out in the open somehow.

Building Block

Save your Sentry from destruction with the use of the Wrangler's shield. (when it otherwise would have died).

Get 8 Revenges with the Frontier Justice
Quick Draw

Destroy the sappers of two different spies within 10 seconds.

The Wrench Connection

Kill 100 spies with the wrench.

Silent Pardner
Upgrade someone else's building to a higher level 50 times.
Fistful of Sappers
Break 4 sappers in one life.
Doc, Stock and Barrel

Kill a fully charged medic with a SG.

Best Little Slaughterhouse in Texas

Accumulate 5 kills with a level one SG.

Frontier Justice
Kill a spy with the Frontier Justice after he killed your sg.
Six-String Stinger
Give someone a deathcam shot of you doing the guitar taunt.
Uncivil Engineer

Give someone a deathcam shot of you taunting and your sentry.

Texas Two-Step
Kill someone with combined fire of the shotgun and sentry.
The Extinguished Gentleman
Extinguish 100 people with a dispenser.