Dueling Lasses

Troop’s been letting his freak fly now that he can embed pics into his blog and riffed off of something I said at Althouse to post a picture of Dana Delaney as head of the newly minted Department of Discipline.

Now, I like Dana Delaney. I think Dana Delaney is delicious. I watched “China Beach” until I got tired of watching her sulk all the time. It took several seasons. Except for her performance in the otherwise flawless Tombstone, I have nothing bad to say about her.

But if we’re talking Irish lasses, Delaney had a co-star on that show, a young lady who had also appeared on “Hill Street Blues”, and whom I’ve always preferred. So, take this, Trooper York:

Megan Gallagher! She also had a chance to strut her soulful-stuff on the short-lived series Millennium. Someone needs to put these Irish women in things where they’re actually allowed to smile….

It’s Always Older Than You Think

I pity the poor archaeologist, whose job it is to reconstruct a 5 million piece puzzles with 995,000 of the pieces missing. That said, I’m always confident that whatever the timeline they have built for society, it’s wrong.

Severely.

Physicists may have the events right, but they’re always making the universe older, too. But archaeologists have to ignore things like super-accurate pre-Columbian maps of South America, chemical batteries found in the ancient world, etc. Our view of the world is still dominated by an old Judeo-Christian model (that Judeo-Christians probably seldom subscribed to).

This is one of those things that’s tough to ignore.

10,000 years ago–long before Western civilization crawled out of the muck–an empire on the Indian subcontinent ruled the world.

And yet it’s all but forgotten.

I remember reading Durant’s Story of Civilization, “Our Ancient Chinese Heritage” and being amused at a paragraph spent on an empire that ruled the ancient world for 200 years–that we know virtually nothing about, other than it existed and dominated.

We know a lot less than we don’t know.

Deflating Expectations

This story linked from Instapundit reminded me that I wanted to post about deflation.

There’s a lot of talk these days about how some amount of inflation is good. Good cases are made for this. You can read the link and see some economists who obviously cleave to that notion.

I don’t honestly know if the theory is true or not. And there’s one guy there (Burton Folsom) who talks about how the US prospered during the deflation that followed the Civil War.

But what I’ve been thinking about for a while is the unidirectionality of the pro-inflation types. I’m suspicious of it. Economic systems seem to need to flow in both directions. Markets need to expand, but they also need to contract. You just want them to end up a little bigger than before.

Money is essentially a commodity (with certain special properties, to be sure) and it seems to me that it needs to be able to become more or less valuable along with everything else. There’s something odd about being pro-inflation as well, given the pride that countries have in the value of their money. The British have loved lording their pound over the American dollar, and the Euro-promoters loved it when the Euro towered over the dollar.

On the other hand, when money gets expensive, it’s harder to export stuff. So, why all the bitching when money gets cheap?

Sometimes I think economics is just an excuse to complain about whatever.

Slow Blog Month

Sorry I haven’t posted much lately.

It’s been crazy around here. The Barbarienne got sick, the Flower’s in a parade or stage show every weekend, The Boy is sick…

Typical Christmas.

On top of that, the powers that be at work decided Christmas was a good season for relocation. People, computers, whatever.

I’ll put up a review of Danny Boyle’s newest (Slumdog Millionaire) and Oscar season is well upon us, so there’ll be lots of reviews in the upcoming weeks. Plus January is the third “After Dark” which means eight horror movies in three days! (Erk.)

Why The Wii Changes Everything

Well, for one thing, there’s this.

I remember when the Wii was announced. A great many of the commenters predicted its failure. “It’s hardly more powerful than the GameCube!” they complained. But I had a feeling it would be a success.

Because I wanted one.

Now, I’m a gamer. Whether or not I qualify for hardcore anymore is certainly debatable. I don’t game as much as I used to, and I’m less willing to invest in the big games any more because I know it’ll be a challenge (at least) to get past the learning curve to where I’m actually reasonably good at the game. (And I don’t mean good in some Internet competition way, but just good enough to actually enjoy the process. Which is the point, after all.)

But I’ve been playing with computers since back when they were shared and billing was done by the millisecond. And I played on the first Pong machines. Certainly, I played computer games when doing so meant you had to type in the code yourself. And that was where I left off with video games (as distinct from computer games): When I could program my own.

The last console I owned, therefore (and one of two or three in toto) was the Channel F. I didn’t like the action on the Atari 2600 (or the graphics), though the Atari 800 was a cool computer. By the time the NES rolled around in 1983, I had long abandoned the arcades and really couldn’t much relate to the kinds of games that ran thereupon. (I was playing strategy, PC-style RPGs which are entirely different from the Japanese style ones.)

I wasn’t real thrilled to live through the late ‘90s and the constant calls of “PC gaming is dying!” For one thing, PC gaming is the wild west of development: Anyone can write a game and try to sell it. There are no licensing fees. I’m not a Microsoft fan but they’re smart enough to realize that making their development platform available for free benefits them tremendously. (Of course, they struggle with the other side, which is artificially restricting games from the PC platform to boost their XBox cred.)

What I realized about PC gaming, though, is that I played it when since before it was worthy of the word “niche”, through the years where entire stores were devoted to PC games, and now, as their relative market shrinks. So why wouldn’t I keep on playing when it goes back to being a niche again?

Which brings us to the Wii. Since I missed out on the NES and all subsequent iterations of consoles (though I bought an N64 and a PS2 for The Boy at various times), I really, really, really hate the controllers. One thing I’ve never been fond of, gaming-wise, is the tendency of some games to require artificially complex control sequences to do stuff. (Yeah, what I like about fighters is offset by annoyance over having to do these 7-8 sequence combos.)

So, somewhat ironically, consoles are to me, a closed world. I can’t bring myself to memorize random codes. I’ll do a little finger training for a strategy game, for example, but the basics mechanics have been standardized on those for years. To me, the control interface is a barrier that we should strive to eliminate. (This is one reason I always look at what Molyneux is doing; I know he feels the same way and it’s interesting to me how he manifests this drive.)

Even if I did go through the trouble–what is essentially meta-game effort–when it’s all done, I’m clicking buttons. If part of the fun of playing a computer game is doing something you can’t really do otherwise (slaying a dragon, fighting a god, etc.) then the fact that you’re doing it just by pressing buttons removes some of the elemental joy. (A good place to start with any game is to find some action that’s pleasurable, and that you can find a pleasurable form of feedback for.)

The action/feedback cycle is the key element of electronic gameplay. There are some games that are little more than that. There are some games which have all the elements of gameplay but miss on that, and they’re virtually unplayable. But once you’re oriented within a game, there’s another element to the cycle:

intention->action->feedback

You mean to do something, you take the steps needed to accomplish that, and the game gives you feedback. The complex key-sequence is an artificial barrier introduced into the action sequence and the learning curve for any game is what it takes to unite intention with action.

The Wii changes that by using your native action to power the game action. So you don’t have to train much, and the training you do parallels what you would actually do in real life. It’s a weak parallel, of course, a shadow of what’s necessary, and in some ways completely wrong from a technical standpoint. (Think Guitar Hero which, while not a Wii game, is the exact same principle.)

Anyway, the introduction of the whole body into the game is an element of immersion completely lacking from traditional gaming, and it’s simultaneously both powerful and intuitive.

So I’m not surprised that the Wii sales figures are comparable to those of the PS3 and Xbox 360 combined. And I’m not surprised that the Wii Fit was the #1 selling game on Black Friday. The games are absolutely trivial: On the Wii Fit, there’s a game where you hit soccer balls thrown at you with your head by leaning left and right (and returning to center as needed). This is a two button game, or three button at the most, and you’d be bored of it nigh instantly.

Add the body factor, though, and you’ve got something.

Ski jumping? That’s practically a one-button game. But make the actions leaning and flexing like an actual jump, and there you are.

I suppose it’s good for you in some ways, but that misses the point. It’s the feedback. Eventually, of course, you’ll get so good at the the controls that you’ll need something subtler and more challenging, which isn’t something we’ve seen a lot of yet.

But this is promising. Hell, the Wii Fit board is fun, but why not have, alternatively, ankle controllers? Cap or ear piece for head motion?

Think not? Well, consider that one of the prime laws of gaming has been that you couldn’t get people to buy peripherals. You always had to make your game for the lowest common equipment denominator. What changed that?

Dance Dance Revolution.

Then what?

Guitar hero.

Now, the Wii Fit. And what do they all have in common? A level of physicality that hardcore gamers eschew. Even Guitar Hero: You can just click the buttons, but isn’t what makes it attractive that you can ham it up as a guitar god? Hell, I play guitar–but I don’t play anything like the archetypal rock star. It doesn’t appeal to me much, but I can see the appeal–and it doesn’t surprise me that various real-life rock bands play it.

The Wii itself may be a fad. And it may be supplanted by additions to the Xbox and the Playstation, or by another console altogether. (Although Nintendo certainly seems to be using its brand well.)

But the physicality? I think that’s here to stay.

Sun, Sun, Sun, Here it–wait, where is it?

At least on a monthly basis, Mr. Dr. Helen posts some sort of solar “breakthrough”. Although unlikely to be any sort of general panacaea, what with the impending ice age and all that, solar could be useful in the sun belt (and is, in limited cases).

But I’m reminded of this classic USS Clueless post by Steven Den Beste. (It haunts him, people love this post so much. Also check out his takedown of other alternatives.)

From what I can see, there’s an actual physics question to be gotten around. Namely, just not enough energy hits a particular point on earth to generate adequate amounts of electricity, even at 100% efficiency. (Den Beste uses a 2,300 square kilometer coverage figure, assuming 100% efficiency, that would generate enough energy to cover California’s 1990s gas usage.)

My only real issue was this is that he seems to posit it as some grand engineering feat, where I see another possibility in the form of dividing that 2,300 sq km up into, say, ten million pieces. That works out to about 2500 square feet per portion, and you have some efficiency in generating the electricity where it’s used.

That is to say, if you can paper over people’s roofs or parts of their yards, the engineering, financial and distribution questions are less humongous. (The environmental issues would go away until the green-types started bitching about how the solar collectors were disposed of, and until they discovered a photosensitive microbe adversely impacted by these new devices.) A local approach could even give us implementations for transport and storage, which I think would benefit us as a whole. (Some people would doubtless end up with lemons.)

That’s assuming that we could get to the point where solar really was that efficient and cheap. Anyway, I end up amused by stories like this. Every month (at least), a new story. When does it–when does any of it–come to market?

FEAR Net…could suck less

FEAR Net is a solely on-demand movie channel (at least here) that specializes in horror movies.

Since it’s free, the movies have commercials. I haven’t watched enough to know the pattern yet. I think the HD movies are commercial free (I imagine the cable companies are thirsty for HD stuff) but the SD movie we just watched had a commercial about 20 minutes into it. And that was that.

That’s not great, especially for a horror movie. Horror movies are hard to watch at home with others around, possibly trying to sleep, since they rely on the big dynamic volume changes. And you need a good atmosphere to build.

Worse though is, besides the bug in the lower right (which is bearable, if needlessly large), is that they put commercials during the movie in the lower band of the screen. Now, I sort of think this is inevitable for commercial television of any sort, since fast-forwarding and commercial removal tend to reduce the value of advertising being spearate from programming.

But it’s bad during a horror movie.

And none of us are really Navy material anyway. (Well, the Barbarienne swears like a sailor but I’m hoping she’ll grow out of it.)