Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pious Pies.

So I found this on reddit. This was, according to the OP, found in a day care center for 2-4 year olds. (Click to see full size picture.)

Here is the original thread for any redditors out there.

So with that out of the way: What the hell? What kind of absurd person thinks this is an acceptable message to give to 2-4 year olds? I mean, honestly? We tell kids "You don't belong to yourself, actually your body and everything about is property of an invisible entity you'll never meet or talk to, but he totally owns you." And then we wonder why they're emotionally screwed up later in life.

So, to borrow once more from Reddit's meme library: It's shit like this, Christianity. When atheists rage against religion, we're not trying to show hate for you, or your beliefs (well at least the reasonable ones, I realize there are some rabid anti-Christian atheists too). What we're raging against is people forcing those beliefs on others who don't share them. What we hate is that giving these ridiculously anachronistic and emotionally detrimental messages written by desert nomads thousands of years ago to our children is not only acceptable, but pious and commendable. Yes, I realize not all Christians are on board this boat. I'm not trying to make any blanket statements or act like everyone who believes in God is responsible for the actions of every other theist. However, that doesn't mean I'm not going to blogrant about crap like this. =(

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Oh wow. Has it really been 3 weeks since I posted anything here? I'm bad at this game. I've had a few things come close, but I guess nothing has inspired me to a furious blog rant in recent weeks. Maybe I'll actually write something *gasp* positive for once.

In other news, one of my old EQ buddies resubscribed while drunk, and though I was sober at the time, I decided to jump in as well. Somehow, the rest of our old EQ circle decided to join us as well. It's been pretty neat. I haven't regularly played since February I think, and they'd been gone even longer. (Warband grabbed my interest away, then some Oblivion, plenty of Minecraft and I'm ashamed to admit I might have played some WoW in there too.) It took us a moment to remember what abilities we used and what they did, but once we remembered the right tricks we got back into things fairly well, clearing our favorite missions and trolling the trolls in general chat. It's almost like we never left. Well, except that all the people who used to get upgrades from our rot loot are now way better geared than us, but eh, we'll catch up.

tl;dr 2 paragraphs is too long? Stop being a slacker.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Cost of Fear

Come, friends, and lose faith in humanity with me. Earlier today, a friend of mine shared this link with me: Yes, it's exactly as dumb as the title suggests. What the hell, America? Seriously, what the hell?

Once I was done raging, I started thinking, and then I started researching. The same friend pointed me to a fantastic comment made on by a user called Xai. Here is a the most interesting part: "Whenever you say that it is to protect yourselves from whoever then again ask yourselves is it worth it? America spends well over $300billion/year on anti-terrorism measures, and while to most people a sum that large has little meaning, if you assume that you have prevented an atrocity as large as 9/11 every single year for the last 10 years then the cost would be $100,000,000 per american life saved. I am willing to bet that if you spent even $10million/year on policing, safety improvements or simply healthcare you would save many american lives."

I hadn't really considered the financial cost/benefit approach to combating terror, but this post got me thinking about it. Let's do some math:

The attacks on September 11, 2001 killed 3000 and wounded 6000. (Source: Wikipedia) Common home fires kill 3500 and wound 20000 Americans every year. (Source: US Fire Administration) A 5 person fire department takes about $900,000 per year to operate. ( So for $100,000,000, the theoretical cost of saving one life in the above example (which is quite generous, as it assumes an attack on the scale of the WTC attack every year), you could operate 111 fire departments, each of which would surely save more than 1 life per year. After all, with 3500 per year killed in fires, we could certainly use more fire fighters.

But no, fires aren't scary. We have to keep pouring money into the possibility of future terrorism, rather than deal with the ever present and very real threats of crime, fires, natural disasters (anyone remember Katrina?), poor education, injury and disease. I haven't done the research yet, but I bet $300 billion would pay for a lot of police departments, hospitals and schools.

tl;dr wtf America, wake up

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Giant Panda Attack

The nice thing about having hardly any readers is I don't have to worry about alienating tons of people when I post something really inflammatory. For example, in a few sentences I'm going to say "the current system of assigning grade point averages and the value we place in them is stupid," and when I do, I won't have to worry about driving off tons of people who love and swear by GPA. It's convenient!

So. GPA is dumb. Now, this is not merely the bitter ranting of somebody who got crappy grades. (Should I have said shitty instead of crappy? I'm kind of contradicting what I wrote in my blank post.) I was comfortably in the high 3's. I had to be, or I'd have lost my scholarship, and in turn not been able to afford DePaul, and would have had to drop out and go somewhere else. Not the end of the world maybe but would have been somewhat unpleasant.

A lot of people like GPA. As I already mentioned, my big fancy scholarship was contingent upon keeping my college GPA high. When applying to colleges, every single one of them wanted my high school GPA. When filling out job applications online, the majority of them want my college GPA. When I talk to recruiters on the phone, the second question they ask (the first being my degree) is about my GPA. It's a big deal.

The problem with GPA is that it's an attempt to quickly summarize everything about someone's academic abilities. When a college is looking at high school applicants, or an employer looking at people finishing up or done with college, they often have mountains of applications, and hardly have the time to review in great detail an applicant's course history, how they did in their classes or what their teachers thought of them. So, the solution is a single number which quickly measures someone's academic performance.

It's sound in theory, I guess, but in practice it falls apart, as it would only be an unbiased measure of academic performance if everyone took exactly the same classes under the same conditions with the same teachers. The problem is, given two equally intelligent students, the one who takes easier classes will end up with a higher GPA, but will probably end up learning less due to not challenging him or herself. For example, at my university, I pursued a degree in computer game development. Though my emphasis was on programming, for my elective slots I took a few classes in related fields, such as 3D art. My hope was that by learning about the other fields of game development, I'd become a better developer overall. Learning how programs like Maya and Motion Builder worked would make it easier to work with artists and understand what they were doing.

I might have been wrong, but I think I made the right choice. In my senior capstone project, I was able to incorporate what I knew of Motion Builder from my Advanced Motion Capture class into the development of our content pipeline. I was also able to teach my team's animator how to use Motion Builder to place multiple takes into an fbx file, allowing us to use a single file per character rather than having a different file for every single animation, which would have made me a sad panda. Also, knowing my way around Maya allows me to quickly make place holder art when I need to put something on screen to help me test my work, rather than having to pester an artist to make me a cube or something silly, wait for him or her to make it (as they might be busy with something else, and I'll have to wait), then put it on version control where I can get it, when I can instead just do it myself.

So, what then, is the problem? The problem is these classes were hard, and I sucked at them. I consider myself an artist sometimes, but my art is words, stories and games. I cannot do visual art. I can visualize what I want in my head, and I know how the tools in 2D or 3D art programs technically work, I guess I just have difficulty knowing what tools to use to get what I want, which some people seem to be able to figure out intuitively. Maybe I'd have gotten better with practice? Who knows. Either way, though I learned a good bit, and feel like it made me a better developer, my projects were somewhat pale in comparison to those of more experienced modelers and animators, and my grades reflected that, so I'd usually earn a B in such a class (or a C+ in one case, but damn was that class hard) rather than an A.

I'm not complaining about that, the grades were fair. What I'm complaining about is that instead, I could have taken some "Easy A" 100 level liberal arts class, learned nothing I didn't already know (or nothing of practical use in my chosen field), and ended up with a higher GPA, but, in my opinion, I'd have been a worse game developer. I'm not trying to brag, or spin some "woe is me" tail to earn sympathy. I just want my example to illustrate the primary flaw in GPA: It actually discourages students from challenging themselves. The way for them to look best is to take only the hard classes they absolutely must, and fill the rest of their schedule with the easiest classes possible, whether or not they are relevant. Sure, there will be students who ignore GPA and take only classes they are interested in or will benefit from, but the sad truth is their transcripts will look worse for it unless they manage to get straight A's in those classes as well. A system meant as an innocent measure of academic achievement instead makes people want to play the game of college on easy mode.

tl;dr GPA sucks because you can pad it with easy classes and it gets worse if you take hard classes

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Oil Problems

So the other day I was out with a friend, and as we drove past a BP gas station, it occurred to me: I feel really bad for BP store managers and employees. British Petroleum has earned quite a bit of ire for itself, and as oft happens in such cases, a number of people are now boycotting them and refusing to buy BP fuel. For obvious reasons, this sucks for BP employees. It's easy to label the big ugly corporation as this evil entity for fucking up (if that offends you, see my previous post) our environment and taking so long to do something about it, but what some people seem to overlook is that not every single person associated with BP is a greedy, negligent bastard (well, any more than humans in general normally are). A lot of BP employees, good honest people just trying to earn a living, are quite possibly going to end up losing their jobs over something that is no fault of their own, but they share the blame for.

Of course, I'm not trying to talk anyone out of boycotting BP, not that I expect I could even if I wanted to. It's just something to think about.

If you got oil problems, I feel bad for you son. I got 99 problems but a spill ain't one.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Blank your blanking blank

So while exploring the Facebooks the other day, I saw a post by someone to the effect of "Freedom of Speech doesn't mean you have the right to say 'Fuck' in front of small children." The point I believe he was trying to make was that many people misunderstand "freedom of speech," thinking it means they can say anything they want anytime they want, but that's somewhat inaccurate. See the oft used "Fire in a crowded theater" example.

Anyway, rather than a debate about free speech and its implications, the comment thread revolved around the particular example he used, one person even going to so far as to say "[Fuck] is the #1 worst thing you can say in front of a child." Personally, I think there are a few things worse. "I'm going to rip out your eyes with rusty spoons and eat them," "It's perfectly acceptable to discriminate against people based on race, religion, sex or sexual orientation," or a friend's suggestion: "I raped your mother and you're the result" being among them. The list could go on and on, really.

After that, a few others proudly posted about how the will use "fake" swear words when swearing around children, such as "God bless it" instead of "God damn it" and patting themselves on the back for being such upstanding paragons of righteousness. However, are euphemisms really any less bad than the word they replace? (Protip: They're not.) Language is used to convey meaning and intent. Words are a series of letters and sounds that we use to represent that meaning, but the words themselves are neither benign nor evil. When I hit my thumb with a hammer and exclaim "Fudge!" any child present will know exactly what I mean, as surely as if I'd said "Fuck." Fuck is only bad because of the meanings we associate it with. When fudge, fugg, screw, eff or any other of the dozens of replacements fill the same role, they adopt the same meaning and are not really any different. It's silly to think we're somehow doing children some favor by swearing in front of them, but replacing certain words arbitrarily deemed "bad" with other words arbitrarily considered acceptable.

Even more ridiculous is how people censor so called "swear" words in type. F*ck, sh*t and so on, as if there's anyone who speaks English who won't know exactly what you're actually saying. I guess asterisks are just really magical, or something.

tl;dr Your fucking euphemisms don't make a fudging difference.

Edit: This video emphasizes the point better than anything else I could say, I think.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dammit, Lex Luthor

Oops. I forgot to make a post yesterday. This is unfortunate, because if I had, I'd have made a post every day for 4 days in a row. And that's as many as 4 1s. And that's terrible.

It's not quite the same punch as 4 10s but there was no way I was going to get 40 in a row. Blog posts are not cakes, even though they are frosted with overused internet memes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

for_profit = true;

I am consistently amazed by how grown adults utterly fail to understand the workings of the business world. Why do people demonize for profit corporations for doing, well, exactly what they were made to do?

A common trend on the forums of video games (though I'm sure it's prevalent in other industries too) is "omg, [big corporation here] just wants money!" This is often a last resort when the arguing party has run out of viable arguments, an attempt to gain some imagined moral high ground by casting the big bad evil corporation in a negative light for only caring about dollar signs but . . . that's why corporations exist. Do you really expect to get products for free? I suppose some unhappiness when a price is raised is understandable, but it's unavoidable. As the cost of living rises, wages must go up and as wages go up, development costs go up which in turn leads to increased prices. It's just how math works.

Now, I'm not saying that all big corporations are pristine paragons of virtue. Sure, stuff like the Enron debacle happens, but that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking solely about big companies that offer a product or service for which they charge a reasonable fee, not crooks with their hands our wallets when we're not looking.

What's even more ridiculous is when these complaints are roused by a new product. The inspiration for this post, though by no means unique or the only case of this happening, came from a Facebook comment thread following an announcement by SOE that they would be selling wall posters with art from some of their games. Amid the "Oh neat, I'll probably buy one" comments, there were a handful of "Great, Sony just trying to get more money!" as if this was some horrible thing. I can understand some of the frustration at a product's cost going up, or its features being cut to reduce costs, but what cause do we have to complain about a company offering an entirely separate product? If you don't like it, you certainly don't need to buy it.

Of course, this is mostly rhetorical, as we already know the answers: people have obnoxious senses of entitlement and thing they should get everything they want for free and hating big corporations is "trendy." Also ranting on a blog is therapeutic.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Your Pokeblog is Evolving!

Let's talk about evolution. (Sorry, creationists, though after my posts about the mosque and gay marriage I'd be REALLY surprised if there were any lurking on this blog.)

I was reading Cowbirds in Love, a hilarious web comic, and one of the comics made a pretty good point:

Arrogant as we are, humans seem to have this notion that we are the apex of evolution, the pinnacle of natural progress. Some even venture to say things like "We evolved from monkies." This is silly. Monkies have been evolving just as long as we have. They are as much a pinnacle of evolution as we are. We did not "evolve from" monkies. We evolved from a common ancestor that we share with monkies.

Though if one wanted to explore this notion further: Evolution happens because of mutations in new organisms when they are born (well really when they are conceived). This means that, as the movie Mimic pointed out, evolution is about generations, not time. While the ultra-fast evolution in Mimic is still a bit unrealistic, the principle is sound: A species that reproduces faster will evolve faster. So where do we sit on this scale? In theory, we could produce a new generation of humans every 12-15 years if people began producing children as soon as they were biologically able to. People having children so young is an appalling thought now, but was not uncommon back in the days of 30 year life expectancy. If you didn't have kids that early, your kids would probably be orphans before their age hit double digits. Anyway, now a new generation happens every 20 or 30 years.

On the other hand, many other species reproduce far, far faster than us. Many plants have a new generation annually. Some insects can even have several generations per year. Monocellular organisms can even have multiple generations per hour. So, long story short: They're all evolving faster than us. We are technically LESS evolved than house flies. So there.

However, you might say "But I can still hit it with a fly swatter." Or you might not, but then let's assume someone else said it instead. True, evolutionary progress does not necessarily mean "better." It just means those are the attributes that were most advantageous in that situation. As Sanjay points out in the text below his comic: It's all about better fitting your niche. For example, penguins may be pretty damn good at surviving in the cold, but drop them in a desert and they'd fare far worse than "less evolved" desert dwellers from millions of years ago.

Of course, in some cases the niche lies somewhere other than individual strength. You might feel victorious when you crush a cockroach, but remember: for every one you see there are 40 you don't, and they often breed faster than we can kill them. Also remember that though things that will kill a roach (getting stepped on, bug poisons, the cat) might not bother a human, there are plenty of things that will kill a human quickly and painfully that a cockroach can survive.

tl;dr We're arrogant but we're not doing any better than rats.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

In Defiance of Classification

I don't plan for this to be a game review site. That market is pretty saturated, and has people with more resources than I (ie, the ability to consistently buy new games as soon as they hit shelves rather than waiting for them to drop to $10). However, periodically when I feel like there's something I *really* want to say about a game (or I don't have a rant prepared about dumb stuff) I will write one. Like this!

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, is an interesting game because I don't know how to summarize. There are good games, there are bad games and there are games in between. Oblivion is neither good nor bad. One would think this means it's somewhere in between, in the realm of "average," but there is nothing average about this game. Every part of it is either really, really good or terribly bad.

I'll be nice and start with the good. It's a fairly beautiful game. The characters, monsters and environments are all beautiful. There are dozens of sliders for customizing your character's appearance, for those who are into that sort of thing.

Every inventory item has a 3D model associated with it, and there's quite a variety of them. If you drop an item it falls to the ground with that model. Also, many of the decorations are actual items. All the cups, plates and food sitting on a table, or the rows of books on a book shelf are actual items you can pick up or push around (they all respond to physics). I know that sounds like something silly to be excited about, but after all the games where dropped items either vanish or adopt a generic bag or box model, and books in bookcases are just a decorative texture, I thought it was really cool.

It also has neat systems for procedurally generating items and spells. There are tons of alchemy components you can use to make varied potions and poisons. For spells, once you know an effect (such as fire damage, restore health), you can make a spell with that effect, select the target type (self, target, touch, ae), duration and magnitude and the game calculates the magic and gold cost for it based on that. You can make some interesting stuff.

The voice acting is generally pretty good, though there were a few cases where it was kind of bland. I expected The Gray Prince to express a tiny bit more shock when he learned his father was a [spoiler].

The world is vast and you can wander around and explore, but there is a fast travel option when you just want to get where you're going. The world is also full of unique NPCs. Other than guards, most NPCs in the towns have specific names. Also, (except for essential quest NPCs) if they die they are dead. Sucks if a shop keeper you like gets killed somehow, but I think having a mutable world is generally neat. It also gives you an incentive to try to keep allies alive. Keep that guy alive in this quest and he might help you out later on.

There's also a fair amount of content. Lots of dungeons, and plenty of quests. Some of the side stories rival the main story in length and complexity. There are lots of options, which can be overwhelming but overall is neat.

So. The bad. All of the awesomeness above is marred by Oblivion's leveling system. Now in fairness, the "enemies level with you" paradigm does have some merits. It means everything is theoretically level appropriate. It also avoids the problem of "missing" a dungeon at the right level range. In a few MMOs I played, I've totally missed out on dungeons on my main character because by the time I found out about them I was too high level for them, so I usually have to make an alt if I want to do it "as intended."

However, this system carries with it a host of new problems. For one, if enemies get stronger as you do, it diminishes much of the point of leveling up. One of my favorite things to do in Everquest was go back and solo or group old raid mobs, which you can't do if they get tougher as you do. It also poses a problem for those who make sub-optimal characters. It's easy to make bad choices in a new game that you don't know everything about yet, especially one as complex as most modern RPGs. If you don't get new/enchanted gear and allocate your stats efficiently, the game can actually get *harder* as you level up. Leveling up should be cause for celebration, but in games with enemy scaling (Oblivion is not the only game guilty of this) it's almost a source of frustration. Since you only level up when you sleep in Oblivion, some players simply never sleep, remaining as low level as possible for the entire game. That's kind of a red flag.

The way leveling up works is interesting, but also causes problems when coupled with the enemy scaling. There are 21 skills in the game, in 3 groups of 7: Combat, Magic and Stealth. Each class has 7 major skills, and can specialize in one of the 3 groups (specializing means they go up faster). Major skills also go up faster, but more than that, determine how you level up. Every 10 skill levels worth of major skills you gain, your character goes up a level. Now, in an RPG with static enemies, this would be really cool. In unmodded Oblivion, it means that the way to make the optimal character is to pick a class with major skills you never plan to use, so that you can increase all of your useful skills without increasing your level. It was kind of jarring when I realized that picking the Warrior class for a melee type character would make the game harder, rather than easier.

All of this boils down to one main problem: If you encounter a boss or area that is too hard, there is little you can do (short of turning down the difficulty slider) to make it not-too hard. In most other games, you'd go gain a few levels, come back and beat it up with your new abilities. For example, I'm pretty sure every Square RPG ever could be beaten well before max level, so those who just sucked at the game or had a hard time could over-level and use more muscle. You can't do that when enemies get tougher with you, which makes it unforgiving for anyone who made mistakes developing their character.

I think there are two solutions that blend the best of both the static enemy and auto-leveling enemy worlds. One is to have enemies level up to an enemy specific cap, and the other is to only have them level once. The former is more appropriate for overland enemies, while the later better for dungeons.

With capped enemies, when you are level one, all enemies would be level 1 (or slightly higher if their level is PC + 1 or 2 for harder enemies). When you are 2, everything becomes 2. When you reach 3, everything is 3 except for rats and similar weaker enemies, that would stay 2. Oblivion sort of does this for non-dungeon enemies, since you face new creature types as you level up. In a way, I don't mind that as much, since you're not fighting a level 20 rat. You're fighting a level 20 minotaur where a rat used to hang out. Also, overland enemies can be easily avoided either with a horse or the fast travel option, so I'd say that could be left as is fine.

For dungeons, I think the optimal solution is to have them scale to the player's level the first time the player sets foot in the dungeon, but then stay there until the dungeon is cleared out. That way, any new dungeon the player finds is level appropriate, but if it proves to be hard, they can go get a level or two and come back.

Of course, really I'd like to see more RPGs do away with "levels" entirely and go entirely by skills and gear, but that's a ramble for another post.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Faulty arguments stretched to their (il)logical extremes:

Argument A: Muslims should not build their cultural center in Manhattan since the terrorists were also Muslim, thus it's insensitive.

Argument A taken further than its proponents intended while remaining logically consistent: That's true! Furthermore, I have it on good authority that the men who committed the atrocity breathed air. We'd better make sure no air breathers are allowed near Ground Zero, as that'd be insensitive.

Does that seem ridiculous? It's conceptually the same as the base argument.

Argument B: Birth Control shouldn't be used because you're killing your unborn child.

Abortion is a pretty sensitive subject, and probably one I will try to remember to devote a full post to in the future. There are those who argue abortion is murder as it is killing the child. Fair enough, as there is a baby there, though at what point it stops being a few cells and starts being a baby is a subject of much debate by people who have done far more research on the topic than I. However, some people take it further and argue that birth control is bad too, as it's killing the theoretical baby. Well . . .

Argument B probed a bit more deeply than its makers intended: If preventing a baby from being conceived is murder, then logically any method of preventing a potential baby is the same. Any woman who spends more than 9 months not pregnant has just killed the child she could have been having. Men are even worse, since every time a man does not impregnate a non-pregnant woman, he's killing the potential kids. Furthermore, you are then guilty of killing any children that those children would have had. Thus, by the same logic employed to argue against birth control, ever single non-sterile human beyond the age of puberty is guilty of infinite counts of infanticide. Way to go guys. You're all ultra-dicks.

That's it for the moment. I was going to do something gay marriage related but I did that recently, and there are so many faulty arguments employed there I could make a novel out of them. I wouldn't know where to start.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Marriage is so Gay

It looks like proposition 8 finally got (rightfully) repealed: (Maybe this will draw some of the rage away from the Mosque story. =p)

Despite it being a very big topic currently, and one I have a lot to say about, I have thus far not posted about it on this blog mostly because everything I have to say has already been said. However, as this blog is as much to vent and collect my thoughts as to say things that are original and new, I guess I might as well go ahead with a few of them.

So, let's investigate some of the arguments brought to bear against gay marriage. The most common one I hear is a passage from Leviticus: Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. (Leviticus 18:22) Well let's investigate this, shall we? When interpreting the Bible (or any text, really), it's important to keep in mind the cultural context in which it was written. Leviticus was, as the name implies, a code of laws written for the Levites, one of the 12 tribes of Israel. This is a culture where infant mortality was high, life expectancy was low and the entire culture was perpetually on the verge of extinction. They needed people constantly making babies, which mean men needed to be sleeping with (and impregnating) women, rather than each other, for the sake of the survival of the culture. In modern times, with overpopulation a huge problem in many areas, this is no longer as big an issue.

Of course, fanatic Biblical literalists will tell us that every word in the Bible is literally true no matter the context and that I just committed blasphemy. If that's true, I hope they never eat shellfish or wear two kinds of cloth together. It also alarming that they feel that handicapped people shouldn't be allowed in church (Leviticus 21:16-23) and that genocide and slavery are acceptable.

Then there are more secular arguments against gay marriage, though no less silly. For example: Gays shouldn't be married because the union will not produce children. Marriage stopped being about just children the moment it had legal benefits like hospital visitation or joint tax return filing attached to it. Also, what about infertile heterosexual couples? Are we going to tell them they can't marry? Or older couples past child bearing age? Or couples that can have children but choose not to? Then of course there's the option of adoption. With so many children in foster homes and orphanages in need of loving parents, it's arguably an even greater service to the species to take care of an adopted child than to make a new one, at least while so many are in need of care.

tl;dr Gay marriage is not going to plunge us into Armageddon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Dancing and Breasts

Don't go dancing in St. Louis, or something:

I could go launch into a rant at this point, as per normal, but really all the things I have to say are either obvious to anyone with a shred of sense or already mentioned in that article. So uh, yeah. That.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Welcome to America

So, I don't know if I mentioned this anywhere, but I am a citizen of the United States. Sometimes, living here makes me weep. I don't hate my country. Quite the contrary. Though things could be better, overall it's taken good care of me. It's not my country that makes me cry. It is the people. Sometimes, my fellow Americans shatter my faith in humanity. Not all of them, just people like:

So for those who haven't been following the news, in an effort to bridge the cultural gap and promote awareness of what sane, rational Muslims are about, a group wishes to build a Mosque (actually it's a 13 story cultural center that contains a Mosque, but the Mosque is the part people are getting worked up over) in New York, a few blocks from the site of the WTC disaster. Some people have reacted . . . poorly. Like Sarah Palin:

I did, I regret to admit, cave and briefly join that Facebook group, in an attempt to engage the members in intelligent debate. I failed. Miserably. I was accused of being a horrible, freedom hating asshole (ironic, since, well, religious freedom is exactly what they were protesting) for daring to disagree, so I quickly left, waited for the notifications to stop, then decided to do something even MORE fruitless: rant about it on my blog.

Specifically, I want to address a few of the most common and most glaringly wrong points that were brought up, both in the description and wall. (This isn't just about that Facebook group, but rather the idea it embodies.The group just lends me a real rather than hypothetical straw man target. I'm not making these arguments up. People actually said them.)

""How can you build a shrine to the very ideology that brought down the World Trade Center?" asked Geller, whose group is planning a June 6 rally to protest the project."

I want to say I'm surprised that people think this, but honestly, I'm not. I really can believe people are that, for lack of less harsh word, ignorant. They are NOT the same ideology. Radical Muslims who want to fly airplanes into buildings are a tiny minority, and do not at all reflect the beliefs of the majority of the other 1.82 billion Muslims in the world any more than Fred Phelps and his psycho followers reflect the beliefs of the majority of Christians. The people building this mosque have no affiliation with the people who committed the atrocity of September 11th, 2001.

"The Qu'ran tells Muslims to kill non believers."

That's a rough paraphrase, because it was said by a dozen different people a dozen different ways. Well, let's see what the Qu'ran does have to say, shall we?

He who takes a single innocent life is as though he had killed all mankind (Qu'ran 5:32)

Yeah. It sure is telling them to kill those dirty non-believers. The prophet Mohammed, like many prophets, actually preached a message of peace and acceptance, quite similar to the message of Jesus, though fanatic Christian anti-Muslims seem to cringe at this idea and rebuke it like a 10th level cleric rebuking ghouls.

I admit I haven't read the entire book cover to cover, so it's possible there are some violent passages in it, but if there are, I'm sure rational, sane Muslims are capable of overlooking them or interpreting them metaphorically rather than literally, just like rational Christians know better than to take word for word things like:

And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people. And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain. (Deuteronomy 2:33-34) (That's right, the Bible condones genocide.)

If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out by himself: if he were married, then his wife shall go out with him. If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself. (Exodus 21:1-4) (And slavery too.)

"Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims."

So Timothy McVeigh isn't a terrorist anymore? Not to mention the plethora of non-Muslim insurgent groups around the world. It's not hard to find lists of them, but who can be bothered with such trivial things as "research" and "facts" when you're on a righteous crusade?

Now I sit back and wait for the hate mail and death threats.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Customer is not Always Right

It's true. They're not. "The customer is always right" may not be THE most annoying catch phrase ever, but it's one of the dumber ones. Frankly, not only is the customer not always right, but they're often kinda dumb.

I could, at this point, launch into a rant about my 2 1/2 years working as an Ad Set Supervisor at Kohl's, and all the people I encountered there, but that would be marginally more unprofessional than my usual fare, and that's not really where I was planning to take this blog post (not that I ever plan any part of my posts more than a sentence in advance).

This is somewhat prompted by my encounters with the ranting of gamers on game message boards. A frequent cry I hear on game forums is "The devs don't listen to us!" What many players seem to have difficulty grasping, is that "doesn't listen" and "doesn't agree" aren't the same thing. It's quite possible they listened very closely to your suggestion/idea/rant, then decided it was bad. Or impossible. A lot of people (not just MMO players, but people in general) have an alarming sense of entitlement, and expect to get anything they want just because they want it. Frankly, just because you thought it up, doesn't mean it's a good idea. I arrogantly like to think I have a better track record than the average person, but I'm fully aware that not everything I come up with is instant gold. Some people seem to miss that, though.

The problem as I see it is that many customers don't really see the "bigger picture." They only focus on that which immediately impacts them, to the exclusion of all else. To harp on the game example again, let's focus on difficulty. It's a pretty common trend in games to have easy stuff which leads into hard stuff. The problem we have is that some people want lots of easy stuff and not much hard stuff, while others want lots of hard stuff and not much easy stuff. They're both valid, but also obviously contradictory. Game developers cannot cater everything to both parties in this example of theoretical absolutes, and an attempt to "split the difference" will just result in both sides being angry they didn't get everything. The folks in group A will complain that X is too hard while the folks in group B will complain that Y is too easy, each ignoring the stuff that IS right for them, and complain "We didn't get what we want so the developers aren't listening."

There are also issues with limited resources. There is not a single computer/video game anywhere in the world that could not be improved in some way, nor will there ever be. Every developer wants to make a perfect product of course, with every feature any player could ever ask for completely free of bugs. In practice, however, this is quite impossible. When you are doing things for a business, eventually you have to accept that enough resources have been dumped into something and it's time to push it out the door and see what it can do. The problem now is that people will make all sorts of crazy demands for complex features and endless content, oblivious to the impracticality of what they are asking, and when it isn't implemented perfectly overnight, they complain "devs ignoring the customers!!1!eleven."

This applies to other industries as well, of course. Yes sir or ma'am, I'm sure you do want that pillow to be half the listed price, but we can't just cut prices for anyone who asks, can we? And yes, it would be quite lovely if that glassware was unbreakable, but physics doesn't work that way. If you look over here though I can show you some fine plasticware.

tl;dr Just because someone wants something doesn't mean they should get it.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

About This Blog

I didn't want to start with a big "What you're going to find here!" before I actually had anything to support it, but now that there's, like, content, I thought I'd make the cliche intro post about this blog and myself.

This blog doesn't have a particular topic, really. It's mostly just a repository of random thoughts that I have and want to store somewhere, or just share whoever happens to care. I'm mostly writing for myself, but if someone else enjoys it, that's a big bonus. =p

I'm an admitted nerd, and mostly a gamer. I went to school for computer game development, and now development small indie games (see my blogroll for current projects) as well as play as many as time allows, mostly MMOs. As such, most of the content here will probably be about games. (I guess that seems to not be the case so far, since only one post up to now has actually dealt with video games, heh, but we'll see what happens over time.)

The other reason I'm doing this is so I have my thoughts collected in one place for easy reference. Rather than making X argument a dozen times to different people, I'll just post it here and point people to it as needed. And then they'll ignore it and not click the link because that's how internet arguments work.

Anyway, keep on keepin' on, and don't get hit by any exploding orangutans,

Random MMO Thoughts

I originally posted this as a comment on a post at ECTmmo but it ended up being so long I decided I'd just make it into it's own post. It's sort of disjointed and lacking an overall point, but whatever, that's no different from most blog posts. =p

I think a game can fall well short of WoW and still be a success. WoW is an anomaly. If there were other MMOs with say, 4.5 or 4 million, that wouldn't be the case, but after WoW you don't find #2 until like 500k. I don't think this is because WoW is that fantastic a game (it's better than some but has its problems), but because the Warcraft IP and Blizzard in general already had a huge fan base in the more popular genres of RTS and RPG games when MMOs were still pretty niche. This wouldn't bother me except that people keep saying "Well that game didn't beat WoW. It must be a failure."

Also, as an avid EQ player, I'd love as much as any EQ nerd to see SOE pump as much time and money into it as possible, but alas, while we might love old games, they're not where the money is. Plenty of EQ players might think it's the best game in the world, but when I try to introduce new people it their response is usually "Ew, isn't that game like 10 years old? I want to try something new." The "It has constant updates and content patches" argument usually doesn't sway them. No matter how good a game EQ is, it will never get that albatross of its neck, and I think SOE knows this, so as much as I might dislike it, I can't really fault them as a business for investing in newer games.

There definitely are a lot of "WoW imitations" floating around, either entire games, or original games borrowing ideas. I don't think this is totally horrible if done well. Ultimately a lot of WoW is borrowed from EQ, which draws heavily on old school D&D, which was just based on Tolkein which came from Norse Mythology which was based on who knows what. So much has been done that little is truly original anymore, and I don't think there's any shame or harm in borrowing ideas that work. That said one must be careful. If you just make a total WoW clone, that won't work too well, since anyone who wants to play a game like WoW is going to be playing WoW. =p It requires a careful balance of proven old ideas and original ones.

On that note, I certainly must commend EVE Online for being pretty much the most original MMO launched since EQ (I picked it up a few months ago and it's pretty neat), though it's such a niche game (super hardcore PvP, mostly. It has PvE but the PvP is the main focus and meat of the game), that its sub numbers aren't much beyond most other MMOs. Hopefully the future will hold games with the originality (and stunningly winsauce economy) of EVE, but that appeal to a broader, more casual audience like WoW.

So, yes. In conclusion: MMOs are awesome.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I want to sleep but I can’t

because the world is loud, so instead of futilely tossing and turning in bed, I shall blog! Let’s talk about drugs.

This is hardly a new topic, but it came up in a discussion recently which has inspired me to collect my thoughts here in a post: There is absolutely no reason for marijuana to be illegal. In fact, I’d argue that having it illegal does far more harm than the alternative.

Oh hey look, it’s a supporting evidence:

Anyway, some absurd number of people are incarcerated in US prisons for drug offenses. Now the narrow minded might think “Good, keep them dang dirty druggies off mah streets!” It’s easy to forget that “prison” isn’t some magical mystical fantasy place where people we don’t like just disappear. All those prisons are a huge drain on taxpayer dollars. Y’know, that money we pay that could be spent on education or infrastructure improvements. I can safely say I’d rather have that pothole in front of my house fixed than know that some kid is in jail because he likes getting high.

It’s just the money either, but the hours police officers spend catching drug offenders. I cringe when I look at a newspaper and see a story about some massive drug bust that took over a dozen cops, then the next page is stories about muggings, rapes and murders. I’m not blaming the cops for this, as they’re just doing their jobs. The problem is that spending time chasing down pot smokers is their job to begin with.

Now, apparently some people consider this “being soft on crime.” Those people are silly. Victimless crimes really don’t need to be crimes. Marijuana doesn’t hurt anybody any more than alcohol does. Perhaps less in fact. Marijuana itself will not kill you. Deaths from marijuana happen in two ways: people lace it with a deadlier drug, which would still be illegal if smoking pot was legalized, or they go out and operate heavy machinery while high, which would also be illegal, just like it’s legal to drink alcohol but illegal to drive a car while/after doing so.

Additionally, the legal sale of marijuana would be a new sources of tax revenue. Sure, there might still be some shady dealers selling pot to folks under the table, but that will still be illegal due to tax evasion. Large pot industry giants might not pop up overnight just because it’s legalized, but companies will seize the opportunity eventually, and they won’t show up at all if it remains illegal. So, legalize pot, and not only does LESS taxpayer money get spent on prisons but more taxes will be generated on the sale of pot, and every penny that the government gets from the sale of marijuana is a penny that non-pot smokers didn’t have to spend. =p

Also, to anyone who is ready to dismiss this as the rantings of some silly pothead who just wants to get high without worrying about getting in trouble: way to be wrong. I’ve tried marijuana twice, hated it both times, and will most likely never try it again. However, my loathing of a substance doesn’t cloud my vision to the ridiculousosity of the laws surrounding it. (Woah, Firefox spll check says that’s a word. wtf.)

Also also, one might notice I focused specifically on marijuana rather than drugs in general. When we talk about more dangerous drugs, it’s a slightly different story, and one that’s harder to come to a decision about. While some might be tempted to say “they should be legal too, if someone wants to get fucked up on something deadly it’s their business, not ours.” However, that’s a bit iffier. If some kid gets high in his basement, nobody’s hurt. If some kid OD’s on cocaine and kills himself, a huge emotional toll is taken on his friends and family. Even worse, if an adult who has children or other financial dependents does the same, now those children are short a caretaker. Killing oneself is not a victimless crime, because the person taking their own life makes victims of those who love/rely on them, but you’d have to try pretty hard to kill yourself with marijuana (and as mentioned, would need to add a more lethal drug or a dangerous automobile drive anyway) so it’s exempt from this uncertainty.

tl;dr make pot legal plz kkthx bai

What are we afraid of?

So a brief bit of backstory: I’ve been spending some time reading MLIA, or a site called “My Life is Average” for those not familiar with it. It’s just a place where people share (hopefully) amusing stories. There are a lot of recurring trends on the site though, and one I’ve noticed a fair bit is one that follows this formula: “My young [relative] asked me about [awkward sexual topic] and to preserve their innocence I told them it was [something else]. They then went and asked [adult] about [awkward sexual topic] thinking it was a [something else].”

Let’s think about this a moment. “To preserve their innocence.” At what point did our society determine that ignorance and naivety are virtues to be preserved? Why do we struggle so hard to shield our youth from things that, frankly, they need to know? We lie to our children and tell them “You heard about STDs from someone at school? Oh, it’s, uh a kind of candy. It’s bad though!” and then we wonder why STD rates are so high. We refuse to teach our children about contraception and then wonder why we have teen pregnancy. Why are we so opposed to knowledge?

That was a rhetorical question. The answer is not that hidden. Our society is afraid of it’s own sexuality, and there’s really no good reason why. It’s not just when talking to kids, grown men and women are afraid of talking about it to each other as well. Why do we try to cover up and hide this perfectly natural facet of who we are? What’s so scary about sex? (That one’s not rhetorical, though I do have some theories, most of them, as usual, related to older social traditions that outlived their usefulness.)

Edit: A friend's mother recently posted this on Facebook, and it is disturbingly relevant:

Gender Identity Problems

In my travels across these vast internets, I’ve met a few people with what is often described as “Gender Identity Issues.” Some have said such things like “My real gender and my physical sex do not match.” I know someone is going to accuse me of being horribly insensitive for saying this, but this statement is absurd. Before you go flame me for being a prick, at least read my reasons why, as I do have a few transgender friends and I DO try to be sensitive to both this and other issues.

Our society has various standards of masculinity of and feminity which we attach to various things and concepts, and then expect each gender to fall into pre-defined archetypes. Football is manly; cheerleading is girl. G.I. Joe is manly; Barbie is girly. Beer is manly; hard fruit drunks are girly. This is idiotic. Most of the gender expectations we have are arbitrary and/or anachronistic social constructs. Pissing while standing up is masculine. Giving birth to babies is feminine unless you’re in that one movie. The rest is just made up.

Granted, some trends show up more in one common gender than the other, but being an exception hardly makes you weird. A sensitive who cries when Bambi’s mother dies is no less a man than the big rugged football player, and the muscular body building woman who loves beer and steak and driving her SUV is no less womanly than the cute petite girl in pink skirts. If any of those stereotypes I just made annoyed you: good. Then I’m not the only one who thinks they’re absurd.

What especially annoys me is when gender affinity is applied to styles of dress. Other than a few articles of clothing designed with anatomical concerns in mind (ie, bras) who cares if something is for men or women? A guy who wears dresses isn’t a “girly man” or a “girl trapped in a guy’s body.” He’s just a guy who likes to wear dresses and there’s nothing wrong with that.

So the next time you or someone you know feels the onset of a “gender identity” problem: ask why. Why is this a problem? Don’t feel bad because you like sweet romance movies but you swing a sword below the belt (credit to Icewind Dale for the best euphemism for being male ever) or because you like action hero explosion shooters and you don’t. Buy your son the Barbie doll he wants and get your daughter the toy tank. Drink what you like to drink, not what you think your gender is expected to. Drive the car you like the most (and that has the best gas mileage). Be who you feel like being (within reasonable, legal limits), not who society tells you that someone of your age and gender should be, because few things are as bad as denying who we are or forcing ourselves to be someone else to conform to what the rest of the world arbitrarily expects us to be.

Unless, of course, you just hate your penis/vagina and want to see what it’s like to have the other one. Then I’ve got nothing for you.

Why I really like Halloween

There are a lot of things to like about the current incarnation of Halloween. The candy is certainly nice. The costumes are often entertaining for various reasons, ranging from hilarious to sexy to simply adorable. Partying is certainly entertaining as well.

However, there is one reason that even more than those makes me REALLY like this particular holiday: the random connections that just happen.

I admit to normally being pretty cynical and misanthropic. While humans have made some rockin’ cool accomplishments, we do some shitty stuff too. We kill each other, rape each other, beat each other, steal from each other and dozens of other things, and we’re constantly fucking up our environment. There are times that I feel as if our species is a horribly unwelcome stain on the tapestry of life.

And yet, despite that, there are times when something happens that restores a shred of my faith in our species. These random things can be so simple yet so pleasant. For example, Halloween night a friend and I were at a liquor store buying some drinks for the party we were heading to. In front of us line was a young girl buying something. A few feet away, an older man (perhaps her father) was taking a picture of it. Seeing the inquisitive glances from other people in the line, he explained “I’m recording a historic moment. She just turned 21 and this is her first legal alcohol purchase.” Suddenly there was clapping and cheering for her, and just general happiness. I think a few people even started singing happy birthday. Other than a few couples or groups of friends in the store, none of us knew each other, and nobody knew the birthday girl or her (presumably) father, yet for a few moments we were all brought together by something as simple as a 21 year old’s first alcohol purchase.

This random burst of social camaraderie, while not Halloween specific, was really neat. Of course, that’s not the best example since it could have happened on any night, not just Halloween, but there were many similar Halloween related connections I observed. On train and bus rides in Chicago, most people ride in silence, hoping simply to get where they are going without someone demanding money, threatening them or both. Yet, on Halloween, everyone is friendly. People see a costume they recognize and ask “Are you dressed as soandso? Oh that’s so cool. I love that book/show/game/etc” and people who otherwise would never even say hello to each other are connected, if even for a few minutes.

I think it’s really cool, and I wish it happened more often. We are far too unfriendly a society.

A New Venture

So, a while ago I started a Wordpress blog. I didn't know much about blog sites, and a few people I knew used it, so I gave it a shot. I have since discovered Blogger, which offers some other advantages, and a bunch of other people I know use it. It was also chosen as the tool for the dev blog for a game I'm working on, so I'm considering migrating here, or at least cross-posting. I suppose I'll start testing the water by copying over my few posts from Wordpress and seeing what happens next.