Monday, November 30, 2009

New modem

Replaced my old Qwest ActionTEC modem with a newer model that supports "Wireless-N". Installation was a bit of a bear, but only because I'm not familiar with the process. Getting wireless to work is actually much easier (heh) than it was 5 years ago, because the "quick start" details are now in the modem and not in the operating system. Convenience like that will confuse a pessimist, let me tell you... (Hint: Don't use your old Firefox bookmark for your previous modem's Setup page, do as your ISP tells you!)

The new modem means I no longer have to use WEP (Wimpy Excuse for Privacy), because WPA2 is the pre-installed default and that means vastly superior open air encryption, protection and security. Plus, works like a charm with our laptops, a Dell Inspiron 1525 and a System76 Lemur Ultrathin, both running Ubuntu Linux (one Jaunty, one Karmic).

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Star Ocean, redux

These PSP games are the reason that somewhat unpopular Sony platform continues to exist, imho. Star Ocean First Departure made its original debut on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Star Ocean Second Evolution appeared on the Playstation One (PS1), and both are roughly comparable in the history of art and storytelling to Moby Dick — i.e., they take forever to play, the story is engrossing, the characters appealingly light-hearted, but in no way, like the white whale, are these games mere adventure stories. Stories, yes, adventures, yes, "mere"... not hardly!

These are remakes of the old games, not identical to their originals. Like ancient coins, some familiar details have been rubbed and blurred out by wear (sometimes literally). For example, the SNES edition of the first Star Ocean had a couple of villages named Hot and Cool — the same village, actually, but 300 years apart. In the PSP version, competent but unsympathetic, or possibly even ignorant, translators have rendered these names as Coule and Haute; the effect is jarring, as though the text passed through the gauntlet of a committee and emerged... "new and improved." Was it necessary, for example, to rechristen Ratix, Roddick? Maybe the idea was that a new generation of players will have never heard this hero's name before? I think I'll start over and change his name back to Ratix, q.e.d.

Change is not good, always. The journey to Mt. Metox in the original, for example, was winding and mazelike, with treasure chests and signposts scattered here and there (the signs occasionally more droll than informative.) The old signposts are gone, sadly, even, on the flanks of "Mt. Metorx," to blurred illegibility. And the mountain climb itself is faded, too short, and not especially challenging — just a Cliff 's Notes version of the original. But compared to rest of the game, maybe a little minor throat-clearing at the beginning is acceptable.

The anime-style graphics in both games are smooth and superior to the pixellations of their respective precursors, as befits the speed and detail of modern PSP hardware. Truth to tell, I'm not far into either, yet. (I'm still playing Final Fantasy II, another favorite; the wyvern has just flown us to our destination.)

Update, December 7: I finished playing Final Fantasy I, just a fast runthrough to get my bearings. Wiped out the Emperor with only 85% of the bestiary revealed. Play was very similar to the original, with a few extra graphic elements tacked on, although I have to say I found all the modern Final Fantasy genderbending images annoying. The boy Firion is drawn in a style that I can only describe as Pre-Deluge Pretty French, but this only applies to a few cutscenes and incidental overlays. It's funny to see the original, droll characters, drawn as sprites in the 8-bit graphics of SNES ported to a modern video platform orders of magnitude better — rendering each single pixel of the original as maybe 64 in the port! This is NOT a re-imagined re-visioning, so a huge element of fun from the original tiny screen is accidentally preserved, thankfully.

Oddly enough, Star Ocean Second Evolution is almost a pixel for pixel port of the PS1's Star Ocean: Second Story. The game is very playable. A few minor, discardable scenes involving sea voyages have turned into snaking red lines on maps instead of views of mysterious islands in the offing. (Everyone has just woken from the darkness and found themselves in the Outer Gardens, in my current game.) I do find some of the renaming of characters, weapons and items, jarring, but understandable — the original Japanglish was just as odd, but it became familiar.

My gripes about the revisions in Star Ocean First Departure stand. Some backgrounds appear blurry, as though they were taken from Gameboy Advance and enlarged to fit the PSP screen. Others have a peculiar stretch at the margins, as though the scene had been shot through a 23mm fisheye lens — another porting artifact. Much that was droll and captivating about the original lay in throwaway, tossoff details in the background, like signposts, hidden chests, meandering paths and mazes, no direct path to destinations anywhere. They've been largely thrown out and tossed away. I don't think the redesigners even knew they were being vandals. It's like replacing a mile of Rube Goldberg invention with a bachelor's groggy resolve to wake up at 6:30 in the morning, shower, shave and make breakfast. It ain't gonna happen.

Enix didn't invent whimsy, of course. My favorite precursor was Carl Barks' backgrounds for Disney comic books — mysterious goldish bowls crammed with goldfish, unexplained bicyclists on oldfashioned standards (big front wheel) and unicycles, etc.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Leaving the Realm of Normal Human Interaction

The Sony PSP 2000 delivers a lot that Nintendo DS Lite was supposed to have, but doesn't actually. Big, wide screen... for a handheld. Nice graphics in a tiny box. Good games, occasionally playful, brilliant games. Strange extras, like a web browser and an online Sony store that is too much power to put in the hands of adults, let alone children.

I bought mine used for $109. Feels tinky and plastic clacky. But it plays Final Fantasy II and the Star Ocean re-issues. Fun stuff, but very autistic-seeming. You can lose yourself in tiny worlds and forget to join your living, breathing family members around the hearthfires.

"I am a man. I can change. If I have to." — Red Green

Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals is out. My biggest beef is the American cover is (once again) crap.

Starts a bit slow. I'll keep you posted.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Galileo Bird

Galileo's finger was, of course, the middle one.

Still and all, this kind of relicky digitalia is a bit ghoulish for my taste. Cremation, please. Preferably after death.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Critic's Critic

The Twilight Saga: New Moon Heh, just " extended metaphor for teenage chastity..."Roger Ebert

Just when I think Ebert has been bought off by the evil minions of Studio Ghibli, he uncorks an old bottle of fizzwater — "...(spoiler) ...Jake is a werewolf" — and pops off one star.

Considering the contorted panegyrics through which Ebert tied himself in knots for Ponyo, this return to slasher sanity is almost welcome.

Glad he left Jane alone.

[Update 11/25] My daughter, a TFG in her own rite, says New Moon is actually better than the original Twilight movie, although her pronuniamentos on this topic are somewhat cryptic, at least to me. I gather she was not impressed by Dakota Fanning's interpretation of Jane, either, although the role was very small.


Friday, November 20, 2009


I'm not saying turning SIXTY-FIVE gives you morbid thoughts or anything, but I did dream last night that Sister Mary Robert, the cute nun from Sister Act, looked up from her big, limp, soft cover Bible and said, "You're not going to hell." Pretty non-judgmental, if you ask me.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nice Pot!

Michelle Wie copped her first LPGA win at the beautiful Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Guadalajara, Mexico last Sunday, I notice. Pretty amazing. That should shut some of her critics up, especially those backbiting Schadenfreude types who've never made $918,659.00 in nine months before (just since Valentine's Day!) That's class.

Too bad about the ankle. It's forced her out of this week's LPGA event, where Ochoa is leading. [Update 11/23: Ochoa was tied for first this morning, but finished second.]


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bonnie and Clyde

Sometimes the redeye is part of the effect! (Iris and Evan, Halloween, 2009)


Monday, November 16, 2009

Pillaging the Village

Patrick McGoohan had the Cold War and a #2 who got liquidated and recycled at sudden intervals like Soviet commissars. This 2009 stuff is Gresham's Law for dullness. They even got Rover wrong. How can you mess up messing with a sphere? Supersize it some more? Make it fløbber?

I won't be back in the mindset until Warehouse 13 rolls out its new season. Can they get Dakota Fanning to join the ensemble for that one? Please? She could outrank the Regents.

Sadly, I always
   satirize haiku... senryu...
      — from precious little murders, tiny haiku-style by f. riley hall


Sunday, November 15, 2009

My 15 seconds of fame...

I might have accidentally invented the multi-A.I. computer game, unheard of back in 1986. This is the opponent selection screen from my old public domain Peelgrunt Game of Gammon IV.64 that went around the world for a few months. I wrote it for CP/M and ported it to MS-DOS eventually. The source code for the MS-DOS version is on the C/C++ User's Group CD-ROM, in the uncataloged early stuff.

The characters are a homage to Alexei Panshin's Star Well trilogy, one of the most pleasantly droll science fiction series I've ever read. Peelgrunt is a special time of day (when the peels come out to grunt) in the third novel. There's also a Peelgrunt Room in some versions of the old text Adventure game.

My "a.i." algorithm was ridiculously simple. I just used the same set of board evaluation subroutines for each player, but since C allows you to pass an array of pointers to functions, I simply sorted three bool (*)( void )[] arrays into different evaluation priorities for each "player," and passed the array to my evaluator. In practice, there were three function arrays, but only one evaluator which called each member of its argument (the pertinent array of pointers to functions) in turn. I thought Villiers would be the strongest, but it turned out to be Parini in my case. I had mail from other players who thought Torve the Trog was nearly unbeatable, but in fact, he just looked for the attack with the longest reach and executed that first, if possible. It was all pure heuristics; no neural net stuff at all — a weak first effort, in fact, pathetic against GNU Backgammon or JellyFish Light 3.5 (heh...eventually), but sometimes ok against beginners.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

There's no need to fear! Dept.

Roxanne Conlin announced her intention a few days ago to run as the Democratic candidate against Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley in 2010, after the primary of course. What makes this interesting is that she also ran for Governor of Iowa in 1982, against Republican Terry E. Branstad, who won and then served four terms as Iowa's Governor.

I was a Conlin supporter in the 1982 campaign. The experience was tremendously dispiriting. The Des Moines Register's ace political reporter, David Yepsen, got his teeth into Conlin's refusal to release her tax records, a reluctance which seemed reasonable to us Conlinistas since they weren't just her taxes — the Conlins filed joint returns. By the time Branstad was done with Yepsen's tough but straightforward reporting on the issue, Conlin looked like a fat cat tax cheat who owned a city block of downtown Des Moines.

Long story short, the Iowa governorship was a glass ceiling Conlin just couldn't break, and Branstad was sworn in that January, 1983. As I recall, Branstad's remark the morning after the election was, "We beat her brains out."

I mention this now, because Chuck Grassley may be getting senile, but the vast right-wingnut conspiracy is not. Memories are long in Iowa, and Roxanne Conlin is a name to conjure with. Storm flags are flying.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spanish is no longer foreign in Iowa

Iowa Public Radio made it official a few days ago, during a lunchtime call-in show about how Iowa schools no longer teach "foreign languages" — you know, foreign languages, like German, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian or, and I'm quoting here, "or...(gulp) know...Spanish...."

Apparently, Spanish tisn't all that furrin anymore because it's SPOKEN IN IOWA, as in, we're now a bilingual state (like California), a distinction which makes Spanish the elephant in the room.

Even transmitted through the distancing medium of radio, you could smell the fear.

I dunno. I watch Univision now and then (mostly futbol and Sabado Gigante, which frankly, is better than a lot of the crap that passes for anglotainment these days.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

A good game of Chess is hard to find

Chessmaster, in various incarnations, has had quite a following over the years, but it never was very serious chess; for that, you need Fritz 11, or a very short stack of quality hackers' chess engines (Crafty, Sjeng, GNU Chess, et al.) that work with eboard (which doubles as an FICS client for online play), xboard, Arena, etc.

The Nintendo DS edition is subtitled "The Art of Learning" by someone yclept Josh Waitzkin (you can locate him easily enough on Google, all by yourself), but apparently all he contributed is the ultralite chess tutorial.

However — and this is an important point — the game does play fun chess, offering A.I. opponents dialed back enough to keep a duffer like me entertained. No matter what level you're on, you can find someone to beat with Chessmaster. The A.I.s get tougher as you improve, so there's no danger of running out of someone to play with. If your kid's a chess genius, buy her Fritz 11.

The familiar Chessmaster is the highest-ranking A.I. in the game (ELO 1850), strong enough to beat good casual players.

Buyer beware...! The Nintendo DS edition, seemingly discontinued (?) by Ubisoft, was not worth $30 brand new in 2007, let alone the $119.97 it goes for these days at I bought a pre-owned copy for $18 at Video Games, Etc.

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Bored Game

Uh-oh. You have attained Nirvana. Today is the last tedious day of your life.


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Somebody's got Firefox images wrong

Bug reports don't work... Maybe public shaming? But is the problem Mozilla's? Or Ubuntu's? Or pilot error? If the latter, what do I have to do to get rid of clumsy ugly fonts and bad pixellation?


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cute Story

This is a Bernese Mountain Dog. They're great family dogs, but like many large dogs, they burn the candle fast. Berners tend to live about 7 years. Some friends of mine (and yours, too, if you knew them) have Berners, a 9 year old guy named Darwin and a 5 year old girl named Patty. I don't know much about Patty, but Darwin has a personality.

He's getting old, and he's had his day in the show ring and out to stud. (Berners have über-regulated sex lives because of genetic hazards, and have to be bred under supervision by veterinarians. Maybe that's part of the story...)

Anyway, Darwin's mistress (we'll call her "Susan" to preserve her anonymity), slogging her own way toward Medicare, still has energy to burn and way too much time on her hands. She's inherited a dozen and a half teddy bears from another friend, and she's busy making teddy bear clothes for them — all eighteen of them. They'll be given away to really old folks at the Home, where dressing and undressing teddy bears for hours on end seems to be Good Therapy. (I'll let you know in about ten years when it's my turn.)

Darwin thinks they're puppies. He is, "Susan" says, smitten by bears.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Moon Reflected in a Pail of Water

Zen for Dummies: The point is not the moon reflected in a pail of water. The point is the moon reflected in every pail of water.

Zen for Idiots: There's not actually a moon in the pail.

Zen for Zen Masters: There's not actually a moon.

Hui Neng's Retort: (Kicks the bucket.)


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Claude Levi-Strauss

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Today, the first of November, my guvmint Medicare coverage kicks in! (Not that I need it ;-)