Monthly Archives: December 2005

Department of the Best Things in Life Are Free, Computer Division

If you’re a parent whose kids didn’t get a new computer game for Christmas — or if they did, and they’ve already beaten it — or if you’re feeling in need of a new game yourself — you probably ought to look into freeware games.

Moreover, if you want to play one of those MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), you don’t have to shell out money for a monthly subscription. There are quite a few free MMORPGs out there which are free to download, free to play, and just as fun to play as the big-name ones. But pick carefully. Some games are free, but playing them on the server isn’t… which means it’s not really free.

Maple Story is a good example of a company-run semi-free MMORPG. It comes from Singapore, but folks from all over the world play. It’s only got 2D graphics, but those graphics are charming. It’s still a work in progress, but the world is big, the community seems nice, and you can’t waste your time on pointless player vs. player battles. What’s not to like?

However, not everything is free. The money-making idea is that there are items in the game (character facial expressions, non-stardard issue clothing, and similar cute things) which customize your character and can be bought with earned-in-game money. But what if you really really want something and don’t have the in-game money? Why, you pay real money to get a card full of game money. Devious, huh? But wait, there’s more! Some of these cute items only exist for 90 days or so. At which point, you’ll naturally want more cute stuff for your character, so….

Yes, there are games out there which are absolutely free, whose creators don’t even ask for shareware donations. There are also whole communities of people who love to play games so much that they’ll even play untested freeware games and tell you what’s good, bad, and indifferent.

Acid Play seems to be a very solid site for freeware downloads and reviews. You can pick out free games by genre, or look up at the top for lists of the best rated freeware games out there. There are even forums to discuss the game or get help. You can also download trial versions of commercial games.

If you like a free game but it’s giving you trouble, you can also search the Web for the game name and “walkthrough” or “manual”.

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Bible Comics… Sorta.

Okay, this link is definitely twisted and not really work-safe, but since the good bits made me laugh hugely….

A comics retelling of the Bible, as told by a guy who has trouble remembering the plot.

But it’s funny on purpose, see, because his buddy (raised Catholic) is amused by the fact his non-religious friend never learned any of this stuff except what he picked up from pop culture, as those whose parents are heathens don’t have to go to CCD class. The raised-Catholic guy then proceeded to transcribe the non-religious guy’s oral retelling and turn it into a script. (This would be really cruel, except that clearly, the non-religious guy also had a little fun with the retelling. The apostle Levon?) Then the non-religious guy illustrated the script. (With Sharpies!)

Typical narration:

Next up are Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s kids.

Cain killed Abel, because he was jealous over something.

Maybe a girl? I don’t remember.

The scary thing is, this comics interpretation is actually more accurate than many things I’ve seen written about the Bible on the Internet. Definitely better than Jack Chick comics. Probably a good insight into a non-Christian Everyman’s Bible knowledge, for all you apologists and evangelists.

And really, some of the illos aren’t bad at all, especially given the context. I think Mary comes off rather well. Not to mention some of the crucifixion scenes.

Of course, it’s a bit depressing that some cartooning fanboy without religion and with Sharpies can do a better religious illustration as part of a joke than a lot of folks who get paid to do this. But let’s focus on the positive here.

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Dog Health Alert!

Little did I know, but my parents were very busy last night. Our Irish wolfhound Liath was a very sick little hound indeed. Her stomach swelled up hard and hollow like a drum and stopped making digestive noises, she kept retching and hacking unproductively, she foamed gunky slobber at the mouth, she didn’t want to lay down, her heart raced, and she kept trying to find a place to hide.

What they (and I) didn’t know is that this is called bloat. It’s the earlier form of that killer condition, torsion — which is when the stomach or the intestines get twisted by all that gassy bloat. But even if torsion didn’t occur, the chances were extremely good that Liath was going to die from bloat alone.

Now, my parents did give Liath simethicone anti-gas pills, which was exactly right. And it probably didn’t hurt that they gave her plain yogurt and massaged her stomach to try to release the gas.

But they did not take her to the 24 hour vet hospital, and that was wrong. If need be, the vet could have released the gas with a needle directly through the stomach wall, given her other helpful medicines, and used an X-ray to find out what else was going on in her innards — like torsion. If they had taken her, she would have gotten immediate attention. Bloat is always a dire emergency. It is nothing to fool around with. (And some dogs even re-bloat, right after getting their stomachs decompressed!)

Bloat makes lots of bad things happen to a dog’s body — toxins in the blood, heart strain, bloodveins to important organs blocked, important tissue slowly dying — and torsion is even worse. Dogs can have heart attacks or go into shock, too. If any of these things happen, the dog can die in less than an hour, or suffer on and on for an interminable time before having a painful death. So the fact they didn’t go to the vet is pretty scary. (Especially since they suspected it might be something like torsion, and we lost one of our previous wolfhounds to that.)

As it happened, Liath finally managed to pass a mighty burst of wind through her constipated guts, and that seems to have relieved the whole problem. (If a dog manages to burp, that’s also a good sign.) But frankly, I’d be a lot happier if Mom and Dad would take Liath for a checkup before they take her on vacation. (Especially since they’re traveling to a state not known for medicos who care about their patients, so I assume that veterinary care is probably as bad or worse.)

Bloat and torsion are more common in deep-chested dogs, like Irish wolfhounds. But all dogs can get it. So please be aware of the symptoms.

The major cause of the disease is not understood well at all, but it seems to be associated with wolfing down dry kibble, drinking lots of water, jumping around, and then having the bad luck to have the stomach’s rhythms disrupted for some unknown reason. The last part is the important part, of course. (Liath didn’t drink an unusual amount, didn’t run around at all before or after, and only ate her normal evening ration of food.)

The major way to try to prevent the disease is to feed the dog more than once a day. Feeding the dog kibble that’s already been sitting in water half an hour, or including more meat or table scraps, also seem to reduce the incidence of bloat and torsion. But nothing is sure.

Dogs who have gotten bloat once are more likely to get it again. There is a surgical remedy, though — sewing part of the stomach to the wall of the body. It sounds gross, but is apparently pretty simple and effective. So a lot of folks have it done for their puppies at the same time as when they go to be spayed or neutered.

Liath was always fed twice a day, since she’s always bolted her food. But she is going to four times a day now. I am going to work on my mom to wet down Liath’s food a little. Other than that, I don’t know what we can do. She can’t have surgery, since wolfhounds are apparently notoriously bad at surviving anesthesia.

She seems to be all right now, and I hope she never gets bloat again. But people need to know that this can happen, and what they should do.

“Stomach Bloat in Dogs” by Anita R. Weidinger, D.V.M.

A bloat FAQ

Bloat in dogs

Bloat statistics and risk factors

More bloat statistics

Raised dishes — good or bad? Plus other comments on the Purdue bloat study.

Bloat First Aid has a list of stages of bloat and appropriate things to do about it.

If you’re really desperate, the vet’s far away, and your dog’s all shocky, here’s “How to Tube Your Dog” by Karen Leshkivich, DVM. This article explains how to safely work a tube down a dog’s throat to let the air out of his stomach, as well as a few other emergency bloat treatments. Read this and be prepared, I’d say. (If this link disappears, try “tube your dog” as a Google search term, and use the Google cache if need be.)

Bloat First Aid also has pictures of the tube procedure.

Gaysie Mae’s bloat story

Signs of bloat noticed by owners.

Bloat links

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Watching Morning Toons….

I tell you, having days off certainly lets you see quite a few interesting shows that you’d normally overlook. (Especially since I don’t have kids, and hence don’t monitor the shows for the really little kids.)

Cartoon Network has been running a weekday morning show for little kids for the last few years. Tickle is the current name of the block. Peculiarly, the channel runs perpetual parental humor hints at the bottom of the screen. (This part is called Tickle U, and they must be getting a grant for it. Still, I suppose they may be a blessing to really harried young parents.)

Following up on Krypto the Wonder Dog, Alan Burnett has another little kid show — Firehouse Tales. This pretty much tries to be an American Bob the Builder or Thomas the Tank Engine, except with CGI. I can’t tell you how charming the firetruck characters are, with their big googly eyes! But what really strikes me is the exaggerated realism of the backgrounds. It’s set in Burbank and surrounding areas, and even I, who visited Burbank all of once, can often tell the exact street that the trucks are traveling by the landmarks. Furthermore, just like in the real LA, the trucks have to take the highway every five minutes to get everywhere. There are tons of ramps and tunnels as well as surface streets, and always, the mountains rising up into the wide Californian sky.

There are a lot of tiny little shows with short segments, too, like the African art-styled show Yoko! Jakamoto! Toto! features the eponymous characters (a bird, an armadillo, and a monkey, respectively) having adventures in which the only conversation consists of saying one of the above names in various tones of voice. It’s actually a lot less annoying than Pokemon or Teletubbies doing similar things, and it’s clearly for the really young.

Gerald McBoing Boing is a cartoon about a kid who communicates with the rest of the world solely through making sound effects noises. (This is actually pretty cute, too.)

Little Robots looks like stop-motion, though I guess it must be really good CGI. It’s about a bunch of little toy-sized robots living in a junkyard, who have built a little town out of junk and spare parts. They apparently live under a dome, and hence have a machine to switch from day to night. The details are really charming.

There’s several more shows, but I’m a bit too lazy to watch or describe them all!

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The Candidate

My younger brother, Kevin O’Brien, threw his hat into the ring yesterday. He’s running for Ohio state representative in the 70th District (Beavercreek, Fairborn, Xenia, and Bath Township), as a Democrat.

This puts him up against Kevin DeWine, the majority whip over at the statehouse. Who is also, of course, a member of the DeWine political family.

I don’t live in the 70th District anymore, and I’m a registered Republican anyway, so I can’t help him much in the primaries. My parents are of course conservative Republicans also, so neither can they. But whatever I can do for my brother, I’m plan to do.

To be honest, Taft’s crew of Ohio Republicans aren’t conservatives either, for the most part, and they’ve been doing a lousy job of being Republicans or state servants. It is probably unfair to paint every Republican in office with this brush, but I’m not the only Republican who feels mad. So quixotic as it all seems, there still could be a chance. If nothing else, it’ll certainly be interesting to see what happens.

So I endorse my brother’s candidacy to anybody out there who happens to be interested. He’s a moderate Democrat, but he’s a pro-military, pro-guns, and pro-life moderate Democrat!

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Sin-Eaters

Something that’s been bothering me is an attitude I’ve been seeing lately. There are a lot of people in this country who, though perfectly willing to accept the good results of military action, are also unwilling either to serve in the military or to support the troops in any way (or in any way beyond lip service). The military is a job too dirty or declasse for them. When extreme pacifism is put into this package, things get worse. Soldiers are not just seen as of some lower class of people, they are also seen as having a lower standard of ethics.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that people like this can’t tell the difference between “soldiers should be folks who, if need be, can hunt and kill people without being disabled by it” and “soldiers should be psychopaths”.

Now, most people in the military don’t let this bad attitude stop them from doing good service. Some emphasize the honor and love inherent in doing for those who wouldn’t do anything for them. Some reach for continuity, as repaying the deeds of the past and building for the future. Still others see themselves as the “sheepdogs” that stand between peaceful sheep and violent wolves. But there are some who seem a little too fond of the idea that they are there to do dirty jobs, to sacrifice themselves and even their own souls for what others will not do.

This last is just buying into the idiots’ point of view, albeit from the opposite side. The point of having citizen soldiers is the same point as having citizen police — they do only those things which their fellow citizens would also do, if they had to. If a job is too declasse or dirty for you to do, it’s also too dirty for you to hire anyone else to do.

I readily acknowledge that there are jobs that require more skill or physical strength or even courage than I have. I’m perfectly willing to let other people do those things. But I don’t want soldiers to have lower standards of ethics or morals than mine — I think they should have higher ones (at least where their profession is concerned), because their job is dangerous and deals with ethical problems in a very direct way.

If people have blood on their hands in self defense or just war, then they’ve done nothing wrong. Their souls are clean. But if people have blood on their hands from committing injustice, they’re not serving their country or the military profession very well. You can’t do a bad thing for a good reason and expect it to turn out well.

I don’t want anyone to think their job is to commit sins to save me from dirtying my soul. If a job is too sinful for me to do, nobody should be doing it.

I realize this is a very simple point of view. But there are some things we can’t let get too complicated.

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Laogai Delenda Est

Collagen from dead Chinese prisoners, among other types of Chinese body farming for fun and profit.

Prisoners’ organs for sale, especially to foreigners. Who know the organs are from prisoners, btw.

‘A cadaveric kidney comes from a dead person and in the majority of cases in China, the dead people are prisoners, which allows for us to know at least two weeks ahead of time when the kidney will be ready.’

The corpse art factory in Dalian. Gee, I wonder what happens to all those executed Chinese dissidents?

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Princess of Wands

When you find a book about a Christian paladin in the modern world, and it bears the name of a Tarot card and quotes from Alistair Crowley at the very beginning… it might be a little bit syncretic.

I love Baen Books. I love those folks dearly. But sometimes they are a little bit weird over there. Probably comes of having a Libertarian publisher and a Trotskyist editor.

And John Ringo, God love him, is one of the foci of current Baen weirdness. Good storyteller, odd little quirks. The extended and bizarrely inaccurate riff on menstruation in There Will Be Dragons, in the same book in which he fanboyed all over Heather Alexander. The love of seemingly pointless amounts of gore. The creepiness of even just the sample chapters of Ghost.

And yet, he does improve with every book. Noticeably. As long as people keep on him.

He’s not someone I dislike. He just makes me beat my head slowly against my desk while mentally whispering, “What do you think you’re doing?!”

So okay, I really wanted to read Steve White’s new book. (So shoot me. I love Steve White. He’s probably never going to be great, but he’s consistently good.) So I bought the January 2006 Baen ebook pack, which also included Ringo’s new book Princess of Wands.

It’s a new take on the old urban fantasy ground covered by Bureau 13 — a secret organization of paladins, clerics, and faith-based mages is out doing law enforcement on Evil From Beyond Our World. In a cynical yet highly successful marketing move, this organization (at least in the US) is largely made up of various stripes of neopagan. And Opus Dei.

*pause for maniacal laughter from all Third Order and Lay Apostolate folks*

In a less normal move, the paladin who’s the main character is an evangelical Episcopalian soccer mom. (Of course, since this is a Ringo book, she is also trained in the use of every weapon and Special Forces tactic known to man or woman.) However, she is one of but a few Christians in the organization in the US. (Even though the Catholic Church donates a third of its operating funds.)

*pause for maniacal laughter from anyone on a parish finance committee*

The thing is, Ringo is dead right about how most neopagans and occult-types (at least in fandom) tend to behave and think, and so that part of their organization rang true. (Except the part where it hadn’t actually fallen apart in several messy feuds. But we’ll take self-preservation as an explanation.)

What he never actually comes right out and says, though, is that their way of thinking is precisely the sort of thing that doesn’t work for any stripe of Christian. It would mess a Christian up seriously if they bought into it, or even tried to wrap their heads around it very long.

If you don’t believe that God is the God, and that God’s power all comes from God and not from his worshippers, then you don’t worship God. You worship a minor Semitic god with a certain amount of popularity.

The other thing is that it’s obviously kind of stupid to ask the opinion of pagans as to whether doing magic is permitted by God. People who don’t actually worship God don’t get a vote on that sort of thing. You could consult them on matters of natural law, but not on religious law. (Unless, of course, you were asking a scholar of religious history for a historical overview. Advice, no.)

I’d also like to say that St. Michael the Archangel has absolutely nothing to do with Mars, Frey, or any similar concatenation of wargods, except in that he could kick their butt any day of the week. As he will no doubt explain to certain people at the end of time.

Finally, Mr. Ringo introduces a perfect example of a scantily clad chick who tells the world she has high esteem and a devotion to Heinlein. The more the unclad women protest how high their self-esteem is, the less I tend to believe them. I’ve never met anybody yet who dresses like that who doesn’t have even more issues than the average geeky fan; and dressing like that helps them create even more horrible events to have to deal with. This doesn’t make them bad people. It makes them badly confused people. Badly confused people shouldn’t be confused and enabled further by books like this.

However, I did find it psychologically true that such a woman would strive to dig deeper into berzerker anger.

I do commend this book as an excellent adventure and a great evocation of fandom, particularly in the convention scenes. But as in fandom, the Christian is left scrambling for footing and thrown back upon her own resources. She rarely gets to encounter anyone else with even roughly similar views, and is constantly forced to re-invent the wheel.

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Telenovela on Public TV!

I’m on vacation today, but I didn’t sleep in. So I found out there’s a telenovela of sorts running on our public TV station at eight in the morning. It’s not a real telenovela, of course; just one designed to teach Spanish. (With the exciting name Introduction to Spanish.) But it’s a pretty entertaining show, all the same. I wish I’d seen it back in 1992, when it first aired.

This show was a lot more hardcore than previous language learning ones I’ve seen. Today they had a mine disaster! Also, a bunch of the kids got sick, and the pater familias was in the hospital. (The show’s theme was words for being sick and going to the hospital. Yeah, buddy, they did that.)

The big shock is that there’s a main character who’s a priest! (Not a shock on a telenovela, but a shock on PBS.) Also, they did a little explanatory feature on Our Lady of Guadalupe, with file footage. (There was a woman walking up to the basilica on her knees; and her husband, a blue-collar guy, was carefully bending down to put little pieces of cloth down in front of her and picking them up from behind her, so she wouldn’t hurt her knees or her outfit too much. It was very sweet.)

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You Know You Live in the Future When….

You watch a video hosted on Google from the Dvinsk Clan, a group of teenagers from Daugavpils, Latvia, who play a French urban gymnastics sport called “parkour” that’s a sort of course run with acrobatics.

Apparently this is the same thing that was used in the French action flick Banlieue 13, or B-13 for short. (Not to be confused with Bureau 13: Stalking the Night Fantastic.)

Some informed commentary on the Dvinsk Clan’s l33t PK skillz. :)

I’m torn. Obviously this is a sport combining skill, daring, and an appreciation for pre-existing structures. It’s almost a sort of speed building-hack (another sport I admire but do not emulate). Yet it also seems pretty darned dangerous, to the point of insanity. On the gripping hand, this does seem to be the sort of activity that quickly teaches you a decent respect for gravity and pain, so it’s probably safer than the sort of thing stupid kids do who watch MTV’s show Jackass.

But not much.

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The Deliverance of Ursula K. LeGuin

Ursula K. LeGuin — all I can say is, praise the God who made you.

After the horrible mishmash-mosh last year that SciFi Channel called Earthsea, the geniuses at Ghibli are going to be adapting it as their next big film.

Gedo Senki: Tales from Earthsea (Record of the Ged War, or The Ged War Chronicle) (Look, Ged! It’s your name!) will be directed by Goro Miyazaki, the son of legendary director Hayao Miyazaki. (Originally his father was not supportive of his directorial ambitions, but apparently the old man has changed his mind.)

Isn’t this poster awesome?! (You can save this smaller one.)

And my most sincere congratulations to both LeGuin and Ghibli. This is going to be good.

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Happy Fiesta de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe!

Patroness of all of North America, uniter of all of North America’s peoples, pray for us!

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Torture Bad. Interrogation Good.

Torture is one of those things that’s too obvious to talk about it. Obviously, it’s a bad idea. It’s not a good thing to do, either morally or from a practical standpoint. It doesn’t produce good information. It encourages the other side to torture your side, if they weren’t already, and takes away your side’s moral high ground, if they were. It’s bad for military discipline. It tends to bleed into everything else those people do afterward. It is, as Bujold put it, “an infection of the imagination”.

On the other hand, interrogation is good. It’s just that you really shouldn’t be doing anything rougher than the police are allowed to do. All the American experience with interrogation has shown that tea and sympathy work a lot better than torture at getting someone to talk, which your Aunt Gladys could’ve told you long before the FBI found it out.

The real art of interrogation is learning to climb into someone else’s head. This requires a certain amount of empathy. It’s uncomfortable to empathize with Really Bad People, and it’s hard work. But it’s better than not empathizing with them, and becoming a Really Bad Person yourself.

To be completely honest, I suspect that a lot of those people who advocate stuff like serious sleep deprivation, disorientation, and waterboarding don’t really understand what they’re advocating. The reason they don’t understand it is that a good number of them have undergone certain of these techniques as part of the escape and evasion training. They escape, they evade, they get captured, they get “tortured”, they sign their little paper and wish they’d been tougher, like that Ranger team that broke out. It’s more like Hell Week than going through hell.

But even the most detailed simulation is just a simulation. Deep down, American soldiers in training know that unless there’s a training accident, it will end happily in the near future, and then everything will be all right. This is just something they have to get through.

Deep down, they know that they themselves don’t really mean to hurt the Bad Guy, either. But they don’t have the Bad Guy’s medical records, and they don’t have as much experience as the trainers did at doing this stuff safely. (And let’s be honest, they don’t really have as much incentive not to really hurt the Bad Guy as the trainers had not to hurt them.)

Meanwhile, the Bad Guy has no reason to believe that things will ever be all right again. (If he really believed that Americans were the Good Guys, he wouldn’t be fighting them, ne?) So for them, it really is torture, not just an unpleasant and scary experience which will end in the near future.

There’s a big difference between your brother twisting your arm behind your back and a scary drunk guy with a gun twisting your arm behind your back. Even if the force being exerted is the same.

(Btw, that torture legislation of McCain’s was incredibly bad law, as written. Sounds like it will encourage soldiers to prefer shooting people to capturing ‘em.)

UPDATE: A lot of these ideas came together after reading this post at Blackfive. I have all the respect in the world for Blackfive, needless to say, but on “coercive interrogation techniques” we clearly disagree. I freely admit this may have as much to do with my low threshold for pain and high incidence of being beat up and taunted as a child as for any kind of respect for natural law, human dignity, and the teachings of the Catholic faith. :)

However, my younger brother wished to point out that it’s equally dangerous to have people around who have no idea at all how much pain, damage and death certain simple actions can cause. I agree; the kids dying from choking themselves for fun are a perfect example.

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Linguists in the Movies!

Obviously, there’s Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. Then, after Stargate came out (Daniel always acts more like a linguist than an Egyptologist!), you got stuff like Disney’s Atlantis.

But I never knew about a cute little Howard Hawks flick from 1941. In Ball of Fire, Gary Cooper is a linguist writing some kind of encyclopedia article on slang when he discovers that he’s been missing out on a lot of good new slang all around him! Hijinks ensue as he invites all sorts of people back to his house (which he shares with seven other profs also working on the encyclopedia) for interviews, including a singer who’s on the run from the cops and her gangster boyfriend.

The situation is silly (especially when the linguist is repeatedly confused with a cop), but the screenplay (by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder) shows an obvious love for “the living language” that is really endearing. Also, the musical numbers are definitely better than anything in Disney!

Anyway, you gotta love a movie with lines like, “Never mind the etymology — was she a blonde or a brunette?”

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