Fun with LEGOs

June 30, 2008

So, I went to the toy store today and bought $190 worth of LEGOs. I got two of the new Castle sets (they have dwarves and orcs, which is kind of cool, though their orcs are green) and three of the 50th anniversary original LEGO sets, which are about $35 each – they have just normal bricks, and lots of them, great for building actual castles (rather than the wimpy ones that come in sets). So far I’ve built the two Castle sets – one’s a Dwarvish Mine and the other a Dwarvish Catapult, with a grand total of four orcish attackers, five dwarves, and one giant troll – and am going to use the sets to make a new version of this castle.

I’ll upload more pictures to my brickshelf page when I’m done. This is going to be fun.


Lying Minds

June 25, 2008

It’s strange how our brains lie to us sometimes.

For example, for some unknown reason, I was under the vague impression a few years ago that Baruch Spinoza, the 17th-century Dutch philosopher, was somehow related to the constructed language Esperanto. This belief was, of course, baseless, and as soon as I thought about it for two seconds and browsed the wikipedia pages of each that became quite clear. I still, however, subconsciously link the two, and so my gut response to the question of “who thought up Esperanto” is going to be “Spinoza”, and I’ll have to consciously correct myself. Presumably with time this will correct itself, but for now, my brain insists on this link between these two unrelated things.

I think  the fact that our brain is able to do this probably encourages the belief that we somehow have a
mind that is separate from our brain. There is this obvious (if actually non-existent) interplay between our brain, which we think of as functioning as a kind of storage and retrieval system, and our mind, which does the actual thinking – and the brain, we think, can give false information the the mind – when it does this is the brain’s fault, not the mind’s. This makes us want to say, for example, that we could somehow take our consciousness and transplant it to another body and “we”, meaning our consciousness abstracted from our brain, would somehow take control of that body. Really, it’s another example of gnosticism.

This distinction is, of course, absurd. Scientifically there is no basis for it, and neither does religion provide one – at least not the Catholic religion. The person, for the Catholic, is both body and soul, and the soul is intimately intertwined with the body – separating the two leaves you without a complete person. (I suspect that the state of the soul is somehow reflected in the physical state of the brain – this would mean that even if you could observe the process of decision-making in the brain before the person was conscious of their decision, it would not mean that the decision was not freely arrived at by the soul – but I know of no doctrinal support for this belief.)

Yet many of us, whether atheists, Christians, or something else, approach life as if this were the case. I suspect this is because we are predisposed to do so given how we can observe our brains lying to us – even if the distinction between “brains” and “us” is completely meaningless.

Good News

June 24, 2008

I got the award letter from my scholarship today, which means that it is now almost certain that I will be in Rome this fall. Which is good news for me, but perhaps not so good news for this blog – I expect to have much less time to maintain it than I do currently, and so my post rate might drop to once every week or two weeks. I’ll probably also start having more posts on history and art, since I’ll be studying those subjects for the first time in a while come next semester, plus I’ll be in Rome so how can I not talk about that stuff? I also expect the amount of work I put into Orbivm and Wesnoth to decrease by a lot, though perhaps that won’t happen – it depends on how much sleep I want to get.

Anyway, just a heads-up that this blog might slow down come end of summer.

Life as a Strategy Game

June 18, 2008

It’s interesting, I think, to compare the mechanics of “real life” to the mechanics of different kinds of games. In other words, to look at life as if it were a strategy game.

Now, I’m a fan of turn-based strategy games – TBSs, from here on out. But they are, I will admit, somewhat unrealistic. Life is not like a TBS, but rather like an RTS – a real-time strategy game. If life were like a TBS along the lines of chess, we would have infinite time to consider the possible outcomes of our actions. Presuming that we would still have both free will and intellect, then all possible outcomes of our moves could be considered, and we would choose the best one. That would mean we could not do things we would later regret, and would be more like angels than men. We would still have free will, but in a form much different than what we currently experience as free will. I imagine this is the kind of free will angels have.

Though, do angels have absolute knowledge? I could imagine a TBS where you did not have absolute knowledge yet it was deterministic – say, Dark Chess, i.e. chess with fog-of-war. Is the angelic point of view more like that than like chess itself? (I’m fairly certain that angelic life wouldn’t have an element of chance, like, say, Wesnoth does. Angels don’t play dice, I would guess.)

As it is, human life is more like an RTS – it doesn’t wait for us to make our decisions, it moves on with or without our consent. This is one of the implications of being physical as well as spiritual beings. It’s funny how often we forget it, though; there is I think a tendency to approach life as if it were a sequence of decisions to make rather than continuous motion.

The Form of the Bad

June 13, 2008

The three worst movies I have ever seen (and I could not have managed to sit through them without the help of the folks who did Mystery Science Theatre 3000) are Manos: The Hands of Fate, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and The Star Wars Holiday Special. What is amazing is that I can’t decide which is the worst. They are all bad in their own ways.

Manos’s main problem is the total lack of technical ability on the part of the film-makers. Put simply, they didn’t know how to make a movie. The camera-work and lighting are horrible, the dialogue had to be dubbed in afterwards, no scene is longer than 32 seconds beause of a horrible camera… I think that if the makers had actually known what they were doing, they could have managed to make a generic, fairly bad, but not terrible horror movie, but as it is the movie is nearly unwatchable.

The makers of Plan 9 clearly had much more technical skill, though there are still some odd parts where it suddenly switches from day to night even though its all supposed to be at one time, or you see a cardboard piece of scenery get knocked over. They make up for it, though, by having an even worse script – the plot simply makes no sense. Aliens… are coming to earth… to force humans to acknowledge their existence… and they’re going to do it by raising zombies? What the hell?

The Star Wars Holiday Special’s problem is that it has no plot to speak of. It’s just a variety-show-style series of songs, dances, cartoons, etc, none of which are any good, with a really stupid premise trying to hold it all together. This was by far the most boring of the three, because the other two at least had a plot that you could try to make sense out of (even if most of the time it was a futile endeavor).

Anyway, when reflecting on these movies, I am reminded of the first like of Anna Karenina; “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I wouldn’t say that every good movie is alike, but these bad movies certainly do find many different ways of being bad.

It seems to me also that if there was such thing as simply “badness”, these bad movies would all be alike. That they are so diverse suggests that they are not somehow actively bad, they simply all lack qualities that would make a movie good. They lack different qualities, thus they are “bad” in different ways.

I know this is not an actual argument against the existence of bad, but it does suggest to me that bad is just a lack of good.

The Blade Runner

June 8, 2008

I read recently (broadly speaking) that it has been decided (by some committee somewhere, I suppose) that a man with artificial legs will be allowed to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics as a sprinter.

This just seems absurd to me. On the surface, yes, it might appear fair – why shouldn’t a disabled person be allowed to compete alongside able-bodied people? But that, I think, misses something extremely important: running, as a competitive activity, is something that depends on both the mind and the body. You can’t separate the runner from his body – you can’t be a “good runner” in the abstract, without part of that good runner-ness coming from the fact that your legs are longer, you have a lot of muscle, you don’t weigh much, etc.

And so, if you don’t have natural legs, but rather artificial steel legs, then whatever you’re doing when you move really fast using them, you’re not running, at least not in the sense that competitive runners are running. You’re not using your body to go fast, you’re using something that is not part of your body to go fast.

I think the idea that this man should be allowed to compete because it has not been proven that his legs give him an advantage misses the entire point and tends towards a flawed gnostic view of the world. It  says that the legs of a normal runner are just tools that he uses to run quickly, and if the artificial legs give roughly the same capability as natural legs, then they’re equivalent tools, and so a man with artificial legs should be able to compete in a contest normally performed with natural legs, no problem.

The thing is, the “tool” that natural legs supposedly are is of a power determined by the skill of the runner, and a good runner has better legs than a bad runner. Which of these is the artificial legs supposedly equal to? Are the steel legs specifically calibrated to be just as useful as the legs of your average Olympic sprinter? If so, a runner using these artificial legs will finish in the middle of the pack, and what’s the point of them competing? Are they calibrated to be as good as the best Olympic sprinter? Then a runner using them who wins the Olympics will be considered to have won because of his more powerful legs, not because of any achievement on his part. Either way, there is no point to a person with artificial legs competing in the Olympics. The Olympics, and sports in general, are to find who is the best whole person – mind and body, not divided – at the given activity.

Put simply – there is no way to nerf or buff artificial legs so that they put a runner using them on a level playing field with the other runners. They are fundamentally unbalanced. They take a part of the contest – the quality of the runner’s legs – and remove that from the control of the athlete, instead arbitrarily giving him legs of a given quality. It would be like having a contest to paint the best picture where one person was given an outline to work from and the rest were not – it doesn’t matter how good or bad the sketch would be, it wouldn’t be fair because it would remove any skill from that part of the contest, but from that person only.

I don’t mean to take anything away from what Oscar Pistorius has done – he is clearly a great athlete, and I have nothing against the disabled – but the fact remains that what is doing is not running, but something else. That’s why they have separate contests for it – the Paralympics, which he competes in. If the Olympic committee wants to add a sport where you use a standard-size, standard-quality metallic extension to the legs to move quickly, fine, do so and let this guy compete in it. But if they don’t, then this man should not be allowed to compete in the Olympics.

P.S.: This is somehow related, I think, to the discussion of performance-enhancing drugs in professional baseball and other sports, but I’m not sure how yet. It is mostly, I suppose, a clear example of something that does too much to alter the body and make it so you’re not competing with the other players in the same way – I think it would be unacceptable in baseball, just as in running, for one of the players to have artificial legs. But where the line is drawn, I don’t know. I tend towards saying performance-enhancing drugs fall on the other side of it (and this applies even if they posed no danger to the user and were not illegal, neither of which are true), but I’m not sure.

Body Breakdown (June)

June 2, 2008

Image Hosted by
What is that a picture of? Well, it’s the animation I did last night for the Death Knight unit. (If you don’t see an animation, try loading the image in a new window/tab in your browser. Sometimes it’ll only show the animation once instead of looping it, so if you miss that one showing, it looks like a static image.)

I spent probably two, maybe three hours on it already. But there are still obvious problems with it – the leg motion doesn’t look convincing, and the cape doesn’t really either. I almost think it might need another frame because it looks like he’s stopping mid-swing. The first two of those are problems I haven’t figured out how to fix yet; the third, I haven’t decided whether I’m going to actually try making another frame or not.

Well, I don’t really mind that the animation has problems with it. I’m still honing my pixel art skills, and even what I have here is better what I could do even a year ago (and I’ve been doing pixel art on and off for what, four years?). But it seems absurd to me that it took almost three hours to make that. Look at it. Even if it looked perfect, which it doesn’t, it doesn’t look like something that should take several hours to complete. (Keep in mind that I didn’t draw the base frame, only the attacking animation.) The images are only 72 pixels by 72 pixels, and there’s only six frames! It’s like less than a second of extremely low-resolution film. But it took hours to make.

Anyway, my point is, making anything just takes a long time.

Which means that, no matter how much time I spend working on the Imperial Era this summer, I’m not going to get it anywhere near a “completed” state. Which is frustrating. And after August I’ll be in Rome, where I probably won’t be on my computer nearly as much.

It’s almost like I’m out of control, in that life is speeding past me as I’m trying to get things done. Reminds me of this DragonForce song (for which this post is named).

Anyway, this is kind of a stretch, but I’m going to tie together all aspects of this post by choosing, as the character of the month, Lionel the Lost General (who is a Death Knight), as seen in his eponymous Heir to the Throne scenario. For his body, you see, is rotting away, breaking down. And I just made the attack animation for his unit type.

There is some coherence behind it; Lionel says, at one point, “I am destroyed, but my mission must be completed.” I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to connect this to the rest of my post in the manner of a Túrin Speaks blog post.

The point is, for June, I am Lionel, the Death Knight.

This is a portrait of a Deathblade, but it’s the closest we have – there’s no Death Knight portrait.

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