Oblivion again

I finally got my Oblivion disk again, and rather than finishing the Shivering Isles material, I’m replaying from the start.  It’s fun, though the graphics actually look a little primitive after playing many Valve games.

After so much TF2, NPC behavior looks stupider than ever.  An amusing even from last night: I was in the middle of the wilderness, and ran into Countess Alessia Caro, apparently on a visit to Chorrol.  (It’s pretty neat that the Oblivion characters actually have schedules, as oppposed to (say) Jade Empire where they just stand in one place like slackers).

I ran into a bandit, and decided to lead him to Alessia to see what she’d do.  He attacked her, and she almost immediately ran away.  She ended up in the water, where he knocked her unconscious (major characters can’t be killed).  I killed the bandit, and she woke up and greeted me with a perky “Hello!”  Not a word of thanks for saving her from the ruffian, or for that matter reproach for leading him to her.  (We ran into a Conjurer next, and she was a bit braver, fighting with her fists.)

I can’t leave the topic without a plug for my bosmer-height but brilliant friend Chris’s Living in Oblivion  blog.

Need a programmer?

(I’m going to keep this post as a sticky for awhile.  New posts appear just below.)

Sometimes the news just comes alive, you know?  In this case: the economic downturn caused sales at my company to tank, and 30% of the employees were laid off, including me.

I actually got that job after posting a blurb on my rant page, so it’s worth a try: anyone need an experienced C#/C++ programmer, with excellent architectural skills, a passion for good UI, and the ability to write readable documentation?  Contact me: markrose at zompist.com.

Not even cunning

At its most polished, under Atwater and Rove, there’s a sharkish cunning to Republican strategy.  This year we’re not even getting that.  McCain’s campaign has been incoherent, desperate, and contradictory.  

One day McCain is against inexperience; the next he’s selecting a complete incompetent.  One day he’s a centrist who’s going to reach across the aisle; the next he’s pandering to the Christianists.  He suspends his campaign to deal with the financial crisis, only to unsuspend it two days later with no help given.  He’s against paltry people like community organizers, only he’s for plumbers.  He’s for change, though he can’t explain what he’d change.  He’s going to cut taxes more and balance the budget.  He was completely behind the $700 billion buyout, but reforming health care is “socialist”.

Reporters like McCain because he doesn’t have the filters politicians usually do.  But this isn’t straight talk; it’s popping out whatever tomfool notion is currently in his head.

Even in foreign policy he’s out of touch.  He doesn’t seem to realize that Maliki’s desire to reduce US troop levels in Iraq matches Obama’s policy, not his own.  He talks about exporting Petraeus’s strategy to Afghanistan, without understanding the different situation (notably, no Sunni/Shi`a division) or Petraeus’s own insistence that local conditions be taken into account.  He mocks Obama’s willingness to talk to Iran, again despite Petraeus’s calm statement that “you always talk to your enemies”.  He claims that he “knows” how to find bin Laden… as Slate points out, if he knows, shouldn’t he have informed his friend the President?

McCain is starting to bristle at comparisons to Bush; but he can’t explain how he’d be any different, and his campaign has descended into pure Rovism, relying on complete bullshit like ACORN. 

All in all, it’s been a gift to Obama, who’s run a disciplined campaign with impressive grassroots that already beat a much more formidable rival.  Trying to paint Obama as a radical just invites comparisons between the frothy-mouthed McCain and Palin and the cool, sensible Obama. 

A lot of pundits are almost giddy over the collapse of conservativism.  That’s greatly exaggerated.  Rather, what we’re seeing is deep fissures in the Republican coalition, the one that Rove & company intended to produce a permanent majority.  Since Nixon, the party has been an alliance of plutocrats and the religious right– with the plutocrats in ultimate control.  (The few times that Bush has been willing to defy his own base, note that it’s always in favor of Big Money: on immigration reform, and on the bank buyout.)  McCain has dived so far to the right that the business class and the conservative elite are abandoning ship.

Team Fortress Almea

Coming soon from Valve, when some tricky negotiating points are resolved, such as them not even being aware of who I am.  Click to enlarge.

The classes are, left to right:

  • Flaming oil thrower
  • Trapmaker
  • Archer
  • Rogue
  • Barbarian
  • Wizard
  • Grenadier
  • Skirmisher
  • Hand Cannoneer

For Almea fans, more info here: http://www.almeopedia.com/Team_Fortress_Almea


Alert reader Raghav Krishnapriyan provides a useful list of links for understanding the financial crisis:

Anyway, one great thing about this crisis is that for the first time, we have an excellent economic blogosphere (featuring Nobel laureates and former Clinton and Bush administration officials, among others) to cover it. In addition to [Paul] Krugman, these are some of my favorites:

Megan McArdle: http://meganmcardle.theatlantic.com/

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok: http://www.marginalrevolution.com/

Brad DeLong: http://delong.typepad.com/

The anonymous contributors at Calculated Risk: http://calculatedrisk.blogspot.com/

Gary Becker and Richard Posner: http://www.becker-posner-blog.com/

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/

Greg Mankiw: http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/


The first few times TF2 invited me to save deathcam shots, it seemed kind of mean– I already knew I sucked, I didn’t need reminders.  But I have to admit that it sometimes comes up with pretty cool images.  Click the thumbnails to enlarge.

(The fourth pic isn’t a death pic, just a silly moment on the MeFi servers: an all-medic round on Hydro.)

Portal for twitch freaks

Tonight I tried out Portal Prelude.  I absolutely loved Portal, so I was eager to have more.  This isn’t it.  This is the George Lucas style of prequel. 

Prelude is apparently for people who played Portal and thought it needed more twisty multi-key mashups.  I couldn’t get far; I checked out the forums for clues, tried a bunch of stuff, nothing worked.  Even if it had, it didn’t make sense… why crouch or run while jumping, except as a pointless way of adding extra keystrokes? 

The developer’s attitude on the forums also bothered me… he couldn’t accept any criticism, no matter how intelligent or insightful, and blamed any frustration on the players.  From the Valve developer commentary, it’s clear that much of the success of Portal is due to the intense playtesting and the commitment to make the game playable and intuitive.  The Prelude guy wasted my whole evening, and the hell with him.

Ask Zompist: Con- and Civ4 worlding

1. Not having a Wacom tablet, I had to resort to drawing outlines in pencil on paper and scanning them. Should I erase them after colorization or accentuate them for a better aesthetic result?
2. Which is the better worldbuilding strategy in your opinion – top-down, bottom-up, or mixed?
3. I was playing Civ4 attempting to implement the Culture victory scenario you mentioned in your article, and I accidentally picked “Raging Barbarians” instead of “No Barbarians” in the custom game menu. Do you have any special tricks that you use to deal with barbarians?
1. Whatever looks better.  In general sharp lines will probably look best; but for maps, use light colors so the text isn’t overwhelmed.  And jeez, get a tablet already. 
2. Again, it’s an art, not a science… do what works for you.  But don’t expect to make something permanent the first time.  If you expect to revise things later, it doesn’t matter so much what order you use to create the first draft.  (My Historical Atlas and Verdurian dictionary went through at least three full revisions each before they were posted to the web.  And they can both use another go-around.)
3. I’m not sure I’ve played Civ4 with Raging Barbarians.  They can be an annoyance, but perhaps less so than the other civs, since they don’t coordinate attacks.  I think the main effect would be to make you militarize a tad earlier, since ordinarily you have a little breather before the other civs come knocking.  The Great Wall can help if they’re really bugging you. 

Blame Greenspan. Or Ayn Rand

A good article in the NYT about Alan Greenspan and his role in the present mess:


The derivatives market is $531 trillion, up from $106 trillion in 2002 and a relative pittance just two decades ago. Theoretically intended to limit risk and ward off financial problems, the contracts instead have stoked uncertainty and actually spread risk amid doubts about how companies value them.

(Pause to boggle at that amount.  By contrast, the GDP of every nation in the world is $54.3 trillion.)

Greenspan, as a good disciple of Ayn Rand, consistently opposed regulating the derivatives market, refused to recognize the housing bubble, worked to repeal existing oversight laws.  There were opposing voices, but they were ignored; attempts to regulate were pushed down.  Greenspan assured Congress:

I believe that the general growth in large institutions have occurred in the context of an underlying structure of markets in which many of the larger risks are dramatically — I should say, fully — hedged.

The article has another villain, by the way: Robert Rubin, Clinton’s Treasury secretary, who fully endorsed Greenspan’s policies.

This sort of thing, by the way, is part of my response to the people who occasionally write to me suggesting, in effect, that stupid people shouldn’t vote.  Smart people have their own ways of being stupid, and when they’re wrong, they fail much more spectacularly than the merely ignorant.  Greenspan wasn’t dumb; neither were the investment bankers and mortgage aggregators and derivative hawkers who created the financial crisis; for that matter neither were the neocons who worked up the Iraq war.  Technocrats can be very wrong.  Treating Greenspan as “The Oracle” was a huge mistake.