Ikariam

A little web-based game reminiscent of Settlers.

I don’t know if I like it or not. The pacing of these things is quite slow which is a sort of mixed bag. You can check in sporadically and play, so you’re not a slave to it. On the other hand, it’s not exactly intense.

Looks good, though. It amazes me how things like this proliferate when no money is being made.

The Truth Will Out, Eventually

Nerd News Update:

Slashdot is reporting (via the New York Times) that, whaddayaknow, MS did some last minute shenanigans with the driver model for Vista that broke hardware like crazy.

This is interesting to me because when the initial problems with hardware were reported various Slashdot commenters tried to foist blame on to the hardware manufacturers. They, after all, had plenty of time to prepare.

During the days of OS/2 (Windows’ only serious competition in the early ‘90s), MS used to send people out to pretend to be disgruntled OS/2 users. I later came across some of these professional trolls proudly admitting to their work, though I unfortunately can’t find their boasts today.

But the purpose was served by pushing blame elsewhere before contrary evidence came to light. MS will now push its new version of Windows while maintaining that nothing was really wrong with Vista in the first place.

“My taste includes both snails and oysters.”

Not mine, but Lawrence Olivier’s as Crassus in Spartacus.

I didn’t recognize him. The young Lawrence Olivier in Pride and Prejudice 20 years earlier, and the decrepit Olivier of Jazz Singer and Dracula–but this middle-aged one for some reason didn’t trigger recognition.

I’ve seen something like a zillion different references and parodies of Spartacus but never sat down to watch it until just now. (I like Kubrick, but I have to be in the right mood. I’ve never been able to sit through 2001.)

I was going to wonder here why, unlike his former wife, the late Janet Leigh, Tony Curtis had gone into retirement, but then I see from IMDB that he hasn’t. Huh. The best work I’ve seen him do, though, was in The Sweet Smell of Success. Not even a nomination for that. That year, Red Buttons one the Oscar for best supporting actor for Sayonara.

A Compiler For Every Child

Over on Yahoo (hat tip: CodeGear), Robin Raskin has an interesting inversion of “No Child Left Behind” called “All Children Move Forward”.

The language “No Child Left Behind” evokes certain ideas. If you’re familiar with the infantry rule of not leaving men behind, for example, you could see education as a battlefield with lots of wounded–an analogy that works on a lot of levels.

In any event, it’s an inherently defensive phrase. The fact that you’d feel the need to emphasize not leaving children behind suggests that you are, in fact, leaving children behind. Lots of children. Enough for you to make a point out of stopping. (A tee-totaler doesn’t make strong statements about how he’ll never drink again.)

Anyway, the article’s data point is on CodeGear’s deal to authorize a million licenses to Russia. Good for them. Delphi is a great tool, and friendly enough for kids to grasp quickly while having depth they would be hard-pressed to exhaust.

Smart move, too, because those kids will grow up and whose tools will they be familiar with? (Delphi was released 13 years ago last month, which raises some other points of interest.)

What never fails to come up is that there’s no one to teach these tools. (OLPC detractors make this point, as well.) It’s doubtless true that a big chunk of children won’t be able to–or will lack interest to–suss all this out for themselves. But the percentage that will is larger than zero. To the gifted outliers, this will be manna from heaven.

And the rest? Well, remember, there are teachers. Way more than ever before. The internet is full of them. No one really needs to learn much of anything alone these days. The more tools kids have, the better.

Radioactive Space Yeti!

Via SFGate (hat tip: Ace) comes the tale of Russian campers blinded and bruised and mysteriously running to escape God-knows-what and dying of exposure in the Russian winter.

This is known as the Dyatlov Pass Accident (though it has more of an “incident” feel than an “accident feel”–I mean, there’s no indication that anything wasn’t done deliberately).

The problem, of course, with mysteries like this is you have no way to know which of the various details is real and which is embellishment. The avalanche story sounds good but then you’d think that’d have been the official explanation. Plus, there’d be lots of snow right?

Something to chew on.

Close Calls In The World of Education

The Boy, when he was small (around 2-3 years old), had what the normal (so-called) “stranger anxiety” of toddlers. You know, you go up to a little kid, or just smile and wave at him, and he hides behind his parent’s legs or something.

The Boy, however, had a different response. He would start to get scared, as kids do. But then, he would twist his face up into the cutest snarl and growl at the person. He sometimes then would follow up with a question like, “Are you a good guy or a bad guy?”

The salient point of this story isn’t so much that The Boy was (and remains) an unusual individual, but more this: About one-third of the adults he did this to were frightened or unnerved by it. I can sort of see people being unnerved by the good guy/bad guy question, since a lot of good people wonder that sometimes, and toddlers have no social inhibitions keeping them from leveling that sort of question very forcefully.

But one of his first teachers was scared by him (and subsequently of him), and tried very hard to convince us that he was autistic. Having considerable experience with brain-injured children, we weren’t impressed by this trained professional’s opinion.

Despite this rather weird start, The Boy actually went through the rest of his traditional academic career beloved by his teachers. He’d come home with gifts all the time and we’d ask him if everyone got [whatever it was he had] and he’s say, “No, just me.” And we’d find out later that was true.

His traditional academic career ended when I realized he was somehow bluffing his way through tests. He was sufficiently charming to talk to and it sounded like he was answering the question, and it wasn’t until I started grilling him on his multiplication tables that I was sure the B.S. meter was pinned to the right.

Now he’s doing pre-algebra, which isn’t bad for 7th grader. And he’s genuinely informed about history, as well. (To torture him I can make him watch The Patriot and Troy.) But he could have easily gone through school without learning a thing.

More on DVD vs. VHS

Searching through the referrals (a lot of you seem to come here because someone linked from an e-mail, which makes me feel oddly self-conscious), I saw someone linked to the VHS vs DVD post.

That lead me to this anti-DVD post. Now the post is about seven years old, but it’s interesting nonetheless. The main four points he brings up are:

1. DVD vs. VHS picture quality.

In absolute terms, there’s a point here. A perfect VHS tape was pretty good visually, and Beta was even better. But we all had experiences with less than perfect tapes.

2. DVD vs. VHS sound quality.

The guy (wrongly, I believe) claims that DVD sound is not (potentially) better. I’m pretty sure you can’t get surround sound out of VHS, but I think that’s a matter of no spec being available.

3. DVD vs. VHS longevity.

In a vaccuum, DVD will last longer. But nobody lives in a vaccuum.

4. DVD vs. VHS special features.

The guy trashes these because he doesn’t like them, which isn’t really relevant. Some folks do like them. They are “value added” material just obviously based on the fact that people buy them. And skipping around on a DVD is way easier than it was on VHS.

None of this is as compelling as the DVD hawkers would have you believe, and of course they’re trying–far less successfully–to sell people on high-definition DVDs. But at some point “more” just isn’t compelling; there is such a thing as “enough”.