Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gametrailers Top 10 Most Innovative Games

Gametrailers again came up with a meticulously researched and very well argued list, and they included several classic NES games so of course, they get a fat A+. I have my own list Im compiling, and it doesnt include any of these incredibly innovative games, but rather some of my personal favorites. What do you think are the most innovative games ever? What games changed the way you look at gaming? What blew your mind about the possibilities of videogames?

These top 10 list lists are making me all verklempt. What, you never saw Mike Meyers do Coffee Talk on SNL?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Green Bailout

Thom Friedman
The New York Times

Many things make me weep about the current economic crisis, but none more than this brief economic history: In the 19th century, America had a railroad boom, bubble and bust. Some people made money; many lost money. But even when that bubble burst, it left America with an infrastructure of railroads that made transcontinental travel and shipping dramatically easier and cheaper.

The late 20th century saw an Internet boom, bubble and bust. Some people made money; many people lost money, but that dot-com bubble left us with an Internet highway system that helped Microsoft, I.B.M. and Google to spearhead the I.T. revolution.

The early 21st century saw a boom, bubble and now a bust around financial services. But I fear all it will leave behind are a bunch of empty Florida condos that never should have been built, used private jets that the wealthy can no longer afford and dead derivative contracts that no one can understand.

Worse, we borrowed the money for this bubble from China, and now we have to pay it back — with interest and without any lasting benefit.

Yes, this bailout is necessary. This is a credit crisis, and credit crises involve a breakdown in confidence that leads to no one lending to anyone. You don’t fool around with a credit crisis. You have to overwhelm it with capital. [Most] unfortunately, some people who don’t deserve it will be rescued. But, more importantly, those who had nothing to do with it will be spared devastation. You have to save the system. [Emphasis added - ed]

But that is not the point of this column. The point is, we don’t just need a bailout. We need a buildup. We need to get back to making stuff, based on real engineering not just financial engineering. We need to get back to a world where people are able to realize the American Dream — a house with a yard — because they have built something with their hands, not because they got a “liar loan” from an underregulated bank with no money down and nothing to pay for two years. The American Dream is an aspiration, not an entitlement.

When I need reminding of the real foundations of the American Dream, I talk to my Indian-American immigrant friends who have come here to start new companies — friends like K.R. Sridhar, the founder of Bloom Energy. He e-mailed me a pep talk in the midst of this financial crisis — a note about the difference between surviving and thriving.

“Infants and the elderly who are disabled obsess about survival,” said Sridhar. “As a nation, if we just focus on survival, the demise of our leadership is imminent. We are thrivers. Thrivers are constantly looking for new opportunities to seize and lead and be No. 1.” That is what America is about.

But we have lost focus on that. Our economy is like a car, added Sridhar, and the financial institutions are the transmission system that keeps the wheels turning and the car moving forward. Real production of goods that create absolute value and jobs, though, are the engine.

“I cannot help but ponder about how quickly we are ready to act on fixing the transmission, by pumping in almost one trillion dollars in a fortnight,” said Sridhar. “On the other hand, the engine, which is slowly dying, is not even getting an oil change or a tuneup with the same urgency, let alone a trillion dollars to get ourselves a new engine. Just imagine what a trillion-dollar investment would return to the economy, including the ‘transmission,’ if we committed at that level to green jobs and technologies.”

Indeed, when this bailout is over, we need the next president — this one is wasted — to launch an E.T., energy technology, revolution with the same urgency as this bailout. Otherwise, all we will have done is bought ourselves a respite, but not a future. The exciting thing about the energy technology revolution is that it spans the whole economy — from green-collar construction jobs to high-tech solar panel designing jobs. It could lift so many boats.

In a green economy, we would rely less on credit from foreigners “and more on creativity from Americans,” argued Van Jones, president of Green for All, and author of the forthcoming “The Green Collar Economy.” “It’s time to stop borrowing and start building. America’s No. 1 resource is not oil or mortgages. Our No. 1 resource is our people. Let’s put people back to work — retrofitting and repowering America. ... You can’t base a national economy on credit cards. But you can base it on solar panels, wind turbines, smart biofuels and a massive program to weatherize every building and home in America.”

The Bush team says that if this bailout is done right, it should make the government money. Great. Let’s hope so, and let’s commit right now that any bailout profits will be invested in infrastructure — smart transmission grids or mass transit — for a green revolution. Let’s “green the bailout,” as Jones says, and help ensure that the American Dream doesn’t ever shrink back to just that — a dream.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Hilarious GI Joe PSA Remixes

Are you still there? Did they leave? Phew, that was close! My blog almost got overrun by CSPAN junkies and physicists. So, I had to post nothing but cartoon intros, baseball, pizza, poker, and videogame musings for a while to let them know what the Crunchy Blog was all about. Now these GI Joe PSAs were hilarious in their own unintenional way back in the 80s, but these remixes are something else entirely. Porkchop sandwiches!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Thursday, September 25, 2008

LittleBIGPlanet Trailer

Biggest PS3 exclusive remaining on the calender for 2008, and it sure looks like fun. The whole concept is a 2D physics based puzzle and platforming game featuring photorealistic 3D graphics, with a focus on character and level customization, a highly interactable environment, and massively multiplayer coop and vs online play. If you have a PS3, check this one out fo sho, yo.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pizza Season

So, now that Autumn is officially here, let the Pizza Season of 2008 begin! What, you've never heard of the Pizza Season? Well that wouldnt be a huge shocker, because I just invented the phrase, but I coined it to describe a phenomena thats been known for some time in NYC: in the fall, the quality and consistency of pizza goes up. Pizza Season is just like Hunting Season, but way cheesier and with a lot less blood, guts, and camouflage.

If baseball is the true religion of NYC, then pizza is the little wafer that you put in your mouth, while thanking the collective people of Italy for being culinary geniuses. If there was only one cuisine I could eat, without doubt, without hesitation, it would be Italian food. Now, I understand many of you may have been tragically brought up underprivileged in this regard, and although Ive never eaten Italian in every city in the world, if NYC isnt in the top 3 cities for Italian outside of Italy then my name is most certainly not Roscoe P Coltrane and you can call me a yellow bellied waffle eating wombat. The beauty of this situation is the trickle down effect. When you have Mario Batali and Il Mulino duking it out for supremacy in the the high end arena, there is going to be a lot of real estate left over for those restaurants that arent superstars. Translation: there is going to be a lot of awesome pizza. And let it be said clearly, Batali's pizza joint, Otto, sucks. So there.

So what exactly is Pizza Season, and why is there one? To state it simply, during the very humid summer months in NYC, its very difficult for even the best pizza makers to achieve perfect consistency in their dough, which can absorb moisture out of the air, even while it is cooking at 800 degrees. The result, quite simply, is a less crispy, more chewy crust. But as soon as that cool, dry Autumn air hits the pizza ovens and cooling racks, something magical happens. The pizza is transformed from good, ordinary NYC pizza into a sublime melding of flavors and textures. This only applies to fresh pies, of course - and ones that conform to a standard of overall high quality ingredients, preparation etc. And once the pizza sits for an hour, all bets are off. It can still be good reheated, but it wont be magical.

So what do we do here in NYC during Pizza Season? Eat pizza everyday, sometimes twice a day, sometimes more, if you go on a pizza tour. Now I know what you're thinking, Chronic, eating pizza 7 days a week cant be good for you. Ah-ha! You sir, are incorrect. Its what you eat in between the pizza meals that makes the lifestyle healthy, or unhealthy. If I eat pizza for breakfast, have a spinach salad for lunch, and then pizza again for dinner, Im actually eating decently. For starters, its vegetarian, and I can count the number of obese vegetarians I know on the fingers attached to my elbow. Secondly, although its fast food, at least at the places which serve slices rather than sit you down for full service, its not processed food in any way, its all natural: just bread, cheese, and tomato sauce. I dont know if the crap they serve at Dominoes is all natural, but if I had to guess I would say no. Suffice to say, Im not eating at Dominoes.

Bread, cheese, tomatoes. Notice how I didnt add ham and pineapple, or some other abomination that should never, ever go on a proper slice of pizza. You see, the better the pizza is, the less of everything you want on it. In the world of real pizza, less is more. Eventually, at a place like Patsy's, you get to the point with less is more pizza where the crust is so thin, and the spread of tomato and mozzarella so minimal, that you can eat an entire pie all by your lonesome. Im not saying I never get pizza with toppings, but I know that you never ever try a new pizza place and order toppings - which can either enhance and mask a poor slice or overburden a solid one with too many flavors. Toppings are whimsical, fantastical, indulgent, fanciful, and delicious - but not the regular domain of the serious pizza eater. Yesterday, I got a pizza with Peppers, Onions, Mushrooms, and Olives from Fornino in Williamsburg. The name for a pizza with that many toppings is a garbage pizza. I only order toppings from places that are renowned for the quality of their ingredients, because canned mushrooms really dont get me too excited. And even then - its just an indulgence, just to break up the rhythm of the cheese-sauce-bread-space-time continuum. Then its back to the standard - 2 slices and 2 Snapples from Danny's on the corner of Bushwick and Montrose. Its my neighborhood pizza joint, and although its not the closest to my house, nor the best in Brooklyn (Di Fara's?), its by far the best pizza in Bushwick.

I could write an entire book about pizza, but Im just going to coalesce the footnotes here. There are several different types of pizza in NYC, I grade them on a scale of 1-5, and the same place can get a 4 one day and then a 2 on another day. Such is the nature of any restaurant or food business, but with pizza its especially pronounced. Depending on who kneads the dough, how hot the oven is, how many pizzas are cooking in it, the humidity and temperature outdoors, how long its cooked, how long it cools, whether its reheated or not - these are just a few of the myriad variations that any slice from any one place will be subjected to. Of course, there is also the matter of style. There are so many different styles of pizza its pointless to try to discuss them all here, but let it be said, the two most important styles are Neapolitan (Fornino, Patsys) and NYC (Danny's, Joe's) style. I greatly respect deep dish pizza in the Sicilian and Chicago styles, but for me pizza is about cheese, and no slice in the world offers more cheese per square inch than the NYC style - and thats why its my favorite, although I eat all of the other styles regularly.

There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of pizza places in NYC, and probably only 4-5 dozen that actually deserve your time. Most are very, very generic, with bland tasting dough, overly sweet sauce and 2nd or 3rd rate cheese. Im pretty picky, and although I have my usual spots that I frequent, Ill sometimes try a new place, because you never know. The only true indicator of a pizza joints quality is how busy it gets on a off night, like Monday or Tuesday. If you still see people lining up on the off nights, its a good sign that the place is at least above average and worth checking out. Here is how you test a pizza place, and you dont have to be hungry to do this. Go in, order one slice and your standard drink of choice (as long as you drink the same thing every time you try a new pizza place, it is considered a neutral party in the taste test and should not affect results). Take a few bites. If its good, eat about 2/3rds of it. If not, throw it out after 1-2 bites.

Then, you go to the next pizza place, down the street, or the next train stop over, and try another slice. Then you go to another, and another, and another, never eating more than 2/3rds of a slice, in what is called a pizza tour. A pizza tour is a great NYC tradition, and you dont have to go to new places to undertake one, although its customary to at least try one new place per tour. Normally, you would want to start out at a new place, or one that you know to be really good, and then go from there, by neighborhood, trying different pizza places in small quantities. As long as you dont eat too much in any one place and there is some walking involved, a pizza tour is one of the best ways to see NYC and sample its triangular culinary delights. Mario Batali is known as a legendary pizza tour guide, who can polish off over a dozen slices in a half day of touring.

I dont know that I would take it that far, but if you ever make it to NYC in the fall, give me call, I know a few places we could go and check out. Dont get me wrong now, the pizza in NYC during the summer is just fine - but something unique occurs when the temperatures drop, and its certainly the best time of the year for touring the institutions, the old favorites, and the new kids on the block. If anyone asks where you're going, tell them its a vegetarian health clinic run by an eccentric hippie, with a sightseeing tour of NYC thrown in for free.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Generosity

One time Stu Ungar was walking through downtown Las Vegas with Doyle Brunson. A disheveled looking man stopped him and asked for some money. Ungar pulled out a $100 bill and gave it to the man. Brunson asked Ungar who the man was, to which Stu replied, "If I had known his name, I would have given him $200."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Time To Say Goodbye

So tonight is the final game at Yankee Stadium - The House That Ruth built. Baseball in New York isnt just a sport - it is a religion, and Yankee Stadium is our Great Cathedral, where we worship the gods that walk the field, who fight in epic battles that last years, decades, generations. The sight of 83 year old Yogi Berra, who led the Yankees to an impossible 10 World Series Championships in his career, walking out to home plate one last time, to the sound of thunderous applause that lasted over a minute, was something that I will never forget. They can build a new Yankee Stadium, fill it with all the modern amenities, electronic food odering, self flushing toilets, and wider seats to fit the new 21st Century plus size fan - but there will never be another Yogi Berra.

There will never be another Whitey Ford. Or Mickey Mantle. Or Lou Gherig, or Joe Dimaggio, Phil Rizutto, Thurman Munson, Bill Dickey, Elston Howard, Reggie Jackson, or Ron Guidry. Those names and their respective uniform numbers are eternal, etched into our collective memories, and etched into the plaques at the back of The Stadium. The plaques with the names can be moved, but the players can never be replaced, their accomplishments can never be repeated, those championships cannot be won again. Muhammad Ali will never fight there again, Joltin Joe will never cruise the outfield, the Colts will never defeat the Giants in the first overtime in NFL history, the Pope will never speak there again, Pink Floyd will never play another concert there, and The Babe wont be taking a big swing and then a long, slow trot around the bases anymore.

So many amazing games, so many good times with friends of mine, with my family, walking around the stands after they won a playoff game, just the buzz and the excitement outside the stadium before a big game in the summer, and the memory of Aaron Boone sending one high and deep to left, and us going crazy, just going crazy in the bleachers. I remember Jeter smashing his face up running headfirst into the stands after a foul ball in a game against the Red Sox, I remember Tino Martinez hitting one right into my section in Game 1 of the 1998 World Series, Roger Clemens throwing the bat at Mike Piazza in 2000, watching them win it all for the first time in my life on TV 1996 when I was in college, listening to David Cones perfect game on the radio up in Katonah, the summer of nonstop winning in '98 where they went 125-50, sitting up in the stands with my Dad watching one of many epic failures by the Yankees bullpen in the last few years, as all the other fans slowly get up leave.

ESPN's Peter Gammons said before the game that Yankee Stadium is the "epicenter of our national pastime." It represents the history of the sport from World War I to the start of the 21st Century - the entire modern era. In many ways the Stadium and its winning teams mirror the history of our country - what a great run we had from the 1920s to 2000, but the future is currently unclear. The feeling tonight is almost one of a funeral, with the Yankees currently out of contention for the first time in over a decade, our country at war and in an uprecedented economic depression, all the great players of golden ages past like Bernie Williams and Goose Gossage were in attendance to say goodbye.

Yogi said before the game: "I wont miss this place. Because its inside me. Baseball is my life, and this is where I lived it."


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

G.I. Joe

Cartoons were just so much better in the 80s.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Zero Punctuation: Soul Caliber 4

Unlike Yahtzee, I do enjoy fighting games, but Soul Caliber 4 just hasnt grabbed me. Maybe I've just played too many games of DOA, Guilty Gear, and Street Fighter since I was rocking Soul Caliber on the Dreamcast, but it just feels different now. The game looks great, plays well, has cool customization, etc., but I think my tastes have changed, and the Soul Caliber series just isnt in the top 3 for me anymore. Essentially, I liked a faster paced game, with more emphasis on blocking, combos, and counters than on long range attacks and round ending throws off the ledge.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Top 10 Things That Piss Me Off About Computers and The Internet

Above Image: A Visual Representation of The Internet

1. Firefox 3

What the effing EFF Mozilla?! Where are my browser links? Why arent some pages working? What happened to several cool features, and why have they been replaced by useless crappy ones? I registered to make some complaints, other people agreed with me in the Firefox forum, and the thread was promptly closed because the complaints werent technical issues, we were just talking about design flaws. They've also made Firefox 2 harder to find on their website, to discourage people from going back. At first, I was like, OK, FF3 sucks but I'll get used to it. But Im not getting used to it, Im just getting more and more pissed off. The update cleared my address bar without alerting me, and that adress bar contained about 2 dozen really useful links, now I dont remember half, and the ones I do remember, it messes up. Before it just had xbox.com, now it has 3 (three) different xbox.com addresses stuck in the bar (Friends list, My Profile, and Messages) and I cant remove them or replace them with a single xbox.com entry. Several addresses, like www.newegg.com, wont stay in the address bar at all, no matter how many times I type them in. What the effing EFF!!!!


I never bothered to learn HTML, and Im sure as hell not about to start now. But, half the time on my blog the HTML is broken, and all the links on the right, like my gamercard, get smooshed all the way to the bottom. It has something to do with unclosed from my video links or some crap. Eventually, the posts with bad HTML go all the way down and off the first page, and all is normal again.

3. DRM

DRM is "Digital Rights Management" is one of the dirtier phrases in the English language. Basically, it means that you pay for something, like you would in a store, but unlike a physical purchase, you dont really "own" the item, and are actually only granted temporary use or use of the item under particular circumstances. Such is the case with content on XBLA, where if you download something on one 360, thats the only 360 you can use it on unless you are signed into xbox live, or you go through some license transfer nonsense. SPore, the new game by Will Wright, sadly has been crippled by EA's prohibitively nasty DRM policy. When you buy a digital copy of Spore from the EA Store online, you are actually only buying a 6 month license to download the game. After that? Another $50. Unless of course, you plan to ever upgrade your computer, or any part of it, or have hardware failures, or a virus, or have windows decide to suddenly stop working. And because those things never, EVER happen, EA offers you an "extended download plan" for $7 which gives you the rights to download the game for up to 2 years. How generous.

4. Windows

Vista is an overpriced steaming pile of horse excrement. And Microsoft has discontinued its perfectly fine and dandy XP Pro to help boost Vista sales, please investors with some rosy numbers, and give the MS stock price a nice jolt. What a freaking sham. Many of the features that Vista promises either dont work or arent necessary. Some sweet freeware you got off CNET? Forget it, not vista compatible. Direct X 10 support? Great, now try to find an application that actually benefits from it. 16 GB of RAM? Sweet, if you need to handle 16 megapixel photos all day everyday, but how many people do? A sleek user interface? Waste of system resources. Overall, Vista makes Windows 98 look like Linux in comparison to XP. Im building MD a new computer, and it looks like copies of XP are going for more than they did new. All I can say is WTF OMG BBQ. Amazing.

5. Blogs

Blogs suck, and this post is an example of a blog sucking. Who cares about your baby pictures, your infantile opinions, and your whiney complaints about the world? Shut up, nobody cares, and nobody is reading. 90% of the blogs on blogspot.com suck tremendously, just try clicking on the link at the top, "next blog." Blogs are a huge waste of time for everybody involved, why do we even bother?

6. Ebay

OK, ebay is the source of all evil, when Dick Cheney goes to sleep at night he actually plugs himself into the wall and on the other side is a fiber optic cable leading right to the heart of the ebay servers, sucking the excess evil juice out of him and spreading it throughout the internet.

7. Kotaku

They banned me from making comments, because I didnt say what they wanted me to, apparently. Yet, being a "games journalist", technically speaking at least, they have me by the balls, because most of the news gets posted there first. Bastards.

8. Email

Who invented this crap? Now I have to check it all the time, lest I miss someones message and incure their wrath. Email is like regular mail, but crappier. Remember when you would get mail at summer camp? Those letters from Mom ruled. Didnt matter if you wrote back. Emails from Mom in 2008? Not so much. Case closed.

9. Online Games That Dont Work

OK, we wanted to play the XBLA version of Worms, a turn based strategy game, the other night, (sure I could edit this sentence so that it was gramatically correct and made sense, but I am in a fight to the death with the English language, and if I let it wrest control away now I may never recover). Phew. So anyway, surprise, it didnt work, we kept getting dropped and one player couldnt connect. Even though technically speaking, we should be able to play the non real time, turn based game Worms on a 14.4K modem without it affecting the gameplay, XBLA decided our 1M cable connections werent good enough and said no.

10. Big Brother

He watches you, recording everything you do and everywhere you go, compiling it all into a nice, neatly organized database log that can be accessed by computers from any number of state agencies. The database - which records ever phone call, email, internet page click, video conference, or VOIP communication from every American and from millions of others around the globe, is the largest database in the world. Attatched to that database is the worlds largest and most powerful computer, so large, that the NSA recently ran out of power for it. Just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy when you go to sleep at night, doesnt it? If you would like to read more about the NSA and its project ECHELON, Wikipedia has some basic info which will lead you on your way.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

The New Depression

Economists dont have an exact quantitative definition of a depression. Wikipedia tells us that:

"In economics, a depression is a term commonly used for a sustained downturn in the economy. It is more severe than a recession (which is seen as a normal downturn in the business cycle). Considered a rare but extreme form of recession, the start of a depression is characterized by unusual increases in unemployment, restriction of credit, shrinking output and investment, price deflation or hyperinflation, numerous bankruptcies, reduced amounts of trade and commerce, as well as violent currency devaluations."

Now, on top of Bear Sterns going under, the price of gas being $5, unemplyment being way up, consumer spending way down, housing prices falling faster than they were during the Great Depression, and The Fed loaning out money hand-over-fist just to keep the scaffolding in place, we have this:

The New York Times September 15 2008

"In one of the most dramatic days in Wall Street’s history, Merrill Lynch agreed to sell itself on Sunday to Bank of America for roughly $50 billion to avert a deepening financial crisis, while another prominent securities firm, Lehman Brothers, said it would seek bankruptcy protection and hurtled toward liquidation after it failed to find a buyer.

The humbling moves, which reshape the landscape of American finance, mark the latest chapter in a tumultuous year in which once-proud financial institutions have been brought to their knees as a result of hundreds of billions of dollars in losses because of bad mortgage finance and real estate investments.

But even as the fates of Lehman and Merrill hung in the balance, another crisis loomed as the insurance giant American International Group appeared to teeter. Staggered by losses stemming from the credit crisis, A.I.G. sought a $40 billion lifeline from the Federal Reserve, without which the company may have only days to survive.

The stunning series of events culminated a weekend of frantic around-the-clock negotiations, as Wall Street bankers huddled in meetings at the behest of Bush administration officials to try to avoid a downward spiral in the markets stemming from a crisis of confidence.

'My goodness. I’ve been in the business 35 years, and these are the most extraordinary events I’ve ever seen,' said Peter G. Peterson, co-founder of the private equity firm the Blackstone Group, who was head of Lehman in the 1970s and a secretary of commerce in the Nixon administration."

To be honest, Im quite afraid for our country right now. The purpose of this blog is not to spread fear, or make the situation out to be worse than it is. There are many economists who will tell you that a depression on the scale of what happened 80 years ago is impossible. But what Im seeing is nothing like what happened when the stock market crashed in 1988. People werent sleeping in their cars and living on Spam. Truckers didnt sell their rigs because it was impossible to make a living anymore. Companies and investors lost money, but the banks didnt close and people didnt lose the shirts off their backs. This time, its definitely different.

The real origin of the problem is ideological. It's rooted in the prevailing "trickle down" orthodoxy which opposes any increases in wages or benefits for working people. Just look at the minimum wage - its worthelss in todays economy. Middle class families cant afford to own the homes they live in and and rent, and the lower class are barely scraping by. Henry Ford realized what today's captains of industry and finance refuse to accept; that if workers aren't adequately paid for their labor---and wages do not keep pace with production---then the economy cannot grow because consumers do not have the money to buy the things they make. It's just that simple.

Greenspan and his ilk believed that they could prosecute the class war and make up the difference by relaxing lending standards, changing bankruptcy laws, and by creating a nearly endless array of exotic financial products that expanded credit. But shifting wealth from one class to another has its costs. By crushing the worker they have killed the golden goose. The world's most prosperous consumer society is in terminal distress and no amount of "free market" economics will keep it from crashing.

The idealogical problems can only be solved through true leadership - all the way from the top. Does Obama have what it takes to turn our economy and our country around? I'm hopeful, although I dont know for sure, but I do know that John McCain supported the fiscal policies and tax cuts for the rich enacted under the Bush administration, from which we are all currently hurting.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Surfin' Tsunami


The Beach Boys - Surfin Safari - 1962

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Clueless In Alaska

Bob Herbert
The New York Times

While watching the Sarah Palin interview with Charlie Gibson Thursday night, and the coverage of the Palin phenomenon in general, I’ve gotten the scary feeling, for the first time in my life, that dimwittedness is not just on the march in the U.S., but that it might actually prevail.

How is it that this woman could have been selected to be the vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket? How is it that so much of the mainstream media has dropped all pretense of seriousness to hop aboard the bandwagon and go along for the giddy ride?

For those who haven’t noticed, we’re electing a president and vice president, not selecting a winner on “American Idol.”

Ms. Palin may be a perfectly competent and reasonably intelligent woman (however troubling her views on evolution and global warming may be), but she is not ready to be vice president.

With most candidates for high public office, the question is whether one agrees with them on the major issues of the day. With Ms. Palin, it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing. She doesn’t appear to understand some of the most important issues.

“Do you believe in the Bush doctrine?” Mr. Gibson asked during the interview. Ms. Palin looked like an unprepared student who wanted nothing so much as to escape this encounter with the school principal.

Clueless, she asked, “In what respect, Charlie?”

“Well, what do you interpret it to be?” said Mr. Gibson.

“His worldview?” asked Ms. Palin.

Later, in the spin zones of cable TV, commentators repeatedly made the point that there are probably very few voters — some specifically mentioned “hockey moms” — who could explain the Bush doctrine. But that’s exactly the reason we have such long and intense campaigns. You want to find the individuals who best understand these issues, who will address them in sophisticated and creative ways that enhance the well-being of the nation.

The Bush doctrine, which flung open the doors to the catastrophe in Iraq, was such a fundamental aspect of the administration’s foreign policy that it staggers the imagination that we could have someone no further than a whisper away from the White House who doesn’t even know what it is.

You can’t imagine that John McCain or Barack Obama or Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton or Joe Lieberman would not know what the Bush doctrine is. But Sarah Palin? Absolutely clueless.

Ms. Palin’s problem is not that she was mayor of a small town or has only been in the Alaska governor’s office a short while. Her problem (and now ours) is that she is not well versed on the critical matters confronting the country at one of the most crucial turning points in its history.

The economy is in a tailspin. The financial sector is lurching about on rubbery legs. We’re mired in self-defeating energy policies. We’re at war. And we are still vulnerable to the very real threat of international terrorism.

With all of that and more being the case, how can it be a good idea to set in motion the possibility that Americans might wake up one morning to find that Sarah Palin is president?

I feel for Ms. Palin’s son who has been shipped off to the war in Iraq. But at his deployment ceremony, which was on the same day as the Charlie Gibson interview, Sept. 11, she told the audience of soldiers that they would be fighting “the enemies who planned and carried out and rejoiced in the death of thousands of Americans.”

Was she deliberately falsifying history, or does she still not know that Iraq and Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks?

To burnish the foreign policy credentials of a vice presidential candidate who never even had a passport until last year, the Republicans have been touting Alaska’s proximity to Russia. (Imagine the derisive laughter in conservative circles if the Democrats had tried such nonsense.) So Mr. Gibson asked Ms. Palin, “What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of the state give you?”

She said, “They’re our next-door neighbors. And you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska. From an island in Alaska.”

Mr. Gibson tried again. “But what insight does that give you,” he asked, “into what they’re doing in Georgia?”

John McCain, who is shameless about promoting himself as America’s ultimate patriot, put the best interests of the nation aside in making his incredibly reckless choice of a running mate. But there is a profound double standard in this country. The likes of John McCain and George W. Bush can do the craziest, most irresponsible things imaginable, and it only seems to help them politically.

Friday, September 12, 2008

CharityWater.org Trailer

My birthday isnt in September, but a good friend's birthday is, and he recommended this site to me. Check it out, and donate if you can. We take clean drinking water for granted in the United States, but for many people in the rest of the world, its a priveledge they can only dream about.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ghosts N Goblins for NES in 22:56

Kareshi completes a live, non-emulated, non-tool assisted, no death run of Ghosts N' Goblins for the NES. It may be a bit hard to appreciate what he's doing if you've never played the game before. If the enemies and pitfalls dont drive you insane in this game, the music most certainly will.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Top 10 Hardest Games Ever

This is my personal list of the hardest games worth playing. This list doesnt include flash based games like The Worlds Hardest Game, or games like Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors and the positively hilarious Syoban Action (Cat Mario), because they are so short and designed only to infuriate you, they fall more into the videogame parody category. The games on this list must be hard but not impossible or broken, or total crap thats not even worth playing. There are no RPGs, maze games, lightgun games, FPSs, TPSs, RTSs, god games, sims, party, puzzle, or music games. Its not that these games arent worth playing or that the genres dont have tough games, but they're just not on this list, for various reasons. They may appear on other lists in the near future, such as Top 10 Hardest Game Franchises, Top 10 Hardest Game Bosses, and Top 10 Hardest Game Modes, etc etc until I get sick of making lists. As it is, the games on this list are mostly old school 2D affairs.

These games are designed such that even if you are the theoretically most talented player in the world, beating these games on your first playthrough is impossible. For most players, it will take days, weeks, months, or years before you are finally able to push through and see the final screen. To beat these games without putting in an inordinate amount of time, most players would have to cheat, either using in game exploits or actual hacks of the game code. To beat Ikaruga, you would have to use infinite continues - and credit spammers get no credit for that feat. But the sick part is - there are people who can play through Ikaruga without losing a single life. There are people who can do speed runs of Streets of Rage 2 and Battletoads, or beat every boss in Mega Man 1-6 in a row without being hit once. So taking the games on this list and making them serve at your beck and call is certainly possible - but the level of perfection required is so far beyond most players physical or mental abilities that many will never approach a successful playthrough. Sure, that might make them sane, "normal people." But that doesnt mean we cant try.

10. Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels (Famicom, SNES, Wii VC)

Man, this game is great. Its really just a ridiculously jacked up version of Super Mario Bros, with gaps and moving platforms requiring pixel perfect jumping accuracy, and power ups that kill you. It was never actually released on the NES in the US - Nintendo of America decided the game was too punishing for a Western audience, so we got Doki Doki Panic with Mario skins instead - they called it Super Mario 2, and everyone here loved it. The Lost Levels only first appeared in the US on the SNES game Super Mario All Stars, which also contained the amazing 16-bit remastered version of Super Mario Bros. I can think of more difficult games than the Lost Levels, but they're not as great games. If you have a Wii, this game is most certainly worth downloading.

9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

Somehow, as a kid, I managed to beat this game just through sheer willpower. I think its probably the only game I played every day for months on end without beating. Back in the day, we only had a few games, and the ones we did, we played the crap out of. The water stage alone was enough to make the Angry Nintendo Nerd lose his shit, let alone some of the platforming sections, or god forbid the technodrome and shredder. To this day, I dont know how I did it.

8. Green Beret (aka) Rush N' Attack (Arcade, NES, XBLA)

Some cruel, demented human being made this game, and some clueless family relative thought that this would be a good gift for a little boy named Furry Puddle in the mid 1980s. It was probably the worst gift ever. He thought, "oh yeah! a new NES game! sweet!" only to open it up, pop it in and find the game past the first few stages was practically impossible to play, with an insane bevy of soldiers, bullets and grenades flying from all directions, and your character equipped with only a knife and some rare powerups. Dying a couple of times results in starting back at the beginning of the game. The game is on XBLA, I own it, and to this day, I cannot finish it, although the masochist in me will keep trying. If you thought the dogs and grenades from Call of Duty 4 were nasty, you've never played Rush N Attack!

7. Streets of Rage 2 (Genesis, Arcade, XBLA)

Holy crap is this game awesome - and tough as nails. I remember it being tough in the arcades, where it was once of the greatest credit feeders of all time, it was a tiny bit easier on the Sega Genesis, but the ridiculously hard XBLA version takes the cake. I think its quite true, that this is the greatest beat-em up game of all time - and also the hardest. You can say Battletoads, or Double Dragon 3 might be harder at times, but those games difficulty comes from poor level design and mediocre controls - whereas Streets of Rage gives you all the control you need, but just hands your ass to you on a silver platter with tons of unique enemies all with multiple devastating attacks. Modern beat em ups, like Castle Crashers or Dynasty Warriors, while fine in their own right, could learn a lot from the absolutely perfect gameplay and brilliant enemy design of Streets of Rage 2.

6. Civilization IV: Beyond The Sword (PC)

Civ is probably the most hardcore game ever made. The only game I can honestly compare it to is chess. There are no winning chess strategies. All chess strategies have counter strategies which effectively negate the advantage imparted by said strategy, and Civilization is no different. There are no winning Civilization strategies, there are only winning players. There is no one way to play - it has infinite game tree complexity with myriad, subtle variations. Civ has the deepest and most mathmateically complex models behind its gameplay of any computer strategy game ever made. Every action in the game can be quantified, and those who control those numbers will ultimately rule the world. Each full sized game takes anywhere from 12-20+ hours to complete from beginning to end. The game takes at least 4-5 playthroughs to even grasp the depth and realize you have no clue what you are doing, and probably 25 plays before you fully understand what is actually happening at every level of the game and can begin to learn adaptive strategies. Although the best players tend to end the game earlier, as in chess, its quite enjoyable to play out a winning endgame even when your opponent is clearly in a losing position. Taking out all those pieces and navigating your way to a checkmate, via one of the various victory conditions, is certainly one of the more satisfying feats in video gaming.

5. Donkey Kong (Arcade)

Billy Mitchell, who holds world records for 3 popular arcade games, has stated several times that it was Donkey Kong that got him hooked on hardcore competetive gaming. Billy is the first and probably last player in history to complete a perfect play of Pac Man - eating every dot, every power up, and getting maximum points for each ghost on every stage without losing a life. I consider this to be one of the greatest achievements not only in videogames, but in sports history. But Billy thinks that Donkey Kong offers the greatest level of challenege out of all the classic arcade games, and thats what drove him to finally best Steve Wiebe's previously unbreakable million point score in June 2007. An arcade perfect port of Donkey Kong has never been made for any system, and unsurprisingly its the #3 most downloaded game on romkeeper.com

4. N+ (XBLA)

This is definitely one of the most infuriating games I have ever played - and its definitely the hardest platformer ever. The guys that made Rush N Attack and Mario The Lost Levels apparently combined their DNA into an evil creation called Metanet Software. Death is your constant companion in N+. You get a sick, sick achievement for dying 1000 times, although the number by the time you finish could be 20 times higher. I actually havent finished the game yet because I have adopted an episodic approach to play with the goal being to reduce the amount of frustration. Im 80% of the way there, and I still have 50% sanity left for the last few levels of insanity. Master Ninja Darth Mikal said beating the game over the course of a couple weeks took at least one year off his life.

3. Radiant Silvergun (Arcade, Sega Saturn)

There are so many shooters, and so many hard shooters, I could make a list of top 10 hardest games that was comprised of nothing but shooters. Some people might say that DoDonPachi or Mushihimesama might be harder, there are huge Gradius and Einhander fans, your hardcore R-Type and Ikaruga memorization freaks, the Raiden addicts, the Ibara masters, Border Down syndrome sufferers, the Ketsui PCB owners, I could go on for about another 4 paragraphs and I still wouldnt be touching the tip of the iceberg of what I consider to be the most difficult genre of videogames. I picked Radiant Silvergun because it is considered one of the greatest shmups of all time, you can emulate it for free in MAME on any decent PC, it is the direct predecessor to Ikaruga, and its as hard to 1CC as any game on this list.

2. F Zero GX (Gamecube)

Insanity. Pure insanity. This is, beyond question, without a doubt, the fastest videogame ever made. It pushes you to the limitations of your reflexes, and then well beyond them into oblivion. Imagine Burnout, but instead of travelling 150-210 mph, you are travelling at 450-600 mph, and the turns are just as sharp, and many course have sections with no walls. Holy effing mother loving what the eff? Luckily, the game eases you into the insanity with the first few tracks, but by the time you reach the end of the game you will asking yourself if there are any people in the world who can finish these courses without hitting the wall or falling off the edge, let alone come in first place against a brutally agressive AI. F-Zero GX is a game that takes only minutes to learn, but a lifetime of play to master. Its certainly one of the greatest racing games of all time, and definitely the most difficult to conquer.

1. Ghosts N Goblins (Arcade, NES, Wii VC)

Masochism. Pure Masochism. Considered the hardest game in the arcades when it was released in 1985, its difficulty also stood without peer in its excellent 8 bit port to the NES, and amazingly still holds up today. The only game I can really compare it to is N+, because you die so much and there is a huge amount of trial and error involved in finishing each stage. But unlike N+, this game has enemies with AI, although its more random AI than anything else, but this random element is what makes many of the enemies tough to face. Aside from the crazy random enemy movements, your hero, Sir Arthur, has only his suit of armor to protect him, and a pair of white underpants underneath, to protect against the enemies attacks. 1 hit, and you lose your armor and run around in your tighty whities, waiting to die. Also, when you jump, you cant change directions midair like in Super Mario Bros. You travel in the direction you jump without being able to make corrections, which leads to many, many untimely deaths. Yes, I have finished Ghosts & Goblins, on both the NES and the arcade version emulated in MAME, but it took intense amounts of willpower, and many many hours of practice and watching videos on youtube for seemingly impassible sections. It was, in a word, painful. The sickest part of the game is - you have to beat it twice in a row to see the ending. Recommended only for the most dementedly masochistic gamers, and even then, at risk to your own sanity.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Total Domination

Roger Federer won the US Open about 10 minutes ago, 6-2, 7-5, 6-2, in an incredibly dominating performance over 6th ranked Scottish player Andy Murray. He was relentlessly attacking the net, serving great, and returning everything Murray could hit at him. It was vintage Roger Federer. After an extremely disppointing start to 2008 for Federer, it must be quite nice to win the last major tournament of the year. Congrats Roger, I hope you win it again next year - 6 straight would be a new record.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Official Odds on CERN Large Hadron Collider Doomsday Black Hole: 99-1

So, some physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) decided that it might be fun to build a $10,000,000,000 toy called the Large Hadron Collider that shoots particles into each other at speeds which result in temperatures 100,000 times hotter than the sun, with the hope of discovering some new particles, micro black holes, and possibly extra dimensions. Its a sweet idea, to be sure. Theres just one problem: an itsy bitsy teeny tiny weenie meanie little chance that when they turn the thing on this Wednesday, they might create a black hole that eats up our entire solar system. That sure would be a bummer, dude.

Personally Im 99% sure they wont turn us all into cosmic dust. Im so sure, in fact, Im taking all bets at a 99-1 payout structure. You bet $1 that our planet will implode, and if it does, you win $99. I cant really accept wagers larger than $10,000 at this time for various legal reasons, unless you are paying in large unmarked bills.

But in all seriousness, I think we need to consider for a moment one of the reasons it is worth taking risks in science at all. See, we are currently stuck on this planet. We cant get off it and go live somewhere else if our lives depended on it. And thats a problem for the survival of ours and every other species on this planet. Recently I read an article that was discussing the likelyhood of other intelligent species living on planets in other galaxies, and they put the figure at something close to 100%. Given the number of galaxies in the universe (estimated 100-500 billion), the number of stars in each galaxy (500 billion average) and from what we have observed just on Earth, Mars, and the Moon, its almost a certainty that there is intelligent, civilized, technologically advanced life on other planets. So why didnt they ever find us? Playing the the newly release PC game Spore has certainly made me reconsider this question recently.

Sadly, the answer is that its very likely the advanced species never quite figured out how to make it out of their solar system, let alone their galaxy, and they died there. Just with basic rocket propulsion, you can boost around the solar system, but to actually escape the confines of our sun and make it to Alpha Centuari, we need to travel for 4.3 years at the speed of light. Its not possible with any current technology and may never be if we dont dedicate ourselves to uncovering the secrets of the universe. We cant let fear of the unknown stop us from advancing our understanding of physics, or any other science for that matter.

Sure, there is an incredibly small chance the physicists at CERN, no matter how brilliant and well-intentioned they are, made a grave miscalulation, and the mini black holes they seek to produce actually turn into planet eating ones. But if we dont unlock these secrets, and advance our understanding of the universe, our species is doomed to extinction on the floating rock we call Earth. It may not happen anytime soon, and its possible we may kill each other first, but I dont think the dinosaurs planned on a massive asteroid hitting earth either. Getting off our planet is only one of a myriad of problems and challenges that humanity faces, which science and science only can solve. If we want to overcome them, the general public must overcome its fear of science, and of things like stem-cell research, evolution, and high energy particle physics experiments - because these things are essential to a progressive civilization.

Although they are not studying propulsion technology at CERN, the results of their experiments could change they way we look at physics entirely. If the physicists at CERN were able to observe black holes, it would imply that we are actually living in at least 5 dimensions - that there is an entire underbelly to the universe which we cannot see and traditional physics cannot directly explain, but implies its necessary existence. The LHC's main goal is to fill the gaps that currently exist in the Standard Model, the grand theory governing the subatomic structure of the universe. That may mean finding traces of extra dimensions, or a whole new class of supersymmetric particles, or the causes behind dark matter and dark energy.

Filling the scientific gaps would almost certainly include getting a fix on the Higgs boson, which some physicists have dubbed the "God particle." The Higgs is the only particle predicted by the Standard Model that hasn't yet been found, and it could hold the key to understanding why some particles (like protons) have mass while others (like photons) do not. If you understand why some particles have mass and why some do not, you are that much closer to several next generation technologies which have only been speculated about up until this point, only one of which is new proulsion technology. Rocketry is not the apex of proulsion technology, its merely one point along the axis upwards towards travelling at the speed of light.

If you are interested in reading more about this subject, I can direct you for starters to an interview with Michelangelo Mangano, one of the physicists at CERN, who explains why the micro-black holes dont pose a threat to humanity, as well as several other interesting subjects regarding the LHC. The machine has been undergoing test runs and will begin its first real operation on Wednesday, September 10th, although the super high energy tests wont begin until October.

But just in the off chance that something goes wrong, its been fun knowing you all. You can collect your bets on the other side, just make sure to bring a photo ID.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Spore - IGN Video Review

8 years in the making, Will Wright's Spore is the most ambitious video game ever made. Can it possibly live up to the hype? I'll have my impressions posted sometime later this week.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Camo Spider 2008-2008

Sometimes, a person or creature comes into our life and we never look at the world the same way again. Such was the case with Camo Spider, a rare British species of spider only (un)seen during the wee hours of the night by intrepid entemologists, and people making Halo videos at 3am, like Bender, who will tell the story of Camo Spider to you all.

By Umopapisdnpuaq

"Well the tale of Camo Spider began perhaps a few days back. It may have been a forshadowing but there was a regular kind of black spider high up on the white wall but it ran off by the time I'd gotten a capturing tin. I tend to capture/release rather than squash. I didn't see that spider again but knew he was there somewhere. Then a couple of days later I caught a glimpse of something on a brown box. The only reason I noticed it was because it was on the edge of two sides and from my angle I saw it's body raised up away from the edge of the box. It was though beautifully camoflaged on the box. This made capture tough. It knew my tin couldn't capture if it was on a corner and any splat would be mostly ineffective too. It was smart. Touche... I figured for a while and tried to knock it off the box to somewhere I could get at it. But the speed/agility/mirror's-edge-trailers-it-had-been-watching allowed it to skip away and flip itself into camo mode somewhere and I couldnt catch sight of it. So the light stayed on, I stayed with my feet off the floor and a mutual wait out ensued. I had to give Camo Spider his credit and had duly named him Camo Spider. The next morning I awoke to find myself cocooned in a tight sleeping bag of silk. This was an unfortunate devlopment, but the lack of a face-hugging-spider-baby-infestation made me actually decide to shake Camo Spider by the hand and if possible, usher him out into the fruitful garden full of nice food and plentiful arachnid habitat. But no sign of him still. And then... then - squish. What did I expect from a Camo Spider. In a most unfortunate turn of events, one of my feet tragically met with Camo Spider as he lurked around, sneaking his way Splinter Cell style, probably with heat vision on. He was completely cloaked. Maybe he was sleeping. Who knows. But Camo Spider was no more. It was a sad moment, but Camo Spider lives on in my memory."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Toto - Africa

When in doubt - when time is short - Toto.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Machinarium Trailer

Machinarium Preview from Amanita Design on Vimeo.

Hand drawn adventure game for the PC scheduled for release in 2009. LINK

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The 15 Hour Poker Marathon

So last night we played cards from 8pm until 11am this morning, pausing only for breakfast and to move the game to Brooklyn at around 6am due to parking issues. Ive never played for that long before, and it was certainly an eye opening experience. I think I can play my "A game" for about 8-9 hours at a time. After that, it becomes difficult to maintain focus on the game and your opponents, but that didnt stop me from continuing to play. We started as 8 players, but once it got really late there were only 4 of us left standing. Everyone else had busted out or gone to bed.

This was the longest session Ive played in, but poker games that last for days without the participants pausing for rest are not unheard of. Stu Unger, the legendary gin and poker player who won the Main Event at the World Series 3 times in his career, once played in a game for 3 days straight, slept in a chair in a corner for 6 hours, then woke up and played for another 2 days in a row. Kids, dont try this at home.

Im trying to remember some exciting hands, but at this point its all a huge blur. I dont remember making any huge bluffs or hero calls, just regular poker, with a pickaxe and a shovel. I do recall one hand where I was unable to make a big laydown. It was about 5 am, just before we moved the game to Brooklyn, and I picked up A-K of spades. The player to my right, a loose agressive player who was first to act, made it $8 to go. Liking big slick against his range of raising hands, which included questionable hands like A-9, pocket 5s, and crap like Q-7 suited. I immediately made it $18, everyone folded but the raiser who called and we took the flop 2 handed. The flop came A-10-6 with two spades. He checked, and liking what I saw, I led out with $30 into a $39 pot. At this point, I was hoping he might try to bluff me, thinking I had made a continuation bet. But surprisingly he just called. The turn was a red King.

At this point, I had the top two pair and nut flush draw. I wasnt going anywhere, and actually was trying to size up how much of my opponents stack I could get him to commit to the sizable pot. After checking his hole cards, my opponent moved all in for about $160 into a $99 pot. This was certainly a surprising development, and for the life of me I could not put my opponent on a hand. The best explanation I could come up with was K-10 or A-10, as it was clear from the way he had put all his chips in the pot this was not a bluff. If he had held A-A, K-K, or 10-10, I think he would have put in a 3rd bet before the flop. I called pretty sure that I had the best hand, and if he had a set of 10s, maybe my flush would come or I could hit another Ace or King to fill up.

My opponent flipped over Q-J for the nut straight, and the board blanked and I doubled him up. Luckily, I was sitting on about $550 at that point and could afford it, but it signaled the end of a nice streak I had been on and forced me to play a bit better. At least, until we took the game back to Brooklyn an hour later, where I got all my chips in bad in a variety of situations and left stuck and exhausted shortly after 11am. Stu, I dont know how you did it.

Monday, September 1, 2008

100 NES Games in 10 Minutes

The NES is the greatest console ever made, by far, and will never be surpassed. Why? They made over 700 games for it. Now, you might say, well they made over 1700 games for the PS2. Well, they did, but about 80% of those games sucked. On the NES, for every one stinker like Battle Chess, you had 3 classics like Battletoads, Bionic Commando, and Blaster Master. The ratio of good games to bad games was much higher.

That being said, I somehow (blame ebay) own the cartridge for almost half the games on this list. I play most of them regularly, just not crap like Bubble Bobble 2 which I own mostly for its status as a collectors item. Why put my money in the bank when I can invest it in grey injection molded plastic filled with 8-bit greatness? Sure, I could just download an emulator and play on my computer, and I do that as well (especially for Kid Icarus and Metal Gear, man those games start out tough, and the save codes are like 50 characters long), but thats not the point.

The point is I am trying to reverse time. The other night, when it was 3:30 in the morning and I found myself playing Kirby's Adventure for 2 hours, I thought to myself, what the hell am I doing? I could be playing Castle Crashers or Metal Gear Solid 4, Civ4, Sins of a Solar Empire, Unreal 3 or Mario Galaxy, why am I playing some ancient 8-bit game?

Simple answer: because it makes me feel like a kid again, and for someone who is still young at heart, there is really nothing better.