Friday, April 30, 2010

Suffering in America

I think anyone would agree that there is more wealth per capita in America than any other nation. That's why Americans and outsiders are both surprised by the gross degree of suffering that exists in America compared to any other nation.

Even in terribly poor and dysfunctional nations like Iraq, the idea that there are "homeless" people in the USA is literally unbelievable*. Not because Iraqis assume that the USA treats everyone better than they're treated in Iraq, but because there aren't homeless people in Iraq. For homeless people in the United States, almost any nation in the world would be preferable.

The other obvious comparison is in healthcare. First world nations around the world all provide comprehensive healthcare to all of their citizens. The budgeting for this varies in effectiveness, and methods vary, but in all of those nations, (including places that we look down on, like Mexico), a person can get even the most drastic medical care without needing to engage some incomprehensible insurance system. That's not to say that it's free; a relative of mine likes to talk about the time they received a dramatic surgery in Europe, and was charged less than 100$.

I'm not insisting that we take any particular course of action, but we have to contextualize our decisions in the light that we have failed to provide even the most basic humanitarian care to American citizens, while trying to "Americanize" other nations by force.

*If you want to hear more about it, listen to the recent episode of This American Life "True Urban Legends"

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Have you ever been to VGCats? It's a typical Penny Arcade rip-off, with mostly video game jokes that aren't funny, even though they mention "Recent Game X".

It's been years (literally) since the guy has made a comic that's funny. Why do I keep going back occasionally? Well, you know how people slow down to look at a car accident. VGCats is a car accident that occurs with regularity*. In this case, the collision is between the creator's ego and terrible writing.

It's really strange to see some art that he's clearly put a lot of time into combined with a "joke" that's clearly inspired by the Cardboard Tube Samurai, for example. 

Other embarrassing things: the joke "Whoa, the mechanics of this video game world we live in sure are crazy!" is only good joke a few times all by itself. Saying that VGCats uses that joke often would imply that they do other jokes.

OK, let's be fair, VGCats also does jokes that are essentially the same, but slightly different. For example: What if a video game character's actions were performed in a different context? And there's the classic, What if a video game character was in a different video game?

There's one other joke, and it's not a video game joke, but it's awful in a different way. It's awful because the content of the comic is awful. For the creator of VGcats, sexual abuse, rape, prostitution, child abuse, sexism**, pee and poop**, murder, etc. aren't something to make jokes about, they're jokes all by themselves. "Look how wacky I am! I killed a baby in a comic!" What is that guy's deal?

There's also the Family Guy "Joke"***, where one of the titular cats is in a video game. There's no other joke; it's just "whoa, the generic guy I invented is in a video game! Remember video game X?" Hilarious!

Also, the writing seems to think that telling a joke in ten sentences is way better than telling a joke in one sentence. The opposite of good writing.

I don't know why I wrote this, it's like making fun of a child's crayon drawing. There are the people who see that it's obviously terrible, and there are the people who are blinded, and neither will change their mind because of this.

PS. One other thing: I'm pretty sure I've seen at least half of his "topical" jokes somewhere else first. I doubt this is a coincidence.

*Or it would, if the creator could maintain his grueling planned schedule of updating once a week.
**There's so much this, it makes me wonder if the creator has some sort of issues, or if he's just an idiot. Then he has the gall to pretend to be above this sort of thing!
***Doesn't really deserve the name joke, but I don't know what else to call it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Why Not Left 4 Dead 3?

There's a new expansion to Left 4 Dead 2, "The Passing". It inspired me to play some L4D, so it's doing something right, at least. It also inspired me to do some blogging about L4D, but my blog is so obscure that when I write about things, it actually becomes less known.

First, "The Passing" is alright.

The new gun seems cool, although I haven't had the chance to use it. El_Dawg used it for a while, and it was very powerful (He describes it as "absurd[ly]...good").

Survivor zombies are clearly a return to Valve's old idea of "a zombie that runs away, and you have to follow him and kill him before he wrecks you." Instead of wrecking you when the Survivor runs away, you are rewarded if you kill him. He drops items like health packs and pills. Seems odd to have Survivor zombies, though. The game implies that certain people are immune to the zombie virus, which is why the players haven't turned. These survivor zombies must have been very agile, since they managed to last long enough to become hardened survivors without getting hit once.

Lured by the idea of items items that reek of zombie, I ran down a stairway in hot pursuit, only to fall down a hole right next to a Witch. I approve. Anything that makes people run headlong into zombies is always good.

The titular Passing is an idiot. The guy, (Bill*), died before you even get there. They should have titled it, "The Guy Who Does Bill's Voice Wanted More Money". Bringing back the old characters does provide some hilarious dialogue though. It's fun to see what the different survivors think of each other after only recently meeting.

I think "Mutations" is going to be the real winner of all this. A new mode of gameplay every week is exactly what I needed to draw me back in. When I think about playing L4D, there's so much shenanigans** to playing that I generally just don't play.A new Mutation is novel enough to make the stupid crap I have to put up with worth the effort.***

I'm thinking of writing a brief guide to playing as the Infected. Everyone (including me) wants to run headlong at the enemy all by themself, and that's just assisted suicide.

*Spoiler Alert!

** Too many to list: Griefers can ruin the game, (I recently played a game where a survivor just stayed in the first spawn, and typed politically incendiary remarks into general chat. That game is still going, as far as I know.) Even one bad survivor on a team can lead to disaster, (also true of Infected, although not quite as mutually dependent.), and servers generally have unacceptably high ping. (155 is not a middling ping, Valve; it is 60 too high. 50 is a middling ping.)

*** Also, if I do 6 mutations, I get an achievement!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Census Training

I had my first day of Census Training today. Nothing surprising. Very tedious.

Also, Michelle Bachman didn't say that the Census is unconstitutional, she said the non-enumerative part of the Census was unconstitutional. This is less ridiculous than how it's been prepared, but it's still completely wrong. It's Extra-Constitutional, in that it isn't specifically mentioned in the consensus, but the questions are justified by subsequent federal laws.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Dwarf Fortress

Dwarf Fortress is a great game, but it's still quite buggy. The next release fixes the non-existence of fish, which is nice, but the military is the real problem. Every member of the military is incompetent at equipping, doing anything other than individual training, and attacking enemies. (Not being able to attack with your military is a pretty big problem.)

Friday, April 23, 2010


I finished watching all of Star Trek: Voyager. Quick summary: they missed the mark. Every single time.

So now I'm on to Enterprise.

Initial reactions: The dog is the greatest idea anyone has ever had for Star Trek. An adorable dog? What's not to like? Pure genius.

Monster of the Week episodes and Hallucination/Metaphorical Dream episodes have always been a weak point of Star Trek shows, so I have to be disappointed when Enterprise combines the two in their third episode. Terrible.

The entire idea of a Temporal Cold War seems wasteful to me. Enterprise has a lot to do: they have to establish the federation, establish the rules of First Contact and the Prime Directive, (after messing up some civilizations), and get into some fights with Klingons. I know it's expensive to have aliens all the time, but you can tell Enterprise has a bigger budget. They could have made the Klingon Empire an actual empire, with conquered races. They also could have used the various races we'll see in later series as new allies for the formation of the Federation. In the end, this show should be about humanity outgrowing the shadow of the Vulcans who believe they're not ready for the big leagues. Temporal Cold War and the Suliban seem to be a distraction.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ebert: "Games Aren't Art" Me: "Define your terms!"

"Before you would debate me, define your terms."

Roger Ebert has announced that "Games aren't Art" again. There's no point in debating this, at least until people agree on definitions*. It's clear that Ebert is using the word "Art" to mean something that most people would call "High Art" or something along those lines, since he thinks that most films, books, etc. aren't art.

Ebert isn't the first person to have a backwards argument like this, (Arguing whether A is B, without defining A or B) but he should know better, since there are many comments on his blog asking for a definition, or proposing definitions of their own. I seriously wonder if he's just trolling the video gaming community.

There should never be an argument about whether A is B. Once definitions are given, it should be easy to say, "does the definition of A overlap with the definition of B?" Without definitions, all you can say is, "do the cultural associations I connect to A remind me of the cultural associations I connect to B?" Which is obviously unproductive, since no one's cultural associations are going to be identical.

The root of all of this is human psychology. Human brains don't operate with definitions, they use prototypes. When a human thinks of a Tree, they don't think, "a woody plant that has many secondary branches supported clear of the ground on a single main stem or trunk with clear apical dominance.**" Instead, they think, "something that resembles that one tree I'm thinking of." For example, a Maple Tree, or a Pine Tree.

Imagine, for a moment, a "tree" that was perfectly normal for your prototype of tree, except the branches extended into and merged with the branches of another perfectly normal tree. This "tree" isn't a "tree" from the definition above, but it's still similar enough to a prototypical tree that I think most people would accept it as one. If that same tree was really short, like six inches tall, more people would tend to remove it from the "tree" prototype and place it into something like the "bush" or "shrub" prototype. With this prototyping system, there is never a clear border between one prototype and another.

This is a harmless field of debate, but this same problem of lacking agreed-upon definitions has frozen all debate in American politics. Next time you see a political argument on television, I will bet the entire thing would be resolved if the participants were using the same definitions.

*If anyone is curious, a possible definition of art could be: "something created with the intent of appealing to aesthetics". Naturally, this doesn't separate crappy art from High Art, but I think any definition that tries to do that is hopeless.

**Thanks, Wikipedia!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Weekend Update

Just an update as to what I've been up to lately.

Bardcast, The Shakespeare Podcast continues to amble along. We've just tried a new format for The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which should be up before the end of the weekend.

I've been idling a lot in TF2, but my absurd number of duplicate hats has irritated me so much that I've given up idling entirely. Once trading comes out, I should be able to get all the hats I want. (Top of my list: Killer's Kabuto, Hustler's Hallmark, the HotRod, the Physician's Procedure Mask, [possibly with the Otolaryngologist's Mirror] and and the Professional's Panama.) I'm not getting Sam and Max for lack of money, so I won't be getting the bunny hat and alternate guns. Too bad.

I have been playing a lot of another Fortress game that has a lot of idlers, Dwarf Fortress. Probably the most complicated simulation game I've ever played, Dwarf Fortress has many notable things, but I'll just mention a few: it has the most detailed fluid processing system I've ever seen, which includes the ability to create pipes of magma that can be used to trap enemies in burning rooms and piping water throughout your fortress. The cool thing about the interface is that you never tell an individual dwarf to do a specific action*, you define what work needs to be done, and the dwarfs get to it when they feel like. This sounds more frustrating than it seems, except when it's more frustrating than you can possibly imagine.

*except for very narrow exceptions, it seems that everything in DF has an exception.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Lost Drinking Game

There are a lot of Lost drinking games, but they all focus on the endearing parts of the show. My theory is, you do a drinking game about the bad parts. That way, you enjoy the good stuff, and you get drunk for the bad stuff.

Here we go...
Drink every time:
  • There's a musical cue that is so suspenseful that you wonder what show the music director is watching.
  • Jack makes demands of someone that has all the power
  • Jack decides to get into a fight with someone for no reason
  • Someone says "I'll go along with you" with no explanation or motive
  • Someone asks an absurdly probing and insightful question for no reason
  • Someone explains they can't answer a question because there's no time, when the characters are hiking across the island
  • Jack does something that should kill him
  • The plot changes purely so Kate can switch from Sawyer to Jack or vice-versa
  • The camera goes from Kate's face to Sawyer/Jack's face to show that there's sexual tension, even when the characters aren't looking at each other.
  • Someone believes a lie even when the person is a known liar or is the enemy
  • Someone believes a lie because it's so completely absurd and implausible
  • Someone implies that they know anything about the island and it's not true. (Spoilers: it's not true every time)
  • It turns out there's another facility on the island no one's seen before
I'll probably think of more

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

It's called acting.