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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

Gettysburg PowerPoint

I hope everyone had a very safe and happy holiday.

Via the hotlist: The Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentation.


Zero Punctuation and Bioshock

Author's Note: I wrote this a little while back and never posted it. So this is me writing about a month ago...

Let me start by saying that I can't believe that I haven't mentioned Zero Punctuation yet on my blog. Yahtzee is my friggin hero and he has redefined the game review as we know it. If you're just hearing about it from me, go, watch all of his reviews and then come back and finish reading this post. Okay, just watch the Bioshock review. He manages to take the piss out of one of the best games in years and has you laughing the whole time.

Which brings me to the actual topic of tonight's post, said best-game-in-years, the game I just finished, Bioshock. Seeing that you're not allowed to call yourself a gamer unless you've beaten this game and talked about it ad nauseam, I decided it was time to bite the bullet, upgrade my machine, and actually play the damn game.

There will be no major spoilers in this review.

I had read a lengthy preview of Bioshock some time back and came away excited that Ken Levine was trying to do something ambitious on a few different levels – he was mixing shooter and RPG, and proposed a complex storyline based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead is one of my favorite books). But it was a first-person shooter, and I don't play those. So I figured I'd pass it by.

Then the game came out, and it gets a ridiculous 96 Metacritic score. One reviewer called it "One of the very cleanest, best-executed shooters ever made." Alright, I thought, if there was ever a reason to go play an FPS, this was the time. So I had two choices: upgrade my computer or buy an XBox 360. I had already decided some time ago that I was glad that I'd sit out this round of the console wars and I needed a new machine anyway (my old one, including lots of code for a new game went up in smoke). So I bought a kick-ass new system with an NVidia GeForce 8800 GTX and bought Bioshock for the PC. Normally, I play every game on the hardest difficulty, but I have a particularly hard time with games played from the first-person perspective. I was playing it for the experience, not the challenge, anyway (for a change). I played it off and on for a few weeks and just finished tonight (I beat it in probably 6 to 8 major sittings).

I'll start off the way this review has to start off by saying that the sound and visuals are nothing short of stunning. The environments are all obviously handcrafted and every detail of the setting is damn near perfect, creating a mood that's downright gripping — transparent tubes with heavy metal rivets surrounded by bubbling oceans, the mournful whale-call of the Big Daddies, the creepy little girls with hypodermic needles screaming for Mr. Bubbles to "unzip" me, the tumbled remnants of a 1959 New Year's party where the attendants are now homicidal mutants, the protest signs that bespoke a terrible social upheaval, the mad shrieks of the splicers acting out scenes from their demented pasts, and Doctor Steinman surrounded by the mutilated bodies he tried to free from symmetrical ugliness.

The voice acting is all superb, the lighting fantastic, and it's certainly the scariest game I've played since Resident Evil: Nemesis. Each of the Big Daddies is just like Nemesis, actually. My heart beat faster whenever one would show up, just like it would when Nemesis did in that other game. It's a shame that such a masterfully-crafted game ended up with an ending that was a little lame and abrupt. I am currently going back through to beat it the other way (month-later author: not so much, with the holidays).

In short — the art direction on Bioshock deserves new awards to be invented for it. It is bar-none the most beautiful game of its kind that I have seen. It's tense and atmospheric in a way most games only dream of being, and also delivers heaps of fun that you've had before. In the end, Bioshock is nothing new – the game plays pretty much like every other FPS out there – but it carries it off with unparallelled panache that makes it all feel so good to do it all again. I think Bioshock is well-deserving of the accolades the other writers have given it. It's one of my favorite games of the past several years.

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292 Scandals

For those of you who have lost track, someone is keeping a list of all of Bush's scandals and currently lists 292 separate items, including the greatest hits as well as some less-well-known blunders. Sure we can all complain about Iraq, but about some of the other ones we have lost track of:

  • Walter Reed
  • The Firing of the US Attorneys
  • Plamegate
  • The Abandonment of Afghanistan
  • The Failure to Capture Osama Bin Laden
  • Outlaw Contractors in Iraq
  • The Military Commissions Act and the abandonment of habeas corpus
  • The Hurricane Katrina/FEMA Disaster
  • The Warrantless Wiretapping
  • Black sites and the authorization of torture
  • The Homeland Security Department
  • The Abramoff Scandal
  • Collusion with Big Oil on writing the new Energy Policy
  • Tax Cuts for the Wealthy
  • Denial of Global Warming and refusal to participate in the Kyoto Accords
  • Increasing the deficit by 35% ($3 trillion) in just six years
  • The 2000 election scandals
  • Undermining the 9/11 Commission
  • Failure to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission
  • Destruction of America's Reputation Abroad
  • The shift towards "self-policing" for the FDA
  • The Harriet Miers nomination
  • The Dubai Ports deal
  • The War on Science
  • Lying about the decision to fire Rumsfeld
  • Focus on absitenence-only sex education
  • The use of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch as political tools
  • Abu Ghraib
  • No action on Darfur
  • Sweetheart deals for Haliburton, etc.
  • The defamation of John Kerry
  • No Child Left Behind
  • The Medal of Freedom for the Chief Engineer of the Iraq Debacle, Paul Bremer
  • The silently-passed Real ID Act of 2005
  • The Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives
The list goes on and on. I'm glad someone is keeping score.

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Awesome Lego Art

Via the hotlist: proving Lego can be an artform in its own right.

And on a completely unrelated note.... drug dealers and geeks.... the side-by-side comparison.

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Friday Free Game: Free Rice

This week's Friday Free Game is called Free Rice, brought to my attention by Corvus Elrod. I want everyone reading this blog (that's right... both of you!) to go play this game. It's really nothing more than a vocabulary test. Select one of the four definitions that most closely matches the meaning of the word presented to you.

What makes this fun? Because of one silly number at the bottom of the screen that is called "VOCAB LEVEL". As you answer questions correctly, your vocabulary level goes up. When you get them wrong, it goes down. So you want to keep those streaks alive to make that score go as high as possible. Simple but challenging, it kept me busy for a while when I should have been coding.

But this game is neither particularly inventive, nor particularly challenging, nor particularly well-present... so why would your discriminating host choose this game to highlight? Well... there are a few reasons. First: in keeping with my newfound embrace of the trivia game, this game fits right in (and sadly, that post on why I don't like trivia games is still forthcoming). Second, it's good for you, because it will help you exercise that muscle between your ears by teaching you some new vocabulary (some of those words are obscure!).

But the real reason that I want everyone to play this game is that it's trying to make a difference: for every word you get right, FreeRice donates 20 grains of rice to end world hunger. How does it do this? From their FAQ:

FreeRice is not sitting on a pile of rice?you are earning it 20 grains at a time. Here is how it works. When you play the game, advertisements appear on the bottom of your screen. The money generated by these advertisements is then used to buy the rice. So by playing, you generate the money that pays for the rice donated to hungry people.
So far, in just two months, nearly seven million grains of rice have been donated (and you can keep tabs on the running total here). It's so rare for a game to offer something more than just fun, and I'd like to think that the Red Bull Diary can be a part of it. My personal best was a 47 vocabulary level as I donated over 1,000 grains of rice.

Check it out. And donate by playing.

America Changes Direction on Iran

Ever since the report came out that declared that Iran had ended its nuclear weapons program, I had that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was clearly wrong here, but I could not figure out the angle. Why had everything changed, suddenly? What advantage did our government derive from this about-face in policy?

Well, thanks to this brilliant Op-Ed piece in the Times, it all makes sick sense. It's more smoke and mirrors for the benefit of manipulating the image of this administration and their people:

We should be suspicious of any document that suddenly gives the Bush administration a pass on a big national security problem it won’t solve during its remaining year in office. Is the administration just washing its hands of the intractable Iranian nuclear issue by saying, "If we can’t fix it, it ain’t broke"?
Looked at in this way, suddenly the report makes more sense. But — call me a cynic — I don't think this rationalization goes far enough. There's more to this move than allowing the Bush-Cheney Cabal to cover their asses. Suddenly all of the current policies on Iran seem wrongheaded, and of course the administration knew this would happen. So the only explanation is that there have been some negotiations going on between our two countries and that a deal was struck. But the deal would be unpopular here in the States, and so this report was issued to justify policy changes.

The American people are lied to.

The Iranian people are lied to.

The US gets what it wants.

Iran gets what it wants.

So it goes.

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56 Geeks

A cute image depicting 56 flavors of geek. Note the faceless D&D Geek. Even in a list devoted to geeks, they get no respect.

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Ten Steps to Tyranny

The Huffington Post's Naomi Wolf wrote an article earlier this year that outlines ten steps required to turn a democracy into a dictatorship:

  1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy, like "the global conspiracy of global Jewry" or "the Islamo-Fascist global caliphate".
  2. Create a gulag, like CIA "black sites".
  3. Develop a thug caste, like Mussolini's "blackshirts". We haven't seen this in America yet, but how far behind are the Jesus Camp drones?
  4. Set up an internal surveillance system, like the Nazi informant network or perhaps an illegal NSA wiretapping program.
  5. Harass citizens' groups and dissenters, sort of like what happened to those US attorneys last year.
  6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release, as the Bush administration when it held Muslim-Americans for weeks without charges following the September 11th attacks.
  7. Target key individuals, like Valerie Plame.
  8. Control the press. FOX News anyone?
  9. (Declare that) dissent equals treason, like the witch hunts called against academics who speak out against unjust the government's unjust policies.
  10. Suspend the rule of law, by ignoring congress, subverting the legal system, and suspending the writ of habeas corpus.
It's happening here, people. Don't think this doesn't affect you because you're not a Muslim, not an activist, not a liberal, whatever. This is about human rights and what was once a free society. This affects us all.

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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.