Christopher Nolan’s new film, Tenet, is my favorite film of the last decade. I don’t think it’s Nolan’s best film. But it’s hard to beat Tenet in terms of sheer fun and rewatchability. More than any movie I can think of, Tenet rewards multiple viewings. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen it, and I’m still noticing new things.
What follows is my exposition of the Tenet storyline, what happened and why, and what I think it means. This is directed toward people who found the movie confusing, want an explanation, and (for whatever reason) aren’t inclined to work it out themselves. It’s also directed toward other Tenet fanboys, to compare notes. But mainly it’s because I enjoyed working all this out and I wanted to share what I learned.
Obviously, here there be spoilers. I assume you’ve seen the movie at least once, so I won’t bother explaining who the characters are.
The National Security Agency (NSA) and UK sister agency GCHQ sought to infiltrate the massive virtual worlds in online video games such as “World of Warcraft” and interactive environments like “Second Life,” according to the latest secret documents stolen by Edward Snowden and jointly released by the Guardian, the New York Times and ProPublica.
According to a document titled “Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments,” the secretive spy agencies were concerned by potential terrorist use of such games and felt an immediate need to begin analyzing in-game communications as early as 2007.
Why were they so concerned? Get this:
“[Certain] games offer realistic weapons training (what weapon to use against what target, what ranges can be achieved, even aiming and firing), military operations and tactics, photorealistic land navigation and terrain familiarization, and leadership skills,” the document notes.
Fortunately, this is just bad reporting. The NSA wasn’t really making a connection between World of Warcraft and realistic weapons training; they were talking about games like America’s Army. But then why the concern over a game in which the most realistic weapon is a Gnomish blunderbuss? I wonder if this was just an excuse to play games on company time.
Microsoft has filed for a Kinect-related patent, and it’s a doozy of an application. The abstract describes a camera-based system that would monitor the number of viewers in a room and check to see if the number of occupants exceeded a certain threshold set by the content provider. If there are too many warm bodies present, the device owner would be prompted to purchase a license for a greater number of viewers.
Wow. Microsoft must have felt insecure in its position as technology’s evil empire.
It remains to be seen whether this “functionality” will be implemented in the next Xbox. Microsoft would be running the risk of a major consumer backlash if they did.
Would that backlash really happen? I’d like to think so, but I’ve found it very hard to predict which actions will result in a consumer revolt and which won’t. Consumers put up with all kinds of intentionally crippled products (DVD players that won’t do their bidding, always-online software, etc.) but then get outraged by things that seem more minor to me (ISPs throttling back people who run high-volume servers over residential lines), so I don’t know where they would land here.
Hand in hand with playing to Chinese viewers comes working with Chinese censors. While experts say that the navigating Chinese rules and mores is still more of an art than a science, it’s generally accepted that red flags are raised when you disparage the image of the People’s Army or police, show obscene or vulgar content, feature ghosts or the supernatural, show mistreatment of prisoners, advertise religious extremism, display excessive drinking or smoking, or oppose the spirit of law.
And if you dare go off script while shooting in China, prepare for punishment. According to Cain, during a shoot a few years ago in Shanghai, the director decided to change things up a bit and film a take with an extra holding a camcorder pretending to tape a movie at a theater. Sensitive to their reputation as the source of a large chunk of the world’s movie piracy, China told the team their movie would be shut down.
“We begged and pleaded and promised to keep the film on track,” Cain told us. “The lesson there was that there is always someone watching.”
So I watched the pilot for the new television show Arrow, which is based on the DC superhero Green Arrow. The show begins with Oliver Queen (soon to be Arrow) shipwrecked on a desert island. During his time stranded, Queen has developed superhuman strength and agility, and curiously has also become a master bowyer and fletcher, and has learned to hack computer systems. Queen is then rescued and returns to Starling City (in the original comic it was Star City), a city apparently populated entirely by beautiful young people and homeless.
I was never into the DC universe, but I understand that Green Arrow was a liberal superhero, and I have to say, they nailed it. Once Queen becomes Arrow, his first act is to assault one Adam Hunt (a generic wealthy man who happens to be one of the few unattractive people in the city). He disables or kills Hunt’s bodyguards and extorts him for several million dollars. When Hunt refuses to hand over the demanded money by Queen’s deadline, Queen invades Hunt’s home, disabling or killing several more bodyguards, and hacks his computer to steal the money. He then anonymously distributes the money to the needy.
We know that Queen’s violent criminal conduct is morally okay, because his ex-girlfriend is leading a class-action lawsuit against Hunt for unspecified misdeeds, and because Hunt’s name is on a list of bad people that Queen’s father gave him just before he died.
Queen incidentally happens to be a billionaire, but nevertheless he finances his do-goodery with stolen money, rather than with his own.
I don’t know how well Arrow’s producers have captured the essence of Green Arrow (I always assumed he was more of a superhero and less of a supervillain), but I do think they have done an excellent job of capturing the essence of the Occupy Wall Street wing of modern liberalism.
In honor of last night’s Superbowl loss by the New England Patriots, I’d like to share a flashback to the game in 2007 in which I learned to despise the Patriots. It wasn’t the infamous game in which the Patriots were caught recording their opponents’ defensive signals; it was a forgotten late-season game against the Miami Dolphins.
The Patriots had the league’s best record at 14-0; the Dolphins had the worst record at 1-13. I happened to see a bit of the game in the fourth quarter. The Patriots led 28-7 and had a fourth down at the Miami 26. Despite being in field goal range, and despite their 3-touchdown lead against the league’s worst team, they went for the fourth-down conversion.
I’ve never seen a more blatant display of running up the score in professional football. Rather than simply kick the field goal and extend their lead to an insurmountable 24 points, they instead tried to humiliate the league’s worst team with a passing conversion on fourth-and-long. (As it turned out, Brady was sacked on the play, which gave me some measure of satisfaction.) I had no particular feeling for the Dolphins, but I was appalled by the lack of sportsmanship.
Cracked writes that video games are getting much better (warning: adult language):
Gamers tend to complain a lot about the state of modern gaming. . . But then I stopped and realized: We have all of these amazing, fantastic, borderline magical creations in our hands that, in many ways, dwarf all the wildest predictions of yesteryear — and we’ve got the [temerity] to stand around and [complain] that they’re taking too long to load. . .
THE Red Cross is investigating whether 600 million gamers are violating the Hague and Geneva conventions when they kill and blow stuff up for fun.
Delegates at the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Red Crescent raised the concerns over the potential “International Humanitarian Law” violations during a workshop in Geneva.
I would just emphasize that the International Red Cross is a distinct organization from the American Red Cross. The latter is a valuable institution, the former isn’t good for much.
LONG POSTSCRIPT: Glenn Reynolds — where I first saw this story — has pulled back from it, posting a link to what he calls the ICRC response. It says:
[Q.] A few media reported that certain virtual acts performed by characters in video games could amount to serious violations of the law of armed conflict. Is this correct?
[A.] No. Serious violations of the laws of war can only be committed in real-life situations, not in video games.
Sounds pretty reasonable (although note the use of the word “serious”), but this is not a response to the story. It’s from a FAQ dated August 12, 2011. That’s over three months before the conference took place so it cannot address reports of what actually took place at the conference. Moreover, the conference’s daily bulletin issued December 1 reports this:
While the Movement works vigorously to promote international humanitarian law (IHL) worldwide, there is also an audience of approximately 600 million gamers who may be virtually violating IHL. Exactly how video games influence individuals is a hotly debated topic, but for the first time, Movement partners discussed our role and responsibility to take action against violations of IHL in video games. In a side event, participants were asked: “what should we do, and what is the most effective method?” While National Societies shared their experiences and opinions, there is clearly no simple answer. There is, however, an overall consensus and motivation to take action.
From their own report, it seems clear that the article is accurate. The organization’s actual response was appended to the article:
Update: After this story was published, Red Cross International said the organisation would not be discussing the matter any further beyond the initial workshop. . .
“Serious violations of the laws of war can only be committed in real-life situations, not in video games,” Mr Farnoudi told news.com.au.
Okay, I’m glad they’re backing away, but still note the use of the word “serious”. They are evidently sticking to the position that gaming can violate international law, just not in a “serious” way.
The reason is a good lesson in the law of unintended consequences. According to Kotaku.com, “the government thought [the ban] was the best way to protect Chinese youth from wasting their minds on video games.” The effect was to push youths into on-line gaming instead. That’s World of Warcraft and the like, which we all know are hardly addictive at all. Oops.
Jon Stewart is not a nice guy, he only plays one on tv:
Comedian Steven Crowder embarrassed Stewart by publishing an email explaining that the Daily Show never books conservative pundits. (Apropos to this.) His producer then complained to Crowder’s agent, who felt he had no choice but to drop Crowder as a client.
It’s not the ban on conservative pundits I object to. As I say: that’s par for the course. But Crowder has as much right to publicize that ban as Stewart has to put it in place. After all, if Stewart is ashamed of the policy, he should stop it. If he’s not ashamed, he shouldn’t mind when it becomes public. The Daily Show’s response to Crowder’s video was simply despicable.
Consumers are used to paying $60 each for videogames that run on consoles like the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Now the publisher behind the industry’s biggest videogame franchise—”Call of Duty”—is about to find out whether it can get them to pay a monthly bill, too.
Activision Blizzard Inc. plans to launch an online service called Call of Duty Elite this fall that will work with the next major edition of the game, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” and future installments of the hyper-realistic combat-simulation game. In a move industry executives describe as a first, Activision plans to charge a monthly subscription fee for the service, which will provide extra content that isn’t offered on game discs sold in stores, including downloadable map packs that give players new “Call of Duty” levels to play.
An Activision official added that multiplayer would continue to be free (with the purchase of the game, of course):
COD Elite will be free to all COD players – paid aspects TBD, and as promised, no charge for MP. Many more details in the AM.
It’s not hard to see why they would want to do this. There’s a lot of money in those monthly fees. It’s much harder to see what service they could offer that would be paying for. They would need to offer an ongoing service, like an MMO. (Even World of Warcraft, the most successful MMO, is a rip-off in my opinion. For a monthly fee they need to offer five-nines availability (or at least four-nines) and regular new content, and they are nowhere close to either.)
I can’t see paying a regular fee for occasional new content. Besides which, there’s no evidence that they can deliver good new content on a regular basis — the single-player content has been crappy in every COD game other than COD4.
I can’t see paying for multiplayer as it exists now. Currently, multiplayer games are run on individual consoles that communicate amongst themselves, with matchmaking done over Microsoft’s Xbox Live service. There’s no role there for them to play to justify a fee.
Electronic Arts has deliberately put themselves in the middle of the multiplayer experience by requiring that gamers play on their servers, but the way they’ve done it doesn’t actually provide any benefit to the gamer. Plus, it leaves gamers hostage to EA servers that go down. That’s not a model for a successful pay service.
The one thing I could see paying for is lag-free games. If they could offer that, I would consider paying for it. But they would need to provide five-nines availability and the same flexibility we have now. I doubt they can do it. Moreover, from the description it doesn’t sound like that’s what they are talking about.
UPDATE: This makes it sound as though Call of Duty Elite is something like a stats-tracking service. That strikes me as strange; I can’t see people paying more than a pittance for such a thing.
But the latest guidance on television programming from the State Administration of Radio Film and Television in China borders on the surreal – or, rather, an attack against the surreal.
New guidelines issued on March 31 discourage plot lines that contain elements of “fantasy, time-travel, random compilations of mythical stories, bizarre plots, absurd techniques, even propagating feudal superstitions, fatalism and reincarnation, ambiguous moral lessons, and a lack of positive thinking.”
A new study has found that playing video games trains people to make correct decisions faster, and that skill applies to everyday activities as well. Interestingly, the effect applies to “action video games” but not “slow-moving strategy games”.
Shark attack films are much more lucrative than seems possible:
THIS month the Discovery Channel is treating American and European viewers to a frenzy of sharks. . . Discovery has been churning out shark programmes for 23 years. Yet ratings are sound. Nature sells.
Indeed, it is one of the best businesses in media. Discovery Communications, which also owns Animal Planet, TLC and a few smaller channels, made a profit of $372m in the second quarter of this year. That is about as much as the film studios of Fox, Paramount and Warner Bros put together.
The notion that governments derive their only just authority from the consent of the governed is a foundational principle of the American experiment. However, a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 23% of voters nationwide believe the federal government today has the consent of the governed. Sixty-two percent (62%) say it does not, and 15% are not sure.
Activision Blizzard (which owns the Infinity Ward studio) is withholding promised bonuses for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in an effort to force employees to stay and work on Modern Warfare 3. The effort doesn’t seem to be working; 26 employees have left Activision so far since the Infinity Ward meltdown began.
The Call of Duty franchise isn’t dead, but it’s probably put out its last good game. With Infinity Ward going down the tubes, the franchise will probably end up in the hands of the Treyarch studio, which developed the series’s bad installments.
Much of the Infinity Ward studio is reforming as Respawn Entertainment. Unfortunately, it looks like Respawn will be a part of EA, which is also a bunch of weasels.
I recently saw a film entitled This Film is Not Yet Rated, an attack documentary against the MPAA film ratings board. Despite being generally pre-disposed to dislike the MPAA, I found the film thoroughly unconvincing.
The basic problem with the movie is that it doesn’t understand what censorship is. Censorship is not when someone fails to forge the business deals necessary to produce and disseminate his speech. Were that the case, millions of aspiring writers and directors would be being “censored” all the time when no one agrees to produce their movie. No, censorship is when a group of people do forge the consensual business deals necessary to produce and disseminate speech, and a third party comes in to stop it. That third party is typically the government, but of late it has often been Muslim pressure groups bringing threats of violence.
There’s no third party in the MPAA system. If a theater wants to show an NC-17 movie, no one is stopping them, and some do. However, most theaters have voluntarily decided not to show movies rated NC-17, and most advertising media have voluntarily decided not to air commercials for such movies. These companies have made the business decision to trust the MPAA’s ratings, and consequently an unfavorable rating keeps producers from forging the business deals needed to garner a wide audience. This isn’t censorship; it’s free enterprise.
In one astonishing interview, a lawyer who (honest to God) is labeled as a “First Amendment Attorney” says that we would be better off with a government censorship board than the MPAA. At that point it became pretty clear not to take the movie seriously.
The movie does make one allegation that might hold water: it claims that the MPAA is much easier on studio films than independent films. The movie’s evidence is not exactly airtight, but the charge is quite plausible since the studios fund the MPAA. If true, it’s still not censorship, but it is anti-competitive behavior that is probably illegal. But if anyone has ever sued the MPAA over its ratings on anti-trust grounds, I can’t find evidence of it.
But apart from that point, the whole movie takes a far more indignant tone than it is entitled to. The MPAA reviews movies, and they don’t like the reviews.
The movie does argue convincingly that the MPAA ratings are fairly arbitrary. They also argue that the ratings favor some potentially objectionable material over other (e.g., violence over sex, and heterosexual sex over homosexual sex). Most of those preferences seem unsurprising, since in most cases the raters seem to be reflecting the prevailing social mores.
A summary of the movie would be incomplete if it did not mention the investigation plot. The movie takes issue with the fact that the raters’ identities are unknown, and much of the movie is dedicated to a private investigator’s effort to learn their identities. The effort is successful, and it turns out the demographics of the raters are not precisely what is suggested by the MPAA. (For instance, most of them do not have young children.)
A summary would also be incomplete if it did not mention that parts of the movie are very difficult to watch. The movie is rife with clips from scenes of various movies than earned them NC-17 ratings. The apparent reason for the inclusion of these clips is to ensure that the movie itself received an NC-17 rating. The narrator/director pretends to be upset by this utterly unsurprising development, but without it the film could not have its third act in which he laughably attempts to fight the rating.
At least I can still despise the MPAA for its support of copyright extension and the DMCA.
I liked this ad. In fact this and the Tebow ad are the only ones I remember in a positive light.
For some reason, the ad that they have up now isn’t quite the same one as aired last night. Last night, the flight the guy googled was DL-something, now it’s AA120. Also, I think some of the background chatter is different. That seems insignificant; I wonder why they decided to change it. (Alas, a Google search does not answer the question.)
Fifty years after jazz legend Miles Davis recorded “Kind of Blue,” the House voted Tuesday to honor the landmark album’s contribution to the genre.
Davis collaborated on the record with saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb.
Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who sponsored the measure, said the group “made musical history and changed the artistic landscape of this country and in some ways the world.” The resolution recognizing the album’s 50th anniversary passed on a 409-0 vote.
I don’t know enough about jazz to say whether Blue Train is the best ever, but it’s definitely among the best. I wish Congress spent more time on meaningless (i.e., harmless) stuff like this.
It’s an intriguing paradox–the success of a film as technologically elaborate and ambitious as James Cameron’s Avatar will come down to a simple question: Will audiences marvel at the movie’s groundbreaking production methods enough to forgive Cameron’s curious choice to frame everything on a script that is, almost above all else, obsessed with the evils of technology in the wrong hands? . . .
Unlike Lucas’ more playful science fiction epic, Cameron reaches for a heavy environmental message. Avatar is every militant global warming supporter’s dream come true as the invading, technology-worshiping, environment-ravaging humans are set upon by an angry planet and its noble inhabitants. But the film’s message suffers mightily under the weight of mind-boggling hypocrisy. Cameron’s story clearly curses the proliferation of human technology. In Avatar, the science and machinery of humankind leads to soulless violence and destruction. It only serves to pollute the primitive but pristine paradise of Pandora.
Of course, without centuries of development in science and technology, the film putting forth this simple-minded, self-loathing worldview wouldn’t exist. You’d imagine Cameron himself would be bored to tears on the planet he created. There are no movies on Pandora, so he’d be out of a job. The Na’vi rarely visit a multiplex. They sit around their glowing trees, chanting; they don’t build and sink titanic ocean liners, and they don’t construct deep-sea mini-subs enabling certain filmmakers to spend countless days exploring said cruise ships.
Popular Mechanics has an interesting article about how Halo 3: ODST came to pass. The article is right that ODST did a great job of creating a new game with Halo 3 gameplay but a very different feel.
But they also make a mistake by crediting ODST with the idea of rapidly developing a new story on an existing engine. The idea goes back at least as far as Half-Life 2 Episode One (great game, awful name). And it’s been used in several shooters since, including GRAW 2 and Rainbow Six Vegas 2.
I also think the staying power of ODST isn’t going to be in the new campaign — which is actually a little too short — but the new “firefight” mode, which pits a team of human players against wave after wave of AI attackers. Firefight isn’t original either. It’s a copy of the “Horde” mode in Gears of War 2, but I think it’s better executed than the Gears of War version.
Unfortunately, the model appears to be flawed. In the zombie literature, opinions differ as to whether a zombie epidemic can affect those who are already dead. Although many zombie works do have zombies arising from graveyards and such, the most (faux) serious work on zombies, Max Brooks, asserts that the zombie virus affects only the living. But, in either case, the literature is unanimous that destroying the brain puts down a zombie permanently.
In contrast, the paper’s model posits that zombies can arise from the dead population, and that dead population includes not only dead from natural (non-zombie) causes, but zombies that have been put down. This is clearly wrong.
Fortunately, Brooks’s scenario can be recovered by setting to zero the parameter that dictates how quickly the dead become undead. With that parameter set to zero, it doesn’t matter that the dead population is too large. However, the more typical scenario cannot be recovered without a new model, necessitating a new solution.
Alas, the world may have to wait a little longer for a serious mathematical treatment of the zombie problem.
Democrats are considering a video game tax to fund their health care catastrophe and to discourage inactive lifestyles. It’s hard to imagine that a video game tax could bring in much money, and I’m not aware of any study that supports the hypothesis that taxing video games would result in healthier lifestyles.
Out of my gaming companions, most do not live sedentary lives. In fact, a surprising number are firefighters. On-duty firefighters need something to do while they wait around in the station for a call and video games fit the bill. I also understand that video games are popular among soliders deployed to inhospitable locations like Afghanistan and Iraq. (I generally don’t game with them, though, due to time differences and network latency.) Firefighters and soldiers would be surprised to learn of their inactive lifestyles.
This is all anecdotal, of course. But again, as far as I’m aware, these proposals are being made on mere conjecture. One would also get different anecdotes from children, I’m sure, but children are actually a small segment of the video game market:
As younger generations grow and have children of their own, more parents are playing video games than ever before – 36% of parents play video games. “Families that play together stay together” can now mean playing video games.
Eighty percent of gamer parents play video games with their kids.
Forty-seven percent of video game players are between the ages of 18 and 49. The fastest growing demographic is the 50-plus crowd. This doesn’t mean that kids aren’t playing video games anymore; far from it… they still represent 28% of all gamers out there.
More and more older Americans are playing video games than ever before. Video games are perfect activities for seniors by providing activity without physical stress. They offer health benefits with coordination, balance and endurance. 24% of Americans over age 50 played video games last year, and that number should only increase.
The average game buyer is 38 years old, five years older than the average player. This gap in age represents the scores of parents buying games for their children, and the tremendous influence parents have on sales.
Ticket prices at the new Yankee Stadium are so high that if a New Yorker wants to watch a Mariners/Yankees game from the best seats, it would be a lot cheaper to fly to Seattle, stay in a nice hotel, eat fancy dinners, and see two games.
Option 1: Two tickets to Tuesday night, June 30, Mariners at Yanks, cost for just thetickets, $5,000.
Option 2: Two round-trip airline tickets to Seattle, Friday, Aug. 14, return Sunday the 16th, rental car for three days, two-night double occupancy stay in four-star hotel, two top tickets to both the Saturday and Sunday Yanks-Mariners games, two best-restaurant-in-town dinners for two. Total cost, $2,800. Plus-frequent flyer miles.
A rose by any other name … except when it comes to being a part of the Steelers Nation and having the word “raven” in your moniker. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has gone to great lengths to show his Steelers pride and his dislike for their rivals and upcoming playoff opponents, the Baltimore Ravens.
This morning, the Mayor changed his name from Ravenstahl to Steelerstahl, at least until after the AFC Championship match-up. . .
The Mayor changed the name on his office door, signed the official papers and has finished the name change proclamation at the City-County Building. He will keep his new name through Sunday.
Ages ago, I read a very positive review by John Podhoretz of the German film The Lives of Others, and added it to my Netflix queue. This week I finally watched it, and I thought it was outstanding.
The Lives of Others is set in East Germany in 1984. Its theme is the evil of communism, but unlike some other films, it is not about the large-scale atrocities of communism such as the purges of Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot. Rather, it is about the everyday oppression that characterized life under the party’s boot.
The film tells the story of two men, Georg Dreyman, a successful playwright, and Hauptmann Wiesler, a Stasi agent. Wiesler, an instructor at the Stasi school for interrogation, is assigned to monitor Dreyman. Wiesler’s team installs bugs in Dreyman’s home and monitors them night-and-day. Wiesler, however, becomes disillusioned when he learns that the reason he is monitoring Dreyman is not to protect the socialist state, but because the minister of culture is infatuated with Dreyman’s girlfriend and wishes to remove him as a rival. Wiesler decides to try to help Dreyman by filing false surveillance reports and by interfering in his life in subtle ways (such as making him aware of the minister’s designs on his girlfriend). Unfortunately, the minister does not give up easily.
The Lives of Others is not my usual sort of fare (it has no action whatsoever), but I highly recommend it.
The Economist has a very entertaining article about the growing global popularity of chilies. I thought this fact was particularly interesting:
From this point of view, the most interesting trend is not in ever-higher doses of capsaicin [the active ingredient in hot chilies] for the maniac market, but in the presence of chili in a range of foodstuffs that previous generations would have regarded as preposterous candidates for hotting up. Chili-flavoured chocolate, for example, has gone from being a novelty item to a popular mainstream product. Mr Waters sells “hot apple chili jelly” as a condiment for meat, and chili-infused olive oil.
The reason may be that capsaicin excites the trigeminal nerve, increasing the body’s receptiveness to the flavour of other foods. That is not just good news for gourmets. It is a useful feature in poor countries where the diet might otherwise be unbearably bland and stodgy. In a study in 1992 by the CSIRO’s Sensory Research Centre, scientists looked at the effect of capsaicin on the response to solutions containing either sugar or salt. The sample was 35 people who all ate spicy food regularly but not exclusively. Even a small quantity of capsaicin increased the perceived intensity of the solutions ingested.
In school, I was taught that spicy food was invented as a form of food preservation: spices would drown out the taste of rotten food, or so the story went. Apparently, the truth is just the opposite; capsaicin actually increases the flavor of other foods.
The Communist Party of St. Petersburg seems to have decided that they are in the movie review business. Last May they bashed the latest Indiana Jones movie for promoting anti-Soviet propaganda. (The Soviets were really dedicated to peace, you see; the Soviet invasions of Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan being minor aberrations.) Their latest review pans the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace, calling the fictional James Bond “a man who worked for decades under the orders of Thatcher and Reagan to destroy the USSR.”
The story gets even weirder. The group is particularly incensed with Ukrainian co-star Olga Kurylenko, but:
Her supposed betrayals will be forgiven, the group promised in its statement, if the actress delivers her co-star Craig to the Russian secret service. “Let him tell what other plans are being written in the Pentagon and Hollywood to discredit Russia and drive a wedge between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples.”
The Pew Research Center has published a study on gaming, social interaction, and civic engagement. Their findings: First, teens play a lot of video games. (No surprise there!) Second, gaming can be a positive form of social interaction:
“The stereotype that gaming is a solitary, violent, anti-social activity just doesn’t hold up. The average teen plays all different kinds of games and generally plays them with friends and family both online and offline,” said Amanda Lenhart, author of a report on the survey and a Senior Research Specialist with the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which conducted the survey. “Gaming is a ubiquitous part of life for both boys and girls. For most teens, gaming runs the spectrum from blow-‘em-up mayhem to building communities; from cute-and-simple to complex; from brief private sessions to hours’ long interactions with masses of others.”
Third, gaming can lead to greater civic engagement:
A focus of the survey was the relationship between gaming and civic experiences among teens. The goal was to test concerns that gaming might be prompting teens to withdraw from their communities. It turns out there is clear evidence that gaming is not just an entertaining diversion for many teens; gaming can be tied to civic and political engagement. Indeed, youth have many experiences playing games that mirror aspects of civic and political life, such as thinking about moral and ethical issues and making decisions about city and/or community affairs. Not only do many teens help others or learn about a problem in society during their game playing, they also encounter other social and civic experiences:
52% of gamers report playing games where they think about moral and ethical issues.
43% report playing games where they help make decisions about how a community, city or nation should be run.
40% report playing games where they learn about a social issue.
Moreover, the survey indicates that youth who have these kinds of civic gaming experiences are more likely to be civically engaged in the offline world.
The caveat to the third conclusion is that substantial exposure to civic gaming experiences is relatively rare (pdf, page 27), experienced by fewer than 10% of teens.
A 43-year-old Japanese woman whose sudden divorce in a virtual game world made her so angry that she killed her online husband’s digital persona has been arrested on suspicion of hacking, police said Thursday.
The woman, who is jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, used his identification and password to log onto popular interactive game “Maple Story” to carry out the virtual murder in mid-May, a police official in northern Sapporo said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.
“I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry,” the official quoted her as telling investigators and admitting the allegations.
The woman had not plotted any revenge in the real world, the official said.
Are the Chinese cheating by using underage gymnasts? Probably. I don’t much care.
This got me thinking, though. If they wanted to test for this (as they do for doping), couldn’t they use leg x-rays to determine the gymnasts’ ages? I don’t know how precise they are, but it certainly seems they ought to be able to distinguish between 13- and 16-year-olds.
In the first installment of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon game, he had the current war in Georgia almost nailed. I remembered that the first Ghost Recon was set in Georgia, but I had forgotten that the date was August 2008.
It’s not the first time that Clancy has predicted a major world crisis. In his novel Debt of Honor, he anticipated the use of passenger planes as weapons against America.
Popular Mechanics has a fun article about the evolution of the dual analog thumbstick controller and how it is being adopted by the military. (Via Instapundit.) Here’s the key bit:
By now, the dual analog thumbsticks on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 controllers have turned the standard logic of the first-person shooter (FPS) into muscle memory for most red-blooded young American men (and I’m sure a few women, but I’m willing to call a gender bias on this one). Die-hard PC gamers will argue that a player with a mouse and keyboard can outgun a console player while eating a ham sandwich, but the portability, durability and easy ergonomics of the gamepad make it ideal for military use. “It’s interesting that all of the game paddles have evolved toward a similar thumb-based design,” says Bigham. “And when we’ve talked to our human factors experts, what they’ve told us is that the thumb is the most precise pointing instrument and requires the least energy.” While that low-energy, high-efficiency control may lead to less sunlight and exercise for hardcore gamers, it also allows soldiers to remotely fly UAVs effectively for long periods of time.
Some might say that all those teenagers “wasting time” on Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4 are actually the warfighters of tomorrow, training themselves at zero cost to the U.S. taxpayer. In fact, when offered the choice between the traditional airplane controls and gamepad controls, many younger soldiers pick the thumbsticks that are familiar to them.
This is interesting, but the notion that the thumbstick is the perfect controller is nonsense. You don’t have to be a die-hard PC gamer; you merely have to have played both desktop and console games to know that a mouse is much better for aiming than a thumbstick. (If it weren’t, would there be a market for this?)
Furthermore, the idea that the thumb is the most precise pointing instrument is ridiculous. Consider the trackpoint interface (that’s the rubber nub in the middle of the keyboard, common to ThinkPad laptops). You use it with your index (or “pointer”) finger, not your thumb, because your index finger is more precise. If you want to argue that that’s just because the trackpoint is placed conveniently for the index finger and not the thumb, consider the touchpad common to non-ThinkPad laptops. The usual placement of the touchpad (below the keyboard) is most convenient to the thumb, but still most people prefer to lift their entire hand off the keyboard into order to use the touchpad with their index finger. Moreover, while trackpoints and touch pads are very nice for computer work, nearly anyone would prefer a mouse for gaming.
I think that the big advantage of the thumbstick is ergonomic, not precision. You can put two thumbsticks plus several additional controls onto a controller that you can conveniently hold in your hand. With the keyboard/mouse or a joystick (i.e., airplane controls) you are affixed to stationary controls. (Yes, you could hold an old 1980s-era joystick in your hand, but then you got only one directional input, not two.) So I think the “low energy” part of what they’re saying makes sense. Also, the thumbstick is pretty good for movement (as opposed to aiming), and that may be more relevant to the military’s applications.
I saw two movies over the weekend: Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. This was a rare treat for me; since my daughter was born I’ve seen about two movies a year on average.
Prince Caspian is a good movie, but it’s not the movie that I hoped it would be. I had high hopes, having read more than one review that said that the movie was even better than the book. I should have read between the lines and interpreted that to mean that the movie improved on the shortcomings of the book (as perceived by those reviewers). The book is a tale about faith in which there happens to be talking animals and a big battle. The movie is a story about big battles involving talking animals.
Crystal Skull is not a very good movie. All the previous Indiana Jones movies were implausible, but within the genre you could suspend disbelief. The latest installment crosses the line into farce.
Leaders of the Communist Party of St. Petersburg have accused the actors Harrison Ford and Cate Blanchett of being “capitalist puppets” and promoting crude, anti-Soviet propaganda in their new film, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” . . .
The swashbuckling archaeologist’s fourth adventure is set in the Cold War in 1957. It pits Indiana Jones against a sinister KGB agent, played by Blanchett, who leads a ruthless team of Soviet spies in the hunt for a skull endowed with mystical powers.
The Communist Party’s ideology committee in Russia’s second largest city saw red over the plot. In an open letter, it declared: “Your work in this film is an insult to the Soviet and Russian people, who remember the difficult Fifties when our country was concluding its reconstruction after the Great War, but did not send merciless terrorists to the USA.” . . .
“You have no future in Russia any more. Speaking plainly, it is better for you not to come here. You will be beaten and despised.”
Good show, Ford and Blanchett; you’re making good enemies. I wonder what the Communist Party ideology committee thought of Charlie Wilson’s War.
By the way, here’s a good example of the kind of “reconstruction” the Soviet Union was doing during those difficult Fifties.
A friend of mine got into the BF:BC beta, and emails me his review:
There isn’t a party setup in the beta, so you jump right into a current game and choose your spawn point. You have the choice of spawning at your base or with your squad members. The base spawn is the safest, but it means you have to go all the way back to the frontline to get back to the objective. The squad spawn is convenient, but it can also throw you right into the firefight. Similar to Call of Duty you have a choice of class (Assault, Demolitions, Recon, Specialist, and Support) to select before spawning.
For the beta two maps are available: Ascension and Oasis. Initially the server was having issues setting up the games. It took about 10 minutes for me to get the first match and I could only get Oasis for the games I played. Visually, it doesn’t match up to CoD4’s intense level of detail. During close combat games I encountered frame rate issues and drops.
The only gametype available in the beta was “Goldrush.” Unfortunately, the players, including myself, were not sure about the objective so it was more of a slayer game than anything else. The team chat was also not working making it difficult to get anything organized going.
I have to say I wasn’t impressed with the game. It felt like Battlefield 2:Modern Combat. EA’s server issues and their initial thought of charging for additional weapons (after an outcry from the gaming community, they are now free) add to my reluctance in purchasing any EA games.
This is just the beta, of course, but it’s not a promising sign. (Besides, it will still be an EA game when it releases.)
My sister’s roller derby team, the Camaro Harem, made the Everett Herald and is featured on the web edition’s front page. For those who haven’t been following, roller derby is a real sport now, at least in western Washington.
. . . to be released this year. I’m not kidding. I didn’t even know they’d made a second. Based on the reviews, Starship Troopers 2 was even worse than the original movie. I scarcely would have thought that possible. Heinlein must be rolling in his grave.
NPR, as always, has its finger on the pulse of America. In a piece on video games, they correctly observe that video games are now big business and bought substantially by adults. But, they continue, “some critics” say that they can’t be taken seriously until they start taking on serious political issues like the war in Iraq, or teen pregnancy.
Naturally, the teen pregnancy suggestion was a throwaway; what they really want is games that oppose the war. Hollywood, they point out, has spent a lot of money making anti-war movies. True enough. Of course, those movies were terrible and lost (let me check the figures) a gazillion dollars.
Undeterred, NPR (er, “some critics”, I mean) wants the video game industry to do the same. They laud the one game with the courage to speak out against the war, BlackSite: Area 51. That figures. Having played the demo, I can say that BlackSite fits perfectly into NPR’s mold: it was a bad game. (Gamespot rated it 6.5; an terrible score.) The game flopped, of course.
Great idea, NPR; we need more games like BlackSite. We should quit wasting our time on fun ones.
The funny thing is, there are some good, popular games out there that touch on politics. Dead Rising pits a photographer against a plague of zombies that (surprise!) turns out to be the US Government’s fault. (You know what would shock me? If the US Government turned out not to be at fault.) Even better is BioShock, which deals with liberty, objectivism, and the nature of humanity in a really creative way. I guess those games just didn’t lend themselves to NPR’s narrative.
I’ll keep my eye out for a game about teen pregnancy. Sounds like a great idea . . .
[Alicia Keys] tells Blender magazine: “‘Gangsta rap’ was a ploy to convince black people to kill each other. ‘Gangsta rap’ didn’t exist.” Keys, 27, said she’s read several Black Panther autobiographies and wears a gold AK-47 pendant around her neck “to symbolize strength, power and killing ’em dead” . . .
Another of her theories: The bicoastal feud between slain rappers Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. was fueled “by the government and the media, to stop another great black leader from existing.” . . .
Keys’ publicist, Theola Borden, said Keys was on vacation and unavailable for comment.
Fox has given the green light to “Virtuality,” a two-hour back-door pilot from “Battlestar Galactica” mastermind Ronald D. Moore.
The sci-fi project, from Universal Media Studios and producers Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun, is set aboard the Phaeton, Earth’s first starship. It revolves around its crew of 12 astronauts on a 10-year journey to explore a distant solar system. To help them endure the long trip and keep their minds occupied, NASA has equipped the ship with advanced virtual-reality modules, allowing the crew members to assume adventurous identities and go to any place they want. The plan works flawlessly until a mysterious “bug” is found in the system.
Jonah Goldberg worries that this show sounds like the dreadful holodeck epsiodes from Star Trek. Perhaps, but I’ll withhold judgement. Moore did a good job on Galactica. He also worries that Fox cannot be trusted to shepherd a good science-fiction program, recalling Firefly. He has a point there.
It occurs to me that if you want to strand people in virtual reality (I’m speculating here), a better concept might be an all-virtual ship like the Field Circus from Charles Stross’s Accelerando. The Field Circus was a coke-can-sized starship carrying the uploaded minds of its crew in a virtual environment.
The Battlefield: Bad Company beta gets a bad review from Amazon Game Room for having green friendlies and red enemies, making it unplayable for people with red-green color-blindness. (Via Instapundit.) Also, the BF:BC beta is getting bad reviews from my friends for being not a very good game. Plus, just about everyone hates EA.
The Amazon review is titled “Gaming while color blind,” but, to be fair, I think most shooters get this right. Halo 3 paints characters red and blue, plus it floats an icon over friendlies. Rainbow Six Vegas 2 has just the icon, which is good enough when it’s not clipped by a doorway. In Gears of War, it’s humans or monsters. Call of Duty 4 does have a floating name in red or green, but you can also look at the uniforms (and half the time you have to anyway).
Popular Mechanics has an article on the balance between realism and gameplay in military shooters like Rainbow Six Vegas 2 (R6V2). (Via Instapundit.) It’s a good article, but I get the feeling the author is not a serious gamer. The article gives the impression that R6V2 makes great strides toward realistic gunfire, except for a few compromises. My impression, having played the game, is that R6V2 is actually less realistic than its predecessor.
It may well be that they calculate accurately the amount of damage done by a bullet after penetrating cover and/or armor, but there’s another side of the equation, which is how much damage a soldier can take before going down. In reality, a soldier would go down quite quickly, but in R6V2, a player can endure quite a lot of punishment. Its predecessor was less forgiving.
Now, I don’t care all that much about realism for its own sake, but I did enjoy the unique gameplay that arose from the Rainbow Six Vegas’s realism. In R6V, a player firing first from cover would nearly always win, making it possible for sneaky old guys like me (I’m 36) to beat the kids, despite their vastly superior videogaming skills. That style of gameplay has not been duplicated in any other game, including its sequel. In R6V2, players are tough enough that run-and-gun becomes a viable strategy, which puts the kids back on top.