Sunday, April 29, 2007

Game designers having fun

I play a lot of computer games (too many?). One thing I like to see in a game is a sign that the game designers enjoyed themselves when making it. Jokes, meta-comments, amusing little subtleties all contribute to the atmosphere of a game. They probably also contribute to the quality. I figure a team that's comfortable enough and creative enough to put little tidbits like that into a game is in a situation where they will design a better product.

For example, Might and Magic VI has a setting typical of fantasy games. Throughout the game, however, the player explores ancient ruins and environments that show highly advanced technology. One temple requires the player to collect words of power from long-dead inhabitants of the temple: the captain, first mate, navigator, communicator, engineer, and doctor. It turns out these are all the names of Star Trek characters spelled backwards. In another part of the game, the player meets a character shunned by the rest of her village because her cat smells very bad.

Right now, I'm playing World of Warcraft (yes, I'm an unimaginably huge geek). A few Sundays ago, on Easter, I kept running across brightly colored objects. What they are should be pretty obvious:

Sunday, April 22, 2007

If only a conservative pundit had been at Virginia Tech

Last time, I mentioned how Sean Hannity had been complaining in his radio show about how "liberals" were politicizing the Virgina Tech shooting. His sole example was something Rosie O'Donnell said on The View. Since then, conservative pundits have blamed the shooting on gun control, atheism, secularism, "Paki" Muslims, gays, universities "coddling" students, video games, and even vaccines. Yet, somehow, this is all the liberals fault. I've been wanting to write about what one conservative said about the massacre for a while, but every time I think about it, it just makes me so damn mad, so I've put it off.

The fact is, I haven't really heard much from liberals about the causes of this shooting. A discussion of gun control vs. concealed-carry-type laws might even be reasonable at this point. (Frankly, I think both arguments are flawed, but that's neither here nor there.) The outcry about the underlying causes, usually having to do with some value or another not being sufficiently important in modern America, seems to be coming mainly from the Right.

The worse of these was John Derbyshire, writing this in National Review Online:

Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy? It's not like this was Rambo, hosing the place down with automatic weapons. He had two handguns for goodness' sake—one of them reportedly a .22.

At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren't very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can't hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage—your chances aren't bad.

The level of insensitivity in this is just stunning. Derbyshire wrote this on April 17th, the very day after the shooting. He wrote it with perfect hindsight, complete knowledge of what had happened that day at the school, and probably a nice hot cup of coffee next to his laptop.

I've been in a lot of university engineering classes. How to disarm an gunman with hand-to-hand combat was not something we covered. Nor did we ever discuss how to tell a Walther P22 from a Glock 19. We didn't even discuss how to tell if the Glock was using the standard 15-round magazine, or if it was using one of the optional 15-, 17-, or 33- round magazines, all while a crazed gunman was shooting at you through a crowd of people. Maybe this explains why I'm not an employee of National Review Online. Hell I'm probably one of those wimps that would actually be upset by the fact that I'd just been shot with one of those lousy .22 caliber bullets.

Oh, but it gets worse. The next day, Mark Steyn blogged in National Review Online, saying this about the victims:

They’re not "children." The students at Virginia Tech were grown women and — if you’ll forgive the expression — men.

You see, the reason these college students were killed was the fact that they just weren't masculine enough. Had this happened in the 1950s, I suppose, the gunman would have quickly been tackled by muscled, football-playing, corn-fed, Midwestern men. But these students? Pussies, every one of them.

He also makes a cheap shot referencing Monica Lewinsky. For conservatives, everything is about the Clenis.

This Republican fixation on masculinity isn't anything new. It's the standard fare of those that tell us we live in a society with crumbling morals, depraved values, and the wrong kinds of religion. If we just buy their current book, it will tell us all about what's wrong with the country.

Just a few weeks ago, Glenn Greenwald wrote about something very similar in "The right-wing cult of contrived masculinity":

[The conservative movement] is a cult of contrived masculinity whereby people dress up as male archtypes like cowboys, ranchers, and tough guys even though they are nothing of the kind -- or prance around as Churchillian warriors because they write from a safe and protected distance about how great war is -- and in the process become triumphant heroes and masculine powerful icons and strong leaders. They and their followers triumph over the weak, effete, humiliated Enemy, and thereby become powerful and exceptional and safe.

This really is no different from how Derbyshire wrote about how much more of a hero he would have been in the Virginia Tech situation, had he been there.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Politicizing tragedy

I was driving back from my interview (more on that later) this afternoon, when I came across Sean Hannity's radio show. This show, like most of the news over the past couple of days involved the shootings at Virginia Tech. Hannity was ranting about the about how "liberals," the "pundit class" (presumably liberal pundits), and "reporters" (we all know how liberal they are) are politicizing the tragedy of the shooting to make political hay. The sole basis for his rant was the fact that Rosie O'Donnell spoke about gun control on The View this morning. Hannity gave no other example of the liberals politicizing this issue.

Rosie is indeed a kook. She's said numerous nutty things over the years. She's even a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. But she's one host out of four on a weekday morning gossip show, for crying out loud. She's hardly the spokesdyke for the Liberal Media Conspiracy.

The ironic part is that I originally intended this blog post to be about the fact that both President Bush and John McCain couldn't even comment on the Virginia Tech tragedy without mentioning their support for gun rights. Hannity did the same in his rant.

Shortly before listening to Hannity and having to turn it off in disgust, I had been in Southern IL listening to Scott Doody on The Working Man Show. This gun nut kept saying that even though we give the government 50% of every dollar we earn, "we can't rely on the government to keep us safe." That's a fairly standard conservative, gun-rights talking point. (Hint: if you're paying 50% of your income in taxes, there's probably a deduction or fifty you're not taking advantage of.)

This guy kept ranting about the cops in Virginia and how they were "fat" and "lazy" and "incompetent" and stood outside the building for twenty minutes while the shooter rampaged inside. He went on about how, had he been there, he would have charged in guns blazing. This nut then goes on to suggest this whole incident wouldn't have happened if there had been a concealed carry law to allow students to wear firearms to class.

What a fucking idiot.

I had been listening to The Diane Rehm Show earlier, and she had an hour-long interview with three people who actually knew what they were talking about, including Susan Riseling, the chief of police for the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Riseling says that the police went to an "active shooter protocol," meaning the first four law enforcement officers, regardless of jurisdiction or agency form a diamond and storm the building. She said they came to the exterior doors and found them chained shut, but that stopped them for less than 60 seconds. Law enforcement (I'm not sure if they were campus or city police) were inside Norris Hall while the shooting was going on.

I'd also like to point out that it was only on NPR where I heard any mention of the victims of this shooting. They had several profiles on the students, professors, and resident associates that were killed during this, describing who they were and putting a "face" to this tragedy. I don't think I heard the name from a single victim from any other news outlet all day. SRN News, which seems to be the radio news source used by most conservative radio stations and self-describes as "Christian radio's definitive source for news," didn't mention the victims, except to point out that two were members of Campus Crusade for Christ, and that Virginia Tech has a strong CCC presence.

So, please, don't tell me that it's the liberals that are politicizing this event and how it's the conservatives that just want to grieve and heal.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Crappy scientists, take one

From Replace the Lies with Truth and Kevin's Space, I see that Paul Cameron has a new "study" out proving how the evil homosexual agenda exaggerates the numbers of gays in society and how they tend to die young. This is already being touted by Christian media and has been cited by Porno Pete's Americans for Truthiness Truth about Homsexuality. The study is crap. I'm no sociologist and even I can drive a truck through their methodology.

I want to point out here how Cameron and his son are co-opting the scientific process to give their study a veneer of validity it doesn't really deserve. Let me point out that my background is in the physical sciences, so my observations are based on that. Things may be a bit different in the sociological realm, but I doubt by much.

The noise being made by the Cameron about their study, mostly being made via press release, is in regards to "Federal Distortion of The Homosexual Footprint," a poster they presented at the 2007 convention of the Eastern Psychological Association. Their conclusion was that there are fewer gay men and lesbians over 60 that self-identify as gay, therefore they die young.

At a scientific conference there are generally three tiers of events: invited talks, regular talks, and posters. Invited talks are a fairly big deal. They're given by respected scientists, they're fairly long (usually about an hour), and there are relatively few of them. They're the most prestigious. Regular talks are given by scientists and grad students. They're shorter, perhaps fifteen minutes with five minutes for questions, so there are about five times as many of these as the invited talks. They're the bread-and-butter of scientific conferences. Now, sometimes, the authors of regular talks are asked to write their presentation up into a paper, and these are published in a proceedings. Proceedings can be cited by someone else in a scientific paper, but they're not considered good citations, because they haven't undergone peer review and are not generally as high quality as a real paper.

Posters are the lowest tier at a conference. Basically, you put your poster up in a room of about fifty other posters and stand in front of it. People walk around the room looking at posters, possibly asking questions about them. Often, poster sessions include food subsidized by a company, because otherwise, people wouldn't show up. These are invariably done by graduate students; I've never heard of anyone else presenting a poster. They're not peer-reviewed and, most of all, they're not documented or published anywhere. There's barely any evidence that the Camerons even presented this poster, let alone what it said or if anyone paid attention to it.

Here is how the press release is touting Cameron's credentials:

Paul Cameron, a reviewer for the British Medical Journal, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and the Postgraduate Medical Journal...

The fact that Cameron is a reviewer for these journals means nothing. It's about as prestigious as saying he's a dues-paying member of a psychological organization (which he may not be, since he's been kicked out of two of them).

The way that peer review works is that a scientist submits a paper to a journal. The editor of that journal sends the paper to two or three other people to look it over and critique it. If there are any major flaws, errors, or inconsistencies, the reviewer sends comments back to the editor, who forwards them back to the original scientist. He can then revise the paper, or respond to the commenter. Once the comments have been addressed to the satisfaction of the reviewers, the paper is them published. (I imagine this is very field-specific. Again, this is only in my experience.) Editors are usually fairly indiscriminate about who they ask to review a paper.

So the fact that Cameron's press release lists among his credentials the fact that he is a reviewer for these journals says more about his lack of esteem in the scientific community than anything.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What a great way to start the week

So it turns out that the water company didn't actually do their scheduled repair on Friday. Unfortunately, they didn't tell anyone that. So Monday, just as I'm leaving for work, the water pressure just goes out. Great. They also didn't warn anyone that they would be turning off the water. So not only was I avoiding using my water supply for half the weekend, I got to do it all over again at the beginning of the week, but without having laid in a supply of clean water. Thanks, guys.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Leave me behind, you go on ahead

Billy has started Softcore Gamer, reviewing computer games for the casual gamer. Sort of in that line, I was going to actually pick up and play Left Behind: Eternal Forces, to see if it really and truly was as awful as all the reviews said it was. The game was released about six months ago, and has been almost universally panned, so I figured I'd be able to pick up a copy fairly cheap.

I was wrong. Not only is the game still retailing for around $40, used copies are still going for about $25 on eBay. Much as I wish to keep you well-informed, Gentle Reader, I don't like you that much.

Most of the non-gameplay objections to the title center around the fact that the game, which takes place post-Rapture, involves either converting neutral characters to Evangelical Christianity or killing them. So it's a choice of my way or eternal damnation. Good. Evil. Black. White. There are no shades of gray. Just like in the real world, kids!

Even if I could find a copy of the game cheap, I'd now be reluctant to install it. It turns out that the game comes enabled with spyware. Eeeew. The game displays in-game advertisements for EBGames, GameStop, the Ad Council, and other businesses and organizations. These can be updated by the software online, and it also uploads viewing information and God knows what else.

Just to give you an example of the sort of philosophy that this game espouses, the neutral characters in the game that the player can recruit come in both male and female versions. The male version can be pretty much any character type: doctor, disciple, manly strapping construction worker, etc. Female neutrals can be: musicians and nurses. That's it. Nurses, seriously? One wonders what these women are even doing outside the kitchen. (Note: The game's Wikipedia page says otherwise, but I've found two reviewers, PC Gamer and Ars Technica, that both make a note of it.)

So you'll have to excuse me, but I'm going to leave this game behind.