December 20, 2004

Earthsea on SciFi channel - What a Travesty

I thought I wrote something about this at the end of last week but I guess I forgot to post it. Well, now I've watched the thing and it is horrendously bad. This is one of my favorite series of books ever and the one from which I take my standard nickname, NPL nom, LiveJournal logo, etc... and they absolutely destroyed it. Other than some character names (which even that amazingly they totally fucked up, reversing Ged's True name and use name causing me to wince in pain every time they say his true name [Ged that is] in open conversion) and events, there is almost nothing in common with the story or spirit of the books. I think only one scene in the entire movie rang true for me, when Ogion (now not called "the Silent" and talking up a storm) tells Ged to turn and become the Hunter. Harping on individual scenes would be pointless since it would include 95% of the scenes in the movie - I'll spare us both that.

No Lookfar, no scene of Ged battling the brood of the Dragon of Pendor (god what a ridiculous creature they make their dragon to be), no beauty of Roke including the Courtyard and Patterner's Grove, no Otak - why couldn't they at least, as LotR did, give me beautiful visuals for the incredibly beautiful story elements Le Guin wrote?

Le Guin has written a piece railing against this horror. The race issue didn't matter that much to me (perhaps, as she says, because I am white) but the plot, total change of character of Ged to a petulant kid, and total destruction of Le Guin's themes did. Probably my favorite character in all of literature is turned into someone who for 80% of the movie was actively dislikable.

SciFi did a great job with both Dune movies, particularly the first one, but this is a travesty and a nightmare. Oddly enough, this one actually bothered me a lot less than Lord of the Rings did because it is so far from the text that I could largely just laugh it off and not be pained by mourning for what could have been. I also think this one will have much less of a negative impact on another, good version being made at some point.

Posted by aarondf at 04:42 PM | Television | Comments (1)

Hillarious Session Report

This Amun-Re session report is hillarious, probably funny even if you haven't played the game.

Posted by aarondf at 12:32 PM | Games | Comments (0)

December 17, 2004

Wounded Squirrel Story

I am on a mailing list (MIT Outing Club) where someone earlier today reqeusted help in rescuing a wounded squirrel he had found and got it, with one person donating a cage and another driving the hurt squirrel to an animal rescue clinic that would treat it. I find this to be incredibly sweet and worth a mention, taking probably hours of time and effort of multiple people to help this poor creature that most regard as nuissances. Squirrels hold a particular senstivity for me too, because as a young kid I used to sometimes throw things (like sticks) at them - they would always dodge and never be close to being hurt but it was an incredibly mean thing to do and I deeply repent it and so now feel a soft place in my heart for them, in atonement. They are also an incredibly smart animal - my grandfather used to have epic battles of bird feeder technology vs squirrel ingenuity and would almost always lose, as we could all watch easily from the kitchen table at their house, out of a huge window facing the patio over which the birdfeeders hung. No matter what new birdfeeder type he would get, almost always specifically designed to avoid squirrels getting to the feed, the squirrels would within a day or two have figured out a workaround to the defense.

The squirrel has apparently now reached the rescue center and is being treated. I'll try to post a comment later about its condition, as Jan has promised to continue to give the MITOC list updates.

Posted by aarondf at 04:04 PM | Miscellaneous | Comments (1)

December 15, 2004

Safe Personal Computing Article

Excellent article on Safe Personal Computing (protecting your PC or Laptop) by computer security guru Bruce Schneier.

Its hard to do all of these but it is all good advice and worth doing as much as is reasonably possible.

Posted by aarondf at 03:38 PM | Links | Comments (0)

MT Comments Reenabled

Comments in the MovableType version are now reenabled with TypeKey registration - if you don't have this and you got to a page that allows commenting, there should be a link to sign in and create a TypeKey account which is of course free. Yes, I know this is a pain but the previous situation was untenable. At least once you have a TypeKey it will remember your name (and optional URL).

Also, even before I disabled things, the comment system here had some troubles. I think those are now fixed so with the TypeKey, it should work fine. Please let me know if you experience troubles.

Posted by aarondf at 01:53 PM | Meta | Comments (0)

Movies: Dodgeball

This movie is of course very stupid but ROFL funny at a number of points and well worth getting if you want a dumb but incredibly funny slapstick comedy. There are also a ton of cameos in it from well known people. ****

Posted by aarondf at 01:06 PM | Movies | Comments (0)

Google Suggest and Beyond

Google Suggest was announced a little while ago and is very cool. Now, the first hack on it, the Google Alphabet has been done and is a very neat idea. I wonder if Suggest will be useful during the upcoming Mystery Hunt.

Posted by aarondf at 10:55 AM | Links | Comments (0)

December 13, 2004

Comments Disabled

I've disabled comments on Movable Type version of this blog entirely for the moment due to the massive amount of comment spam received. I have MT-Blacklist installed and it works to avoid the spam being posted quite well but it or something is taking up an unaccepatable amount of resources on the machine running this blog which is my work's machine and this had to be stopped. I will hopefully be able to reenable them, probably with registration though, soon. For now, however, the entire blog is mirrored at and although it doesn't look nearly as nice there, all the posts are there and their comment system seems to totally avoid comment spam invisibly to users.

Posted by aarondf at 02:49 PM | Meta | Comments (1)

December 09, 2004

Trivia Last Night

There were a couple of interesting things at trivia last night. The first was around a question which asked "Which NYC building has inscribed on it a quote from Herodotus about 'Persian Messengers'?" I guessed the Post Office and overrode Bill's idea of the Library and we turned it in. However, after we turned it in but before the answer was read I suddenly thought, "But, wait, I know exactly what quote is on the Post Office buildings (partly reminded of by recent reading of Pratchett's Going Postal) and did they have 'snow and sleet' in Persia?" Well, turns out they did and this was the quote.

The second issue was over the final question of "What country in the world has the most universities?" Well, they gave the answer of India and I found a web site which supports this but I found a ton more which give much smaller numbers and seem to indicate the US (which we went with) has far more. The US has at least 900 Universities, another 900 colleges and possibly as many as 4000 - couldn't find a definitive number. India according to two sites only had 177 in '91 and 219 in '97 so the idea that they have more in '04 is totally unrealistic. I therefore think the site listing them with about 8000 is including places that we here, at least, would not call 'universities' like shorter 2yr community college or trade school equivalents. If anyone knows a good cite for more information on this, I'd love to see it. I spent a good while doing searches and really couldn't find a definitive answer from an authoritative site.

Posted by aarondf at 04:43 PM | Events | Comments (0)

December 08, 2004

Cluster Ballooning

Cool site about a guy who goes Cluster Ballooning using a large number of helium balloons. Looks totally cool in a dreams of childhood way. Link from BoingBoing.

Posted by aarondf at 03:05 PM | Links | Comments (0)

December 06, 2004

The Tomb

Matt arranged a group of 16 of us to go to The Tomb near Fenway Park on Saturday which is a kind of puzzle haunted house where people take on the role of archaeologists exploring a newly discovered tomb and solving puzzles and traps to advance through it. The cost was $16 each ($2 group discount) and it was around 40 minutes long.

Overall, I think most of us enjoyed it but felt that we were definitely too big a group (8 would be a good number I think) and it was kind of expensive for the length. For myself, I definitely thought it was worth going the once but would not go back again. Our guide was also too helpful in getting us to solutions, particularly annoying that he interfered several times when we were 90% done to do the last 10%. If others go, I might recommend that they ask the guide not to give them any help unless they ask for it.

Ok, on to a more specific description of some of the puzzles but this is going to include serious spoiler info on some things so stop reading here if you plan to do this.

Spoilers Below!

There were I believe overall some 9 puzzles/activities in 3 rooms as well as a couple of other notable events at the beginning and end, of which I'll describe a few. We started out having a tape played giving us the theme and general information which was pretty nicely done. 5 people were then handed flashlights, after the guide carefully checked they were all working in front of us. We then all headed in to the tomb and the door (sliding stone slab) closed behind us. All of the walls of all the rooms had various hieroglyphic markings. Once we had all been in for a minute or so, the flashlights suddenly all stopped working (a very neat touch) although of course the LED light on my keychain still worked ;) A small curtain of water started falling in a corner alcove and projected on the water (a very neat way to do a removable and transparent screen) was the dead Pharoah explaining that he had planned to kill us but was instead going to give us a chance to prove our worth and pass four tests. The first test was the most interesting and good for a group as it involved finding specific spots all over the large room and pressing in on them a few inches, causing them to glow red. Once we had found enough (all?) of them, we advanced to the next test. After passing three more tests (including a neat group musical test and another which was a neat idea but didn't work at all in reality as they put on low lights and it could only work to the desired effect in absolute darkness), we advanced to the next room.

This room only contained two puzzles, the first of which was my favorite of the experience. On the floor was a large circle composed of about 16 symbols (numbers are approximate - I didn't count). It turned out that half the symbols (every other one) were fixed in position while the other 8 could be picked up and moved. Each of these tiles also had a symbol on both sides. On one wall was shown two similar wheels of 16 symbols, one on the left side and one on the right. The voice over instructed us that the floor puzzle currently matched the guide on the right and we needed to make it match the guide on the left. To solve this puzzle analytically on paper would actually take a bit of work and wasn't practical here but a trial and error solution was, and was probably easier anyway. We had 8 people each pick up a tile (overall 8 symbols each repeated twice I think), found the wall wheel (which eventually started slowly rotating to make things more complicated) orientation based on the fixed symbols, and had people drop in the symbols needed. We got all but one in place (pretty lucky I think) and then just had to do a couple of swaps to fix things. This unfortunately was one of the points where the guide really annoyingly interfered and helped us do the swaps. One particularly neat thing about this puzzle is that the organizers don't have to do anything to reset it. Just change the voice-over to say the left side guide wheel is currently matching and they need to make it match the right side guide wheel. The second puzzle in this room was a 4 piece Towers of Hanoi which we of course solved in seconds and is not a good group puzzle at all. Also, this puzzle had no effects or instrumentation (leds, electronics, whatever taking effect when solved automatically) to it at all as almost all the other puzzles did.

The third room had three puzzles, the first two each with multiple copies. The first puzzle involved rotating two movable sections of a column to be in the right alignment with two fixed sections. Unfortunately, the key for the four columns (one in each corner of the room) apparently was only in one corner so the people there quickly solved their column and then had to show the rest of us on the other columns once we realized the key was shared. The third puzzle here involved a beam of light being let into the room and us provided with two copper plates to reflect the light. We were supposed to do a double reflection onto a specific spot but it took us a while to find the spot and somehow the people finding the spot activated it without us doing the reflecting (leds or lights on cell phones or something) which was too bad as it was a nice idea.

General points. The guide had a device which I assume advanced the plot to the next point which we debated over how much was used. I felt that the great majority of things happened automatically and that he only acted in a couple of cases where things weren't instrumented (Hanoi in particular) or if things went wrong or a group couldn't solve a given task. Others felt he had to do this more often and less was automatic. Another thing was that the Pharoah warned us of traps for mistakes but even intentionally making mistakes in one of those cases did nothing so I am not sure whether this was just talk or something additional could happen.

Posted by aarondf at 03:13 PM | Events | Comments (0)

World of Warcraft MMORPG

On Thursday I somewhat impulse bought World of Warcraft, the new MMORPG from Blizzard who put out Warcraft, Starcraft and the Diablos all of which I have really liked. DII is my favorite computer game of all time. This one also had some great reviews and I decided to give it a try, my first MMORPG, despite being leery of monthly fees (game costs $50 and the monthly fee after the first month is $13-$15 depending on how many months at a time you buy).

The graphics are gorgeous (4 gigs of data to install it) and, surprisingly, the game is totally playable over my dialup connection. I have immediately gotten addicted but I am not sure that will last. The gameplay, quests, items, etc... all seem very well done although there are almost too many commands, skills, etc... Money is also incredibly tight. Having a more experienced player help out by sending cash would definitely be a big help to a newbie. Anyway, I may be playing this a lot over the next weeks and will see if it holds up. If anyone who reads this is playing WoW, let me know.

Posted by aarondf at 03:05 PM | Games | Comments (0)

December 02, 2004

Meme and Trivia

This is taken from a question on a games list I read but seems like it would make a good meme so I encourage anyone else who wants to, to also answer these questions.

How many different

1) Books have you read?

My file has around 1350 but probably more like 15-1700 as I'm sure this is the category where my list is missing the largest percentage. Fastest increasing for most of my life till superceded by games maybe 6-7 years ago and now movies.

2) Movies have you seen?

List has 1055 so probably around 11-1200. Mostly due to Netflix the last couple of years, this is for the first time ever the one which is increasing the fastest.

3) Albums have you listened to?

Definitely by far the least, maybe 2-300 at a guess.

4) Games have you played?

Rated 666 so probably like 750-800.

I actually to some degree track all of these except albums but have only done so for the last 5 years or so. I tried to include stuff from before that but am sure I missed a lot and still miss some new things too.

On another note, we had two teams play trivia last night and were a combined 1st and 2nd (our group ended up 2nd despite leading almost the whole way by screwing up the 1st of the vital final two questions). The fun thing for me was that for the first time I can remember for anyone on our team, I was the only person in the bar who knew the answer to:

What book starts with the lines: "NOTICE: PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR"

Link to the answer

Posted by aarondf at 11:35 AM | Miscellaneous | Comments (0)

December 01, 2004

Congratulations, Ken

Last night, as expected (I knew at least a month ago via Kottke), Ken Jennings lost on Jeopardy! but what a run! I was rooting for Ken the entire time and entirely positive about his graciousness and composure always. I am sorry to see him go and only time will tell whether I keep watching now.

The rest of this is going to go into a bit of minutia on the betting of the final game and in general as I find it strategically interesting, probably much more so than most so be warned ;) .

I was also quite surprised at the way he lost honestly. I figured he would lose to someone hitting several daily doubles and betting it all (as Alex [accurately but I don't really think appropriately] was urging them to do against him) successfully. Instead, Ken found all three but missed the latter (and larger bets) two and of course Final Jeopardy. I believe he would have had a runaway if he had always bet zero on the DDs. So, unfortunately, Ken basically lost the final game more than his opponent beat him (and this would have been even more true if she had played the odds correctly in FJ (below)).

I also thought the winner made a huge betting error in Final Jeopardy. The third player was out of the game and she had more than 2/3 of the money Ken did. In a situation like this, Ken (to be assured of winning if he gets it right) must bet an amount greater than the difference between his and her scores and so if he does and gets it wrong she will be ahead, betting nothing. As such, if she thinks he will do this (and I thought it was a certainty that Ken would for a number of reasons), she massively increases her chances to win by betting $0. Doing this she just must hope Ken gets it wrong. By betting as she did, she can only win if both Ken gets it wrong and she gets it right. Hoping (as you must in either case) that a player of Ken's calibre gets it wrong is one thing (a 32% chance according to TV Game Shows .NET) but also needing to get right something he gets wrong makes the odds much worse (my estimate based on the above site's statistics suggest her chance to win goes from 32% to about 10% [a little hard to calculate as there are usually 2 opponents in FJ, not just one but usually at most one is in reach of Ken]). Of course, she got away with it but I think her bet was crazy unless she is an absolute expert at the category.

Ken was an amazing champion and player throughout, with an immense and immensely broad knowledge, great speed with the signalling button, great skill in knowing and always sticking to the category he was answering and incredible graciousness in winning and losing. My one and only criticism of his play was his DD and FJ betting strategy. He almost always bet an amount to put him at the next $5000 multiple if he needed to bet around $3000 (or something like this) or more to get there and an amount to put him at the next $5000 multiple beyond that if not (thus he almost always seemed to bet between $3K and $8K to put him at an even multiple of $5K). This seemed a fine (and fun in an idiosyncratic way) general rule but I felt he should have let the categories influence him more than he seemed to. Yes, his knowledge is amazingly broad, but still he is much stronger at some areas than others and only rarely would he let this influence his betting. Even in runaway situations where he had a broad option of betting, he seemed much too consistent (Example: in a game that ends DJ 42001-10000-3000, Ken could bet up to 22000 with no risk and how much he bets up to that should be massively influenced by how strong he thinks he is in the category but Ken seemed to always bet in the $8K or so region in situations like this). Once in a long while he made an exception to this but I didn't think it was nearly often enough. His broad strength (apparently he was only shut out in 3%!!! of all the categories during his entire run) makes his consistent betting strategy a vastly better move than it would be for me but still really isn't the most efficient betting.

Posted by aarondf at 10:13 AM | Television | Comments (0)