Thursday, November 29, 2007

Happy Gamevember

This month has been a great month for gaming. Three games that I have been looking forward to for a while (see the PAX posts!) finally came out. I spent a pretty penny, but I'm really enjoying them.

Assassin's Creed
This game is just plain awesome. Some people complain about repetitiveness or the ending, but I really liked it. All of it. It's a beautiful game, and fun to play. I love climbing and fighting and scoping out the target. Not to say that the game was perfect... but the things that bugged me were few, far between, and minor.

Rock Band
Ever since I played the drums at PAX I've been looking forward to this game. And we've been really enjoying it. I say "we" because pretty much everyone who has been around lately has played and loved it. I was very excited to find that my girlfriend has fun playing the game! I don't expect her to like or wish to play most of my games. But it's fun to have some to share with her too. This is a solid, fun game.

Mass Effect
I didn't realize how badly I'd been needing a sci-fi fix until I started playing this game. I can tell this one is gonna take me a while to beat. And I'm really happy about that. It's a solid game with a fascinating universe set-up. And it's a role-playing game. The XBox 360 has been needing a good one for a while now.

So there you have it. And there are still some good games out there which I've yet to play.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Back to the Future

Here's another interesting free will idea. Consider the following scenario under the assumption that free will exists.

A man is in a room. The room is full of various things to do, perhaps there are foodstuffs, exercise equipment, and games. There are also cameras in the room so that the man can be observed from two monitoring rooms.

In one monitoring room, a woman enters and watches the man via the cameras. After an hour, she uses a time machine (conveniently placed in the room) to go back in time 70 minutes. She goes to the other monitoring room and watches the man do the same things she had seen him do before.

During that hour, are the actions of the man constrained by the knowledge of the traveler? Has he lost the ability to choose?


Recently I've been thinking about the concept of determinism. I guess the idea really first intrigued me back in a Computer Science class. But now I tend to find it more interesting in a philosophical context, specifically about the question of free will.

Personally, I believe in the existence of free will (or agency). It makes sense to me. Most people believe that they have choices, and I agree. Not to say that there are no deterministic events... I guess that makes me a compatibilist. For example, I find that computers and programming are very deterministic (although the systems are very complex and that can lead to apparent inconsistency).

A while back I read some interesting arguments against free will. They were mostly based on scientific studies about the brain. For example, science has found that the brain and body react to stimuli before we actively comprehend it, and arguably before we can make a true choice. Another interesting study involved stimulating the brain in such a way that it seemed the person controlling the stimuli could choose for that person which hand they would raise.

These people argue that we are "moist robots" to borrow Scott Adams' phrase. We are a complex system and we react in specific, deterministic ways. We don't really have any choice over what we do. I disagree with this.

I think that we do have free will but that agency can be compromised. We can limit our own agency or others can take it from us. For example, take the idea of being pricked with a pin. Science says we react to the pin before we have made a decision. This may be true. But this does not necessitate a lack of free will. Our bodies may react instinctually, but we can also condition ourselves. If we have conditioned ourselves for violence, perhaps we flail out at the sudden attack. If we have conditioned ourselves for peace, we may just move away from the pain.

I imagine that the brain stimuli experiment could be likened to addiction. We can be so influenced by certain stimuli such that we lose options. Our agency is restricted. A simple illustration would involve a man who has committed a crime and is now in jail. By committing the crime, the eventual consequence was that his agency was reduced. He can no longer choose to go outside, for he lacks the means to do so.

This leads into the idea of moral responsibility. I believe that people should be held responsible for their actions. Being a religious person, I believe that God will hold people responsible. There is right and wrong. There is good and evil.

In any case, these are just some of my thoughts on the subject. This post is not meant to be a detailed treatise on the subject -- I'm not really a philosopher! But it is interesting food for thought.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

iPhone Review

Well, I've had my iPhone for almost two months now. (Wow, it's been that long?!) The novelty of it has (mostly) worn off, so it's about time for me to review it.

First of all, a preface about my phone usage. Different people need and want different things from their phones, so I'll try to help you understand where I'm coming from. I don't talk much on my phone. Not much at all. Which is to say that I only have a handful of calls per day. I also avoid text messaging. I'm not the type of person who constantly has his phone out.

I'll start with the battery life. So far I have found it to be really good. But again, I'm not talking on it all the time. Nevertheless, I still do use it a decent amount each day (look at web pages, use the iPod part of it, calendar, etc.) and I typically only charge it every other day.

The screen is amazing. I still love the touch screen, although on occasion it can be slightly annoying. Usually because I accidentally tap something, or because I'm too impatient for web pages to load. Usually my issue is that I want to enlarge/shrink something via a 2-finger touch, but a tap gets registered. But this is not a very big deal.

As a phone, it's great. Contacts are neatly organized and easy to access. There are some nice touches there too. For example, if you enter a web page for a contact, you can just touch that to jump right to that page. If you put in an address, just touch it to bring up a Google Map! Also, the visual voicemail is awesome. Perfect even.

The email client is easy to set up. Although I don't send a ton of email from the iPhone directly, I really enjoy getting them on the phone. Email right to my pocket. That's convenient.

Safari is great. I really love to be able to pull up web pages on it. Mostly I browse when at home, so I am connected over my wi-fi. But sometimes it's nice to get a map or web page while on the go. I also enjoy browsing from my couch. No need to get up or turn on my computer. I can quickly access whatever I was thinking of and then go back to XBox or movie or girlfriend.

There are some issues with Safari though. One of the biggest is that there isn't a Flash player for it. So there are a lot of sites which can't be viewed, or at least parts of them. Having said that though, a lot of Flash out there on the web is annoying (like advertisements. Ugh). So it's not a complete disadvantage. I suspect that Adobe will eventually get a Flash player on the iPhone though. They've always had a pretty good relationship with Apple.

The iPod part of the iPhone is excellent. It's only got 8 GB unlike my 15 GB 3rd-generation iPod. So I don't have all my music on it. But that's okay for me since my old iPod lives in my car anyway. The screen is awesome for my They Might Be Giants videos which I put on.

Some of the apps are pretty convenient: weather, maps, calculator, and notes. I really like being able to jot down some notes.

Speaking of jotting down notes, the virtual keyboard is great. Once you get used to it, it's pretty easy to type. Not as fast as a standard, physical one of course, but still much better than most phones in my opinion. The spell check is pretty good too. Occasionally it fights with me because I wanted something it didn't know, but you can add to it's dictionary.

The calendar is one of the reasons I used to justify getting the iPhone. And it is good. I'm enjoying having a calendar on-hand which is easy to use. On my old phone I only ever used the calendar to see the layout of the days (i.e. the 5th is a Monday or something). But this one I use quite frequently.

I don't do much in the way of syncing data with my iPhone, but I imagine that once that was set up it would also be pretty convenient.

The camera takes pretty good pictures. It does a great job of sharpening up any blurry images, but you still have to try to hold it pretty still. It's really fun to flick through pictures.

If you do get an iPhone, make sure to spend some time to learn some of the little features and details. For example, how to turn on the "airplane mode". Or how to turn it off completely. Be careful of international travel and all that.

Another issue that I have with the iPhone is that the battery is not replaceable. Personally, for my use that's not an issue until the battery dies someday in the far future (knock on wood). But I can totally see how that could be a problem for some people.

I do have one big issue with the iPhone however. Ringtones. I'm not happy about that. I want to be able to put anything I want as a ringtone. I don't want to pay for ringtones. Now perhaps I'm spoiled because my RAZR would take any mp3 or midi. Perhaps because my friend's Nokia will take any mp3. But I think the current way it works is retarded. I'm really hoping that Apple will loosen the grip on the whole ringtone issue. Just open it up, please! Besides not wanting to pay for it, I can't use iTunes to put on what I want right now anyway. The iTunes Music Store doesn't have any Bleach music. It doesn't even allow ringtones for some of the songs I bought from there. And a lot of my ringtones would be other non-music sounds anyway.

Oh well, that's my one issue and rant. But in the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal. The ringtones which come with the phone are much better overall than ones I've heard on other phones, so I'm content with my Sonar. For now.

So in conclusion, I really like my iPhone. It's not for everybody, but it's great for me.

Dear Diary?

Recently I've been thinking about how my blog posting has been languishing, and how I'd like to pick up the pace again.

My intention in creating this blog was never to make it a journal. It was mostly a place to sharpen my writing skills and write about things that I felt like writing about. I've always been wary about putting personal information out there on the Internet. That's one reason why I avoid names on this blog. I try to be intentionally vague about personages, but details do seem to slip in there from time to time.

In any case, I still hold to my original desire. It's just that I find that some of the things I wish to write about are very journal-esque. I say this not by way of apology, but merely to inform my readers (real or imagined) so they can understand my intentions. In all actuality, I don't think that very many people read this blog. (And I've got the comments off, so you can't tell me if you have read it! Ha!) But I should circulate the word a bit more... yes. To friends and family.

So having said that, I now wish to continue by writing on a subject of a most personal nature. Of late my time has been occupied by a certain special someone.

My girlfriend.

She is the best. She's beautiful, kind, and thoughtful. She's intelligent and funny. Somehow she seems to remember every passing detail which I tell her of. She makes me so happy. I am content and peaceful whenever I am with her.

I love her.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Ain't that swell?

A couple weeks ago, a few of my friends and I went down to the San Rafael Swell. We had a great time.

The trip started off a bit slowly as we had to wait for one of our boys to get off of work. And then we still had a couple errands to run, including getting some late lunch. But eventually we waved our belated goodbyes and headed out. We got down to our campsite just early enough to get set up before it got dark. We enjoyed a tasty meal complete with a peach cobbler and then hit the sack.

It was cold that night. I woke up over and over because my head was cold. Eventually I realized that I needed to close a tent flap! My tent-mate was quite startled when I was fumbling with the tent zipper right above his head!

In the morning we got up and it was still cold. We built a fire and I wandered around. There was a cool bridge there that I looked at. Eventually we were all up and we discussed which hike we could go on. I being an austere, stubborn man, demanded that we go on no hike which required getting wet. So eventually it was decided that we would go to Mexican Mountain (a supposedly non-wet hike to appease me).

We drove on a trail down to the start of the hike. The first part was really easy, relatively flat. There were interesting neo-cubist rocks all over the place. We followed a very clear trail for quite a ways. Then our resident wilderness expert told us that it was time we needed to cross the river.


River! What happened to not getting wet? I was not pleased. But we climbed down the bank to the river and I managed to jump across without getting terribly wet (although my boots did get caked with mud). My displeasure increased severely though when we found that we had to cross again! This time I got more wet, but my boots are pretty water-proof, so I wasn't soaked or anything. But I soon discovered (while two of them were taking an extremely long time...) that we didn't need to make those two crossings at all! We had not only gotten wet, but we had wasted a good chunk of time too!!! (Okay... truthfully it was not that bad, it was kinda fun.) It turned out that the river looped back on itself, and we could have just gone around the bend!

Eventually we got to the place where we did have to cross the river. While they waded through the deepest part yet, I was intrepid and found a way around. There were a bunch of big rocks down the river a ways, and I was able to cross on them without the invasive moisture. But I told them (at first) that it was a bridge that I had crossed.

By this time we were at the base of the mountain, and there was nowhere to go but up. We climbed up the boulders and rock slides and made our way up. We never quite made it to the top... took a wrong turn somewhere or something. But we did get pretty high, and we figured that we needed to be heading back anyway since it had gotten quite late. We had lunch on the side of the mountain. While up there a strange thing happened. A cell phone rang! My friends' phone was getting reception, so he talked to a couple people including his brother. Way to go T-mobile!

So we headed back down. The journey was perilous, which is to say that we could have gotten ourselves killed by falling off multiple parts of the mountain. But we made it safely down. My legs were quite upset, but we were at the flat part, so they managed. We crossed at my awesome rock crossing and headed back to the main trail.

By this time it was getting dark, but at least we had found the trail. This trail was, however, much longer than I had remembered. I got quite thirsty as we headed back, as I had drank all my water! It was very dark by the time we finally stumbled all the way back to the car. We drove back down the trail to our campsite, ignoring the desert wind dust ghosts on the way. When we got back everyone was so tired that we decided to forgo dinner and just go to bed.

It was cold again, but I slept much better the second night.

We got up in the morning and fixed a delicious dutch oven breakfast of cheesy potatoes and hamburger. Eventually we packed everything back up and headed back home. Good times were had by all.