Two Overpriced Ports

Buying vintage port is like going on a blind date in Manhattan. No matter how many close friends vouch for your blind date, you really can’t know in advance whether it will be fun or a disaster, and the only thing you know for sure is that it’s going to cost a lot of money. You can’t even count on having a good time if the date isn’t completely blind. Since vintage port is a wine that we often keep for years, it’s not unusual to end up in a situation where one bottle of a given house and vintage is superb, and then the next bottle from the exact same batch is awful, because it has spoiled, because you didn’t rebottle it; this happened to me with a bottle of 1977 Smith-Woodhouse. Read On →


Game mechanics: the underlying rules and goals of a game. How do you decide what a player is allowed to do? When has a player won? How do player actions affect the game? The mechanics of a game are part of a game that is not narrative. Some basic game mechanics: Run around in a circle; first one to finish wins. (all racing games) Kill everyone else and/or capture the flag (most FPSs) Move the ball to the scoring zone the most times (sports games) Capture and hold victory points (war games) Wager and win tokens (gambling games) Compound games exist: Get the ball in the goal while killing everyone (Deathrow). Read On →

Europa Universalis II

Since my last article was spent talking about console games and how great they are, let me shift gears and talk about a PC game I’ve been playing lately: Europa Universalis II. This is a game with beautiful, beautiful maps. Gorgeous maps. Maps that literally take your breath away and make you marvel at them. You’ll sit back, contemplating the intriguing position of the Low Countries in relation to the principality of Brandenburg, and say – perhaps out loud, even – “Damn that’s one beautiful map. Read On →

La Prima Espresso

In a wonderful rant, psu talks about the perfect cup of coffee, and how there’s only one place in Pittsburgh – La Prima Espresso – to get it. His conclusion is that it’s pointless to buy an expensive espresso machine like a Silvia because it still won’t be as good as what we can get at La Prima. He’s right and wrong. Whether or not getting a fancy espresso machine is “worth it” is of course a judgment call, but I agree that generally what you’re going to make for yourself isn’t going to be as good as what you get at a good cafe, if only because of what I like to call the “hot dog in Yankee stadium” effect. Read On →

Europa Universalis

Since my last article was spent talking about console games and how great they are, let me shift gears and talk about a PC game I’ve been playing lately: Europa Universalis II. [Europa Universalis II ](/weblog/images/articles/eu21.jpg) This is a game with beautiful, beautiful maps. Gorgeous maps. Maps that literally take your breath away and make you marvel at them. You’ll sit back, contemplating the intriguing position of the Low Countries in relation to the principality of Brandenburg, and say – perhaps out loud, even – “Damn that’s one beautiful map. Read On →

Why I don't buy a Silvia, or Ode to La Prima

Home espresso machines are a big business. For a few hundred dollars you can get a machine on par with the stuff that Starbucks is using to make those Venti half-caff double caramel 2-pump vanilla machiatto smoothie drinks for the local teenage set. But here is why I’d rather just go to La Prima espresso. Really good coffee is a complicated thing. My wife never drank, and in fact, hated coffee for at least the first 15 years we were together. Read On →

Platforms in Play

I play video games, on average, maybe an hour a day. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but on average probably 1/24th of my adult life is spent playing videogames. That’s quite a lot. I have a love of the game medium that is wide and deep. For the past many years, I’ve played games both on the PC (Windows and Mac) and more or less every console in vogue. I spend time and money on gaming as a hobby. Read On →

Gjetost: Freakish Norwegian Caramel Cheese

I have a cheese problem. My problem centers around the fact that the two best cheesemongers in town (Penn Mac and Whole Foods) are somewhat inconvenient for me to reach without planning. So I often find myself in the local supermarket, Giant Eagle, which purports to have a good selection of cheese. And they do: in the abstract, their selection is “ok.” Nothing fabulous, but they often have cheeses that I would like to eat, especially if I haven’t had time to pick up something great at Penn Mac. Read On →

Stupid Symlink Tricks

I do all of my work on my laptop. I have an external drive for large projects, but the desire to keep everything on the laptop means that I really only want to spend internal hard drive space on the essentials. I love LiveType, but I only use it once in a blue moon, generally when finishing a project up. Unfortunately, Apple’s dopey installation program requires that LiveType (like all the Pro apps) be installed completely on the internal drive. Read On →

Para Los Muertos

Recordarem os. Our thoughts and hopes are with you, MadrileƱos. You are not alone.

Review: The Battle for Wesnoth

Over the years, one of my favorite types of computer games has fallen under the rubric of “turn-based strategy”; basically, traditional units-in-hexes wargames where the computer takes care of all the bookkeeping for me. The first of these was probably, I’m guessing, Empire for the VAX/VMS system (and yes, I played it). ![Xconq]( small.jpg) Xconq Empire had supply points (cities) which could be captured, that could produce a variety of units with different capabilities (land, sea, air) and different attack and defense values. Read On →

Formula 1: It's the Coverage, Stupid!

Well, the Australian Grand Prix is over, and once again I have to face ridicule from people like Dushyanth, who ask: “Why do you watch this “sport”? All they do is go round and round in circles, and in the end Schumacher wins." As time goes by, I have fewer and fewer answers to that question. But instead of talking about Formula 1 as a sport, let’s discuss it as a media event. Read On →

Contest Results

The answer is: “Three Guys and a Router” No one guessed it, but, well, I’ve got these prizes and, so, congratulations! The “Tried To Think About it Analytically” prize goes to Kristen. The “Obsessive-Compulsive” prize goes to Francisco. The “Reminded Me about how wonderful Rome is” prize goes to Simone. The “I wish I had thought of that as a name for this site instead of the mega-stupid ‘Tea and Peterb’” prize goes to monty. Read On →


Note: This article may contain spoilers for a number of popular and not- so-popular video games. I’ll try to keep my discussion oblique, but you have been warned. The study of puzzles is one that consumes some people. There are brilliant folks who spend most of their waking hours thinking about historically significant puzzles, trying to develop novel puzzles, and who have a deep, analytical sense of what makes a puzzle challenging and enjoyable. Read On →

Change of Address

The old URL will continue to work just fine, but I’ve moved this site to the following address: You might want to update your bookmarks and links. As a special contest, I will ship a copy of (your choice) a CD of Charlie Mingus' The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady or a paperback of David Wingrove’s book The Broken Wheel (tip: pick the Mingus CD) to the first person who can guess, in the comments, what “tgr” stands for. Read On →

Creative Ways To Back Up Large Movies

So, you made a half hour film. At DV resolutions that takes up about 5 gigabytes of storage. How are you going to back it up? Well, yes, you can print to tape. I do that too. Print to tape, keep the tape forever, yes, that’s a good idea and all but it seems so…low tech. Where’s the excitement? Where’s the danger? Press to DVD, you say? Excellent idea – just write a DVD-R with the raw DV data, and – oh, wait. Read On →

Brief Intro to Pointers

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing an article about pointers and why we use them. When I was first learning about them, I understood the hows just fine, but couldn’t ever find a lucid explanation of why one should use pointer. With an air of superiority, however, psu instructed me that the cool kids of today with their crazy dances don’t condescend to worry about anything as low level as mere pointers, and I’d merely be making myself look old and unfashionable. Read On →

Tea Update

In a past life, over at Tea Leaves, I’ve already discussed my favorite purveyor of fine tea, Upton Tea Imports. I’m not their only fan, either. Another season has come and gone, and with it another care package from Upton. Here are my capsule reviews. The biggest winner, to my surprise was the Organic Yunnan Select Dao Ming. I ordered this as an experiment, with some trepidation. “Organic” is a word all too often associated with “stale and tasteless,” particularly with respect to comestibles like tea where freshness, among the vast majority of consumers, is (wrongly) not a concern. Read On →

There and Back Again

This is the second in a series of articles investigating the question “What makes videogames fun?” The first article in the series can be found here In my last article I talked about the importance of location and how the use of a model which points back to the real world can be compelling in and of itself. This is only half the story, though. Not every game can take place in Times Square, nor should every game. Read On →

Location, Location, Location!

This is the first in a series of articles examining videogames and what makes them fun. I enjoy driving games, all kinds of driving games. Driving games feed into my love of auto racing, and of cars, and put an entire class of vehicles that I can’t afford in real life into my hands. So I tend to play them a lot. One class of games is the “tune up” game: you don’t just acquire cars, but actually have to go buy aftermarket parts and adjust the shocks and choose the right tires, etc. Read On →

What Programming Language?

I hear this question a lot, typically from kids who have just discovered that there’s more to a computer than a web browser, and who are curious about where to go for here. The people who ask this question typically don’t have any specific project in mind; if they did, it would be a lot easier to answer them. Instead, they’re really saying “I don’t know much about programming, but I think it might be kind of fun. Read On →

Formula 1 2004 Season Preview

Formula 1 is not a sport in decline; it’s actually in a full-fledged plummet. Addicted to tobacco money, scouting race locations in such dynamic and interesting places as Bahrain and Hyderabad, trying to be a fan of Formula 1 nowadays is like trying to give emotional support to your crack-addicted second cousin who is constantly scaring young girls in the supermarket parking lot but somehow still manages to think that they’re just intimidated by his great looks. Read On →

"The Bomb Has Been Planted"

My friend Jon plays board games. Of the hundreds of games he plays, there is one – Advanced Squad Leader – that has the distinction of simply being referred to as the game. For many years the first person shooter Counterstrike was my _ the game_. It has recently been re-released for the Xbox and I’ve been playing it lately. It’s rapidly becoming _the game_ once again. Counterstrike is a team-based first person shooter: “terrorists” versus “counterterrorists. Read On →

Final Cut Pro: Why Log Clips?

Filmmaking is a creative process. One of the exciting things about editing on a computer rather than with traditional video or film editing machines is that we are free to try new techniques in a comparatively risk-free way. Because of this freedom, I personally found it a bit jarring that Final Cut tries, in subtle ways, to channel the user into doing what I considered to be annoying bookkeeping when capturing video from tape. Read On →

Ceci n'est pas un manifesto

It’s time to make what, I hope, will be the only self-referential post on this site. It’s time to specify the rules of what I’m going to be writing about here I probably shouldn’t do this at all, since it intrinsically violates some of the very rules I’m going to lay down, but I feel like I have a few things to get out of my system. If I can get those things out on paper now, once and for all, I will have a document that I can refer to later when I have the urge to publish something stupid. Read On →

Tigons and Ligers and Bears, oh my!

I knew about hinnies and mules, of course, but in the “everyone else probably already knew this but I just found out” department, today I learned that it is possible to crossbreed lions and tigers, creating ligers and tigons. I don’t know why this comes as a surprise to me. I knew that you could crossbreed an asian leopard cat and felis sylvestris catus and end up with a bengal cat, but I never envisioned that two cats as different as lions and tigers could crossbreed. Read On →

Perforce SCM on OS X

At the behest of one of the commentators here, I decided to try to download and install Perforce on my OS X laptop and see how the experience compares to installing it on FreeBSD or Windows. It worked fine for me, but I can understand how one would find the experience confusing, particularly if you’re not familiar with the unix side of the world. Here’s some notes on the experience. I have a few advantages over your novice user, in that I’ve been using Perforce for about four years, and so already understand the model it uses, and why it is better than CVS -- how the repository stores data, what the relationship between a client, a branch, and the repository is – so I deliberately tried to forget as much as I could and approach this with a fresh mind. Read On →

Ralph, Don't Run!

Please, Ralph, don’t run for President. (Requires Flash) Update: Mark Fiore’s take on the same issue.

Rant: Feser is a Nutbar

PZ over at Pharyngula links to the second part of Edward Feser’s inchoate screed: _ “Whatever bland official statement of purpose might appear in the introduction to a modern university’s college catalog, its true raison d’etre is in practice nothing other than to destroy utterly whatever allegiance a young person might have to traditional conceptions in morality, religion, politics and culture, to “do dirt” on the faith of his fathers, on his country, and on what most human beings have historically understood to be the imperatives of decency. Read On →


I bought myself an xbox for my birthday 4 or 5 months ago. I’ve never been a big gamer. Over the last decade or so, I’ve played the odd shooter game for a while and then stopped again for years at a time. But, I heard that Half-life 2 was going to be coming out soon, and since I don’t own a PC, I figured an xbox would be a cheaper way to get that game. Read On →

Final Cut Pro: What Do You Do When Your Soundtrack Sucks?

Last night I finished my first large project, a 25 minute oral history documentary about my grandmother. I’ve been working on it, on and off, for about six months. When I started, I didn’t know anything, really, about video production, and now, through the arduous process of making tons of mistakes, I probably still don’t know enough to claim to be skilled. However, I am very good at screwing things up. Read On →

A Fistful of Hobbits

[This article]( 3549136929113.djm) at the Wall Street Journal suggests that if MGM and New Line can’t work out the details of distributing The Hobbit, perhaps Jackson could invent a new story that takes place in the Lord of the Rings universe. We have [a few suggestions]( bin/topbot?list00368).

Physicians for the Unethical Misuse of Patient Information

So I’ve been following this “PCRM reveals that Atkins was fat when he died!” trainwreck for a while now, and I have a few comments. I think it is a great example of how ideology is more important to interest groups than facts. I think it is a great example of how invalid reasoning is used by interest groups to arrive at conclusions not supported by the evidence they cite. And, most importantly of all, I think it is a great example of how the people need to be protected from the medical community. Read On →

What I'm Playing

A brief list: PC: Wizardry 8 (still), Day of Defeat. Xbox: Project Gotham Racing 2, GTA3. Counterstrike will be arriving soon (wakka-wakka-wakka-fruit). PS2: Fatal Frame 2, Mark of Kri. Gamecube: Naruto 2. Zelda is on hold.

Saying "Nader is a Fucktard" is not Censorship

Lawrence Lessig has made some righteously angry observations about Ralph Nader who, in typically arrogant fashion, is going around saying stupid and wrongheaded things. Some other folks, notably Aaron Swartz are saying that Lessig is somehow “forgetting about the First Amendment." I respect Aaron, even when I disagree with him, so it’s disappointing to see him making such a weak argument. In particular, Aaron says: _ As Nader said ( and Lessig obviously heard ), running for President is a First Amendment right, involving speech, press, association, and petitioning the government. Read On →

Good Tools Are Worth Paying For

I definitely would not have survived the past couple of days at work without Perforce, the version control system of champions. I’m sure there are version control systems other than P4 that are just as good; it’s just the particular flavor of crack that I’m addicted to. It just seems like the ubiquity of CVS, the de facto standard for open source projects, is yet another great example of Worse is Better. Read On →

Hitchens, Danner, Power, and Frum

Rajeev Advani posts his notes on the debate between Christopher Hitchens, Mark Danner, Samantha Power, and David Frum on the topic (of course) of “Iraq and Beyond.” Thanks to Rajeev for preserving his view of the record. Update: Part two of the debate is described here.

And on the Seventh Day, He Bitchslapped them: A Manifesto in Rant Form

Scalzi identifies an initiative of the Georgia Department of Education to eliminate the word “evolution” from the curriculum as being stupid. And he’s right. He has a bit to say about Creationists, and describes them as “willfully ignorant” rather than stupid. I think I disagree with that distinction: if you’re a Creationist, you are stupid. If you know a Creationist, they are stupid. There is no shame in looking at a drooling idiot moronic pus-filled sack of barely firing synaptic connections and calling them “stupid. Read On →

Icarus of Pittsburgh and other short films

While trying to figure out what the hell, exactly, the [lyrics](http://www.any to Aimee Mann’s superb song Red Vines mean, a friend pointed me to the wonderful animated video (Quicktime). The video was done by artist Evan Mather. I was interested in his work and enjoyed it. His animation workflow involves Adobe Photoshop, After Effects, and Final Cut Pro. I especially liked his short film Icarus of Pittsburgh, but perhaps that’s just location-based snobbery. Read On →

O Cousin! My Cousin!

While hanging out on [CMU Zephyr]( mic/class/15213-s03/www/zephyr.html) tonight discussing election results, someone painfully pointed a link to the very strange Cousin Couples web site, which is where you go if, apparently, you’re screwing your cousin and want to find a group of idiots who’ll say “You go, girl!” While looking, we quickly discovered the Poetry Forum where people could write [ awful poems about how humpable their cousins]( bin/cutecast/ are. This gave me some bad ideas, and of course it was just a few minutes before it all spun out of control. Read On →

Startup Envy

I’ve been compulsively reading every single article on Andy Hertzfeld’s [Fol klore]( by%20Date) page dedicated to the early days of building the Macintosh. I discovered this through a link at Daring Fireball. I can’t stop reading. Part of me is filled with an overwhelming sense of envy; I was only 13 years old when they started building that machine but that was what I wanted to do. Not only that, but I look at the stuff I’ve done, and while it’s pretty cool – telerama wasn’t exactly chopped liver – it’s not quite as exciting, somehow. Read On →

When Emulation Goes Bad

…because you can never have too many parodies of Mortal Kombat.

"Editing Offline" in Final Cut Pro 4

One of the most misunderstood features in Final Cut Pro – other than all of them – is “offline” mode. This is probably because the word “offline” is overloaded in the program’s GUI. The most common usage is simply that the media is offline, but you can still edit the project. However, there is another, more useful definition of “offline” in FCP4, sometimes referred to as “Offline RT”: editing in a resolution lower than that which you eventually intend to deliver. Read On →

Wizardry 8

Wizardry 8 is a game that succeeds in spite of itself. I’ve been nibbling at this little clunker of a game for over a year now (which seems like a common occurrence – people keep coming back to it) and recently have become engrossed in it once again. It has many, many flaws, yet behind those flaws is an entertaining CRPG that is fun to toy with. Interestingly, it has one of the most dedicated fan communities of recent CRPGs, with pages upon pages of material devoted to how to get the most out of playing and replaying the game. Read On →

Starting in Earnest

Now that I actually have my official copy of Final Cut Pro, and its voluminous, ox-stunning manuals, I want to learn how to use the tool better than I have. I find myself wanting to jot down notes all over the place on things I should try, or things that work great (or don’t). I’m setting up this blog as a repository for those notes. The thing that’s kind of disturbing to me is how much I still don’t understand about how this immensely complex program works. Read On →