Archives more or less in order

Thanks to Google’s cache, I’ve recreated the entire WordPress database for the site. There may be a few missing posts still, but I think I got everything important. I’m surprised to only have 71 posts, though, for the nine months since I started writing online again.

My vote on the new theme is still out. I might stick with the organization but go back to black.

Cruising through the reading list

I met with my committee on Tuesday and went over the first draft of the reading list. As I anticipated, my framing paragraphs were not up to snuff. Then again, no guidelines currently exist for said framing paragraphs, so I probably couldn’t have done much better coming in cold.

More cheerful, however, is that I probably don’t have to worry too much about readings related to the dissertation for now; this means replacing a good third of the list with contemprary works on authorship and plagiarism, but I’m not distressed by this at all.

It comes down to selling the concept, I think. It may be better to come off as an expert in plagiarism and authorship issues rather than an expert in the history of ancient citation systems that still co-exist with modern ones, even though I think those two hats ought to be worn concurrently. In the sense of giving off a contemprary vibe, however, perhaps the first of those hats should be worn on top. I’ve been thinking of myself as a jack-of-all-trades with the bonus of two specialities (is that a contradiction in terms?), – one being aspects of style (paragraphs, rhythm, metaphor) and the other being history of rhetoric/comp with a further emphasis on early Christians. But perhaps a more thorough grounding in the plagiarism debate would not hurt, either.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

I’ve missed being able to ramble, with the blog down for a week, so I thought I’d take a break from restoring old posts and write a new one.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is a PC game that I’ve been waiting for a long time, ever since I played Boiling Point. It seems to be designed by the same Russian guys, and has much of the same slightly-off, non-Western, hell-obsessed sensibility to it.

Back when I thought programming games was a possiblity, my ideal game would have been something like a shooter crossed with Fallout but with the epic scale of one of the early Ultimas. I’m thinking specifically of Ultima V.

BP came very close to this ideal. But it was a resource hog, full of bugs, with much of its scale only possible through duplicated content. And its plot was, well, really bad. Still, it had the general idea – roaming around a blasted Mad Max landscape, scavenging, shooting people, and making unpleasant deals with unsavory individuals. The larger the world to roam in, the better.

Stalker’s plot is better. As far as I know, the real Chernobyl is not surrounded by 30 km of mutated dogs and boars, abandoned mental and biological warfare laboratories, gas-masked commandos, a wide assortment of spatial anomalies, and a host of friendly neighborhood zombies – but it’s pleasant to think so. The player explores the zone, trying to get deeper and deeper into it and find various artifacts created by the zone’s otherworld qualities, always scrambling for ammunition, food, and other supplies. It’s very close to my dream game.

Still, there are problems. The graphics engine is not optimized and I’ve had to tweak it considerably to get it to run at a decent speed. Oblivion, which argubly looks better, didn’t take this much effort. Also, it has loading zones between physical areas, arranged in a mostly linear pattern, and the game’s scale suffers from their mere existence. You can’t just jog from one end of the gameworld to another without stopping like in Oblivion (or in BP, for that matter!) The old Starflight games are a good example of superior design in this respect, as the entire star chart was available to you from the beginning of the game. The direction of your explorations was not pre-determined, and the resulting freedom was empowering.

Then again, each area of the Zone is immensely detailed, and unlike BP, Oblivion, or the game dynamic in the GTA games, Stalker’s code appears to be controlling every NPC and variation going on in the ENTIRE area, not just near the player. This gives the game a spontaneous quality that exists side by side with what is scripted. The packs of roving, hungry dogs and mutants are probably the most visible effect of this. The bandit attacks in various areas, also, can surprise you, though where they appear has gotten a bit predictable and the missions to defeat the attacks in the Garbage area are quite annoying. Alas, this all translates into heavy memory and processor load.

A good patch or two would fix most of Stalker’s problems, though the loading zones (and the largely linear sequence the zone’s areas are laid out in) is a flaw that isn’t going to go away. Their massive size, however, is sating. Still, without the freedom to try to go anywhere at anytime, the game misses out on what could have been a more epic experience. More on this later, as I get closer and closer to the reactor…

Excuse the mess

I lost hosting for about a week for mysterious reasons. I’ve swtiched hosts and I’m trying, slowly, to restore old posts to the database. It will be a week before the site is back to normal.

Until then, you may see the very odd sight of me posting backwards in time. Instead of new posts appearing, old posts will slowly reappear. I have a bit of work ahead of me as I have nearly a year of posts to stuff back into the database in their correct chronological order.

In the meantime, if you had registered for the blog, feel free to do so again.

Various features of the old theme, such as the daily quotes… I’ll get to those as I can. The site is more or less back to square one.

Good reporting

Describing it, Christensen began to cry, wringing the stuffed animal in her hands. “What’s wrong with me?” she said, more to herself than to me. “I have nightmares of being trapped underneath a trailer with body parts falling on me.'” Her body heaved with sobs as she continued: “Once when my kids were sleeping with me, I woke up suddenly, thinking it was an Iraqi person, and I almost tossed my kid across the room.'”

From the best article I’ve seen in the Times in a long time.

Ignatius to the Romans

Studying Greek this semester, my tutor (who is very generous with his time) and I have worked through 1 Thessalonians, the oldest Christian text known, in great detail.
I have once again requested a brief detour from our usual march through the various gospels, however, to look at Ignatius’s epistle to the Romans. I have mentioned IER (as I will call it for purposes of brevity) before on these pages; it has a different, more striking tone than the other six epistles of Ignatius, and I particularly want to translate some of the food metaphors that keep cropping up. When we’re done (which shouldn’t be terribly long, as I’m getting faster) I might post what we came up with and a popular translation side by side.

Today we poked through some of it, and it became clear quickly that 1) there are two very different versions of the Greek text, the shorter and messier of the two being the one used in the Loeb and the Louth translation I have – there is a new one by Erdman, apparently, that I’d like to get for contrast, and 2) Ignatius likes compound words and metaphors, a preference that is not always visible in the translation. There are completely different idioms and formalizations going on that what I�m used to from the NT. Lots of good brain exercise, though.

Scotland Ascendant

In EU3 I have returned of late to the problem of Scotland – namely, how does Scotland, in 1453, break out of a poor starting position and overcome England. I am happy to report that I have figured it out. I even wrote a Scotland guide for the EU3 wiki. The game I wrote that guide from is now at about 1590, with all the modern-day British Isles, France, Belgium, Netherlands, chunks of Germany and northern Italy, nearly all of the U.S. east of the Mississippi, California, Mexico, and Peru/Chile under Scots control.

The key to success in the game as far as I can tell is judicious management of peace negotiations and the BadBoy limit. The BB is a value with a cap of 30 (extended by as much as +8 by the skill of your current ruler) that represents how hated your nation is by the world. If it goes over the limit, then you will be mired in near-constant war until it drops – and it drops very, very slowly (althrough faster with a good leader and control of the papacy), at most by 1 a year in ideal circumstances. You acquire BB mainly by being declaring unprovoked wars and annexing large areas of territory.

One way to avoid BB, while still being aggressive, is by vassalizing nations that you have beaten in wars instead of demanding territory from them or annexing them completely. Vassalization does three things – 1) they can’t declare war on you 2) they give you half their income and 3) other nations are reluctant to fight them, preferring to fight you – their controller – instead. So making a country a vassal effectively freezes them in place. They cannot expand or contract. This is useful for making ’safe’ borders. Also, after 10 years, if you get relations with a vassal to a very high level, you can annex them completely for a much reduced BB hit.

I mention this because in this Scottish game, France did something very peculiar. Around 1460 or so, it inherited the throne of Lithuania. Now in the 15th century, Lithuania was bigger than modern-day Poland – so this unbalanced the status quo quite a bit. I didn’t really notice it right away, and when I did, I decided to keep going, figuring I’d deal with it as it came up.

In 1590, Lithuania has become a major problem. I vassalized France much earler – before 1500 – but I realized, too slowly, that to annex France, I would also have to annex Lithuania, which, adding France’s colonies, would push my BB over 60 in the best scenario.

My solution was to revoke France’s vassalization and continue warring with them – but this has created a very strange-looking map. Namely, I cannot take Ile-de-France, the French capital province of modern-day Paris. Why? Because no matter if I occupy EVERY French province in western Europe and the Americas (which I do in every war with them) France still has Lithuania. Right now Ile-de-France is surrounded, 2-3 provinces deep, by Scottish lands. I can occupy it at will. But the game does not allow you to seize a enemy capital unless they have no other provinces left or you occupy all of them (which would lead to a huge BB hit, as you must annex all of them simultaniously).

In other words, until I formally take every single bit of Lithuania, I can’t take Paris – and the BB hit for taking Lithuania is too much, leaving a Catch-22. I also don’t want Lithuania. My only hope is for someone – Austria, hopefully – to go to war with France and take those lands, leaving the French court without any muscle. The presence of a powerful French-controlled Lithuania for the last 100 years, though, has weakened her Eastern neighbors. Only Austria is in a position to do much, and as it refuses to ally with me (which makes sense, as I’m preventing its westward expansion) there is no way to trick it into attacking France. Sigh.

I could just deal with the BB wars. I’m considering, once I hit 1600, to do just that and let the chips fall where they may. Only Portugal is a threat to my overseas empire, and no one has unified Germany – I might be able to hold them all off. It would make a great story, which is why I like this game in the first place.

Losing

This article on Slate is pretty good. I was thinking about the last of the four assumptions it lists the other day, while working through my Greek flashcards. We have lost the war – well, lost the occupation, let’s say. And normally, when one loses a war, the winner sues for peace (which, in a guerilla war like this one, doesn’t happen) or the loser withdraws from the field. The last has obviously not occurred. More and more troops get thrown in the maw. We are just sitting in an endless stalemate with heavy attrition. If we didn’t have such a high investement in winning – in dispelling the ghosts of Vietnam or whatever – at “victory,” if such a thing could be wrested from Iraq, which depesrately needs to be partitioned, diversity be damned – then something good might be possible.

What the article doesn’t say, or at least explicitly, is that Obama and McCain are both in a position where they could say these things out loud and get away with it. Obama has apparently limitless youth and charisma to spend. McCain has war hero status. Their shuffling around is embarrassing. Politically astute – they know the war will not end while Bush is still in office, no matter what anyone says – but shameful nonetheless.

Five questions

idonotlikepeas has asked me five questions.

1. What’s the single best video game ending you can think of, and why?

I addressed this topic before, but I didn’t pick a favorite. Probably Fallout, as it plays off of one of my favorite films. It has that epic feel. “And the road warrior? That was the last we saw of him… he exists now, only in my memories.” Now if that had actually been the last we saw of Mel Gibson, it would have been perfect.

Oh – video game endings, not computer games. Well, I remember being quite emotional when I beat Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out on the NES.

2. When’s the next book? Come on.

At this rate the next book will probably be scholarly. I’ve worked on them, there are chapters of at least three books around here, but none is close to done. There’s the sequel to EJ, one about vigilantes that is probably further along than anything else, and a linked-together set of post-apocalyptic short stories.

It would take a three-month-long writing retreat, preferably on a mountaintop, to finish any of them off. Getting a Ph.D is a serious time drain. The next book will, fortunately or unfortunately, be the dissertation. So it’s probably going to be my mid-30’s before I can send out another book. I’m not happy with this but I don’t see another way around it. The writing will be better, though, for the wait.

3. If you had to give up one thing that you loved, what would it be?

My diet. In particular, Coke. There is nothing better tasting that a cold Coke in a glass bottle. But it seems to be the one thing I love that I could do without and live longer as a result. I could also, probably, do away with red meat. But it seems every week or so I manage to eat a burger or a steak, despite not having any red meat at home. I strongly associate any red meat with luxury, I think – a steak in particular was always a huge deal when I was growing up, and still is – and Cokes with relaxation. Letting go of these simple pleasures is quite difficult. I have a lot of sympathy for smokers that can’t quit. It would be a major blow to never drink a Coke or eat a steak again.

4. Students – threat or menace?

What’s the difference between a threat and a menace, exactly? Menace suggests to me an ongoing if somewhat trivial worry; a threat is short-term but more dangerous and immediate. So I’d have to pick menace. They don’t have many hitpoints, and if you stay off campus, they’re harmless. They’re sort of like the cliff racers in Morrowind. Good for archery or hand-to-hand practice, but after awhile, you realize they’re not going to stop coming. Ever.

5. Which would be worse: justice or oblivion?

Oblivion. No contest. Oblivion is as bad as it gets. Remember the back cover of those old Amber paperbacks? “Treason, treachery… and oblivion!” Which is about the same as saying, “A mild cold, a toothache… and oblivion!”� or “A paper cut, a cold sore… and being cut apart by a wood chipper!” Never expect scale from a back cover blurb. “The greatest book of the century… and of all time… and in the known universe… and in any combination of intersecting and parallel universes… including universes Hawking hasn’t thought of while getting up in the morning… (author’s name)’s best yet!”