Archive for April, 2008

Phoning it in 2: Special Edition

April 23, 2008 1 comment

Still snowed under, so here’s today’s Hober: Raph Koster and the future of gaming.

Also, something that’s been on my mind. I can’t think of any good way to turn it in to blog post, since to do it justice would need real psychology. But, here it is: experts rush in to criticize addiction to massively multiplayer online games, which almost by definition require social interaction, bonding, and community interaction. What if instead, it’s the 21st Century’s version of the concept of the Third Place, which is roundly agreed to be, in fact, beneficial?

Categories: Uncategorized

Phoning it in

April 21, 2008 Leave a comment

It’s Dead Week, and you know what that means: re-runs.

Here: Music in Video Games.

(Dead Week is the week before exams when it’s supposed to be quiet — “dead” — so you can finish term papers and projects. Half the professors take it as an opportunity to kill you with work.)

Categories: Metablog

Calculated Response, Part 3

April 18, 2008 3 comments

Almost a year ago, while my blog was still in its infancy, I issued an indictment against the responses I saw to what happened at Virginia Tech that past week. Now that we’ve gained some perspective on the event, I don’t think much has changed. Now, in some ways, those earlier words are dated. Fred Thompson had his shot at the Presidency, and it didn’t happen. Life goes on.

However, the above-documented response was echoed once again in the latest incident of college violence. This time, it was only one girl, Eve Carson. However, if anything, having one person as the focal point for all the attention makes her easier to rally around than a number of people who all might have done great things, but won’t.

Over the past weeks, I’ve variously been asked to “wear Carolina blue to honor Eve Carson’s memory” and to do likewise to, I am not making this up, “take a stand”. The first request is a manifold problem, given that not only do I have no Carolina blue clothing, but I have no memories of Eve Carson. The second request is so patently ridiculous that it’s probably best responded to in my father’s words: “Oh, yeah, the criminals will really think twice when they know you’ll change your wardrobe in response to violence.”

On the other hand, I’d like to think that I’m taking a stand, here, in these pages, especially with these more seriously-toned essays. But I’ve never taken a stand in any local public forum, because I don’t think it’ll do much good. Take the local student newspaper, for example. Following Eve Carson’s death, they printed a sidebar that listed a student’s options for self-defense on campus, which pretty much extend to folding batons and no further. I’m sure they thought they were helping the community, but they were also providing authoritative documentation for anyone who wanted on exactly how defenseless students are on campus.

So why don’t I write them a letter to the editor? Maybe even a guest editorial? Because it wouldn’t actually change anything. There is a mindset, a way of not just thinking, but living, where the best response to a criminal with a gun is to have a moment of silence. This is a mindset that casts aside actually effective solutions in favor of things that are easily accomplished and instill a sense of piousness.

You can’t change a mindset with a letter. On the other hand, I do what I can to advocate for calculated responses in long-term discussions that have the potential to shift one’s mindset, such as the Society meetings I attend whenever possible. I’m not sure if I’ll ever actually win any of them over to my way of thinking, but at least I can make them consider it.

And maybe one day, they too will be disappointed in the fact that the best that college can do to try and secure their campus is to increase police patrols. Maybe we should let people protect themselves, instead?

Categories: College, Real Life

How to learn to play guitar (or, how I learned to play guitar)

April 16, 2008 3 comments

“Awwwright, man! You totally nailed that Dragonforce guitar solo and five-starred that song. You finally beat Guitar Hero, which means it’s time to get a real six string!”

Sound daunting and expensive? Well, it is. But the good news is that in six years, when your XBox 360 is obsolete garbage, your then-very beat up guitar will still be quite serviceable. Assuming you have good strings to play it on, and some picks left, and haven’t blown out your amp at the time. But that’s really getting ahead of the game.

The first step to learning to play guitar is to upgrade the locks on your door. Once you start ripping out mad riffs, the babes are going to begin attempting to force entry into your Place of Rock (PoR). Unfortunately, the only state that allows the use of lethal force to protect yourself in such a situation is Texas, under their castle doctrine. And, if you weren’t aware before, if your music is “killer” as in “coroner”, you’re doing something wrong. Opening fire on fans is always wrong.

The next step is to decide who you like more: Gibson or Fender; this will determine which brand of guitar’s cheaper version you get. For Gibson, you’re looking at Epiphone, for Fender, head on over to Lenovo.

But what about actually choosing between the two of them? I mean, Hendrix played a Fender Strat, but that short dude in AC/DC plays a Gibson SG. Well, there’s your answer. If you want to live to a ripe old age and enjoy your money like AC/DC, then get a Gibson. Otherwise, go with the Fender. It worked for Kurt Cobain.

Depending on how much you want to pay and the quality of guitar you want, you’ll next need to figure out where you are on the value-crappiness curve. If you’re looking for a crappy guitar and want to pay nothing for it, start hitting up your buddies, to see if they have one sitting, gathering dust in a closet. If you’re lucky, some other gamer-turned-rockstar has already given up the dream so he can five-star Green Grass and High Tides on Expert (good luck!), meaning you can probably swipe his axe without him so much as knowing.

Otherwise, try hitting up specialty music boutique shops. This is important because, unless they are owned by the RIAA, they will let you try the goods before you pay for them. This leads us the next problem: putting the f***ing thing on.

Yes, the strap will become tangled. No, don’t mess with it, just try and act cool. Eventually, roadies will deal with this crap while you eat out of your bowl of brown M&Ms. Now, you’ll notice something immediately: it feels like you have a very large skillet strapped to your body. This is natural. While it may look cool from ten feet away on some other dude, when it’s actually occupying the space normally reserved for your fanny pack, it’ll seem kind of like grappling a hovercraft. (Unless of course you are grappling a hovercraft, or you’ve accidentally picked up a steel guitar, in which case you actually do have a very large skillet strapped to your body.)

Now comes the fun part. As a way to implement a backdoor licensing program to use guitars, the government has mandated that all guitars that you pick up will have unlabeled knobs. Just turn them all to ten and see what happens. But first, make sure to turn the knob on the amp labeled “Metallica” to ten as well.

However, now you’re really in a pickle. You really need to play something or risk looking like Former President of the United States Jimmy Carter being attacked by a “swamp rabbit”, but you have no idea to play a guitar. You could either pick blindly at the strings and hope something cool comes out (which, given the four thousand possible frettings on a standard guitar, is statistically unlikely), or just play Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple. It’s the middle two strings. Start playing and you’ll see what I mean.

The downside to this, of course, is that by doing so, you will piss off not only everyone in the store, but the owner too. Of course, you should always be sure to obey any signs he’s posted such as “No Stairway” or “No Smoking”. If you see the latter sign, it means he’s had it with Deep Purple and will likely treat you like Pete Townshend did his guitars. (You know, the ones they glued back together after a show so he could smash them again the next night.)

And now that you’re in the ambulance after insisting that it wasn’t legally justified for him to beat you up for playing three chords (it is, read the Patriot Act), you should really consider the fact that you’re still medically uninsured.

And once you’re out of surgery, if you wish to remain that way, under no circumstances inquire of your doctor, “Can I play the guitar anymore?”

Categories: Real Life

Sieve of Eratosthenes in Python

April 15, 2008 6 comments

Okay, today’s is gonna be a quick one. It’s the Sieve of Eratosthenes in a relatively straightforward way, in Python.

This is actually relatively typical of my usage of Python. It’s not terribly efficient, computationally, since it searches through list many, many times. It’d be relatively easy to use more lines and make the algorithm even more efficient, but that would require more effort and (more importantly) more lines of code. Part of the beauty of Python is its simplicity and conciseness.

def sieve(max):
	#Takes in a number, and returns all primes between 2 and that number
	#Start with all of the numbers
	primes = range(2,max+1)
	#Start running through each number 
	for i in primes:
		#Start with double the number, and
		j = 2
		#remove all multiples
		while i * j <= primes[-1]:
			#As long as the current multiple of the number
			#is less than than the last element in the list
			#If the multiple is in the list, take it out
			if i * j in primes:
			j += 1
	return primes

You’d probably be well-served grokking the process, if you haven’t already. To quote my father, “Everyone should understand the Sieve of Eratosthenes.” Plus you’ll probably see it again soon. Next week will probably be the Sieve in one line, thanks to Python. It’s pretty fancy.

Categories: Code Dump

More like “Economics Online”

April 14, 2008 1 comment

Ever since I stopped playing World of Warcraft a few weeks after I got to college (some correlation there), I’ve been meandering from game to game. I suppose this is how most gamers are, but spending “only” a month or so on any given game seems short after you play one game for two or three years. Now, I played other games, of course, but the mainstream of my time was WoW.

I’ve gone through all of Valve Software’s catalog, especially the Orange Box, as well as Call of Duty 4 and BioShock and the excellent Half Life 2 mod Insurgency. But in the last week I’ve become utterly charmed by a new and different massively multiplayer game, EVE Online.

This is a space-based game where you fly around in a galaxy of some five thousand solar systems populated by five races. Some parts are patrolled by the galactic police, but the vast majority is a sort of lawless waste where the corporation that owns the space makes the rules.

By objective criteria, this is a role-playing game: you start off in a small ship with few skills, and spend time improving your ship, skills, and wealth, usually forming alliances and performing tasks for others. In this particular capacity, it’s mediocre, really. The quests are unoriginal and at times far above or below your level ability.

But where EVE shines is the economy. Where, in WoW, the best way to get magical items was to kill computer-controlled monsters, here it’s a matter of buying them. Well, not magic items, but really cool ships and weapons and so forth. But who do you buy a battlecruiser from? Well, a shipmaker of course. And the shipmaker builds it with materials he buys from a miner and using blueprints he buys from a printer. And the miner takes the money he gets from the sale and buys a bigger mining ship, or a better mining laser. And it just keeps going.

And for those of us that are recreational economists, this is all very fascinating. Which is why the developers of the game ended up hiring an Economics Professor to act as the EVE Economist, who now puts out quarterly financial reports, tracking things like galactic deflation despite an increasing money supply and trying to come up with a good representative statistic similar to GDP. There also seems to be a custom that the last three or four pages be dedicated to all kinds of wacky graphs, which are always fun to look at.

Similarly, there are plans in the works for a galactic election of a nine players to form the Council of Stellar Management that will act as advisors to the developers on the issues most pressing to the playerbase.

It’s been said before that directly competing with WoW is almost impossible, and the developers of EVE aren’t even trying. They’re taking a completely different route that has me completely suckered in.

Categories: Gaming, The Internet

Local Politics

April 11, 2008 1 comment

The debate over gun control is taking place, right in my own back yard. For the past week, not a day has gone by that the day’s issue of The Technician hasn’t included arguments pertaining to the the ban of firearms on campus.

I guess it really started even longer than a week ago, when a few letters to the editor, printed in the Campus Forum section, started to bring some attention to the issue, and gained a few responses. But the reaction was rather minimal.

However, after last Friday, matters became somewhat less simple. In that issue, two articles on the topic were published, as I detailed: a balanced article discussing the formation of the campus chapter of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus and an editorial lambasting the idea with frankly unoriginal and trite arguments.

And so it’s been, back and forth, each day bringing more articles and letters in the paper, until today I found it amazingly devoid of any commentary on the subject. It’s a been a fun ride so far, and I don’t think it’ll be over just yet. I know that I personally am planning to research the claims of a staff columnist who is currently punctuating the debate with his article stating, essentially, that statistics are meaningless in this argument.

It’s been a good run, though, because the arguments so far seem to closely mirror the debate as I’ve seen it played out elsewhere.

  • 2 April: Fairly straightforward coverage of the argument in favor of concealed carry. Includes mention of Appalachian Law School shooting where students who retrieved guns from their cars stopped a shooter.
  • 3 April: A letter commending the previous day’s letter and stating quite plainly that if you would like to rely on the police to protect you, that’s your choice, but the author would like to be able to choose to protect herself.
  • 4 April (the day of the SCCC article): Author expresses sympathy for people who feel threatened and think they have to carry a concealed weapon. Recommends that police are sufficient protection and that “justice” should be left in their hands.
  • 7 April: Four letters all taking the editor to task for being alarmist and biased. Perhaps favorite part of the whole debate: “People who are actually mentally stable will not only have a way of protecting themselves, but also will be the ‘first responders’ in the growing fad of mass murders on college campuses. I read where one student said it would be ‘frightening’ to know that people were walking around with concealed firearms. My first thought upon reading that was that the scariest horror movies are ones where the victims have no way of defending themselves.”
  • 8 April: One author states that pepper spray is an adequate compromise between guns and defenselessness. Another takes the editorial cartoonist to task for his portrayal of a 7-person shootout in the library, given that only 1 in 100 people are licensed for concealed carry.
  • 9 April: Police are good enough protection and carrying a gun around on campus is “not necessary.” Concludes with, “Your job as a student at State is to get an education. If you want to protect campus, join the police force.”
  • 10 April: One author: we wouldn’t need guns if we were all just better people. Another praises the methodology of an article presenting research and studies to back up its claims. A third defines and invalidates two logical fallacies being used in the argument against concealed carry.

Summarized this way, we start to see trends. The argument against is based on relying on the police, while the argument in favor is largely just asking for the option to protect oneself. As I said, relatively consistent with the real world.

Categories: Uncategorized