Browsing the blog archives for September, 2006

Digg is a Hate Site

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Culture, Technology

When I first found Digg I was amazed at it: A relatively small community of intellectual and professional people sharing knowledge with each other. It was never a utopia, but the community abided by certain unspoken rules of civility that allowed people to keep things from getting out of hand.

Ever since Digg “3.0,” with a broadening of the scope of Digg, the entire site has fallen prey to a variety of issues. Focused exploitation of the system by people pushing their own agendas, emphasis on top users as contributors to the site, and, more and more, a destruction of the unspoken rules of civility brought on by the huge influx of new members with no interest in sustaining the community. I was just recently looking at this article on Digg when I came to the realization, “This is not healthy.”

I’m not sure what that means for the future. I doubt I’ll wholly stop reading Digg, but I may need to refrain from looking at the comments. It’s really a shame too, since I often used to find the comments an even better resource than whatever article was actually considered the story. But one thing is for sure: I can’t handle the sickeningly ignorant, hateful, and close-minded attitudes that are dominating Digg lately. Even reading such garbage makes me feel like my mind is contracting.

Examples below the cut.

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Long Form

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Miscellaneous, Personal

Lately I haven’t been sleeping very well. Every time I hit the bed I seem acutely aware of my body temperature, which makes it uncomfortable to stay in one position for more than a few minutes at a time, ending only with the inevitable crash. Thus, I present three somewhat long essays I’ve enjoyed reading and thinking about recently.


Richard Bartle on Voice Communication in Virtual Worlds
.

I agree with Bartle. Voice communication in a virtual environment lends an immediacy that can either make or break the experience. Voice chat with today’s technology is just a pure break.

An interview with Jacob Collins.

Collins is some manner of Neo-Classical-Realist. Which is to say, I think, he puts non-trivial value upon the aesthetic and craftsmanship elements of a piece of work. I’m very much inclined toward this sort of school of thought as I think our art establishment has done quite enough in the vein of ideological or monstrously-inhuman art. It’s good to know that people like Collins are getting more exposure and finding a real foothold in people with similar preferences.

This article by Martin Amis titled, The Age of Horrorism. Page 2 and 3.

From page 1:

Sayyid was presumably still sorely shaken by the birth of Israel (after the defeat of Egypt and five other Arab armies), but at first, on the Atlantic crossing, he felt a spiritual expansion. His encyclopedic commentary, In the Shade of the Koran, would fondly and ramblingly recall the renewal of his sense of purpose and destiny. Early on, he got into a minor sectarian battle with a proselytising Christian; Sayyid retaliated by doing a bit of proselytising himself, and made some progress with a contingent of Nubian sailors. Then came the traumatic incident with the drunken, semi-naked woman. Sayyid thought she was an American agent hired to seduce him, or so he later told his biographer, who wrote that ‘the encounter successfully tested his resolve to resist experiences damaging to his identity as an Egyptian and a Muslim’. God knows what the episode actually amounted to. It seems probable that the liquored-up Mata Hari, the dipsomaniacal nudist, was simply a woman in a cocktail dress who, perhaps, had recently drunk a cocktail. Still, we can continue to imagine Sayyid barricading himself into his cabin while, beyond the door, the siren sings her song.

A strange and fascinating look beyond the bluster into the reality of the Islamist personality. That Sayyid reacts so strongly to relatively modest displays by women speaks more of him than it does of what he rails against. His desire is evident in his characterization, even though it is more than likely nothing more than the lustful, envious look of a man who can not have what he sees. His hatred seems to be born at once from his inability to have what he desires and from his own failure in desiring to live up to his stated ideals. He seems pathetic, more than anything else.

Amis makes a trenchant point concerning the theological escapism of Islamists:

By the summer of 2005, suicide-mass murder had evolved. In Iraq, foreign jihadis, pilgrims of war, were filing across the borders to be strapped up with explosives and nails and nuts and bolts, often by godless Baathists with entirely secular aims – to be primed like pieces of ordnance and then sent out the same day to slaughter their fellow Muslims. Suicide-mass murder, in other words, had passed through a phase of decadence and was now on the point of debauchery. In a single month (May), there were more human bombings in Iraq than during the entire intifada. And this, on 25 July, was the considered response of the Mayor of London to the events of 7 July:

‘Given that they don’t have jet planes, don’t have tanks, they only have their bodies to use as weapons. In an unfair balance, that’s what people use.’

I remember a miserable little drip of a poem, c2002, that made exactly the same case. No, they don’t have F-16s. Question: would the Mayor like them to have F-16s? And, no, their bodies are not what ‘people’ use. They are what Islamists use. And we should weigh, too, the spiritual paltriness of such martyrdoms. ‘Martyr’ means witness. The suicide-mass murderer witnesses nothing – and sacrifices nothing. He dies for vulgar and delusive gain. And on another level, too, the rationale for ‘martyrdom operations’ is a theological sophistry of the blackest cynicism. Its aim is simply the procurement of delivery systems.

Unfortunately I found the latter end of this article to be rather tedious, seeming to advocate that religion is the source of all the world’s woes. It culminates in the author’s advocation of abandoning religion. Whatever that means, proselytizer.

Link Roundup

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Art, Miscellaneous, Music

I’ve had a few things sitting around here for awhile so I may as well get rid of them in one fell swoop:

  • I was recently linked by a friend to this publicly available release of techno-industrial music by an Unreal community musician known as Zynthetic. A bit harsh for my tastes but pretty nice stuff, and free.
  • On a similar note I ran across this music by another Unreal community member, Toxeen, awhile ago. Nice stuff, rich sound and consistent with the work of Alexander Brandon and Michiel Van Den Bos without being derivative.
  • This link was relayed to me from the Epic Community forums. It’s a collection of all of the tracks from Unreal and Unreal Tournament. When I saw that I immediately grabbed all the tracks with Flashget. Run, Course, Foregone… They’re all good.

Earlier this week I ran across this article which looks at IMDB’s worst rated movies of all time and wonders: Will 2006 become known as the worst movie year of all time? Is it possible that the Wayans’ 2006 movie Little Man can outdo their smash [no-hit] work in White Chicks?

Although the Wayans must undoubtedly must make some of the worst movies, nobody can take a well-loved franchise and gut it of everything anyone loves like Uwe Boll. The article expresses a bit of incredulity that 2006 could be the worst year ever when Uwe doesn’t even have a film coming out this year. But wait, didn’t I see a trailer… Oh, I suppose it’s not one of Uwe’s projects, but that other guy.

I’m going to have to contradict the article here though: I certainly did see one of Uwe Boll’s movies this year. In fact, it’s Uwe Bolls best film ever.

On a serious note, I was recently made aware of Darren Aronofsky’s new film, The Fountain. I didn’t care that much for his Requiem for a Dream, but I thought Pi was excellent, and this new film, if hype is to be believed, looks like a new 2001.

Best Frag Video Ever

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Games

I’m an Unreal Tournament person over Quake, but I’m ashamed to admit that this video comes from the Quake 3 Arena community. Everything about this video is perfectly executed. It makes me want to go dig up my copy of Q3A and start playing.

I seem to be having a bit of difficulty getting the embedded version to show up properly, so the video can be seen here if I haven’t worked out the issues with the embedded version.

Another excellent Q3A video I found called “Infinite Trajectory 2” or “Tricking iT 2.” The sound design seems to be done by the same group of people as the video above and I wouldn’t be surprised if the video editing were as well.

Original here.

Lustmord: Purifying Fire

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Music

To give a little backstory, I was first exposed to the Tarkovsky film Stalker several years ago. I’m not going to discuss the film or reveal any details about it, but suffice it to say that I found the film to be … Mesmerizing. About a year or two later I found an album by Brian “Lustmord” Williams and Robert Rich entitled Stalker. I didn’t know at the time whether this album was, in fact, related to the film or not but the track names seemed evocative of it … I gave it a chance.

The album turned out to be largely ambient, but in a good way. Of course, it didn’t compare to the film, but it seemed to point towards the experience of watching it in a way that I could relate to. Since then, even though I am typically not inclined to listen to purely “ambient” music, I’ve been interested in hearing more from both Brian Williams and Robert Rich.

PurifyingFire

I picked up Purifying Fire as an experiment. I enjoyed the Stalker album that Brian Williams collaborated with Rich on, but more than a bit of my positive experience listening to that album was thinking about the film. Would my positive feelings hold?

I listened through the first three tracks without much notice … But the fourth track, Black Star, is incredible. Listening to it for the first time… There is a genuine sense of tension and release created by the sounds. I hestitate to even think of this as an “ambient” track as the various sounds create a vocalization — If not actual language, then something more primal. The sound is deep, oppressive, and summons up a variety of images that seem to be almost narrative.

The fifth track, Permafrost, follows up in a different note — An extremely short track for this album, it seems more like an instrumental piece than something strictly “ambient.” It reminds me a lot of Philip Glass in the use of traditional instrumentation combined with experimental sounds.

Since that first listen through I must have listened to the album twenty times already. The first few re-listens were simply to get to Black Star to re-experience that chest-clenching anxiety I feel when listening to the song. But as I did so I began to appreciate the way the first three tracks seemed to build up into the climax of the album. The song Deep Calls to Deep seemed to me to harbor the first intonations of what would come later, abating some for the follow-up track Deep Calls to Dub before returning in full force.

A few days ago I went out in search to learn more about Lustmord — What were other peoples’ assessment of this album in relation to his other work? I was surprised to learn that this album Purifying Fire, is merely a collection of previously unreleased work. That makes me intensely curious about what the quality of his other albums must be like. I was also surprised to find out that he initially did soundtrack work on the game Planescape: Torment (although his work was eventually not used). All in all I have to say that I enjoyed this album even more than I did the Stalker album, and will definitely be on the lookout for any other Lustmord releases that I can find.

Beastly

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Miscellaneous, Personal

Yesterday I was deleting spam caught by Akismet and this managed to come up:

BeastlySpam

Not so much remarkable for the number itself but for the fact that this happened spontaneously without me trying to massage the results.

Guild Wars PvP Rift

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Games, Guild Wars

Yikes, I was right:

In the near future, a purchase of Prophecies will not be required to purchase the Prophecies All-Profession Skill Unlock Pack. Those who purchase this pack will be able to create Prophecies PvP characters and play PvP without purchasing the game itself. At that time, we’ll rename the pack to something like Guild Wars Prophecies PvP Edition. (Ok, the name is very much a TBD, so it may change before release.)

Furthermore, prior to the release of Nightfall, we are contemplating offering a Guild Wars Factions PvP Edition (name, again, TBD). This, too, will not require the purchase of the game itself.

I’m sorely hoping that there’s a reason to buy a full version of any forthcoming Guild Wars campaign, because it seems like ArenaNet is pandering yet again to PvP-only players. Heck, I’d like to be able to purchase a PvE Edition of the game since that’s 90% of what I care about.

Tools that Change Your Life: FlashGet

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Art, Technology

As you may have noticed I am always on the lookout for art to use in RPGs. Beyond that, I’m always on the lookout for art that I enjoy in general. I have a folder on my harddrive containing over 3GBs of images solely for RPGs, and that is only a single folder of many that I have for categorizing artwork I’ve collected on my computer.

I probably ought to be ashamed to admit that the majority of this I’ve downloaded by hand — Browsing through galleries, looking at images and saving the ones I like. Only recently have I started using a download manager, and I’m amazed at how much easier it is to handle downloading large batches of files. I did a little research before I decided upon a download manager and Flashget (with its FireFox plugin, Flashgot) was the most highly recommended of all of them. As I was pleased to learn the program was made freely available in 2006 and is no longer ad-supported.

I downloaded the program, it seemed a bit complex but I figured I’d grow into it. I don’t really understand their format for Regular Expressions, which seems to only allow you to use wildcards to represent a single character. This seems pretty counter-intuitive, as if I’m downloading images from “/images/” on some server and I’m looking to download everything in that folder, chances are I’m not going to know how many characters are in filename. Instead of being able to configure the program to download /images/*.jpg, it seems like I’d have to find another way to download the contents of the image directory.

Not ideal, but fair enough. I first gave it a try with my efforts to download collections of tarot cards. It was a stunning failure. The website in question, Multiply.com, seems to require a certain “code” to display the original (full-size) image. I could access the thumbnails easily enough, but since each of the original images was located in a directory similar to “/orig/##_NameofCard.jpg?id=SequenceofNumbersandLetters” and since I am not sure how to use Flashgot’s seemingly hamstrung implementation of regular expressions, the task of setting up the program to download any files fitting the paradigm of “/orig/*.jpg?id=*” was put to a complete stop. After trying various different approaches over the course of about 3 days I finally gave up and decided to download my favorite five sets manually.

After that one failure I tried a different challenge for FlashGet, one that I suspected would be easier. Photo-storage sites most likely actively try to discourage downloading from albums. What about a more traditional website-with-artwork site? Could I manage to get FlashGet to work there?

The quarry was Wizards.com, in particular their publicly-available digitized collections of artwork from D&D books. I am not a huge fan of the D&D 3.X artwork style, but let’s face it: You’re rarely going to get such a large and versatile collection of artwork. It’s too big to pass up. But downloading each image individually, especially when I don’t care about a lot of the images, is just too much to do by hand. I gave FlashGot a shot at it… With excellent results. Within about half an hour of off-and-on downloading while browsing other sites and coding I’d collected all of the artwork from all books Wizards has published in 2006, and with only a minimal of effort also collected the artwork for everything else up to 2001.

Simple, easy. Finally, after years of coveting, I have the entire collection of artwork. Now to put FlashGot to use elsewhere…

New D&D Game

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Personal, RPGs

Last week our group had a long extended discussion on the future of our gaming enterprises. For the last couple of months we’ve been doing one “game” — That is to say, we’ve been rolling up characters for three or four hours, then playing for an hour if at all — per week. This was obviously a situation that needed to stop. So we all sat down and had a discussion about what games we were going to run and when, and what we would do in case someone couldn’t attend. We all agreed to our schedule, and then we began discussing the games themselves.

So far we’ve got a Spycraft game, a game in a Warhammer-inspired world, and we had a new proposal — A gritty, low/no-magic campaign, played with all Human characters in an alternate-world version of the Roman era. This idea really appeals to me, as I’m a bit burnt out on the typical D&D paradigm of spellcasters being omnipresent and overpowering, magic items under every rock, and a proliferation of non-human races which are fundamentally the same as humans except for granting a +2 to whatever attribute you need. For our stats we rolled 3d6 for six attributes and created six sets, choosing the best of the six sets. This resulted in fairly mediocre abilities, but I was pleased with that: I prefer a game that’s more grounded in reality than the usual game with superhuman characters running around from level one and only getting worse with time.

So this week rolls around and I show up at our usual gaming location with another member of the group. Two hours later, we leave in disgust when no one else showed up. The next day I get a call and say that there’s a game — We’re going to play the pseudohistorical Rome game. I show up only to discover that one of our players is rolling up a Cleric. “What?!” I think. I thought this was going to be a low/no magic game. Now we’ve got a Cleric in the group. I suppose it’s understandable, but hardly what I was hoping for.

We sat down and the DM explained some of the history. Things sound interesting enough, and then we get to playing. I enjoyed the game overall but there are some serious issues that I need to bring up with the DM, as he seems to be playing loose with the rules and this is causing a bit of confusion:

First of all, he seems to be treating flanking as any attack on a character’s “flank.” However, D&D 3.5 doesn’t have facing, so this is pretty much impossible to determine unless characters are in an explicit formation. There were a few times during the session when characters received penalties for “being flanked” by one opponent.

Second, so far we haven’t been using an explicit representation of characters’ positions on a battlefield (via miniatures) but we have been using the tactical rules (AoOs, flanking, etc.). I feel unsatisfied with this, as it means the players aren’t able to make informed tactical decisions. There was one particular incident where I mentioned that my character was going to take a five foot step back, and then turn and run away. Even though this should not provoke an attack of opportunity he ruled that it did.

Third, the characters we were fighting had, according to the DM, “20 dex.” Since this is impossible for a human using a 3d6 x 6 method, and since the characters we were fighting were mooks, I am a bit worried about us being pitted against foes who are receiving a bit more leeway than we are.

Fourth, the DM seems to be using a rather random “critical fumble” assessment, and he also expressed a desire to use a “critical hit” chart from 2nd Edition. I’ve always hated critical fumble rules, even though it seems like everyone and their brother thinks this is a good idea. I just find it absurd that the more experienced a character gets the more likely it is for him to critically fumble (due to iterative attacks). It’s a stupid idea and it needs to be put down. One the note of the 2nd Edition critical hit chart, according to his description it contains plenty of nasty effects such as “Lose a limb” or “permanently disfigured.” Since critical hits are a much bigger problem for Player Characters than they are for NPCs I’m very, very wary of this attempt to change the rules. Crushing the skull of some mook and having his intelligence permanently reduced to 3 might be fun on the giving end, but seems to me to be a serious problem if applied to PCs.

Fifth and most problematic to me is the fact that there’s a serious deviation in how he’s awarding experience. I don’t recall what each character received but I do recall that one player, who I felt contibuted about as much as I did overall to the game, received 3300 XP. On the other hand, I received only 2650 XP. It’s rather irritating to me foremost because the difference in our performance was entirely psychological — My dice rolls toward the latter end of the game were all very poor, but earlier on in the game I was having much better luck than the other player. The most recent success seemed to take precedence. Either way, I think it’s very dangerous to award experience based on how well you rolled.

A nearly 700 experience gap is a serious difference and, not only do I feel it wasn’t warranted, but I see serious problems ahead if this continues. Particularly when the Cleric in the group gains access to spells such as Flamestrike, he is going to end up receiving much more experience than the rest of the characters in the group. Not only is the Cleric already the most powerful character in the group due to his access to a slew of versatile spells, but he will become even more and more powerful as the experience-awarding system gives him significantly more experience than the rest of us and hastens his trip up the exponential spellcaster power curve.