November 2005 Archives

Firefox 1.5 Releases


Firefox 1.5 available
Detailed list of what's new in Firefox 1.5
I've only been using it for a couple of hours now -- I haven't noticed anything earth-shattering yet, but it does seem to do a better job stopping pop-unders.

Are Video Games Art?

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A little while ago, God of War designer David Jaffe wrote a scathing editorial on games stating that people who write about games are not true Journalists, and are not in the Games Industry.
Gamespot editor Bob Colayco fired back a rebuttalclaiming that the focus of game journalism is on the game, not the people who make the game.
Former Game Designer Ron Gilbert throws his two cents in as well, on the side of it not being art because "true art is something that makes you think (and not in the puzzle-solving way) long after you're done with it. It's something that changes a little bit of who you are."
Completely unaware of this topic unfolding in Game Dev Land,
Roger Ebert chimes in on Video Games, considering "video games inherently inferior to film and literature".
Having just finished my eighth year in the game development industry, I've heard this topic brought up many times. I've been to academic lectures on gaming, I've heard developers speak at the Game Developer's Conference, and of course I've had my own discussions about it next to the water cooler at work. At the Digital Arts and Culture conference in Bergen (August 2nd-4th 2000) Jesper Juul presented a paper on What Computer Games can and Can't Do, attempting
" to create a theoretical framework that can tell us A) what is a game, B) what is not a game, C) give us the terminology and distinctions needed to describe historical developments in games", in short, to form a game theory that applies to computer games. A couple of years ago at GDC (San Jose 2004), Will Wright brought up in his talk the need for the games industry to critique games instead of just reviewing them if games are to make the transition to being an art. (Which may well be the inspiration for David Jaffe's statement)
Which all comes back to the question -- are video games art? My answer? It depends on the video game. There are some games out there that are definitely instruments of art -- without Super Mario Bros. we wouldn't have art pieces like the four-story Super Mario Mural made of Post-It-Notes, of course, that's a bit like saying that without Jesus there would be no "The Last Supper". So clearly, inspiring artwork does not by itself label the inspiration as art. However, some functional objects that are designed by man double as both art as well as inspiration for art. An example of this would be the new VW Beetle -- clearly functional, but artsy enough to earn a place inside museums (it is an example of retrofuturism). We can see that just because something works isn't enough to exclude it as being "art".
We see art in everyday life -- from the product design of the package you picked up at the grocery store, to the advertisements in magazines to the sculptures that line the fronts of people's houses. It seems that we are surrounded by art. Is literature art? Yes. Is film art? Yes. Is opera art? Yes. Is ballet an art? Yes. Is playing an instrument art? Yes. Is playing a sport like Tennis art? No. What about something like figure skating? Figure skating has elements of dance and hours and hours of practice and rehearsals, and yet, I think I'd be hard pressed to find someone who would say that figure skating is an art.
The question then becomes what differentiates art from sports? One might try and say that when you have a team working for a common goal, it turns from being an art to being a sport -- but clearly that is not so, or else orchestras and theater performances would be labeled sport and not art. It seems to me that there is no real difference between labeling it an art or a sport so long as the person with whom you are labeling it with agrees with you.
If I as an artist were to pick up a hammer, prop it up 45 degrees and glue it in that position, I could call it art. Some might disagree and call it merely a tool (or even more simply a hammer propped up and glued), but I, as the artist, hold the right to proclaim it as art.
That is the way that I think video games should be handled -- if the creators of the game want them considered as art, then they should be considered art. If they just want them considered as games, that's fully within their rights to do so. However, given the amount of artistic resources required in a game these days, I think it does a large discredit to the people working on the games not to consider the work they do an art. Game studios have musicians, artists and animators just like Hollywood does. Games also have a large amount of engineers to build the framework for the artists -- the stage builders so the artists can perform. If movies and television are considered art, then games should too.
I consider game journalists an essential part of the games industry -- the games industry is not just the developers working in the industry -- but everyone connected as well -- that goes from the disk manufacturers, to the people who design the boxes to the marketing and sales people (who ultimately decide if a game is made or not), to the guy who sells the box to the customer. Everyone in that cycle -- from the designer to the store owner is part of the games industry. The game journalist is an essential part -- with so many games out there these days, they provide the reviews that let the buyer know whether a game is worth their money or not. Yes, game journalists might not be as focused on the personalities behind the game -- but let's be honest here, a game is a collaborative project between dozens of people -- while one person may have designed it, it was the art director who took the concept artist's design and gave it to a modeler, who then gave it to a texture artist, who then passed it along to an animator, who passed it to a programmer to put it into the game. So while Mr. Jaffe wants to play the part of big celebrity name (and is whining about why he doesn't get asked more questions about himself and not the game), the truth of the matter is that there are a hundred more people who worked on God of War whose contributions are far more visible than David Jaffe's work.
As for Ron Gilbert's assertation that art is "something that changes a little bit of who you are", games and the creation process of games have certainly had that effect on me, else I would not be in this industry now.

links for 2005-11-29


Book: Never Let Me Go


From the Land of Smog to the Land of Fog...


Returning from L.A. always takes a little more time than going down on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. On the way up, we counted 14 cars involved in 4 accidents -- 3 of the accidents involved 4 cars each, while the other was a minor fender bender. The drivetime wasn't too bad, 7 hours including one refueling stop. It's nice to be home.

links for 2005-11-27


Something to chuckle at


Seven Skulls, the online website of artist Justin Parks has some really funny game related comics. A couple of them feature Diablo II, a game that I labored on for several years. There's something pleasing about seeing something you helped create inspire art and humor. Warning: some of the images contain blood and violence, and an occassional swear word or two. The views expressed are not my own, but they are pretty damn funny.

My favorites are:
N3 vs. Diablo #4

N3 vs. Diablo #5

N3 vs. Diablo #7

WoW #2: Orc Newbie Quests
WoW #3: Undead Newbie Quests

City of Heroes

Lord of the Rings #1

Lord of the Rings #2

links for 2005-11-26


Gamers Bored with Sequels


Analyst Says Sequels Turning Off Consumers

Brilliant. It takes a business analyst to point out to the publishers what their flaws are -- but for a game developer trying to develop a new IP, a new IP is seen as a liability -- something untested, and potentially money-losing. A sequel in the games industry has always been thought of as being a sure money maker -- and unlike Hollywood, it usually sells better than the original, and causes sales of the previous title to rise. The danger in the sequels is that with every iteration, less and less change from sequel to sequel, taking small minute steps rather than large revolutionary changes in the gameplay. Players become fatigued with keeping up with the franchise, and sometimes the franchise develops features that annoy the formerly franchise faithful who then continue playing the old version of the game.

Microsoft 360


R.I.P N-Gage


Nokia calls it quits for the N-Gage

Back when the N-Gage was announced to us game developers, we all felt that the N-Gage was going to be a horrible failure. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way -- without the developer support, the platform languished -- but the N-Gage phone was a game platform first, which made the phone portion mostly unusable -- for one thing, using the N-Gage as a phone made you look like a techno-neanderthal because of the particular way you had to hold the phone (the mic and earpiece were on the side of the phone, rather than the face or back of the phone).

I'm trying to think of other devices I'd like to disappear, but natural selection has already rendered most of them extinct.

I wish I had courage like you

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Pat Morita, 'Karate Kid's' Mr. Miyagi, dies

LOS ANGELES, California (AP) -- Actor Pat Morita, whose portrayal of the wise and dry-witted Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid" earned him an Oscar nomination, has died. He was 73.

My memories of Pat Morita have always been tied to "The Karate Kid" and the Mr. Miyagi role. I never saw the first movie in the theaters (though I did see The Karate Kid II at the theater), but I must have seen it a dozen times on video through jr. high and high school either in class or in reruns on TV. Growing up, there was a severe shortage of male Asian-American role models in media. You had the kid who played Short Round (from Indiana Jones) and you had Mr. Miyagi. And then you had the whole slew of male asian american actors who were generically cast as bad guys -- yakuza, triad, old chinatown gangsters. To have an Asian-American in a major movie role be a good guy instead of a villain, it was a pretty big deal at the time. I remember asking my dad after we had seen the movie if he knew karate -- and I remember being disappointed afterwards that my dad would never be as cool as Mr. Miyagi. I've since realized that my dad is cool for other reasons, but knowledge of martial arts is not one of them, and that for all the things Pat Morita does in the movie, well, he doesn't actually know Karate either.

Growing up, having seen the Karate Kid, lines were quoted throughout my childhood, and being in Southern California, we all knew where certain scenes of the movie were filmed, most notably the mini golf place, because it was the closest location to where we lived.

Pat Morita gave Asian-Americans growing up in the eighties a role model, and reinforced the idea through these movies that fighting is not a solution. He survived spinal tuberculosis as a child (with which he was told he would never walk), and the Japanese Internment camps. We'll miss you Mr. Morita.

Can you resist consumerism for one day?


Today is Buy Nothing Day.

Thanksgiving Feasting


Driving home on Thanksgiving Day my sister and I made fabulous time -- arriving in a scant 6 and a half hours. There was one six-mile stretch where traffic crawled, but the rest of the way was quick and smooth. It was eerie driving in empty parts of LA that I've only ever observed as a parking lot -- it was as if I was seeing the place for the first time.

From the moment we stepped into the door until the time when we retired for the evening, my sister and I were besieged with wonderful, delicious food. The following list will likely torture anyone counting calories and food nutritionists.

(in order of appearance):

fruits (strawberries, grapes, watermelon)

soup (chicken herb and vegetables)

salad (lettuce, grape tomatoes, thousand island dressing)

chicken and bacon hotpockets

candied walnuts and pecans

glazed yams in butter

homemade cranberry sauce

mashed potatoes

vegetables (brocolli and cauliflower)

butterball turkey

turkey gravy


pillsbury crescent rolls

homemade pumpkin pie

Reverse is very good driving food -- better than Pocky for it's ability to not to become all melted and glued together. And it comes in two bags so you don't feel bad when you eat an entire bag.

Dual Layer Goodness


Amazon currently has
Memorex Double-Layer 2.4x DVD+R 25-Pack Spindle for 49.99. At just $2 a disc, it's one of the best deals I've seen for dual-layer media (considering that a year ago, dual layer media was about $10 a disc)

San Francisco Auto Show


Sunday morning, I went to Moscone to check out the SF Auto Show. They had the typical car makers and manufacturers, along with some assorted small businesses selling car-related products. I did notice however that in the American auto manufacturers booths (with the exception of the Chrysler Phaeton (Flickr), the crowds were virtually non-existent. The crowds seemed to be gathered mainly at hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles as well as the luxury manufacturers -- this may be due more to regional differences than anything else, but Monday's announcement from GM regarding layoffs shows that there are definitely issues at GM. My own guess at GM's problems is that GM vehicles lack style at the moment -- there are few cars in GM's stable that manage to catch buyers' attention -- and those that do are excluded from their special sales, so there's no additional revenue coming from that direction.

Flickr: San Francisco Auto Show.

I got my head looked at today


I got an EEG and fMRI scan today. The lab next to the MRI machine is pretty nifty -- loaded with computers and other electronic equipment, there's a glass window that looks into the room with the MRI machine. The MRI machine looks like a big metal cube with a hollowed out tube. There's a sliding tray that enters the tube -- that's where I got to lie down on for the length of the scan. For the EEG scan, I got to wear the cap. The cap looks like something crossed between a katamari and something you'd see described in a cyberpunk novel. There's a bunch of electrodes and sponges that cover the cap and saline solution is injected through a techno-pipette into the sponge. There's a big huge cable that comes out the back of the cap (approximately in between where the ear and the neck is) which has two huge sockets to connect into other electronic devices. I also had electrodes taped to my face and my chest. I plugged my ears with earplugs and then put on headphones so I could hear instructions during testing. You go into the room (after removing all your metallic items) and lie there while the big huge noisy magnet takes pictures of the head.

When I went to the library later, I passed through their security checkpoint and set it off. I was thinking maybe the fMRI scan gave me the power to set off anti-theft deterrents, but when it walked through to exit, it didn't go off, so I suppose that I'm just a plain old human being. Though if I suddenly manifest superpowers, you'll all know why.

I really feel like watching About a Boy (Widescreen Edition) right now. It's because I want to listen to the part where Hugh Grant talks about units, which is how he's managed to divide up the time that he spends doing various activities in the course of his life. In a way, that's sort of how I feel right now.

links for 2005-11-19


Time to brush up the old resume

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Those of you who know me personally know that my company has been on shaky ground since we lost our publishing deal with EA. Today, Castaway Entertainment has decided to shut down, which means I'm out of a job and looking for work. So, if any of you know any openings for an IT person or a Technical Producer, please let me know.

Holiday Goal


Thanksgiving is right around the corner. And right after Turkey Day is the dreaded Black Friday, the herald of the X-Day. This year for X-mas, I will attempt to do all my shopping online. I will not step foot in a single mall, nor will I pick up any goodies at Target to stuff stockings. It will be 100% online purchases. This should also be a hint for those of you who don't yet have an Amazon Wishlist to make one -- it makes my job easier, and you get what you want. Win-win.

It's not a bird or a plane...


links for 2005-11-18


Harry Potter IV

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Harry Potter IV comes out tomorrow (or tonight, if you go to a midnight showing). It's rated PG-13, which to me, always means it's violent or scary or disturbing. I think in most cases I find PG-13 movies scarier than those rated R. I'm not quite sure why, maybe it's because PG-13 movies are targeted towards younger audiences, and so when bad things happen to the (usually younger) characters, I just cringe, and maybe that's why PG-13 movies are so much more traumatic for me.

The Cargo Loophole


Thank goodness the people at GAO are doing their job. A recent report of theirs shows that most airline cargo isn't checked for explosives.

Nearly all of the cargo in the nation's aviation system goes unchecked for explosives, and policies aimed at thwarting cargo bombs on passenger planes are flawed, according to a government report due out Wednesday.

Who Watches the Watchers?


Wired has a great article by Bruce Schneier called The Real Story of the Rogue Rootkit, about the Sony DRM Rootkit. Schneier asks the questions that a lot of us have been wondering since the rootkit was revealed

    The story to pay attention to here is the collusion between big media companies who try to control what we do on our computers and computer-security companies who are supposed to be protecting us.

    Initial estimates are that more than half a million computers worldwide are infected with this Sony rootkit. Those are amazing infection numbers, making this one of the most serious internet epidemics of all time -- on a par with worms like Blaster, Slammer, Code Red and Nimda.

    What do you think of your antivirus company, the one that didn't notice Sony's rootkit as it infected half a million computers? And this isn't one of those lightning-fast internet worms; this one has been spreading since mid-2004. Because it spread through infected CDs, not through internet connections, they didn't notice? This is exactly the kind of thing we're paying those companies to detect -- especially because the rootkit was phoning home.

    But much worse than not detecting it before Russinovich's discovery was the deafening silence that followed. When a new piece of malware is found, security companies fall over themselves to clean our computers and inoculate our networks. Not in this case.

Michael Piller (1948 - 2005)


Somehow, in my busyness of November, the death of Star Trek writer Michael Piller escaped my notice.

    Michael Piller, best known to television viewers around the world as the executive producer/co-creator of more than 500 hours of Star Trek, lost his long battle with an aggressive form of head & neck cancer on Tuesday, November 1, 2005 at 4:51 a.m. at his home in Los Angeles. He was 57. He is survived by his wife Sandra, daughter Brent and son Shawn.

    Michael served as creative consultant for Star Trek: Voyager, which he co-created, until the series concluded in May 2001. He also co-created Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and served as executive producer on Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989-1994), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1992-1995) and Star Trek: Voyager (1994-1996). During the 1994-95 television season, Michael also co-created and executive produced the UPN network series Legend.

    In 1998, he wrote and co-produced "Star Trek: Insurrection," the ninth installment in the enormously successful Star Trek feature film franchise for Paramount Pictures.

    In 1999, Michael partnered with his son Shawn Piller to form Piller2, Inc., a Hollywood-based production company where they developed and produced new television and motion picture properties. The father/son duo are also the co-creators of USA Network's top-rated cable drama series The Dead Zone, and the ABC Family Channel's Wildfire.

    Michael, in addition to serving on the Advisory Board for the Department of Communications Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, gave a major grant to his alma mater to help launch a nationally distinctive screenwriting program.

Piller is the one responsible for turning TNG around. Watch Season 2 (Pre-Piller) and then watch Season 3 (Piller as head writer). It's a world of difference. Trek wouldn't have been the same without him. "The Best of Both Worlds" which was written by Piller is consistantly voted as one of the best episodes.


links for 2005-11-17


Do Robot Dogs Dream of Electric Sheep?


One of my co-workers got an i-Cybie for his birthday, and he brought it in today. All afternoon I've been hearing the metallic recorded bark and the whirring and clicking of robo-pup gears in the cubes outside my office. The dog is pretty strange -- in the dark, it looks like an evil Terminator-inspired dog with it's vaguely dog skull-like head and glowing red eyes.

You control it with a remote control, and it does various tricks, such as head stands, bowing and the typical doggie commands. It'll also wander on its own, and guard (though none of us have figured out how to trigger the guard). I'm impressed by the joint system on the pup, but ultimately the i-Cybie is one of those toys that's essentially very expensive and somewhat useless.

But seeing this robotic dog got me thinking... why are people making robotic dogs and cats when the market could be so much bigger for other animals? I mean, I can see lions, tigers and bears being just as popular as the cats and dogs. Open it up to mythical and extinct creatures like unicorns and dinosaurs, and I think you've got something that could be popular. A robotic pikachu? I think kids would go nuts for it.

i-Cybie available at Amazon.Com

links for 2005-11-16


links for 2005-11-15


Game On!


This afternoon, ota and I visited the Tech Museum in San Jose to catch the exhibition of Game On. It's an interesting display of classic and modern games, though I did feel that certain genres were overrepresented while others categories were severely lacking. There was a decent mix of PC and console games, though there were definitely games that I wish had made an appearance, because they were trend-setting in their own way.

One of these days, I'll have to make a list of the games that I think are landmark games that illustrate a sort of history of video games.

Flickr: A Day at the Tech Museum

Ten Years Ago


XBOX 360 is Backwards


Microsoft just released their list of backward compatible games for the XBOX 360. These are games that are playable for the original XBOX that should work with the new XBOX 360, with the caveat that you have the Hard Drive accessory (mainly because the original XBOX had a hard drive, while the XBOX 360 core system does not.

I think Microsoft is blowing their chances with the 360. I think they are making some pretty crucial mistakes with this new system, mainly stemming from the two system configuration approach, which has marketing written all over it. The stripped down version called "XBOX 360 Core System" and the other "XBOX 360". XBOX 360 has all the trimmings of course, while the core comes with none of the goodies such as hi-def, wireless controllers, internet ready, etc.

The Core System basically only exists for the purposes of marketing a lower price point than would otherwise be available.

Game developers hate this approach as well, as it means games much either be written in such a way that you're either writing for the lowest common denominator (the core system) or you're writing for the high end, meaning that potentially your market might not be as big as it could be or you're writing code for both high and low end systems.

The reason that consoles have worked in the market for so long is not due to any technological advantage, but for the same reason why Apple has been successful with the iPod -- because it's simple and it works. PC games require looking at the requirements, making sure the hardware spec is met, and then there's the installation process. Consoles take all that away -- installing is painless, and playing the game is as simple as putting the game media in the slot, and turning on the power button. No icons to click, no commands to type, no memory to manage, no drivers to load, it's incredible how convenient it is to just insert disc and go. But now, Microsoft with the XBOX 360 is shifting it in reverse -- we're going back to the days of looking at requirements and checking compatibility.

One Piece at a Time


This story of an auto worker at DaimlerChrysler caught stealing auto parts from the factory brought to mind Johnny Cash's classic "One Piece at a Time", a song about a GM autoworker putting together a Cadillac from stolen parts.

links for 2005-11-12


On studios and the future of productions


Just had an interesting thought regarding a trend I've been noticing lately. When we were making Diablo II, we had a very small team and 5 years to make the game. That game was the pinacle of 2D graphics. To make a game with the same amount of content using 3d graphics takes substantially more man power and more time. But the encouragement these days seems to be a quick turnaround time for the game -- a shorter development cycle -- so instead of 5 years, you might have 18 month dev cycles with 3 times as many people working on the project. Is this the future? Short dev cycles that never give a idea a chance to mature?

Obnoxious Drivers


One of my co-workers sometimes drives a Prius to work. I went to lunch riding in his car. While we were driving to Chevy's, there was a red light, and we stopped. We were in the right hand lane, about to make a right. There's a pedestrian in front of us standing on the corner about to cross the street. We hear a honk. There's a Suburban behind us who obviously wants us to turn. There's a gas station to the right of us, so if the driver was really impatient, she could just cut through. The pedestrian is crossing in front of us. We hear another honk. To which we shake our head because the pedestrian is still in front of us. Traffic perpendicular to us is still whizzing by, so there's no way we could turn, even if we wanted to. A third honk sounds, again from the Suburban. We sit another 15 or seconds or so as the perpendicular traffic changes from green to yellow to red, and then when the light turns green we go.

I just wish I had my camera. Prius vs. Suburban. The only thing that could have been better would have been if it was a Hummer instead of a Suburban.

My co-worker told me after we arrived at our destination that when he is driving his wife's Prius, there are times where he's driving in the fast lane, going 90, a car will come up behind him, pass him before he has a chance to get out of the way and then drop to 80 in front of him. But this whole incident got me thinking about how just as much as there is anger and resentment about SUVs, there's probably an equal amount of resentment toward the Prius. So, if there are any Prius owners out there, leave a comment, I'd love to hear your stories.

And just for kicks, here's a video of an aggressive, annoying driver who get his due.

Mmm... Donut...


Today is Friday, Donut day at work. Donuts used to be brought in by our office manager , but our office manager has gone part-time, so in the interest of making sure that we have our donuts on Friday, another employee has taken over donut responsibilities. That employee brought in a box of donuts. Today is one of my co-worker's birthdays, so another of my co-workers brought in a box of krispy kremes to help celebrate. The our office manager showed up with a box of donuts. So now we have 3 boxes of donuts in the kitchen. And we just came back from Chevy's after celebrating the said employee's birthday. I think if anyone mentions food or donut we're all going to explode.

Katamari Creator Interview

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Keita Takahashi, the creator of Katamari Damacy was recently interviewed on BBC News and had the following to say about the games industry:

"Developers want to come up with fun games but ideas are judged by their sales potential. The reality is that decisions are driven by sales and marketing."

This is most certainly true. In my occupation, I've seen some great ideas be shot down by marketing and business people who don't really know games. There are definitely companies that do have people who know games run it, but many times, a good game has been torpedoed by the marketing division as being "low sales potential" or "unsellable". The role of marketing should not be telling the developer what to make or not make. The role of marketing and the business end of things should be to sell what the developer creates.

Marketing should not be in a position to dictate what the designers make, yet this is currently the model behind most game publishers. Marketing's job is to sell the product. Publishers should be able to say to their marketing people -- if you can't sell my game, then I will find marketing people who can. But this whole process of "picking games to market" has to stop. It's creating a games industry of copycat games, and the only loser here is the customer.

In fact, he says he feels slightly ashamed that much of the talk about the new machines is about more realistic looking games, rather than about using the raw power to do different things in a game.

"There are people who don't buy games at the moment but want to have fun," he said. "They want more choices and more selection."

I feel exactly as Takahashi does about the future of game consoles. The focus is on technology and realism and not on the gameplay. Gameplay exists independently of the technology, and with few exceptions, doesn't change from console to console. But in order to sell new consoles, the focus becomes "how can we create a game that shows off the cool features such that we can get gamers to move off of old console and onto new console?", instead of "is it possible that the new technology enables us to do things we previously couldn't on a console?"

While I was at Blizzard, I thought Blizzard would be my swan song in this industry. It wasn't, as my sitting here at Castaway proves that. But now, I'm thinking past Castaway and thinking that this isn't the end of the game road for me either. Maybe all the industry needs a few more people like me and Keita Takahashi to save it.

links for 2005-11-11


Think of the children!


I don't really care how adults live their lives. The way I figure, they've made their choices and now they've got to live with it. But thanks to 6 Republican adults on the Kansas Board of Education, science is lost in Kansas.Is this really in the children's best interests? I mean honestly, why stop at schools?

Here's my propsal for Kansas:

I think we need to stop immediately in Kansas and have state mandated education courses to teach Intelligent Design to everyone in the state, not just the children, but the adults too. Because how can you teach a theory so new to just the children? The adults will be educationally backward not knowing the concepts of Intelligent Design, so they must be re-educated in Intelligent Design and Darwinism. And I think we need to start with the Kansas Board of Education. After all, I'm a big believer in the punishment should fit the crime.

We should make it a requirement of the job to have to attend a 6th grade class teaching Intelligent Design, and publically televise them live (via c-span 9 with an edited version during primetime) sitting in the classroom with 12 year olds. For these four weeks, they will do nothing but participate in class as a member of the class. They will take part in all the activities as any other student would. They will take tests. And they will be graded by the public ala "American Idol". Failure is not an option -- they fail, they do it all over again.

My advice to those with children in Kansas? Move. Pack it up and go. There's better places in the world for you and your children to be.

links for 2005-11-10


The Dark Side of Hello Kitty


A British artist has made a flickr photoset of his paintings. Some are Star Wars mixed with Hello Kitty, while others are of more typical subjects.

Eight Things for November 8th

  1. My trip to Taiwan has been postponed. I've already had hours of fun playing with the new lenses. I'm really enjoying the 50mm as a general purpose lens and the 16-35 for the wide angle capabilities (although at 16, there's quite a bit of fisheye effect). I've also been using the 75-300 lens quite a bit for taking photographs of celestial objects.
  2. 3 Mini-Flickr Sets:
  3. The first two sets were taken from my driveway, while Venus was taken from the parking lot at work.
  4. I'm struggling with my writing. I want to just throw it all away, but at the same time, I know I can do this.
  5. I played electrician with my car for 3 hours today -- the GPS still doesn't work. All the electrical appears to be working. $70 dollars to diagnose the problem if I send it in to Pioneer.
  6. I didn't vote this year. My absentee ballot never came.
  7. I just found out about, and now I want to be like 'Q' (from James Bond) and create interesting new stuff.
  8. It's definitely quota time. I saw 5 cops cruising about today.

Yet Another Flaw


Microsoft warns of flaw in newer Windows versions

Microsoft Corp. warned users on Tuesday of a new "critical"-rated flaw in recent versions of Windows that could allow attackers to take control of a system by embedding malicious software code into digital images.

In short, now you can get viruses just by looking at an image on the web. Get the new patch before your machine becomes a zombie.

links for 2005-11-08


links for 2005-11-07


links for 2005-11-06


Op/Tech USA Classic Strap


One of the things I've always disliked about the Canon EOS 20D has been the low-quality camera strap that is included with it. Most likely the reason for this is that if you are buying a professional-grade camera, you're going to end up buying a better strap, but if they don't buy a better strap, the user can become a walking advertisement for Canon.

There's a couple of problems with the Canon freebie strap. First, it's one of those basic nylon/plastic straps, with a small patch of leather to provide grip -- while it's durable, it's not the most comfortable of straps. Second, it has the words "Canon", "EOS" and "Digital" boldly running across the strap making it easy for would-be thieves to identify it as a digital Canon camera.

After nearly a year of owning my camera, I finally bought my replacement strap, the
Classic Strap from Op/Tech USA. The Classic Strap is made of soft neoprene, is extremely comfortable to wear, has no identifying marks whatsoever, and even includes quick disconnects. It can be worn as a shoulder or a neck strap, and can be used for cameras, video cameras and binoculars.

Available from

Manufactured by Op/Tech USA

links for 2005-11-05




It's November. I registered for the National Novel Writing Month today.

I don't really have anything written yet, so this weekend should let me catch up. I'm probably not going to let anyone read it when I'm done unless I feel like it's something that should be read because I don't want the pressure of writing for anyone in particular. I'm writing for myself, and while that may seem selfish, I find it to be very motivating too -- I know my standards when it comes to what I read, and if I can't keep myself interested, it will be that much harder to keep any outside parties interested.

I'll be going to Taiwan to visit in the later half of the month, so I decided to buy a couple of new camera lenses to help me document my trip. I purchased the Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM Medium Telephoto Lens and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM Ultra Wide Angle Zoom Lens. They arrived this afternoon and I can't wait to use them.

Gundam Seed


Last night I sat down and watched the last volume of Gundam Seed. My first viewing of Gundam Seed was over two years ago, sometime in 2003, which was the first 13 episodes, so this series is one that I've been watching for a while.

Gundam is one of those classic Japanese animes that gets reintroduced every couple of years to a new generation of kids (who then go out and buy the plastic models of the latest series). Gundam in the United States is relatively unknown (though gaining popularly due to exposure on Cartoon Network). Their toys and models, once limited to Japanese specialty stores can now be found at almost any major retail store with a toy section.

Gundam Seed is the most recent incarnation of Gundam, and keeps the themes from the classic series while changing the characters and setting. The character design is more shojo than shonen, which can be off-putting to some, and the show does have a habit of recycling battle animation sequences. The technical issues aside, the story is interesting and addictive. It's the best rehash of the Gundam series yet, and the art style is contemporary enough to introduce young fans who may be put off by the original series' dated look.

In the Cosmic Era 71, a war is underway between the genetically modified residents of space, and the natural born humans of Earth. The Earth Alliance has been developing secret weapons on a neutral space colony, which have been discovered and stolen by the ZAFT. A young man named Kira Yamato is forced to become a Gundam pilot in order to protect his friends in the war.

Verdict: Highly Recommended

links for 2005-11-04


Former FEMA Head's e-mails


Louisiana Congressman posts e-mails from former head of FEMA Michael Brown

A PDF of Brown's e-mails

Some highlights:

"Can I quit now? Can I come home?" Brown wrote to Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of public affairs, the morning of the hurricane.

Melancon used an e-mail sent September 2, four days after the hurricane hit, to illustrate his point. On that day, Brown received a message with the subject "medical help." At the time, thousands of patients were being transported to the New Orleans airport, which had been converted to a makeshift hospital. Because of a lack of ventilators, medical personnel had to ventilate patients by hand for as long as 35 hours, according to Melancon.

The text of the e-mail reads: "Mike, Mickey and other medical equipment people have a 42-foot trailer full of beds, wheelchairs, oxygen concentrators, etc. They are wanting to take them where they can be used but need direction.

"Mickey specializes in ventilator patients so can be very helpful with acute care patients. If you could have someone contact him and let him know if he can be of service, he would appreciate it. Know you are busy but they really want to help."

Melancon said Brown didn't respond for four days, when he forwarded the original e-mail to FEMA Deputy Chief of Staff Brooks Altshuler and Deputy Director of Response Michael Lowder.

The text of Brown's e-mail to them read: "Can we use these people?"

I'm appalled by his responses and his attitude at the magnitude of the disaster. It clearly shows that he was underqualified for the position without any real understanding of the position's responsibilities or the consequences of his inaction. I suspect that anyone with any emergency training would have been more effective. I think the e-mail regarding the ventilators is the most heart-breaking of them all though -- how many more lives could have been saved had help been allowed through? People like this make me wonder -- how do they live with themselves with the consequences of their ineptitude? Do they ever really realize the lives they've destroyed? Is there ever justice administered to people like this?

links for 2005-11-03


links for 2005-11-02


links for 2005-11-01