Saturday, November 29, 2008
This game, by Japanese developer From Software, looks to pick up the the mantle of Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi in bringing ninja action games into the next generation with a more cinematic presentation. Whether this will actually work is anybody's guess, as this is the devlopers first shot at a high budget ninja game. With Team Ninja now defunct, will the new kid on the block rise to the challenge of making a brilliant brand new ninja game, or will it be a medoicre mishmash of better games weve played before elsewhere? We wont be finding out until Spring 2009. If you are interested in seeing in-game footage from the demo, follow THIS LINK.
Friday, November 28, 2008
So, I have a little tidbit for you here. If all goes according to plan, the Next Xbox will ship in Novemeber 2011 with Gears of War 3, running on the brand new Unreal 4 engine. While much of this is rumour and speculation, Epic has informed investors that it has been working on the Unreal 4 engine for 2 years now, the first year being largely a solo project of the Chief Technical Officer at Epic, with his team and budget being ramped up significantly in 2008. The new Unreal 4 engine is being designed exclusively for next generation video cards - meaning it wont run on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
It is well known that both Microsoft and Nintendo have been making the rounds at various development studios, asking them what features they want and how much power they need going forward into the next generation. While most of these talks have been general in nature, the purpose is clear: get the ball rolling on the design and launch of the next generation of hardware. There are vast technical hurdles and economic questions which must be answered between now and then. Will the Next Xbox retain its own API, or will it use Direct X 10.1, or Direct3D 11? Is the public ready for a new console already? Will the economy be ready to support a flood of new hardware sales? Microsoft released the original Xbox in Nov 2001, the Xbox 360 in Nov 2005, and given an economy thats stuck in the mud, it only makes sense they would wait another 3 years until 2011 rather than try to push new hardware to market in 2009 or 2010 when people are still recovering financially and arent yet ready to upgrade.
Yes, there are many questions that must be resolved, but we do know this: Microsoft and Epic are starting to work very closely together on something huge, but its something thats far off in the future (36 months is light years in the technology world). It doesnt take a degree in forensic science to realize what that Next Big Thing is.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
By Thom Friedman of The New York Times
So, I have a confession and a suggestion. The confession: I go into restaurants these days, look around at the tables often still crowded with young people, and I have this urge to go from table to table and say: “You don’t know me, but I have to tell you that you shouldn’t be here. You should be saving your money. You should be home eating tuna fish. This financial crisis is so far from over. We are just at the end of the beginning. Please, wrap up that steak in a doggy bag and go home.”
Now you know why I don’t get invited out for dinner much these days. If I had my druthers right now we would convene a special session of Congress, amend the Constitution and move up the inauguration from Jan. 20 to Thanksgiving Day. Forget the inaugural balls; we can’t afford them. Forget the grandstands; we don’t need them. Just get me a Supreme Court justice and a Bible, and let’s swear in Barack Obama right now — by choice — with the same haste we did — by necessity — with L.B.J. in the back of Air Force One.
Unfortunately, it would take too long for a majority of states to ratify such an amendment. What we can do now, though, said the Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein, co-author of “The Broken Branch,” is “ask President Bush to appoint Tim Geithner, Barack Obama’s proposed Treasury secretary, immediately.” Make him a Bush appointment and let him take over next week. This is not a knock on Hank Paulson. It’s simply that we can’t afford two months of transition where the markets don’t know who is in charge or where we’re going. At the same time, Congress should remain in permanent session to pass any needed legislation.
This is the real “Code Red.” As one banker remarked to me: “We finally found the W.M.D.” They were buried in our own backyard — subprime mortgages and all the derivatives attached to them.
Yet, it is obvious that President Bush can’t mobilize the tools to defuse them — a massive stimulus program to improve infrastructure and create jobs, a broad-based homeowner initiative to limit foreclosures and stabilize housing prices, and therefore mortgage assets, more capital for bank balance sheets and, most importantly, a huge injection of optimism and confidence that we can and will pull out of this with a new economic team at the helm.
The last point is something only a new President Obama can inject. What ails us right now is as much a loss of confidence — in our financial system and our leadership — as anything else. I have no illusions that Obama’s arrival on the scene will be a magic wand, but it would help.
Right now there is something deeply dysfunctional, bordering on scandalously irresponsible, in the fractious way our political elite are behaving — with business as usual in the most unusual economic moment of our lifetimes. They don’t seem to understand: Our financial system is imperiled.
“The unity seems to be gone. The emergency looks to be a little less pressing,” Bill Frenzel, the former 10-term Republican congressman who is now with the Brookings Institution, was quoted by CNBC.com on Friday.
I don’t want to see Detroit’s auto industry wiped out, but what are we supposed to do with auto executives who fly to Washington in three separate private jets, ask for a taxpayer bailout and offer no detailed plan for their own transformation?
The stock and credit markets haven’t been fooled. They have started to price financial stocks at Great Depression levels, not just recession levels. With $5, you can now buy one share of Citigroup and have enough left over for a bite at McDonalds.
As a result, Barack Obama is possibly going to have to make the biggest call of his presidency — before it even starts.
“A great judgment has to be made now as to just how big and bad the situation is,” says Jeffrey Garten, the Yale School of Management professor of international finance. “This is a crucial judgment. Do we think that a couple of hundred billion more and couple of bad quarters will take care of this problem, or do we think that despite everything that we have done so far — despite the $700 billion fund to rescue banks, the lowering of interest rates and the way the Fed has stepped in directly to shore up certain markets — the bottom is nowhere in sight and we are staring at a deep hole that the entire world could fall into?”
If it’s the latter, then we need a huge catalyst of confidence and capital to turn this thing around. Only the new president and his team, synchronizing with the world’s other big economies, can provide it.
“The biggest mistake Obama could make,” added Garten, “is thinking this problem is smaller than it is. On the other hand, there is far less danger in overestimating what will be necessary to solve it.”
Conventional wisdom says it’s good for a new president to start at the bottom. The only way to go is up. That’s true — unless the bottom falls out before he starts.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
"Shieeeelds!!!! Get the fucking shields! Ohhhh my goooddd!" Those are the words one hears right before they enter The Panic Room in Horde, the new 5 person coop mode in Epic's smash hit, Gears of War 2. What is The Panic Room you ask? No, Im not talking about the atrocious 2002 film starring Jodie Foster and Forest Whitaker. Im talking about the fortified defensive area set up by the 5 human players in Gears 2's Horde mode. When endless waves of Locust enemies are descending upon you, kicking in your shield doors and laying down a hail of grinder fire, your only hope is The Panic Room. Your last chance for survival. Your only salvation. Your final gasp for air.
Last night I had one of the most amazing online or offline gaming experiences of my life - playing Horde on the map Hail, we went from Wave 1 to Wave 49, scoring 515,818 points along the way, placing us 45th on the leaderboard - out of 424,192. It took us 4 hours and it was one of the more exhausting sessions Ive ever played in. We had just come off a 3 hour battle on Blood Drive, only to have one of our party members pass out drunk during Wave 30. We didnt make it much beyond that, but fear not Tequila Troubadour md galaxy, because that failure inspired us to make another go with Darth Mikal in the 5th slot. The lineup was myself, James Bond 007, umopapisdnpuaq, Darth Mikal and Evil Max. Starting off, we didnt think we had much of a chance of going deep due to massive inebriation and the fact that we started the run at 5am EST - when we usually are logging off. The European players - Darth and Bender - were fresh off a nights sleep and kept us going through the first 20 waves.
Bond took a break around Wave 11, and just stood in the Panic Room by himself. "Guys, Im just gonna rest my eyes for a few seconds." At that point, I thought we had absolutely no shot. Bond was gonna fall asleep at the wheel, and the bus was gonna go off the edge of a cliff with all of us in it. But 15 minutes later, on Wave 17, he was miraculously awake again, and we began mowing through the waves. On Wave 29, we were a bit spread out, with Bender and Max manning the bridge and keeping the Horde at a distance with frag grenades, Bond and myself manning the front door and Darth running in between us. We peeled through the wave, until it got down to the last 5 guys.
"Noooooo!" I heard Bender cry out, as his character was chainsawed by a crazed Cyclops. "No way!" Shouted Darth, as the buzzing massacre continued. When you get down to the last few Locust in each wave, they tend to Kamikaze run at you with either their chainsaw up, or their arms flying, trying to melee you. Max fled the bridge and started down the stairs, being chased by a couple of Bolters. I ran up to him with my chainsaw out, but the Bolters shot me and meleed me down, while Max downed one of the Bolters and then he was taken out by the other. It was down to Bond. He ran from the Panic Room as it wasnt properly shielded, killed the downed Bolter and ran upstairs, where he found a chain gun, which he promptly turned on the remaining 2 enemies, turning them into mincemeat. Disaster Avoided.
The next scare was on Wave 37, when we exited the Panic Room en masse to go get ammo. The problem was, nobody stayed behind to guard against a Locust spawn, and several Grinders, Boomers, Sires and Wretches spawned right behind us. Our shields were up, so the big guys couldnt get out, but we couldnt get back in either, leaving us trapped and exposed to enemy fire from the main pavilion area. I died in the crossfire, but somehow the other team members managed to keep a cool head and mow the remaining interior enemies down, reclaiming our Panic Room for the remainder of the match. The first rule of The Panic Room is, never leave The Panic Room empty.
Wave 39 came, and at that point none of us could believe we had made it that far. But now we were awake, aware, sobering up, and ready for anything. I dont really remember much of Wave 39, to be honest. But I do remember we played it textbook, hanging back and picking off enemies, reviving each other, and using tons of planted grenades all over the entrances to our area. Personally, I had nightmares about being flanked from the stairs in case our right wingmen fell, so at both the top and bottom of the stairs I placed frag grenades - far away from the frontlines of battle, but just in case the Locust breached the bridge. Towards the end of the round, when we were down to 4 players, thats exactly what happened. The final Kamikaze-loco-Locust charged us, and started taking us out at a frightening pace. First the right wing fell, then Darth, who went to save them got taken out, and then Bond, who went out to save Darth, confronted the last 2 Bolters, taking out one and being downed and killed by the other. It was only me left alive. I could see the Bolter on the bridge, but I dared not venure out beyond the safe confines of The Panic Room. Out of machine gun ammo, and carrying only a Pistol and Hammerburst, I knew my only shot was to get him to run past my nade gauntlet. I fired a few Hammerburst rounds in the direction of the bridge, and marvelled as the Bolter ran past my first grenade without even pausing to register the impact of the shrapnel, only to be blown to smithereens by the second grenade at the bottom of the stairs. This wasnt going to be easy.
Somehow, through a mixture of proper strategy, communication, luck, and skill, we powered past the Beast Riders of Wave 40. Then we pimpslapped Wave 41. Then 42. 43. 44. 45. We were unstobbable. Wave 46. 47. 48. We were going to go all the way. We all knew it. Nobody was talking about it though. We our score had already passed 500,000. It was just a matter of executing the plan. It was just a matter of protecting and placing our shields, we simply had to maintain the physical integrity of The Panic Room.
Then, came wave 49. It started like a drop-kick-to-the-eye from a 500 lb Ninja in a Gorilla suit. There were Beast Riders right on top of us, with Sires kicking in the shields on their sides. "Get me up! Get me up!" Bond is screaming. There is a Mauler at the front door who has downed him, and hes in dire jeopardy of being killed by the Grinder firing in from outside. I get him up, and am immediately downed by Grinder fire. Bond returns the favor and gets me up, and I empty an entire active reload shotgun clip into the Grinder before he falls. "Holy fucking shit! Pull Back!" I hear Darth yell as I hear Evil Max's head being stomped in. We just reload, and empty, and reload and empty, and the enemies keep on coming. We shoot the Riders off the Beasts, and they stand up and kick in our shield doors. We put the shields back, and Sires show up and kick them in again. Bender goes down. Darth tries to revive him, and he goes down. Im not even aware of this, until I hear them shouting, "Its just you two! Panic Room! PANIC ROOM!!!"
Right as I hear this, I see a Grinder standing at the top of the stairs, his gun aimed right at me, glaring menacingly. "GRIND!" he intones, and I dive towards the shields, grab one, and start backing up. "BOOM!" I hear as a rocket sails over my head. The enemies are now clogging up the foyer, like a legion of undead overgrown club kids waiting to be let in the door. I toss a grenade into the pack and it doesnt faze them. There is Grinder fire everywhere. Boomshots are exploding constantly. Im backpedaling, the shield in my hands the only thing keeping me alive. Time slows down, as the bullets rain down with the two remianing survivors backing into the Panic Room. My reticule is turning red with blood, the shield isnt stopping everything. Somehow I manage to back blindly into the doorway of The Panic Room, and when the Grinder at the front door hits the cooldown on his chain gun, I get an instant to slam the shield into the ground, and tuck into cover. I glance over to the right, and James Bond 007 is mirrored in the exact same position, shield planted, in cover, blindfiring. "Is that all youve got!" Marcus yells as he peeks his head out, gets a headshot on a Theron Gaurd and lines up on the Grinder in the foyer. In that moment the Grinder's gun unloads a hail of bullets aimed right at Marcus' head, and he goes down instantly. "Fight through the pain!" my character Cole yells as I hit the X button, reviving the fallen Marcus.
The enemies are countless, but our blind-fired lancers cut through their flesh with remarkable efficiency, and within a minute or two we are down to 4 enemies. Four enemies between us and - Wave 50, the Final Act, the Final Boss, victory. All I can see is a Kantus right in front of me, with a Grinder backing him up. I unload the remainder of my machine gun ammo into the Kantus, and then switch to the shotgun. The Kantus tosses a Poison grenade into the Panic Room, but its off center, and it only downs me, and Bond quickly revives me. I get up, take cover, and fire an entire clip of shotgun ammo into the Kantus' head, then hit the active reload. Just as Im about to let off glowing shells of active reload death into the last few hitpoints of the Kantus, he throws another Poison grenade, and this time its perfectly placed, filling the entire room. "Noo! Noooooooo!" I hear Bond screaming as his character falls to the ground and bursts in an explosion of blood and body parts, Grinder fire ripping him to pieces. Cole's reticule turns red from the Poison, then redder - and then, just as the green Poison begins to fade from the room, the reticule turns dark crimson, and Cole falls to his knees, limping back behind the pillar in the center of the room. Everything is quiet. There are no enemies. There is no machine gun fire. Everyone in the voice chat is quiet, except for Max, who says softly, "Its over." Cole lies down, clutches his Cog tag, mutters a profanity, and takes an well deserved 8 hour nap.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
On a misty mountaintop on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, scientists for the first time in more than two decades have observed a living Mogwai Pygmy Tarsier, one of the planet's smallest and rarest primates, and a direct descendent of the creature Gizmo from the 1984 film Gremlins.
Over a two-month period, the scientists used nets to trap three furry, mouse-sized Mogwais -- two males and one female -- on Mt. Rore Katimbo in Lore Lindu National Park in central Sulawesi, the researchers said on Tuesday.
They spotted a fourth one that got away.
The Mogwais, which some scientists believed were extinct, may not have been overly thrilled to be found. They were enjoying a diet of Skittles and Dr Pepper they had pilfered from the locals, who hunt the Mogwais for sport. During their capture, one of the Mogwais chomped Sharon Gursky-Doyen, a Texas A&M University professor of anthropology who took part in the expedition.
"I'm the only person in the world to ever be bitten by a Mogwai," Gursky-Doyen said in a telephone interview. "They usually dont become agressive unless you feed them after midnight."
"My assistant was trying to hold him still while I was attaching a radio collar around its neck. It's very hard to hold them because they can turn their heads around 180 degrees. As I'm trying to close the radio collar, he turned his head and nipped my finger. And I yanked it and I was bleeding."
The collars were being attached so the Mogwais movements could be tracked.
Mogwais are unusual primates -- the mammalian group that includes lemurs, monkeys, apes and people. The handful of tarsier species live on various Asian islands.
As their name indicates, Mogwai Pygmy Tarsiers are small -- weighing about 2 ounces (50 grammes). They have large eyes and large ears, reproduce asexually by covering themseleves in water and spotaneously replicating, and will die if exposed to direct sunlight. They are nocturnal insectivores and are unusual among primates in that they have claws rather than finger nails.
They had not been seen alive by scientists since 1990. In 2000, Indonesian scientists who were trapping rats in the Sulawesi highlands accidentally trapped and killed a Mogwai.
"Until that time, everyone really didn't believe that they existed because people had been going out looking for them for a decade and nobody had seen them or heard them," Gursky-Doyen said. Her group observed the first live Mogwais in August at an elevation of about 6,900 feet.
"Its a good thing they didnt make a Gremlins 3," the scientist added. "Otherwise the little guys like this one here would likely already be extinct."
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
This GT review of Mario Kart Wii is interesting. On one hand, they spend most of the review taking potshots and making backhanded compliments about the game, and then they give it an 8.4 anyway. Rather peculiar if you ask me. Especially because this is by far the best Mario Kart game ever made, and if you cant see that, you've either got blinders on or are simply not a fan of the series. A bold statement, I know, but Im going to try to back it up.
For starters, lets talk about the drifting. The GT guys dont like how they changed it so that you dont have to wiggle the stick to get extra boost, now you just hold it, but the result is the same. Well, its true its easier to do, but the idea that making the controls easier makes the game worse is patently ridiculous.
"Now the noobs can win!" Thats also a complete misrepresentation. Ive played a fair share online, and in 12 person rooms, usually one player dominates and the same 2-3 people are always in the top 5, while the rest of the field finishes almost randomly. Its pretty much the results you would expect from any racing game, and its the same in Burnout, Midnight Club, GRID, GT, or any other racing game you want to pick. The veteran players usually win or or place high. The casual players sometimes get lucky and come in 3rd. Picking out the best racing line and being aggressive are the keys to victory online. The Ghost Mode alone, where you can race in solo time trials against developers and online friends best times, is worth checking out even if VS multiplayer isnt your thing.
As for the battle mode, I personally never cared for it, and although Ive heard its not as great compared to past MK games, at least its there and you can play it online. The 12 player racing online is amazingly tight, lag free, and hassle free with brilliant matchmaking and global rankings. I was in a room with 12 people from Europe, the United States, and Japan, all at the same time, with no visible lag. The guy from Japan kicked all of our asses. His name was a symbol. He was using Luigi. It was awesome.
The graphics and sound are fantastic for the Wii. I cant believe how hard the GT guys swung and missed on their technical analysis. While I am playing on a 480P 27" CRT in 4x3, and Im sure the game doesnt look as good on a 50" flatscreen, for what it is, it looks and runs fabulously. The lighting effects are really impressive, it has the effect of HDR lighting but Im not sure that the Wii is capable of that actual feat. Whatever the glowing effect is, it looks great. I think its the best looking Wii game alongside Mario Galaxy. Super Smash Bros has some nice looking cutscenes, but the actual in game graphics arent quite as snazzy. The music and sound in MK Wii are also top notch - several of your favorite themes are reprised, and the new tracks are stellar. Some people just cant understand vastly different varieties of music in a single video game. Nintendo never hired any of those people.
The AI is tough in the game on 150cc. Has it ever not been? No. And, mind you the AI is just as brutally merciless as in another fantastic Nintendo racing franchise, the original game that got me addicted to lap times, F-Zero. Is there evidence of abusive pimpslapping by the AI in the 150cc class? Yes. Will you get hit 3 times in a row on the last turn and lose the perfect Grand Prix you were running? Yes. If you get easily frustrated, Mario Kart just isnt for you. But my guess is if youve read this far, youre likely already a fan of the series. If you're not, go out and get this game for you Wii as its the best possible introduction to the series, and an awesome online racing game. Just remember to turn on Manual drift, as the Automatic setting is set up for people who have never played a racing game before.
The new levels are phenomenal, and pretty much every good level from every other Mario Kart game is represented here. N64 Sherbert Land? Check. DS Delfino Square? Check. DK's Jungle Parkway? Check. All new Rainbow Road? Double check - its the best Star Cup ever. The character selection is perfect, the bikes, carts, buggys and muscle cars are well balanced, and the weapons are just as deadly as ever before. Does getting hit with the Blue Shell in 1st place suck? Of course. But come on, you're in 1st freaking place. You still have a lap to go. Quite whining, you're gonna win the GP anyway. And if you dont, you'll win it next time.
For every game - even games which feature high degrees of luck mixed with skill - there is a winning strategy. Just because the higher luck factors results in variance where sometimes the "noobs" beat you doesnt mean the game sucks, it simply means it needs to be approached with some humility, and in this case, an attitude towards having fun. Gran Turismo might delineate the winners from the losers a bit more consistently, but it cant touch the levels of insanity in an average 12 player Mario Kart online race. Winning is great, but even sweeter is snatching victory from the hands of your enemies at the last possible moment, and thats what this game is all about.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Im bringing you another video series, this one feauring clips from the Japanese TV show Sasuke, or Ninja Warrior as its called in the US. It features contestants performing acts of incredible strength and acrobatics, with the mens competition focusing on upper body muscle, and the womens stages testing agility and concentration. Ayako Miyake is the first female to beat all 4 ninja warrior womens stages, and she has won the competition a total of 3 times.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Saturday, November 15, 2008
General Manager Brian Cashman's answer to all the Yankees problems? A 27 year old journeyman named Nick Swisher who owns a bat made of used 2x4s held together by duct tape and twine, named Thunderbolt, which he carries around in a guitar case, for inspiration. A career .244 hitter, with almost no speed or defensive capabilities, Swisher relies on the occasional long ball and a decent sense of plate discipline to keep a spot on a big league roster. Unfortunately, the Yankees already have a bunch of guys exactly like him, which is why this move puzzles me so much. They want a guy who is kind of big and sweaty like Giambi, but they dont want to have to pay $20M a year.
Personally, I think they should have traded for more pitching, and tried to focus the team on defense and contact hitting - which is what won them 4 World Series in a row. None of the players on the 1998 team that went 114-48, scoring 965 runs in the process, had over 28 home runs. They were all hard nosed, situational hitting, glove flashing, make you pay for your mistake position players, 3 lights out starting pitchers, 2 money in the bank relief pitchers, and couple solid guys like Darryl Strawberry off the bench. Thats the proven formula. If the Yankees want to get back to winning in the playoffs, they need to sign players who fit the mold which produced one of the best teams in the 100+ year history of baseball.
Friday, November 14, 2008
By David Brooks of The New York Times
Not so long ago, corporate giants with names like PanAm, ITT and Montgomery Ward roamed the earth. They faded and were replaced by new companies with names like Microsoft, Southwest Airlines and Target. The U.S. became famous for this pattern of decay and new growth. Over time, American government built a bigger safety net so workers could survive the vicissitudes of this creative destruction — with unemployment insurance and soon, one hopes, health care security. But the government has generally not interfered in the dynamic process itself, which is the source of the country’s prosperity.
But this, apparently, is about to change. Democrats from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi want to grant immortality to General Motors, Chrysler and Ford. They have decided to follow an earlier $25 billion loan with a $50 billion bailout, which would inevitably be followed by more billions later, because if these companies are not permitted to go bankrupt now, they never will be.
This is a different sort of endeavor than the $750 billion bailout of Wall Street. That money was used to save the financial system itself. It was used to save the capital markets on which the process of creative destruction depends.
Granting immortality to Detroit’s Big Three does not enhance creative destruction. It retards it. It crosses a line, a bright line. It is not about saving a system; there will still be cars made and sold in America. It is about saving politically powerful corporations. A Detroit bailout would set a precedent for every single politically connected corporation in America. There already is a long line of lobbyists bidding for federal money. If Detroit gets money, then everyone would have a case. After all, are the employees of Circuit City or the newspaper industry inferior to the employees of Chrysler?
It is all a reminder that the biggest threat to a healthy economy is not the socialists of campaign lore. It’s C.E.O.’s. It’s politically powerful crony capitalists who use their influence to create a stagnant corporate welfare state.
If ever the market has rendered a just verdict, it is the one rendered on G.M. and Chrysler. These companies are not innocent victims of this crisis. To read the expert literature on these companies is to read a long litany of miscalculation. Some experts mention the management blunders, some the union contracts and the legacy costs, some the years of poor car design and some the entrenched corporate cultures.
There seems to be no one who believes the companies are viable without radical change. A federal cash infusion will not infuse wisdom into management. It will not reduce labor costs. It will not attract talented new employees. As Megan McArdle of The Atlantic wittily put it, “Working for the Big Three magically combines vast corporate bureaucracy and job insecurity in one completely unattractive package.”
In short, a bailout will not solve anything — just postpone things. If this goes through, Big Three executives will make decisions knowing that whatever happens, Uncle Sam will bail them out — just like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In the meantime, capital that could have gone to successful companies and programs will be directed toward companies with a history of using it badly.
The second part of Obama’s plan is the creation of an auto czar with vague duties. Other smart people have called for such a czar to reorganize the companies and force the companies to fully embrace green technology and other good things.
That would be great, but if Obama was such a fervent believer in the Chinese model of all-powerful technocrats, he should have mentioned it during the campaign. Are we really to believe there exists a czar omniscient, omnipotent and beneficent enough to know how to fix the Big Three? Who is this deity? Are we to believe that political influence will miraculously disappear, that the czar would have absolute power over unions, management, Congress and the White House? Please.
This is an excruciatingly hard call. A case could be made for keeping the Big Three afloat as a jobs program until the economy gets better and then letting them go bankrupt. But the most persuasive experts argue that bankruptcy is the least horrible option. Airline, steel and retail companies have gone through bankruptcy proceedings and adjusted. It would be a less politically tainted process. Government could use that $50 billion — and more — to help the workers who are going to be displaced no matter what.
But the larger principle is over the nature of America’s political system. Is this country going to slide into progressive corporatism, a merger of corporate and federal power that will inevitably stifle competition, empower corporate and federal bureaucrats and protect entrenched interests? Or is the U.S. going to stick with its historic model: Helping workers weather the storms of a dynamic economy, but preserving the dynamism that is the core of the country’s success.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
This is the first in a series of BASE jumping videos I am going to post. Personally, I think its one of the coolest activities ever invented. Personally, I would never do it for any amount of money. But for those who ever wondered what it would be like to fly, wingsuit BASE jumping, such as in the above video, provides just such an opportunity. This guy looks like he is going to plow into the base of mountain, but his wingsuit levels him out at the last moment and he completes a high speed low pass out into the valley below.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Monday, November 10, 2008
By Bob Herbert of The New York Times
The most important thing the Democrats and President-elect Obama can do with regard to the economy is bring back a sense of fairness and equity.
The fat cats who placed the entire economy at risk with their greed and manic irresponsibility are trying to lay claim to every last dime in the national Treasury. Meanwhile, we’re nowhere close to an economic recovery program that will help the people who are hurting most.
Back in September, with the credit markets frozen and the stock markets panicking, the treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, was telling anyone who would listen that his $700 billion bailout package had to be passed with lightning speed — no time to look at it too closely, no time for dissent.
The package was modified, but hurriedly. Now we learn that while all eyes were focused on this enormous new burden for American taxpayers, Mr. Paulson’s department was also engineering — separate and apart from the bailout — what The Washington Post described as “a quiet windfall for U.S. banks. ”
With virtually no public attention, and without the input of Congress, Treasury made a change in an obscure tax provision that benefited banks to the tune of well over $100 billion. Was this good policy? In the absence of proper scrutiny, how is it possible to know?
We’ve also learned that the government bailout of the giant insurer, the American International Group — already more than $100 billion — is apparently insufficient. Tens of billions more are needed.
When the Champagne and caviar crowd is in trouble, there is no conceivable limit to the amount of taxpayer money that can be found, and found quickly. But when it comes to ordinary citizens in dire situations — those being thrown out of work or forced from their homes by foreclosure or driven into bankruptcy because of illness and a lack of adequate health insurance — well, then we have to start pinching pennies. That’s when it’s time to become fiscally conservative. President Bush even vetoed a bill that would have expanded health insurance coverage for children.
We can find trillions for a foolish war and for pompous, self-righteous high-rollers who wrecked their companies and the economy. But what about the working poor and the young people who are being clobbered in this downturn, battered so badly that they’re all but destitute? Can we find any way to help them?
This is no ordinary recession. With brokerage houses, banks and a mammoth multinational insurance company depending on the Treasury for resuscitation, and with automakers like General Motors staring bankruptcy in the face, it has the feel of a monster downturn, a recession on steroids.
That kind of downturn buries people at the bottom of the economic ladder. We have an obligation to look out for them as well as for the banks and the A.I.G.’s of the world. If I could place a message on the desk of the incoming president, it would have just one word: Jobs.
With credit cards maxed out, the stock market in the tank, family savings depleted and home equity evaporating, that weekly or monthly paycheck has never been so important.
Congress and the new administration need to think big — bigger than the stimulus package of $100 billion or so, which is being kicked around. Now is the time for a coast-to-coast “Rebuild America” infrastructure program. Put people to work repairing and rebuilding roads and bridges, decrepit schools and ancient sewer systems. Get the construction industry back on its feet.
And now is the time to get going on candidate Obama’s promise to move the country as close as possible to a system of universal health insurance. Pump the money from that vast project into the economy and get those jobs up and running.
And let’s get some help, quickly, to the families who are suffering most from the housing crisis — the ones trembling and heartbroken in the dark shadow of foreclosure. The naysayers will claim that all of this is too expensive, that we can’t afford it. Where were they when we invaded Iraq? And how do they feel about the staggering amounts being funneled, with nothing like the proper oversight, to the banks and Wall Street?
Let’s try investing in America and its people for a change, rather than just hurling our billions into the abyss.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Saturday, November 8, 2008
By Al Gore
The inspiring and transformative choice by the American people to elect Barack Obama as our 44th president lays the foundation for another fateful choice that he — and we — must make this January to begin an emergency rescue of human civilization from the imminent and rapidly growing threat posed by the climate crisis.
The electrifying redemption of America’s revolutionary declaration that all human beings are born equal sets the stage for the renewal of United States leadership in a world that desperately needs to protect its primary endowment: the integrity and livability of the planet.
The world authority on the climate crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, after 20 years of detailed study and four unanimous reports, now says that the evidence is “unequivocal.” To those who are still tempted to dismiss the increasingly urgent alarms from scientists around the world, ignore the melting of the north polar ice cap and all of the other apocalyptic warnings from the planet itself, and who roll their eyes at the very mention of this existential threat to the future of the human species, please wake up. Our children and grandchildren need you to hear and recognize the truth of our situation, before it is too late.
Here is the good news: the bold steps that are needed to solve the climate crisis are exactly the same steps that ought to be taken in order to solve the economic crisis and the energy security crisis.
Economists across the spectrum — including Martin Feldstein and Lawrence Summers — agree that large and rapid investments in a jobs-intensive infrastructure initiative is the best way to revive our economy in a quick and sustainable way. Many also agree that our economy will fall behind if we continue spending hundreds of billions of dollars on foreign oil every year. Moreover, national security experts in both parties agree that we face a dangerous strategic vulnerability if the world suddenly loses access to Middle Eastern oil.
As Abraham Lincoln said during America’s darkest hour, “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.” In our present case, thinking anew requires discarding an outdated and fatally flawed definition of the problem we face.
Thirty-five years ago this past week, President Richard Nixon created Project Independence, which set a national goal that, within seven years, the United States would develop “the potential to meet our own energy needs without depending on any foreign energy sources.” His statement came three weeks after the Arab oil embargo had sent prices skyrocketing and woke America to the dangers of dependence on foreign oil. And — not coincidentally — it came only three years after United States domestic oil production had peaked.
At the time, the United States imported less than a third of its oil from foreign countries. Yet today, after all six of the presidents succeeding Nixon repeated some version of his goal, our dependence has doubled from one-third to nearly two-thirds — and many feel that global oil production is at or near its peak.
Some still see this as a problem of domestic production. If we could only increase oil and coal production at home, they argue, then we wouldn’t have to rely on imports from the Middle East. Some have come up with even dirtier and more expensive new ways to extract the same old fuels, like coal liquids, oil shale, tar sands and “clean coal” technology.
But in every case, the resources in question are much too expensive or polluting, or, in the case of “clean coal,” too imaginary to make a difference in protecting either our national security or the global climate. Indeed, those who spend hundreds of millions promoting “clean coal” technology consistently omit the fact that there is little investment and not a single large-scale demonstration project in the United States for capturing and safely burying all of this pollution. If the coal industry can make good on this promise, then I’m all for it. But until that day comes, we simply cannot any longer base the strategy for human survival on a cynical and self-interested illusion.
Of course, the best way — indeed the only way — to secure a global agreement to safeguard our future is by re-establishing the United States as the country with the moral and political authority to lead the world toward a solution.
Looking ahead, I have great hope that we will have the courage to embrace the changes necessary to save our economy, our planet and ultimately ourselves.
In an earlier transformative era in American history, President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to land a man on the moon within 10 years. Eight years and two months later, Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. The average age of the systems engineers cheering on Apollo 11 from the Houston control room that day was 26, which means that their average age when President Kennedy announced the challenge was 18.
This year similarly saw the rise of young Americans, whose enthusiasm electrified Barack Obama’s campaign. There is little doubt that this same group of energized youth will play an essential role in this project to secure our national future, once again turning seemingly impossible goals into inspiring success.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Daniel Negreanu is one of the best poker players in the world. He is a fantastic hand reader, and he is also great at picking up tells from other players. But, as good as he is picking up on tells, he also has tells popping out of his wazoo. The main problem is, he likes to talk to much. Daniel's talking often leads to gaining information from his opponents. But its a two way street, and when your opponent is also excellent at making reads, such as Antonoi Esfandiari, Daniel runs the risk of giving away too much information when he opens his mouth, as you will see in the video above.
Without going into an advanced analysis, Esfandiari was relatively short stacked in the game, and after Daniel checked, Esfandiari's flop bet on the button looked like a rather standard positional continuation bet, so Negreanu put him all in with second pair. The problem was, Antonio waited patiently like an interrogator until his victim burst, spilling the beans that he didnt want a call with a blatant tell. Look at Daniel's face, and his body language, and listen to what he says. And then watch how fast Esfandiari calls. The audio and the video are all out of whack. But this offers us a chance to analyze the two elements separately. First watch it as a silent film, then listen to the audio only, then watch both. Good thing for Daniel not too many people will pin him to the wall with a jedi laser stare like Esfandiari. Watch Neagreanu melt down around 4:45-5:00.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
The game everyone wants to know about! Yeah right! It pretty funny, that in the middle of all these huge AAA games coming out, Im picking things from the middle of the pack to play. Dont worry, young reader, I have donwloaded and installed Fallout 3 to my hard drive and Im going to give it the old college try. Im going to get Gears 2 tomorrow, Im still going to play through Midnight Club LA, and all the other good stuff like Dead Space and Resistance 2 and LittleBIGPlanet, so dont you worry, Padawan.
So, I can sum up if The Bourne Conspiracy is for you with a simple series of yes/no questions:
1. Do you like Quicktime events and interactive cutscenes?
2. Do you like The Bourne Identity film?
3. Do you like brawling and fighting games?
4. Are you good at getting headshots with a silenced pistol?
5. Do you like spy-action games and/or spy-stealth games?
Unfortunately, Ive already answered these questions for you, and we both know that the answer is a resounding no to most of them. Whats that? You said yes to all 5? Well, your gamertag must be James Bond 007. Hes the only person on my Xbox Live friends list I could say would enjoy the game - without reservation - for everyone else, theres caveats.
I have to say I thought the game was really fun. I made the slight mistake of going right for the hardcore Assassin difficulty setting, and although it wasnt impossible Im quite sure it made several parts of the game much more frustrating and "trial and error" than they should have been - its clear the game wasnt designed at this difficulty. That being said, if I didnt have to retry a few parts several times, I would have flown through the game even faster than I did. As it is, I beat it in around 10 hours of play, which is respectable but certainly not worth $60 - as this game does not feature multiplayer. As a rental, or a bargain bin find for $20 or so, I can certainly recommend this game.
In terms of film to game adaptations, its among the best Ive ever played, which I realize isnt saying much. The graphics and in particular the sound are outstanding - the game features an fantastic original score and soundtrack composed entirely by Paul Oakenfold - and you can unlock tracks so they are playable in the main menu by completing certain objectives in the game.
When I asked if you liked Quicktime events first, it was for a reason. This game features by far more Quicktime events than any game I have ever played, and this is coming from one of the biggest God of War franchise fans around. The QTEs in this game are not only way more frequent than in any other game (hundreds), they require lightning fast reflexes to trigger properly, and in many cases if you miss the event, Bourne is killed instantly and the mission ends. The fighting engine feels quite clunky at first, but once you get into it there is some nuance and subtlety to the controls, and some strategy to the boss fights. The guns dont feel or work like Call of Duty 4 or Rainbow Six Vegas 2, which is unfortunate, but they are still fun enough to form the basis for much of the gameplay. There are several achievements that reward you for headshots and high accuracy, and many of the enemies are wearing body armor - just to let you know - dont event think about aiming for the chest.
The story rehashes the events from the first Bourne film - The Bourne Identity, and even if you have absolutely no interest in playing a QTE-heavy-third-person-shooter-spygame, you should absolutely check out the film - its action moviemaking at its best. In fact, I would not recommend playing the game without having seen the film first, as the story is told in a non-linear fashion and would be quite confusing otherwise. But we all know you arent playing this game anyway, not with whats on the calender for fall 2008. I totally understand that, but its amazing to me how many quality games get overlooked simply because they get released at the wrong time - in the glut of AAA holiday releases, second tier titles get little if any attention. Also, they released it in between the 3rd and in-the-making 4th Bourne films, so there was no marketing presence whatsoever. Oh well, another game relegated to the dustbin of history. At least the developers can console themselves in the thought that even if nobody bought or cared about their game, they did a great job and gave the handful of Bourne fans who played the game exactly what they were looking for.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our Founders is still alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. Even as we celebrate tonight, we know that the challenges tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime: two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.
The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. Tonight we proved once more that the strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals - democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope."
Those are the words of a true patriot, and a true leader - the words of the 44th President of The United States of America. The question everybody is asking now is this: will Obama actually be able to solve these great challenges? Can he really make the changes he is promising? The real answer is that I dont know. Nobody knows. Barack himself doesnt know what he will be able to accomplish. The two tasks of steering the nation through an economic crisis of historic proportions, and cleaning up the mess we have made in Iraq and Afganistan, are incredibly daunting alone. Forget things like saving the planet and brokering a peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians for now - if Obama does well enough to get elected to a second term, maybe he will be able to make real headway into greening America and making peace in the Middle East.
It is possible he can do it all at once - revive the economy with green jobs and start pulling troops out of the hundreds of military bases we have stationed around the world - its just not likely to happen overnight. There is so much money invested in the US military industrial complex that its impossible to erode in a few years, let alone dismantle it altogether. Moving America from an economy based on the military industrial complex and oil to an economy centered around green jobs and technology will be no small feat - it requires wholesale infrastructure changes and an entirely different philosophy of governing. Can Obama do all that? It will be extremely difficult. Talking about major policy change is one thing, actually getting the legislation passed through Congress is entirely different.
But after what I just saw tonight, is anything impossible? The significance of Obama's presidential election cannot be understated. This is the same country that 44 years ago had institutionalised segregation. Think about how powerful a message this sends to the rest of the people of the world. In America, anything is possible. In America, we can all decide we want to change how our country is governed, we can try to perfect our union. It takes time. It might take 8 years. It might take 25, 50 or another 100 years to get America right. Somebody has to step up and lead the country to change for the better. It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime. And after witnessing the events of last night, I truly believe that time is now.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Lewis Hamilton won the Formula One Grand Prix Championship by a single point on Sunday in Sao Paulo, Brazil, exactly one year after losing the championship by the same margin - a single point.
Hamilton also roared into the record books as Formula One's youngest champion when he snatched the title in a last-lap drama at the Brazilian Grand Prix. The 23-year-old, needing only a fifth-place finish in the season-ending race to become Britain's first champion since Damon Hill in 1996, was seconds from failure for the second year in a row as Ferrari rival Felipe Massa swept to victory.
Hamilton entered the last lap in sixth place after a late shower forced a change to wet weather tires and saw Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari-powered Toro Rosso overtake the McLaren. With the title disappearing as fast as Massa's Ferrari approached the checkered flag, Hamilton had Toyota's Timo Glock to thank after the German stayed out on dry tires and was unable to hold on to his fifth place.
Hamilton powered past as the final corner approached.
Massa, Hamilton's sole title rival, won his home race for the second time in three years to chalk up a record 16th constructors' title for the Italian team. Hamilton, who missed out by a single point to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen in Brazil last season, ended the 18-race season one point clear of Massa.
"He scored more points than me, he deserves to win the title," said the classy, introspective race winner Kimi Raikkonen: "I know how to win, I know how to lose. This is another day of my life that I'm going to learn a lot from."
At 23 years and 301 days old, Lewis Hamilton broke the age record set by former McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard who won the first of his two titles with Renault in Brazil at the age of 24, one month and 27 days.
"Amazing, I can't even get my breath back," said the astonished Briton, who embraced his father and brother before being mobbed by the team.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Microsoft's Games for Windows Live service is now totally, completely free to use - actually as of July 22 it had that status but its very likely that you didnt notice, because there wasnt one really big game out for the service that you could play. All that has changed with the release of Fallout 3 for PC - its the only truly first class, triple A offering to debut on the service. What this means is that if you have a PC with a broadband connection, your PC will function just like an Xbox 360 when you have a Games for Windows Live enabled game playing. You can text chat, voice chat, send and accept invites, and earn achievements for your gamertag. If you are on your 360, friends playing Games for Windows Live titles on their PC will appear with a small white computer monitor icon to the right of their gamertag in your friends list.
Assuming you have the 360 Wireless Receiver for Windows, you will be able to use your Xbox 360 controller and headset on your PC in these games, just like you would with your 360 console. Games for Windows Live titles can of course be played with a mouse and keyboard, if that suits your old school PC gaming taste. Also Games for Windows Live branded games are fully tested by Bill Gates to support wide-screen monitors with true HD widescreen resolutions like 1900x1200 - no fake HD 640P here.
The achievements overlap with your 360, so if you pop in Fallout 3 and you already have certain achievements from when you played the 360 version, you will see those achievements there. You cant unlock them again, but all the ones you never unlocked on the 360 will be unlockable on your PC version of the game. So, theoretically, you can be playing one campaign of Fallout 3 on your laptop, for when you travel, where you earn all the achievements for being good and save all the princesses from evil, and at the same time have another campaign going on your Xbox 360 where you are the blackhearted sum of all things evil and you get all the achievements for eating live puppies for breakfast. So basically, Microsoft has turned your PC into a giant, beastly Xbox 360. Currently only one game that I know of supports cross platform play - where PC gamers and Xbox 360 gamers can play together on the same servers - and thats Shadowrun, but expect more cross platform enabled titles to start shipping soon now that the service is free. Below is a list of PC games that currently support the Games for Windows Live service.
• Fallout® 3
• Battlestations™: Pacific
• The Club™
• Gears of War® for Windows
• Halo® 2 for Windows Vista
• Kane & Lynch: Dead Men
• Lost Planet™ Extreme Condition - Colonies Edition
• Universe at War™: Earth Assault
• Viva Piñata™ for Windows
• Warhammer® 40,000™: Dawn of War® II