Monday, March 31, 2008

Bush Administration Employs The Dilbert Strategy in Face of Mounting Economic Crisis

So Paul Krugman today made the astute observation that the huslte and bustle and bluff and moxie coming out of the mouth of the White House in regards to the current financial crisis quite closely resembles the famed Dilbert Strategy. When you have absolutely no clue how to fix a problem, just make some flow charts, a pretty colored pie chart, an org chart showing who reports to who, and possibly a graph or two, try to look busy, and hope the problem just goes away or someone else fixes it.


Except one little problem: this isnt a cartoon, a crappy middle management job, or a government simulation video game (developed by Will Wright and Sid Meier). Its our freaking National Economy. And it sucks. Its broken. Its like Humpty-Dumpty:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

So what did all the King's horses and all the King's men do instead? They created a few org charts, realized they were out of glue, made a huge egg and cheese sandwhich and called it a day.

Unfortunately for President Bush and his cadre of economic advisers, our economy isnt made out of eggy goodness that can be spread upon a buttered roll (OK enough, Im hungry now). Its made out of dollars and cents and when they go down in value everyone loses - even the "winners" on Wall St., as a friend of mine recently found out.

Evil Max, Bejeweled master jewler and numero uno de Uno, who works more hours a week at his job than all my other friends combined, recently decided that it might be nice to buy a gift for our good Dutch friend Darth Mikal who has been stuck in a rut of masochistic XBLA titles like Metal Slug 3 and N+. The last actual game Darth bought was Halo 3 if I am not mistaken, and he claims to despise that game, at least the multiplayer portion.

Darth is a person who enjoys hardcore, solipsistic Japanese games such as the Final Fantasy series, Ninja Gaiden Black, Sexy Beach 2, and pretty much anything by Nintendo or Bioware. If he plays multiplayer online games, he wants to spoon feed you your own sphincter so this results in a very small group of multiplayer games that he focuses on exclusively, like Burnout 3, Gears, and Worms (hes that guy ninja flipping the rope across the ceiling to drop dynamite on your head).

Max decided that a good game for Darth would be Mass Effect. Its Bioware, first and foremost, and its sci-fi, and its not online, so the game gets a +3 bonus to its Charisma vs. Dutch Homunculoids. The only problem was that Max didnt know the game was region free, and didnt take the time to look on or Max could have also sent him his own personal copy, which was inserted and removed exactly one one time from his Xbox 360, destined to the massive pile of games he buys and plays for 5 minutes and then retires, never selling or trading them in. Just in case, or something. So, Max bought the game off, and then had it shipped to Holland, to the tune of $135, all while used copies were floating around for 35 euros (with free shipping). Nice one, Max.

How does a $60 game end up $135? I could blame Max for not shopping around, or I could blame the criminally high rates FedEx and DHL charge, or the semi-legal import fees and taxes on gifts (GIFTS!), or I could takle the softest and most likely target: the superweak US dollar, and the crumbling US economy. Seeing as though I dont play the stock market or own a home, the impact of our weak economy on my day-to-day life is somewhat mitigated. I think for many Americans the case is similar; aside from skyrocketing gas and home heating bills, the precipitous decline in the dollar has for the most part been insulated by the stable cost of other goods, so its imact on our day to day day life is mitigated. But if you try to book a vacation to Amsterdam, or buy something outside of the US, prepare for some serious sticker shock.

The federal government has basically defaulted on its agreement to keep Americans safe from shady banking techniques and unsafe lending processes. Its took some 80 years, but the regulations and limitations that were placed on banking institutions after the Great Depression were slowly but surely wriggled out of by the free market. Speaking as a poker player, and not a financial analyst or economist, it appears to me that banks such as Bear Stearns werent actually gambling on all these marginal lending practices after all - they were freerolling, because if they busted out, the fed would bankroll them with a rebuy loan through JP Morgan Chase. If The Fed is going to come bail out these non-regulated firms anyway, its doesnt take a Karl Marx to figure out that these institutions should be regulated from the get-go as well.

So what does the Bush administration propose in its new guidelines? " '[R]egulation... limited to institutions that receive explicit federal guarantees' - that is, for institutions that are already regulated, and have not been the source of today’s problems. As for the rest, it blithely declares that 'market discipline is the most effective tool to limit systemic risk.' ”

Basically, make a huge org chart, eat an egg sandwhich, and hope the storm passes.

Students at University of Texas Draft Honor and Ethics Code from Plagiarised Sources

From The San Antonio Express-News:

"It seemed like an honorable goal: Draft an honor code for University of Texas at San Antonio students to follow, exhorting them not to cheat or plagiarize.

But when students threw a draft of the new honor code onto the Internet for feedback, some noticed a problem: Parts of the code appeared to have been lifted word for word from another school’s honor code, without attribution. Even the definition of plagiarism was, well, plagiarized.

Akshay Thusu, the student in charge of the honor code effort, said it was an oversight, the result of a draft that was crafted five years ago and passed through different students and faculty advisers before landing in his lap.

'We believe there might be a citation page,' Thusu said. 'We are still looking for it.' "

Thusu later mentioned the citation page was last seen near the food bowl of his dog, who hadnt been fed in a couple of days due to her owner being so busy drafting the new proposal.

Like the moon over
the day, my genius and brawn are lost on these fools.
-Bowser, Super Mario RPG (SNES)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Scam

Polyphony Digital's 800lb gorrila of console sim racing is taking a unique turn during its latest go around the track, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. Whereas previous iterations of the series promised gamers a full and complete feature set, with dozens and dozens of customizable cars and tracks, the newest version cant quite go the distance, and provides the buyer (uh, you do have money, right?) with 6 (six) tracks.

Yes, thats SIX as in S followed by I and then X in direct succession.

Total tracks.

And we thought Motorstorm's 8 launch tracks was a rush job. At least they were huge, and the crashes were totally sweet, and we could fight on motorcycles, so we didnt really mind. But GT5P features the same lame physics as the last few GT games, where to get the fastest possible lap, you must corner by ramming one of the others cars - which does not produce a crash, just a dull thud. This is Sony's idea of a racing sim in 2008 (GT5 wont come out till 2009). Did I mention that you have to spend real money on this game, and that it costs more than 6 (six) dollars, which is probably what Gran Turismo Prologue is really worth. They charge $40 at the store though, and well, they hope you're OK with that. Im not.

You see, Sony's internal developer, Polyphany Digital, has finally figured out the secret that so many other developers, like Nintendo, Ubisoft, and D.I.C.E. mastered long ago: that they can essentially keep remaking the same game over and over with minimal changes, and so long as the formula is not tinkered with too heavily, the sales will keep racking up and the share price will keep on climbing.

But Polyphany Digital has taken it a step further. They couldnt even quite muster the firepower to get a complete new update of the GT franchise out the door in time for a much needed boost to Sony's shareprice, so instead of delaying the game again, and possibly pushing the development costs into the realm of near unprofitability, which would make Sony's shareholders even more unhappy, they comprimised and decided to just make Gran Turismo 4.5 Online instead. Oh, but you already bought Gran Turismo 4? Well, that wasnt ONLINE, now was it? How passe. Cool kids only play online, dont you know? $40 please. Oh, and when we finish the actual GT5, we will be expecting another $60 from you as well, and by then the trade in value of GT5P will be $6, so, start saving.

Oh, and you might want to also start saving for that Rainbow-Recon Ghost-Cell Splinter-Six Tom Clancy MMO that Ubisoft is currently developing. You see, Ubisoft, which is currently trading at close to $55 a share after acquiring the all rights to the Clancy name, has finally gotten really wise. Not content to keep churning out tired rehashes of the same 3 games year after year, such as the utterly lacklaster effort that is Rainbow Six Vegas 2, or the supremely disappointing Splinter Cell Double Agent, Ubi has decided the best way to keep its share price-a-climbin' is to develop a subscription based MMO set in the Clancy universe at a cost of roughly $50M, and get gamers on the $15 a month plan. That measly $15 a month is $180 a year guaranteed, which is the same as if you bought one copy of each of the Clancy franchise staples once a year. But the catch is, you can't resell a subscription like you can a used game, so 100% of the profit goes to the developer and publisher.

And on the other side of the price gouging coin, we have EA, the biggest gaming company in the world, recently making the decision that many of its future upcoming releases will not be compatible across all regions. That is to say, if you buy a European copy of an online EA game, that game will not be compatible with the US version of the same game. This was recently discovered by a friend of mine on Xbox Live when we attempted to play EA's Army of Two.

umopapisdunpuaq, aside from having one of the longer and more unique gamertags on Xbox Live, and holding several Burnout 3 World Records, is a big fan of shooting the men on the TV with the R trigger and making them fall down. He also happens to be British, and finds living in Britain quite charming. Being of a like mindset in regards to shooting digital bullets at digital people, it only makes sense that we would pair up and go after the evil doers of the world (disturbingly, they all happen to be portrayed as non-white ethnicities) as a tandem in a game specifically made for playing coop online.

But, EA had different thoughts. They thought, in a game thats built from the ground up as an online coop game, lets make how the VS mode plays online determine how we will integrate the online experience for the entire game. That is, if the VS mode is laggy for some international connections, well, the only logical thing to do is to disable all international play for every game mode. This arrangement also provides the bonus to EA of forcing European and Asian customers to buy the game for Euros and/or some other form of real currency, rather than paying in the Monopoly Money that is currently the US Dollar.

A producer from EA Montreal, who made the game, explained to that becauase of the mere potential for a laggy online VS mode experience, they decided to completely scrap all inter region play. Are you buying this explanation? Im not. Who buys Army of Two to play the stupid freaking versus mode?!?!?! Who?!?!? Find me this person, and I will retract any and all criticisms of this game, because the coop campaign is actually a marginally fun stop and pop shooter experience. Its no Gears, but it can chew up some hours with a(region locked) buddy over Live effectively enough.

But how did we get to this point? How did we get to the point where the developers are just crapping out the same game over and over, while making less and less of a game, taking away whole modes (no more 4 person story coop in Vegas2, no SWAT in Halo3, no Road Rage in Burnout Paradise), tracks, and features as if gamers wouldnt even notice or care?

Well its OUR fault, the gamers faut, because we buy this crap and let them get away with it. Well you know what? That it for me. NO MORE. I refuse to buy more of this half-baked, regurgitated roadkilled buffalo ass that they keep forcing down our throats. And if this is all they are gonna release, I will either just rent the crap for a week, or just not buy it at all and go back to playing older games, like Chaos Theory and Burnout 3. Either that, or I'll just give up gaming altogether (hmm) and just go start investing in the stock market instead. First stop: EA games. Next stop: Ubisoft....

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

3 Days Ammunition

Thats how little force it would take from a US led attack to disable the military forces of the Sudanese government, predicts Mark Helprin, a conservative commentator, in an op-ed piece in the New York Times. But that would be a worst case scenario, where we park a couple aircraft carriers off the coast of Sudan in the Red Sea, and the Sudanese government actually refuses to meet international demands to lay down its arms, cease its support of the janjaweed militias, and allow UN peacekeeping forces into areas controlled by government military forces where dire humanitarian conditions persist. The most likely scenario is that just the threat of complete military annihilation and subsequent replacement of leadership with democratically elected officials would be enough to convince the Sudanese that complying with peacekeeping forces is in their best interest.

I am not a pacifist, but the use of military force for anything less than the most dire of circumstances has always struck me as irresponsible, such as the current US occupation of Iraq. But the conflict in Darfur is serious enough, so many innocent peoples lives have been lost and are still in jeopardy, that to stand idly by and do nothing is morally reprehensible.
If the current leadership in The United States is unable to measure the gravity of the situation in Darfur and react appropriately, they need either immediate attitude adjustment or replacement - no different than their counterparts in the Sudan.

Monday, March 24, 2008

N+ Digital Masochisim

I remember some games from my childhood that were truly impossible to beat. NES games, mostly. Ghosts n Goblins comes to mind particularly. Maybe some of the Ninja Gaiden sequels where you had limited continues.

The memories of playing these games and never conquering them haunts me to this day, and those memories came flooding back when I downloaded N+ from the Xbox Live Arcade.

This game makes Super Mario: The Lost Levels look like Barbie Horse Adventures.

The game popped up on the Arcade at around 3 am one night a few weeks ago. In a bleary eyed haze, I downloaded the trial and started wall jumping around.

"This looks fun!!!" I texted to Darth Mikal. "MEGA-FUN" he texted back, an obvious reference to the Mega-Man series we both hold dearly and play regularly. So I dropped the 800 points and started cracking.

The first few levels were great. Just some casual platforming, coin collecting, anything anyone who likes Mario would enjoy. I got a bit farther, and the gaps to jump started to grow, the mines became plentiful, and missles began chasing me non-stop. "That stupid %$#@*& mother-loving missle!!!!!!" I yelled out loud as I stood up and tossed the controller in disbelief. My cats looked at me like I was insane. This little arcade game was actually going to be challenging.

Little did I know, not only would the game become increasingly difficult, it would reach a level of near impossibility quite rapidly. Not just hard, as in, your skills are not up to par hard (Ninja Gaiden). This is masochistically hard. And another, dirty little word: Cheap. Finding the right path to the exit becomes not simply a test of skill, but one of luck and patience. Because, there is only one possible route to take through that field of chain guns, missles, mines, and sentry drones, and if you dont hit the exact right combination of pixels at the exact fraction of a split second, you die instantly. And you will die. Constantly. Actually, there is an achievement in the game for dying 1,000 times. I earned it quickly.

A few days later I received a text from Darth, master of Ninja Gaiden, Mega-Man, Omega 5, and all things hard. "AGAGHAGHAGHAUUAGAGHAGHA" He was playing N+, and it was slowly driving him insane.

An hour later: "Noooooo! nononononono NO NO NO!!!!"

Two hours later: "This game is not good for your health man."

He was right, as I had long since given up on beating it. I got the acheivement for completeing the first set of levels, which was hard enough, and after doing that, I could tell what the game was devolving into, and wanted no part in it. I really hope that one day Darth beats it, but for his sanity's sake I sincerely hope he nevers tries, and just goes back to Ninja Gaiden on Master Ninja. At least that game is fun.

Woman Complains to Cop About "Bad Crack"

Dontcha just hate it when this happens?

"A 50-year-old woman walked up to a sheriff's deputy last week and complained that a drug dealer had just sold her "bad crack," according to Florida's WJXT-TV.

Eloise Reaves "told the deputy that a man in the parking lot had sold her bad crack. [Police] said Reaves then took the crack from out of her mouth and placed it on the trunk of the deputy's patrol car," the station reports. (Here's her mugshot.)

When a field test identified the substance as cocaine, "Reaves complained that it was wax and cocaine mixed, and that she wanted the deputy to make the man give her her money back," police said.

The man was searched and released. Reaves was charged with drug possession."

Hipocrisy and The New York Times: Dog Fighting vs Bull Fighting

Whats the difference?

So The New York Times has this article about a prize bull from Spain. His owner, who is a famous bull breeder, has decided that he wants to clone him to preserve his investment. Well enough, people do all sorts of bizzare things. But how can The Times, the same paper that condemned Michael Vick's dog fighting operation, treat bull fighting as a legitimate sport, and cover this story as newsworthy?

By sending a reporter to visit and interview the owner the paper accomplishes nothing more than cementing the guise of legitimacy this barbaric activity needs to be stripped of, and reinforces a double standard for the abuse and torture of animals. What is the moral difference between breeding dogs and fighting them to the death, and breeding bulls for the sole purpose of having them elaborately and slowly executed in front of a cheering crowd? None.

The New York Times eviscerated Michael Vick in a series of articles detailing his brutal exploits with canines and every step of the subsequent police investigation, and then finished up with a feel good interactive media story called Another Chance for Vick's Dogs about how some of Vicks dogs were rescued by a group in Utah that specialized in rehabbing abused animals. Apparently, for the paper, dogs count almost as people, and bulls, well, they are something you just eat.

I am not a member of PETA and I have never claimed to be an animal rights activist. I am a well established carnivore who loves to eat beef. But bull fighting is just SICK. It is no different than torturing a cat or a dog then killing it, or forcing them to fight each other to the death, and would be identified by most psycologists as psychotic behavior. That it is a historic part of Spanish culture does not imbue it with moral supremacy. Its terribly unfortunate that The Times would consider newsworthy the use of new cloning technology to further this barbaric "sport," in which the only competition is to see how long the bull fighter can keep the crowd engaged in what is a certain, grim, bloody fate.