Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Complex Respect for a Power Figure in Iran

NThe Lede Blog of often has some really fascinating material on current events in Iran. Yesterday's post was about senior opposition cleric Grand Ayatollah Youssef Sanei and his recent troubles with the Iranian government. I'm very interested in Sanei and what he represents. According to this Witness Online documentary (link provided by The Lede), the Ayatollah considers himself a "modern" religious practioner who follows the news and works to adapt Islamic teachings to the contemporary world.

In addition to a daily sermon, Sanei runs a website and telephone hotline for people to call in and get religious advice on a variety of matters. He condones abortion under certain medical circumstances, denounces suicide bombings, and encourages all people to ensure their cars. Sanei quickly breaks the western stereotype of the Khomeni-esque Iranian cleric; the firebrand social conservative.

As an atheist I am generally uncomfortable with religious figures, even those with whom I agree, holding a place of great social authority. Religion has a tremendous ability to unite people and encourage moral behavior, but simultaneously it is capable of retaining practitioners in the moral world of millenia ago. "Thou shall not murder"remains just as valid as ever, but there's a passage or two in Leviticus that needs updating, and I want my representatives in government to know that.

Yet I find myself less worried about this Iranian cleric who, in the youtube video above, denounces suicide bombers and the nuclear bomb in more or less secular terms.

Sanei on nuclear weapons:

"Nuclear bombs destroy heaven and earth.... What is the sin of the plants? the unborn children? the environment which belongs to all humantiy? The nuclear bomb destroys everything, so we are not allowed to use it even in defense of ourselves. You have to attack the enemy, but the innocent people? So using the nuclear bomb, which is a blind weapon, is forbidden in Islam."
On sucicide attacks:

"Suicide bombing is a crime and a sin. That's two - resulting in the killing of innocent people. Suicide bombing is against Islam, against common sense, and human dignity. What al Qaeda and the Taliban are doing is a sin - it's against basic human principles."
I can get behind this. His denunciation of these forms of violence include quite a few mentions of "sin" and "Islam", but his exortations against attacking the innocent, against using blind weapons - are arguments that all people, including atheists, could discuss and find valid.

I find Ayatollah Sanei interesting for the same reason I find the Pope interesting, or the Dalai Lama. I find myself having great respect for this moral figure, who tells men that they shouldn't worry about shaving their beard and applies scrutiny to his own behavior such that he wont reveal which newspapers he reads in the morning for fear of endorsing one over the other. I may not be comfortable with the concept of religious authorities, but I appreciate good men and women where they are found.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Holes in Space-time, and Piracy

First, the fun stuff. Two new comics! As usual, click on the images to full screen.

Second, I thought I'd publish a forum conversation I started on The Pirate Bay. Those of you who know me know that media piracy is a favorite topic of mine. Let me know what you think.
Explain to me something about the ethics of piracy.
Hey folks. I just got finished watching "Steal this Film" and thought I'd come over to talk to the stars of the show about something bugging me. This started out as a quick question and became something of a rant/question, so if you aren't interested in reading a wall of text feel free to escape now.

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say that I do use the Pirate Bay. I visited the site last week to download the install disc to Civilization IV, a game that I had bought years back but lost the CD for. That generally is the way that I operate with torrenting - I download something for which I already have a physical, legal copy.

That being said, I feel unconvinced by some of the arguments in support of file sharing. I'm not talking about the legality of the Pirate Bay - the fact that I'm writing on these forums now proves that the PB servers exist in a legal grey area, at least for now. I'm talking about the morality of file sharing, especially when it comes to piracy. I'm hoping you fine folks will be able to clear something up for me.

To my mind there are two concepts of file sharing. One is about the idea of a culture of sharing music, and the other is about a culture of downloading files nobody ever intended to be shared. I'm all for the first one, but the second I can't help but think is wrong.

I'm happy when I hear the people on this forum talk about a culture of file sharing. It's a beautiful concept. As someone who publishes music online for free and runs a webcomic, I'm happy to share my media with people all over the world. The operative word here, of course, is "share". The people who are pissed off at Pirate Bay aren't the people who chose to give away their music, they are the people who plan to sell their music for profit.

I've read a lot of arguments on this forum about how the music industry loses less money than they claim to lose, or that Hollywood pulls on strings to get Washington to enforce copyright laws, or that musicians make most of their money on tours, or that the music industry will survive file sharing just as it survived the gramophone. These arguments could be completely true and wouldn't make stealing media justified in my mind. To me these sort of arguments just go to how unpopular the big corporations are... to make the argument that the people who own the music industry are bad, therefore stealing their music must be good. That's a moral fallacy. Even exploitive rich people have rights, and it diminishes us as a people to ignore that.

The real heart of the matter is this: the people who create media do so in order to sell it and make money. We may resent how much they charge for their product, or the DRM that they slap onto it, but ultimately we have two moral reactions to their choice: to pay for the product and use it, or not to pay and not to use it. Spin it any way you like, but the third option, to not pay for media and to download it anyway, just amounts to theft.

Clearly some of you folks disagree, and I'm sure you feel moral about this decision. So I'm interested - why it is not theft to torrent something that one hasn't paid for? Why is media ok to steal when jewelery or TVs or clothes are wrong to steal?

Perhaps its something to do with what that one fellow in the beginning of "Steal this Film" was talking about - that ideas are free and not material objects? Pshaw, I say. The film showed an awful lot of the Matrix - did they forget the scenes when Morpheus about "what is real"? The Matrix was real even though it didn't "exist" in the real world because one could sense it, feel it when one was plugged in. Music is the same. In my life I will never be able to "touch" the music that touches me, but I don't assume that the rules surrounding it and all other products are different. Pirates talk about a new era of thinking, but I can't help but find it backwards to argue that the incoporeality of music removes it from equations of just conduct.

Maybe at the end of the day I just get irritated that people rail against big evil Hollywood while in the same breath torrenting the biggest block busters. For a whole bunch of pirates, the Pirate Bay isn't about ideology, its about cheap movies. There's really nothing too impressive about that.

I hope I've made a fair point. I'd be interested in hearing your perspectives.
I feel pretty at odds with my generation on this topic. Hopefully either I or the rest of you guys will come around. I'm too young to be a cantankerous, contrary old man!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Search for Renown

A new Repiphany! strip: The Search for Renown

Full Sized Image Here.
(Please hit the link - Last week I made it to the top #300 of #13,000 on my host's website!)

It's fascinating to watch this comic evolve as time goes by. Looking back its clear - at least for me - where my big influences lie... how strips like Calvin and Hobbes, Penny Arcade, and xkcd have shaped my own particular brand of panel humor. My work is my own, obviously, and on my best day I am nowhere NEAR the genius of people like Bill Watterson, but it is interesting to see how, consciously or unconsciously, I've tried to adopt things I've liked about these strips into my own endeavor.

One influence I've definitely noticed is the way that I've shaped punchlines. At least in newspaper comics, multi-panel strips usually follow a basic formula. Each panel essentially serves as a build up to the final image wherein the joke is told, and aren't necessarily funny in and of themselves.

Online you'll often see something very different. Penny Arcade strips, for example, often follow a very different comic structure. Most of the time the strip just flows like a funny conversation between two people, (Which in fact it is - take a listen to their podcast and you'll see this is exactly how it the strip gets written!)and each panel is a joke in and of itself. So the final image ends up not being the place where THE joke of the strip is told, but an especially silly or crazy panel that ends off the strip.

Anyway, I've often caught myself following the latter structure. Today's strip, perhaps not so much, but check out #18 on nanotech and you'll see what I mean. I can also see myself trying to capture what's funny about xkcd or touching about Calvin and Hobbes. Success is not always mine, but it is the journey, after all, and not the destination that must provide satisfaction. It's good to learn from heroes.

And one of these days, I'm going to have to figure out the main characters name.



Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Descent into Musical Ridiculousness!

Here are three crazy songs that prove I have far too much free time.

Na Na Na features a capella fun:

Strange loops is a downward spiral of silliness.

Project 6 - aptly named - is the sixth such project on my machine. Originally there were going to be lyrics, but I decided not to feature them.

Needless to say I am tremendously proud of them all.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dynamic Architecture Comic

Here is the new Repiphany! page:

See what I've done here? I've taken the building of the future and turned it into a phallus joke! Mother would be proud.

I am learning that putting a lot of detail into your comic takes a LONG TIME. I've either got to revert to my old, simple format, or just do the drawing over multiple days. This 3-hour comic is not going to fly.
Dynamic architecture is actually an idea, by the way. YouTube the phrase and you'll see what I mean. check out this link, too, very fascinating.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Enlightenment, Eventually

A new Repiphany! comic:

The full-sized page can be found here.

Sad to say, but this actually happened to me. I bought a ticket to see the Dalai Lama two months ago and marked it on my calendar... Then completely forgot there were 30 days in April instead of 31.

No inner peace for me! But check out this link from a 2007 Dalai Lama lecture that I imagine was much like this year:

I have 2 other comics already sketched up! There should be a shorter break between this update and the next.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Sympathy for "Fence Sitters"

I had something of a revelation today.

A question World English Literature final exam today asked me what I thought "should" be done about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Attached to the essay was a brief editorial written by John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. In it, Bolton argued (correctly, as far as I understand international law) that action through the International Criminal Court is an tremendously poor way to bring Sudanese President Bashir to justice and to save the Darfuris, because such action is outside the scope of it's mandate. Suffice it to say that the I.C.C. does not have to power to indite members who are not signatory to its treaty, and rather than violate international law and state sovereignty, the world should seek to empower the Sudanese themselves to deal with Bashir.

This seemed to me, as I first started writing my response, to be a somewhat callous solution to the problem. Anyone who has heard or seen anything of the brutal, mass killing of the Darfuris in the west of Sudan know that nothing short of full-scale military intervention can prevent the janjeweed - backed by the Sudanese army - from slaughtering every single indigenous African darfuri down to the last burned village. To "respect state sovereignty" in this matter essentially amounts to sacrificing the Darfuris to their fate... another genocide in Africa to hang around the world community's shoulders.

But as I weighed the alternative option of armed intervention, I realized that the alternative that it represented casts shadows equally as dark. Violating international law, even to bring an evil man to justice and save a desperate people, sets a dangerous precedent in international law. Wasn't this how President Bush justified the Iraq war after it had been made clear that there were no weapons of mass destruction to be found? Doesn't the continual disregard for international codes of conduct and state sovereignty weaken and destroy central pillar supporting our world institutions in the first place? If they fail, the undeniable truth is that many more people whom the U.N. protects and helps will also suffer, the Darfuris not the least of all.

It looks as though the crisis in Darfur is one of the "dirty hands" scenarios that my philosophy professor warned me about - one in which those in power must make a decision that invariably lays some sort of moral responsibility at their feet.

Is justice truly justice if adherence to law means that bad men go free and good people die? Is breaking the law justified if the protection granted by the rule of law is dissipated? To say that international law is flawed doesn't do much to help find an answer to the problem. The law has already failed - it must be revised, but that is a question for tomorrow. Today's question must be answered first.

As I wrote in my paper, the daily struggle of a government major is to avoid becoming one of Ayn Rand's hated "Fence Sitters" - people who are unable to make a bad decision and end up paralyzed, unable to make any meaningful choice whatsoever. Seeing all sides of an issue is one thing. Making a decision at the end of the day is quite another. Ultimately we must choose, because apathy is a choice far worse than either alternative. I feel more sympathy for Bush now, and really, for any government figure that is forced to make such a terrible decision. Perhaps that is the fundamental aspect of international relations - Obama certainly says that few decisions that make it to his desk are easy ones.

I penned in my conclusion that, since we must choose, perhaps we choose the answer that seems to help the most people, the soonest. If only to sleep better at night, we should make the choice that allows these poor victims of atrocity to survive the day. I think I might rest easier with my humanity intact, knowing that I had made a decision to help real people, now, in front of me, rather than theoretical people over the next hill.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Shrinking Cell Phones and Web-Lectures

First of all, a new Repiphany! page is up. Here is the comic for your viewing pleasure.

As usual, click here for the full-size.

The cool thing is I believe that vocal-chord phones are really on their way. My nanotech course has been worth-while, if only because it's helped me to discover what can be done on the tiniest of tiny scales. The time is not too distant when our phones and music players are literally a part of our bodies. Think of what the social consequences of that would be! Constant connection to the outside world. An end to texting? Never having to buy earbuds again.

It's a scary thought, but hey, it's the next step. The light bulb probably freaked a lot of people out in Edison's time, too.

Speaking of scary thoughts thoughts, check out TED. It's a video lecture website featuring a host of speakers from Richard Dawkins to Anna Deavere Smith. For about 20 minutes each, speakers provide their thoughts on issues from the American character, to believing in crazy things, to UFOs, to the faulty wiring in our brains. So far every talk I've listened to has been engaging, and many of them have been genuinely funny! Thank you to Roman for this treat.

Also, read JFK's Commencement Address and American University on June 10th, 1963. I don't think I've ever read a more eloquent speach advocating for peace.

Best of Luck!


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Derek's Epic Audiocast - Episode #01

Because Blogging and Twitter just aren't cutting it in my efforts to get Google searches to pay attention to me, I've decided to create a webcast. In Episode 1 of Derek's Epic Audiocast (cue trumpets) I talk about my attempts to meld two songs together that have each been looping around in my head. After experimenting a bit, I came up with something that I think is halfway decent. Take a listen!

Let me know what you think. The two songs that I mixed are Zero 7's "Simple Things" and Little People's "Above the Clouds."

After this experience, I think it'd be fun to do a podcast with a few friends. Anyone want to form a group to talk about politics for half an hour or so? Drop me a comment.

This is why indie games are cool.

Check out this video. Apparently 3d is breaking into the indie scene as well. It's a simple concept that seems to be a lot of fun.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Indie Games meet Global Politics

I'm always surprised when my two biggest interests, international conflict resolution and video games, collide. Usually the result is some sort of World War 2 first-person-shooter, which is fun but generally fails to actually, you know, promote international conflict resolution.

I've just ran across an independent game that seems to take a different take on the idea. It's called Storytron: Balance of Power in the 21st century. In it, you play an American leader following 9-11 trying to set the world right.

Being a hippie who hates America and who bathes in flowers, I immediately set about trying to improve America's relations with the Middle East. As a first step, I humbly asked Israel to recognize Palestine and to remove its settlements in the West Bank. Imagine my shock when Israel refused, even after I went and brought the EU to the table, and India. Even after I offered some trade agreements and some moderate political prodding, my efforts to promote a just world were rebuffed.

So, just to see what would happen, I clicked the "nuke Israel" button.

I quickly learned that it is a bad idea to nuke Israel. My international standing dropped like a rock. I was uniformly condemned by my European allies, who rallied behind - get this - Kim Jung Il of North Korea to pass a censure vote against America in the United Nations. On the plus side, however, what was left of Israel did end up recognizing Palestine. I decided to retire in infamy and lick my wounds on the political sidelines. To the right is my ending scorecard, with American power in the world ultimately dropping slightly, and American credibility in the world non-existent. I wonder if this is how Bush felt leaving office...

I had a bit of fun with this game putting my political ideology to the test. If anything this game has definitely illustrated that the non-violent course of action is a very difficult one. I plan to try a few more times and see if I can't do it all right.

In all seriousness - I would never accept a nuclear option in real life - I think this game presents some interesting opportunities to challenge our beloved mindsets. Everyone who has an opinion about how we should have handled the world following 9/11, please check out the link above.

On a side note, I can't help but underline how important it is that it was a game that caused me to think about my own ideology. Games aren't just Super Mario Brothers, folks... they sometimes present complex and difficult themes, in ways that simple stories or movies can't. I've been mining the Indie Game scene, and I can say for absolute certain that games like these are not uncommon phenomena. They're out there, and they deserve recognition.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Onlive - Truly Astounding Games Evolution

I've been paying attention to the Games Developers Conference that's been going on this week in California, and some really innovative stuff is landing. By far the biggest splash I've seen was generated by OnLive, an online web service that allows one to play video games over the internet. The astounding thing about this service is that the games one plays aren't simply flash games - mainly 2d concepts that run in a tiny window of the screen - nor is one downloading a massive, high tech title that runs only poorly on an entry-level computer. At the risk of sounding like an advertisement, OnLive is an amazing work of technology because it allows the user to play any title made available to it, from the Xbox360, the PC, the Playstation 3 - at full graphics quality, by streaming it over the internet.

Take a look at this GDC expo. It's a little long, but the first few minutes hit the major key points.

The interesting thing about this is that it lowers the bar of who can play high-end videogames. An interesting example of this is the game Crisis, a game that many view to be a benchmark for gaming rigs. Designed several years ago for games of the future, there are thousand-dollar machines out there now that still must strain to the upmost to play Crisis at its highest settings. Yet OnLive service effectively cuts that $2000 pricetag down to the cost of a its own subscription fee and the cost of high-speed cable. Sitting at my entry-level laptop from two years ago, I can play Crisis at max settings over the internet, at high def, with virtually no latenence issues.

I think this is going to have a dramatic impact on the games market. Game-distribution companies like Gametap have existed for years and have not radically reshaped the way that we play games because the hottest, big-ticket items still cost large amounts of money to play through them, and only run poorly on a low-end rig. OnLive, at least on the surface, offers every game on the interet to be played instantly at max-settings, for the cost of a subscription fee. Even for $60 a month, which is what I pay for games anyway, the advantage of effectively owning every game on the OnLive server is a really, really, big deal. We may be seeing the next iteration of the new age of digital distribution, wherein games are bought and sold purely over the internet, and the death of physical CD boxes.

How exciting! Let's see what happens.

An interview with the developer can be found here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Presidency - Worst Job Ever

The Onion totally got it right - this black man has the worst job in the world. Ted Kopec is insane.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Iran and the US - On the Path to Renewed Relations?

Despite yesterday's New York Times article declaring that "Iran's Supreme Leader Rebuffs Obama", I think there are some encouraging signs that relations between Iran and the US are going to get better.

Throughout his campaign for the Presidency, Barack Obama maintained a unique perspective on what the United State's relations with Iran should be. While many disagreed with President Bush's decision to dub Iran a member of "The Axis of Evil," there were few mainstream politicians who openly advocated the renewal of direct diplomatic negotiations with Iran, which had been terminated after the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979. As a result, Obama's statement that as President he would be open to direct talks with Iranian leaders, without pre-conditions, became debate point during the primary and general campaigns. It was one of the reasons I first became attracted to him as a candidate.

The shift in White House diplomatic rhetoric became apparent not long after his inauguration. Most of the news world was surprised when Obama selected Al Arabiya, an Arabic news station, to conduct his first video interview after the inauguration. When asked about Iran, he maintained the stance of the previous administration in that the United States did not look favorably upon a nuclear weapon-armed Iran, but he also injected a note of conciliatory dialogue.
"Now, the Iranian people are a great people, and Persian civilization is a great civilization. Iran has acted in ways that's not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past -- none of these things have been helpful.

But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress. And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us."

Al Arabiya interview - 26/01/09
A full transcript of the interview can be found here.
This week the White House released a video on the beginning the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, which marks the beginning of spring and the new year. The message heavily emphasized a language of respect for the Iranian history and culture.

Of course, a rhetoric of respect on one side does not mean that the diplomatic issues that have divided the US and Iran are going to somehow resolve themselves. For one thing, Iranian leaders themselves have been fairly reticent in their response to the message. President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khamenei both pointed out in this week that US and US engineered sanctions against Iran remain in place, preventing the trade of many goods that would be extremely beneficial to Iran's economy. Khamenei, before a crowd of ten thousand in the city of Mashaad, declared that “They chant the slogan of change but no change is seen in practice,” and, unless you count the American invitation of Iran to a panel on Afghanistan, he's right. While its rhetoric has shifted substantially, White House policy towards is essentially unchanged in these first few weeks of the Obama Administration.

Then again, this is how things get started.

In his speech Khamenei also addressed the American nation saying, “should you change, our behavior will change, too.” One way to look at this situation is to see it as a mirror of the last 30 years of policy in which each side refused to budge until the other backed down. But I choose to emphasize, with the coming of a new regime, the possibility that United States is on the verge of a paradigm shift. Obama's foreign policy has always projected itself as much more conciliatory than its predecessor's - a magnanimous gesture such as reducing sanctions, or suggesting the establishment of embassies, is very much in keeping with the political image Obama has generated for himself thus far.

Ultimately, I am aware that Obama has yet to radically evolve the way the United States and Iran interact, and I'm conscious that he probably will be unable make a significant change until after the economic crisis at home has been resolved. But, in seeing all the political groundwork-laying work that the Obama administration has performed, I am fairly "hopeful" that there will be an evolution in the way the White House does international relations. Obama has talked the talk - now let's see the "change" he intends to bring to American Foreign Policy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Accepted to GW

I've just received an email from the Elliott School of George Washington University. They've accepted me and offered a fellowship of $6,000 dollars. I am going to grad school!

I'm a little blown away by all this. Washington D.C. is filled with very, very smart people. To get the chance to work and study, with all these big names and minds, IN THE CAPITOL, is an incredible honor. My dream of becoming an international diplomat is one step closer to becoming a reality.

Now I have to figure out how to get there, how to pay for it, and how to leave Boston and all my friends and family behind. Talk about life altering decisions! But I am excited, very excited, and I've never felt more hopeful that somehow I'll actually make a difference in this world.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Technology Curve

Full Size Image Here.

I haven't updated Repiphany! in such a long time! Here is strip #16 - This Will Be Us Someday. I have to credit Jason Potteiger for the inspiration - it comes from deep discussion he and I fell into the other day as to how our generation is adhering to the technology curve. Or rather, from his point of view, how it isn't.

It's an interesting perspective. Most of us young 20-somethings use Facebook on a daily basis, but sometimes it seems as though we're starting to drop off using the new websites as they arrive. Twitter, LinkedIn... I know I don't use them, or really even know what they do. I imagine that as I grow older I'll slide even further into my groove of comfortable products, adopting new technologies every now and then but in no way keeping with the exponential growth of the new market. Flash forward forty years - I see myself trying to bond with my son through a friendly videogame. I gesture at the now-archaic Xbox 360 and he responds with a giggle. I decide to play his games and eventually end up baffled by an immersive reality simulator. Eventually I sigh and exit the world as my laughing son redesigns the laws of physics.

Ah well. I've made plenty of fun of my father for not using Firefox plugins. Getting ridiculed by my future cyborg child sounds like my just reward!

In other news, I mentioned a few posts ago that I've been working on a game idea. I've dubbed the game Project Ascent until I can come up with an appropriate title. As a teaser, here is the sketch that lead to the game idea (click on the image for fullsize). More to follow in the coming weeks as I finish up the story board for Stage One.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I am a world famous videogame programmer! ... of sorts.

How many of you were like me and taught math using a TI-83 graphic calculator? My school required that we all pick oneup in 8th grade (this, says my father, doomed my left brain forever) and supposedly it was going to revolutionize the way that my generation learned about mathematics. As it turns out, all that they really revolutionized was our ability to play games in class- to this day nobody has managed to beat Sean Kennedy's tetris score, which is all he and everyone else played in the first week they were released.
Being the coolest kid in the class I naturally began programing for the calculator. By the time we finished high school I was actually pretty handy with the thing - my teacher-mode application that hid all programs (i.e. games) had become quite popular in some circles. But my true pride and joy was a program which I developed in secret for almost a month. It was an application called Archmage Arena, and it was a text-based brawler in which you faced off against a computer opponent and used a variety of spells to deal damage. Different spells did more or less damage and were more or less likely to hit. It was pretty simple, but I and a few of my friends enjoyed it. After a few weeks of playing it on the bus I ended up posting it on the TI program-sharing website and forgot all about it.
Flash forward to the present - I googled my name yesterday and browsed through my internet existence. Most of them had to do with the other Derek Gildea out there (apparently my doppleganger is a genetist who fights prostate cancer in Sweden) but on the third search page I ran across this link.
It was my old Archmage Program! And what is more shocking, the file seems to have done fairly well for itself in the near-decade since I released it. Apparently it has been downloaded 10,042 times, making it the single most viewed thing I have ever created on the internet. Out of something close to 30,000 programs, Mage Arena ranks 1353 in total downloads, easily within the top 3%. There is even a little blurb of a site review, and although it's just one line, it makes me happy: "No animation, but it's achieved a high rating in our sources."
It's a bit of a shame that I never finished the sequel. A few weeks after I published the first game a friend took my calculator at the bus stop and as a prank deleted everything off of it, including the nearly-complete Archmage 2.0, which featured five levels of difficulty and images of opponents. That one incident was the first and only time I have ever hit someone out of anger. I went to a C++ camp the summer after high school but never took my programming skills any further.
Well, all that is about to change! I'm pleased to announce that I have begun work on a new project - this time for the PC. At present it is still in the design phase, and I'll publish more information soon, but at present let me say that it is a 2d platformer with an emphasis on creative story-telling.
Maybe I'll write a port for the TI-83, though, for old time's sake.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Help Me Fight the Good Fight... Against Cancer

On April 18th, I will be participating in the Relay for Life, an event sponsored by the American Cancer Society in order to raise money to fight cancer. I am a part of the Suffolk University Honors Society team. At 6pm we will begin a walking relay around the BU track course and remain walking for 12 consecutive hours. The idea is to increase awareness for cancer patients in America and raise money to combat the disease.

It would mean a lot to me if I could get your support. Please consider donating $5 to my team. Our goal is to raise at least $1000, and every contribution counts towards completing that goal.

Please click here to donate. Remember, Three Dog would approve.

In other news, I recently met Gwen Ifill, of Washington Week in Review fame. You may know her better as the moderator from the 2004 and 2008 VP debates. She came to Boston yesterday and gave a very interesting lecture about race and politics in the United States. If you haven't seen Washington Week in Review, go there now - you won't find a better program for unbiased news reporting and commentary.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A $1700 dollar error and the most beautiful music ever made

I'm an atheist, which means that I don't believe in any God or gods. Even so, this week's events provide a compelling case that at least the irony gods are alive and kicking! Apparently they operate on a hair trigger, too. Whence came this revelation, you might ask? I have a story for you all.

I am a senior in my last semester at Suffolk University. On Wednesday I came to the realization that I never took a second c1ass in science, which is required to graduate. We are of course now well beyond the add-drop deadline, so I was facing the prospect of having to take summer courses! This would be terrible, not only because I have to work, but because I am applying to graduate schools for the fall. They tend to like their applicants to, you know, actually have graduated from college.

To make a long story short, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences is a queen among women. I came to her with my plight and immeadiately came to the rescue. Her solution? Bend the rules and allow me to enter the only not-yet-full-to-the-brim science course. "Great," say I. "What's the course?"

"Quantum mechanics," says she. "Specifically, Nanomaterials and Energy Problems."


I've been reading Steven Hawking's book, A Brief History of Time. Just the day before, I had mentioned this to my roomate and said something to the effect of, "Thank God I'll never need to understand Quantum Theory!" The Irony Gods must have overheard this, and, since like a fool I didn't knock on wood, swooped down to punish me. I am now well and truly theirs to do with as they will.

So, I am officially enrolled in a Quantum theory course, mid semester. I will need to catch up on six weeks of lectures this weekend to be prepared for our lecture on Monday. To top it off, taking the course has me overenrolled, so the cost will come out to $1734. I have taken a loan out from my parents and will pay it back gradually over the summer.

This easily could be very depressing, but I'm working to be content about it. All the eastern philosophy I've been studying recently counsels that it is a waste of time to devote energy to wishing things were other than they were. This seems very wise. Instead of moping I am focusing on making the choice of being happy, revelling in the positive aspects of the situation. My family loves me and will support me through my errors. I am going to graduate on time. I'm even somewhat interested in the subject - if I never got involved in politics, delving into the nature of the universe through science would be the next best thing.

One other thing to be happy about: MUSIC. I found this incredible artist Zoe Keating that you all absolutely must experience. She is a cellist who creates music through loop patterns, playing one track over another and another to compose incredibly moving, sweeping musical pieces. With the help of a loop pedal, one cello becomes sixteen! I highly recommend checking out Tetrishead, The Legions and Time is Running Out.

It's a simple premise taken to a wonderful level of complexity. I've purchased two of her CDs and have been listening to them all day!

In other news, I presented my Senior Thesis, the Nuclear Policy of a Rational Iran. It was accepted! I think that this means I can graduate summa cum laude, which would make me very happy indeed.

How is everyone else's week treating them? I your week has been as interesting as mine! Odd that "may you living in interesting times" is a curse in Japan.

Peace, all.

Friday, February 20, 2009

New Comic Shadow of the Colossus Speed Run

A new strip went up today!

Full Size version heah.

I am really, truly starting to love illustrator - it's wonderful to have such clean, flowy lines! I'm also very happy about Jesse, who among other things enjoys the occasional game or two. When she suggested without my prompting that we play a round or two of Halo, my jaw literally dropped. To top it off, she even enjoys the West Wing! If I can just coax her into politics and get her to quit smoking (I know better than to actually push on either of those points) I am well on the way to be dating the perfect woman.

Take a look at some videos from the truly talented J. Mitchell, who is something of a legend on the Youtube Shadow of the Colossus Speedrun community. For any of you who have played SotC, you know that taking down a colossus for the first time can require a lengthy committment of time. I personally recall that my first attempt at the final boss, Malus, took almost two full hours! watch how fast Mitchell pulls it off.

So impressive! Don't bother trying to replicate this - it's nearly impossible. Instead, go check out some of the other videos I posted. Even someone who hasn't played the game can appreciate the skill with which these videos are executed.

Speaking of videos, Jesse is coming over tonight. We are getting drunk and watching either Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or Pricess Mononke. Which would you prefer? (Last week we saw Casablanca, and it was fantastic! I reccomend it to anyone who hasn't tried it.)


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Okami, Illustrator, Comic

Man, I'm tired. Last night I installed the Illustrator 10 CD that my father gave to me, and I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning drawing and tweaking the latest Repiphany strip. For those of you who don't know, Illustrator is an Adobe program that allows the user to draw in vectors, instead of pixels. That sometimes results in a few complications - in version 10 there's no eraser tool, for example - but the trade off is that all lines drawn, especially with a WACOM tablet, are smooth and crisp, and heavily customizable. I had no idea how some artists did their work until I sat down and played with this tool. Now I feel like a whole new realm of options is open to me.

Anywho, here's the comic.

As usual, the full scale comic is here!

I'm trying to improve my pacing in these strips. I'm trying to get across that the professor is taking a long, LONG, time to get everything written out, and that the course moves at a snail's pace. (This is definitely a case where art mimics reality, by the way. The Politics of Religion course will destroy me with boredom.) I'm considering editing the strip and changing the sound effects, but after all it may be best to be content and work on the next strip, which I think I'll enjoy.

But enough about boring webcomics! I've recently thrown myself back into the game of Okami and I am rediscovering what it is about the game that makes it so enjoyable. The sound track, first of all, is phenomenal. I've always been a big fan of Japanese movies, especially the old Samurai flicks and traditional themed stories. Okami's music, captures a lot of that old flute, drum, and shamisan vitality.

Obviously the game has great artistic appeal as well - the watercolor themes are lovely to look at. But I don't want to be redundant and revisit all that has been said about the original Okami art sty1e so let me simply say that the detail work in Okami is half of what makes the game fantastic. The flowers that sprout up and die under Ameratsus feet as she runs, the facial expressions of the demon doors as you aproach with an exorcism key, the animations of the various gods as they greet you, the simple, abstract mountains off in the distant blue sky... It's art. It's art, and I defy Mr. Ebert to say otherwise.

That's mighty pretty.

The story strikes me as distinctly japanese as well. That makes up the other half. I enjoy it more that the typical JRPG - something about the translation into English, the semi-european protagonists and villians, and the steam punk knighthood settings of many of today's modern Eastern RPGs satisfies me less than Okami's legend-themed story. Of course it is not accurate to any particular japanese legend, and of course there are modern elements interwoven into the story. But at its heart the game is so distinctly a product of Nippon that I find myself enjoying it in the same way I enjoy the works of Hayao Miyazaki.

Oops, off to the Philosophy Society meeting. We're discussing Hegel today.

Happy... what is today, Tuesday? Happy Tuesday.

(PS: I've decided to ask Jesse to give things another try. Being the great girl that she is, she said yes. She asked me to make a webcomic with her in it as a symbolic gesture, so prepare yourselves!)

Friday, February 13, 2009

More webcomic hilarity!

Hey folks,

I'm currently working on a new strip that I hope you'll all enjoy. It has a different format and a different color scheme, and is a little more serious than my work so far. I plan to post it sometime this weekend, while I'm avoiding the presentation for my Politics and Relgion course. In the meanwhile, I thought I'd post one of the first strips I ever drew with a WACOM tablet. Here I explain (sort of) what Repiphany! would all be about. As you can see I like the idea of breaking down the 4th wall.

A full scale version may be found here.

I think this strip convinced me that I could produce something minimalist and still enjoyable. By the by, I'm contemplating picking up a copy of Adobe Illustrator. Add some vectors to this craziness. Does anyone know where I could find a cheap copy?

Happy Friday. Enjoy President's day. (Lincoln was teh hardcorez)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Yarr! Anti-Piracy Webcomic

Don't worry, I'm not nagging. Today I'm showing off my most recent Repiphany! strip: Anti-Piracy. Its taking a topic that's near and dear to my heart and making it into a joke, which is very soothing.

A full-scale version is available here.

I'm really getting into drawing this webcomic. I get to throw down some ideas that interest me, and its very satisfying to see them coalesce into something funny. Or at least, somethingI think is funny.

Monday, February 9, 2009

This is how I would run an interview

I want to show a webcomic I'm working on. In my free time I work on a little thing called Repiphany! (name subject to change) which features little dudes talking about the things that are usually on my mind: Politics, games, philosophy, livin' life and being happy, etc. The art is nothing special, but I think I'm developing and I'm definitely having fun. You can visit the comic at its domain on, but I'll also be posting various strips on this blog as I progress.

Here's a strip I did in October, before the election. Enjoy!

Any feedback is of course welcome.

Best wishes to you all. I hope everyone had a great weekend. (Me personally, I'm coming to the point where I've got to figure out whether I still want to date the girl I met on my birthday. Good personality and fun, but I'm not sure we'd work out long term. Here's hoping I make a good decision and make sure nobody gets too unhappy as a consequence.)

Let's try that again: I hope everyone had a great weeked!


Friday, February 6, 2009

Piracy - Nag Your Friends!

On a personal note, I'd just like to say that I had a great night last night. Yesterday I handed in my undergraduate thesis - "The Foreign Policy of a Rational Iran," - I went on my first date in 9 months, and had a fantastic evening watching Cirque du Soleil and Pinky and the Brain with a pretty girl. Life, friends, is very good.

But let us now focus upon grimmer topics. Satisfied smiles are lame.

There's recently been quite a lot of contention over the subject of DRM. Folks are quite rightly getting angry by the fact that companies like Microsoft, EA, and Steam are limiting their use of games that they have legitimately purchased. Steam, for example, requires that a player be online in order to run some software. EA made retail-purchased Spore games very difficult to install on multiple machines. These and other instances illustrate a gaming environment that is increasingly limiting to the honest consumer. The honest consumer deserves to be upset.

Here's the caveat, though - we should be pissed off at our peers, not the companies. Let's not forget the purpose of DRM is not to screw over the consumers, but to defend against from piracy. It's a source of shame for me that my generation is so casual with theft - most of my friends pirate music, television programs, and games whenever they find a product that they want but don't wish to pay for. The old chestnut that piracy a "victimless crime" is as false as it is trite; according to Gamespot news, EA sold 700,000 copies of Spore while nearly 2 million copies of the game were torrented online. Every game pirated is quite literally taking money out of the pockets of the people who worked to create our entertainment.

I can't say that I'm entirely innocent of wrongdoing - I'll accept a music CD from a friend and watch the occasional episode of Scrubbs online. But I've recently made a conscious effort not to download expensive products to which I don't own the rights. I sleep better knowing that my dollars are going towards the inustries I want to support.

Voice your concerns to the game businesses. Urge them to create a copy protection system that doesn't harm the people actually supporting their industry. But then, please turn around and tell your friends to shut down the torrent client. Apart from being illegal, it hurts every one of us who are actually playing by the rules.

*end rant.