Thursday, November 30, 2006

Further Wii Thoughts

In the fine tradition of not having much time to digest the news, today's post is relatively unimportant. Still, I've had my Wii for almost 2 weeks now. Wouldn't you like to know more?

So far, I've played 4 games on the Wii: Wii Sports, Super Monkey Ball, Trauma Center, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance. Each one is a good representation of a different genre: The first two exclusively for the Wii and its unique remote (but one made by Nintendo and the other not), a game that was initially for the DS, and a game that is on all of the major consoles.

As I said before, Wii Sports is both fun and easy to play. The motions aren't perfect, but they're pretty easy to pick up and translate pretty well on screen. Monkey Ball, on the other hand, doens't fare as well. Most of the instructions are vague and the controls do not translate well into on-screen actions. It could have been great, but the end result just wasn't too hot.

Trauma Center was a Nintendo DS game, so it was originally designed to be played with the touch screen and stylus. On the Wii, you use the remote controller like a mouse pointer, so the transition is actually quite good. The controls are a little hard to get used to, but once you're comfortable with them it becomes really natural. I imagine that any future translation of a DS game to the Wii should be relatively successful. The only stipulation I would put on that is that if Nintendo just makes a system transfer, they're ripping off the players. If they want people to shell out $50 for a Wii game instead of $30 for a DS game, there had best be some incentive (better graphics, new content, etc.).

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance was a fun game, nearly identical to the X-Men Legends series in game play, just with different characters and story. If you enjoyed those games, you'll enjoy this one. The major difference is playing it on the Wii instead of the traditional console controllers. The controls are slightly different since there are fewer buttons available to the Wii/Nunchuck controller. They attempted to circumvent this by making Wii remote motions control your on-screen attacks, but this ends up being somewhat unnatural and hard to pull off when there's a lot happening on-screen. Still, the control scheme ends up feeling natural after you become accustomed to the difference. Altogether, not a bad transition.

So there you have it. I maintain my previous advice, whenever the stocks of Wiis come back in, you should buy one if you have the chance. It's a great system.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Pope in Turkey

I don't have much to add here. The Pope is in Turkey. I'm hoping things go well.

However, I did see two interesting takes on this. Robert Spencer has his take on the status of Christians in Turkey. On the other hand, Jim Geraghty, currently blogging from Turkey, offers his perspective on things.

Interesting reading, if nothing else.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Blogging Schedule

The next two weeks are going to be, well, hectic. The semester is coming to a close, so I'm going to be working on projects, studying, and doing those other things that grad students do.

I'll post when I can (such as today), but don't be surprised if I only make occasional appearances.

Outbred by Eurabia

I want to have a big family. How big? Well, I always figured I'd start with three kids and see where things went from there. I'm not in any sort of position to be talking about future children for the time being, but that's been my general line of thinking.

Why do I bring this up?

This interesting "discussion" popped up over the weekend. Mark Steyn, an author noted for his pessimism on the direction of Europe in terms of Islam and the War on Terror, has something of a back-and-forth with Ralph Peters on how this is going to affect the growing "Eurabia."

Mark actually discusses this separately in a recent Chicago Sun-Times article. His general point: We talk about influencing the world, but given the ridiculous difference in birth rates between Muslims and the Christian/Secular West, we may find ourselves vastly outnumbered in a few decades.

I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to demographics, but this is a good point. Most families in the US have 1-2 children anymore. We may have technological advantages as a culture and country for many more decades, but I'm not sure how much it will matter if the young, fighting-age men of our country are outnumbered 50:1.

Unfortunately, I don't see our country suddenly deciding to breed like rabbits on speed, even if people were agreed on this being a problem. I also worry that the solutions to such a problem won't be largely agreed upon either. For example, my father (jokingly) suggested that the only two solutions were to either forcibly sterilize Muslims or start humping everything in sight. A joke, yes, but it does bring up the valid question: How do you fight demographic trends?

Unfortunately, it seems that there are too many who would be happy to see the West fade into history. I hope that such attitudes don't carry the day when this turns into a real problem in the next few decades.

Clouds and Climate Change

Here's another interesting article about global warming that I just found, well, interesting. First, a quote:
"It's a new science, driven by the fact that everybody doing climate predictions says that clouds are perhaps the single greatest unknown factor in understanding global warming."

I love how they say that, then spend the rest of the article explaining how it's not unknown at all and how the Earth is in death throes. Could we make up our minds, please?

Either way, the part that grabbed my attention was this:
"Much to our surprise, we found that Arctic clouds have got lots of super-cooled liquid water in them. Liquid water has even been detected in clouds at temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 F)," said Taneil Uttal, chief of the Clouds and Arctic Research Group at the Earth Systems Research Laboratory of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Liquid water at -30? Too cool. (That was intentional)

Paintball Minigun Fires at 1200psi

Wicked cool.

It doesn't shoot paintballs yet, but that's okay. With that kind of pressure, you couldn't really use it in close quarters. But I can imagine having way too much fun sitting back by the flag with one of those things and just spraying all of the approaches.

Heh.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wii - First Thoughts

Ah, the moment finally arrived. The Wii was home and the box opened.

It was a bit slow at first. Figuring out how to set everything up (apparently I can't properly remove protective labels from foam pads) and then downloading software updates (gracious, my wi-fi is slow). After that, the fun began.

I started by making my Wii Mii (not to be confused with AOL's Wee Mee . . . I smell copyright issues). I think my electronic doppleganger is quite adorable, but then I might be biased. The Wii remote is a bit too sensitive for my nervous hands. I tried to turn it down as low as it could go on the sensitivity, but it still doesn't seem right. No matter.

I played Wii Sports for about an hour. Tennis and Baseball, mainly. First, I learned that I should never play tennis; my timing is horrible (Yes, I know real tennis is different).

I also learned that this system is ridiculously fun, and I can't wait to 1) Try out my other games, and 2) Play these games with friends.

Seriously great. Whenever more stock arrives, go buy a Wii. Too much fun.

Wii Launch


Picked up my new toy last night. Now I must show it off.

Friday, November 17, 2006

On Faith and Debate

Newsweek is running a big "conversation" (i.e. a series of essays by people with opinions) entitled "On Faith." The question this time around:
If some religious people believe they have a monopoly on truth, then are conversation and common ground possible? If so, what would be the difficulties and benefits of such a conversation?
Dr. Mohler contributed here. I agree with him (surprise, right?). Here's a poignant part:
The only conversation worth having is an honest conversation among persons who respect each other's deepest beliefs as being honestly held and honestly presented. The reality is that too many "interfaith" discussions are held among those who have only a tenuous hold upon the faiths they claim to represent. We should not be afraid to disagree, nor to risk the conversation. So, let the conversation begin . . . and let us show up as who we are, beliefs and all.
I do disagree with him in some part, though. He says that if only doubt and uncertainty can be brought to any debate, then only liberals can take part. That's not entirely fair. In that case, only agnostics can take part.

I think something worthwhile can come of a discussion between two people who fervently believe in opposite directions. However, it requires that the two people be willing to actually listen to the arguments from each other. Too many people are ready to write off Christians from debate because they take "The Bible is infallible" and start off with "Whatever you say, you're wrong." That's not a productive way to begin.

And let's be realistic; it's not exclusive to Christians. Every ideology, religious or not, has its share of stubborn, bull-headed people who won't listen to arguments and refuse to even entertain the idea of a reasonable debate. It's, "You're wrong, end of story, and you're a puppy-raping pedophile for thinking like you do" (That's the last time I argue with someone about block scheduling in high schools).

You can have fruitful debate between people who disagree. I've done it on a number of occasions. It's just a matter of not being a jerk about it when you disagree.

UCLA Student (?) Tasered



So, here's the latest outrage floating around (apparently).

At UCLA, apparently the library computer labs are off-limits to non-students after 11pm. To enforce this, random ID checks are done. If you don't show ID, you are escorted out. Supposedly, this guy refused to show ID and refused to leave. When police showed up to force him out, well, that's when the trouble begins.

I watched most of the video. It's kind of hard to tell what's happening. The guy keeps saying he would leave, but I'm not sure if a person can walk after being tasered. Having never experienced it myself, it's hard to say. Since some people doubt the effectiveness of them, I suppose walking after a short stun is possible.

One of Michelle's readers remarks that it's better police procedure to just give the guy one good jolt and then carry him out, rather than asking him to walk out on his own power. I guess I can't disagree.

In any event, it's already interesting to see what's developing from this.

In related linkage, LAPD officer Jack Dunphy weighs in on related events here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Not a hypnotic message



Read my blog. Reeeeeead my blog. Sennnnnnnd me $5. Annnnnnnd a puppy. I donnnnnnn't know why a puppy.

All glory to the hypnotoad.

Finding Sheldon

Just as an aside, I was pointed to the comic Sheldon sometime yesterday, and have promptly fallen in love with it. I was going to put up a few good examples, but after reading through about 4 months worth of archives I'd come up with so many that it'd overload the blog.

Just go read it. It's great. Start here.

Update
Okay, maybe one (click for full size):

Saudi Columnist on the Abaya

Interesting article, through MEMRI, by a Saudi columnist about the use of the abaya, the full-body covering showing only the eyes, and how it is used to dominate the muslim woman.

I wish I had advice to the Saudis and other muslims of the world on how to reverse this trend. Unfortunately, I'm better at pointing out social flaws than knowing how to correct them.

An excerpt:
To say the least, Donna was astounded by their remarks and realized that they were not simply talking about a garment to be worn but about their perceptions of what an abaya symbolized. They seemed determined to deny that a normal human being was under the black material. The truth is that those Saudi men articulated something that the Saudi lifestyle and customs have created. The abaya indeed covers a typically weak and frightened character (a woman of course), who views herself as a sexual entity confined in a well-defined space she can never escape from. This is why the whole culture of the abaya imposes so many restraints upon women. One of the restraints is that she must walk as if her feet were hobbled and she was unable to move easily and normally. Nor is she allowed to look around and observe the surrounding world comfortably, as slowly or quickly as she might like. The abaya has also contributed directly to preventing certain basic movements; for example, she can no longer move her hands normally. Aside from that, ordinary free conversation is forbidden and is replaced with low and often unclear speech that makes little sense.

Life: What is it good for?

You may have noticed, but I'm pretty much taking a "throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks" approach to blogging today (Thanks Fark). With that in mind, here are three articles I found interesting, and actually quite related:

Yuval Levin Dissects the results of the Amendment 2 vote in Missouri
Church of England wants to let sick newborns die
Doctor to pay support for unwanted baby after birth control device fails

They're all interesting articles, and I could do a big write-up on all three of them. I won't, of course; I'm feeling too lazy for that today. But I notice a trend floating through these three articles: Respect for human life.

I'm one of those people who argue that there is something intrisically special about human life, that ending the life of another person should be carefully considered and not taken lightly. I've argued about slippery slopes with people, and there are many who think that the "slippery slope" argument is faulty logic. And sometimes it is. But consider the evidence before us: A state consitutional amendment guaranteeing the creation of human embryos for the purpose of destroying them; A major Christian sect declaring that some life just isn't worth trying to save; A mother suing a doctor because she never wanted her son.

Think what you will, but I see a disturbing trend, and I'd rather not think about where this could lead.

Steampunk Laptop

Ooooh . . . old and busted hotness. I want one.

Great Moments in Irony

Do you remember that video of rescue workers, after having lovingly scrubbed a penguin down from an oil spill, releasing it back into the waters, only to watch it be gobbled down by a whale moments later?

This is almost as good. Some bird watchers in England were excited about the return of a swallow, not seen in nearly 20 years. Until a sparrowhawk devoured it before their eyes.

I like this story because "Sparrowhawk" is a handle I used when I played games online. Irony is fun!

New Brain Cells for Mice

Researchers have apparently found a way to promote the growth of new neural stem cells in mice brains. Widespread use of this treatment could change politics as we know it.

All jokes aside, there is one part of the article I find somewhat frustrating. One of the quotes they almost immediately pull from the lead researcher of the project is something about not giving up on embryonic stem cell research. Why is it that everytime there's some success involving adult stem cells, it has to be accompanied by reminders of the glorious potential for embryonic stem cells?

I'm not discounting that potential, but criminy, why does this have to be so political?

Not Creepy

Nope. Not at all. Uh-uh.

Incidentally, if you happen to get a shower-radio from me for Christmas, it's not one of these. Promise.

What next, badges?

According to this article, federal funding is becoming contingent on states tracking the names of HIV positive patients.

I understand the argument for tracking the progression of the disease. What is superior about this method as compared to, say, just asking doctors how many new diagnoses they've made in a year?

I'm usually not a big "The government is out to getcha!" kind of privacy person, but this strikes me as over the top.

Just for kicks and grins, I'm imagining the worst possible scenario for this: Some politician is running for office; Governor, let's say. This pol is HIV+, and some clever campaign flunky with connections in the health departments has managed to track down the pol's name in the database. This juicy little tidbit gets leaked to the media, and now it's everywhere: Gubernatorial candidate John Doe has HIV!

Politics aside, what if such a database became available to the "right" parties? Just as insurance companies or potential employers might avoid you due to your track-record on the net, what if you were short-shrifted because they found out you were HIV+? How could you know?

The problem with Pandora's box is that you can't really close it after it's been opened.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Imagine That

Elton John wants to ban all religion, because it promotes hatred of gays.

I'm glad it's not up to him.

Yeah, and never mind all the good things that religion has done for the world (*cough* Salvation Army, Red Cross *cough*). Religion "lacks compassion" because they "hate" homosexuals, so let's just get rid of it.

Good luck with that, buddy.

Law-Breaking Christians

LaShawn Barber points out two very interesting articles from the Washington Post. The issue seems to be that in some changing (i.e. gentrifying) neighborhoods of DC, black church-goers have been double parking like crazy for a long time, with the police looking the otherway. Now, with white people moving into the neighborhoods, complaints are arising about the double parking and the black church-goers are upset about that. They're even treating this as a religious freedom issue.

Which is really stupid.

Hey guys, being a Christian doesn't give you license to do whatever you want. The biblical rule on this is that unless a rule forbids you from practicing the faith or mandates you violate the faith, you're supposed to obey the laws of the land. Laws against double parking do not prevent you from being a Christian. I don't think Paul ever stipulated that you have to park within 200 yards of the church or else you don't get to take communion.

C'mon, folks, this isn't hard. You're focusing on something really stupid when you could be spending your time and energy on worthwhile issues, and you're making all of us look bad in the process.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Controversial Chaos (part II)

Ooh, the time zones favor us on this side of the pond, at least this time around.

Turns out Monckton's second article, from the previous post, is now online.

Interesting.

Climate Chaos?

Chris Monckton of the Telegraph has an interesting article about global warming and climate change. It's an interesting read, if for no other reason than it's on the opposite side of the usual reporting.

I like the article because he actually gets deep into the mathematics of what's going on, something most journalists fail to do. Most of the articles I see include a few quotes of "The world is going to end!" from scientists, a summary of some recent research, and one or two "mock quotes" from skeptics. This one actually addresses argument and data, not just rhetoric.

Of course, I'm no expert on such matters, so take the article with a grain of salt. I just find it refreshing to not only have a columnist argue from the skeptic's position, but to do so with actual math rather than emotion.

(Hat tip: Ace)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Homage to an Advisor

First, I must say that if you're in grad school, you are required to read this comic.

Next, I must say that I did research for this man. It's closer to reality than you might think.

Enjoy.

A Man Possessed

Actually, there was something in the news recently.

MorganQuitno recently came out with its list of the 10 safest and most dangerous cities in the country, and St. Louis topped the list. In a not-entirely-unexpected move, UMSL's newspaper, The Current, had an article where students and professors expressed their skepticism.

Of course, most of it is inane, although I do give credit to the few professors they quoted along the lines of "We don't know their methodology, so we can't say much about the ranking."

The best quote, however, came from some boob of an alumnus: "I live in the most dangerous city and nothing has happened to me."

I'm guessing that college degree isn't working out to well for him.

More Funny Stories

Didn't have anything I felt like blogging about today, so I thought I might share some more random stories. For just having come through an election, the news is a bit slow. Also, I'm apathetic.

Anyhow, I've two stories. The first involves the guy in charge of our labs. After the students have an exam, all of us TAs grade the exams, but piecemeal. When we want to grade, we go grab the packets of exams from the guy's office and then bring them back when we're done. In the past, he's always told us that if he's not there we should just go in and get the exams.

The other day, I went to grab exams from his office. He has one of those things on his door where he can indicate his current "status." When I looked, it said "At Class," so I assumed he wasn't there. When I opened the door, well, I was wrong.

Thankfully, he was just eating his lunch. But if looks could kill, his would have said, "Why am I about to kill you?" I blabbered out something about his door sign and looking for the exams. He merely pointed at them. I snatched them up and scurried out the door, again mumbling something about not knocking and being dreadfully sorry.

Yeah, it'd be a better story if he'd been without pants, but it's still midly amusing. Well, as long as you consider me acting like a doofus amusing.

The other story is a bit older. In one of my classes, we were discussing micro-RNAs and the class of proteins which help deliver them to their targets. These proteins are known as Argonaute proteins. When the professor mentioned these, I asked during a brief pause, "Let me guess, are there any Jason proteins, too?"

She just stared. The class just stared. I probably turned about 12 shades of red (it's hard to tell when a mirror isn't handy). Finally, she reacted.

"What? Jason? Oh. Ohhhhh. Um, no, not that I'm aware of." And that was that.

I guess you had to be there.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Post-Election Thoughts

Well, another election as come and gone.

It didn't turn out as well as the Republicans had hoped. From what I understand, most of the races that were considered toss-ups ended up being blow-outs. Republicans will have to live with being the minority party again, for God only knows how long.

How did it end up like this? As a lot of people are saying, the Republicans earned this. Yes, the Democrats played dirty in some ways, but the Republicans gave them the tools with which to do it. For example, Mark Foley wouldn't have been as big of a deal if the leadership had looked into that whole affair long ago.

Also, the war of ideas was really not in play in this election, at least not as in times past. This time around, the main Democratic argument was "Hey, we're not the Republicans and we hate George Bush." The Republican counter-argument wasn't any better: "Hey, if you think we're bad, just wait until the Democrats are in power." It doesn't surprise me that voters weren't convinced.

I've read some people saying that Democrats may have won, but so did conservative values. Apparently, much of the caucus that the Democrats built this time around was with conservative candidates (pro-life, low taxes, so on and so forth). Also, some conservative ballot initiatives passed, such as an anti-Affirmative Action bill in Michigan, as well as gay marriage initiatives in other states.

I can't say much about that. In MO, the constitutional amendment for therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research passed (though the cigarette tax failed), so I can't quite say what to make of it. Conservative Democrats will have a rough time in their caucus if history is any indicator. This election seems to have been dominated by a Republican vs. Democrat dynamic, with Iraq possibly being the only big issue in play. Perhaps in future election cycles, a move away from such party-based electioneering and back towards issue-oriented voting might take place. I don't think I'll hold my breath on that one, but the exit of President Bush from the political stage may play a role in that.

Despite the greater fears of some people, I don't think the sky is going to collapse. Democrats hold majorities, but it's especially slim in the Senate, 51-49. If any Democrats in the House attempt impeachment proceedings (which people are already calling them to do), I think they'll have an uphill battle with it, and I doubt it would succeed. Also, despite Democratic plans calling for a slide into socialism, I doubt they'll get anything too worrisome passed in the next few years.

My biggest worries fall into immigration and national security. I was never on the same page as President Bush on immigration, and unfortunately his plans for a "temporary worker" program and normalization for current illegals falls more in line with the party that was just put into power. I'm probably not goign to like what comes next.

As for national security, I see Democrats quickly calling for withdrawals from Iraq. I'm not sure they'd be so bold as to completely defund the mission, but it could happen. If we retreat as they want, I think that will do more to encourage Islamic terrorism at home and abroad than our continued presence ever would have. We'll see what happens.

As for Illinois, well, the voters will get what they deserved. More people voted to remove Rod from office than to keep him, but he still received the most votes. I guess there might be a chance of him being voted out if people actually get sick enough of him. We'll see what the next four years brings.

One last note: In the run-up to the election, I read a lot of frantic screeds declaring that Republicans would steal the elections, thanks to voter intimidation and Diebold vote stealing (not that they ever noticed dead voters or ACORN voter fraud). I'd like to know . . . what happened to all of that?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Does it, or doesn't it?

Something's been bothering me about the punditry surrounding the race this year.

I mean, besides all of it.

There's been a lot of talk about black Republicans running for office, how they're labeled "race traitors," how people expect blacks to vote lock-step with the Democrats, blah blah blah.

Here's the thing that I find funny. There's this wide-spread attitude that black people are going to vote for the black politician, no matter what. I find it strange and bothersome.

If a black person votes only for the black politician because he is black, then we're right back to the identity politics, regardless of the party affiliation. For Republicans like Michael Steele, it's a travesty that they'd stoop to such pandering.

But if a black person votes only for the Democratic politician because he's a Democrat, is he being true to his ideals or is it a sign of the "Who else will you turn to?" style of politicking Democrats do with black voters?

I can't say either way. But for black voters, it's an ugly situation. You're a race traitor if you vote for the Republican . . . unless he's black . . . but then it's hard to say . . . but you're too stupid to show ID at the polls, so you may as well vote for both and spare your conscience, right?

Ugh. How soon to Wednesday?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Illinois: Why Waste Your Vote?

Rich Miller at the Capitol Fax has a look at the latest polling numbers for IL governor, as well as a host of other IL race round-ups. The polls put Topinka down from Blagojevich anywhere from 4-15 points. The average of all of these polls shows 44-35-11, with that 11 going to Green Party candidate Whitney.

I've read or heard several times that people are voting for Whitney to "send a message" that they're sick of the usual batch of politicians and various political shenanigans.

You know what message it actually sends? That 11% of the electorate is dumb enough to waste its vote on a lost cause.

I don't know much about Whitney. And I'm sure that some of that 11% is voting for him based on his positions and proposed policies (though those voters are most likely coming from Blagojevich's pool, not Topinka's). But Whitney is relatively unknown amongst the electorate and has virtually no chance of beating out Rod. Yet most of the people who will vote for him do so because they don't want to see Blagojevich elected to another term.

That being the case, why vote against Blagojevich's strongest competitor?

This is another one of those cases of the perfect being the enemy of the good. Topinka may not be everyone's ideal choice for IL governor, but how could she be any worse than Blagojevich?

If you don't like the choices you're presented with in November, then start paying attention during primary season and vote for the person you actually think will make a good choice. And even if your perfect choice doesn't end up on the ballot, try to keep in mind that American politics is about compromise. You can't always get everything you want, but you vote for the person who will give you more than the other person. If you're tired of corruption in the governor's office, voting for someone who isn't Topinka will only send one message to Rod Blagojevich: "Keep up the good work."

Friday, November 03, 2006

Funny Moments

I saw a new doctor today. Something funny happened when I was talking to the nurse about patient history. You know, exercise, drinking, smoking, diet, etc.

Nurse: "Are you sexually active?"

Me: "Nope."

Nurse: "Is that a problem for you?"

*Snicker* I couldn't help but laugh. It sounds like a cheesy pickup line.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Methodist Defines the Issues

(Just a quick post from school)

As a conservative Christian, it's been strange at times to hear about the decline of mainline Protestantism due to the increasing liberality of the denominations. It's been especially strange because, as a Methodist, I often see stories in the news about the liberal factions in my denomination.

Al Mohler has a post about a recent magazine article, published by a conservative Methodist, discussing the liberalization of the UMC. The article is not online, otherwise I'd link it directly, but Mohler's thoughts (and I can only assume those of the article's author) mirror mine. The issues being disagreed upon in the churches, homosexuality being chief among them, are only a symptom of the problem.

My take on it: If you are willing to deny the fundamental underlying principles of your religion, then why claim it at all?

(I'm an atheist who believes in God! Woo!)

Sounds silly, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Craziness Abounds

So much insanity happening in politics right now. I wish I had time to be posting.

However, in the meantime, here's something for fun. This has been sitting around the house for a while. My dad's wondering how much he can get for it on eBay: