Browsing the blog archives for March, 2008

Alien Architecture

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Art, Culture

A few weeks ago I ran across a link to the following picture on Reddit…

Architecture1

The headline being, “The aliens have landed.” And I can’t dispute that. Who gives the thumbs up to projects like these? Who thought it was a good idea to plop down what looks like a misshapen blob of Play-Dough on top of a glass box in the midst of what otherwise looks like a very pleasant area? I don’t even know what that building is supposed to be.

Here’s another example that I came across recently.

Architecture7

This one is supposed to be a civil court building. Check out some of the comments on the site. The more realistic reactions include, “Crushed coke can,” “squashed cheese grater,” and “toilet for giants.” How about another one: Ten minutes inside 3DStudioMax and a deform modifier. Any fifteen year old with a rudimentary understanding of 3D modelling programs could create this, so why is apparently so impressive when an architect comes up with it?

Here’s another angle:

Architecture3

Probably the most sensible comment so far, aside from the humorous and true quips about this pathetic lump of failure, is this one by commenter “ArchitectsAnswer”:

Is justice blind-to what its supposed to serve, the greater public? I often find Zaha’s work ironically announcing herself as an architect and using her own audacity to bring ‘meaning’ or importance to her work. I am amazed that the renderings don’t include any context of what already exists in this city. Obviously, these things didn’t go into consideration. But how can a civic building serve the popularity of the architect but also address the civic nature of a courthouse? Frank Gehry set up an appropriately pretentious art museum in Bilbao and Madrid is just trying to match its audacity in all the wrong ways.

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around why anyone thinks these are good designs, or, even worse, why governments are willing to blow millions of dollars so that architects can erect monuments to themselves. I mean, I doubt I would want a spaceship sitting in the midst of my neighborhood, but if I were going to have one, I’d like a nice one and not some blob of blue or a crumpled aluminum waste-bin. How about something that’s actually aesthetically attractive, like a Protoss Mothership?

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Beautiful colors, harmonious design. It’d be a bit overwhelming in scale, but at least it has fine detail and other elements that relates it in an integral way to humans. As a court it carries a lot more sense of purpose than the meat grinder Zaha Hadid is foisting on Madrid. And all of this in spite of being intentionally designed to be an alien spacecraft.

What a joke.

Commence Indifference

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Administrativa

The site layout is still “broken” in that images will expand beyond the main column. I’ve got a post sitting around here with some images that I’m considering posting, but it’ll show up badly due to the way images are currently working. I’ll probably hold off a few days and see if I can fix it, but I’m having a hard time finding the desire to dig into the layout.

I think having a layout that I’ve been reasonably happy with (K2 with default stylings) for so long has ruined my tendency to want to tinker with the blog’s theme. I know at some point I’ll have to go and re-add the AdSense blocks and such, which is fine. But I remember the last time I changed themes I had some pretty elaborate theme ideas, most of which have just fallen off since I’ve had a layout which worked decently and wasn’t overwhelming. Since when did upgrading mean, “Getting everything that was working broken and have to fix it?”

Photoshop Disasters

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Miscellaneous

I recently came across Photoshop Disasters. Although I’m no pro, I often enjoy looking at Photoshops from Fark, SomethingAwful, Worth1000, and various other websites. Photoshop Disasters aims to mock the worst of the worst when it comes to Photoshopped images.

This one is a classic…

Disaster1

This photo from Maxim is a neoclassic, not just because of the classy Photoshop work, but the wonderful irony as well.

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Governmental agencies have suppressed this magazine cover because it proves the existence of alien life.

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Definitely something to keep an eye on, though it could use a dash of snark.

WordPress Update

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Administrativa

I noticed some clunky behavior of the blog today on the back end here, so I decided to go ahead and upgrade to the latest version of WordPress. In the process this seems to have screwed up my theme, so working on getting everything functional again. For the time being I’m back on the Terracotta theme, although hopefully I’ll get K2 working again soon enough.

Edit: Well, K2 is back, but images are still screwy, and the sidebars are messed up. I’ll get this sorted out eventually.

Learning Curves

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Games

Sometime last week I ran across the following graph.

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I thought this was a little inaccurate, so I made a better one.

LearningCurve2

Computer Myths

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Games, Technology

As I’ve been following Shamus’ posts lately on piracy in computer games, I was linked to this post by Brad Wardell of Stardock talking about piracy and the games industry in general. Since Stardock is primarily a vendor of software other than games, Brad talks about how he’s learned from experiences there to target the largest possible userbase and ignore the plethora of pirates. He then goes on to relate this to the games Stardock has been involved in developing recently and how little attention they’ve received in the game news media.

Reading this, I can’t help but think of my experiences with Galactic Civilizations 2. I bought GalCiv2, played it intensely for the first weekend, played a bit through the first week, and by the time the second weekend rolled around I’d pretty much stopped playing the game (granted, I did get involved on the forums agitating for game update patches). I liked GalCiv2 well enough, but the reason my interest in the game was so short lived is that it was, as Brad Wardell says, targeted for a broad consumer base. The strategy involved in the game was too simple (Obvious example: Attackers attack first, therefore if you build a fleet of ships with all weapons and no defensive capability, you’ll win as long as you’ve got enough firepower to annihilate the enemy in the first turn) to scratch the itch of someone like myself who desired a true sequel to Master of Orion 2.

Anyway, while Brad’s thoughts were interesting in and of themselves, what I actually wanted to write about is in the comments. For starters,

Speaking as a person with a relatively new $15K rig on my right side and an older (3 years) $10K rig on my left, I think I easily qualify as the definitive hardcore gamer and I must say I have not felt like games have been targeting me. This is of course for a number of reasons. The first and foremost is that I have one utterly frustrating time getting all the stuff to work as a system without anything going other then the OS and drivers. Then getting support for the hardware and OS is a major bitch to say the least.

A $15,000 computer? Lets assume for a moment that this isn’t a mistake or a lie. How exactly do you make a computer that expensive?

I paid a visit to the Alienware website to see what the most expensive machine I could possibly build would be. The specs:

Acoustic Dampening Case
1000 Watt PSU
Triple SLI 768MB 8800 GT
Intel C2E 3.0 GHz (w/ OCed FSB)
4GB 800MHz RAM
nForce 680i Motherboard
Vista Ultimate
2 64GB SATA Solid State Drives
2 1TB 7200rpm HDs
4x Dual Layer Blu Ray Drive
30″ Monitor and a 20″ Monitor
Surround Speaker System

So what does this run us? Just barely squeaking in over $11,000. Granted, that’s an obscene amount of money to be paying for a computer and you’re already paying a hefty premium for every piece and the dubious honor of owning an Alienware computer, but even that doesn’t hit $15k. What exactly could one add on that would add another four thousand dollars to the pricetag? A couple more monitors, a gold-plated case?

Aside from being completely preposterous and more likely than not totally untrue, what I find objectionable about this is that it reinforces the false notion that computer gaming requires these huge expenses. Follow the conversation spurred by Brad’s post and you’ll see several people who take for granted that running modern games requires a multi-thousand dollar computer. No game on the market today requires that. Crysis is the single game that might not be able to be run at highest settings with a thousand dollar computer, and even that is questionable.

As much as I may be, at times, the kind of person who complains about excessive pursuit of graphics in games (when in lieu of things like story and gameplay), it’s time to stop complaining about hardware costs. It’s just not valid to claim you need a $3000 computer to run the latest PC games, or a $400 graphics card that you upgrade every six months. These assumptions have become so mythical that they’re taken for granted. It’s time to put a stop to that. Today’s Triple-A computer games are probably the least demanding of high end computer hardware of any that I can remember. Maybe if there weren’t so much misinformation flying about people would be able to make more informed purchasing decisions.

NIN Ghosts

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Music

NINGhostsI

In case you haven’t heard, Nine Inch Nails has done a rather interesting thing with their latest album Ghosts I-IV. The first nine tracks (“Ghosts I”) is available for free online in high quality, DRM free MP3. For $5 you can get the whole thing as a digital download including a 40 page PDF. There are some other options as well for receiving actual physical media if you’re so inclined, the cheapest being $10, and the most expensive being a $300 limited edition package that’s already sold out (only 2,500 were produced).

The catch for a lot of people will probably be that Ghosts is totally instrumental. Ironically, that’s actually what makes me interested in the album. Lately my tastes in listening have turned into more often than not preferring ambient soundscapes to actual songs with instrumentation and vocals. That Ghosts is instrumental and not totally atmospheric is a bit of a concession for me to make, but not hugely so. On the other hand, an instrumental offering is a bit more accessible to people who aren’t normally interested in Nine Inch Nails’ music, so this might actually be quite a smart move. It won’t bring in the vapid Hip-Hop/Pop crowds, but what would, other than more of the same?

I got the free download version earlier this week but hadn’t had an opportunity to listen to it until now. Granted, I’ve only had one full sit-through of the the album, and I generally reserve judgement about music until I’ve heard it a good ten or so times. That said, I’m looking forward to listening to it again and have already put in my order for the complete album. I’d definitely recommend at least checking out the tracks that are freely available for download and make a decision for yourself. Personally, I can’t see a reason why I wouldn’t want to pay $5 for music I enjoy when it goes directly to the artist and supports their efforts to reform the industry.

Update: Trent Reznor is also announcing a “film festival” of sorts on YouTube for people to create their own visual accompaniments to tracks from Ghosts. A very cool move, and pretty indicative of how forward thinking he is.

Bleach

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Anime

About a month or two ago my TiVo decided to record the television show Bleach off of Cartoon Network. This is a manga/anime that I’ve heard of, but I didn’t know anything about it and the name didn’t sound particularly appealing to me — What is it, a show about a kid with bleached hair?

I watched the one episode on my TiVo and actually found it somewhat interesting. There was some character who had come into possession of a parakeet that seemed to be cursed, causing accidents to happen all around it. Then there also seemed to be some characters who were part of something called the “Soul Society.” My impressions were sketchy, given that I was jumping in mid-stream to the show, but it seemed a little metaphysical and therefore interesting.

So a few weeks ago as I browsed PopURLs I came across a fansub of Bleach on YouTube. As it turns out, my impressions of the show were completely wrong. Instead of being some brain-stimulating show drawing you into a fantastic universe where the supernatural is a real element of day to day life and a mysterious organization called the Soul Society allows the viewer to explore the dimensions of this universe, it turns out that Bleach is just another Dragonball Z clone. How disappointing. Not really a surprise, as most of the non-fanservice, non-dating-drama, non-mecha animes out there seem to be this same formula of “Protagonist and his weaker compatriots fight opponents using glowing energy blasts and teleportation, usually justified as martial arts even though the characters rarely if ever actually have a legitimate fight without using anime conventions. During fights, protagonists and enemies “power up” and take on different forms.” The majority of anime is so formulaic that it’s a wonder to me why it’s so popular.

The funny thing I noticed when watching this Bleach show on YouTube was exactly how little “show” there was. Between the introduction song, the recap of previous episodes’ events, and a typically anime not-funny comedy sketch at the end of the episode, I think the total running time for the episode came in at about fifteen minutes. Factor in that a large portion of these shows typically involves: 1. Characters “powering up” attacks, 2. Characters standing-still as attacks bounce off of them, and 3. Characters standing around bragging about their “power level” or “skill” and it’s amazing how little content or actual animation must be involved in making a show like this.

I guess I should have remembered my general rule that any anime that appears on Cartoon Network, aside from Cowboy Bebop, must be tripe.

Gaming Costs

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Games, Technology

Unfortunately I’ve been a bit neglectful of the blog of late. This isn’t due to lack of desire or ideas, just the complete lack of time in the face of a hundred other tasks that are demanding my attention lately.

On the other hand, when I read a comment over at Shamus’ blog the other day, I got rather irritated to the point that I had to vent.

What people don’t consider is playability (over restrictive DRM measures inhibit this) and graphics (yes, you’re game looks great and all, but unfortunately I won’t buy it because I can’t run it!) I love the PC as a platform, it allows for so many possibilities, but when I could shell out $400 for a console and some games, or $1500 for a decent mid-range computer that might play the games I want, I think I’ll go for the console.

A good gaming machine that will run all current games (and the generation after), not to mention most past-generation games (“backwards compatability”) will run you about $1000 these days. Considering that the comment was probably written and posted to Shamus’ blog from a computer, which, lets be generous, probably cost a few hundred dollars itself — Where exactly are these big savings with consoles coming in?

For me this is pretty much a no-brainer comparison. I can purchase a high quality machine for work and personal use, plus add on the additional expenses of a console, the restrictions of a console, and ridiculous expenses like XBox Live, or I can purchase a marginally higher quality machine and also play games on it when so inclined.

I suppose for Joe Consumer who uses his Dell or other branded computer for nothing more than checking email and looking at porn, it might be a good deal to buy a $400 gaming machine. For those of us who actually use our computers for work, which I assume should include most of Shamus’ readership, having a computer that doubles as a gaming platform is almost certainly the cheaper option. Particularly for people who do not own televisions, a niche group surely, but a growing one especially among reasonably intelligent people.

The only caveat here is that you can’t simply walk into Best Buy and say, “Give me your best $1000 gaming computer.” All of the retailers selling gaming computers do so at 100% or more markup, so you have to be willing to build it yourself. I know I personally hate dealing with hardware, as I prefer to have my computers just work, but when you’re talking about getting superior computer using experience in general — Yeah, I’m willing to put in a little bit of work for that. Obviously most people are reluctant to do this because they have no knowledge of hardware and are technophobic. We all have to start somewhere.