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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

11:28 PM - Skeeter Wars

The Major Malaysian Issue du jour is a major outbreak of dengue that's approaching epidemic proportions. The authorities are justified in setting off alarm bells since there have been 752 cases of dengue fever nationwide in the last week alone.

My state has the dubious honour of having recorded the highest number of cases as well as the highest number of fatalities in the country. Strangely enough, my district is not noted as having any cases. This is strange because the local health authorities were regularly fogging my area as recently as a month ago and they only do that when a case has been announced.

This used to exasperate me to no end since it was not clear to me what the fogging was meant to achieve. If cases continued to occur even with the fogging, what use was it? Today's reports confirm what I've been suspecting: the fogging is ineffectual because the mosquitoes have become resistant to it. The authorities have decided to change tactics and will now be using a biological control larvicidal that targets mosquito larvae only. I guess time will tell whether it works.

Still, we've got to view this in the proper perspective. Dengue fever has claimed 70 lives this year. In that same amount of time, almost 3,000 Malaysian lives have been lost in road accidents.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

11:07 PM - Elsewhere on the web

Guild Wars hits one million.
The game's success is well-deserved. I've been delighted by the way the developers have continually streamlined gameplay to make the game more accessible to casual gamers. The expansion can't come soon enough for me.

Sony CEO's restructuring plan.
"We must be like the Russians defending Moscow against Napoleon, ready to scorch earth, to stay ahead of the invaders ... We must be Sony united and fight like Sony warriors." He later added the key to victory would be "Down, Left, Right, Up, Up, Square button, Triangle button, Circle button."

Generic WW2 FPS generator. [via]

Kamen Rider Hibiki 32 torrent released.
Unsubbed. The episode features the ED singer, Fuse Akira, as a serial spanker.

Mind your Os and Ps.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

7:37 PM - Car Robo

Check out this Sony ad from last Friday's edition of the Star:

Ultimate Power Machine

It's clearly inspired by the Binaltech series and specifically, the Subaru Impreza WRC form of Smokescreen.

I'm sure every Transformers fan is naturally eager to discover how they can turn their car into "the ultimate power machine." Would it require advanced technology developed by Earth Defence Command? Perhaps access to the Transformers' personality data via Teletraan-1? A quantum processor perhaps?

Actually, no. Sony proposes getting one of their car stereos.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

12:43 AM - Elsewhere on the web

An entertaining mp3 broadcast with tech and geeky content. The guests include game reviewer Tom Chick and game developer Brad Wardell.

Daisenryaku Portable for PSP.
The Daisenryaku series was the inspiration for SSI's Panzer General so I'm fervently hoping this will be translated.

Otaku: saviours of Japan.
"One private think tank has estimated that Japan's otaku population is about 2.8 million. If only half of them fell in love, the economic effects would be enormous, with dating alone likely to generate about 330 billion yen ... That sum alone would raise the GDP by 0.1 percent. If the otaku ended up getting married, it could also go a long way to solve problems created by Japan's low birthrate and aging society."

"... a crusader for equal rights."

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

12:13 AM - Elsewhere on the web

Artworks Monsters Orphenochs.
The Dragon and Crane Orphenochs from Kamen Rider Faiz are 2604 yen each.

Kamen Rider Hibiki 31 released.
Torrent for the unsubbed episode.

From the "Eh?" files.
"I have some ideas to make computer games more realistic n fundo for gamers...it's for character based games...if we can use player actual mental status[highly energetic or dull]into games programming, it will be more realistic.I am working on some device which can measure this data n give output in digital format."

Taiko no Tatsujin guide.
Some tips for the non-Japanese gamer.

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12:13 AM - Densha Otoko

I've only watched two episodes of Densha Otoko (Train Man) but each episode of the hit J-dorama has been highly enjoyable. The series follows the unlikely romance between a stereotypical otaku and a beautiful woman he meets on a train. The hapless otaku (a Chris Pirillo lookalike) gets courage and advice from an online BBS he participates in and as he takes little steps to woo the woman of his dreams, the rest of the BBS gain the courage to change their own lives in little meaningful ways.

The series, based on a true story which played itself out on the Japanese BBS board, 2ch, is by turns sidesplittingly funny and tears-in-your-eyes moving. It's pretty much an enjoyable Cinderella tale for the geek set. Get the subbed episodes here.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

12:38 AM - High Score!

"Humankind has gamed throughout its history. Whether we look at the dice and primitive board games from King Tut's tomb or the graffiti representing game boards used by waiting patricians in the Roman forums, peole have left artifacts indicating play as part of their legacy." -- High Score! Prologue.

Any book that attempts to recount the history of an industry, its hitmakers and its successes will understandably opt for breadth rather than depth. The electronic games industry may only be a few decades old but there's still too much for one book to cover to everyone's satisfaction.

Rusel DeMaria and Johnny L. Wilson, the authors of "High Score! the Illustrated History of Electronic Games," acknowledge this in their introduction to their book. The 392-page book is billed the ultimate history of electronic games on the back cover but it falls well short of that boast. Fans of specific titles or platforms will find plenty to rant about since a lot has been omitted or cursorily described.

The book concentrates on the US gaming scene with perhaps a slight emphasis on computer gaming. This wouldn't come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the authors. DeMaria is known for his PC game guides while Wilson spent 18 years at Computer Gaming World magazine.

Although both the Japanese and UK gaming scenes get an appendix each, both aren't very well covered. Perhaps this is for the best. I'm not sure the authors, who might qualify for senior citizen discounts by now, would be authoritative voices on the Nintendo oeuvre, for instance. (Wilson, for one, has admitted elsewhere he hates twitchy games.) To their credit, the authors themselves recognise their own lack of authority in some areas. The section on handhelds, for instance, was written with the help of Rik Morgan of the Handheld Game Museum.

The book has been patched and upgraded to a new edition but appropriately enough given the current state of the gaming industry, bugs still remain. "Mark Hamil" is a typo I found on my first browse through and elsewhere, the origin of the name of "Donkey Kong" is recounted twice in the book and it differs each time. From page 82:

The name Donkey Kong was Miyamoto's best dictionary-aided attempt at creating an English title meaning "stubborn gorilla."

But on page 238, Miyamoto recounts:

As for the name, I just wanted to create an English name meaning "silly gorilla." As I consulted my dictionary, there was the word "donkey" for "silly." Since apes were often called "kong" in Japan back then, I mixed them together.

The anecdotes are the best thing about the book and it's likely gamers will learn something new about their favourite games of yesteryear. I was surprised to find out one of my all-time favourite PC games, Panzer General, was somewhat inspired by a Sega Genesis game from Japan.

Another interesting anecdote was about the first known controversy over electronic game content. In 1976, Exidy released an arcade game called Death Race which required players to mow down zombies. Gamers will not be surprised to learn that this resulted in a furor and mass media coverage.

(Two decades later, the developers of Carmageddon, in order to deflect criticism, would have to reskin their graphics so that players would mow down zombies instead of humans.)

High Score! is filled with graphics and photos making it a delight to simply flip through. Photos abound and among the most notable is one of a priest with an Activision patch sewed on his robes. Print ads from early videogame industry days have also been reproduced with EA's classy "Can a Computer Make You Cry?" ad standing out. (For better or worse, a certain infamous Daikatana ad was omitted.)

The games themselves are represented visually by photos of the covers and and a screenshot or two but I find them insufficient. I've not played most of the games documented in the book and it's unlikely I'll ever have the opportunity to do so. I do wish someone would archive gameplay videos of the classic games and compile it on a DVD. An AVI or MPEG movie would do a whole lot more to convey the look and feel of a game than some brief text, a screenshot and a photo of the box cover. There's something seriously wrong in the gaming world when there are dozens of gameplay videos of the PSP's Smart Bomb (which, from all accounts, lives up to half of its name) and none of the classic M.U.L.E.

The book is at its best when it's discussing the early gaming years and at its weakest during the recent years. (The Playstation 2 coverage is limited to three whole sentences and a bunch of screenshots.) This is perhaps understandable since we've got a lot of web sites that document recent gaming history in voluminous detail. I just wish DeMaria and Wilson had chosen to concentrate on the computer gaming scene since they seem the most enthusiastic in that area.

For all its shortcomings, however, this is a fantastic work that is worthy of the coffee table of any gamer. I paid about USD21 for the 2nd edition and would gladly buy an updated edition if and when it's released.

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12:38 AM - Bugged

From the Infinite Interactive web site:

A community Mod team has created a UNOFFICIAL patch to fix several problems with balance and bugs. This replaces the 1.04 patch from Infinite Interactive. Due to time constraints, they won't be able to finish working on the 1.04 patch, but instead have given what they have already done to the mod team, and has been included in the 1.03.1 patch.

I'll give Infinite Interactive credit for releasing the patch code to the community but I doubt I'll be buying any products from them in the future. Any company that fails to fix its own problems is not going to get my money.

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12:37 AM - Elsewhere on the web

Beyblade hits India.
Takara will resume manufacturing them in order to take advantage of demand in the country.

Kamen Rider Hibiki episode 29 out.
Torrent for the unsubbed episode.

Defending your machine. [via]
Most of these tips ought to be familiar but it's a good compilation of useful links.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

2:00 AM - Elsewhere on the web

555 in Malaysia?
If Kaman Rider Faiz hits Singapore, it's a sure bet both the series and toy line will make it here. It will be nice to pick up the S-RHF series of figures at retail prices.

Thirtysomethings on Live.
"Almost everyone five years older than me doesn't really 'get' video games and has little interest in playing them." Somebody's hanging with the wrong crowd. One of my most enjoyable Guild Wars sessions was with a 56-year-old and another player who had to take breaks to take care of his kids.

PSP's Taiko no Tatsujin released. [via]
I've put it on my Must Get list.

Tetsuya Mizuguchi IRC chat. [via]
Q Entertainment is trying out some new ideas for the Lumines sequel.

The origin of the football term "nutmeg."

Behind the Name. [via]
I usually go with anagrams of my own name for my characters but this will come in handy.

Native American tech superiority. [via]
"Indian longbows were fearsomely fast and precise--'far better than the average musket of the Plymouth colonists in rapidity and accuracy of fire.'"

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

12:53 AM - Monsters inside us

"... although this book contains much that is exceptionally dark, the message is not one of simple pessimism. We need to look hard and clearly at some monsters inside us. But this is part of the project of caging and taming them." - Jonathan Glover.

Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century by Jonathan Glover is an ethical look at inhumanity in war ("a bad taste business") and tyranny in "peace." Ten-years in the making, it's a selective look at 20th century history in terms of morality. It's a tough read in many ways and there were many occasions when I had to simply put down the book and would often find myself pacing back and forth thinking about what I had just read.

Perhaps, like me, you would be hard-pressed to distinguish moral resources from moral identity but Glover goes through his ethicist's vocabulary mindful of the fact Joe Q Public would be picking up this book.

(He's one of those rare academics capable of communicating their ideas effectively to the general public. At the other end of the spectrum, you have Heidegger whose impenetrable prose about Being is comically highlighted in this book.)

The author walks us through some of the more horrific moments of the last century. The Great War, the Big One, My Lai, Nazi Germany, the Bosnian War, Rwanda, Stalin's regime, Mao's Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot's social engineering in Cambodia ... it's a greatest hits roundup of man's cruelty to his fellow man.

After reading the stomach-churning descriptions of atrocities in the book, you'd be forgiven for wondering why the book isn't titled Inhumanity.

But even in the midst of the horrific inhumane acts described here, there are striking moments of humanity from people. Consider the heroic actions of Hugh Thompson who stood up to the murderous troops of Charlie Company at My Lai. Consider Anton Schmidt, an Austrian soldier in the Wermarcht who rescued 300 Jews in Poland before he was arrested and executed by the Gestapo.

Readers will no doubt wonder what kind of person they would be in similar situations. Would you be heroic and do the right thing? Would you close your eyes, cover your ears and turn away? Would you go along with it?

Sadly, it appears that most people can be manipulated into either doing these horrific acts or sufficiently cowed into accepting them. The Milgram experiment shows us that the majority defer to authority even when they have misgivings about what they're doing.

The genocides in Rwanda and in the Balkans did not begin as spontaneous eruptions of age-old enmities. As Glover points out, people of different races and creeds lived together peacefully until they were manipulated into hating and killing each other.

The process is chillingly simple. It begins with dehumanising the prospective victim. Step by step, incident by incident, a person can be made to believe a person of a different race or creed is less than human and not worthy of respect or sympathy.

It is scarcely any more difficult to condition a human being to commit the most heinous acts. Euphemisms are used for terrible acts. Slaughter and genocide become less distasteful to the architects when they are termed "ethnic cleansing." Gas chambers are known as "bath houses." A torture chamber is called the "House of Fun."

Actions are justified by considering oneself to be a mere cog in the machine. The scientists building the atomic bomb told themselves they were merely doing their job and left the question of its use to others. The airmen who dropped the bombs felt they were merely following orders. The buck is easily passed and thus no one needs to feel personally responsible.

We'd like to think these things would never happen again. We'd like to think that we live in enlightened times. But despite those determined cries of "never again" these things happen again and again. The same patterns occur. The same psychology is present.

It's oft repeated those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it but those who were responsible for the atrocities described in the book looked to history for antecedents as well. Stalin noted nobody remembered the names of Ivan the Terrible's victims before he signed the death warrants of people he dismissed as riff-raff. The blockade of Germany in the First World War made it easier to justify the raids of Hamburg, Damstadt and Dresden in the Second World War. The bombings of the German cities made it easier to justify the firebombing of Tokyo. The firebombing of Tokyo made it easier to justify Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But there is hope too. Both Kennedy and Krushev looked to history and were reminded of the horrific consequences of the two world wars during the Cuban Missile Crisis and duly acted to prevent a nuclear war. Hugh Thompson recalled the Nazi atrocities as he witnessed the massacre at My Lai and was moved to save villagers.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Indeed, I'd like to see this book in every home and become required reading in every institute of higher learning along with textbooks on critical thinking and bullshit-recognition. Like Steven Pinker, I also harbour the hope that perhaps someday someone who has read this book and taken to heart the lessons therein will help avert some future catastrophe.

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12:52 AM - Elsewhere on the web

Hypersensitivity, anime-style.
4Kids does some colour-editing.

The $35,000 PSP case.
What next? The $50,000 memory stick?

PSP IRC. [via]

For the touch-typing elite. [via]

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Monday, September 05, 2005

10:44 PM - Only human

Who would've thought that a superpower, with all its tremendous capabilities and resources, could screw up so monumentally and gravely that it would leave its own citizens in this desperate state?


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10:44 PM - Elsewhere on the web

Paper Optimus Prime.
And the cardboard personality jokes begin ...

An uncommon use of Disk Animals.

New Tomy a.k.a Takara Tomy.
It's mostly business-related with annoying PR double-speak (e.g. "selective destruction") but it's good to see the new company is repeatedly emphasising its focus on toys.

R. Lee Ermey motivational figure. [via]
Ladies and gentlemen, the anti-Anthony Robbins: "You better give me motivation right now scumbag or I'll rip off your head and take a giant sh*t down your neck."

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