A Game: Dwarf Fortress

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So, I’ve been messing around with Dwarf Fortress for a while now. Its full name is actually Slaves to Armok: God of Blood, Chapter 2: Dwarf Fortress but I figure the game, with the kind of graphics it has, or lack thereof, doesn’t need any more strikes against it. The game has been available as an alpha-state, free download since August last year, but the ASCII graphics intimidated me too much to try it. However, I’ve been hearing plenty of good things about it, and since Bay 12 Games recently added a Z-level to it and other players have made it easier on the eyes with modded tilesets, I finally plucked up my courage to give it a whirl.

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Ayn Rand and Me (Part 2)

What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin? What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge – he acquired a mind and became a rational being. It was the knowledge of good and evil – he became a moral being. He was sentenced to earn his bread by his labor – he became a productive being. He was sentenced to experience desire – he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment. The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy – all the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of man’s fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they hold as his guilt, but the essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was – that robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values, without labor, without love – he was not man.

– Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged

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[This is Part 2 of a planned 3 part series on Ayn Rand and her philosophy and its influence on my life. You can read Part 1 here. This part covers some of Ayn Rand’s early life and details more of her philosophy and how it directly influenced my personal development.]

In many ways, Ayn Rand’s life showed a determination and even an obsession as strong as any of her fictional characters. Born in 1905 to a middle-class family in St. Petersburg, Russia, she witnessed firsthand the horrors of communism when her family’s pharmacy was seized by the Soviets in the revolution of 1917. At the University of Petrograd (the city’s new name given by the Soviets in place of St. Petersburg), she studied history, including American history, and became an admirer of American ideals. In 1925, she finally received permission to travel to America, on the pretext of visiting relatives, but by then she had already decided never to return to Russia.

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Philosophy Embraces Empirical Experiments?

A thought-provoking article entitled “The New New Philosophy” published recently in the New York Times Magazine covers a recent trend among philosophers to embrace empirical experiments. As the article notes, philosophers have traditionally tended to be rather snooty towards during actual empirical work, preferring to think of themselves as pure workers of the mind who need nothing but pencil and paper and a comfortable armchair.

Of course, philosophy has tried to be more scientific before, notably postmodernism’s ridiculous efforts to dress up their nonsense in scientism, in order to steal back some of the glory and respect that philosophy has lost since natural philosophy became science. But in my opinion at least, this new acceptance of empiricism is much more likely to yield interesting results. As I alluded to in my review of Irrational Man, philosophers have tended to assume than mere reflection is sufficient to reveal the secrets of the human psyche, while ignoring how discoveries in neurology have allowed us to examine in ever more intimate detail how the brain really works.

The article offers the opinion that while empirical work may raise interesting new questions for philosophers, it would not be able to settle them. I think that this is somewhat over-simplified. At the very least, objective knowledge of the processes that drive emotions, intentions and thought itself would seem render invalid many lines of philosophical inquiry. For example, Ayn Rand believed that reason should precede emotions such that we should use reason to determine how we should feel and then adjust our feelings accordingly, while neurologists now believe that feeling itself is a part of the reasoning process. Similarly many philosophers believe that existential angst is indicative of a great gap in human existence that must be filled either by religion or some other ideal. Perhaps it is only indicative of those philosophers’ lack of access to anti-depression medication.

The Real “I Am Legend”

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This was written as a response to Tan Kien Boon’s recent post praising the movie of the same name starring Will Smith and would properly show up as a comment on his blog via trackback if only he wasn’t using Blogger. Granted I haven’t watched the movie, but I have read the book it was supposedly based on and considering the spoilers to the movie version that I’ve read, actually watching it isn’t particularly high on my list of priorities. I’m sure that the movie is a decent enough action flick like so many others starring Will Smith like Bad Boys 2, Independence Day and Men In Black 2; entertaining, action-packed and exciting but schlocky, shallow and sappy.

The problem however is that it chooses to call itself “I Am Legend” and then proceeds to completely throw away all that is great in its source material. The real I Am Legend is a horror novella by Richard Matheson first published in 1954. It’s an influential and highly regarded book and the fact that it’s still in print today is a testament to its popularity. I highly recommend that people read the novella themselves but for those who aren’t going to read it anyway, here’s what makes the story so great and why its really called I Am Legend.

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Word of the Year

The publishers of the Merriam-Webster dictionary has just named the word of the year, and it’s “w00t”, spelled with two zeros instead of the letter ‘O’. While it’s fascinating to note how a word from the gamer lexicon has entered the mainstream, I personally find the usage of such terms annoying. One reason why I find the QuartertoThree forums so appealing is that almost everyone there uses complete sentences, proper grammar and punctuation and correct spelling. I find many garish forums such as SomethingAwful and even lowyat.net to be nearly unreadable and the Malaysianisms of the latter forum doesn’t help at all.

I’d like to note though that the article’s stated reason for the spelling of “w00t” using zeroes is incorrect. Early online gamers that could only type messages to communicate with one another used numbers to replace text only because they thought it would be cool and as a way to subtly code their communications. Nowadays, thanks to predictive text technology¬† and better keyboards on mobile phones, I think that there’s no real excuse to actually spell “w00t” with zeroes other than continuing the tradition from online gamers.

World’s Biggest Game Display

What you’re seeing there is a project by the Tampere University of Technology in Finland to create the world’s biggest game display by using the windows of an apartment building as pixels. Here they’re implementing a version of Tetris specifically written for the project, though I must admit that the player playing it isn’t much good.

Pretty amazing project though and it would totally rock to see it implemented on a larger scale on skyscrapers.

Customized WOW Figurines

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This new service for WOW players seems ridiculously cool: select a character on any server, select what items you own that you want displayed on the character and the service makes a customized figure of that character. It won’t be available until December 11 and at US$120.00 including freight charges it isn’t exactly cheap, but this is exactly the kind of business idea that makes stupid sense retrospectively. Considering the amount of time that MMO players spend on their characters and how important it is to most players that their characters look cool, it’s pretty obvious that this is exactly the kind of product that would appeal to a big segment of the market.

I’m still playing WOW on and off but mainly because it’s the only game I can play together with my wife. We’re still at level 64 after a few months of Burning Crusade, so that’s some super-casual playing for you.

The unexamined life is a life not worth living