Thursday, June 29, 2006


Went into the office yesterday to join the crew in meeting Skiddy for dinner.  He’ll be in all next week so I’ll drive in again.  Good to see the guys.

I came across some old docs today, including something I posted on Tribalwar some time ago.  The Tribes community suffers from a series of ills, not the least of which is an overabundance of assholes.  Soon after the much underappreciated Tribes 2 was released, I wrote the following for a few of them.

My friends, disappointment fills our forums. It seems that in almost every post, the angry voice of some longstanding Tribes player rages at the inadequacies of this thing that dares to liken itself after the monument to greatness that was and is Tribes. As eloquently asked elsewhere, are we sheep to stand for such treatment? Are we marching to the slaughter of the Tribes franchise? Never! And in our fury, I believe that we have already thrown off our sheeps clothing; that we have created an entirely new sport that may even eclipse Tribes itself. I propose that together we formally embrace our collective creation and announce the birth of a new and better pastime: Competitive Complaining!
Whose post can truly incite us to violence? Can you alone destroy Dynamix, Sierra, and the entire Tribes 2 community? Or will it take a coordinated assault of flame-bait from your teammates to take the match and win glory for your rants? Yes, this is the competition that we crave!
"Preposterous," you say? But many of you are already competitively complaining. Read a few of the forums in-game or on TribalWar and you'll notice the determined one-upmanship characteristic of a serious sport. After one Competitive Complainer napalms the Tribes 2 community, the next CCer counters by placing all blame on newbies, only to be outflanked by a third CCer who defends the first post and adds to its sentiment his desire to lynch the Dev Team!
Yes, my friends, born in the flames of our forums, Competitive Complaining rises from the ashes keeping us entertained and only further enraged. Just feel the excitement well up within as I complain cast a recent exchange:
shmigget -- "RabidLeper opened this match with a devastating assault and a quick grab, but lets see if he can outrun the chasers. Hes got ZooL on his tail now firing some quick insults."
ZooL -- What a horrible attempt at sounding intelligent. Learn not to sound smug and smitten next time.
shmigget -- "But RabidLeper has got some escorts and his teammates are defending him with all guns blazing! ZooLs getting outflanked by GigaFool:"
GigaFool -- Tribes 1 started with powerful teams, and ended (or so we thought) with powerful teams. Tribes 2 started with a ton of powerful teams, and now has about 3. How long will it be before the rest of you guys realize why you're playing this game? POE did.
shmigget -- "Oh, that’s gotta hurt! And folks it’s Merlock with GigaFool on escort now attempting to drop that chaser!"
Merlock -- I shoutcast Tribes 2, frankly because TsN hasn't figured out a new game to cast yet. Once we do, I doubt I will use my T2 CD for anything other than a coaster. God, responding to these people... I can just FEEL my IQ dropping. How do you manage it Giga? Crack?
shmigget -- "And Merlock’s amazing insult on the intelligence if his opponents does it! SCORE!"

No need to wait for something new to shoutcast. We’ve already found a replacement with Competitive Complaining. Soundpacks will add spice to each exchange as famous whiny actors breath life into your favorite Tribes 2 lamentations. Imagine Fran Drescher in character as "The Nanny" crying, "But I liked the Shrike better the first time!" Or Woody Allen asking, "Oh, why does the Dev Team hate me?" Add these and more to give your side the winning whine!
But there’s no need to stop with whining! Categories for competition span the gamut. Here’s an incomplete list with suggestions for soundpack voice actors:
Whining (e.g. "Tribes 2 has victimized me! I shall sue for emotional distress!" I can hear David Hyde Pierce of Frasier fame voicing this one)
Flaming (e.g. "The enormity of your all-encompassing stupidity only pales in comparison to the crap that is Tribes 2!" Al Pacino in righteous rage.)
Curse Cramming (e.g. "Fuck all you fuckin’ fucktard bitches who bother playing this fuckin’ bullshit!" Ice Cube layin’ the cut straight!)
Newbie Bashing (e.g. "As a Tribes veteran of almost thirty-five years, I say we reinstitute the inquisition and watch you newbies squirm at the bright end of a burning pyre!" Jack Nicholson, we want you on that wall!)
And the obligatory Tribes 1 vs. Tribes 2 category (e.g. "You wanna know the most damning problem with Tribes 2? It ain’t Tribes 1!" Hmm ... Christopher Walken?)
By providing in-game forums, Dynamix encouraged the birth and growth of this nascent pursuit, and it’s time that we, my friends, elevated Competitive Complaining to it’s rightful place in the annals of sport. Let out motto be, "Deride, insult, and above all, keep complaining!"

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Are You Experienced?

A week ago I would have said start here, but Wow! has a lot happened in a week. If you're new to this game, go here and dip into the comments to get hints or answers as necessary. If you'd rather just get the dope without having to search for it, this is the place.

A word of warning ... this rabbit hole is sublet by the Energizer Bunny. We're up to at least one new item per day. Here's hoping they use the new content to stop the Hanso-Foundation-is-guilty-of-every-crime-ever-committed crap.

Monday, June 26, 2006


I’ve finished with season one of HEX, and it exceeded expectations (note the self-control displayed in the previous two words).  I say balls to those who dismiss this series as being without plot or story.  

.*** Spoiler Warning ***

I’m still struck by the metaphor of Cassie’s descent into darkness, and the way it parallels that of Angel in season two of Buffy.  To recap, Azazeal slips Troy the dark magic bug, Troy deflowers Cassie giving her the worm (the dark magic kind, geez) and then Cassie goes bad-girl and eventually bangs Azazeal himself.  Angel went agro after sleeping with Buffy, first toying with Buffy and her friends before turning up the heat and killing Ms. Calendar and then attempting to open Acathla’s big hellmouth.  Both characters start their descent after their first lay and spiral down from there.

But the best comparison may come from the “real world” test.  Joss Whedon has said that the day after “Innocence” aired, he went online and read a note from a young woman who was moved by the episode because her former boyfriend had also turned on her after they had sex.  I’ve got my own real world story for HEX.  Back in High School, I knew a girl named Laurie who was friendly and outgoing if not also a nut.  Laurie talked so incessantly about sex that she marked herself as a virgin in the first minute you met her.  And while you might think that she wouldn’t have remained a virgin for long, her penchant for the wacky made her just too weird for most guys (including me, and that’s saying something).  But finally one guy broke down in junior year and gave her the big one, and friendly crazy Laurie instantly became a smug and silent no-eye-contact bitch.

Now, for Whedon, the choice to push Angel to the Dark Side wasn’t such a leap since Buffy was the title character and her wounding only strengthened our affection for her, so think of how brave Julian Jones and Lucy Watkins were given that Cassie is their lead.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Once Bitten Then Repeatedly Bitten

I really need to get some sleep. I've caught yet another one of Gabe's colds, though it's been a while since I've had one.

Speaking of Gabe, he got bitten again today, and it wasn't the usual culprit because that child moved to another day care center. According to his teachers, he gets bitten by other toddlers far more often then any other. The numbers don't look like coincidence. He's provoking them somehow. The teachers also mentioned that he's not speaking as well as others his age. He might be taking toys from them because he hasn't learned to ask for them (They agree that Gabe is far from the bully type).

Immediately I felt like Julian's parents in DS9 when they tried to explain why they had little Jules genetically enhanced. Did we do something wrong? Did we pass on some kind of defect? We've always read to him every night, and he loves it. He's a very happy baby.

I know that it's far too early to jump to conclusions, but now I'm a parent and I know exactly how Julian's mother felt. Maybe I've done something wrong, and that thought chills me. Parents, like Julian's, often leap to extremes, but we just want what's best for our children. You don't feel the weight of it until you have them, but once you do you can't escape the belief that everything that happens to them is your fault.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Unanimous Approval

That was the verdict of the Nottingham Zoning Board last night on our application for a variance, and while the outcome may suggest that the going was easy, it wasn't.  I pleaded by parent's case for over an hour, fielding questions that showed a much greater degree of sagacity on the part of the Zoning Board that others had ascribed to them.  Wouldn’t care about the septic plan or even know how to read it?  On the contrary, they not only understood it, they discovered a typo on it before debating whether the proposed area of the septic field appeared sufficient.  Several board members recalled details from every relevant ordinance from memory.  I didn’t have an opinion of my town’s officials prior to this hearing, but after it I stand impressed.

I opened with a summary of my parents recent health problems, then moved to why Amanda and I were well suited to care for them, and how this addition, which I couldn’t get without the variance, would help us (Amanda being an RN who works in a cardiac unit, my working from home and the addition allowing me to be at my parents’ sides in seconds).  

The first set of questions centered on the proposed basement, raising an issue I hadn’t imagined; if you finish off the basement you double the amount of space that you’re already asking to be larger than the ordinance allows.  Good point.  I explained that it was the house designer who recommended the full basement and that I was opposed to the idea since my father shouldn’t be walking stairs.  

Since we were on general agreement on that point I felt my nerves quiet a little, but I’d been warned about the gentleman who raised it, and began to wonder if he was leading a charge that would eventually convince the other members that I wasn’t serious about caring for my parents and instead wanted to rent the space.  I had been told that I could count on one definite vote in opposition, and that it would come from this man.  

He next jumped on the issue of who would live in the space, and would it ever be rented.  I expected these and stated that only my parents, and after their passing only family members, and that I was willing to have that restriction attached to the deed.  

Next the topic turned to the two bedrooms, so I spoke with a little embarrassment about Dad’s wall-rattling snoring and how Mom and Dad have slept in separate bedrooms for years.  My embarrassment turned to a full blown red face when another member brought up the two full baths.  This one I didn’t expect.  It’s disconcerting to explain your parent’s idiosyncrasies to a group of strangers in a public forum, especially when you’re getting a look that says, “I’m not buying this.”  Once I was able to boil down the fact that Mom territorial about her bathroom, I got support from the chairman, who said his wife felt the same way.  Phew.  

The chairman asked if any abutters were present, and Nancy, who had come to lend her support (bless her), raised her hand.  Had she seen the plans?  No, she replied, and then I felt like a jerk for giving the impression that I was hiding something.  A few minutes later, a man in the audience started asking if this should really be considered a multi-family dwelling, which opened another can of worms.  At this point I was definitely getting the feeling that things weren’t going well.  I knew walking into the room that I didn’t have a plan B.  Without this variance, I wasn’t going to be able to care for my folks.

And who then should start speaking in my defense?  The very gentleman I’d been warned about.  He quickly dismissed the multi-family tangle with several details about that ordinance, then focused on his belief that no ordinance in question contained in its spirit the intention to deny the elderly or the disabled the care they required.  Thank you, God.  If this man, who carried a reputation for voting down anything was on my side, I was going to win by a landslide.  Once there were no further questions, it was he who moved that the application be granted with the amendments we’d already agreed upon.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I Tried To Watch Babylon 5

I tried to watch Babylon 5.  I really did.  Several times.  You know what stopped me?  The lousy dialog, primarily.  Dialog is the foundation of good writing.  If your characters can’t speak believably, then they can’t be believed.  I’ve known many fans of the show, and with each and every one, no matter how devoted (and some were the paying-hundreds-of-dollars-for-scripts-on-Ebay devoted) not a one has every disagreed with this point.  They all concede that B5’s dialog sucked the big nuclear wangdoodle.  

B5’s acting also distinguished itself as being on the crap end of the scale.  I still can’t scrub that episode when the doctors goes on walkabout from my mind.  Did they hire a casting agency or did they stock the cast with family members?  But wait, there’s more.  B5 also stands out in the absolute worst stunts I’ve ever seen.  Thirdspace contains fight sequences that look like first rehersals.  Seriously, if you want a laugh, watch that loser from Taxi pretend to take a punch from an amateur in prosthetic makeup.  

“But if B5’s fans are so devoted,” my internal devil’s advocate asks, “then how can you be right?”  Because, and this is a sad fact that any long-standing fan of SF must eventually admit, our beloved genre suffers from a preponderance of people blessed with above average intelligence and cursed with poor taste.  These are your friends (or you) who’ll read every novel cranked out by Piers Anthony, no matter now many times he proves that he can’t plot or successfully end a novel (“He said that he’s going to write eighteen Zanth books, so I figure I’ll just read them all”).  And there are more like him than I’d care to recall.  Sure, every genre has its hacks, but I worked for years in bookstores and in my experience it’s not romance recluses who sport the ridiculous loyalty badge.   We have seen the enemy and he is us, so screw your self-respect to the sticking place and either put the junk down or switch it off.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Which Witch Is ... Nevermind

I finally cracked open my pdf copy of CJ Carella's Witchcraft, which I obtained free courtesy of DriveThruRGP, and while the prose doesn't sparkle as in the Buffy RPG books, it's flows well enough, and the overall tone doesn't suck. The introductory short introduces two principals, a biker musician drifting from a failed relationship and his responsibilities as one of the “Gifted” and his former lover who's still bitter over the breakup (She's allowed considering he dropped the hint by cheating on her). The summoning of a Big Bad requires they work together, they try to stop it by an invocation that consists of people holding hands and chanting, and that's it. In other words, nicely understated; no melodrama, no flashy arcane artillery, no syrupy reconciliation.

Now contrast that with say, White Wolf's books. As I was discussing with John a couple of days ago, White Wolf's “World of Darkness” setting attempts to shove cool up your ass, and just like that kid in High School who just bought his first pack of Marlboros and hasn't learned how not to cough it up, it's overdone. Most pages, and almost every piece of artwork in Vampire: The Masquerade shrieks “Look at me! I'm a sooo sexy blood-sucking fiend!” Yeah, sure Diego, or was your name Chanterelle? Oh, and nice porcelain fans you've got there. I'm sure those will help in future job interviews.

In other witchy entertainments, BBC America is running HEX, a series featuring the more fortunate youth of Britain at perhaps the most posh boarding school, mixed with a heap of Buffy and a little Carrie, but the result is fresh and it works, largely thanks to Julian Jones' well crafted dialog and the strength of the two female leads. Christina Cole is endearing as the shy Cassie, and Jemina Rooper steals scenes as her lesbian roommate, Thelma. If you liked Buffy, you should have a go at HEX.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Honor Roll

“... every Friday morning, for the past three months, I've posted the official list of Starfleet personnel killed, wounded or missing in the war. It's become something of a grim ritual around here. Not a week goes by that someone doesn't find the name of a loved one, a friend or an acquaintance on that damned list.

“I've grown to hate Fridays.”
--- Captain Benjamin Sisko
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine “In the Pale Moonlight” by Ronald D. Moore.

I watch every day and each time I hope it won't happen this time, or that the number will be low. I remember when The News Hour began its honor roll of service men and women who had falled in Afghanistan or Iraq, when there were just two or three, rank and name followed by age and place of birth or residence and above a picture of the deceased, usually in uniform, though occasionally in civilian clothes and smiling before a birthday cake or posing for a picnic photo. Just normal.

But how they died wasn't normal. It wasn't a car accident or cancer. In the vast majority of cases, it was an improvised explosive device, a homemade bomb planted on the roadside and disguised with trash. You wonder if a death like that is quick? Did they know? Were their lives mercifully switched off before they could notice?

As the television begins to display the list in silence, I shift my posture; feet flat on the floor, back straight and hands at my side. I want to show them respect. I read each name and age and place and I study each picture before the next one appears.

Tonight, there were twenty more.

All They Could Say Was "She Was Up a Tree"

I think if I do much more maxscripting I'm likely to go blind. It's not the fault of the language. Maxscript fulfills the greatest criterion of a good scripting language; it's relatively quick and easy to create some useful in it. I'm just getting tired of it because the requirement and UI for the scripted material plugin that I've been creating keep changing (across all rollouts). Moving UI items around and wiring them up makes for tedious work. I wish we had an intern right now.

Anyhow, I've disappointed in the press that the South Central farmers have received. Two shows that I love, The Daily Show and Countdown just made light of the fact that Daryl Hannah was treesitting when the cops stormed the farm, and neither ABC News nor The News Hour covered it at all.

Call me a tree-hugging hippie (I actually hugged a tree once in Battery Park, but that's another story), but this story deserves serious attention, and much more of it. The South Central Farm has fed 350 families for over a decade, families who worked that land themselves with no help from the city or state. Everything the farmers did they did for themselves, including wheelbarrowing out the broken pieces of factory foundation that used to litter the site. They took a blighted area and made an oasis out of it, keeping themselves off government food assistance at the same time. No food stamps, no orange cheese. And within that fourteen acres, they got something for free, a community center that gave their elderly a place to sit or garden in the shade and their children a space to run and play among the walnut and banana trees.

The South Central Farm should be a model for urban areas across this country and the globe, not the site of another warehouse.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Tenth Wedding Anniversary

Mainly I remember waiting for the bridal party to arrive. Pacing helped the nerves but not much. Amanda and I had been together for six years, living together for the last two. I had no doubts about her, about us, but that morning anxiety ruled me. I can't say for sure why, but I think that marriage seemed like a massive iron door looming before me, and I knew little about what lay beyond.

Marriage meant grown up, equated with adulthood, and we had just finished graduate school. I wanted very much to teach, but I knew that doing so wouldn't pay the bills, and we couldn't afford to go on to earn our doctorates (and even if we could, the job market was so poor that doing so might amount to nothing.

Both of us hate uncertainty, so we'd made a plan. John, who patiently paced with me, had been prodding me to try coding for a couple of years, so we were going to live off the money given to us and teach ourselves to program. We'd both suffered from math-anxiety, but John assured us that our language skills were what really mattered. Still, living as a programmer remained difficult to conceive. We were teachers of writing and literature, and we loved it. We'd fought with colleagues and faculty to make the evaluation and grading of student papers less arbitrary, creating grading charts that provided numerical rankings in specific areas, such as organization and diction and grammar. We poured our energies into our students, giving them our home phone numbers so that they could call us with questions outside of our office hours. We loved to teach and we were good at it; it just didn't pay.

We were going to listen to John, but he was ever the optimist. On more than one hike we'd be lost in the woods and he'd tell us he knew where going. After the third or fourth time that happened we'd taken to calling him Ranger Bob. What if we weren't cut out for coding? What if it went wrong? During our college days we'd racked up thousands in credit card debt. Additionally, we had $36K in student loans. While we were in school we didn't need to make any payments, but now that we were out the replayment clock was ticking. Even with the loans we'd struggled, in part because the job market was poor. The previous summer I'd first worked as a clerk in a hardware store, but all I could get were nighttime hours, so when Amanda came home I had to leave. One day she broke down sobbing because we would go the entire summer barely seeing each other. I'd submitted job applications everywhere, even tapped contacts at an internship I'd once had at the university. Seeing her cry I remembered that there was one place my pride had kept me from, so I promised her that I'd fix the situation, got in the car and drove to McDonalds. I worked there for two uncomfortable weeks before getting lucky and landing a job as a bartender.

All that pacing and anxiety was ten years ago today. So, how'd we do? We returned from our honeymoon (during which I'd nearly drowned) and dove into learning VB4, creating a little demo book and video store using images and video clips I pulled off of the Grolier Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. That demo soon led me to a recruiter who landed me a job as an editor of perhaps the first business-to-business website, where I'd later become the webmaster. A year and a half after the wedding I started at Gartner Group, where I sat next to Andre Cayo, who helped create Grolier Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Amanda landed a tech job at Cigna Health Care, quickly rising into management. In four years all of our credit cards were paid off and we bought our first house. Today we have two children, and Amanda has changed careers to become a nurse. I haven't published anything yet, but I guess we've done ok.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

News Catchup

Bush had a good week.  Zarqawi is dead, and that's great news.  You could feel the sigh of relief flow from Iraq and Jordan.  Also, the Iraqi government is finally fully formed.  I don't think it's too late for them to gain credibility and bring stability to Baghdad, where it's got to start.  As Fareed Zakaria said on ABC News last night, Baghdad is a racial microcosm of Iraq, and if they can solve the Baghdad problem then they can secure Iraq.  We need to win this, because McCain is right when he says that, unlike Vietnam, after the enemy wins in Iraq they’ll come after us.

Now if only we could nail Mullah Omar ... and Al-Zawahiri ... and Bin Laden.

Btw, props to the President for his surprise trip to Iraq.  He gave the new Iraqi government further prestige while stealing headlines with style.  I disagree with almost all of the major decisions the man has made (invading Afghanistan being a big exception), but when he says that he doesn’t care about politics in this situation I believe him.  

Speaking of the President’s good fortune, Karl Rove wasn't indicted.  Too bad.  I'll never forgive him for the way he smeared McCain in South Carolina.  That man is as dirty as a movie theatre floor.

In less happy news, the South Central Farmers have lost their fight.  Daryl Hannah brought attention to their labors recently, and she got arrested with them.  Out of all the celebrities in L.A., you’d think that others with star power would have come out to stand with the farmers and help raise money.  

Not to leave you on a downer, go here and help McDonald's select a new mascot.  Won't you help?  My money is on McHatma McGahdi.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dad Getting a Pacemaker?

Sorry I've been away, but we were down in CT doing an early Father's Day and then stayed on Monday because Dad had electrodes attached to his heart. His heart rate has been in the low 50s, causing lightheadedness (which is the reason his doctor hasn't been allowing him to drive). According to Amanda, who being a cardiac nurse would know, commonly a patient with Dad's symptoms is hooked up to a monitor and kept under observation for a couple of days to determine whether he needs a pacemaker. In Dad's case, though, he got electrodes implanted in his heart. We're not exactly sure why that's better, because things turned out not definitively. Instead of knowing whether he needed a pacemaker or not, or implanting a monitor so that further data could be gathered, Dad was sent home in the late afternoon and was told that he would need to come back to have the monitor implanted. So he'll need to be readmitted ... and have another procedure ... and what does this mean to questions like when he can drive again.

Anyway, much to discuss tomorrow.

Friday, June 09, 2006


Going back at least to Franz Liszt, each decade has had its music idols. Elvis swung his hips in the '50s, The Beatles ruled the '60s (and they still rule), and The Eagles soared over the '70s. More than any other band of the '80s, I remember The Police arresting everyone's attention. I still remember wondering as a fifth grader when Every Breath You Take and King Of Pain were ever going to fall from the top of the charts. Sure, U2 got big in the later in the decade, but Synchronicity was the #1 album in the USA for seventeen weeks.

A large part of my love for The Police came from the amazing percussion of Stewart Copeland, the best drummer in all of Rock (Neil Peart possesses great technical still, but Copeland destroys him in polyrhythmical virtuosity and style). Just listen to Wrapped Around Your Finger and let the awe wash through you.

For years I've wished that Stewart Copeland would stop composing and just play those damned drums, so I was surprised to get a call from my dear Amanda tonight saying that she'd heard on the radio that Stewart Copeland did take up the sticks once again back the 2001 as part of the supergroup Oysterhead, along with Les Claypool of Primus and Trey Anastasio of Phish. I've only heard clips from the band's site, and so far Claypool's whacky influence seems heavy, and I'm not sure it meshes just yet, but then I'm not a huge Primus fan. But with Mr. Copeland behind the skins, I'll definitely be giving Mr. Oysterhead more attention.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Addition Adding Up

It was just today while having lunch with Ron (which was great and will be a weekly occurance) that I said that there's alwasy something to write about, but I'm feeling thin today.

Did lots of rushing around on the addition project. We're on for meeting the Zoning Board on June 27, a month earlier than we'd originally been told, and there was the usual clusterbumble. Amanda was told to have the paperwork in before noon, so there I was in the morning and the office was closed; a check for the state to process the septic plan but no check for the town; the check for the zoning application was wrong because we count as abutters too (security measure). Anyhow, it's done, and Mom and Dad are pleased.

And yes, I thought about Ultraviolet but I need to refresh a little on its goodness before writing about it. Maybe I need to watch that with John soon.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bush Issued Over 750 "Signing Statements"

Remember when the President compromised with Senator McCain and signed the anti-torture legislation, only to add a little "statement" after signing it that said he reserved the authority to authorize torture whenever he thought it was justified? After the news broke, many congressional legal scholars said that Bush stood in clear violation of the separation of powers, where the Congress makes the laws, the Judicial Branch interprets those laws, leaving the Executive "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." With his "signing statement," Bush claims that he has the power to interpret when a law should be followed and when he can chose to ignore it.

The Boston Globe dropped a bomb recently that is only starting to get noticed, that since taking office Bush has issued over 750 such statements (Here are examples of a few:

March 9: Justice Department officials must give reports to Congress by certain dates on how the FBI is using the USA Patriot Act to search homes and secretly seize papers.

Bush's signing statement: The president can order Justice Department officials to withhold any information from Congress if he decides it could impair national security or executive branch operations.

Dec. 30: When requested, scientific information "prepared by government researchers and scientists shall be transmitted [to Congress] uncensored and without delay."

Bush's signing statement: The president can tell researchers to withhold any information from Congress if he decides its disclosure could impair foreign relations, national security, or the workings of the executive branch.

Aug. 8: The Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its contractors may not fire or otherwise punish an employee whistle-blower who tells Congress about possible wrongdoing.

Bush's signing statement: The president or his appointees will determine whether employees of the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can give information to Congress.

See more examples here.

Without the ability to get timely and accurate information, Congress can't fulfill its duty of providing oversight. Our entire system of checks and balances breaks down. If these "statements" go unchallenged, any President in the future will be able to selectively and secretly ignore any law, keeping not only the Press (and by extension us) but even Congress in the dark.

If this scares you as much as it does me, go here, enter your zip code in the left hand column, and write your representatives and senators, and as a follow up, call their offices.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

C.W. Post, May 6, 1977

My friend John has always created music mixes for friends. Today he'll create playlists or burns CDs, but when we were teens cassettes were the only option. One of the many he painstakingly recorded for me stuck with me because it was remarkable in a couple of ways. For starters, it was the only cassette John ever made me that wasn't a mix, and secondly because it was a rare live recording of Billy Joel's that included the debut performance of “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant.” I'd never heard a version of “Scenes” that matched the energy of that first live rendition, and I played that cassette to death. After a couple of years my car's tape deck got sick of hearing it and ate it.

A couple of weeks ago I happened upon a stack of CDs that I hadn't ripped before, and one was the two disc Billy Joel “Best of,” and it got me remembering that old cassette and wondering. Could I buy a copy of that live recording? Where was it originally recorded. I hit Amazon and found that Joel's first live album was “Songs In the Attic” from 1981, but “Scenes” was on “The Stranger” and that's from 1977. Google didn't help, but it did lead me to the great folks at JoelFans. I posed my question and got a quick response that read, “CW Post 77.” Was “CW” a reference to another thread, I asked? Nope, C.W. Post is a college on Long Island, and the performance was recorded there on May 6, 1977, a date which made sense considering the release of “The Stranger.”

This was exciting. My mind strained to hear the past and recall that debut of “Scenes.” Another poster said that version was in the media gallery section on the site, but I combed through and no such luck. Someone else said he'd upload it, then returned to say the file was too large. Without a way to buy it, I found myself looking at pirate sites and demanded a minimum of 5 GB of rare music before even talking about a trade.

And then, I got a private message from a guy named John who not only had that version of “Scenes,” but the entire C.W. Post show. He asked for my address because he was burning me a copy. I offered to pay him but he said it was no trouble. I got the discs yesterday, and thanked John with a gift certificate to Amazon.

People like John reaffirm my love for the Net, and for people in general. First thing I'm going to do is make a copy for my old friend John and repay the favor he did for me eighteen years ago.

Sony's Cell Sucks?

Someone at Sony may be facing seppuku over the read speeds for the Cell chip's local memory. If the powerpoint shown here is correct, forget about using the Cell's local memory, and if that's the case then what's the point of using the Cell again?

How could this happen when Sony built and owns their own chip factory?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Complementary Commentary

We often hear that it's easier the second time around, and it is, especially since you're invulverable as long as a commentary node is running. Having been there before is a big help as well, and changing the difficulty setting to Easy. I was able to run through all of HL2 Episode One in commentary mode today and bless all the folks at Valve because they've stuffed it full. In some areas you'll find three commentary nodes practically on top of each other. As I said with "Lost Coast," very well done, Valve. I'll be referencing these comments for some time, especially those that give insight into the Source Engine's AI system. I thought the commentaries balanced the topics of gameplay and art direction fairly nicely, thought I would have prefered a slightly higher percentage of technical ones.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

My HL2 Ep. 1 Review, Spoiler Free

Sorry for not getting to this last night, but I didn't finish until 1 a.m. this morning.

So, how does Ep. 1 stack up against its predecessor? Not all that well, even with accounting for their different scope, but it doesn't fair that badly either. Episode One's biggest failing may come from it following too closely in the feature-film footprints of earlier installments.

With Episode One, Valve has taken the ambitious step of diverging from the feature film road that has ruled computer games for years, turning instead up the path of serial television. It's a bold move and one that I applaud, but something that they seem to have forgotten is that television moves at a slower pace than the action-packed blockbusters that define the FPS genre, which the Half-Life franchise has indelibly stamped.

What made Half-Life so fantastic was not the gameplay, though that was excellent, but the writing. Prior to HL, first person shooters were cast in the mold that Id made, no story to get in the way of the action. Half-Life, on the other hand, gave us a named character, young theoretical physicist Gordon Freeman, brilliant but something of a screwup at his top-secret research position. Gordon appears to cause a titanic disaster, and later becomes the target of rampaging aliens and ruthless government special forces, and is revealed in the end to have been a pawn the entire time. The tale is a tragedy, and one that still inspires a risk averse industry.

Half-Life 2 carried the storytelling forward. It too is flush with heart-pumping action, but deepens the tragedies of Black Mesa to encircle the globe. An organized alien force has taken over, corralled the few humans left into dystopian cities surrounded by lethal wastes, and the player begins wondering if he is somehow responsible for it all. In perhaps the best art direction in any game to date, the very faces of the wretched residents of City 17 speak of their despair, like that witnessed by my wife on her trip to the Soviet Union years ago.

And so in Episode One we expect more, not less, storytelling, since the action in television pales next to that in movies, perhaps because movies demand grand proportions; great drama and romance and action to fill that big screen. But in Episode One, we get too much action, and near the end it starts to feel a little pointless. In fact, after the third (or maybe fourth?) time that Alyx volunteers you for another hazardous mission, the addition of yet another action sequence gets almost comic. I found myself saying aloud, “You want me to what? Maybe you want to wear this hazard suit while I take the first train out of here?”

Don't get the impression that there's no advancement of the story, but it's little more than enough to move the plot, with some teases of interesting developments to come. So, if Marc Laidlaw is listening, there's so much more to this setting and these characters that you haven't revealed and we want to know, so please give us more. You no longer have the excuse of bare bones exposition due to format restrictions. You're not writing a feature anymore. Give us details about how the world got this way. Show us more of Eli and Barney and Judith. And don't be afraid to make it hurt, to deepen the tragedy further. It's a bleak world and it can get bleaker. Maybe Gordon made things at Black Mesa worse than they could have been. Maybe Alyx will get interested in another man.

Just give us more story, and remember that while this might have been released in the Summer, it's not a Summer blockbuster.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

HL2 Episode One, First Impressions

*** Spoiler Warning ***

At 1:03 p.m. EST today, we rejoined the life of Gordon Freeman already in progress in Half-Life2: Episode One. The scene opens to some words of Breen's from HL2, as the bad doctor accuses Gordon of being a destroyer who's never created anything. As the camera cuts away we wonder how we can get the opportunity being the attack dog of the ever enigmatic G-Man, but within seconds hope appears. We're taken right back to the moment of the reactor's explosion at the top of the citadel to find Alyx whisked away by a group of teleporting Vortigaunts, and the next scene finds Gordon in darkness joined by those same Vortigaunts, and most deliciously, a look of genuine surprise on the G-Man's face as they teleport us away. Finally Valve has given us a match for the G-Man, upping the suspense and promising good times ahead.

In addition to Alyx, Dog reappears and charms us again with his animal magnetism, and Dr. Kleiner and Eli conference in. Oh, and speaking of old friends, the Gravity Gun starts the game off right, and not long later gets its upgrade. Did I say good times already?

On the con side, the dialog isn't as sharp as in the previous installment, sometimes rehashing old events (Alyx wishing us heartfelt good fortune as we descend in an elevator) or attempting shock and falling flat. There are brighter spots, though, such as when Alyx first sees a Columbine soldier cum headcrab zombie (“Wouldn't that make it a Zombine?”).

I might be able to finish up tomorrow after hours, after which expect a full review. Until then, keep your H.E.V suit on.