Monday, January 28, 2013

Completely Unrelated

On a completely incompetent judge that even her liberal peers say should be sacked:
I've detailed complaints about her before, in a 2009 story and 2011 column. In the latter, I urged voters to look past her political name and support her opponent in her re-election bid. I pointed out that Stokes had received a zero rating in the fall of 2011 from four separate legal groups, which go to great lengths to vet judges.
Stokes, on the bench since 1996, easily won another term.
On a (pointless) drive to make testing in Ohio public schools more difficult:
If the cut score were set where it's expected to be, 77 percent of Rocky River eighth-graders -- instead of 96 percent -- would pass the math test. At the other extreme, 4 percent of East Cleveland eighth-graders -- instead of 37 percent -- would pass.
Even more fun in that last story is the high-to-low pass chart listing the school districts. Locals will immediately notice the demographic differences between the top and bottom, though everyone else can make a pretty good guess.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Grand Theft Auto IV

Open world games or sandbox games, are video games where the player is given a great deal of freedom on a large map. The grandfather of these is Grand Theft Auto 3. I never played any of the older GTA games because, although they were widely praised by players and critics, the small print would state stuff like 'but the driving controls aren't very good...'. But the driving controls aren't very good?! That sounds like a rather critical flaw in a game with a lot of driving! Anyway, they had the fourth iteration of the series on sale on the Playstation store and figured I'd give it a shot since surely they had enough time to figure out the driving controls in the intervening years, right?


Were it that the driving controls were all that was wrong with this floating turd of a game. The character walks around as if his head were a balloon with his body hanging off of it.  The combat controls are sluggish (if an enemy sees you before you see them, you're dead, and likewise for any close quarters combat whether you see them first or not).  Auto-targeting combat AI would often choose the least threatening enemy to lock on to (the one furthest away with the weakest firearm), and the 'free aim' mechanic that's supposed to allow you to escape the auto-aim's grip rarely worked (as in 'broken').  The schizophrenic controls make helicopters operate like a one wheeled motorcycle. Then there's the game itself. There's no checkpoints (NONE) so even dying at the very end of a mission requires painfully re-driving to where the mission starts, then re-driving to a different location where the conflict starts, dying, and then having to re-do the mission..again, minus whatever ammo and armor that you happened to use during the failed mission attempt (have fun driving and buying that stuff first before re-attempting the mission) and a huge 'hospital bill' that stands in for a respawn penalty (I guess forcing the player to drive around for fifteen minutes in order to die again isn't penalty enough).

Speaking of which, I have a friend who won't play games in this series because portions involve killing cops in firefights, but if it makes him feel any better 99% of the game involves either running from or (more likely) being killed by the police force (the rest of the time is spent mowing down fellow criminals).

It's not a completely ugly game, but its five year old graphics haven't aged well and are fairly ugly compared to even contemporaries of the time like Uncharted. As well the game suffered from pop-in issues where when driving an obstacle would suddenly appear in front of the vehicle making it impossible to dodge. This all culminated during one mission where during yet another high speed driving attempt the entire screen was left undrawn, leaving my smoking, poorly drawn car to wander a pitch black waste full of unseeable obstacles for several seconds.

Is that all?  Of course not.  The game gives you a raft of friends that will nag you to death to play un-fun mini-games (or worse, go to un-fun places with no mini-games).  Objectives in the mini-map will show as above or below you even if they're standing on a the curve of the road that you're driving on.  The alert level is a joke (anything above 'minor disturbance' means that a restart is in your future).  When engaging in any form of parkour, be prepared to die falling off of buildings while fumbling with unintuitive controls.  The story is like a depressing drive through the welfare-crime ridden news pages from the bad part of town.  And, insult on injury, the horrific leftist radio/TV sounds like something piped in from MSNBC.  For example, the main news station is Weasel News, get it?  Funny! Not.  Just like the rest of the game, one giant unfunny joke that the writers/developers thought was oh so clever.

One star is in the offing for the game though because it uses a clever graphical technique to allow the player enter and exit buildings without seeing a loading screen.  I have to admit that my eyebrows went up the first time that I saw this and even Kid Sandmich saw this happen while I was playing and remarked "how'd they do that?".  He then wisely put in his Skyrim disk when it was his turn at the PS3.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Ow my Brains!

A few days ago I was trapped on a piece of aerobic equipment when I looked up from my magazine and glanced the Big Bang Theory for the first time, long enough to catch one joke.  I'll precede this by mentioning that I've had various acquaintances talk the show up, but something never added up in the back of my head: if, say, 'smart' people like myself were supposed to find it amusing, what then was in it for the people who were recommending it to me?

Anyway, the joke.  A sub-character mentioned something about 'cheap science fiction' to one of the shows main male protagonists at which point the protagonist was taken aback and hilarity ensued.  "Ah there it is", I thought "it isn't a show where smart people are funny, it's a show where dumb people make smart people look funny."  This isn't too far separated from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia in the sole episode that I watched where I thought that they were making fun of PC mores, but in reality they were making fun of people who make fun of PC mores.

I thought that perhaps I had given Big Bang an unfair judgement after a few seconds of viewing until I caught this Penny Arcade comic* which affirmed my suspicions: Big Bang Theory is just another brick in the road to Ow my Balls!

*The comic is tied to this post in which it is posited that 'there is no such thing as nerds'.  This is something that I hadn't thought about any time recently and a little further pondering has me half believing that the age of the nerd has passed into the great beyond.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2012

Since I often am lagging in media acquisitions, it feels like I'm always running a year behind when it comes to 'best of the year' lists, but it's worth a shot:
  • Video game:  I actually purchased a goodly number of 2012 video games in 2012.  In a world of niche markets and small ball portable crap, it was refreshing to play something as large as Darksiders 2.  Again, it's a shame that THQ probably isn't a going to be a 'going concern' for too much longer as they can crank out a great game every now and then.
  • Movie: The Avengers, a great movie by any measure.  It speaks volumes about the movie industry though that the next best movie was the latest Resident Evil movie.
  • TV: Football.  Okay okay, that 50 Years of Bond Cars by Top Gear was pretty good.
  • Music: Most of the stuff that I picked up was old(er).  Mindy Smith put out what is probably her best album, but I also did get this nice dance tune.  However, what may be the best song that I acquired this year is Röyksopp's Alpha Male, from 2005.  For 2012, nothing beat cruising the dark Colorado roads with this cranked:


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Vile Foods

It would seem that anyone who has known me for more than thirty seconds knows my least favorite food: canned peas.  Of course my hatred of this concoction goes far beyond I-don't-care-for-it and into I'd-rather-eat-the-can-they-came-in territory.
Same look, taste, and smell as rabbit poo
Last year my mom gave me some excess protein powders that she had and one of them tasted like dirt and I still had a (slightly) easier time choking it down than canned peas (it goes without saying what one of the ingredients was).

This is low hanging fruit though because lots of people hate canned peas, maybe not quite as much as myself, but still.  Why do you think that 'veg-all' is a fan favorite for pantry cleaning canned food drives?  Because it has been contaminated with nasty little green orbs and now just tastes like a multi-colored can of peas.  Beyond that I'm not a picky eater (unfortunately) but some acquaintances do wonder if even have any other food hang-ups.  A few come to mind:

  • Canned lima beans come in second to canned peas, but they still sport much of that nasty taste because their delicate sugars have been nuked into some horrible amino acid stew by the heat of the canning process.
  • Dinner dishes that have fruit in them (especially raisins which always cook up like something that comes out of my cat).  I can get past pineapple somewhat for short periods of time, kind of like if your buddy is listening country music in the car for a fifteen minute drive.  But cherries on chicken?  Raspberry gravy?  Disgusting.  
  • On a related note, I'll include Indian curry dishes that have coconut milk in them (which would be most of them); nasty.  Tastes like someone was making you a piña colada and accidentally dropped a day-old, over-spiced chicken into the blender.
  • For fast food the McRib is pretty nasty, but I can choke one down before remembering how bad they are.  The McDonald's fish sandwiches though?  That's like some hate crime against us Catholics.
  • Any piece of chicken that has even the faintest feather still sticking out from the skin.  I can't relate the number of times I've almost lost my cookies at a bar when I've been sober enough to notice this on chicken wings.  (I don't know if that counts since it's not even a taste/texture thing as my solution is to just not look).
  • Banana 'flavored' stuff, such as banana fry pies, taffy, etc.  Inevitably tastes like banana juice that's been aged in a can of WD-40.
  • Those assorted 'chocolates' with any filling that isn't brown colored or coconut.  You know the ones I'm talking about: those nasty, cheap chocolates full of some florescent pink or yellow colored goop.  Chocolate-fruit combos generally aren't a big thing for me, but that stuff, well, everyone hates that stuff I guess.
  • This one might surprise: tea.  Yes I drink one glass every day for (real) health reasons, but I think it's nasty.  It's kind of like if you were given to chew tobacco but you decided to make juice out of your slobber.  I've conditioned myself to drink it, but if I didn't have to I wouldn't, ever again.
Then there are those things that many people hate that I don't have an issue with:
  • Anything with too much vinegar in it.  Pickles, sauces, etc.  Hot sauce is a beverage, not a condiment.  (However, the dinner/fruit rule must be obeyed.  I once had a jar of Indian picked limes which was it's own special sort of horror; I'd still have them over canned peas though).
  • Peanut butter and anything, or even better yet, just peanut butter.  (Note though that the fruit/dinner rule again comes into play here.  If someone goes all peanut happy on some Thai dish then it starts to taste like some peanut butter and shrimp sandwich).
  • Cottage cheese.  Like peanut butter, I can eat a tub of this fatty product fairly easily if I'm not careful.
  • Buttermilk.  A coworker was amazed that I drink the stuff as she always pitches it after she uses what she needs for a recipe.
  • Unflavored soy milk, which is a challenge to find at times.
  • Fruitcake, which I avoid like the plague because each tablespoon has enough calories to keep a man alive for a week and I can eat a whole one in one sitting just like that woman eating a block of cheese.
  • Past due goods.  What a crock, tasting is believing.
Not in either list are alcoholic products, such as Jägermeister.  If you think they taste bad, that means that you haven't drank the proper quantity yet (but there are exceptions to even this rule). 

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Invaders from Space!

One of the best things ever posted on the Internet is this bit posted by one Nick Bostrom.  In it he posits that we may be alone in the whole universe based upon what he calls 'The Great Filter', which is basically a series of high hurdles that molecules on some rock in space most overcome in order to advance to the point of being able to launch a rocket into space:
You start with billions and billions of potential germination points for life, and you end up with a sum total of zero extraterrestrial civilizations that we can observe. The Great Filter must therefore be sufficiently powerful--which is to say, passing the critical points must be sufficiently improbable--that even with many billions of rolls of the dice, one ends up with nothing: no aliens, no spacecraft, no signals. At least, none that we can detect in our neck of the woods.
In the book Sphere, Michael Crichton's character Harry (played by Samuel L. Jackson in the dreadful movie adaptation) also voices extreme skepticism, pointing out that the Drake equation used by alien cheerleaders could be rendered moot if any of their assumptions weren't greater than zero:
“What it means,” Harry Adams said, “is that the probability, p, that intelligent life will evolve in any star system is a function of the probability that the star will have planets, the number of habitable planets, the probability that simple life will evolve on a habitable planet, the probability that intelligent life will evolve from simple life, and the probability that intelligent life will attempt interstellar communication within five billion years. That’s all the equation says.”
...
“But the point is that we have no facts,” Harry said. “We must guess at every single one of these probabilities. And it’s quite easy to guess one way, as Ted does, and conclude there are probably thousands of intelligent civilizations. It’s equally easy to guess, as I do, that there is probably only one civilization. Ours.”
I bring this up as Glenn Reynolds has an affinity for posting alien invasion/contact stuff, the latest linking to an article by Gregg Easterbrook that argues that any aliens would probably tend to be aggressive just due to natural selection:
James Trefil, of George Mason University, has cautioned that if evolution functions approximately the same way on other worlds that it has functioned here -- conferring survival upon the fittest -- advanced extraterrestrials might still be aggressive, territorial, and quick to reach for the sword. In that case, counting on poor alien marksmanship might not be prudent.
This is cherry picking on his part though.  At first I had the article pegged as a rehash of the Nick Bostrom article that I cited earlier, but it turns out to be the other way around as the  Easterbrook piece was written 20 years (1988) before the Bostrom piece (2008), and only a year after Sphere wherein Crichton's character derides the same Drake equation that is poked at in the Easterbrook article.  All come to the same conclusion: interstellar life is exceedingly rare, perhaps to the point that it only exists here.

Maybe it's not that bad though.  What's rarely brought up in these articles is the matter of life as it is on Earth.  For how long was the Earth ruled over by creatures that couldn't even rub two sticks together?  It can also be argued that were it not for quirks of geography and culture (and race?) that formed Western European thought, that mankind would still be living under some sort of backwards Northeast Asian / Ottoman Empire style feudalism, possibly in perpetuity.  Tribes in places like Papau New Guinea, where people can practically sit under a tree and have it feed them, can scarcely be bothered to build a boat to go to a nearby island, let alone build a rocket the moon.

And those are the easy barriers to overcome.  Researchers have said that one reason that New World tribes were held back in being able to advance was their lack of a draft animal along the lines of an ox or horse.  What if a planet never had those?  Maybe didn't have fossil fuels?  Or perhaps didn't have any minerals of any worth close to the surface?  The more barriers thrown up, the more zeros that come after the decimal point for cheerleaders of advanced alien civilizations.

Life is indeed rare, but maybe not to the extent that skeptics would have.  But what of intelligent life?
That's certainly nearly non-existent.