All entries for October 2004

October 30, 2004

A Novel in a Month?

Writing about web page http://www.nanowrimo.org/

You have probably all heard of this.

International competition to write a 50k word novel in 30 days, yadda yadda. You generally get the idea.

Well, it starts on Monday.

It seems to be a pretty crazy thing to do, and really I should be too busy to do it. But 1666 (Hmm, demonic influence? ) words per day doesn't seem that bad, and I probably can manage it if I so chose.

So, should I? Is anyone else gonna do it?


October 29, 2004

You Can Help Save The World! (Maybe)

This entry will meander a little.

First, things first, who has watched Adam Curtis' new documentary on BBC2, titled:

The Power of Nightmares?

Anyone? It's a three part show documenting the parallel rise of the Neocon movement with that of Islamic Fundamentalism, and the resulting culture of fear which drives the world today. It is good. It is really good.

The entire show is very cleverly edited and put together, and the ideas are fresh and appear certainly to be very genuine. Unlike say, Fahrenheit 9/11, the tone of the documentary is factual rather than polemic, and Curtis' direction is always pretty unbiased – he, unlike many others, always allows his sources to speak for themselves.

Some brilliant moments off the top of my head:

  1. The Soviet ambassador to the US pleading with Wolfowitz for the Americans to help them withdraw from Afghanistan, and set up a stable government there. Wolfowitz refuses, demanding the Soviets immediately withdraw. The Russian warns that leaving so suddenly would not create a democracy, but a theocratic tyranny...
  2. The CIA boss believing the Soviets were responsible for ALL global terrorism, even though his analysts informed him that the 'evidence' for this was created as black propaganda by the CIA itself…
  3. How the radical Islamicists in Algeria, basing themselves on a system of Absolute Belief, decided that all mankind must be killed, except of course themselves…

Curtis' central thesis is that much of the global terrorist threat is a fantasy. Not that of course there are no terrorists – but rather they represent scattered groups of individuals with individual views, united only in that they have a common enemy. The idea of a coordinated, 'evil' force is an illusion. Curtis suggests that the Neocons and Islamicists are feeding off the actions of each other and hence growing in strength.

Needless to say, Fox derided it as anti-americanism. The NRO attempted to attack it by gross strawmen and extraordinarily weak 'evidence'. Examples:

In Curtis's world, it is Strauss, not Osama bin Laden, who is the real evil genius.

No a single bad word was said about Strauss in the film. The most serious attack was that he was idealistic. Half the film was spent watching the rise of the radical Islamicists. Curtis' point is that there are no 'evil' geniuses, full stop.

Pipes, perhaps the world's leading expert on Kremlin ideology, is left looking an amiable dunce. British viewers, unaware of his distinguished career, will be none the wiser. Pipes tells NRO in response to it all: "The allegations made by Ms. Cahn and others about Team B are so preposterous that I would be at a loss to answer them: they are similar to those made by the Holocaust deniers. They sort of leave you speechless."

Curtis did say that Pipes was an eminent expert on ideology. But Curtis' attack was that Team B was meant to analyse evidence to come up with a conclusion, for which Pipes is uniquely unsuited because he had a preset view of the Soviet Union he had formed without access to the evidence. Quoting the target does not a rebuttal make.

Oh yes, if you haven't seen the show, I'm afraid there is only the last of three episodes remaining. Sorry.

But the story goes on… The Guardian Newspaper, perhaps inevitably, is the most enthusiastic supporter of 'The Power of Nightmares'. Praise appeared in a column by freelance journalist Charlie Brooker, called:

Screen Burn

Now, for those unfamiliar with the Guardian, Screen Burn is a weekly column appearing at the start of the newspaper's TV guide. It represents a satirical preview of the week in television. Brooker liked, and presumeably still likes the Power of Nightmares alot, and also commented on the US election debates. But it wasn't his description of Kerry as a haunted tree, his claim that a Bush victory would disprove god would got anyone's attention. It was his last sentence:

John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr – where are you now that we need you?

Wham! The conservative media whipped itself into a fanactical rage. Brooker, they said, was inciting murder. Wham! Wham! Brooker should be arrested and sent to Guantalamo bay. Wham! Wham! The Guardian should be banned from reporting from the US. Wham! Wham! Within hours, people were coming up, claiming to be sickened, claiming to be taken aback by this 'absolute lack of human decency.'

The Guardian withdrew the article, leaving an apology in its place. (Though a mirror still exists run by a supporter.) Brooker said it was a joke, but of the course the Right still would not believe him.

You may stop laughing now. Is this situation not utterly insane? The pro-Bush people are actually saying that they believe a TV guide is a site for political incitement to violence, and that an article about next week's television is a serious political platform. If Brooker was complaining about Kerry, or Blair, the likes of the Mail would be jumping all over with the freedom of speech card. Political correctness would have gone far more than mad. For God's sake, these people are trying to outlaw humour!

And even more infuriating is the sheer hypocrisy of the rightwingers who made this an issue.

Absolute nastiness

They do this almost all the time. Consider the following:

I wonder do you think Rupert Murodch get his papers investigate background of this reporter.... I dont' think SS can't do jack about UK Guardian I know who could... Scotland Yard and Brit MI-5

Then tell me again why I'm wrong in wishing that the next earthquake moves San Francisco about a hundred miles out to sea, and dumps it two thousand feet below the surface.

How to handle a peacenik? Fix bayonets.

a company of US Navy Seals - Republican to a man - to descend upon the offices of the Guardian, bag the lot of you, and transport you to Guantanamo Bay, where you can share quarters with some lonely Taliban shepherd boys.

IS IT TIME TO ASSASSINATE THE EDITOR OF THE GUARDIAN?

The last is written in the blog of Tim Blair, an Australian conservative. Which is where I come in. I've decided to write emails to him, challenging him to change the title of his blog post on the grounds that it is just as 'sickening' as Brooker's column. The idea is that this would expose the way they are distorting the issue, and perhaps draw a little fire away from other things. It's a small measure, but it is something?

Anyone wanna help out?

The ability to give the impression of moral indignation is all that is required. Come on, folks, just leave a comment. We don't want this guy to win… do we? For updates, watch this spot.

Oh, and:

Let's all assassinate Bush!
Let's all assassinate Bush!
Let's all assassinate Bush!
Let's all assassinate Bush!
Let's all assassinate Bush!

Hey, even flames from the far right is publicity, and there is no such thing as bad publicity.


October 24, 2004

The Chinese Issue

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

To see the problem, simply look at the seating arrangements during the lectures, and note the clustering. As a matter of priority, people from a foreign background need to be encouraged to spread out and take greater part in their current society. I don't think it is racist to say so – race doesn't matter. Its a matter of introversion as a self sustaining state.

Back to the original blog…

I am sure that the general intention of barring people whose english are so poor that it is a significant handicap does currently exist – simple reality of modern education: lack of places => you leave them to those who can make the most of them. But I doubt there is any conspiracy theory. Rather, there are two reasons:

Conversational english is very different from taught english. The teaching of english generally follows a series of scenarios, plus vocabulary training and grammar learning. Conversations require an innate understanding of the English culture/mannerisms, the ability to improvise and so on. Chinese students seem to take copious amounts of notes – so eventually, they probably understand it.

The whole examination style in China is different. At least, from my experience. There is much more of an emphasis on rote learning and so on. A reasonable revision strategy is often to memorise all possible permutations of a problem, and regurgitate as required! Obviously, this may not be good for actual practical applications.

Bored yet?

Of course, my memory is bad, and my experience is limited.


October 17, 2004

Dumb Kid With Mask

Writing about Microsoft Top Tip #1029472 from fake plastic trees

Hey, its a kid cleverly disguised as…. the same kid!


Historical Ignorance

Writing about web page http://www.faqs.org/qa/qa-12017.html

Looking through the web, I found this?

Q: Name the three major powers of each:allies and the axis.

Allies: US, Great Britan, don't know

Axis: Japan, Germany, Italy

I mean, hello? Ever heard of Russia? The big landmass which is perhaps the largest country in the world at the time. How could this person not have known about Russia.

Let me put in a hypothesis.

The second world war was predominantly a war of the Germans vs the Russians.

From the start of the conflict, Italy had no real role to play – its military was minimal, and its leader still psychologically belonged to the old school of militarist thought. Japan, too, realistically speaking had little chance. They relied on a fast settlement with the US, and that Germany attain a sufficiently conclusive victory to make all other conflict meaningless.

On the allied side, France ceased to exist very quickly after the start of hostilities. Britain too fought mostly defensively. It is telling that Hitler chose always to divert forces from west to east, rather than vice versa. The United States, too, did not act in a damaging way to German until very late. Their logistical support to Russia was far more important.

So what do we make of the guy's ignorance? Decades of anti-soviet propaganda? Simple stupidity? Who knows.


October 16, 2004

Sinfest

Writing about web page http://www.sinfest.net

Good Christians look away now.

Actually, wait, it isn't that bad…

Ah well, too late now.

Just like to introduce you folks to Sinfest, a comic which also appears on the internet. Quite possibly many of you have heard of it already, and so now view me as some sort of wierd guy who just crawled out of some uncivilised backwater.

Which may be true.

But Sinfest is clearly fantastic. It's got:

A talking cat.
A talking dog.
Slick the pimp.
Monique the hol. (Hmm. But really, it isn't porn. Though it refers constantly to porn, it is not porn itself. Promise.)
The devil.
God.

The humour is great too, appealing to chauvinists, feminists, atheists, not too intolerant theists, geeks, porn addicts and so on, all at the same time. What's there not to like?

Just think about it.


October 10, 2004

The Day of the Spam

Today will be recorded as the day I received the first piece of spam on my warwick email account.

This is bad. Very bad.

Because, as we all know, spammers pass on lists to each other. Thus, before long, every spammer in the world would have my email, and the deluge of spam will increase roughly exponentially. Worse, the University uses this email to contact me, so I'll end up having to wade in each day.

Gah!

I'm not entirely certain where they got the address from. Can they get emails off warwick blogs? My hope is that they are randomly guessing, and so may just give up.

On the bright side of things, I just got a GMail invite. Yay!

Spam levels in all my accounts:

Hotmail(1): 100/day. (I don't bother checking it. It's probably been deleted.)
Hotmail(2): 0. (I don't use this account any more. Just a login for MSN.)
Freeserve (1): 30/day
Freeserve (2): 50/day (I think I wrote some articles online in which I naively mentioned these addresses. BAD idea)
Polarisboard: 0. (I never use this account except for special stuff. )
Warwick: 1, so far.

What about you lot?

Site of the day is The Internet Mapping Project.

Just go and gawk.


October 09, 2004

Tying Down Astral Projections

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

Gah! I thought I gave up this kind of thing long ago. I thought I could just retire from my forum-haunting days, wrap up that iron rod of debunkation, and rest in peace, the world saved, but no…

Sigh. One last job, eh?

http://www.astralpulse.com/

Can't be bothered being comprehensive here. So will pick out random bull…

No matter how you look at it, the act of healing profoundly taps the spiritual roots of your heart. The heart center (heart chakra) is the well-known key to all subtle energy healing methods. The reasoning behind this is deeply spiritual and mystical, but using the heart center is surprisingly easy if you go about it in the right way.

Let's look at it this way – healing is due to the action of your immune system, and the natural process of cell division. The heart has no spiritual roots, and small, brainless, aspiritual petri-dishes also heal, often 'miraculously'. The 'heart chakra' is not 'well known'. It is well believed among certain people, but it has not passed the test of serious evidence. There's more vague armwaving about 'deeply spiritual and mystical'.

For those interested in reading more on bio-energy, spiritual and metaphysical development, I recommend my book "Astral Dynamics: a NEW approach to OBE" (Hampton Roads, 1999, VA, USA). This book covers all aspects of basic training and development and can be used to develop any psychic ability, not just Astral Projection.

How curious. He recommends his own books. Ever hear of peer review?

The big questions in any discussion of subtle energy are: what is it and where does it come from. Subtle energy goes by many names, some ancient and some modern, including: Prana, Chi, Life Force, Soul Essence, Magnetic Fluid, Orgone, and the quantum physics contribution of the Zero Point Field.

ZPE is nothing to do with what he is on about. The ZPF is to do with virtual particles, and borrowed energy in tiny amounts. Decoherence prevents the large scale stuff he talks about.

Universal energy flows from the causal level, takes on elemental form and intent in the subtle level, and then physically manifests in the gross physical level as the finished product. Metaphysically speaking, on the causal and subtle levels, universal energy divides into the basic elemental forms: fire, earth, air, water and spirit. These are the elements of creation. These manifest in various combinations in the physical universe where they create physical matter and life.

About 2000 years out of date.

A healthy human energy body maintains itself by drawing into itself a natural flow of subtle life energy, enough to keep it alive and healthy. This energy is collected in many ways and from many sources, including breathing and eating. Energy is also exchanged between people in various ways, including touch, conversation, sex, etc.

NONE OF THIS HAS ANY EVIDENCE AT ALL.

This guy doesn't even attempt at rigour, doesn't even try to hide his lack of scientific understanding. He misquotes and misinterprets other people at the drop of a hat, and clothes everything in technical sounding names, vague descriptions that are ultimately meaningless, allusions to past authority, and a sense of self-importance, and hopes someone will fall for it.

And he makes a good living out of it.


October 04, 2004

Time to Traverse Those Twisty Little Passages…

Writing about web page http://ifcomp.org/

All modern IF authors may well hate me, now. (Mazes are deeply unfashionable, these days. ) And all non-IF players will be utterly confused.

Ok, you may be asking yourself this:

What is IF?

IF is short for Interactive Fiction.

Of course, that doesn't help. TV is, after all, interactive fiction, since you can switch the damn thing on or off, and change channels. A book in interactive fiction in that you can turn its pages, or if you are in certain loony fundamentalist sects (not that I am passing judgement, or anything…), toss into a burning pyre. Pornography, done well, is definitely interactive fiction. In fact, many of the best works of official 'IF' have succeeded in the remarkable act of being either uninteractive, or nonfictional.

Crazy people, eh?

Quite. Interactive fiction is really the new name for text adventure. After the commercial programmers finished with the medium, it ended up being taken up by a whole culture of hobbiests. And being mostly students, it was neccessary to add a new level of pretension to the proceedings. Suddenly, they weren't making games anymore, not least adventure games. They were making art.

But still, the basic medium has remained the same. In broad terms, then:

Interactive Fiction/Text Adventure describes a computer program which tells a story or simulates a scene by mainly ascii text, responding to commands given in the form of typed instructions from the user/player.

Maybe I've been a little too cynical.

Because, despite the protestations of the old nostalgics, the new stuff is quite good. Very good in fact, and often rivaling the old Infocom days in terms of quality. But the new works are different, and you need to play them with different expectations than when you play the older ones, or really, any sort of game.

An important list of points for new players.

1. Winning is not the point of IF.
While all games tend to have end points, the point of IF is the experience, not the destination. A good IF author accounts for unusual responses, and part of the fun is looking for them. You are deeply damaging your gameplay experience if you do not EXAMINE every item, person, animal, abstract entity etc.

2. The game is not real.
A counter to the previous, really. While IFs attempt to be 'real life', they are in the end simply computer programs. While you are quite free (in how many other types of game can you use the command SING?), you are ultimately constrained. Specifically, the instructions you enter need to be in the form: > VERB (OBJECT)

3. Do not expect.
IF is young, really young in the scheme of things. Much of it is experimental. There is a great chance of you finding something unexpected. Or an almighty bug. Try and play as many as you can.

4. If you are unhappy, complain.
Almost all IF is free, but current IF development works closely with those who play. (Especially since the community is so small that most players are authors.) If you have a problem, or a suggestion, ask in rec.games.int-fiction or rec.arts.int-fiction. But be nice.

So why am I talking about this now?

Because IFComp 2004 has just started. IFComp is a competition for IF, which happens annually and is judged by a public vote. That's right. You can go to the website right now, and download the games, play them, and submit a vote.

Do you have an excuse not to?


IFComp Website

Actually, maybe you do. Its a good idea to play a few 'classic' works first to get the hang of the engine. You can find some at:

Best of IF

And

Emily Short's IF Page

Hop to it!


October 01, 2004

Currently Reading…

So, are we all leafing through those textbooks, then?

Ok, I'm lazy, so this is short. (And I want lunch!)

Right now, I'm reading recreationally two books. (Ok, recreation is a little too far. Voluntarily may be closer to the truth.)

1. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pychon.

Several copies of this are available in the library. If ever a work of science fiction came close to recognition as a literary classic, this may well be it. Or so I've heard. It turns out, too, that its readership is divided into those who love it utterly, and those who toss it into some trash pile as unreadable. The first chapter at least starts well. The description of the V2 launch, its trail refracting the morning sun, is truly captivating.

2. The Individual in a Social World: Essays and Experiments by Stanley Milgram.

You may not have heard of this book, perhaps not even of the author. But you will definitely have heard of one of its experiments. Specifically, the Stanford experiment, a lesson in obedience where a subject willingly 'shocks' an actor, simply because someone told him to. Grim stuff, hmm?

Not really. While Milgram's experiments are serious ones, (perhaps with even greater relevance in this post 9/11 hell) he manages to keep a relaxed, informal attitude. His experiments are ingenious, often bringing to mind certain 'Hidden Camera' shows. (For example, he and his associates would stare into empty space, and record whether any passersby do likewise. Or he would put letters addressed to the Communist party through the letterboxes of fervent republicans, to see what happens.) In short, this makes social psychology fun, and still very enlightening.

There is one copy of this in the library, and I have it. Sorry.


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