Sunday, May 28, 2006

Help make censorhip impossible

Amnesty International is leading a website devoted to reposting political Internet content that is censored elsewhere. Blogspot does not support Javascript, but if you run your own webpage you can post a quotebox whose content will change with each page reload.

“… Early statements from government officials suggested that the killings had been motivated by Mr. Sarsenbaiuly's business dealings. …”

This is an excerpt from: The site belongs to The Information-Analytic Center Eurasia, and has been censored in Uzbekistan. Independent political analysis of Central Asia.

Get your own content here!

Friday, May 26, 2006


BloggingHeads has developed the "diavlog," a kind of talk radio on a blog, essentially. It's two folks in an audio dialogue. Not that new, except it's being sold as a blog. It strikes me that if blogging providers such as Blogspot or Livejournal would provide an easy way for us to include our own audio, talk radio may suffer the same fate newspapers have when it comes to the Internet. Ultimately the content is only as good as the creator.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Fun with Dubya ragdoll

There has never been a more awesome website. EVER.

If he gets stuck just toss 'im with your mouse.

Many thanks to my friend Aron for sending this link my way!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Stirring words by a marine home from Iraq

This is the last in a series of blogs written by a marine in Iraq for ASAP, which is the Associated Press's youth site. I found his words particularly stirring. Here is Rory Quinn's last blog. At the end of the story is a list of his previous blogs. I recommend reading them.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Celebrating a bitter victory

Star Wars ORIGINAL DVDs to be released...

Gotta quote Slashdot poster Joe the Lesser here.

Ben Kenobi: For almost two decades the star wars movies were enjoyed by all. Before the dark times. Before the Edits.

Luke Skywalker: How did the movies die?

Ben Kenobi: A film producer named George Lucas, who was an idol of mine until he turned to evil, helped the industry change the scenes. He betrayed and murdered the Star Wars movies.

Anakin Skywalker: "Luke, help me take these edits off."

Luke Skywalker: "But you'll die."

Anakin Skywalker: "Nothing can stop that now. Just for once, let me look on you with my original film."

(Luke disconnects and releases the original films on dvd.)

Anakin Skywalker: "Now, go my consumer. Leave me."

Luke Skywalker: "I won't leave you here; I've got to save the movies!"

Anakin Skywalker: "You already have, Luke. You were right, you were right about me. Tell your fellow consumers you were right..."

Captain America vs.... America?

Marvel Comics is releasing a new miniseries called "Civil War," which pits G.W. and the Patriot Act against some superheroes, including Captain America. According to this review, Congress has passed a bill requiring all superheroes to register as human weapons of mass destruction and to work for the White House.

To quote the write-up: "Hero is pitted against hero in the choice of whether or not to side with the government, as issues ranging from a Guantanamo-like prison camp for superheroes, embedded reporters and the power of media all play in the mix."

Sounds cool.. in fact, it sounds like just the right mix of politics, media issues, and superheroes for me. These are the hot issues of our time. To those of us who care, at least, we can live vicariously through the heroes as they battle it out. (Don't you just wish you had superpowers sometimes?)

I'll be interested to see if Marvel can deliver on their promise of remaining un-biased and still be able to deliver a political commentary that might spark discussions. Er... did I say discussions? I meant patriotism. Yeah.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Edited warcraft feature story

Forget ever trying to get in contact with Blizzard. They suck, and they don't have time for cute little students like me. I remember the days when I collected game developers' cards like candy. Why oh why didn't I save those??! This story would be professional with more sources.

That's it. I'm never throwing away a single business card. Ever.

Though come to think of it, didn't Blizzard do a large round of firing after I got those cards? Heh.

Feature: MMOs
Lacey Waymire

He looms seven feet tall. He has shaggy brown fur across his muscular shoulders and two cruelly-pointed horns above his fierce snout. Clenched in his hooves is a massive, bonk-up-Godzilla kind of staff. The armor on his shoulders alone probably weighs more than your grandmother… and he’s coming for you.
He is a Tauren, a sort of bull that stands on his back hooves, named Amurko. But really, he is the virtual appearance of 23-year-old JJ Deng of Davis. Amurko lives in the online game World of Warcraft.
It’s a world that 5.5 million are playing in, and it’s changing the social and economic lifestyles of its players. Once installed on any computer with online capabilities, players can send text messages to interact with thousands of other players who exist in the same virtual world. They can create their own characters with unique stories. Those characters in turn have their own virtual lives—they can trade items, gain power and reputation, fight enemies, make friends—and even get married.
In real life, Deng is a hard-working graduate student at UC Davis, where he is studying applied science after graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in engineering science.
Though he is not studying this Sunday afternoon, his one-bedroom apartment in downtown Davis shows every sign that he works hard for his grades. On his computer desk, sitting amongst scattered sheets of complicated-looking math homework, is a worn copy of “Modern quantum mechanics.”
Deng gently moves aside some sheets of homework as he logs into WOW.
“My friend in the Bay Area got me hooked,” he says. “Playing together in the game—this is how we’re keeping in touch.”
His friend was playing a druid—a kind of character who can change into several different animals. The idea intrigued him, and now Deng has found he enjoys playing a druid more than any other class.
Deng used to be part of a guild—a group of players who roleplay together and help each other complete quests. But now, he says, most of those players have migrated from the game, and he has no way of keeping in contact with them. He is looking for a new guild.

Online economics
When he is not playing in the battlegrounds, Deng may complete quests in the world that earn him gold, armor, and reputation. He can spend his hard-earned gold in the Auction House – a place where players trade their virtual money for virtual goods.
The economy is booming in Warcraft—in fact, it is comparable to the economy of a small country. And while it is strictly forbidden by Blizzard (the company in charge of Warcraft), real-money trades are being made for these virtual items.
1,000 gold is typically advertised on eBay for $60. That’s an exchange rate of roughly $1 for each 16 gold.
But 1,000 gold is hard to earn for the casual player; it takes a lot of time. Not spending that time is appealing to many gamers, according to “flam3on,” a San Diego player who tries to make money selling his characters on eBay. He asked not to be identified because Blizzard could terminate his account for selling characters.
“Blizzard fails to realize how many of their customers bought accounts on eBay, which is why WOW is a top-played game still,” he writes via e-mail. “To me, that’s more money for both sides.”
Buying items online is not a practice Deng likes.
“I never spend real money on virtual property,” Deng says. “I like to earn everything myself, even if it’s with other people helping me.”
For the economy of Warcraft, Deng’s attitude is a good thing; it helps keep gold rare. Just like in any other market, the more common the currency is in a populace, the higher prices rise. To stave off inflation, Blizzard designers had to design ways to take money out of the economy. Thus players have to repair their armor and pay for new training as they grow in level.

Player vs. Player in the battlegrounds
He says he enjoys fighting in the battlegrounds against his fellow Warcrafters for the challenge. Today he is going to join a match in Arathi Basin.
In order to enter the game, his Tauren speaks with a battle commander, who gives him a place in line and a portal that lets him travel straight to the battlefield. The virtual world is large, and travel can be time-consuming. Without the portal, he might not have made it to the battlefield on time.
The game-within-a-game has one goal: to gain the most resources. Resources are virtual gold, food, lumber, and metal—but essentially here they equal points.
There are five resource nodes on the battlefield that need to be protected from the other team at all times: the smithy, the farm, the stables, the mine, and the lumber mill.
The gates open, and Amurko rushes onto the battlefield. Players seem to be running everywhere, and no one is telling them where to go or what to do.
Deng smiles a bit as he explains. “I usually play in a pick-up group, so we don’t have a lot of time to build a strategy,” he says. “Lately the games haven’t been real organized. There’s no clear leader.”
This doesn’t seem to bother him. All the players on the field are level 60, which is the highest level in the game. It took Deng nine months to reach level 60—these players must know the drill by now.
Onscreen, his Tauren rushes towards a resource node known as the “lumber mill.” Amurko is a druid, which means he can transform into different animals while he fights. When he spots a group of three enemies ahead of him, he slows, transforms into his lion form, and stealthily creeps up behind the unsuspecting group.
He waits to ambush them until they are already engaged in a fight with a tall green Orc and a small Forsaken. He jams on the mouse button, rapid-fire, while dodging wildly around his enemies with the keyboard arrow keys. Aside from his quick finger-strokes, his posture gives no indication of the flurry of activity onscreen. He looks almost relaxed.
It does not take long before he and his teammates have secured the lumber mill for themselves. Seeing this, Deng’s avatar rushes down the virtual hillside through virtual foliage to the next resource node: the smithy.
Here the battle does not end so well. Though Amurko charges with some teammates, he is quickly surrounded by enemy players. A human mage launches a barrage of spells his way, and suddenly Deng’s screen goes gray. He has died.
While he waits 30 seconds for the spirit healer to bring him back to life, he pulls up a chart of game statistics. His team is losing. It only takes one glance for him to see the problem.
“No wonder,” he says calmly, assessing the numbers like an old army commander. “We are outnumbered.”
Sometimes, button-mashing skills just aren’t enough.
Meanwhile, chat on the screen from his teammates has turned to strategy. Players are typing messages to each other, and their text appears at the bottom of the screen, similar to an instant messaging program.
“We should rush the stables,” someone suggests.
Amurko has been resurrected; he sprints into the fray once again, and hurriedly types his agreement as he runs: “Yeah, let’s go stables.”
It’s a daring move. The target is close to the enemy’s base, and the long field they must cross will offer no cover. Yet if they can pull it off, they will have a chance at winning despite the skewed odds.
Their charge of five is intimidating. Two green orcs wielding heavy battle axes lead the way, followed by the looming Tauren with his hefty staff and two rotting Undead in black robes. They rush across the field and are met by an equally intimidating force of humans, night elves, and gnomes.
Amurko is a blurr of action. He attacks first as a spry yellow lion. His health starts to drop fast, so he changes into a bear—the bear’s claws are slower, but the fur has more armor. He kills off a night elf, and notices a teammate is in trouble. He changes back into a lumbering Tauren to cast a quick healing spell before jumping in as a lion once again.
The fight is hard. The team lasts for a while, but Amurko dies again, and they do not manage to steal the stables from Alliance control. The game is lost before it is over.

The stories
Aside from battlefield challenges, the game also offers a world rich in lore and hero-driven stories. Deng plays on a roleplaying server, which means the characters are expected to speak and act as though the world around them were real.
Though he may look fierce, Amurko has his own reasons for fighting and exploring the world. Deng’s expression is unreadable as he tells me that Amurko’s parents were killed by centaurs when he was young, and that Amurko has been searching for his twin brother, who went missing years ago.
Deng controls what happens to Amurko, but that doesn’t mean he’ll spoil the surprise: Will Amurko ever find his brother?
His tan face breaks into a knowing, enigmatic smile. “That’s a very interesting question,” he says. “There have been rumors lately that his brother is a rebel against the Horde. Who knows who he’s working for? It could be any hostile group—not the Alliance, but maybe the Grimtotems.”
It may be that Amurko would have to fight his twin brother if he is found. Clearly, it is a mystery our hero will have to solve…

Though it isn’t real-life contact, his time in the virtual world does keep Deng in contact with his Bay Area friend. And it is fun, but it can be frustrating.
“Ironically I get frustrated when other people, especially friends, take it too seriously and forget it’s just a game,” he says.
Taking a game seriously is not hard for Deng to avoid.
“I have no obligations in-game,” he says, “so I can go on whenever I feel like playing.” He tries to prioritize his time between school, homework, and the game, so that he won’t get addicted.
For 10-12 hours a week and $10.99 a month, Deng can go from being a hard-working student to being a heroic druid.
“It’s definitely worth it,” he says.