Tuesday, January 31, 2006

More on Blizzard

From Kotaku, a link to a post by a Blizzard rep in the WOW forums
We encourage community building among our players with others of similar interests, and we understand that guilds are one of the primary ways to forge these communities. However, topics related to sensitive real-world subjects -- such as religious, sexual, or political preference, for example -- have had a tendency to result in communication between players that often breaks down into harassment.

To promote a positive game environment for everyone and help prevent such harassment from taking place as best we can, we prohibit mention of topics related to sensitive real-world subjects in open chat within the game, and we do our best to take action whenever we see such topics being broadcast. This includes openly advertising a guild friendly to players based on a particular political, sexual, or religious preference, to list a few examples. For guilds that wish to use such topics as part of their recruiting efforts, our Guild Recruitment forum, located at our community Web site, serves as one open avenue for doing so.

We will be clarifying some of the language in our game policies in order to help avoid such confusion in the future.

That seems fair--they're banning all guild recruitment in open chat based on affiliation of any kind, essentially. But they also create another avenue, the guild recruitment forum, where such recruiting can take place. And if they had phrased it with that level of precision originally, it would have never become an issue.

Thanks to all of you who sent in information about WOW and how recruitment is handled.

Big Batch O' Links

Lots of links to waste away your early afternoon. Some gaming, some not.

First, from DQ reader Glen Haag, yet another funny Top Gear video, this one of the absolute destruction of a 1980's Toyota pickup truck. They park it in the sea, run it into walls, use a wrecking ball, set it on fire--and it still runs. And there's even more (it gets progressively wilder and funnier as it goes). Wonderfully entertaining, and here it is:

From Kotaku, a well-written series of articles about the Nintendo Shigureden museum (which you can see here:http://www.shigureden.com/. The sparse prose style is oddly affecting, and it's a fascinating read. Here's the link:

Here's a link to a very interesting article about the RIM/NTP patent dispute, and it's probably not what you were expecting:

Here's a CNN article about fast food service technology. I hadn't heard about this, but McDonald's is apparently experimenting with outsourcing the taking of customer orders to centralized call centers, believe it or not. Here's the link:

From DQ reader Bruce Hardie, a link to a fun quiz utilizing Google Earth. Great fun and a complete productivity killer. Here you go: http://www.collectiveapathy.com/node/116.

Finally, from Jason Nachtrab, an absolutely stellar article in the Washington Post about the area's premier children's entertainer, otherwise known as The Great Zucchini. It's one of the most compelling articles I've read in months, because his brilliance with children is in stark contrast to his inability to function as an adult. Brilliant writing, and here's the link:

Monday, January 30, 2006

Guitar Hero: Now With Sheet Music

Thanks to DQ reader Mark Boulton, I now know that someone is putting together a "sheet music" site for Guitar Hero. Here's the link: http://www.guitarherotabs.com/.

Blizzard Gets High

Oh boy.

From In Newsweekly
Sara Andrews thought it was a big misunderstanding when she received an e-mail from a game master in Blizzard Entertainment's popular online role playing game "World of Warcraft" citing her for "Harassment - Sexual Orientation."

Andrews had posted that she was recruiting for a "GLBT friendly" guild in a general chat channel within the game.

Believing that her notice had been accidentally flagged, she e-mailed Blizzard to correct the problem. Blizzard, to Andrews' surprise, upheld the decision.

In case you're wondering, "GLBT" stands for Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender.

Here's more:
In her follow-up letter to the company, Andrews explained that there was an obvious misunderstanding and that she was not insulting anyone, but merely recruiting for a "GLBT friendly" guild.

The response from Blizzard was, "While we appreciate and understand your point of view, we do feel that the advertisement of a 'GLBT friendly' guild is very likely to result in harassment for players that may not have existed otherwise. If you will look at our policy, you will notice the suggested penalty for violating the Sexual Orientation Harassment Policy is to 'be temporarily suspended from the game.' However, as there was clearly no malicious intent on your part, this penalty was reduced to a warning."

Blizzard's stance was clear that recruiting for a guild using "GLBT" was inappropriate as, the company said, it may "incite certain responses in other players that will allow for discussion that we feel has no place in our game."

See, here's our problem--while being stupid gets the stupid people high, it just gives the rest of us a headache, damn it.

Look. If Blizzard wants to ban all affiliation-related guilds, fine. That means they should ban recruiting spam, and they should ban all guilds with racial/sexual/political/religious/etc. affiliations. Good luck with that, by the way, because that sounds functionally impossible. But that's at least a philosophical discussion.

What's not a philosphical discussion is Blizzard's stunningly inane statement that the GLBT-friendly guilt was not allowed to recruit because they would be harassed. Think about that for a minute. So using that logic, I guess the civil rights marchers in the 1960's should have not been allowed out of their homes because white mobs would be angry. See, the people denying civil rights are not the problem--it's the people marching for civil rights. They're causing racists and bigots to harass them.

I'm not trying to equate an online game with the civil rights movement in the 1960's. I'm just saying that Blizzard's rationale creates ludicrous decisions. Call me crazy, but I'm prety sure that a "Sexual Orientation Harassment Policy" should protect gay people, not suppress them.

Eli 4.5

Eli's big into dinosaurs. It's a bit jarring to hear his fluency when explaining the current theories about the plates on the back of a stegosaurus , then find his mermaid in the laundry. He loves them both, and that must be one of the singularly remarkable things about childhood: love need not be consistent or exclusive. He'll watch an episode of Dinosaur Planet on Discovery HD, commenting seriously on the sections where the paleontologist discusses dinosaur behavior, then ask to watch an episode of the cartoon 64 Zoo Lane because he has a crush on Tina the Giraffe.

It is a very good time to be a father.

On Saturday, I found a red crayon mark on the toilet. "There will be no coloring of the toilet with crayons," I said. "Do I make myself clear?"

"I don't think I was actually coloring," Eli 4.5 said. He specializes in the legalese defense. If you don't ask the right question, with exactly the proper wording, he'll deny everything.

"Well, it was a mark. Did you make a mark?"

"Hmm," he said. "Maybe I did."

He says things that are so bright they just astound me. Sometimes, though, things aren't quite what they appear. This Saturday, we were driving back from breakfast and it was raining--pouring, actually. We were talking about rain and how it rained more in different parts of the country. "I know where it rains more than here," he said. "South America."

Well, that just blew me away. Then he explained why.

"Central means rain, and America just means 'America,' so South means more rain because it's South instead of North," he said proudly.

Gaming Links

First, the website for The Guild 2 is now up. The Guild was enormously buggy yet enormously entertaining, and I hope they can resolve the quality control issues that plagued the first release. Here's the link:

Here also is a link to some remarkably attractive screenshots:

From Kotaku, a Google Map application--of Azeroth, believe it or not. Some of the data sets have been disabled because the site's been getting hammered, but it's an amazing piece of work. Here's the link: http://mapwow.com/.

Here's a link from DQ reader jwojtas to a BBC survey of gamers and their habits. Surprise, it's not all men. Duh. We talked about that back in May last year. Here's an excerpt from Boing Boing, where the story originally appeared:
Contrary to popular belief, the gender split between gamers is fairly even across all age groups. Although female gamers never overtake their male counterpart, the figures are particularly even in the youngest and oldest gaming groups. Between the ages of 16-35 the ratio of males to females is slightly higher, but the stereotype of a large gender gap in gamers - in any age group - is untrue.

Of course, people who don't want to believe this will ignore the data, because being stupid gets them high.

Here's a link to the full report:

Finally, as it turns out, Heroes of Might and Magic V has been delayed by Ubisoft. Mission accomplished, although I'm sure they'll never admit that's why they did it.

Productivity: Not for You

Here are some interesting links from the weekend to put you further behind on that big project.

Here's a long interview with Richard Linklater about A Scanner Darkly, his upcoming adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel (thanks Robot Wisdom Weblog):

Next, an interview with Keita Takahashi, the game director for Katamari Damacy (I saw this linked from somewhere but can't remember where):

Then, another item linked from Robot Wisdom Weblog: a brief but interesting article about the life of Buster Keaton.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

And Still More

A rare weekend update to pass along some information from a story I saw linked over at Kotaku. I was going to say on Friday that it wouldn't surprise me at all if we woke up some day and Take-Two was bought out or shut down, but I hedged my bets because that sounded so extreme.

My mistake. Here's an excerpt from the article:
January 28, 2006 -- With its cash dwindling and regulators circling, the edgy Take Two Interactive is looking for a financial lifeline from buyout firms.

Take Two, which makes the popular "Grand Theft Auto," has been "in active talks" with several buyout firms over the past week, souces told The Post.

The funds were not identified.

"For a fund, it is a bet that the cash flows from sales of 'Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' and 'Liberty City Tales,' and new management could get around the growing liabilities," said a source close to the company.

I certainly don't consider the New York Post to be a bastion of investigative journalism, but it doesn't seem unreasonable based on what's happened in the last few days.

Friday, January 27, 2006

More Take-Two

Take-Two stock plunged over 19% today.

It recovered slightly by the close, down "only" 13.74%, but in after hours trading it lost another 2.45%. It's now trading at $14.69, which is less than half what it was trading for in June--its all-time high--right before the "Hot Coffee" controversy erupted.

Erupted. That's a pun.

Take-Two has routinely seen dramatic declines in its stock (it lost 75% of its value in just a few months in 2001). Yesterday, though, their audit head resigned. Today, Banc of America downgraded their stock and had some relatively disturbing comments (thanks to Shane Courtrille, who passed along the link):
--the company is burning cash at an "alarming" rate
--they believe an SEC investigation (another one) could be forthcoming
--they believe that Take Two's legal counsel could be next to resign
--"our work on Take-Two leads us to believe that serious problems surround the company's governance"

That's a nasty bit of business. And it's particularly nasty for us, since Take-Two controls so many important gaming franchises. It's not that they can't make and sell games--they do extraordinarily well at that. It's their basic problem with corporate honesty that's killing them.

Good Grief, What a Dumbass

I can't believe I wrote "Nuremburg" instead of "Nurburgring."

Press Pass

Gamers With Jobs, as part of their long-range plan for total world domination, has added a new feature called "Press Pass." It's game news with cajun seasoning, or something like that. They're finding some interesting items that aren't being covered by other news sites, and they're also adding their own commentary. Here's the link:

Here are two examples (and I hadn't seen these items on any of the news sites I visit daily):
--discussion of a post over at the Penny Arcade forums concerning gaming companies who have a hired staff that does nothing but post in gaming forums. Ugh.
--a story about a post in the Star Wars Galaxies forum by John Smedley (President of Sony Online Entertainment) to ostensibly solicit feedback about the revamped MMORPG. He then proceeded to get beaten about the head and shoulders, to put it mildly.

All in all, another relatively unique content node for GWJ, which seems to have unerring instincts in that regard.

Guitar Hero (30)

I'm leaking oil and spewing fuel like a thirty year old beater. My hand feels like silly putty. The Rock meter has gone from green, to yellow, to red, to flashing red. If there had been five more notes to play, I would have failed the song.

But there weren't. And I didn't.

Cowboys From Hell on Hard difficulty has finally been passed. And if I'm making that sound like a kidney stone, that's about how painful it was. Six hundred notes, at least, all played at hyper-speed. Oh, and if you want to see just how hard it is, take a look at this video (thanks to the Gamers With Jobs forums):

That guy's playing on Expert difficulty, not hard, but it gives you an idea. Plus he's a freak--I think I heard two missed notes in the entire song. I cannot even conceive of someone being able to do that.

So it damned sure wasn't impressive, but I got through, which gave me 29 of 30 songs completed on Hard. Bark at the Moon, which is the 30th song, is supposed to be as hard as Cowboys From Hell, but for some reason my brain despises CFH and actually likes BatM. Instead of seventy tries (at least) to pass, it took four.

So I've "passed" Hard level, although I'm far from completing it, at least in my mind, which would require 5-star ratings on all the songs (plus the bonus songs). I still need 6 more songs on Expert (stuck at 84% on Crossroads right now).

If you're stuck on Cowboys From Hell, you might take some comfort in this: CFH on Hard is far harder than any of the 24 songs I've passed on Expert so far. It is singularly difficult, so if you're stuck, play on Expert for a while and pass some of those songs.

What I find particuarly interesting (all right, "enthralling" is probably a better word) about GH is how your skills improve. Sometimes they improve overnight, or after a day off. And it's a remarkable feeling to play a song and feel overwhelmed by a totally incomprehensible rush of notes--yet somehow, a few days later, that rush of notes makes sense and you play them.

It's great. It's an anti-depressant in the form of a plastic guitar.

Assorted 360 Info and Gamestop

I downloaded the Full Auto demo for Xbox 360 yesterday.

It wasn't nearly as compelling as the demo for Fight Night 3, but it was still quite enjoyable. After I finished playing, I thought to myself: the Xbox 360 is developing an impressive collection--of demos.

I've received several e-mails recently indicating that the inventory squeeze may be lessening, even though I haven't seen any official confirmation yet. People are walking into Best Buy or Wal-Mart and getting their 360's with minimum hassle. I assume it's a combination of increased supply coupled with reduced demand, although we probably won't know for sure until Microsoft releases some manufacturing numbers.

I wrote a few days ago about lack of games post-launch. Microsoft's danger is that they wind up in this negative feedback loop where the low installed base numbers make publishers delay game development, which then reduces demand for the console, and then it goes on and on. Electronic Arts announced today that The Godfather is going to ship March 21st in the U.S.--except for the 360 and PSP versions, which will ship "before the end of 2006."


So internally, Microsoft is in full-blown crisis mode right now. They've gone from seemingly a very strong position to a floundering one in just the last four weeks. Talk about a tightrope.

Here's someone else who is in big, big trouble: Gamestop. Not because they took on a load of debt to buy out EB, and not because after the merger they have stores literally within two hundred yards of each other.

No, it's none of that, although those are significant issues.

Here's why they're in trouble: their entire business model is predicated on a mid-generation console market. Their model is tailor-made for consoles with hundreds of used titles available, and they just churn them and churn them again. There's always something to buy.

So I was thinking about this today and it hit me: they're screwed. That business model is ass in a new-generation market--there aren't nearly enough titles available to support it. So even as developers moan about current-gen demand dropping off more quickly than next-gen demand ramps up, that same mismatch is going to happen to Gamestop--it's just going to happen six to nine months later. They're going to have huge amounts of used games for consoles that no one wants anymore, and demand for those games is going to plummet. So instead of churning two or three hundred games for a console, they're going to be churning thirty or forty (at best) for a new console.

That is a different market entirely, but as far as I can tell, they're going to try to use the same business model. Those numbers aren't going to work. They're about to run face first into a wall.

Heroes of Might and Magic

Can the fans of the Heroes of Might and Magic series save the game from Ubisoft?

It's one of the oddest things I've ever seen, really. Here's an excerpt from the item I saw over at Blue's News (http://www.bluesnews.com/):
Worldwide, Jan. 26, 2006. A group of Heroes of Might and Magic community Websites today launched a collaborative effort to persuade Ubisoft executives to delay the launch of their highly anticipated title Heroes of Might and Magic 5. SaveHeroes.Org is a concerted community effort to further that cause.

This effort, and the reasons behind it, started largely because of the open beta test, which started on GameSpy on Monday, January 23rd...

Wow. The open beta started about, oh, five minutes ago. Talk about a resounding lack of confidence.

This is very unusual, but if my fan base was telling me not to release my game yet because it appeared to suck, I think I'd listen to them. Carefully.

The link to the site is www.saveheroes.org, but it's down right now because they've exceeded the allocated bandwidth by what I'm sure is a mind-boggling amount.

Your E-Mail

Excellent, as always. Thank you.

From someone who I'm guessing wants to remain anonymous this time, information on what Barbara Kaczynski was probably doing when she resigned from the audit board at Take-Two. From Word Spy:
noisy withdrawal n. The public withdrawal of legal representation in which the departing lawyer, having knowledge of the client's existing or potential improprieties, disavows work done for the client and notifies the proper authorites of the withdrawal.

Well, reread her quote in the post below. That sounds exactly like what she's doing.

DQ reader Steve West sent a link to an interesting article about Google. Here's an excerpt:
Google does not run on huge, expensive mainframe computers but on a very large number of bog-standard, over-the-counter PCs, the same sort used by ordinary mortals...Vise puts the figure at more than 100,000 PCs.

Lots of information about the "fastest growing company in the history of the world" and here's the link: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n02/lanc01_.html.

DQ reader Francis Cermak (and others) let me know that FOX is creating a television series based around middling NBA player (and excellent blogger) Paul Shirley. It's going to be called "The 12th Man" (which refers to the last man on an NBA roster).

Dan Quock sent in a link to another video from the Top Gear show, and this one is very funny as well. Show member Jeremy Clarkson went to Nurburgring and did a lap in under ten minutes. He was quite proud of himself. Then his driving instructor said that she could do it in under ten minutes--in a van. Here's the link:

From DQ reader My Wife, a link to a warning sign--about the sign itself. That's hard to beat. Here's the link:

From Randy Graham, a story about the the discovery of the world's smallest fish, which is less than eight millimeters long and lives in water that is over a hundred times more acidic than rainwater. And it has grasping fins. Grasping what, no one is sure. Here's the link:

Finally, Andrew Crossman sends in a link to yet another excellent article in The Onion--this one, about the invention of the "hyperbolic chamber."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

When I Wake Up

DQ reader Jeremy Fischer sent in a very funny link to a music video directed by Keith Schofield that includes (apparently) the band Wintergreen going to a landfill in New Mexico and digging up some of the fabled E.T. cartridges that Atari buried. It's a catchy tune as well. Here's the link:

It's Wintergreen's "When I Wake Up."


Man, this is a tough news day. First, the news that stupid is a drug. Then more about scumbag James Frey comes over the transom. Now this, from Herb Greenberg's column over at Marketwatch:
Take-Two issued a press release about changes in its board. A few analysts even regurgitated the company's comments. But as is often the case, investors ought to read the 8-K SEC filing for the rest of the story, most notably the circumstances surrounding the resignation of board member Barbara Kaczynski, chairman of the company's audit committee and the former CFO of the National Football League. A letter to the board from her attorney, Bruce Baird -- a noted white-collar defense attorney -- says she left because she was concerned about a number of issues, including "various SEC inquiries directed at Take-Two and its employees."

Furthermore, she said, her concerns rose "significantly" as the company prepared its delayed 10-K, "because of what she views as an increasingly unhealthy relationship between senior management and the board of directors. In her experience, management's interactions with the board were characterized by a lack of cooperation and respect. Moreover, Ms. Kaczynski felt the management failed to keep the board informed of important issues facing the company or failed to do so in a timely fashion." (Sort of speaks for itself.)

Let's just hope they don't explode (because they're going to) before they've released all the games we want to play.

Famous Author, Now With Extra Loser

Remember the post last week about James Frey, best selling author and prolific liar? He came back to the Oprah Winfrey show, where Oprah, after spending a week reading her e-mail, stopped defending him. Here's a great quote from Frey:
Frey acknowledged to King that he had embellished parts of the book, and he told Winfrey Thursday that the same demons that fueled his addictions caused him to mischaracterize himself.

“I made a mistake,” Frey told Winfrey on Thursday.

That's great stuff. So he's not the liar--it's the demons that made him. And I bet it got him high.

I feel totally tooled on this Frey thing. Great, riveting book, seemingly an incredibly courageous guy, now all unraveling into a story of a lying opportunist with zero character. Blech. I am, however, very hopeful that I will never need to type the words "Oprah Winfrey" ever again.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Brain Activity (2)

I'm leaving shortly to go pick up Eli 4.5 for our Thursday lunch (with maybe some fossil hunteing afterwards), but I had a little time this morning to think about that MSNBC article.

The next time you're talking to someone who is totally, absolutely closed-minded, and you feel your blood pressure rising, just remember these words: being stupid gets people high.

Stupid. It's a drug.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Brain Activity

Here's some stunning news that I"m sure none of you were expecting.
Political bias affects brain activity, study finds
Democrats and Republicans both adept at ignoring facts, brain scans show

This isn't as funny as it should be, given the nearly paralyzed state of intelligence in this country when it comes to political discussion, but it's still funny. Here are some excerpts:
Researchers asked staunch party members from both sides to evaluate information that threatened their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election. The subjects' brains were monitored while they pondered.

"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," said Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory University.

...The test subjects on both sides of the political aisle reached totally biased conclusions by ignoring information that could not rationally be discounted, Westen and his colleagues say.

Then, with their minds made up, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust. But activity spiked in the circuits involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix, Westen explained.

Well, that explains all kinds of things about this country--the brains of stupid people make them high when they're being morons.

The scientists called this "calcification" of partisan beliefs, which is a great phrase and very evocative of people that all of us talk to every day. They don't let the facts get in their way.

Here's one last excerpt:
Other relatively neutral candidates were introduced into the mix, such as the actor Tom Hanks. Importantly, both the Democrats and Republicans reacted to the contradictions of these characters in the same manner.

Very interesting article, and here's the link:

Fight Night Round 3 (Demo)

After unrelenting e-mail pressure, I went ahead and downloaded the Fight Night 3 Demo (available on the Xbox Live Marketplace--it's about 400 megs).

I thought Fight Night Round 2 looked pretty amazing last year. And it did, for its era, but it looks like stick men drawn with crayons compared to Round 3. The graphics quality is every bit as high as PGR 3.

Even more impressive are the animations. I'll probably never use this word in conjunction with a game again, but they're superb. Astonishing, really. The punching animations are so accurate that it's stunning. I also got to see fatigue in action, and the change is just as it should be--your fighter slows down, his punches lose their snap, and he also doesn't block as effectively.

No HUD? Didn't need one.

All in all, a spectacular effort, and I only hope that the full game is as polished.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

User Friendly

Thanks to DQ reader Wayne Wallace for sending in links to two blog-related comics that hit too close to home. For me, at least. Here are the links:

I See England, I See France

Apparently, it's England's underpants that are being seen this week.

From the BBC
Russia's intelligence agency, the FSB, has accused British agents of storing and exchanging classified information using a fake rock on a Russian street.

In itself, no big deal. The great game goes on without pause. What made this story interesting to me, though, was the rock. Spies, if I remember correctly, often deposit information at a secure location, where it is retrieved at a later time. It's called a 'dead drop' because there's no need for two people to meet face to face. It's far less risky.

Well, this was a dead drop, but in a new way. The agent simply walked near the rock, wirelessly beamed the intelligence, and walked off. Very simple and certainly nothing revolutionary--for us--but I'd never heard of it being used in espionage before.

Their password to retrieve the data was probably "password."

The Archetype

He's more interesting that you are.

He's brighter, too. More worldy. More personable. Better-looking.

His life has been one charmed adventure after another. And he has this easy-going smile that lets you know it hasn't gone to his head.

I'm speaking, of course, of Fascinating Liquor Store Clerk Guy.

He looks like someone who stepped out of a Harelquin Romance novel that takes place at the Renaissance Fair. Immaculately groomed goatee. Pony tail. A linen shirt opened halfway down his chest. It's a look that no one, absolutely no one can pull off, but Fascinating Liquor Store Clerk guy does.

Interesting? Hell, yes, he's interesting. Fascinating Liquor Store Clerk Guy is so interesting that you wish you drank more just to chat with him more often. When he tells you about finishing off a hundred dollar of pinot noir with a liquor salesman in the front seat of his car, the story is so full of camaraderie that it practically glows. He's a twenty-first century Chaucer, really, spinning his magical, bawdy tales while the customers listen, spellbound.

Content? No man on Earth is more content than Fascinating Liquor Store Clerk Guy. In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, he's reached Self-Actualization. And if you mentioned it to him, he'd respond with such a confident yet humble smile that you'd believe he's the one who explained it to Maslow.

How is that he wound up in his mid-thirties as a clerk at a liquor store? That's a good question, a very good one, but Fascinating Liquor Store Clerk Guy is so entertaining that somehow you always forget to ask. And if you ever remembered, he'd tell you that it was all because of a promise he'd made to a dying vintner he met during a backpacking trip through France.

I'd think this was an accident, but I've been in liquor stores probably thirty times in my whole life, and I've met at least four Fascinating Liquor Store Clerk Guys. There's no way that happened by chance. He's an archetype.

So today we salute you, Fascinating Liquor Store Clerk Guy. Mick and the Stones are better off for having met you.


From DQ reader Scott Ray, a very fun intelligence test where you try to complete phrases. It's been around for a while, but still very fun. Here's an example of one clue: 66 B of the B. So figure that out.

Here's the link:
Answer 19 of 33 correctly and you're allegedly a genius. No certificates will be awarded. And once you've finished that, try this:
Same style, but much tougher.

Here's an interesting article from New Scientist about dark matter and a new theory of gravity. An excerpt:
A modified theory of gravity that incorporates quantum effects can explain a trio of puzzling astronomical observations – including the wayward motion of the Pioneer spacecraft in our solar system, new studies claim... The theory, called scalar-tensor-vector gravity (STVG), adds quantum effects to Einstein's theory of general relativity. As in other branches of physics, the theory says that quantum fluctuations can affect the force felt between interacting objects.

Very interesting, and here's the link:

Here's one of the funniest Onion stories in the history of the website:

DQ reader Fredrik Skarstedt sent in a link to a story about a publisher that's specializing in republishing abandoned classics like Rez, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, and Gitaroo Man. The company is Game Quest direct, and they have a great idea. Here's the link:

John Catania sent in a link to an old story on Engadget that I must have missed when it first came out. It's an Engadget page "from" 1985, and it really brings back some memories. Here's the link:

Finally, DQ reader Greg V sent in a link to a fascinating story about a public defender in Tampa. This guy isn't your ordinary lawyer, though. Here's an excerpt:
After passing the Bar exam on his fourth try, Charley Demosthenous wasn't exactly a hot property. Even his father thought he should go sell screwdrivers.

It's an excellent, unusual story, and you can find it here:

There. Your entire morning is blown.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


ATI seems to have gotten their mojo back.

They launched the X1900 series parts today, and every review I've read indicates that they are nothing short of phenomenal, even putting the wood to the Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX.

Of course, I can't buy one of these until I upgrade my motherboard, because it's highly unlikely that they will make an AGP version, but it's still an impressive piece of hardware. Here are links to two thorough reviews:

Oh, and even better: this was a hard launch. Finally. Product is in stock and ready to ship.

Fight Night Round 3

Electronic Arts is an interesting company.

I forget all the time that people get to work for Electronic Arts because they're good. It's not the low minor leagues of software developers. It's the majors.

When it comes to EA Sports, they have assembled some of the absolutely top developers in the world. Most of whom wind up looking like absolute shit. Madden? A franchise totally adrift, a kluge on top of a kluge on top of years-old code. NBA Live? Nice engine, bad gameplay choices. NHL? It's been so long that I can't even remember the last decent version. FIFA? An absolutely joke compared to Winning Eleven.

MLB? MVP had a beautiful new engine with an absolutely outstanding design and they never really finished the game. Then they lost the MLB license. I hear good things about the college game, so maybe they transitioned it successfully.

Do you see a common theme here? These sports franchises are like battleships--they're almost impossible to manuever. And it's impossible for one person on a battleship to be seen. All you see is the battleship.

That's EA sports. Individual accomplishment are not recognized. Personalities do not emerge. EA wants us to see the battleship, not the sailors.

Tiger Woods? Different, to some degree, mostly because of Headgate, I believe. It's uniformly of higher quality each year than the team sports games, and some years it's not even close.

Here's the other problem that seems to plague EA Sports: their games don't improve from year to year, at least not as often as they should. The graphics do, but not the gameplay. Winning Eleven gets better every single time. Konami is able to evalute their game and generally correctly identify what needs to be improved. EA is almost totally unable to do that. Madden does things like add recordings of actual NFL quarterbacks barking the signals (which is absolute, complete fluff) and totally ignores basic gameplay issues--year after year after year.

It's incredibly disappointing, really. Which brings us to Fight Night.

Fight Night Round 2 was a huge improvement over the previous version. More than any game EA Sports has released in years, it made logical improvements. Not perfect, but a terrific game.

So what was wrong with it? The Haymaker system was unbalanced, and on the lower difficulty levels, too powerful. The rise through the ranks was somewhat generic--guys had different styles, but only a limited number, and the fights started to feel very familiar. And it didn't convey the desperation of the sport very well--flash knockdowns, one-punch knockouts, those kinds of stunning momentum-changing events we occasionally see just didn't seem to exist. So there was a linear, grinding aspect to the game. Every boxing game ever made has had this problem, really, so it's always been endemic to the genre, really.

One more thing: I've been arguing for years that sports games need to get rid of all the HUD crap on the screen: kicking meters, shot meters, swing meters, "radar"--and in boxing, all the damage and fatigue indicators. I shouldn't be looking at meters to tell me if I'm getting my ass kicked or I'm tired--I should be seeing it on my fighter's face and how he moves.

So overall, Round 2 had some issues, but at its heart, it was a fun, excellent game.

So yesterday I saw an interview with Kudo Tsunoda, the Executive Producer of the upcoming Fight Night Round 3, in Official Xbox Magazine. Look at these excerpts:
...we have created 3 "Impact Punches"--punches that can change the course of the fight if they land. The haymaker this year is a much slower punch, so it is harder to land--but it does more damage. Our new Flash KO punch will devastate your opponent with one shot...Our new stun punch triggers a new first-person perspective mode in the ring where you can drop your opponent with one big punch. These are all extremely high reward--but high risk as well.

...in the last two versions of the game...you had to fight nearly 50 fights to win a title belt--which took a long time. And there was nothing to keep you motivated during your career to fight the people you were fighting. It was a series of nameless drones you had to beat to get your title belt. For Fight Night Round 3, we have a purpose behind your fights, a purpose behind every punch by building rivalries in your career. There are other boxers in your weight class that you develop as rivals...beating you early on, and then facing you in rematches--epic three-fight trilogies like Ali vs. Frazier--this all going on in your career mode.

...With Fight Night Round 3's new HUD-less gameplay, there are so many in-the-ring indicators as to what is going on...A boxer's health is reflected by the expression on their face when a punch lands, how hurt their facial expression looks...how much damage they have (cuts, bruises, swelling), and their body langugage. For how tired they are, we developed procedural animations to cause all of a boxer's body movements to be affected. Punches get thrown slower and at different trajectories...And you can even see them breathing harder and their faces huffing and puffing.

Hell has frozen over.

Somebody at EA Sports totally, absolutely gets it--maybe not this guy, specifically, but somebody on his team sure does. I'm going to go buy a baton and parade up and down my driveway. Right now.

Shipping for the Xbox 360 on February 20, if you're interested.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Art of Competency

When Gloria and I first moved in with each other (about nine years ago), we had a discussion about laundry. "How do you do your laundry?" she asked.

"I, um, throw it in the dark hole, put in soap, and turn the knob until I hear rushing water."

"You don't sort?" she asked.

"What is this 'sort' you speak of?"

"Arrggghh!" she said. Then she made this really funny noise that sounded like ambient African wildlife. And she never asked me to do any of her laundry.

Of course I sort my laundry. But I sort it when I buy my clothes. That way I only have to sort it once.

Tonight, Gloria was cooking. "I'm going to make General Tso's chicken," she said. "How does that sound?"

"Do you believe that?" I asked.

"Believe what?"

"That there was a General named 'Tso' who spent his free time dabbling in chicken dishes?"

"Probably not," she said.

"This is probably really called 'Vanquished Beheaded Peasants chicken.' With cashews."

"Noted," she said.

After dinner, there were dishes. Many dishes. If Gloria makes toast, there are eight pans and six dishes to wash.

I believe this is genetic.

I was rinsing some of the dishes and loading the dishwasher. The dishwasher was almost full when Gloria walked in. "I'll do that," she said eagerly.

"Almost done," I said.

"I'll finish up," she said.

"No problem," I said. "I've got it."

"Really," she said. "Let me."

"Oh no," I said. "This is a basic competency issue, isn't it?" My wife thinks I'm entirely incompetent to do the dishes.

"It's just that the dishes have to be rinsed before they're put in the dishwasher," she said. Gloria doesn't believe that a plate is rinsed unless it looks like it just came out of an autoclave.

"I rinse them!" I said. "I just believe that the dishwasher bears some responsibility."

"And we can't leave any food out because of the cats."

"What? I don't leave food out," I said.

"What happens when the dishwasher is full?" She asked.

"I leave," I said. "But I do rinse the food off the other plates."

"Well..." she said. "Sort of."

"I'm not very good at this, am I?"

"And you tend to think the dishwasher's full when there's still plenty of room left."

"You're right!" I said with growing enthusiasm. "I can't believe it--I'm complete shit!"

"So just let me do this," she said.

"Thank goodness!" I said. "Because I--am--horrible."

"In fact," she said, "I think you should just stay away from the dishes entirely and I'll--I'll--hmm. Suddenly you never have to do the dishes."

Thank goodness that's settled. I mean, I'm a menace.

Chimps More Like Humans than Apes, Except for This One Guy Who's More Like a Moron

There's an interesting article over at MSNBC.
Chimps more like humans than apes
DNA analysis also shows they're evolving faster than humans

I can't say I'm surprised. Here's a headline that DQ reader Dan sent me last week
Barbie Accused of Being Part of the Transgender Movement
WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 3, 2006 — The Concerned Women for America were … well, concerned. Outraged, even. Was Barbie becoming part of the transgender movement?
On Dec. 30, CWA
, a leading Christian conservative group, noted on its Web site that on the Barbie Web site, www.Barbie.com, "there is a poll that asks children their age and sex."

You can see a screen grab of the poll here.

The age choices were 4 to 8 but children "are given three options for their choice of gender": I am a Boy, I am a Girl and I Don't Know.

Bob Knight, director of CWA's Culture and Family Institute, said Barbie manufacturer Mattel was being influenced by the "transgender movement."

To pose "this transgender question at little girls, they've really crossed the line," Knight said, who added that "bisexuality gender confusion" is the Web site's agenda, which is "very dangerous."

Based solely on this guy, I'm not sure we're still evolving at all. I'll bet on the chimp.

Oh, and if you'd like to see the full MSNBC article (which is very interesting), then here's the link: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10994885/.

Gran Turismo Meets Real Life

Thanks to all of you who sent in a link to a very entertaining video from the BBC show "Top Gear." Jeremy Clarkson "drove" Laguna Seca in an Acura NSX using the PS2 racing simulation Gran Turismo, then flew to the real Laguna Seca and drove the course in a real Acura NSX in an attempt to beat his PS2 lap time. It's a terrifically entertaining video and quite funny as well. A bit long (ten minutes) but very interesting the entire way through.


Staring at the Stupid

I've been riding Sony pretty hard for months, mostly because the execution of their PS3 strategy is FUBAR.

The thing about FUBAR, though, is that it's not an exclusive state. And riding headlong into the fog, who do I see?

Hey, it's Microsoft!

It's been two months since launch now, and one additional game has shipped--Dead or Alive 4. Whoopee. However, College Hoops was scheduled to ship 1/23, and there were four or five strong-sounding games shipping on 1/31. That seemed about right.

Then College Hoops got pushed. And last Friday I noticed over at EBGames that every single titled listed as shipping on 1/31 had pushed--in some cases by months.

As a good friend of mine used to say--shitskis.

The next titles are shipping on 2/14--Fight Night Round 3 and Full Auto. Those are both potentially outstanding games, but one new game in nearly three months from launch is a public relations disaster.

And while there are a good number of games scheduled to ship in March, I fully expect quite a few of those titles to slip as well.

So Microsoft can't ship enough consoles to satisfy demand, but the games aren't shipping either. No matter how poorly Sony is executing, that's still a giant problem.

Now there are two ways Microsoft could manage the games issue: via the Live Marketplace or additional backwards compatibility updates. The first option--the Marketplace--works very well as a supplement, but it's not even remotely feasible to use it as the primary supply. And on Friday, Microsoft announced that there will be no additional backward compatibility updates until March.


So the number of games available for the console since launch is almost zero, and backward compatibility updates are, to be charitable, infrequent.

Screwed up, guys. You're screwing up.

The Cure For Monday Blues

If you're having a bad Monday, I've found your cure.

I was waiting to pick up a to-go-order from a local restaurant, and while I was waiting I noticed that one of their televisions was using closed captioning.

For a soap opera.

It only took about thirty seconds for me to decide that soap opera closed captioning is one of life's greatest pleasures.

The scene? Two people (Nick and someone I'll call Brandy) after having sex in a barn, as far as I could tell. They've had a roll in the hay, literally, and now they're laying next to each in post-coital bliss. Here's what I saw unrolling on the monitor:

Brandy: I'm just thinking that we did this again.

Nick: Yeah.

Brandy: Which means it's more than once.

Nick: Yeah.

Brandy: It's just that--it's just that twice makes it more complicated than once.

All I can say to that is--yeah.

Friday, January 20, 2006


From GamesIndustry.biz
Industry leading publisher Electronic Arts has officially cut the prices of many of its current-generation titles by between $10 and $20 in North America, reacting to continued sluggish sales of home console software in the early weeks of 2006...

In total, 48 of EA's current-generation SKUs, including the majority of its most valuable properties, are falling in price - and according to analysts at Banc of America Securities, it may not just be back catalogue titles which see price drops this quarter.

"We expect more price cuts to come from other publishers," the firm's analyst team commented in a research note today, "and believe very few new current gen releases will be able to charge a premium price. The Godfather is the only EA game that we think has a chance to be priced at $49.99 at launch - though we would not be surprised to see the game priced at $39.99."

Make no mistake--EA has just all but publicly announced that their current quarter is in the toilet. And in a desperate attempt to hit their projected revenue number, they've discounted the entire industry, because most other publishers will be forced to follow suit.

Every time there's a generational console transition, well-paid analysts talk about how the financial beating everyone took the last time around was unnecessary, and they sketch out brilliant strategies to avoid the pain.

Then everyone gets a boot to the face anyway.

Here's the deal. Companies get flayed by analysts for "abandoning" the current generation of platforms when next-gen consoles launch. What no one acknowledges, though, is that the transition creates a demand gap. There is a certain percentage of the market right now that has seen what the 360 can do and doesn't want to invest any more money in current-gen console games, even if they don't have a 360. Maybe that's only true for the 360 in conjunction with an HD set, but current generation consoles no longer give the "best" experience available.

I'm leaving PC's out of this, so get those hands off your keyboard.

There are a few games (like Guitar Hero) that transcend their generation, but there are a ton of people right now who have seen the 360 in HD and can't get very worked up about buying another PS2 title that looks craptastic in comparison. Meanwhile, a new PS2 or Xbox title gets released about every five minutes these days.

In other words, demand is dropping rapidly, but supply is not.

Here's the other problem. As consumers transition to the new console, they buy plenty of games, but there are far fewer games out there (particularly with the asstastic backward compatibility of the 360). Even worse, far fewer 360's have been available than originally promised, which even pollutes the potential of new 360 titles (at least temporarily).

In other words, demand (for both the console and the games) is high, but supply is not.

It's very misleading (and easy) to say that a generation of consoles was abandoned too quickly, because you can always point to a few games released after the next-gen got introduced that still sold really, really well. And it's true--but it's true because supply fell off the cliff. If everyone kept supporting the current generation indefinitely, they'd get hammered, because rapidly falling demand would puke on indefinite supply.

So it's absolutely inevitable in a console transition that not as many games in total are going to be sold, and it's going to be a significant decline, at least temporarily.

If gaming companies were more honest with analysts when it comes to financial projections, this wouldn't be a surprise, but it's awkward (to say the least) to predict a significant decline in your revenues as part of a console transition. So they don't, and then they act surprised when the large wet fish slaps them in the face.

Cursive (Now Heavily Digressing Into Chinese Typewriters and Other Topics)

Like I've said before, when I write about anything, you guys will make it more interesting. Thank goodness.

First off, when I said that you were considered an expert if you could type ten words a minute in Chinese, I was incorrect. If you can type twenty characters a minute you're considered an expert. The typewriter itself consists of several trays of thousands of characters each. If you're curious, you can find a kind of blurry photo of one here:

Just scroll down to "A Chinese Typewriter."

Then I received an excellent e-mail from DQ reader Albert Tao, excerpted below:
The different Chinese dialects (mandarin, cantonese, shanghainese, taiwanese, and countless more) have the same written language. Well, sort of. The written language consists of ideograms, or glyph-like characters. There are traditional characters, which are used in Taiwan and in the USA, and simplified characters, which are used in mainland China. A character's complexity is measured by how many strokes it takes to write the character. Simplified characters generally use fewer strokes than their traditional equivalent. While there are some similarities between the two formats, they are significantly different looking and learning one will hardly help with the other. It is commonly said that someone who knows traditional can understand or easily learn simplified, but I have studied both and believe this to be an overstatement. In either case, a person's vocabulary is measured by how many THOUSAND characters they have memorized. The only way to really learn the words is by brute force: repetition, repetition, and more repetition. Remember when you learned how to write the English alphabet and wrote lines and lines of the 26 letters back in first grade? Learning Chinese characters is like that, but several hundred fold, and up through high school and college.

While there is no alphabet in the Chinese language, they have phonetic tools to represent the pronunciation of characters. The old way is called "zhu yin fu hao", which consists of 35 "lesser" ideograms. The new way is called "pin yin", which was adopted by China in '79. It uses the Roman alphabet to represent the 35 ideograms. They follow their own phonetic rules though; so don't try to pronounce them using English rules. "Pin yin" is a pin yin representation of two Chinese characters, and they probably don't sound like how you read it. A more common example might be "Xie xie" [thank you].

In addition to the pronunciation, each character also has a tone, or pitch to it. It can be neutral, rising, falling then rising, falling, or short. The tone is usually the hardest part for English speakers to distinguish. I can literally say four different words that have the same pronunciation, but different tones, and a Chinese speaker could easily make out what I said. You would probably have heard me say the same thing four times.

There are multiple methods to input Chinese characters on the computer. The most straightforward method is using a tablet to draw the character and using handwriting recognition to pick out which character it is.

...Another method of computer input is using the pronunciation. The old way, "zhu yin fu hao", uses a special keyboard layout with the 35 ideograms instead of English letters and some of the punctuation marks. "Pin yin" uses a normal 104-key English layout. "Pin yin" is the input method of choice. Input the pronunciation, optionally input the tone, and then select the character you want from a list. There are plenty of homonyms, but the software puts the more commonly used characters at the front of the list. Chinese just isn't ideal for computer input, but this method can get pretty quick with training. I'm not sure on speeds, but it's certainly faster than the 10 characters a minute you were quoted from 25 years ago.

There is also the "cang jie" method, but unless you're familiar with the Chinese written language I'm not going to bother explaining it. Just know more methods exist. I read that professional typists can reach speeds of 150 characters per minute and higher with this method.

So that's Chinese.

The Japanese written language is similar to English in that it has something that resembles an alphabet. But they have more than one. There's romanji, katakana, hiragana, and kanji.

Romanji is using the Roman alphabet to write the words, like what I've been doing when writing "romanji, katakana, hiragana" etc. There are fewer sounds in the Japanese language, so representing them in English works fairly easily. This can be done for any of the other alphabets.

Katakana is a set of ideograms that Japanese use to phonetically represent foreign words. The Japanese language lacks the "th", "l", and "v" sound, amongst other things, so katakana usually butchers what the word used to sound like. An example off the top of my head is the character of a popular manga, or Japanese comic book, that is named after the Norse god Verthandi. In katakana/romanji it's represented as "Be ru da n di". When translated back into to English, the editors decided to make her "Belldandy". Whatever.

Hiragana is different set of ideograms that make up Japanese words. Any Japanese word can be represented in hiragana. What makes things complicated is that certain words or phrases can also be represented by a single kanji character.

Kanji characters look the same as traditional Chinese characters and have the same meaning, though sometimes a stroke or two is missing. The joke is that the strokes fell into the ocean when the Japanese imported the Chinese characters. I'm going to reemphasize that any Japanese word or phrase can be represented in hiragana. For reasons unknown to me, they decided to represent some things in kanji as well. They also represent their family names with kanji characters. Whenever a kanji equivalent exists it should be used in lieu of the hiragana, except in cases when the kanji is obscure. The hiragana is almost always understood, the kanji isn't. In books for young readers they oftentimes put the hiragana next to any kanji character they use to make the reading easier.

Inputting Japanese with the keyboard is easy, since it is alphabet based. The keyboard layout they use is slightly different than the US standard layout, but the fundamentals are the same. You can do an Internet search on "Japanese keyboard layout" if you want to see what it looks like. Software wise, they have to toggle between romanji, katakana, and hiragana depending on what they want to write. When typing in hiragana, the computer will automatically replace words and phrases with the kanji equivalent, if any exists. This is how Japanese generally input kanji, and specifically, I mean they don't: the computer does it automatically for them. This is what your other reader was concerned about, that they rely on technology to do the kanji for them.

This is why I enjoy writing about things I know almost nothing about [insert your joke HERE]. It's a real pleasure to learn from you guys.

NBA2K6 and Team Sports Games

Over the last few weeks, I've managed to spend another 15-20 hours with the Xbox 360 version of NBA2K6, which has been both exhilarating and discouraging. Exhilarating because the on-court action, at least for the 360 version in high-definition, is just spectacular beyond all words. Add on top of that, it features the best commentary that I have ever heard in a sports game. Right now, in terms of the total package, it is leagues ahead of any other sports game with the exception of the Winning Eleven series.

Off the court, it's not as stellar. The menu design is clunky, it's not as easy to find important information as it should be, and some cool design features (like in-season mini-game drills that can improve a selected player's ratings) are very unbalanced.

All in all? Great game. Absolutely a great game. And it seems, for the most part, to have avoided the curse.

That's the curse of the "big" sports game--there are so many features that a game never really get finished and balanced. When you combine the annual, closely defined release window with the endless addition of features, there's no way these games can get finished

It would be far, far better in terms of quality if team sports games were released every other year, with a full roster update and bug fixes released in-between as a $19.99 expansion pack. That would enable significant changes to game engines without totally disrupting the existing product. What seems to be happening now, though, especially with EA games, is that they wind up being six or seven years of code (or more) all mashed together with new features cobbled on at random. That's no way to build a house, and it's no way to build a game, either.

I've seen gaming "journalist" after journalist use the phrase "new from the ground up" for the 360 version of Madden. Bullshit. It is incredibly easy to see that a huge number of assets in Madden 360 are reused from earlier generations. It's not that there isn't new stuff--there certainly is (and the new playcalling interface, in particular, is terrifically designed)--but it's also totally obvious that much of it isn't new at all. I think when you keep re-using the same engine again and again over time, the feature set gets wider every year (to sell more units) but the actual experience gets progressively more narrow over time. What you've already done with the existing features progressively limits what you can change, with the result that gameplay often gets worse over time instead of better. Most of the development gets spent on adding features instead of refining what's already there.

The Winning Eleven series seems to be different, and it's easy to see why. Instead of adding giant new features each year (which would never get finished and balanced), they make incremental improvements in their already excellent gameplay. They finish their games and they balance them precisely. Wow. Talk about revolutionary.

They also have a very interesting animation system. I was talking to someone last week who works in the sports game industry and he made an interesting comment. He said that the animation in the Winning Eleven series is so spectacular because it chains many small animations into movements instead of using longer animations like most American team sports games do. It also eliminates the frustration of feeling like you're not actually controlling your player while he's in the middle of a canned animation.

Believe it or not, the sports game I have the highest hopes for this year (unless 2KSports releases an unlicensed pro football game) is NFL Head Coach. I know, it's an EA game, but it should be absolutely new, and maybe working from a blank sheet will produce a different and more entertaining design.

The next truly great, legendary sports game is going to have to have a far greater element of user modding than is now possible. Until the developers open up their games and let users perfect things like play selection, trade valuations, player progression, etc., what we'll be left with are games with hundreds of features, most of which are, unfortunately, incomplete.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Cursive (Part Two)

I received a very interesting article from DQ reader Michael in reference to the post yesterday about the death of cursive writing.

Living in Japan, I immediately put your post about cursive into perspective. The same problem is in Japan, only a bit more serious, I think. And is a bit more widespread, possibly. What I'm talking about is kanji, the Japanese characters that Japanese people use to communicate. Basically, one form of their "letters." People here use their cellphones and text-messaging so much that they never write anymore. Like cursive, and anything else that is a "use it or lose it"-type thing, kanji is slowly fading away. Computers are also to blame, but computers aren't as widespread or popular here in Japan as in the US. Slowly getting there, but not the same nonetheless. However, add the computers to the cellphones and now we've got a problem, Houston. Considering that it seems that everyone has a cellphone (including middle-schoolers), the younger generation is losing the ability to communicate in written form.

Personally, I believe this is serious. However, most of the people that I talk to don't really give it much thought. Kind of a c'est la vie type of deal. Way I see it though is this: English is increasingly popular with the Japanese. More and more foreign words (English, as well as others) are being adopted into the language. Eventually, the younger generations are going to tire of some of the kanji and replace many of them with borrowed words or word combinations made up of foreign words (i.e.- "speed down" means "slow down," to them, but doesn't mean anything to us, even though we understand the connotation). I just wonder what the difference will be in 50-100 years. Or when computer become so ubiquitous that kids don't even write in school, rather use a keyboard (or whatever we'll use in the future for data input).

I hadn't thought about this, but in cultures where the written language consists of hundreds of characters, and mastery of the written language could take years, typing must be a very attractive alternative (although I would think that a kanji keyboard must have so many characters that it would be very difficult to master as well).

When I was in college, my philosophy professor told us that Mandarin Chinese (which he spoke fluently) was such a difficult and complex language that typing ten words a minute was considered "expert."

And since he told me that twenty-five years ago, probably 90% of those details are absolutely incorrect.

There's a gaming connection here, believe it or not. Yesterday, over at Kotaku, I saw a story about a console-style RPG (featuring Knucles from the Sonic series)--that is used to teach Kanji. And it does even more than that--here's an excerpt from the game site
Gameplay is similar to traditional console RPGs, with the exception of the battles. In these battles enemies take on the form of Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji or Japanese, Indonesian, & German vocabulary.

Knuckles in China Land contains all the characters from the Hiragana and Katakana syllabries, over 6000 Kanji characters (1000 of them are ordered from 'more common' to 'less common'), and hundreds of Japanese, Indonesian, & German words.

If you are not satisfied with the included content, you are free to add your own using the included Vocabulary Editor.

It's a PC game (although it is accurate when they say it's "console style"). I've downloaded it but haven't installed it yet. I'd like to learn some Kanji (or Katakana--whatever is the language used in most game menus for Japanese games), but never thought I'd find a way to learn it that would be interesting. So I may give this a try and I'll let you know how it goes.


There's a very interesting article over at MSNBC about geometry, and here's an excerpt:
Using a series of nonverbal tests, scientists claim to have uncovered core knowledge of geometry in villagers from a remote region of the Amazon who have little schooling or experience with maps and speak a language without the mathematical language of geometry.

Amazing, and they even have the test questions included if you're curious. Here's the link:

Fossils 1, Fossil Hunters 0

If you've never been fossil hunting, let me give you an idea of how it works. Imagine a ten-story building. Now imagine that you were in charge of demolishing that building. You supervised a team that set explosive charges so that the rubble would collapse inwards, not damaging the surrounding buildings. The big day arrives, you press the button, and BOOM. The building collapses perfectly into a giant mound of rock and debris.

Then your boss calls, tells you he left a dime in the break room on the second floor last week, and wants you to sift through the rubble until you find it.

Welcome to fossil hunting.

We didn't find any shark's teeth. We did look through approximately one million pieces of shale in thirty mph winds on the hottest day I have ever seen in January. And we were going up, and down, and up a rocky creek bed with boulders the size of beanbag chairs.

If I'm Bill Abner, I'm blowing out my ankle in the first five minutes.

I'm not, though, and even though the ligaments in my right ankle are made out of heavily overcooked spaghetti, I escaped with no damage, and there were no family casualties, either. Now we're sitting around exhausted, because climbing and bending and stooping and scooping and scraping for an hour or so turns out to be pretty tiring when you're old. Especially if you already swam a mile in the morning.

Best moment: Eli 4.5 saw a dead fish floating on the pond at Northwest Park and shouted "WOO HOO! DEAD FISH!"

As he likes to say, he's enthusiastica.

Chances of Success: Approaching Zero

We're off on a fossil hunt, believe it or not. Shoal Creek here in Austin is apparently a very rich source of fossils. I'm sure we'll have a full seismosaurus skeleton uncovered within an hour.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

360, Your E-mail, and eBay

DQ reader Chris Kessel sent me an interesting e-mail, which I've excerpted below, about the Xbox 360 shortages:
Last night, I’d decided I had to have Guitar Hero. I don’t have a PS2, but I was willing to fork out $200 for a used PS2 and Guitar Hero. So I went to Game Crazy…no copies of Guitar Hero. I tried Target…no copies. I tried Toys R Us…no copies. Every freaking store was sold out. Yea, I could maybe find an online store that had it, but I wanted it right now, I had the money in my wallet. By the time I got home I was annoyed and decided it wasn’t something I needed anyway, so I didn’t order it online.

Now, I’m largely an impulse buyer on these sorts of things (games/gadgets). If it’s not there when I decide I want it, I very likely won’t end up getting it. By the time Guitar Hero is back in stock, some other new shiny object will have captured my attention. Whatever free time I had will be sucked up and that emotional entertainment void I wanted to fill with Guitar Hero will be filled by something else.

The same is true with the Xbox 360, though its lifespan is greater so I’ll probably get it anyway. Although, I said the same thing about the original Xbox and I never ended up getting one. Halo was the Xbox title I wanted and was willing to buy the system for, but I couldn’t get an Xbox. By the time I thought about the XBox again, Halo was out on the PC, which killed any desire to get a Xbox...

Moral of the story I guess is: No supply when my interest is piqued….no sale. There are so many entertainment choices, so many new bright shiny objects all the time…

That's all true, certainly. There's no question that impulse sales are lost if a product isn't in stock. In the case of Guitar Hero, I believe that demand has so overwhelmed supply (which has manufacturing constraints because of the guitar) that online is the best way to go.

Guitar Hero is also different in that I'm sure they've already sold more units than they ever expected to, and they're going to sell 5X units beyond that. So the game is already a staggering success.

Microsoft is different. They seem to have serious supply constraints and, by definition, need a huge installed base by the time the PS3 is launched. They added a third manufacturer recently, but nothing seems to be hitting the channel since that Wal-Mart January 1 flyer. I wrote a few weeks ago that the supply issues didn't seem to be hurting them at all--yet--but Chris's e-mail made me think of something.


Remember how eBay went berserk with 360 auctions, and how those units were selling at a gigantic premium to the retail price? Well, take a look at this:

Those are auctions using "Xbox 360" as a search term, listed from highest price downwards. You have to sort through some crap auctions to get to anything, but it appears that the market for 360 bundles has essentially collapsed. There's very little premium being paid, and in some cases, they're even going for less than retail.

Unbundled units still appear to be selling for a 15-20% premium, but that's a huge difference from three or four weeks ago.

In other words, people are starting to lose interest. And that's when supply issues do start to hurt you. So Microsoft needs to get this fixed very quickly--it's no longer a benign issue for them.


Something in this country is slowly fading into oblivion.


Now if hearing that makes your head spin and you suddenly feel very old, you're not alone. I suddenly felt like I was living in another era entirely, when people still rode bicycles with gigantic front wheels and waxed their moustaches.

Here's an excerpt from the story:
Today, written communication is increasingly being replaced by computer messages. And, while adding computer proficiency requirements, school districts across Texas and the nation are de-emphasizing cursive writing in elementary school training. In higher grades, teachers are seeing less work done in cursive and more in block lettering or on computer printouts...

Traditional penmanship, like calligraphy before it, is fast becoming a lost art.

Irma Webber, a fifth-grade teacher at Kiker Elementary School in Southwest Austin, said only two of her 29 students write in cursive, and few have traditional penmanship skills.

I'm not bemoaning the end of cursive, since I can hardly read my own cursive handwriting anyway, but it's the utter separation from the world that surprises me.

Here's a link to the full article:

By the way, since I hear shrieking kids out in the living room right now, it reminds me of a conversation I had with Gloria yesterday. She said that Eli 4.5 was going to have a play date.

"Where is this play date going to take place?"

"Here," she said.

"Didn't we just have a tractor pull or something here on Monday?" I asked.

"I think what you need is a satellite office," she said.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

To Remember

We were on our way to lunch last Thursday after I picked up Eli 4.5 from pre-school.

"Daddy, do you know the man who was killed?" he asked quietly. It was an unnerving question to hear from someone whose favorite food is a lollipop.

"What? Who got killed?"

"A man," he said. "He got shot."

"Who told you this?"

"My teacher. A bad man didn't like him so he shot him and he died."

"I'm sorry, little man," I said. "I haven't read anything about that." I had no idea what he was talking about and his voice was so solemn that it was very unsettling.

"Miss Marcie said that the bad man didn't want black kids and white kids to go to school together," Eli said. And at that moment, I realized that my son was having the first socially conscious moment of his life.

"You're talking about Martin Luther King, little man," I said.

"That's right! Martin Luber King," he said.

"He was a hero and we have a special day on Monday to honor him, I said.

"Why was he a hero?" Eli asked.

"Because our country was was doing some very bad things and he wanted to stop them. And instead of trying to stop them by being violent and fighting, he peacefully protested and got other people to join him. And so many people joined him that he made our country change."

"I would be very sad if I couldn't go to school with Ali and Arjun D.," Eli said.

"I know," I said. "And you won't ever have to worry about that."

I don't mention being proud of Eli very often because I don't want to sound like an overbearing parent. I was very proud of him this time, though, because he was able to treat a serious subject with respect, and he wanted to understand what had happened.

It made me sad yesterday to see what happened on Martin Luther King Day in this country. Nothing, basically. MSNBC.com had pushed the story off its "most important story" spot by 11:00 a.m. in favor of some stupid story about credit. Most other sites barely mentioned it.

It consistently stuns me that most people think the civil rights movement is "completed." They consider it finished work. It astonishes me that anyone would think that over a century of slavery along with six decades of severe, institutionalized racism (via the Jim Crow laws passed after a series of heinous Supreme Court decisions culminating in Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896) could be unwound in forty years, or even a hundred. In this country, based on its history, the civil rights movement will never be "completed." It will never be finished. Not just for black people, but for everyone.

If you've never read the text of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream Speech," which is one of the most singularly beautiful and moving speeches ever written, here's a link:

I don't think there's anything more inspiring to me than a man who can change the world without picking up a gun.

Your Guitar Hero Post for Tuesday

Cowboys From Hell on Hard is mocking me. I've passed 28 of 30 songs on Hard difficulty, and 22 of 30 on Expert, but I'm still being mocked.

Several readers (with Michael O'Reillybeing the first) sent in the link to a mod for the Guitar Hero guitar that makes it wireless. See how to do it here:

Here's a note from DQ reader Jason Nachtrab:
My wife's parents are visiting this weekend and we got them to try it. So far the highlight has been my father-in-law rocking out to "You Got Another Thing Comin" FOUR TIMES because he wanted to beat my wife's high score. Awesome.

Then, from a follow-up:
3:30 this afternoon.
Mother-in-law: "Well, we probably ought to think about heading home."
Father-in-law: "Hang on, I need to rock for a while first. Then we'll go."

We all need to rock for a while. No question.

Your E-Mail + Links

Lots of good e-mail--thank you as always.

DQ reader Frank Regan sends in a link to a very nasty story indicating that Symantec has been hiding a rootkit from users. That's right--Symantec. Here's the link:

Jeffrey Haas sends in a link to an excellent talk on game design given by Raph koster. I don't agree with all of it, but it's very thoughtful and well worth reading.
Also please note that for the first time in the history of this column, I managed to spell Raph's name without inserting an "l."

Jason Price let me know that he's posted an interview with the Director of Sins of a Solar Empire, and you can find it here:

David Gloier sends in the fabulous news that Popular Mechanics is having a new sweepstakes: to win an earthmover. Here's an excerpt from the sweepstakes announcement:
Some magazines give away 12-piece cookware sets or, if you're lucky, a trip to Hawaii. We're giving away the RC-30 Posi-Track, a track loader made by ASV that's worth $23,134.

Greatest contest ever. Here's the link: http://www.popularmechanics.com/survey/1854731.html.

DQ Hall of Famer Andy Singel sends in a link to an old but classic list: "How to be a Successful Evil Overlord." Very funny, if you haven't already seen it (and still funny to me when I read it again). Here's the link:

Barri Williams let me know that the deadline for the Xfire moviemaking contest (which I've mentioned previously) has been extended to February 6. Full contest information here:

DQ reader and Future Nobel Prize Winner Brian Pilnick sends in a link to an excellent Circuit City game clearance sale. No PC titles, but some great deals on console games.

Finally, DQ reader John Richards let me know that in 1988, George Rogers (a running back who was first pick in the NFL draft) did play in a Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins. So when I wrote that no running back who had been first pick in the draft since 1965 had played in a Super Bowl, I was incorrect.

Those links should ensure that you get absolutely nothing worthwhile done this morning. Glad I could help.

Monday, January 16, 2006

It Is A Tale Told By An Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

The international conspiracy against me began at 11:30 on Saturday. I was about halfway into a two thousand yard swim when I my goggles separated.


By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.
--William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Not surprisingly, this ended my swim. Had I known then what I know now, I would have immediately searched the pool area for a man wearing a trench coat, or whatever is fashionable for international agents to wear these days. Gauchos, perhaps.

That afternoon, my PC speakers gave up the ghost. To remove my subwoofer from its secure location under my desk, I require four city workers, a bulldozer, and one of those dudes with the moustache and the two-way radio and a hardhat because--well, just because without that guy not working, the whole not-working attitude of the crew might start to erode.

Not thirty minutes later, we left for a birthday party. At the mall.

On the way, Gloria said something and I smiled. She may have thought it was a grimace. She said "Oh, I think you have something in your teeth." I knew she was right, because I'd had this little black speck jammed in-between two of my teeth for about an hour.

In retrospect, a tracking device. But we never know that kind of shit when we really need to know it.

I spent the next fifteen minutes of the drive surreptitiously trying to get that speck out with my tongue. You know exactly what I'm talking about. Then Gloria said "I think it's still there" and I started laughing. She said "I thought maybe you forgot," and I would have answered her but I couldn't, because I think my tongue was cramping.

When we got to the mall, the parking lot was jammed. It was the middle of January and there were no parking spaces. I let Gloria and Eli off at the entrance, then parked, showing my passport three times along the way.

Then I spent five minutes trying to get that damned speck out of my teeth. That little piece of pepper wasn't stuck in my teeth--it was installed.

I caught up with Gloria and Eli. "Sorry," I said, "I was trying to get that thing out of my teeth."

"Oh, I'm glad you got it out," Gloria said.

"I didn't," I said. "It's not leaving. I gave it a name. I'm not calling it a speck any more--it's a sidekick."

This birthday party was at a place called The Inflatables, which is an indoor children's playground, basically, that's filled with, well, giant inflatable stuff. If you can remember carnival favorite The Moon Walk when you were a kid, imagine ten better versions of that, along with climbing and sliding.

Here's the thing about The Inflatables, though: that stuff has to stay inflated. And that takes motors. And the sound of those motors and the rushing air sound like an airplane where you're sitting in the single loudest seat. Well, if you were sitting in a plane with a hundred five year olds, all of whom are screaming at the same time. This was the first time I'd ever been at this place on a Saturday afternoon. With three birthday parties going on simultaneously.

I was stone deaf in thirty minutes, and only had an hour and a half to go. I skipped the pizza because we were going to stop and have dinner on the way home, but I was starving, so it was tough. Five minutes before the party ended, Eli 4.5 banged heads with another kid. Not hard, but two solid hours of hyper-activity had him exhausted and on the edge, and he started bawling. And couldn't stop.

So instead of a nice, relaxing dinner, I carried Eli for about two hundred yards through the mall, we got in the car, and we wound up at the McDonald's drive-through on the way home.

This wasn't as much of a disaster as it sounds, because I really like McDonald's baked apple pies. So even though the day has been a total disaster, this was going to be a nice moment. "I'd like a kid's meal with milk, a large Diet Coke, and an apple pie," I said to the speaker.

"We're out of apple pie," said the female voice.

They were out of apple pie. I've been going to McDonald's for almost forty years and they've never been out of anything.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
--William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

It was at that point that I realized what I was dealing with: a conspiracy against me on an international level. "How did you know it was me?" I demanded.

There was a long pause. "Voice-comp," was her hesitant answer.

"And the tracking device stuck between my teeth?" I asked.

"Not us," she said. "Maybe the Bulgarians."

You might think that since they knew I was on to them, that the op would be called off.

Not a chance.

On Sunday, the best pro football playoff game this year was taking place in Chicago. It was a bruising, brilliant game, and I'm sure you assume that I was home in front of the television, watching in all its high-definition glory.

And I was, during the first half. During the second half, I was at the movies.

I went to the lobby and called my friend Mike after about thirty minutes. "I'm thirty minutes into a two and a half hour film version of Pride and Prejudice," I said. "I want you to drive down here and kill me."

He laughed, totally unaware of the events of the last two days. I think.

"I'll go G. Gordon Libby and stand on the corner. You'll be home in fifteen minutes."

Here's the crazy thing: I like Jane Austen's books. And I can even tolerate movies based on her books--when Emma Thompson is in them. But this was the most torturous, half-witted adaptation I've ever seen.

It saw stupid and raised.

Here's the thing about every shitty, slow moving adaptation of a Jane Austen book: the camera moves. Continuously. It never stops, because it gives the illusion that something is actually happening. Trees sway. Candlelight flickers wildly. Schools of insects fly across the screen. Everything moves but the plot.

It's like focusing a camera on the one drop of water trickling down a glacier to make you believe that the glacier is moving.

And then there were the horses.

A horse, a horse. My kingdom for a horse!--William Shakespeare, King Richard III

Dear God, in every historical drama every horse must be constantly galloping. Need a tomato for a salad? Harness the horses! We must leave for the fields forthwith!

The only contribution this film made to the cinematic canon was giggling. Women and girls giggled constantly in this film. The first thirty minutes, as far as I could tell, consisted of an establishing shot, a dance, and giggling.

Even Gloria, who dearly loves Jane Austen, knew the ugly truth. At one particularly heinous moment of stupidity, she looked at me and we both laughed. "This is horrible!" she said, and indeed it was.

When the lights finally came on, hours or perhaps days later, I turned to Gloria. "Do we get our finisher's t-shirts in the lobby?" I asked.

"I feel I must inform you," I said on the way home, "that I am presently the victim of an international conspiracy."

"Sure you are," she said.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
--William Shakespeare, Hamlet

That was all right, though, because today was going to be better. I had a holiday from work, and Gloria and Eli were meeting some kids at the park. The only way all four kids and two moms would be coming to our house for three hours, Gloria assured me, would be if it rained.

Well, hell, it hasn't rained here for three months. We're in such a severe drought condition that it's actually illegal to grill anything outside right now. One spark and fifty thousand acres are on fire. The weather forecast listed a ten percent chance of rain, and that was purely a hopeful courtesy.

So when I woke up this morning and looked outside, of course it was raining. No problem, I thought. I'll go swim. That way, I wouldn't be swimming tomorrow, and I'd have some extra time to write while Eli was at pre-school. So off I went to 24 Hours Dungeon of Fitness, which as Steven Wright used to say, is open twenty-four hours but not in a row.

I've swum at this gym probably a hundred times. I've never seen more than eight people in this pool at any time in the last year (except for water aerobics classes). I walked in and there were twelve people--two in each of the four lanes with dividers, plus four more people sharing an undivided lane and a mini-lane that is only twenty yards long. Plus on top of that, there were three people waiting. That's almost double the people that I have ever seen in the pool before.

After a sizable wait, I wound up in the full-length, undivided lane. I proceeded to swim a mile in the same manner that one would weave through a parking lot, at the mall, in December. People were hippo-kicking and walking with giant water shoes and just wandering around in complete confusion. All in my lane. At one point, a woman was just standing at the end of the lane. She didn't have goggles on, she wasn't swimming, she wasn't even moving. She was just standing there. In my way.

"Your cover's been blown," I said. That was the last I saw of her, although I later heard the whirring of helicopter blades on the roof. An emergency agent extraction, I guessed.

On the way home, though, I did the only sensible thing: I initiated countermeasures. I stopped at McDonald's on the way home and ate two apple pies.

And it only cost me five bucks to get a stranger to buy them for me.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Megadeath in Mexico

The February 2006 issue of Discover magazine has a fascinating article titled "Megadeath in Mexico."

Here's the opening paragraph:
When Hernando Cortes and his Spanish army of fewer than a thousand men stormed into Mexico in 1519, the native population numbered about 22 million. By the end of the century, following a series of devastating epidemics, only 2 million people remained. Even compared with the casualties of the Black Death, the mortality rate was extraordinarily high. Mexican epidemiologist Rodolfo Acuna-Soto refers to it as the time of "megadeath." The toll forever altered the culture of Mesoamerica and branded the Spanish as the worst kind of conquerors, those from foreign lands who kill with their microbes as well as their swords.

As it turns out, though, that might be wrong. Which makes for an incredibly interesting article.

Here's the thing. Smallpox has always been blamed for this population decimation. But Acuna-Soto found some anomalies in the historical data. For one, the Aztecs were already familiar with smallpox--they called it zahuatl. There were outbreaks of that disease in 1520 and 1531, and they killed an estimated eight million people. However, the epidemics in 1545 and 1576, which were even more severe, were from a disease that the Aztecs referred to as cocolitzli, and this disease was "far more virulent" than zahuatl.

Acuna-Soto also found a manuscript that had remained unpublished for over four centuries, written by Francisco Hernandez, who was the personal physician to Phillip II of Spain. Hernandez was sent to Mexico and performed autopsies on victims of the epidemic. His descriptions, after being finally translated from their original Latin, described not smallpox but a kind of hemorrhagic fever.

So Acuna-Soto kept digging and found--drought. The Aztecs kept detailed records relating to agriculture, and each of the cocolitz epidemics were preceded by years of severe drought. Acuna-Soto was able to verify the accuracy of the records by consulting dendrochronologists who were able to use the tree rings in Douglas fir trees to verify the periods of severe drought. In fact, they were the most severe droughts in Mexico for nearly five hundred years.

That led Acuna-Soto to what he feels is the real answer: a hemorrahagic virus (not unlike the hantavirus) that had been dormant in its hosts--most likely, rodents. The severe drought forced the rodent population to live in extreme densities and under extreme stress as they clustered near available water, which greatly magnified the spread of disease among the rodent population. Then, when the rain started, their subsequently more normal distribution pattern brought them into close contact with humans, and once the virus was transmitted to humans, it could then be passed from human to human (blood, saliva, sweat). And the contemporaneous accounts of the disease and its symptoms closely correspond to the symptoms of some kind of hemorrhagic virus.

It's a stunning piece of scientific detective work, and the entire article is just amazing. It's not available online yet, but the magazine's well worth picking up, and if it gets added to the website, I'll post the link.

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