Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Pastor

There's been a lot of fuss in the news lately over one Pastor Wright, a man Barack Obama brought into his campaign. Apparently the man had been Obama's spiritual leader for something like twenty years, so the philosophical links between the two are decidedly significant.

Obama will be making a speech sometime today about this because Wright has drawn a lot of fire. It seems that his preaching style is largely incendiary, focusing on racial grievance mongering such as claiming that the CIA created AIDS and gives crack to inner city blacks.

While this is damaging politically, I'm especially saddened by this man's cruel bastardization of his role as a minister of the gospel. His duty is to guide his flock, teaching them on the Bible and spreading the word of Christ. He has chosen instead to use his pulpit as a channel for radical political stumping. He ought to be ashamed for abusing his position so terribly, but so far has shown only stubbornness in his perceived authority to do so.

Politics is worse for men like him, but the gospel suffers most of all.

End of a Campaign

As you may have heard, I started playing D&D sometime back in October. I'd never played before, so starting out as the Game Master was pretty intimidating. Still, I learned as I went, and my guys were learning, too, so we still managed to have ourselves a good time.

Last night was the last official session of that campaign. It seems as though it's quite rare for an RPG group to finish up a campaign, so I feel pretty good that we completed this one. There's a few things to wrap up epilogue style, but the finished the major campaign objectives last night.

The storyline comes from Shamus's D&D campaign. You can read his version of the story there, otherwise I'll summarize for you here.

The party, an elven cleric, dwarven fighter, and half-elf bard, were shipwrecked on an island they'd never visited during a storm. The island is in a state of civil war, so their presence is not welcome. In the course of their attempts to escape the island, they inadvertantly unleash an ancient evil, a lich king sealed away long ago.

They proceeded to spend the rest of the variously fleeing from this powerful creature and trying to figure out how to defeat him. Along the way, they saved the mayor of a city, defeated a local mafia-style outfit, released the tormented souls of a long dead elven people, and freed the long trapped guardian spirit of a very special mountain. (I take seriously the idea that your players should get to do cool stuff.)

Last night they finally defeated the lich king. His phylactery (an item which holds the lich's power) had been sealed away, and thus his power had been severely curtailed. This being the case, when the players defeated him, his spirit was trapped without escape.

The whole experience of going through all this has been quite fun. It's given me some writing experience and given me a lot of knowledge about how to play the game. I maintain unreservedly that these games are for anyone. Even if D&D's high fantasy and combat heavy rules aren't for you, there are games out there that will scratch your particular itch.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy Pi Day!

To think I almost forgot! I miss Mole Day every year, too.

Go out and celebrate all thing circular. Like, um . . . wheels?

Or just eat some pie. Works for me.

Updated Blogroll

Perhaps you noticed, perhaps not, but I updated my blogroll over in the sidebar this morning. A lot of stuff that I just didn't read anymore I removed from the list and replaced it with more relevant material. A lot of this is now webcomics. Some of the blogs I used to read are now gone.

I have much other maintenance to do with the site. It'll all get done eventually.

Carry on.

Thanks, Shamus!

Just so we're clear, this is what happens when the popular kids link to lil' ol' me:

Perhaps I should send him a fruit basket. Or would he prefer a cookie bouquet?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More Brawl: The Characters

I didn't have much to write about lately, so I thought I'd continue my thoughts on the new Smash Bros. game for the Wii. This is all inside-baseball type stuff, so if you don't care about such matters, you should probably head off to Fark for something else to do. In the meantime, I thought I'd post some blurbs about the characters in the game (If you don't want spoilers about new characters, then stop reading!):

Mario: Not much changed here, except his down-B move is now use of the spray-cannon he had in Mario Sunshine. I don't like it and don't use it, and it's unwieldy to charge.

Fox/Falco/Wolf: Okay, so they changed Falco's moves somewhat to make him more than a palette swap of Fox. He still is, essentially, the same character, and with Wolf joining them, we now have three clones of the same fighter. Good move, Nintendo.

Samus: I don't like Samus as much. She used to be difficult to control, but this was compensated with raw power. Now, she's weaker and even more awkward to use. Fantastic. Strangely enough, I like "Zero Suit" Samus better.

Snake: Good gravy, why did they let this guy into the game? He's not a Nintendo character, he doesn't fit in with the rest of the cast in any way, and he's ridiculous to use! None of his moves do what you think they'll do. Oh, sure, they're strong as heck, but they all take so long to resolve that he's vulnerable in any situation but 1-on-1.

Lucas/Ness: Oh look, another character clone. Like we didn't have enough of those in the game. Yawn.

Ike: Roy's replacement. He's kind of a Marth clone, as before, except they really exaggerated his slower/stronger qualities. Agonizingly slow, but when your blows do land they'll cause quite the commotion.

King DeDeDe: I guess because they liked the Hero and Villain theme? I don't get his inclusion, but I haven't found much use for him. He's like Bowser, big and slow, but slower and not really as strong. Bleh.

Diddy Kong: An interesting inclusion. Very fast and nimble, though with somewhat awkward attacks. You could probably be very effective with him, though when it comes to fast characters, I'll stick with Pikachu.

Meta Knight: Again with the villains thing. He's all right, but extremely lacking in power. If you're gonna use him, let the opposition soften each other up, first.

Pokemon Trainer: Possibly the most annoying character due to his constant cheering on of his combatants. Still, this'll be an interesting one to master. It's essentially three characters in one, so you can't play against it and guess how the match will turn out. Each person might choose any number of strategies with that many options at their disposal.

That's enough for now. There are more characters, but I either don't have much to say about them (yet), or they're just unchanged from Melee and not worth mentioning.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl

First, you people should know that I suffered for you. Do you have any idea how thick the nerdiness was at EB Games when I picked up my copy of this at midnight? Even I was choking on the dorkosity in the air. It was terrible!

All jokes aside, this game is nothing innovative. It's Smash Bros. Melee with better graphics. So, if you liked the first one, then it's more of a good thing. If you didn't . . . well, I hear they're coming out with another Cooking Mama game for you.

New things? Well, the new "Adventure Mode" has a story, and it's pretty good for a fighting game. The game might be quite a bit harder than last time. Or perhaps I'm just rusty from not having played in such a long time. Who knows, right?

There's the ability to make custom levels. I haven't messed with that yet, but I'm excited to try my hand at it.

One thing I like is that the game gives you hints at how to unlock new stuff. Characters, not so much, but you can earn hints on unlocking new trophies, music, and levels, which is helpful for those of us too lazy to log on to Gamefaqs.com and find the answer.

Of course, the most significant change: Online play. I've only been on once to play against others, but it's pretty much what you would expect. Four man throw-down on a level picked by someone from the group (you don't know whose choice until you start). The lag time was pretty obnoxious, but that could be my obnoxiously slow DSL. Some people are complaining about the anonymity of the match-ups (no finding preferred opponents later on) and the lack of voice chat. I can live without those things, I guess, since I'd mainly want voice chat for playing with my friends, in which case there's always the telephone.

Final verdict: If you were a fan before, buy it. If you don't like fighting games . . . go play checkers.

And I'm very disappointed they didn't make Megaman a character.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Settle down, Nancy

Yeesh, who put sand in this guy's underdrawers?

I tend not to read Slate much because, well, it's Slate. This article was pointed out to me, however, and I couldn't help but comment on how much of a negative Nancy this guy is. Allow me to summarize it for you:
"D&D is a terrible role-playing system. Why? Because, that's why. It totally sucks even though it's the most popular one on the market, and it's just people being stupid that keeps all the other great systems from making it, even though RPGs are stupid anyways."
(That was my paraphrase, btw) Think I'm exaggerating? Go ahead and read it. The guy complains about D&D in a way that reflects on all RPGs, tabletop or video game in nature. Then he laments that D&D is just too darn popular for his favorite systems. I guess the man (nerdy as he is) is keeping them down, or something.

The guy just seems to need something to complain about, and Gygax's death made for a good opportunity. I hope he hasn't quit his day job.

Shamus wrote about the story today, and subsequently posted a link to my blog. Welcome, Twenty-Sided readers! Thanks for stopping by.

Calling my Catholic readers

Hey folks, those of you who know where to find information (*cough* Ryan *cough*), what can you tell me about this story?

After 1,500 years the Vatican has brought the seven deadly sins up to date by adding seven new ones for the age of globalization. The list, published yesterday in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, came as the Pope deplored the “decreasing sense of sin” in today’s “secularized world” and the falling numbers of Roman Catholics going to confession.

The new deadly sins include polluting, genetic engineering, being obscenely rich, drug dealing, abortion, pedophilia and causing social injustice.

Now, not being Catholic, I'm not really concerned with this to any great degree. Still, I'd love some more details about this and the rationale behind it. I have to assume that "genetic engineering" has a very specific meaning to the bishops who wrote that, or else the Catholic Church risks alienating a large swath of the scientific world. It would essentially tell the entire biological sciences community that their profession is a mortal sin. Is that what they did here? I'd say probably not, but then the news story isn't clear.

And what does "causing social injustice" mean? That starts sounding like some of the more liberal, social theology that's penetrated certain parts of the Catholic Church, so I'm even more curious what the details are in this.

So, Catholic readers . . . anyone know where I can get more details on this?

Friday, March 07, 2008

An Ethical Dilemma

Yesterday I was in Baltimore, interviewing at the University of Maryland for their graduate program in microbiology and immunology. One of the professors I talked with had some research that struck my interest quite readily. He was describing the project to me for a few minutes, and I was listening eagerly, until this happened:
Him: Blah blah blah, so that's the project. Also, we have another project starting up analyzing stem cells.

Me: Oh, that sounds very in . . . ter . . . esting . . . Um, what kind of stem cells did you say?

Him: Oh, human embryonic stem cells. We're working on blah blah blah . . .
Yeah. His other research sounded quite interesting, but ESCR? I wouldn't do that myself, and I don't support it. Could I ethically work for someone who does it?