City Plans / Travel Plans

September 28, 2008

So, in my Art & Architecture of Rome class, we have been studying – you guessed it – the art and architecture of Rome. Specifically, I’m thinking about the Roman Forum. We went there last week, and one of the strongest impressions it left on me was that… it isn’t really very organized.

Each building is, for the most part, perfectly geometrical and symmetrical and uniform by itself, but the way the area is laid out, on the whole, isn’t. You kind of have a building here, a building there, some of them make sense in relation to the others, some don’t, but you certainly don’t have any overall geometrical plan. Here, check it out for yourself. The buildings are made almost entirely of right angles and curves – the forum, as a whole, is not.

I know this is kind of a silly concern. But it somewhat bugs me. If the buildings are going to put so much emphasis on unformity and proportion and geometry and suchlike, shouldn’t the city as a whole be more organized than this? I would almost prefer, if you’re not going to plan the city from the ground up and organize the entire thing geometrically, for the entire city to be done so that each building fit closely with its environment and, thus, for all the buildings to work together…

On a completely unrelated note, I’ll mention my travel plans for the rest of the semester, just for the hell of it, so people know when not to expect posts, and because it’s cool.

Obviously I’m in Rome right now. This is where I’ll be for most of the semester.

October 3 to 12, I’m going to be in Greece on an official trip (i.e. not much free time and we still have classes, but we’re traveling).

October 24 or 25 to November 2, we have “10-day” where we can travel around wherever we want. I’m going to be in Austria for at least a few days, and probably also see Munich, and this is really all I know right now. I’m still working out the details with the people I’ll be traveling with.

November 7 to 9, I’m going to be in Stockholm, Sweden, for a weekend trip. I leave at 6AM on the 9th, so it doesn’t really count; I have basically a day and a half there.

November 12 to 17, I’m going to be on a group trip to Venice, Florence, and Assisi.

November 27 to 30, I have “5-day” (even though that’s 4 days), which I will probably spend in Spain.

I fly back to the US on December 13th.



Minority Report

September 22, 2008

So, I recently saw the movie Minority Report (which, I know, is several years old). It was vaguely interesting – the world it is set in, which is futuristic but still very similar to ours and quite disturbing, was well portrayed. But the movie had a fundamental problem. Its premise was nonsensical.

Now, the movie revolves around a form of crime prevention known as “pre-crime” – they have these three psychics who can predict when a murder will occur before it does, and then they dispatch police officers to prevent the murder from taking place. There hasn’t been a murder for 6 years in Washington, DC (which is where this program is being tried out before it goes nationwide).

Then, one day, one of the pre-crime cops, while monitoring the machine that reports on the psychics’ visions, sees that HE is now predicted to commit a murder! And so he must run away and lead the other police on a wild goose chase all across the city, all the while trying to avoid committing the murder he was predicted to commit, but being apparently drawn inexorably to commit it anyway. (He ends up committing it, though unintentionally [the guy wants to die and grabs his gun-hand and forces him to shoot].) How suspenseful! How like the Greek tragedies in which the protagonist knows his fate and yet cannot avoid it! (And then there’s a half-hour left of the movie in which little of actual interest happens.)

Except… does anyone else see what is terribly wrong with this situation? Let’s think for a second. How pre-crime works is, the psychics see the murder happening in the future, they tell someone about it, and then the murder is prevented. There’s nothing fundamentally different about the situation the protagonist is in – the psychics see the murder happening in the future, and they told someone – the perpetrator – about it. But somehow, instead of him just saying “ok, I’ll just avoid that situation and so not commit murder” (which is philosophically no different from the cops jumping in and preventing the murder at the last second, which they do all the time), it is treated as if he is somehow fated to do it. In fact, he wouldn’t have even wound up in the situation where he could commit murder if the prediction hadn’t been made!

So, basically, the movie is not consistent. Either seeing the future allows you to change it – in which case there’s no reason the protagonist would have been worried at all – or seeing the future does not allow you to change it – in which case pre-crime makes absolutely no sense to begin with, and would only have been good for ensuring that the murderer was always caught after the fact.

Thus Minority Report is, I think, while a somewhat interesting and amusing movie, fundamentally flawed, and so not really worth watching. There are much better philosophically-minded sci-fi movies out there for those so inclined.

Art and the GPL

September 15, 2008

This was written by the art director of the Battle for Wesnoth project (i.e. Richard “Jetryl” Kettering) and it explains better than I could why Wesnoth uses the GPL for its artwork (well, more generally, why it uses licenses without no-commercial-use, no-derivations, attribution, or similar clauses, in the context of a discussion about whether to switch from the GPL). It’s kind of long, but I think definitely worth reading.

I’m just linking rather than quoting it here because getting the formatting to work right would be a real pain, and isn’t worth it. I know I usually don’t just give links, but this is something I do think you should read, especially if you’re somewhat indifferent about the whole idea of open-source artwork.

Internet Connections

September 14, 2008

I would write a long post about something or other, but I’m too frustrated currently with how unreliable the WiFi on campus is (and there’s not anywhere to plug in an ethernet cable!). I have been trying to do an “svn commit” following running wmllint on the Orbivm config files, and it keeps refusing to go through. I have a connection, it just isn’t constant enough to actually upload or download anything – it’s not like these are big files, either, it’s less than a megabyte total.

It’s funny how much this frustrates me, and yet a few years ago the very idea of doing what I’m doing (sitting in a room without any cords plugged into my laptop and using the internet) was completely unheard of. Heck, twenty years ago the internet as we know it pretty much didn’t exist (there was something called the internet, but it wasn’t really the same thing)… how quickly novelties become conveniences become necessities.

We Obey

September 11, 2008

So, I recently finished reading my birthday present (given to me by my family before I left for Rome, so I’ve had it for a few weeks). It was the Book of the New Sun, the epic sci-fi/fantasy tetralogy by Gene Wolfe (the four parts, which are not at all  stand-alone, being the Shadow of the Torturer, the Claw of the Conciliator, the Sword of the Lictor, and the Citadel of the Autarch).

Now, the Book is amazing. I’m not even going to try to give a detailed review of it because I could not possibly do it justice. I really need to re-read it to try to understand it better, because it is just so dense.
I just want to talk about one small part of it – the nature of the Order of Seekers for Truth and Penitence, better known as the guild of torturers.

The guild’s pride is in the fact that, in a society where everyone is trying to get the upper hand and no one in the Commonwealth is really working for the common good, the guild members are the only ones who can really say “we obey”. They do not question their orders – they do what those who have lawful authority over them say to do, no matter what. It is not their place to decide whether the ‘client’ (their term for victim) is guilty or innocent, and decide whether or not to administer the punishment; that is the judge’s place. They simply carry out the sentence.
There is a certain power behind that philosophy. If you are going to claim to have a legitimate government with legitimate authority, you can’t have servants of that government taking the law into their own hands whenever they think the government has made a mistake. You can’t have prison guards deciding not to guard the people they think aren’t guilty, without having those people actually acquitted in a court of law. It would be chaos. It seems like every government needs this sort of stable foundation – and that’s what the torturers say they provide, the foundation for the government of the Commonwealth.

But that is also a philosophy that excuses, for example, the soldiers who worked in the Nazi death camps. I don’t think we want to do that. We want to say that when the government is evil the people should resist it. But we also want to say that people can’t take the law into their own hands whenever it suits them.

So what are we to do? These seem to be incompatible…

The only solution I can think of, and it is not altogether satisfying, is that one ought to be able to say, “We Obey”, and mean it, or one ought to be against the government, totally and without reservation. If you are a governmental servant and you cannot say “We Obey”, you are not really a servant of the government at all. You are fighting against it, subverting it. If you believe the government is evil, fine, fight against it, and do not say “We Obey”. But I don’t think you can say, “the government is for the most part good, but I don’t like ____, so I’m going to go against them on that”. That position does not seem internally consistent.

But that is what all of us do all the time. Almost no one can actually say “We Obey”, but almost no one actually wants to overthrow the government either…

Museums and Ruins

September 7, 2008

Just got back from Pompeii, Paestum, and the Naples Archaelogical Museum.

One thing I have noticed, about sites such as these, is how much is roped off or behind glass or otherwise set apart. You obviously can’t touch anything in the museum; at Paestum the three most interesting parts (the ancient Greek temples) were behind barriers; and at Pompeii, a lot of it was accessible, but a lot was not. And of course you aren’t allowed to go climbing or running around even the parts that are.

Something bugs me about this. The goal is to preserve these things for the future… but, if the future is only going to enjoy them as much as we do now, what is the point? Everything perishes – it’s fruitless to try to preserve these things forever. But it seems like that’s what we’re trying to do, at the expense of the good that we could get out of them now.

I know this isn’t really a brilliant argument, but it does seem to me that something is off with this… I would much prefer it if visitors to Paestum were able to go into the temples themselves, if the museums would allow people to touch the artifacts them have (at least some of them), if Pompeii would let you climb on walls and explore the area yourself… it would shorten the lifetime of those sites, but it would give us more out of them in the meantime.

The Wanderer (September)

September 4, 2008

As you have probably already read, I now reside in Rome – for the next four months, anyway.

But it’s not just that I’m in Europe… I’m going to be roaming around Europe a lot. This weekend our class takes a trip to Naples and Pompeii. The week after that is a travel weekend, and I’ll probably end up going somewhere there, though I’m not sure where yet; the week after that I’ll probably stay in Rome, but even so I’ll be seeing a bunch of stuff in the city and all that.

So… basically, in September, I’ll be wandering a lot. I’m currently listening to the sounds “The Wanderer” by Elvenking and “Wanderer” by Ensiferum; they fit pretty well with what I think this month will be like. You might say that those songs are the official songs of this month.

And who is the relevant Wesnothian character? Well, it has to be someone who travels around a lot, kind of a tourist. A human going from normal lands to somewhere foreign. Any good options?

I think the best choice is Alanin. He’s the Wesnothian representative among the dwarves in the Sceptre of Fire campaign (which I wrote). So, this month, I’ll be Alanin.



Incidentally, tomorrow I’m turning eighteen and it will be legal for me to drink in Italy. And vote in the USA. Yay, I guess.

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