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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen

Still Awesome

Less awesome:


The Red Bull Diary is going dark for a time. Ms. Angel and I are leaving to go around the world. Those who are interested in learning more can email me at maltezefalkon |at| gmail.


Friday Free Game: Viking Defense

As my reader(s?) may know, I'm a sucker for a tower defense games. Viking Defense is one of the best I've ever played. It's flavorful with a thoughtfully-designed difficulty curve that I still haven't conquered after a solid week of playing it.

Like other defense games, the interesting decisions here are where to place what kinds of towers, but I love the idea of the escalating series of challenges to unlock more powerful ways of defending your waterway from drakkars and giant whales.

This is going to be the last Friday Free Game for a while... why not visit Jay is Games for all your casual gaming needs? And play S3QUENC3R on Kongregate and rate it for its elegant-yet-challenging gameplay and not whether the intro screen was implemented correctly. To be honest, I lost the source code to the game in a hard drive crash (RAID is now my friend) and can't fix it. It'll have to remain imperfect, like so many other games (and people).

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Shoes Thrown at Bush in Iraq

The man says: "This is the farewell kiss, you dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq":

The BBC reports on the incident, saying:

In the middle of the news conference with Mr Maliki, a reporter stood up and shouted "this is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog," before hurtling his shoes at Mr Bush, narrowly missing him.

"All I can report is a size 10," Mr Bush said according to the Associated Press news agency.

The shoe thrower was taken away by security guards and the news conference continued.

Correspondents called it a symbolic incident. Iraqis threw shoes and used them to beat Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad after his overthrow.

Isn't that ironic for us, the "liberators", to be treated the same way as the "oppressor". You'll be missed, George, by someone I'm sure. Just by no one I know.

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Three geeks turn a nativity scene into a LARP battle:

Really funny stuff from For Tax Reasons, who have a weird website.
Second Wiseman: Uh-oh-wait, also it has an Armor Rating of 20. It's the best armor you can have and still cast heal spells. It's the best.
I also feel obligated to point out that the third wiseman is not a real geek. He was trying to buy Highlander 2.

Other good quotes:

Third Wiseman: Remember, we must defend the child! He is the key to saving the kingdom! *CLANG* Hello? Hello? Oh my God! I'm blind! My friends, I am blind!
And "mathlete". Heh.

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Friday Free Game: Auditorium

Auditorium is a beautiful mixture of game and toy, sight and sound, puzzle and exploration, serene in a way that reminds me of Boomshine, in a way, with its sweet, dreamy melodies and abstract, colorful gameplay. The idea is to conduct the stream of light, filtered by rings of color, to "fill" the squares. If you think it sounds a little awkward and requires some getting used to, you're right. But before long, you're entranced by the beauty of a full-screen Flash experience.

Boomshine is one of my favorite Friday Free Games of all-time, and even making a comparison to it should tell you I think pretty highly of the game for delivering a remarkable and challenging overall user experience. I find the interface to be a bit uncomfortable, if acceptable, but the level design is good with a steady challenge ramp-up rate.

On the whole, Auditorium certainly is a fun and engrossing game, but it's a bit too puzzley for my taste, and I grew bored of it after 45 minutes. But that's already thrice as much as I ever ask out of my Friday Free Games. It also auto-saves your game so you can stop at any time and lose no progress. I could go on, or I could say, Play Auditorium.

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Stop Visiting My Blog

You may have noticed a tapering off of activity on my blog. This is due to the usual reasons (other obligations, holidays, and personal projects) as well as to a significant shift in my online activities. I no longer post links alone since I can now share links much more efficiently through my shared items on Google Reader. For those of you who failed to notice the RSS explosion, go sign up for Google Reader and read this blog via my RSS feed. I have a few other changes coming soon that I'm not ready to announce quite yet, but really, people. If you're not using a feed reader, you're living in like 2005 or something. Remember 2005? The people hadn't been plundered by our politicians yet to the tune of $4 trillion dollars? Good times. Back then, we thought that launching war on a methodology was the depths stupidity and greed.

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Friday Free Game: QWOP

I like QWOP: it's one of the most frustrating games I've ever played, but if there is a virtue to be ascribed to video games, it is in being maddening and yet addicting. You always win when you play QWOP, because, as it tells us smugly, everyone's a winner.

Just go ahead and try to make this guy run. I dare you. I fell on my face for 4m after a half an hour of trying. It's a compelling enough game, in that it feels solvable, but damned if I know how to make that man stay on his feet.

The story is you're a hapless guy from the tiny nation of QWOP (as a man of Maltese heritage, I feel for him already) who's been sent to the Olympics with - how shall we say - inadequate training. Your QWOP keys control your thighs and calves, supposedly, but they don't seem to work very well. The only solid thing I figured out in the half hour I gave the game was that I should start with "Q".

I can't decide whether I'm having fun, but yet I keep playing. It's a perfect Friday Free Game for masochist achievers. Like me. Play QWOP.

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Pre-Rolled Dice

I recently started reading Darths & Droids, a webcomic that presents the story of The Phantom Menace as a role-playing game, after the style of DM of the Rings. In strip #99, the author discusses (below the comic itself) the various superstitions that gamers will indulge in with respect to dice. This one blew me away for being at once eminently logical, hopelessly moronic, breathtakingly obsessive, and, above all, unspeakably geeky:

As pointed out so clearly in this essay on dice superstition, if dice are random, then it doesn't matter if you're superstitious about them. But if they're not... well, you better make sure you do the right thing and treat them properly. No use taking risks now, is there?

Pete, being the highly logical, calculating person he is, rejects all of that as superstitious nonsense. He instead applies the scientific approach. Over the years, he's collected somewhere around a thousand twenty-sided dice. Every so often, he gathers them all together. He sits down at a table and carefully and individually rolls each of the thousand dice, once. Of course, roughly a twentieth of them will roll a one. He takes those fifty-odd dice and rolls them a second time. After about an hour of concentrated dice rolling, he'll end up with around two or three dice that have rolled two ones in a row. He takes those primed dice and places them in special custom-made padded containers where they can't roll around, and carries them to all the games he plays.

Then, when in the most dire circumstances, where a roll of one would be absolutely disastrous, he pulls out the prepared dice. He now has in his hand a die that has rolled two ones in a row. Pete knows the odds of a d20 rolling three ones in a row is a puny one in 8,000. He has effectively pre-rolled the ones out of the die, and can make his crucial roll with confidence. Furthermore, being scientific about it means he knows that it doesn't matter who rolls the die for the third time, so he has no qualms about sharing his primed dice with other players, if that's what it takes to avoid disaster.

I think it's the idea of storing pre-rolled dice in roll-proof containers and carrying them with you that got me. That Pete is a man who takes his dice very seriously.

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Garamond Powerline

My wife's excellent taste in typography is just one of the many reasons I knew she was the one for me. Garamond is my and Ms. Angel's favorite font. Garamond Powerline is a beautiful rendering of the font as art in its own right.

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Friday Free Game: Kung-Fu Election

Just for shits and giggles, try out Kung Fu Election, a Flash-based Mortal Kombat clone where you can fight as Barack Obama or John McCain. I played this one about five times, losing to Sarah Palin as Barack (who sort of loks and fights like Mitsurugi... oh and he throws a flight of white doves as his missile attack) and then losing to Joe Biden as McCain, but then suddenly something clicked (maybe because McCain fights a little like me favorite Soul Calibur character, Kilik), and I started climbing the ladder. I literally laughed out loud when I fought Hillary (who carries fans like MK's Kitana) and she threw a projectile at me that had Bill Clinton appear and punch me in the face three times. You have to play this game just for that.

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Basic Instructions on Windows Vista

I found Basic Instructions when Scott Adams (Scott – your site is painfully slow) recommended it sometime back in August. Today's is about Windows Vista.

Now, you may have noticed that Microsoft has been trying some new advertising strategies. There was The Mojave Experiment which took a we secretly replaced this fine restaurant's usual coffee with Folgers Crystals approach. I was swayed, but then I read "Call me Fishmeal" and Joe Wilcox who convinced me that the campaign is wrongheaded.

Then they tried Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates. I personally like Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld so I liked the ads. But I'll admit: the message was less than clear.

Now there's "I'm a PC", which, while better, arguably is just doing Apple's work for them. But there could be something to trying to coopt the enemy's strategy.

I'm a Windows evangelist because I think Microsoft has done something few other technology companies have: created vast suites of software that truly interoperate. I agree with the Linux purists that open standards should be preferred to corporate agendas, but Microsoft's powerful market share demonstrated what an office productivity suite looked like. They won the office desktop, I don't think anyone can disagree with that.

But these ads don't play to the brand's strength: omnipresence, familiarity, business clout. Maybe they want to seem friendlier, like their cuter neighbors, the Macs. But that's not what geeks do. But if Bill Gates taught us anything, it's that the geeks could inherit the Earth.

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Below is an old post (July I think) that I never posted. The link below isn't very exciting anymore. The old Trism video is the better one. Watch it instead.

Amid the din of Mac fanboys squealing about the iPhone, the "Brainy Gamer", Michael Abbot, has put together a nice collection of videos showcasing the iPhone's gaming capabilities. Trism looks very cool.

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This makes me think of some special people out there. You know who you are.

Face punches!

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Semantics has no place in code

Semantics has no place in code. Ideally, code would have exactly one way of doing any given thing. In the world of data, we strive to be complete, unambiguous and exact. The world, as far as my code is concerned, is exactly as big as I tell it to be, and could only be so. What I define exists only insofar as I have defined it. The code expresses the sum-total of that world. To allow any sort of semantic nuance, we undermine the Platonic perfection of that world. I think the ideal should be to have a one-to-one relationship between virtual entities and the code that expresses them. This way, we can point at the code and say: "This is what it is."

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This was just too perfect not to post. The latest from Tatsuya Ishida's Sinfest:

I will elaborate once the "debate" over the bailout bill has been resolved. Congress is like an old dog and it knows just one trick: roll over.

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Friday Free Game: Bloons Tower Defense 3

It's been about two years since I recommended a tower defense game, and in that time, it has surprisingly become a genre in its own right. There are a hoarde of these games, now, primarily since they're very simple to build, and relatively easy to balance. If you've never played one of these games, it's really just a twist on the RPG grind: kill stuff, get stuff, kill bigger stuff, get better stuff, ad infinitum. As a matter of fact, the main difference between a tower defense game and a dungeon crawl is that in a dungeon crawl, you find the monsters and in tower defense, the monsters come to you.

But don't listen to me, because I'm sitting here telling you how banal these games are and yet I can't stop playing them. Much like the old RPG grind, there is something very satisfying about the power-up cycle. My latest tower defense obsession is called Bloons Tower Defense 3, and is the inheritor of the name of a clever little game about a monkey popping b(a)lloons by throwing darts. So, not surprisingly, this game is about positioning various types of monkeys around the board so that they can pop balloons.

But it's not just darts. It's spiked balls thrown by catapults, spinning blades, ice balls, cannons, and superhero monkeys with plasma beams that shoot out of their eyes. Okay, so it may not be particularly coherent, but the game is a lot of fun, mainly because the difficulty curve is really well-designed. Several times, I was humming along, kicking butt, and then all of the sudden, the stupid metal balloons would show up and ruin my game. I'd try it again, this time with a rocket launcher in place, only to have the MOAB – a nigh-indestructible blimp carrying tons of other balloons – show up and ruin it all again. My best advice is to ramp up gradually, starting with a monkey, then adding tack-throwers, then saving up for cannons. The super monkey is definitely worth it!

Sur this isn't the prettiest game around, and there are more original tower defense titles, but the playability and variety kept me coming back, and I'm sure it will do the same for you. Go on. Touch the monkey. You know you wanna.

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An Ongoing Discussion

I'm having a pretty lively discussion in the comments section of another blog about liberalism versus conservatism. I thought I'd cross-post here, because I can.

It started over this video:

Tom said in his post following the video:

Maybe the very fact that life hasn't changed [liberals'] minds about issues means that they are the people in our society least capable of logic and reason. All the same though I'd love to hear what liberals think of this video. It will probably be all ad-hominem attacks and accusations of arrogance, but I'd like to hear them all the same. Send this video to liberal you know. I’m going to do the same. Ask them to watch it and give you some feedback about it. I’d be interested in what they come back with. Feel free to send me email comments or leave them here.

I watched the video and was astounded at the way it characterized the liberal position. It exactly missed the entire point. I called it a straw man attack. To which Tom said:

... I think your assumptions are so different from his, and mine, that you cannot accept the concepts he offers as even possible of being true, even though to he and I they seem perfectly self-evident.

As an example, you say the people who acted as human shield in Iraq, placing their bodies in between the US forces and the assets of an Iraqi dictator (who is described even by most liberals as running a vile and utterly repressive regime) were simply protesting the US political decision. You think that their intent is the only critical element to their actions….or at least the most important one by far.

In the meantime he and I would both say that their intent is personal and irrelevant, it's their actions which matter. And what they did with their actions was stand in opposition to an army which has done more for the cause of human freedom than any force in human history. To defend a despicable dictator who is all but universally condemned.

You say they weren't taking a side because it would be wrong to say we are "better than them" and they were only trying to prevent pointless violence. We say that whatever they meant by it they "sided with the bad guy".

That's what I mean when I say we're speaking two languages. I wasn't saying you were illiterate… you clearly are not. I was saying that your base assumptions prevent you from seeing things from our perspective. But I think the book I mention will make the same points he makes ... points which for the moment still seem to be totally invisible to you, in a way that you would better understand them.

Commenter David added:

Thomas Sowell has written two books pondering why the same people end up on the same side of issues that have no intrinsic connection. In “A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles,” he writes that this is because they operate from two different “visions” of how the world works, indeed of human nature. In “The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy,” he argues that the prevailing vision in the press, academy and politics has become so dogmatic that it has lost touch with reality.

Mr. Sowell labels the competing visions “constrained” and “unconstrained.” The constrained vision argues that perfection is impossible, that social policy consists of structuring incentives for self-centered men, that life is a series of trade-offs. This vision is represented by the likes of Adam Smith, Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton . . . .

The unconstrained version argues that man’s imperfections are the result of bad institutions, that pure intentions matter more than actual effects, that rationality can solve problems once and for all. In the time of Smith and Burke, this tradition was epitomized by William Godwin, whose “Enquiry Concerning Political Justice” was popular in Great Britain until the public started to witness the excesses of the French Revolution.

For the path of the unconstrained vision ran through Rousseau, Voltaire and Thomas Paine (a defender of the French Revolution as well as a hero of the American one). Today’s academy is in thrall of descendants of these French ideas. The academically popular “deconstructionism” promoted by Jacques Derrida argues that the conception of meaning or truth is another corrupting institution, merely expressing power relationships.

Students and journalists who have never heard of Derrida reflect his influence in preoccupation with issues of gender, class and race. As Mr. Sowell writes, the “vision of the anointed” has become impervious to evidence. Rather, it’s “a badge of honor and a proclamation of identity: To affirm it is to be one of us and to oppose it is to be one of them.”

To which I replied:

I see your point, now, and thank you for the explanation. It's entirely accurate to say there are those who believe that pure intentions somehow negate human selfishness, and I think that Derrida is right to recognize that the concept of truth can be used as a cudgel.

But if I grant that it's fair to equate Sowell's "unconstrained" worldview with modern American liberalism, then it sounds like what you're against is naivete, and I'll readily grant a lot of liberals are certainly naive.

I'd agree that going to Iraq to act as a human shield is perhaps hopelessly naive. I can understand a battlefield general being insulted presented with such fools.

But your argument continues: "[W]hat they did with their actions was stand in opposition to an army which has done more for the cause of human freedom than any force in human history. To defend a despicable dictator who is all but universally condemned."

While it may be true that the American army has a great history of fighting for good reasons, this does not mean that this case and this war was, too. You've assumed it was, they believed it was not. Neither one of us made the decision to invade Iraq, so ultimately neither one of us can know for sure. We only have the government's word as to why they chose to do what they did. But we do know that they were wrong about the information they said they were acting on, and it certainly didn't go according to plan.

So some (naive) people decided it would be a good idea to protest the attack. You've repeatedly characterized it as "defending Saddam Hussein", which it clearly wasn't. "Defending Saddam Hussein" would be taking up weapons and fighting. They didn't do that. They were protesting.

Peaceful protest is the bedrock of the rule by and for the people, and consider Gandhi: peaceful resistance has transformed empires. The liberal position says that we have to engage one another's ideas, and not use force to impose our will on one another. We are all equals. This says nothing at all about belief in reason solving all problems. It's that we need to treat one another reasonably. That's democracy: self-interested people all trying to get along and build something that they believe in.

Try a thought experiment: assume that a war was unjust, and you thought you knew for sure. Imagine you felt something was being carried out in your name that you didn't agree with. Would it be right to say so? To sign a petition? To write a song about it? To rally against it? To donate your money to stop it? Throw yourself in front of a tank to stop it? It's all a matter of degree.

Let me state unequivocally: a "human shield" protest in Iraq is a criminally stupid thing to do, but like the activist who murdered the abortion doctor, it's certainly unfair to use such an extreme example as a representative case study in liberal thought.

You're arguing that liberals have an epistemological framework that presupposes the ability for human institutions to attain perfection. I don't think that's true at all. Liberals believe that by striving for perfection, we can transcend selfish interests. The government – and that includes the armed forces – is meant to work for the will of the people. If you believe that the government isn't doing that, what is the right thing to do?

I'd also like to add: if you reject the idea that human institutions are perfectible, then what? Human institutions are fallible, therefore... what? Therefore it's okay to use force against one another? Actions are all that matter, therefore... what? Therefore whatever action the government takes is the right one?

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A Truly Useful Mapping Tool

As any kid who grew up in the US knows, if you were to dig a hole and not stop digging until you reached the other side of the planet, you'd end up in China or Australia, right? Well now you can find out just how wrong you were! This is off the charts for sheer awesomeness: an interactive mapping tool for finding antipodes – that is, for finding exactly where you'd end up if you dug a tunnel to the other side of the planet from a given spot. I found it via a Discover magazine article.

And you know what? Funny... not a single spot in the lower 48 states is directly opposite any major land mass at all. Okay, that's not 100% true... a spot in northern Montana maps to a small island near Antarctica, but that's it for the continental US. Northern Alaska maps to the edge of Antarctica and a tunnel dug in Bermuda would land you just off the coast of Perth. In order to get to China, apparently you'd have to start in Argentina.

But interestingly enough, a tunnel dug in Madrid would put you right in a hamlet called Weber, New Zealand. And Weber is right near a hill named Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu, which translates roughly as "The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one".

Now you know.

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Friday Free Game: Monkey Island

This week's Friday Free Game is called Monkey Island. No, not that Monkey Island – this is a simple Flash game with a clever central mechanic that's sure to engage as you navigate the Japanimated world of an island-hopping simian.

The controls are very simple: rotate the monkey using your mouse and then click and release to control your jumps. Make your way from island to island to collect all of the bananas. But careful: some of them shift, and some will even sink underneath you! By the way: the game is all in Japanese, so click on the red button on the opening screen to start the game. Happy hopping!

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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.