Robert’s blog (1.0)

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Philosophy in public schools (8 February 2005)

NPR story: Kansas Schools Struggle with Evolution and Creationism

Rather than trying to force philosophy into science classes, perhaps we should be demanding that our schools start treating philosophy as equally important as science.

Metaphysics has no place in science classes. Yet, it does have a place in public education, along with the other branches of philosophy: logic, epistemology, ethics, & aesthetics. These are important topics that should have an equal place alongside science in high school graduation requirements.

Indeed, if the proponents of adding "intelligent design" to science cirriculum had studied epistemology, they'd understand why they are taking the wrong approach.

I have, indeed, felt the lack of these subjects from my own high school education. Many classes touched on some of them briefly, but we never really studied them. Plus, philosophy is a topic that I personally find harder to study on my own than science. So, high school would have served me personally better by teaching me more philosophy & less science.

It appears that things are no better today. The "Basic Instructional Program: Required Instruction (Secondary)" policy of my local school district lists: English language arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Economics, Physical education, Health education, Fine Arts, Career and technology education, Languages other than English, Technology applications, & Speech. Not even a mention of philosophy, despite its important influence on many of these subjects. It is relegated to being a hazy background that is sensed only through its influence rather than direct study.

AppleWorks (13 January 2005)

I now only have one major complaint with our Macintoshes: AppleWorks.

I don't think a new feature has been added since it was ClarisWorks running on my Quadra 630. Although it is a Mac OS X application, it might as well not be, since it is still the same application I used under OS 7.

The really sad part, however, is that I'm completely happy with OpenOffice on my home Linux workstation & my work Microsoft Windows XP workstation. AppleWorks should be at least as good as OpenOffice or Apple should replace it with OpenOffice.

Thanks to the Unix personality underneath OS X, OpenOffice can run on OS X. When doing so, however, it is still a Unix application & even less integrated with the Mac OS than AppleWorks. The NeoOffice project is working on rectifying that situation.

In other news, the recently announced Mac mini is the reason that AppleWorks is now my sole complaint with the platform. You can again buy a Macintosh without an integrated monitor for less than $1,500. Indeed, it goes for as low as $500.

Star Trek: The New Voyages (4 December 2004)

I finally managed to download & watch In Harm's Way, the second episode of Star Trek: The New Voyages. ST:TNV are a series of fan films distributed for free on the Internet. Their approach is to, in effect, create a fourth season of the original series. An admirable path, in my estimation.

Unfortunately, In Harm's Way is a story only a die-hand TOS fan could...appreciate. (& even that may be too strong a word.) It would fit better in TNG than in TOS.

(TOS refers to "the original series". TNG refers to "The Next Generation".)

Here's an excerpt from the guide that was given to scriptwriters of TOS. (Taken from the wonderful book: The Making of Star Trek)

Remember always that Star Trek is never fantasy; whatever happens, no matter how unusual or bizarre, must have some basis in either fact or theory and stay true to that premise (don't give the enemy Starflight capability and then have them engage our vessel with grappling hooks and drawn swords).

In Harm's Way must be forgiven if anything it builds upon from TOS episodes is inconsistent with modern facts or theories. It makes the mistake, however, of following TNG's lead into pure technobabble. Not a lot, but it would've been better to avoid this.

Tell your story about people, not about science and gadgetry. Joe Friday doesn't stop to explain the mechanics of his .38 before he uses it; Kildare never did a monologue about the theory of anesthetics; Matt Dillon never identifies and discusses the breed of horse before he rides off on it.

This is about more than not explaining things. It's also about ensuring the viewer can follow the story without having things explained. In Harm's Way doesn't stop to explain things. Instead, it just leaves you lost if you don't know trivia about the franchise. The story is not about people, it's about the Trek universe.

Then, with that firm foundation established, interweave in it any statement to be made about man, society, and so on. Yes, we want you to have something to say, but say it entertainingly as you do on any other show. We don't need essays, however brilliant.

This is the real failing of In Harm's Way. It's pure entertainment. A TOS episode should have something to say.

While I did get some satisfaction from being able to recognize elements of the franchise & follow the story, this isn't really giving fans of TOS what we loved about the show. If TNV wants to really recapture the feel of TOS, it's going to need scripts that have something to say & which don't rely so heavily on Trek trivia.

Production-wise, I would've rather the space sequences to have stayed a little truer to the style of TOS. They went a bit over-the-top there. Likewise, there were some computer generated sequences that felt like they borrowed a little too much from the styles of the movies & TNG. A little camera trip through the internals of the engineering section served no purpose other than to completely abandon any TOS feel for its duration.

I was also a bit disappointed at the lack of TOS style dramatic lighting. As cheesy as it might seem these days, that's always been a definitive ingredient of TOS's style to me.

Still, I think TNV is an admirable effort. I'm looking forward to episode 3. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find episode 1.

I'm currently downloading episode 1 of Starship Exeter...

Shrek 2 (3 December 2004)

A film sequel that is as good as the original is rare. I think they pulled it off with Shrek 2. In fact, I think it's better than the first film.

I always had mixed feelings about the first film. It was good, but there was always something about it that bothered me which I couldn't quite put my finger on.

Shrek himself isn't nearly as funny or interesting this time around. It is other characters that make this film.

Two of those in particular are Jennifer Saunder's Fairy Godmother & Antonio Banderas' Puss in Boots. John Cleese & Julie Andrews are not used to their fullest, but that's a function of the story. Can the filmmakers be criticized for hiring talent bigger than their roles?

But the animators also do a great job of completing the performance that the voice actors provide.

My biggest criticism would be that, like the first, it may be too concerned with being hip. Shrek 2 may even be more guilty of that than its predecessor.

iTV (2 December 2004)

I heard a very interesting idea on NPR yesterday. What if there was something like iTunes for TV.

Imagine that for $1 you can download an episode of The Sopranos (or any other show). It could use a scheme like BitTorrent to download the entire thing efficiently rather than dealing with the annoyances of streaming video over the net.

Ideally you could watch it on your TV instead of your computer monitor, but the distinction--at a technological level--has almost disappeared at this point. Getting the image from your hard disk to your TV is really just a matter of connecting them.

(I've always believe convergence would be more of a behind-the-scenes thing. While the technology behind different media may all converge, the means by which different media are used don't converge as much. While I have watched a movie on a computer, I prefer to do it on my TV. While I could edit a document on my TV, I prefer to do on with my workstation monitor.)

I think there'd be a market for such a service. I would definitely be tempted to try out some of the HBO or Showtime original series that I otherwise haven't been able to watch if such a scheme were available.

If it had been available (& practical) when I first signed up for cable, I wouldn't have gotten cable. The only reason I got cable was because Babylon 5 was moving from broadcast to cable.

Plus, I think there would be shows that might succeed through such a system that wouldn't make it on broadcast or cable.

RPG Canon (1 December 2004)

The idea of a canon typically develops around any fictional world of appreciable popularity. e.g. Lucasfilm generally considers the Star Wars films canon for the Star Wars universe; but novels, comic books, games, &c. are not canon.

Establishing what is & isn't canon is a way to keep some amount of consistency in a shared setting. Many authors write scripts for Star Trek or the West Wing, but the producers generally want to keep the worlds depicted by these shows reasonably consistent.

(Even when there isn't an official canon, fans tend to construct their own. Each fan will have their own idea of exactly what they consider canon, but it's still a useful concept for discussion. But that's getting away from my point.)

Publishers of roleplaying games tend to establish canon for similar reasons. They think it is important that all publication about a specific milieu be consistent.

I disagree. If I start a Greyhawk campaign, my Greyhawk immediately begins to diverge from Greyhawk canon. An adventure written to canon is as likely to not fit into my Greyhawk without modification as an adventure not written to canon.

That does not necessarily mean that there is no place for canon in roleplaying mileux. Only that publishers should be willing to allow products to stray from canon to a much greater extent than is typical.

Strict constructionism...except for marijuana (30 November 2004)

The Bush administration preaches strict constructionism. Then it tries to argue that Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 grants the federal government the authority to arrest someone growing marijuana for their own personal use in a state that has legalized medical marijuana.

There's no commerce. There's no crossing of state or national boundaries. There's no "Indian Tribes" involved. Therefore--according to strict constructionism--the commerce clause does not apply.

Truthfully, I haven't had a lot of sympathy for the medical marijuana movement. It the height of silliness to me that alcoholic beverages & tobacco are legal but that marijuana isn't. My--admittedly uninformed--impression, however, has been that the medical marijuana proponents are more interested in legalizing marijuana than in its medicinal properties.

Angel McClary Raich makes a persuasive argument. Who knows who to believe, though.

In any case, the three-hour stand-off between DEA agents & sheriff's agents in Diane Monson's garden doesn't seem like the most productive way to start the debate. If the Bush administration wants to assert that the federal Controlled Substances Act trumps California's Compassionate Use Act, there should be some more direct avenue for it to do so.

Tales of the Gold Monkey (29 November 2004)

I recently acquired the entire Tales of the Gold Monkey series on DVD.

What is that? I guess the best way to describe it is with an analogy.

Tales of the Gold Monkey:Raiders of the Lost Ark::Battlestar Galatica:Star Wars

While Monkey isn't directly based on Raiders, Monkey would probably have never gotten on television if it weren't for Raiders.

Set in the South Pacific, the show follows the adventures of cargo pilot Jake Cutter & his one-eyed dog Jack (two barks for "yes", one bark for "no") in their Grumman G-21 (or "Goose"), a small amphibious airplane.

The quality of the video is, unsurprisingly, low by regular commercial DVD standards. The lady who put them together did the best she could for a fan effort of possibly dubious legal status. Its perfectly sufficient, however, to satisfy my nostalgia needs.

Fudge (18 November 2004)

I was lurking about the Fudge mailing list archives & came across a debate about what Fudge is & what it needs to be.

Some people say Fudge need to be more standardized. Some people call Fudge just a toolkit & not a complete game.

Fudge is standardized. The basic Fudge system is the standard.

Fudge is not a toolkit, but a ready to play game.

Fudge is different from most roleplaying games. You can use it as a toolkit to build a fairly conventional roleplaying game, but--in some sense--you aren't really playing Fudge then. You're playing another game inspired by Fudge. (& usually also inspired by another conventional game.)

Fudge says we--as creative, intelligent, experienced roleplaying gamers--don't need set "lists of things" like attributes, skills, gifts, flaws, &c. It says we don't need stardardization on these things, even between characters in the same campaign. It says we don't need point systems for balancing these things. It's named "Fudge" because you are encouraged to just "fudge" it.

Granted, freeform gaming isn't for everybody, but it certainly works for some people. This is the kind of gaming Fudge was created to support.

Fudge doesn't, IMHO, do a good job of communicating this, though. It took me multiple readings & reading a lot of the author's other writings to come to this realization.

Now, some people go on to say that freeform games don't sell & that the vast majority of gamers don't want freeform games. Should Fudge change--become something its not--in order to sell better? Is Fudge going to manage to seriously challenge the d20 system or even GURPS (which has a pityfully small share of the market) if it did become more structured? Does the market really need another structured roleplaying game? Maybe it would make it easier to find Fudge players, but if you're willing to make Fudge into something it isn't just to attract players, why not just switch to whatever system has the players?

(I'm still baffled when I read that people have trouble finding players for a particular game. It has been a very rare occurrence in my experience that a player refuses to play whatever game someone is willing to run.)

In essence those questions have already been answered. It's creator created it & has since moved on. It was never meant to be a commercial success. Fudge is what it is, & it isn't really going to change.

Traveller (10 November 2004)

I've finally added a Traveller section to my web site. So far it has a draft "top ten things to know about Traveller", a Traveller Q&A, & a draft of a task system.

Those should all eventually see updates, & there should be some additional stuff in time.

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