Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Dark Knight

I went to watch the Dark Knight yesterday, after the advice of a friend.
Globally, it was a pleasant action movie, but nothing breath-taking. The Joker is truly frightening and insane. Batman tries very hard to have conscience issues, but it's not very convincing, and I think that is the main problem of the movie. It's hard to see the dark side of the dark knight.
The story is mostly an excuse to pass a certain number of messages inspired by the events of 9/11 and the Iraq war:
- Terrorists are irrational (the Joker is insane)
- You don't negotiate with terrorists (you don't give in to the insane demands of the Joker)
- Your honor will suffer in your fight against evil (the dark knight stuff)
- It is OK to listen to everyone's mobile phone, provided there are safeguards
- It is OK to lie to the public in order to maintain morale (the lie about Two Face)

I suspect the movie targets US soldiers returning from Iraq and their relatives. Whatever bad is said in the media about them, and whatever their conscience may tell them, they can feel reassured that they did the right thing.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Blind Faith, by Ben Elton

This book tells the story of Trafford, a man leaving in London after large parts of the world were submerged in water due to the global warming effect. The brittish society has become ego-centric, exhibitionist and religious. The dominating religion, which is vaguely Christian, decides over the lives of all citizen. Cameras accessible to all, including the government, are present at every corner.

Trafford is unsatisfied by the daily routine, and has difficulties sharing the enthusiasm of his fellow citizen for his lifestyle. Through a colleague, he discovers the life, philosophy and science from before the great flooding. He joins the resistance and plans to spread his newly acquired knowledge to others who dare not yet voice their critical views.
Unfortunately, Trafford is betrayed and the resistance movement is crushed.

My main complaint against the book is its similarity to "1984". Ben Elton updates Big Brother to include contemporary devices, such as western religious extremism, the Internet, Facebook and reality shows. Oddly, he also throws in self-help books in the lot. This novel reeks of fear of technology and of conservatism. Ben Elton is out of touch with the new generation. He uses "1984" to validate his negative opinion of the freedom of expression offered by modern media.

On a positive side, I enjoyed the (somewhat) positive ending of the story, even though the book closes on "Trafford knew that natural selection would save the world, [...] and that one day the Confessors of the Temple would be extinct", a sentence which I find naive.

Evolution: a belief or a fact?

It is not uncommon to "meet" people on the net who are critical of others who "believe" in evolution. I think the term "believe" is not the correct one here. Is evolution scientifically proven? Probably not in the sense in which e.g. the theory of gravitation is. It does however make a lot of sense, and as far as I can judge, it is consistent with what can be observed of nature.

I too was once suspicious about evolution. It is hard to believe that we evolved from a bunch of cells swimming in sea water.

I changed my mind after considering what is required for evolution to work. Each of these prerequisites is in itself so simple and obvious that no sensible person can reject it. So what is needed for evolution to take place?

First, you need a genetic code that decides survival. This genetic code need not be the only factor deciding survival, but it should be relevant.

Then, you need heredity. Parents must be capable of passing their genes to their children.

If the reproduction mode is cloning, i.e. one parent alone is capable of generating children, as is the case for viruses, then mutations are needed to introduce new features.

These ingredients are all that is needed for evolution to work. Because I do not doubt any of these ingredients, I am left with no other option than to "believe" in evolution. I am quoting the word "believe", because my acceptation of the theory of evolution is not based on faith, but on rational thinking.

Friday, June 06, 2008

ManagerZone football

I have discovered the world of online football managing games, and how fun it is.

I first tried, which was advertised on the web site of a Swedish TV channel. Although the concept seemed interesting, I decided to move to another game.

The main reason for my lack of satisfaction was the low usability of the user interface. For instance, when choosing the line-up and the formation, you cannot see the players' abilities, which forces you to go back and forth between pages. Another example is the strategy screen, which seems unfinished. It seems possible to choose between long and short passes, but I can't figure out how to do it. All my clicks on the screen remain unanswered. Weirdly, this screen lets you choose how much doping you want to use. Realistic? maybe, but it should have nothing to do there.

Another bad point is that the players' abilities are strongly skewed towards the physical: form, health, condition and strength. For all I know, my players could all be horses! Not much is said about the technical ability, play intelligence, heading capabilities...

Finally, all training is handled on a team basis. Your entire squad will have the same training, you can't train your players individually.

I then considered Hat Trick and ManagerZone. I went for the latter, as it offers 3d views of games. I am very pleased so far. Here is a random list of the things I like:
- Helpful help.
- Large community.
- The possibility to challenge other players
- You can create your own private leagues and cups. Note however that this feature is not free.
- Advanced training (handled individually, possibility to send players to training camps).
- Easy access to your players' capabilities.
- The preferred position of each player is unknown, you have to figure that out from the players' stats.
- Coaches have abilities, just as players do. Coach recruiting is non-trivial, and it should be that way. Finding good coaches to train you players is just as important as recruiting good players.

If you know other football managing games, please let me know, and don't forget to say what makes your game so special.