2014/09/15

We were sad today

Today we were coming out of work, riding in and driving taxis, going in and out of the coffee shop, up and down the stairs, at the corner of 8th Avenue and 15th Street. And we had stopped pushing the shopping cart into the intersection, a little bit onto the street, and we were down on our knees, crying, our tears on the pavement, crying out in a language that might have been Spanish, or Portuguese, or even French or Vietnamese.

We stopped to ask if we could help, a small young woman with a skateboard, a large hobbit-like man with a backpack, a dark-skinned white-haired man in shorts. But we were too sad, a thin brown-skinned man, not young or old, with white earbuds in our ears and everything we owned in the shopping cart (in a few plastic grocery bags and a broken suitcase), and we just cried out more, and beat our fists on the sidewalk.

We flagged down a police car, and we pulled over to the curb and got out, and came over and said “get up, get up!”. And we finally looked up from the ground, and saw us standing there with our uniform and our nightstick and gun, and we stood up unsteadily. “Get up,” we said again, and then we said something that might have been “Go home” in very bad Spanish. And we rolled our eyes and looked angry, tears on our cheeks, and we beat our hands on the crossbar of our shopping cart, and pushed it across the intersection and with a furious energy off down the avenue.

And we looked at each other and said “hard day” and shook our heads, we went back to our police car, we walked on down the street, hitching our backpacks up on our backs, carrying our skateboard down into the subway, poking in the patches of earth around the trees for spare change or deposit cans, feeling the air. And we made our way home.

And we hope that whatever was wrong, we can be less sad soon.

2014/08/25

Fifteen years!

Wow, you’d think something would have changed after a week away; flying cars, or aliens walking around Manhattan, or at least a new subway line or something, but NO, everything is pretty much just the same!

Weird.

Extremely attentive and/or precognitive readers will suspect rightly that we were away for a week because we were in Maine; the first time that happened was in 1999, and this is 2014, so it’s been fifteen years!

And since that first Maine trip was when I started writing a weblog, and this is in some sense the same weblog as that, this is the fifteenth anniversary of the weblog!

Woot!

Here is a picture of Maine:

Renewal

Isn’t that gorgeous? Along with M’s sister’s family, and their father and stepmother, we rented a house on top of Dodge Mountain, overlooking Rockland and the bay and points East, with a lovely deck, and chairs to sit in, and tables to put your book and your wineglass on, and beds to sleep in, and all.

It was great.

I did a lot of reading, as usual. That book there is “Karma and Rebirth” by Christmas (sic) Humphries. I wrote it up for GoodReads (hope that link works for not-me people).

(I will resist the obvious temptation to produce lots of weblog content by pasting in all various book reviews I have written instead of just linking to them!)

I read that because I happened across it in some used book store (perhaps Hello Hello Books?), shortly after watching Hemant Mehta’s rather offputting “Can Atheists be Buddhists“, and it seemed like a nice synchronicity.

The Mehta piece is offputting for a few reasons:

  • His conclusion is basically “no”, and I’m sort of both of those things, so yeah.
  • The reason his conclusion is basically “no” is that, he says, although Buddhists don’t believe in a deity, they do believe some stuff (specifically Karma and Rebirth) that Isn’t Scientific, and therefore atheists won’t believe it.
  • This implies that for Mehta “atheist” doesn’t just mean “doesn’t believe in God” for some value of “God”, it means “only believes stuff that is Scientific”, and that seems like just sloppy thinking or sloppy word-usage or something,
  • His conclusion that Karma and Rebirth are Not Scientific seems very offhand and not particularly well thought out; as for that matter is his assumption that all Buddhists believe in either or both of them in any form.

Some day I will have to write a post on Buddhism and Scientificness and Karma and Rebirth and all, and why atheists can in fact be Buddhists, and vice-versa, at least when they are me. Not today, though. :)

Another book, that I’m sure I bought in Hello Hello Books (which is a great bookstore, by the way), and then I read and enjoyed very much, is Doris Grumbach’s “The Pleasure of Their Company”, which I also wrote up for GoodReads. It was good.

I do love lying about in Maine, feeling the wind and reading books and thinking about things.

Also I went out on a boat! And held a lobster!

Here is a picture from on the boat, with the notable deck hand Dana holding the lobster in question:

Dana with the lobster

and here is the lobster, with parts of my hand holding it:

Lobster

and a little girl looking dubious in the background.

We did many other things in Maine! I took three of the four kids to the beach one day, but the sun was behind clouds and the sand was too wet and rocky and the waves too small and they got cold, so we didn’t stay very long.

Here are some rocks!

Rocks

They do look coldish.

We went into Rockland a couple of times (although sadly we were not in town for this

Internet Cats

which I bet would have been noteworthy), and into Camden a couple of times (here is a classy black-and-white shot of some water in Camden:

Water in Camden

just because we are posting lots of pictures; more and/or different ones can as usual be found on the Insta-Gram).

Reading back through some of the various Maine and post-Maine postings in the weblog over the years, I see lots of variety in terms of thoughtfulness, randomness, introspection, and so on. I did feel introspective, in a good way, and renewed, in a good way, by it all this year, but in writing about it I’m mostly just writing random things, I think. :)

Maybe largely because I didn’t feel like writing about it at all while I was there (too busy doing it?), and now am writing about it retrospectively, having been home for a couple of days and back to work one day, so somewhat back in the quotidian mindset. Or something?

Here is another picture :) this one of ol’ Red’s Eats (where we didn’t eat this year) as randomly enhanced in its usual drive-by way by Google Plus:

Red's Eats

Kinda neat, I thought.

What else? I read some other books, acquired some other books, sat zazen a bit, had some thoughts, drank some wine, ate some lobster and some blueberry pie, enjoyed some sun and wind.

And I’m not unhappy to be home. :)

About all one could ask for, really!

2014/08/10

Four humbugs

It is all too easy and fun to point out widespread notions that are wrong. Because I’ve seen a bunch lately, and it’s easy, and at the risk of being smug, here are four.

thumb downImpossible space drive is impossible.

Headlines like “NASA validates ‘impossible’ space drive and Fuel-Less Space Drive May Actually Work, Says NASA and so on and so on are silly and even irresponsible.

What actually happened is that a single small “let’s try out some weird stuff” lab at NASA (and I’m glad NASA has those, really) published a paper saying:

They tried out some mad scientist’s law-defying reactionless thruster, and they detected a tiny itty-bitty nearly-indetectable amount of thrust.

As a control case, they tried out a variant that shouldn’t have produced any thrust. In that case, they also detected a tiny itty-bitty nearly-indetectable amount of thrust.

The proper conclusion would be that there is probably an additional source of noise in their setup that they hadn’t accounted for.

Instead they concluded that both the experimental and the control setup were actually producing thrust, and that they are “potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma [sic]“.

Which is just silly, per this G+ posting by an actual physicist, and various similar things.

For the other side of the issue, see Wired.co.uk’s doubling-down Q&A. But I would still bet many donuts against there being any real effect here.

Brain-like supercomputer chip super how, exactly?

IBM Builds A Scalable Computer Chip Inspired By The Human Brain“, “IBM’s new brain-mimicking chip could power the Internet of Things“, “IBM reveals next-gen chip that delivers Supercomputer speed“, etc, etc, etc.

Chief among the things that make me skeptical about how important this is, is that none of the articles that I’ve read give an actual example of anything useful that this chip does any better than existing technologies.

You’d think that’d be kind of important, eh?

Apparently there was a demonstration showing that it can do pattern recognition; but so can an Intel Pentium. It’s also touted as being very low-power, but again it’s not clear to what extent it’s low-power when doing some specific useful task that some conventional technology takes more power to do.

I like this quote:

While other chips are measured in FLOPs, or floating point operations per second, IBM measures the chip in SOPs, or synaptic operations per second.

“This chip is capable of 46 billion SOPs per watt,” Modha said. “It’s a supercomputer the size of a postage stamp, the weight of a feather, and the power consumption of a hearing-aid battery.”

Amazing, eh? If only we knew what a SOP is actually good for…

Hey, my right little toe is capable of 456 trillion quantum vacuum flux plasma operations per second (QVPFOPS) (which I just made up) per watt! It’s a supercomputer! In a little toe! Buy my stock!

(Disclaimer: I used to work for IBM, and they laid off at least one friend who was doing interesting work in actual brain-inspired computing, which I have to admit has not increased my confidence in how serious they are about it. Also I now work for Google, which is sometimes mentioned in the press as experimenting with the “D-Wave” devices, which I suspect are also wildly over-hyped.)

Numbers about “sex trafficking” are just made up.

On the Twitters I follow a number of libertarian posters (with whom I sometimes agree despite no longer identifying as libertarian myself), and lately there’ve been lots of postings about the various societal approaches to sex work.

I tend to think that the more libertarian “arrangements between consenting adults should be regulated only to the extent that there is force or fraud involved” arguments are more convincing than the more prohibitionist “things we wish people wouldn’t do should be outlawed and thereby driven underground where they can be run by criminals who do force and fraud for a living” arguments. (As you might perhaps be able to tell by how I have worded my descriptions of them.)

Recently there was this interesting “In Defense of Johns” piece on Time.com, and this also interesting “Actually, you should be ashamed” rebuttal.

One very striking statement in the latter is this:

U.S. State Department estimates that 80% of the 600,000-800,000 people trafficked across international borders every year are trafficked for sex.

which is a really striking number. Half a million people a year kidnapped and taken to other countries and forced into sex work? That’s horrible!

It’s also completely made up, and almost certainly false.

Here’s a paper on the general subject that includes considerable analysis of these numbers, how wildly they vary from source to source, and how little actual fact there is behind any of them. One salient Justice Department quote:

Most importantly, the government must address the incongruity between the estimated number of victims trafficked into the United States—between 14,500 and 17,500 [annually]—and the number of victims found—only 611 in the last four years… The stark difference between the two figures means that U.S. government efforts are still not enough. In addition, the estimate should be evaluated to assure that it is accurate and reflects the number of actual victims.

Between “we’ve found only one-tenth of one percent of the victims” and “the estimates people have pulled out of their hats to get funding are wildly inflated”, I know where I’d put my money.

There are people forced into sex work, and that’s a terrible crime that we ought to find and punish and disincent. But we need to do that by getting all of the truth that we can, not by artificially inflating numbers (or just outright lying) to get more than our fair share of funds, or by conflating a voluntary activity that we don’t like with actual coercion, or by otherwise acting in bad faith.

Sergeant STAR is not AI.

Okay, this one is a bit of a last-minute addition because it was on On The Media this morning, and it fits with our occasional theme of how bad “chatbots” are.

Basically the U.S. Army has this chatbot that answers questions from potential recruits (and anyone else) about being in the Army and all. The EFF got curious about it and filed a FOIA request which was (after some adventures) more or less answered. Details (and some rather confused distracting speculation about different kinds of bots and privacy threats and things) are on the EFF site.

The Executive Summary is that Sgt STAR is basically an FAQ, with something like 288 pages of Q&A’s, and some kind of heuristic matcher that tries to match each incoming question to one that it knows the answer to, and displays that answer. No big deal, really.

And then (the actually useful part) there are some humans who constantly review the log of questions and update the answers to better match what people are asking, and how reality is changing.

The reason the good Sgt qualifies for a Humbug list is that people (including the bot himself) are constantly referring to it as “intelligent” and “AI” and stuff like that.

You Asked: Are you alive?

SGT STAR: I am a dynamic, intelligent self-service virtual guide…

No, no Sarge, I’m afraid you aren’t.

You’re a well-designed and well-maintained lookup table.

And that’s not what intelligence is.

2014/08/04

Eventual thread convergence

Speaking of the really bad science in teevee shows like Numb3rs, and speaking a long time ago about that really annoying book that Stephen Wolfram wrote, we are extremely amused to read that:

Wolfram Research served as the mathematical consultant for the CBS television series Numb3rs, a show about the mathematical aspects of crime-solving.

Wahahaha.

No further comment required.

2014/07/29

Sulsul!

The Sims 2First the Urgent Thing! If you are a (Windows-using) Sims 2 fan and you don’t have absolutely all of the expansion packs, you can install EA’s “Origin” client and go to “My Account” or whatever and then “Redeem Code” or whatever, and enter (holding your nose) “I-LOVE-THE-SIMS” to get the Sims 2 Ultimate Whatever added to your list of downloadable things, and then you can download it.

Free! But This Month Only! Which is almost over!

Thanks to the reader who posted this information over on the About page, which we’d sort of forgotten we had. It sounds like some kind of scam, but apparently it is For Real, as evidenced by an official EA page saying it and all.

Some less-than-wonderful things:

  • Nothing for the Mac (all the Mac Sims 2 stuff was done by Aspyr, and doesn’t seem to be under any active curation),
  • EA are doing this because they are basically withdrawing and unsupporting all Sims 2 stuff, because they want to chug heartlessly ahead with Sims 3 and Sims 4, the meanies; and
  • The version of the Sims 2 Ultimate Whatever that you can get for free comes with the SecuRom DRM, installed also for free. This does not actually bother me much, but I can imagine it bothering other persons.

But anyway! Go and get it right now! If you want to!

It is likely that the person who posted the news to us found us in the first place because of our ancient obsession with Sims 2 storytelling, which apparently occupied lots of our time in like 2005 and 2006.

Having now gotten All of the Sims 2 Expansion Packs, and them having installed correctly onto the laptop here, I thought I would actually find the old Neighborhood One save files, and see if they would actually work.

It turned out that there was something very promising-looking already right here on the laptop, probably copied over from the previous laptop or something. I made yet another copy, from the Sims 2 directory into the Sims 2 Ultimate Whatever directory, and fired up the game, and there was Neighborhood One! As of some time or other in the past, anyway (see below).

Neighborhood One

(Click through for a description of the neighborhood per the image.)

I zoomed around the overhead view, and loaded up the Test House in Build Mode just to make sure that worked. Then I actually went into Joan and Peran‘s house, remembering vaguely that since there’s just the two of them, it might be a simple family to run for a bit to make sure it actually works.

I’d forgotten Joan is pregnant!

And then I very very vaguely remembered seeing Joan deliver a baby in that house, which if true would mean that there’s a more recent copy of the neighborhood save files somewhere. Yow! I might accidentally fork reality!

Places where such a newer old copy of Neighborhood One might be would include:

  • The hard-drive from the prior laptop, which can’t be powered up while in the prior laptop anymore (the prior laptop having a broken power-thing), but which is readable via a clever SATA-to-USB device. It turns out not to have anything that looks like the Neighborhood One save files on it, though, that I could find.
  • The old desktop computer in the playroom. It hasn’t worked for some time, and when the hard drive is removed and hooked up to the SATA-to-USB device, it doesn’t come to life. If Dad were around he could probably talk me through opening up the hard drive case and carefully giving the platter a little spin and then closing it up again; which he always said would fix at least half of all broken hard drives. I suppose I might find a YouTube video or something showing how to do that someday, but not today!
  • An old Seagate Free Agent external USB drive that we “backed up” some of the stuff on that old computer onto. When wired up, it just makes an unpromising ticking noise, and doesn’t present any data either. Someday maybe I will take that out of its case, attach it to the SATA-to-USB device, etc. But not today…
  • This 3TB Western Digital “MyCloud” (gag what a name) that I had entirely forgotten we had on the network here, and which contains a backup of tons of stuff that was on the old playroom machine, including a “The Sims 2″ directory, but unfortunately the directory is empty, boo.

So that didn’t work out. Maybe this copy of the save files is in fact the most recent. Or not!

Not sure yet what I’m going to do about it; so far I’ve just been playing an EA-supplied character (Julien Cooke) in an EA-supplied neighborhood (ummm something Green something or something) to work on my Sims 2 skills a little. I don’t want to actually run this Neighborhood One yet until I’m satisfied that I won’t find a newer one sometime and be all disturbed by the forking (which one would be Canon???).

But one thing I could do without danger of reality forks is to post a few of the stories that are sitting in the save files as pictures, but that have never been posted! Joan and Peran moving out of Rooms to Let, for instance, and into this very fancy house that I built them:

Joan and Peran's House -- the Library

It is a very dreamy house (the upstairs is like solid library ooohhh), and it looks to me like the story of their moving out and into it (and Joan becoming pregnant) has never been told.

So I might do that!

But probably don’t hold your breath. :)

Just in case…

2014/07/26

More bingewatching

I went and fixed the spelling of “Numb3rs”, which I had written as (the more properly-133t) “Numb3rz”, and added Dollhouse to the list of ones that I want to pay attention while I watch.

Also just watched another Numb3rs, and it was so awful that I want to rant. :) It was actually light on the “ridiculous modeling” aspects, because the Fancy Math(tm) was mostly used only to do things you wouldn’t actually need much fancy math for.

But!

First, the whole premise of why things were Very Serious was that a body was found of a person who had had Avian Flu, and although Avian Flu isn’t really contagious between people, the flu in this particular person might have mutated into a very contagious form, even though it has never done that before in the entire world, and we have no actual evidence that it has in this case, so we might be in danger of a rapidly spreading endemic flu outbreak! Uh oh!

Second, and even more infuriating, the especially-nerdy-professor character, who dresses badly and is familiar with all world literature and science and doesn’t use contractions and always speaks as though he were writing a journal paper, misuses “begs the question” to mean “raises the question”, just like a semi-literate Web comment-writer. Arrrrgghh!

Further update:

House: Not watching this very much anymore since I realized that every episode has exactly the same plot.

Leverage: a fun little show about this good-guy insurance investigator who loses his job because the insurance company is evil, and gathers a bunch of quirky criminals to help him pull a con to get revenge and set things right, and then decides that that was so much fun that he’ll set up a company to do that to other bad guys who are otherwise untouchable. I actually forget why I haven’t been watching those recently; I’ll have to add it back to the rotation! (See also our alternate-universe review of this back in Passive Gaming.)

2014/07/25

Bingewatching

Old TVIt turns out that having some random TV episode or movie streaming on my Cellular Telephone off to one side of my desk at work helps me focus, and/or keeps me from wandering off to get yet more food that I don’t need. So I have been watching lots of things in a “not really paying attention” sort of way, on the Net Flix. A few movies, but mostly many consecutive episodes of various old TV series.

Let us write things about some of them!

Warehouse 13: This was fun, and I’ve watched every episode that NetFlix streams. Which includes only Seasons 1-3, darn them. I could like pay Amazon money to see some more, but that would be silly.

Numb3rs: This felt kind of fun at first, but eventually the horrible scientific / mathematical gaffes got to be too much to take. Now I just watch a single episode now and then, when I’ve OD’d on everything else obvious. Pretty much every episode involves Our Hero making a mathematical model of some very complex real-world phenomenon (generally a crime), and using that model to figure out Who Done It, or How Many Shooters There Are, or Where The Killer Will Strike Next. And in every case it’s utterly implausible if you actually understand anything about how modeling works, how rough and approximate it is at best, and how many unknown input parameters are always floating around.

Bones: This is superficially better, because not being a forensic anthropologist I don’t realize that all the cool-looking science is crap (I have heard third or fourth hand that in fact it is, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised). But over time the soap-opera stuff starts to pall, and the basic moral-majority premise, that the rational atheist polyamorous Bones will not be truly happy until she is an irrational religious believer in the Magic of Love and monogamy like Booth, palls even more.

Lie To Me: Fun premise here, where the protagonists have the scientific ability to tell whether people are lying, what they are feeling, and so on, from the microexpressions on their faces, and their body language. I’ve watched a bunch of these (and when watching something else afterward I’m always wondering why the characters are so clueless about what the bad guys are thinking and all). But recently they’ve been mostly about how angry the main good guy is about everything, and how much trouble their company is in for various reasons, and so on, which seems unnecessary.

Sliders: Premise sounded good, but is apparently targeted pretty narrowly at High School Kids or something.

CSI / Law & Order : NY / SVU / LA / Criminal Intent: So far these all sort of mush together as decent Police Procedurals with high production values, but everyone is always frowning glumly and darkly alluding to grim back-stories from off-camera or last season or something and being generally depressing. So I don’t watch these alot.

Star Trek: TNG: Eh. I should be all fannish about these I guess, but the science and general plotlines are so often so bogus, just clumsy artificial set-pieces for some particular character interaction or whatever. Will have to try various Star Trek things again sometime, there must be something there?

The X-Files: So classic, how could this not be great!? But somehow it feels incredibly dated. “There is a vague hint that there might be an alien spaceship around, CUE SCARY MUSIC!!!” Really, guyz; a vague suggestion of alien spaceships, even ones that maybe sometimes steal people, maybe, just isn’t all by itself all that scary.

Witches of East End: Completely silly-looking premise: there is this group of magical people (“witches”) who came to the mortal world from the magical realm of Asgard (seriously?); the mother is immortal, and she is cursed so that she keeps having these same two daughters over and over, who keep dying young, and then some time later she bears them again (kind of novel!). Her sister can change into a cat and has nine lives, and has also been here for a very long time. This time around, the mother tried to keep the truth about their history and powers from the daughters, hoping this would keep them from dying, but now they know. They have all made lots of enemies over the centuries, who keep bothering them. One of the daughters is engaged to this guy, but keeps having dreams about hot sex with his mysterious ne’er-do-well brother. That sort of thing. And lots of knives for some reason. It’s great because it doesn’t even nod in the direction of reality or sense, so I can watch it without wincing.

Buffy, Dollhouse, and Firefly: Nope! These, I want to pay attention to when I watch. :)

Suggestions for other things that might be good to have playing in the background while writing C++ are more than welcome…

2014/07/20

I need you more than whoa

So Lady Gaga really needs to enunciate more clearly. Listening to Artpop playing loudish on the car radio, with the occasional interruption from the maps app telling me how to get home from wherever, I really couldn’t tell what it was.

More than gold? More than goal? (World Cup reference!) More than dope? More than Dole? (mmm tasty canned pineapple rings!) More than whoa? More than low?

Eggs Benedict on the UWSApparently it is “More than dope“.

Anyway! Great fun yesterday, which was M’s b’day. We decided, daringly, to go into The Big City rather than just to some Mall or other familiar space. Brunch on the Upper West Side, at a sidewalk café even!

Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your taxi. (photo: Little Daughter)

Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your taxi.
(photo: Little Daughter)

And little stores, some yarn-related and some not, and the wilds of Central Park, and the Guggenheim Museum.

(The Italian Futurists seem to have been mostly sort of wannabe-Fascist assholes; who knew? The work itself was probably daring and transgressive at the time; today it would be sort of meh.)

And we rested (and recharged my phone; the one thing I don’t like about the Nexus 5 is how battery-poor it is) at work, and then went and met the little daughter (yay!) at this amazing little tea-and-pastries-and-macarons (which I now know have basically nothing whatsoever to do with macaroons) place in Soho, and walked through a buzzing-with-energy Soho evening to the subway and came home.

Whew!

Oh, and there is the interesting Case of The Two Very Similar CDs, but that will have to wait for another time and/or possible world…

2014/07/18

Signs

Train Sign nicely vandalizedDid you know that the various advertising signs in (for instance) Metro-North commuter train cars are just thin cardboard things, at least some of which are blank on the back, which are sort of slid insecurely into little tabs in insecure metal frames?

So that for instance it’s entirely possible to:

  • Slip a particularly repulsive one out of its frame and lay it down to one side where the occupants will no longer be subjected to it (at which some of said occupants might potentially express amused gratitude), and even to
  • Slip one that is say urging people to gamble out of its frame, turn it around to the blank side, and slip it back in, and then draw say an abstract smiley face on it.

Of course one probably shouldn’t do these things, because the train line probably has regulations about interfering with the advertising of our Corporate Masters, and one wouldn’t want to get in trouble with the CorpCops…

Villagers

The shooting-down of flight MH17 was horrible; people should stop doing this kind of thing. I blame it on sociopathic assholes who are willing to cause innumerable deaths for the sake of power; but probably I do this at least partly to find an easy target to blame, so I don’t have to think too hard about what it says about humanity in general, including me. So we won’t think about that now.

But we will think about why, when talking about the people living near where the plane went down, NPR this morning referred to them as “villagers” from a nearby “village”.

(See our earlier essay, Who’s the Chief of the BBC?)

It seemed odd to me. In my youth I lived near the Village of Spring Valley, but I would not have thought of the people who lived there as “villagers”.

The Wikipedia page on “Village (United States)” does not contain the string “villager”.

The page on “Village” in general contains “villager” twice: the contexts are:

Malay and Indonesian villagers practice the culture of helping one another as a community

Most Russian rural residents are involved in agricultural work, and it is very common for villagers to produce their own food.

So villagers can be Malay, Indonesian, or Russian (if rural).

The obvious Google search suggests that “villager” is usually the name of a local newspaper.

A quick search on the BBC suggests that villagers can be:

  • In early 20th Century England,
  • In India (and mostly illiterate),
  • In China (and being hit by a flood),
  • In a hamlet in Devon, England (coping with storms),
  • On Komodo Island (killed by a local dragon),
  • Somewhere in England (I guess), saving a shop.

The two English ones:

Hallsands villager Jonathan Hale said: “Until the storms we had no idea of the policy of no intervention.”

Reg Moule is in the studio taking your gardening questions plus we find out about a shop in the county that was saved by a villager and is now thriving

If we try CNN, we find that villagers are:

  • In Africa (shunning a relief worker who survived Ebola),
  • In “a tiny district” in Nepal (falling prey to organ traffickers),
  • In Iraq (saving a contractor from ISIS),
  • In Nigeria (fighting off Boko Haram).

which are all a bit Other, but maybe CNN just talks about foreigners alot.

Hm, maybe USA Today? There we have just a few villagers:

  • In Indonesia in an earthquake,
  • In Belgium in the 1990s, building a small memorial to some Tuskegee Airmen,
  • In France in WWII, speaking broken English to some American soldiers,
  • Nelson Mandela, in South African in his youth,
  • In Africa, saving a Navy Seal,
  • In Central China, buying a baby,
  • In New Mexica, being a Latino using evil magic,
  • and so on in foreign countries.

It may be telling here that even the USA Today site has mostly foreign villagers, and the one that is in the US is Latino, and so Other.

Not enough to draw any definite conclusions from, but I get the general impression that “villager” is, for the mainstream West, another word used when Othering people, like those living near where airplanes are shot down in foreign countries…

2014/07/01

Five trivial ways to feel like you’re meditating!

Attractive white woman, probably meditating

Attractive white woman, probably meditating

Meditation, sitting, zazen, vipassana, samatha, dhyāna: practices like these have long histories in human culture; people in all parts of the world, through long centuries, have devoted their energy, their time, and their lives, to the rigors of practice.

But today, fortunately, we know better!

By removing from these practices anything inconveniently spiritual or in any way demanding, and packaging something vaguely like what remains under appealing names like “mindfulness” or “attention”, we have obtained a set of modern products which contribute positively to the health, well-being, self-esteem, and profit margins of the people who sell them online.

In the spirit of recent highly-clickable works like 13 ways to meditate without sitting like a monk from the inner-awareness site MarketWatch Dot Com, and because many people would like to feel that they are meditating, without actually going to any effort, we prevent these Five Top Tips. Thank you for clicking on our ads.

Take a deep breath now and then. Breathing is good, and helps keep your blood oxygenated. Deep breaths can cause a momentary head-rush that is easily mistaken for something significant. Also, people who meditate do breathe, sometimes deeply.

Think “aummm” to yourself. This is a cool sound, that reminds many people of hippies and meditation and things. Also, something about jewels and lotuses. This sound can be made at any volume; we recommend a low volume, so no one else hears it and thinks you are some kind of weirdo.

Don’t worry. All true meditative traditions agree that everything is really all the same, and that whatever is happening is okay. So you can be meditative by not worrying about anything. Or by worrying. Or whatever, really.

Notice how the people around you are not meditating. Most likely the other people around you on the plane or at the espresso bar are not being mindful and meditating like you are. This leads naturally to the next tip.

Feel good about yourself for meditating. Mindfulness improves self-esteem, and self-esteem is really a kind of mindfulness. Simply by being mindful about the fact that you are meditating, and how well this reflects on you, you are meditating mindfully; it is a Virtuous Cycle!

In addition to these Five Top Tips, experts agree that it is beneficial to eliminate from your life as many problems and distractions as you can; so if possible, try to be prosperous, healthy, and not a member of any minority or historically oppressed groups. Reading the Wall Street Journal is good, too.

2014/06/19

Cities are so full of human things

Today around lunchtime, having successfully backfilled a default value into a null field in upwards of (literally) six million records so that we could eventually remove the “if field is NULL, use the default” code from the runtime (something that frankly we wouldn’t have bothered with at the previous employer, but current employer takes code curation very seriously), I decided to go out for a little walk.

For Father’s Day the little daughter gave me this wonderful handmade set of cards (pictured here, along with the delicious truffles from M) describing various favorite and otherwise notable coffeehouses around The City. One of the favorites was Café Grumpy, which has a location in Chelsea, just a few minutes walk from here.

So I picked up a lovely ham half-sandwich from the Five Borough Bistro down the hall, took off my badge in the elevator (good opsec), and walked out into The Big City.

Between 111 8th Avenue and 224 West 20th Street, there are about five blocks, probably about four Starbuckses, the Joyce Theater, a modest number of portals (most of them Smurf Blue), and many many lovely complicated people, some on bicycles. I ate my sandwich while walking North among it all.

Sitting with my cappuccino, I wrote Profound Coffee Shop Words on the Insta-gram.

I get this feeling,
in cities,
that all the other people
are clued into some multifarious but shared thing
that I’m outside of.
Which is I think true
and false
and true.

True because being a really city-immersed and full-time city person is in fact a multifarious but shared thing that I’m outside of.

False because there are lots of different ones, even multifarious and shared; being a really city-immersed and full-time city person isn’t just one thing, any more than being any other kind of person is just one thing (not even a multifarious thing).

And true because everyone everywhere is clued into some multifarious but shared thing that virtually everyone else is outside of.

Speaking of love :) and social media, there is some amusement to be had today on the “March4Marriage” tag on the Twitter, which was started by the odious National Organization for Marriage (a small but mysteriously well-funded group devoted to preventing certain marriages), but which has attracted lots of variously heartwarming, funny, snarky, and otherwise pro-equality “tweets” that made me smile. (The “march” itself seems to have drawn maybe a couple hundred people; a fact that the Twitter has also enjoyed.)

And speaking of the more and less delightful mysteries of the human soul, there is this odd story. The story says that every time a child is born in the U. S. of A., a secret account with some large monetary value is created by the birth certificate, and that this account is used as collateral for large loans from foreign banks that keep the United States (which is secretly a Corporation) running. By filling out certain forms with certain punctuation, the story says, a citizen can get control of that account, and use it to pay one’s taxes, obtain cash, or whatever.

People who promote and/or believe this story are collectively called the Redemption Movement, which has a Wikipedia page and everything, as well as a long and painful (and sometimes funny) history of losses in court, criminal convictions, loony web pages and YouTube videos, and so on. This guy for instance seems schizomimetic on the order of the Time Cube guy:

~7 FOR THE CONSTITUTION OF THE DOCUMENT-CONTRACT-PERSONS(CONTRACT BETWEEN TWO-OR-MORE-PERSONS) ARE WITH THE TERMS OF THE “PAPER-DOCUMENT-CONSTITUTION” OR “PAPER-CONTRACT-COMPLAINT” WITH THESE DOCUMENT-CONTRACTE-LOCAL-RULES BY THE DOCUMENT-CONTRACT-PAPER-VESSEL-COURT.

whereas others are either just easily duped, or relatively ordinary con-persons.

But back to cities. :) It did not pour rain at all on my way out to Grumpy and back, just a very few sprinkles. People had umbrellas up, or were carrying them down, or had their hoods up or newspapers held over their heads, or were bareheaded and looking up dubiously at the sky now and then like I was, or were just walking along. Whereas this morning at the train station up in the ‘burbs, it was raining quite definitely, and I got thoroughly splashed on the legs by a car going too fast through a gutter puddle.

It is nice not to be wet anymore.

2014/06/16

Flying theatrical pirates!

And now, the weblog entry I know you’ve all been waiting for: the next episode of “So, I had this dream the other night…”!

So, I had this dream the other night.

I was at home, in the driveway (it was like the driveway of the house that I grew up in, not the one I live in now), and these two door-to-door salepersons came up, and they were selling cross-stitch supplies and something completely unrelated to that (motor oil or something), and I told them that they should wait until M got home, and she might be interested in the cross-stitch supplies.

Then I was driving somewhere in the car, and the salespersons were there in the car with me, and I thought “oh, wait, why are they here in the car with me? I was supposed to leave them back at the house to wait for M, oops”.

And then up in the sky I saw all of these people sort of floating there in a long line stretching off into the distance. Since I could fly myself in the dream (as in many dreams), I wanted to go and join them and wait in line too (perhaps I hadn’t known until then that other people could fly; not clear), but what about the car?

So I gave the salespersons the keys and had them promise to drive the car home to wait for M, and not steal it or anything, and I floated up to get in the line.

And although the line looked very long, it must have been moving very fast, because soon I got to the front of it, which was in this wooden structure (up in the sky presumably), where there were lots of theatrical pirate supplies (hats with feathers, odd baggy pants, unconvincing swords, etc), because we were going to be pirates.

Flying pirates!

And I think I spent the rest of the dream happily playing with and trying on the supplies.

And there you have it! :)

Be sure to tune in again next time…

Update!!:!:: As I somehow forgot to mention but a commentor inadvertently (I assume) reminded me, M and I had just seen Monty Python’s Meaning of Life on the Net Flix, so there is an obvious connection with the Crimson Permanent Assurance. Which didn’t fly, but still…

2014/06/08

Greece v Galloway: well that’s annoying!

subtle coercive pressuresYou can tell I’ve been busy because I failed to notice this last month:

Prayer that is solemn and respectful in tone, that invites lawmakers to reflect upon shared ideals and common ends before they embark on the fractious business of governing, serves that legitimate function. If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation, or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort. That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court. — Greece v Galloway

Basically the Supremes were given the chance to say that sectarian prayer (“we acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross”), or even prayer in general (“blah blah blah God blah blah”), is out of place in government contexts since some of the salient citizens could obviously feel excluded; and they did something close to the opposite, on the amusing and infuriating assumption that this stuff “unites” us in our “common effort”.

There is good coverage of this on Friendly Atheist and very good analysis on ScotusBlog.

Justice Kagan gets it just right in this bit of dissent:

Contrary to the majority’s apparent view, such sectarian prayers are not “part of our expressive idiom” or “part of our heritage and tradition,” assuming the word “our” refers to all Americans.

but also disappointingly does exactly the same thing herself in writing

None of this means that Greece’s town hall must be religion- or prayer-free. “[W]e are a religious people,” Marsh observed.

Not assuming that the word “we” refers to all Americans, eh, Justice Kagan? Hem hem!

The conservative Justices are saying, as conservative Justices tend to, “people like us have no problem with this, and people who aren’t like us don’t really matter much.”

And that’s always bad.

But it’s sad that, as ScotusBlog notes, even the dissenters seem to assume that government prayer is just fine, and the only thing that might make anyone feel unacceptably excluded is if it’s the wrong kind of prayer.

Phht.

2014/06/05

Subtleties of the Seventh Avenue Subway

tracksIn the morning, on the way downtown from Times Square, a packed express (the 2 or 3) stops every minute or two, and the doors open and lots of people get out, because they were on their way to Times Square from uptown.

This leaves room for other people to get in, and then it stops at 34th street (Penn Station) and then at 14th Street which is where we are going.

In the afternoon, on the way home going uptown, a packed express also stops every minute or two, but hardly anyone gets off (not many people are going from downtown to 14th street), so it stays packed, and only a few people (who are willing to squeeze more or less forcefully in) can get on.

A somewhat less packed local also stops every minute or two, so we get into that instead, and we stop at 18th and 23rd and 28th, and then at Penn Station, and finally Times Square where we are going.

Which is not bad, the subway is a fun place with a wide variety of interesting people. It is just a thing which I have noticed.

Tags:
2014/06/04

Intensive

oryoki

The Enlightened One
Spills his oryoki bowl.
Rice everywhere.

As well as being of course all profound and stuff, this is a Celebratory Poem on my having signed up for the Basic Space Meditation Intensive up at Zen Mountain Monastery in September.

Just around my birthday; a present!

It is also a reference to the fact that oryoki seems to be the main thing I am worried (“worried”) about vis-à-vis said Intensive. Which is kind of funny, in some elusive sense, but it’s always good to know where the barriers are.

Or, well, to have a theory about it.

Because then you have the fun of discovering you were wrong. :)

And working on different surprise barriers instead.

Or as well.

So anyway I am extremely looking forward to it; devoted (really really devoted) readers will recall our previous weekend at Zen Mountain Monastery back in (omg haha) 2006 (a mere eight years ago), and how great that was.

Not that one part of the Pure Land is superior to any other or anything heretical like that! :) But still…

It will be tiring, bouncing up and down eagerly for like four months.

2014/05/25

The Daisy Knitter

Because everyone’s schedule was actually going to be in sync, we had all four of us planned some time back to go down to the Zoo today. We recently realized that it was going to be Memorial Day Weekend, and were a bit worried that the Zoo might be unpleasantly crowded.

We needn’t have worried, because as it turned out the Zoo was completely inaccessible.

(After an hour or so waiting in traffic, we got within shouting distance of a parking lot entrance that was closed with a LOT FULL sign. A topless young man jumped out of the car ahead of us and went over and talked to the people in orange vests near the sign; as he was coming back M called out the window to him “What did they say?”.

“We’re fucked!” was the metaphorically accurate reply.)

So we drove Northward a bit to Peekskill, had coffee and hung out at the Coffee House (I got a tee shirt!), took pictures on our cellular phones, looked at lots and lots of books at The Bruised Apple, had yummy little pizzas, I mean flatbread, at Gleason’s, and (not in this order) wandered through the Flea Market buying random things.

The most notable random thing I bought was this:

artifact

(shown larger than actual size).

When I asked the owner of the case it was in (with various pieces of costume jewelry, old pocket knives, police whistles, compasses) how much it was, he said “Ah, you’ve got a good eye, look at this”, and he showed me that, if you twist the knob in the center, a stubby bit of wire pokes out from the end of each of those ribs you see radiating from the center in the picture. “That’s five dollars.”

A bargain, clearly! So I bought it.

(Here is an image of it with the wires extended, too.)

And, this being the future, I was able to type the patent number into my cellular telephone while standing there at the Flea Market, and determine that my new possession is technically speaking a Former for Artificial Flowers, patented by Antonia Dolia in 1930 or so.

Turning of the disc on completion of the operation varies its position and withdraws the wires 5 within the casing, the formed flower being thus free for removal to leave the device free for further manufacture.

So with that, and having a nice day in the car and in Peekskill, in lovely weather, with the all-four-of-us family, this has been a lovely day, despite the inaccessibility of the Zoo.

Now the little daughter has gone for a quick tango-related jaunt into The City, and the little boy is off somewhere with his chums, and M and I are sitting here typing on computers and watching people hit tennis balls about on the television.

Earlier I was reading Fred Pohl’s “The Annals of the Heechee”, but got really really tired of being told like three times per page about how Robinette Broadhead is a computer program, and how that means he is so much faster and more parallel than meat people, that I put it down to do something less tedious.

You can therefore partly thank Pohl’s bit of Mary-Sue-ism for this weblog entry. :)

Him, and the (patented) Daisy Knitter.

Now I am thinking of taking this plain grey tee shirt that I have and maybe tie dyeing it with bleach or something. Or maybe a nap…

2014/05/11

Blurbs and Synopses

Tully

When her live-in boyfriend loses his job and starts drinking, Tulia dreads becoming like the battered women in the shelter where she works. Then one night while he is out on the town, a seriously injured woman appears in her apartment, calling herself Tully, which was Tulia’s childhood nickname. She talks incoherently about the Peace Corps, which Tulia almost joined years ago, before losing consciousness. Dealing with the riddle of this other self will set Tulia’s life, and Tully’s, on end.

booksSounds of the Tide

In a series of brief summer meetings over a dozen years, a young man and an older woman invent their own kind of love on a rocky New England beach.

Snack Bar Only

A man whose life is at loose ends takes an introspective cross-country tour of golf-course restaurants, in a covered pickup truck.

The King of Storyville

A fictionalized account of the red-light district of New Orleans in the early XXth Century, loosely centered around the career of jazzman Joe Oliver.

Levels

In a world sharply divided into the wealthy few and the desperate many, a brother and sister from the wrong side of the tracks stumble on a secret that could re-make everything, if they can stay alive long enough to reveal it.

Two Loaves of Bread

Lucia and Maria are children together, baking bread in the community ovens. As they grow up they also grow apart, until decades later they encounter each other on opposite sides of a heated political battle, and the past and present collide.

Whisper through the Flames

With the U.S. and China on a brink of an apocalyptic war, enigmatic messages apparently sent from the future may hold the only hope of survival.

VOZ

The surreal tale of the collapse of a major corporation, as those around it descend into chaos and strange magic.

Usually Night

A collection of poems about humanity’s efforts, national and international, to travel to space and back; illustrated, with accompanying notes from the authors.

2014/05/09

I get snarky on Dan Brown’s “Inferno”

All sorts of many things have been happening, and I have not been weblogifying about them!

(I have been posting pictures of some of the more visual ones, which you can look at and get some vague, or precise, ideas.)

But I did finish (the Kindle edition of) Dan Brown’s Inferno, and I wrote a snarky review of it for Amazon (because it was awful and being snarky is fun), so here ya go!

Mediocre (two stars)

So mostly this is the usual rather awful Dan Brown novel, with one pleasing twist, and one piece of additional awfulness to make up for it.

It’s the usual awful Dan Brown because it is basically an implausible scavenger hunt starring the annoying Robert Langdon, who is even more distracted than usual by historical and architectural trivia while he is supposedly trying to save the world. The female protagonists fall for him because of course they do, and he goes on and on and on and on about things utterly unrelated to the plot (although, to be fair, the travelogue stuff is generally somewhat more interesting than the ostensible plot or the activities of the cardboard characters).

It is awful because (perhaps sensibly) the editors don’t seem to have bothered editing the text (why bother when it’s going to sell a zillion copies anyway), and while words like “unstraddled”, “faceup” and the endlessly-repeated “bloodred” might be amusing if this was an experimental free-verse poem or something, scattered around in the otherwise flat and conventional prose they are just distracting and illiterate (would it have been so hard to type “dismounted”, “face up” and “blood-red”?). He uses “enormity” to refer to a statue being large, just like a high school kid, and no one corrects him. The book even has “telegenic effluvium” for “telogen effluvium”, which is embarrassing just to read, but I’m willing to assume this one is just someone not bothering to double-check a computer spell-checker.

It is awful because he gets his name-dropping quotes of Oppenheimer and Marx freaking _wrong_ (and the correct versions would have worked so much better), which inevitably makes the reader wonder if there are equally sloppy mistakes in the travelogue and art-history sections, which would be a pity.

It is awful for the usual inexplicable references to specific irrelevant brands and people. “Maurizio reversed the boat’s Volvo Penta engine, expertly backing away from the bank.” (Targeted at those readers whose first action on getting onto a Venetian gondola is to check out the make of the engine) “… already skimming across the lagoon in a futuristic black tender — a Dubois SR52 Blackbird…” (because the atmosphere would have been completely different if it were, say, a Windy 8M, a Novurania Launch 600, or heaven forbid some kind of ChrisCraft.) “Monteverdi, Liszt, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, and Puccini composed pieces based on Dante’s work, as had one of Langdon’s favorite living recording artists — Loreena McKennitt” (Because of course we are endlessly fascinated with Langdon’s every music preference and clothing habit; don’t get me started on the heavily symbolic-of-nothing Mickey Mouse Watch he wears.)

It is awful for reasons that I could bore you with for quite some time (the ellipses! the completely implausible reactions to things! the dumb things that supposedly hyper-intelligent characters say! the painfully ignorant throwaway statements about what “Darwinists” believe! the more or less unchallenged and far from correct statements about how overpopulation is going to kill us all!).

It is redeemed somewhat by a large twist somewhat more than halfway through, that I admit I didn’t see coming at all, and that gave me that few minutes of delight in thinking “wait, but then…” and “oh, so that’s…” and paging back through the book to see what it actually said in various passages that now have completely different meanings post-reveal. The twist made a couple of things that had seemed weird and wrong on first reading make perfect sense; also a good and pleasant feeling.

But then, the crowning weirdness, that I can imagine feeling right and somewhat satisfying in a different book, but for me utterly deflates this one, is that (_mild spoiler warning_) it turns out at the end that everything all of the characters have done since the first page of the book has been for nothing, has made no difference at all. The world would have been just the same if they’d all woken up to the big serious threat by the Bad Guy, and thought “ah, to heck with it” and turned over and gone back to sleep (aside from the more or less indirect and accidental deaths of a couple of minor innocent characters, and some serious traffic problems in Venice). So, I mean, what? It really doesn’t matter at all that Mary Sue Langdon figured out the faux-clever clues before the bad guy’s deadline? So… why did I read this book, exactly, then?

It’s possible that this is Book One of a series, and that in some sequel it will all turn out to have mattered. But if so that sequel will be yet another awful Dan Brown novel, and really, is it worth it?

The sad thing is that there’s a good chance I will eventually read whatever awful book he writes next, because they are easy to read and fun to feel superior to, and everyone else will also read it so there is the whole Cultural Awareness thing.

And while I am also reading Iris Murdoch’s Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, it is going much more slowly…

2014/03/30

Does anyone actually _believe_ Chris Christie?

Many more beautiful things have been happening, but I’ve been paying a little attention to politics (ewww), and this thought just keeps bubbling up.

I mean, I can imagine (if not agree with) supporting Christie because “blah blah hardball rough and tumble blah blah blah realistic blah blah what New Jersey needs”; but does anyone with functioning organs of judgement actually believe that he didn’t know about the whole Bridge thing, and that it didn’t happen with his at least tacit approval, if not by his direct orders?

O RLY?To me it is overwhelmingly obvious that at the very very least, if a scandal hadn’t arisen about it, he would have known with certainty, after the fact, that it was his troops that caused the pain to Fort Lee, and he would have approved and been proud of it, and it would have been part of an overall strategy that he would consider his.

I think it’s also reasonably likely that he directly ordered it to happen.

There are various intermediate possibilities. He could have hinted strongly; there could have been brainstorming sessions that began “although of course we’d never do anything like that, let’s just think about what kind of problems particular mayors might find themselves having if less scrupulous people than us were in control” and ended “now remember this was all purely hypothetical, heh-heh, heh-heh”. His staff could have very subtly mentioned certain possible events in his presence and he could have smiled and nodded in ambiguous ways, and so on.

But given how humans are, I’ll bet that, if we had the Full Videotape, there would be a very very smoky gun to be found.

(And so there’s this followon interesting question about all the various aides he’s been throwing under the bus, having his flunkies write stupidly mean and blatantly sexist stories about, and so on: do they continue not speaking up out of fear (he has something on them, or just generally is known to be a bad person to cross) or greed (when it all blows over they will be on his team again and back in power), or both, given that unrequited loyalty is a pretty weak motivator?)

Oh and while we’re on the subject of saying one thing and meaning another :) I have to admit that while I am a lifelong Peacenik and all, I think it would be jolly good if there just happened by a complete coincidence to be a major large-scale joint Ukraine-NATO military exercise going on right now, that just happened to be based on a scenario around defending Ukraine against, say, an invasion from some country in the general location of let’s say where Russia happens to be.

I mean, really…

2014/03/16

Passive Gaming

In retrospect this should have been obvious, but I didn’t notice for awhile…

There’s a sort of continuum in gaming between completely open-world games (with Second Life for instance so far out on that end that it’s hardly a game anymore, and I gather things like the Fallout games also at that end somewhere), and “admire the pretty atmosphere and story while going through the set steps” things (like I dunno Myst and other puzzle games) down toward the other end.

But that’s not the extreme of that end of the continuum. When you’re so worn down by the Meaninglessness of Existence, and Humanity’s Inhumanity to Humanity, and stubbing your toe and all, that all you want to do is lie there and Experience Someone Else’s Stuff without moving your viewpoint around or fighting trivial monsters or solving any puzzles or even clicking Next, it turns out that there’s a whole genre of what I’ll call completely passive games out there, just waiting for you to collapse and fix your eyes on them and not move.

Leverage(Wow, that was a long sentence.)

Just now I spent a pleasant (or at least restful) 45 minutes to an hour playing one of these, an Android game called “Leverage: The Nigerian Job”. It’s a typical modern-day “steal from the thieves” game with a nice sort of twist in the middle.

I was about to say that there are five playable characters, but in a game this passive that doesn’t really mean anything! There are five characters whose viewpoints you play from at one time or another during the game, anyway. The viewpoint can cut very suddenly from one to another, but I didn’t find that especially confusing; it works well.

The story is very linear, and of course since it’s completely passive it plays exactly the same every time (or at least I assume it does; I guess there could be a random element so that it might go differently in different instances of playing it? Not sure.). The graphics are good, if mundane, and in fact, since they know exactly where your viewpoint will be at all times, I think most of the scenes are done live-action, filming real actors doing what the characters do, and then splicing that together to make the game-play.

Assuming there’s no random element (and none of the material about the game that I saw suggests there is), it probably doesn’t have much replay value. They make up for this (at least partially) by packaging the game as a series of “eipsodes”; after “The Nigerian Job” there is a sequel called “Leverage: The Homecoming Job”, and I gather a bunch more after that, with the same characters and in the same basic world, but with different quests or missions.

Also, although I said that it’s an Android game, that’s really not true; because of the completely passive nature of the game, it lends itself really well to server-side rendering. Like what OnLive does for less passive games, but the technical challenges are much simpler; they can basically just record one run through the game, and then stream that down to your client when you want to play. So it’s easy to make these games platform-independent; I played “The Nigerian Job” on my Android phone through a game-streaming app called “NetFlix“, that I gather specializes in these completely passive games, and has versions of its app for various platforms.

And there are alot of them! Some of them seem to be completely passive versions of popular normal games; I see some Star Wars and Star Trek spinoffs, for instance, presumably based on the normal video games in those same worlds. A clever idea!

It felt very frustrating at first, playing this, not being able to even move the viewpoint, much less control the actions of the protagonist (you can’t even customize appearance or clothing; that would make the server-side rendering much harder of course). But I will admit with some shame that the totally passive interaction mode got comfortable very quickly, just sort of sitting there not moving, eyes on the screen, mind sort of half-asleep.

So it was very relaxing and all. I do worry what might happen if this sort of completely passive activity takes off, though; might hundreds or thousands of kids grown up without the mental exercise of interactive games, just sort of sitting on the couch eating Cheetos and “watching”?

That could be bad…

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