Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Pope on a Rope

This week Pope John Paul II died, the news is dominated by stories of his positive impact, tireless struggle for good and his legacy on the Catholic church. Every new site has had photos of him and stories as their first, second and third feature, which as a student of history forces me to consider his impact and significance. First off I feel compelled to reveal some demographic info, as it will likely color my opinions. I am not a Catholic or even a Christian, although I have inherited my fair share of Christian values based on my culture, etc. If anything I'm a somewhat skeptical agnostic.

What can we say about the late Pope? He was certainly a hard worker, executing his duties until his dyeing day, he was a man of principle and integrity and a tireless defender of the traditional Church, and by all accounts he had a lovely singing voice. So what impact did he have on the Catholic Church and, through the position of power it gave him, the world?

News bites laud him for being a proponent of peace in the middle east, against capital punishment, abortion and the US invasion of Iraq. So where was his impact on these issues? There is no peace in the middle east, Palestinians and Jews pause in slaughtering each other just long enough to reload their guns and sign worthless agreements. America continues to be the last developed democratic country to make widespread use of the death penalty despite the large number of Catholics and the majority of Christians with political influence. Abortion remains a contentious issue with the extreme edge of the "culture of life" resorting to death threats and bombings. Not a bomb, bullet or humiliated detainee was stopped by his condemnation of American aggression, George II has a more crusaderly attitude towards war.

Admittedly these issues were beyond his reach, if not beyond his influence. So what of his Church? JPII was the unquestioned ruler of the Church, his word was law and he was considered technically infallible. The church changed almost not at all during his reign, no major or even minor reform. The sex abuse scandals, which he condemned, were made possible and covered up by the medieval system of secrecy and patriarchal power the Church structure is designed to preserve. No change there. If anything the church added legal and philosophical hurdles to justice in protecting itself from liability that the Bishops must have learned from fishing trips with Enron executives.

So that leaves the late Pope's influence on the Third World, a place where the Church's missionaries, teachers and charities give it considerable impact. The most significant part of this influence in terms of affecting the quality of life for Third World Christians is the continued condemnation of birth control as sinful. The result of this is a continued rise in population amongst the poorest populations and epidemic disease rates throughout Africa. It would not be fair to place too much of the blame for this on the Pope's shoulders, but what could he have accomplished if he had been a crusader for reform?

In just one year, 2003, 2.2 Million Africans died from AIDS, 12 Million children were orphaned due to the epidemic. If John Paul had used his influence to put people ahead of church doctrine how many would have been spared? How many families would be able to control their growth and provide a better future for their children. If the Catholic Church had even been able to put a small roadblock in front of this tragedy tens of thousands could have been spared.

So if results and not intentions are the measure of historical figures, by the harshest of estimations, Karol Wojtyla goes to sit at the right hand of his maker with the blood of thousands on his hands.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

PC Gaming Redux

I'd like to ammend my earlier impressions of Far Cry with a few thoughts after actually finishing the game, shortly after my little review the game went right from challenging to goddamn hard!

Every positive thing I said is still true, and it goes in some interesting directions at the end, but I really pined for a quicksave more than once in the last third of the game.

Half Life 2 - My wonderful sister-in-law got me HL2 for christmas (Yay!) and I finished it this evening.

Everything you've heard is true, this game is by far the most graphically realistic game ever. The physics model is just amazing as well, objects behave as you would expect and the environment is full of cool shit to play with. The level design is top notch and the bad guys are quite well done.

Negatives: I wouldn't have mind it if it was longer (just cause it was so fun) and the multiplayer component doesn't have much appeal, but this is remedied by....

Counterstrike Source which is included is a blast, the game is a faithful recreation of the original CS, but with the new Half-Life graphic engine.

I really don't know if games need to look any better than this.

Monday, November 22, 2004

A cry too Far

Lately I've been in a bit of a gaming rut, mainly playing Battlefield and it's various mods, but after upgrading my videocard I figure it was time for some escapist eye candy and picked up the acclaimed Far Cry. First off I have to say this game has exceeded my expectations, it's really just beautiful.

The game's plot is basic B-movie fair, mad scientist, muscular mercenaries and a damsel in distress, fortunately it bucks the current "cinematic" trend of having you sit through extended puppet shows which explain the plot while you listen to bad voice acting and saw your wrist with a piece of broken glass.

Any attempt at reviewing this game brings me back to Doom 3, which came out a little later and with a lot more fanfair. To me the thing that made the original Doom the ultimate game is that I felt at some basic level they decided to put every cool fun thing they could think of in the game and leave out the standard boring stuff most games had at the time. The impression I have after playing both is that Id has become the stodgy old fart of gaming and Crytek has appeared as the young turks of the FPS genre, hey they even got busted for building it with pirated software!

Where Doom has you crawling around through dark (really goddamn dark!) metal corridors Far cry starts off on a gorgeous island, which you can travel about fairly freely and even survey large portions from scenic viewpoints.

The weapon mix is standard, but all the guns are fun, and fairly effective. most combat situations can be approached in different ways, in fact there are probably several ways of covering the island between objectives. The game does a great job of creating the illusion of free will and the combination of terrain gives a lot of flexibility to tactics and gameplay. The powerful sniper rifle is particularly enjoyable on the huge levels.

The pace is varied and exciting, the island is large, however you won't have to hike more than you want as there are various armed four wheel drive vehicles and patrol boats to be hijacked.

One decision they made which I think greatly enhances the game is the absence of quick saves. The game only saves at preset checkpoints, this may seem kind of lame, but it is really well implemented. Not saving in the middle of a battle keeps the pace and tension high and they are frequent enough to keep you from ripping out your hair.

This is truly a next generation game, graphically speaking, but it is also a perfect example of game design. I don't know if it is a must-buy, especially with Half-Life 2 on the shelves now, but if you have a new card and want a fun game I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Time to get in shape,etc.

My Fat Ass

With my new job and the winding down of the major home improvement projects I've decided to try to get back in shape. I realized that I've been ignoring my body for too long and it's going to bite back, since going from my moderately physical job at the Hospital to a totally sedentary job in front of a computer I've gained about 35 pounds.

I'd love to be able to fight in armor again and I really need to be in better shape for that, so to that end I have started dieting, began Oct. 18th and began exercising yesterday. Mostly I'm doing Cardio for now, one hour five days a week. My current plan is to get down to 220 by December 10th, that's seven weeks to lose 25 pounds. My eventual goal is to get to 205 by the summer, say June.

I also want to get back in to resistance training, for a while I was lifting weights five days a week, I never got huge, but I did get strong and had noticeable muscle growth in my shoulders, arms and legs. Once the main weight is off I plan on devoting at least 40 minutes a session to weight training.

Today's weight 245.

If you see me driving in to a Taco Bell feel free to rear end me.

Fun with Floor Polish

Thanks to the Skyngangor for sending me this link to a great page showing all the things modelers and miniature painters can do with Future acrylic floor polish.

The Complete Future

The rest of the site is also full of useful tips.

This stuff is really good, I've used it for adding a wash to miniature buildings with impressive results.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Big Events

I haven't posted in a while, but I have my reasons...

I gave notice at my current job, as search engine specialist for a web design firm, on monday and will be starting as webmaster for a software company on the 26th. The news of my departure was not taken all that well, but my replacement seems great and I will have a couple of weeks to train him before I go.

The new job seems like it will be challenging, but rewarding. The money is a step up and the company seems very efficient and well managed. I can't say if it is my dream job yet, but after spending some time this morning orienting with my supervisor there I have a very positive feeling. It is really the kind of job and company I was hoping for.

The downside is that I am in for a grinding schedule as I have committed to two hours at the new job each morning to orient and do some work, then a long commute to the old job to finish up my tasks and orient the new guy for the next couple of weeks.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Plaster Blaster 3

Yesterday my friend Gary and I drove out to Plaster City, a bare plain in the desert east of Ocotillo Wells, for a model rocket enthusiast’s meet. From a distance it looked like a collection of RV’ers hanging out in the desert, but as we got closer we saw a well organized field of launch pads with a variety of rockets from the small store bought variety to 8’ monsters using hybrid motors and requiring a certification to launch.

The launch areas were set up in lines of engine power, with the more powerful rockets further out.

The big attraction of the day was a 1/7th scale model of a Russian Vostok rocket (pictured). This thing is a beast, weighing over 300 pounds, 22 feet tall and powered by 20 high-powered solid-fuel engines. The rocket was partially assembled on site with the large dart shaped boosters added after it was moved into launch position. Equally impressive was the launch sequence, the outer boosters were to fire simultaneously then fall away while the central rockets would ignite in flight, controlled by onboard electronics. Rocketry is unforgiving of complexity so this seemed very ambitious.

We got as close as we cared to, maybe 70 yards, for the launch. The countdown was tense and dramatic. The initial launch was very smooth, the rocket lifted on 16 columns of fire from the boosters and soared maybe 900 feet before two of the four booster sections fell away and the central rockets fired. At apogee the nosecone blew away and all the pieces descended on parachutes. The launch was very successful with all engines firing and only minor damage to the nosecone. The only failure was two of the boosters did not fall away, however the extra weight did not cause any major problems to the flight or recovery. Very cool.

Thanks to Andy and Lisa for inviting us out.

If anyone has good pictures of the launch send them to me and I’ll build a gallery.

Saturday, October 02, 2004


Being a fan of German beer, food, and being known to enjoy a good Oompah band I decided to go to the La Mesa Oktoberfest. I guess I had some misconception that it would be reminiscent of a similar event I attended in Germany, it wasn't. It was crowded with a lot of booths of crap, no music and a lot of dodging elbows and cigarettes. lame. Sort of like the Adams Avenue street fair, but with none of the cool things(live music, booksellers), and much narrower walkways.

Jeanne and I did however have a nice time as we went there with some friends and got to do some catching up. We all had Dinner at Mario's on La Mesa Blvd. Which was pretty good.

Heading to Plaster City tomorrow to see the Big Rocket Launch, hopefully it will be a more memorable event.