Sunday, December 28, 2008

Final Visual

Check out this Microsoft ad for Visual Studio:

Now check out this shot of Ultima, a summon monster from Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy Tactics:

That's not the only similarity either. The girl in the party looks a lot like Penelo from Final Fantasy XII and the weapon used by the summoner looks a lot like a generic 'rod' weapon that's in all Final Fantasy games.

For as much as I'd like it to be, it's actually not a case of outright thievery by MS in this case. Previous Visual Studio ads have aped games like Halo, World of Warcraft, and Second Life. In all those cases it was rather obvious, but I found it interesting that their Final Fantasy advertising tribute chose a rather obscure set of characters, I guess noticing it makes it all the more delicious to a handful of adherents.

By the way, I got the bottom pic from the site below, do not click on it if you think that there is still hope for mankind! (Safe for work, but not for sanity)
You clicked on it didn't you?!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Battery Powered

From here:
A consortium of 14 US tech companies is asking for $1bn in federal aid to build a lithium-ion battery plant.

According to a report in today's Wall Street Journal, that steaming heap of cash would be used to help build a factory that would enable the companies, in the words of the report, to "catch up to Asian rivals that are far ahead" of US efforts to supply batteries for the next generation of electric or hybrid automobiles.
I wish I knew who said it, but I heard it said that attmepts to speed advances in technology by using only money is like trying to speed the growth of a single baby by using nine mothers.

Of course this might not be about technology, but about getting the government to foot the bill for a new battery plant, which begs the question: who wants to live next to a battery plant?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas in 2008

This is the 5th Christmas for this blog, but only the second Merry Christmas post. My employer gives us a generous allotment of time off around the holidays so I usually don't feel like writing, which is fine since no one else feels like reading.

On Christmas Eve of this year we received some fancy gift wrap from the kind folks at Maker's Mark. Mrs. Sandmich is saving her's, but I couldn't resist wrapping some gifts in it, and I had to point it out since they are probably the best wrap jobs that I've done in my life:

The stars are actually little Maker's Mark bottles!

As well, kudos to Mrs. Sandmich for scoring an excellent nativity set:

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Levels of Internmet

Justin comments on the World War 2 internment of Japanese Americans in relation to some rather nice Life photos that have been posted up to Google. I confess that I cannot muster the emotion with this event that others can. World War 2 was a time of many atrocities, and the internment of Japanese Americans, unfortunately, doesn't rank quite as high as others of the era.

At the onset of the war a large concern for those on the west coast was an invasion by Imperial Japan. With what little defenses they had destroyed at Pearl Harbor (contrary to popular belief, America didn't have a lot of defense forces at the start of the war), drastic actions came to the fore. In other countries the 'enemy minority' is beset by machete wielding mobs, but the American government sent this group off to fairly modern work camps, of sorts.

With all the effort put in, the whole thing only further begs the question, what was supposed to be accomplished by the internment beyond some momentary, misguided revenge grudge? Even apart from the immoral human toll, it would appear to be a huge waste of resources. Justin didn't link to it, but the one photo the stuck out at me was this one:

Caption: Japanese American soldiers, visiting their families while on leave from European combat duty, stand honor guard beside coffin of Japanese American WWI veteran Clarence Uno who died while interned at relocation center for Americans of Japanese descent.

Although the other photos were interesting, after seeing that picture all I could think was "umm, okay, why were those people there?" I tend to doubt that even people at that time had a clear idea of what the point of the whole operation was.

For as awful as it was to those interned, there is one piece of useful data that can be gleamed: the whole episode did provide a bit of a social contrast to other minority groups as Jared Taylor notes in relation to the 'legacy of slavery' excuse frequently used as cover for black Americans:

This wholesale internment was far worse than anything done to blacks then or since. Many of the men, women, and children who were rounded up are still living today. If any group in America had wanted to give up, blame white society, and try to live off its victim status, the Japanese could have. Instead, when the war was over, they went back to what was left of their lives and started over. Twenty-five years after the war, they had long since caught up with white society and, as a group, had incomes 32 percent above the national average.
Maybe part of the reason the internment flies under the radar is that the Japanese are so adept. Maybe if they sat around in squalor and bitched and moaned for sixty seventy years people would take more of an interest in the deprivations they had incurred in the past. Such is life...

Caption: Close-up of grave at cemetery in Japanese detention camp.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Devil May Cry 4

Devil May Cry 2 was an awful game. They took a game that had little story to begin with and took that out, leaving what was essentially a series of (bad) Devil May Cry minigames. On top of that, the designers of the second game also decided to reuse art from the first game, which would be forgivable if the first game hadn't already reused it's own art several times over the course of the game.

Although the third game was supposed to be on a par with the first game, I never played it since the difficulty was supposed to be outrageous. This wasn't wholly unexpected since the first Devil May Cry featured an easy mode that had a tense difficulty, and a 'regular' mode that was reserved for those ever so rare gamers who enjoy nonstop Megaman levels of aggravation. And all that is quite a bit apart from the even harder 'Dante Must Die' mode that was designed by someone who hates humanity.

Devil May Cry 4 sets out to correct those sins of the past while updating the already gorgeous artwork and adding an additional fully playable character. Playing this game reminds of how fun the original Devil May Cry was. A brawler at heart, the game is all about using quick responses to take down multiple enemies at once.

This game also elicits nostalgia by reusing some of the same gaming devices that were used in the first one. Reusing entire levels? Yup. Frequent returns to vanquished bosses? Oh yeah. Firearms that are nearly entirely useless? You know it.

Any of those devices would be faults in any other game but so much care has been put into enemy design, level design, and the easy to master, though deep combat system that the throw-back devices come off as an intentional choice, rather than a cheap out. The designers sought to take what made the original Devil May Cry great and make it better, rather than reworking it into an unholy mess. It's in every way like the original: fun, but not involving; really good, but not great. An enjoyable ride if you take it for what it is.

However, outside of the review I do have something to get off my chest. It has to do with the character control scheme. This is something that's at fault in nearly every game with a third person perspective, including the excellent God of War games which borrowed heavily from DMC. To set this up, here's some in-game shots of DMC4:

In the first shot the character is fighting an enemy on the left of the screen while in the second a character is fighting an enemy that is at the 'front' of the screen in between the character and the person playing the game. The in-game controls work as you might expect with the player pushing left in the first shot and 'back' or 'down' in the second.

The problem comes in at the inevitable camera change when switching areas. Hypothetically the character on the left might fight his way into a new room which will require a new camera view. At this point the camera might be looking straight at the character instead of his left hand side. Now all of the sudden the enemy the character is fighting is no longer on the 'left' of the joystick, but 'down', leaving the player vulnerable while an adjustment must be made. What makes it worse, particularly in some of the beautiful wide shots in DMC4, is that you cannot even see your character in the new camera because they're behind a wall or whatnot. At that point there is no way to know which way to attack.

The DMC games have a closely related game in the Onimusha series. Same publisher, same concept, just with a different setting and a more patient, less frentic combat system. In the first Onimusha (at least, I cannot remember the others) the control scheme was that you pushed on the joystick from the perspective of the character rather than the player. Under this scheme, 'up' on the joystick always moves the character forward and 'down' always makes him turn around. This took some getting used to since the natural inclination is to push the character around on the screen like he's a glorified mouse cursor, but in the long it was far superior since camera perspective didn't matter: if the enemy was in front of you, which is normally the case, you just keep pushing 'up' irregardless of what way the character was facing on the screen.

Although I loved it, no one else did. Kid Sandmich in particular loathed the system despite my many attempts to sell it to him. Despite it's lack of popularity, it would be nice if it could at least be an option on "third person" games like this.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Nine to Five

Years ago I had a job with a contract IT job shop and occasionally they would hit employees up to work on a Saturday. Our first question would be "Overtime?" and then the employer would say "well we have you listed as exempt so technically we don't have to pay you overtime", at which point we would "well then we're technically not going to show up". After finding that they were unable to find a sufficient number of suckers, the business would relent and offer overtime to anyone who came in. The fact that they even tried to screw us out of pay cheesed me off, it's not like the shop wasn't charging the customer an exorbitant rate for off hours work so I'm sure the whole situation was caused by a manager who got bonus dollar signs in his eyes.

But...did they have to pay us overtime? I don't know.

I do know that at the time I was jealous of those who had a true full time job at a dedicated employer, instead of a job at a contracting shop whose main point of existence was screwing customers out of barrels of cash. Typically part of having one of those coveted dedicated positions is a willingness to provide support to the business at all hours as part of your salary. To me that was, and still is, an acceptable trade off for such a job.

Oddly enough, at least to me, not everyone takes the same position. Redmond Magazine profiles one John Paul Myszczenko who held (holds?) some type of help desk position* at the nefarious AIG. After providing a year or two of off hours support, Myszczenko discovered that he was non-exempt and after pressing his employer, got back pay for himself and various other employees. But what makes an employee "salary, non-exempt" and what makes one "salary, exempt"? When does the employer have to pay overtime? Well at least when it comes to 'help desk' positions the Department of Labor ruled:

The DOL ruled that IT support specialists and help desk workers do not qualify for either the "administrative" or "computer professionals" exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The DOL determined that the IT position is not exempt from overtime and minimum wage requirements because the position, which requires only a high school diploma, does not require the discretion and independent judgment necessary to qualify for the administrative exemption and lacks the development and analysis skills necessary for the computer professional exemption.
I've read that several times, and at least from this IT guy's perspective, that doesn't make a lick of sense. The world of hard barriers between management and 'hourly' has gone by the wayside. I guess I could see where it might apply to some hyper-conglomerate like AIG, but for most businesses, especially with those who bring in under the $100 million a year it's a typical kludgy government fit.

I know that the reason these regulations exist is because of abuses by businesses in the (way) past. As well, this type of nonsense may make sense for other fields, but for IT pros either the compensation is sufficient for the job you are doing, or it isn't and you can go somewhere else.

On one last note, I recall one business's solution to this situation (sorry no link). When faced with outrageous overtime costs for what is, let's be honest, an relatively easy job, this business cut the salary for non-exempt employees by 20% and told them to make up the difference with overtime. Generally, you can't have your cake and eat it too.

* I wish it weren't so, but help desk postions as they are strictly defined are the bottom rung in the IT field. Someone has to be at the bottom (not me, I've never had a help desk job) but IT's bottom is better than the 'top' in a lot of fields.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Local Radio Woes

The local radio station that carries the occasionally entertaining Opie and Anthony is dumping the program and going all music (in this case, mildly alternative rock). This is a little risky and probably the last act of a desperate station. The trend has been to add 'shock jock' type talk programs to bring in a stable, though not large, base of listeners. This has been disappointing for a number of reasons since I think traditional radio can work given the right tract.

Unfortunately one look at CBS's other stations in Cleveland leave little reason for hope. The best of the bunch is their ageing hippie oldies station that no doubt plays the exact same tracklist as the classic rock radio station in Cincinnati (despite a different owner). From there it goes downhill. There's the soft rock station that plays the odious (though unfortunately successful) Delilah* and then there is what is the worst radio station in the entire city: Q104**.

Despite their faults, numerous as they are, the other stations have some (weak) radio personalities; but they all suffer from very, very poor station programming.

I think I've mentioned them before but the best programming I've ever heard is from WOXY/97X quite possibly the greatest radio station ever to exist. This was the only music radio station that I ever turned on at home just to listen to it. I recall one time back in the mid-nineties a block of music that included the likes of The Smiths, The Beastie Boys, and The Bangles. They're not afraid to play good music no matter where it comes from, so long as it's not getting wide play elsewhere.

With the proliferation of different listening choices*** and the price pressures on radio advertising, broadcasting companies have faced the choice of either taking a chance and putting out something that might draw listeners in or playing it safe and phoning in their playlists and personalities so that they can preserve what little listener base still exists. CBS Radio is playing up the 92.3 K-Rock decision as the former, but they did play Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend the other day, so that counts for something, even though Devine Intervention is better, but anyway:

*My favorite Delilah memory was being around Columbus, Ohio driving home and while looking for something to listen to I was able to tune in Delilah's sugary bilge crystal clear on three different radio stations.

**Because it plays generic semi-upbeat music, Q104 is the radio station of choice at the local YMCA (despite the fact that it advertises competitors). When I exercised regularly back around 2004 I got so sick of hearing the same songs every morning that I sprang for an early MP3 player. When I started exercising a little more than three years later, Q104 was still grinding away on the same crap with some slightly new crap added in. Try sitting through more than thirty seconds of this dreck and then imagine hearing it and noise like it every single day. How do those stations stay in business?

***Our Saturn only has a tape deck and I only have one good tape, a Jesus Jones single of Real Real Real and the excellent, nearly unacquirable B-side Maryland. When I drive the other car it's all Paul van Dyk and Tiesto in the CD player.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Nothing to See Here....

Mrs. Sandmich and I stopped by the Cleveland Museum of natural history a little while back and they had a traveling exhibit called 'Understanding Race' that sought to examine, generically, race. I was expecting something hard hitting (i.e., overly politically correct), but the exhibit itself was incredibly banal, at least the portion I saw. It's message was: "people are different". Gee, thanks.

Out of curiosity I checked the web site for the exhibit and came upon their 'educational aids'. As can be expected, their indoctrination materials had a bit more bite.

Now the whitey bashing and ghetto-tribal-chic crap is bad enough, but the authors of the guide (no doubt under the aegis of some PC god) then go through great lengths to torture language and science until they squeal in pain.

From here:

The idea of race was invented only a few hundred years ago and neither explains nor accounts for human biological variation. It is because the idea of race was entangled early on in science, the notion of human biological races persists. The following activities demonstrate why human biological variation is not racial.
Does any of that make a lick of sense? If I have to explain to you why that's 100% hog gas then you're already too far gone. More...

The term 'evolved' suggests that, in addition to ecological conditions, time is also important as a factor in human biological variation. Changes in skin color occurred over tens of thousands of years – actually not a very long time in evolutionary terms! In fact, this was long enough to produce skin color and other relatively "cosmetic" changes across populations, but not long enough to produce the fundamental or "deep" biological changes implied by 'racial' classification.
Ahh delicious. Since evolution would at least dictate the possibility of different races, then evolution must be invalidated. I wonder how 'deep biological changes' would need to be before these PC zealots would consider the idea of separate races. I can't help but think of the different species of sparrow where binoculars and a dose of patience is required in order to differentiate groupings.

Lastly, the main bugaboo:
Students will be able to recognize and cite examples of how things can ‘go together” in many different ways and how different cultures can select different criteria for classifying the same things. Students will recognize that most IQ tests are at least partially based on cultural knowledge that is learned and that is culturally-specific.
I remember reading a Steve Sailer piece that pointed out a very, very basic IQ test where the subject would be asked to subtract, or 'add backwards'; for instance 100-4-19-3-10, etc. I wonder what's culturally specific about that? Moreover, when I took the U.S. military's glorified IQ test it was all about gears, ropes, pulleys, etc. Is the point of the exhibit organizers that if the gears are shaped like turtle shells or some other tribal bull, that people will magically score higher on the test? I take it then that they've done several thorough studies to back up that claim, correct?

A very naughty thought entered my head while going over these items: isn't the diversity racket just a scheme to cover behavioral issues and other inadequacies in those of sub-Saharan African descent? After all, the educational aids were quick with excuses for anti-social behavior and knocks against IQ tests, but they didn't feel the same compunction to talk down the uneven distribution of athletic ability between races.

My last question is, since the 'Understanding Race' show is propaganda, then what does that make the museum that hosts it?