All posts by Dana

Java 8, or Oracle finally catches up to .NET Framework 3.0

Java LogoSo Oracle is finally releasing Java 8... sometime.  Since my work is pretty aggressive about upgrading Java versions, I might just get a chance to use it, and I'm actually pretty psyched because there are some cool new features.

In this post, I'm going to cover the new stuff in both Java 7 and 8 that you'll actually want to use on a regular basis.

Continue reading Java 8, or Oracle finally catches up to .NET Framework 3.0

Applying "indie" principles to "trad" games

This is another good gaming post I've salvaged and cleaned up from my old blog.  Independent games are breaking a tremendous amount of new ground in RPG design but most gamers still play the old standards: D&D, White Wolf, etc. If you like what indie games do but still love traditional tabletop RPGs, what can you do?  As it turns out, lots!

These are some principles you can use to spice up your traditional RPG experience.  I'll be mostly using D&D as an example, they should apply to any game.  And note that these are techniques I use - they're not just theoretical.

Continue reading Applying "indie" principles to "trad" games

Music Plug #2: Camphouse, Maslanka

This is the second in a series of music plugs. I'd originally planned on making Brahms the second post, and I'll still get around to him, but I've recently played a couple of really powerful pieces by two modern wind ensemble composers, David Maslanka and Mark Camphouse, and felt that both of them deserved some more attention.

The biggest problem with good wind ensemble literature is that if you're not in a top amateur group  you tend to not be exposed to it.  Wind ensembles always play second fiddle to orchestras (if you'll pardon the pun).  They don't have the same dynamic and color range.  Nobody uses them for movie soundtracks.  But they can produce a bolder and in some ways more masculine sound than their stringed cousins - at least that's how Sousa characterized the difference.  And the two men I'm going to feature today use that difference to create some really unique sounds.

Continue reading Music Plug #2: Camphouse, Maslanka

[disem]Power[ment] Fantasy

I'm a lucky dude.  I present as a fit, able-bodied, middle-class, straight white man.  Pretty much anywhere I go I am the dominant paradigm.  I'm playing the game of life on easy mode.  I have no fear of time machines.

A lot of people use video and role-playing games to escape their lives; to be more awesome versions of themselves.  That's great.  It can be wonderfully therapeutic.  But when I do it, I get bored.  What do I have to escape from?  I live a charmed life!  No, for me, games are an opportunity to explore; to step into another life; to walk a few miles in another person's shoes.  They're an opportunity to experience different expectations and responsibilities, to think differently, to see what life is like without some of the privilege I take for granted.  They're an exercise in empathy.

My current Apocalypse World character is that, turned up to eleven - and I think I've bitten off about as much as I can chew with this one.

Continue reading [disem]Power[ment] Fantasy

Comparing apples to orange trees

So there's this bit of stupid, arguing that (at least in Great Britain) electric cars do not have smaller carbon footprints than gas- (er, petrol-) powered ones.  The author does the following mental gymnastics:

2011 Chevy Volt
The electric car - hero or heel?

First he takes the energy consumption of a compact petrol-burning car (55/43 kWh per 100km city/highway).  Then he takes estimates of electric vehicle performance from two other studies, which give them at ~16kWh/100km and ~20kWh/100m.  Finally he claims that since fossil fuel power production is only about 36% efficient, those numbers are really 48 and 60 kWh/100km -  worse than the compact car!

This is purported to show that there is no real benefit at all to driving the electric vehicle. Good thing there are holes in his analysis large enough to drive a Chevy Volt through.

Continue reading Comparing apples to orange trees

Separate but Equal

In its recent United States v. Windsor decision, the Supreme Court decided that the federal government had to recognize same-sex marriages in states that allow them.  That leaves people in the seven or so states that have civil unions but not marriage in a bit of legal limbo. Right now, it looks like it's going to be up to the executive and the various federal agencies to determine how to treat these people.

States with Civil Unions
Seven states allow same-sex civil unions but not marriage.

The thing about being in legal limbo is that it practically begs for a court challenge. Is separate-but-equal okay when it comes to marriage? The Supreme Court could have decided that as part of their ruling in the Prop 8 case, but they chose to instead deny standing, booting it down to the state level and sidestepping the issue entirely.

That means that separate-but-equal partnership/union laws are still ripe for legal challenges along two main avenues.

  1. Can the federal government refuse to recognize state-backed civil unions that grant the same rights as marriage under federal law?
  2. Can states create separate-but-equal institutions at all? Is that a violation of the Equal Protection clause?  Does it pass whatever level of scrutiny (strict or intermediate) is appropriate when evaluating such laws?

I'm a firm believer that (2) is unconstitutional, but I'm not a Supreme Court justice. And if (2) is struck down, (1) is sort of implied.  But I think that you could come up with a situation where (1) is found to be unconstitutional while (2) is not based on the duck principle: "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."

In other words, since the federal government has no legal notion of civil unions or domestic partnerships, then couples are either married or not married under federal law.  If a state allows a couple to enter into a legal relationship indistinguishable from marriage except for its name, then the federal government is obligated (under the same principle as in Windsor) to recognize it as such.

Music Plug: Symphony #1 "Lord of the Rings"

In the mid-2000s, Time-Life released a compilation of the "heaviest" orchestral pieces - stuff that they figured would still move modern audiences jaded by years of rock-n-roll and heavy metal.  They called it "Classical Thunder", it was technically all from the Romantic and Modern periods.

Most of the pieces were good, though they were all very famous stuff and tended towards the loud and thinly scored.  But what makes music powerful is the emotion it draws out in the listener, and straight loud (or just familiar) is about the worst way to do that.  Good instrumental music doesn't just overpower you - it tells a story; it draws you into its world; it moves you.

So here's my effort to come up with a playlist of stuff that is largely symphonic in nature and will - if you understand a little bit of background on the pieces - totally blow your mind.  This will likely be a recurring feature on this blog.

Continue reading Music Plug: Symphony #1 "Lord of the Rings"

Wordplay

I geek out about linguistics. I love when people remix language to do creative things. They get bonus points if use more than one language (two of my favorite Christmas carols are "In Dulci Jubilo" and "Nowell Sing We"). I saw another example today that really amused me.

Monet from One Piece, a woman with the wings and legs of a bird, wearing a green tank top that reads "happy".
Monet, who is several puns.

The writer of the Japanese comic/cartoon One Piece, Eiichiro Oda, loves to put random English words on his characters' clothing.  In the most recent storyline, there is a woman named Monet who has the wings and legs of a bird.  She also wears a tank top with the word "HAPPY" on it.

Oda is fond of wordplay and puns, and this is a great example.  The obvious joke is that HAPPY is only one stroke away from HARPY, the half-woman-half-bird creature from Greek myth. In Japanese, there's a second bit: the transliteration of English "happy" is ハッピ (literally "happi"), while "harpy" is rendered ハーピ (literally "haapi"). The pronunciations are nearly identical; the only distinction is whether the vowel or the subsequent consonant is long.

But here's the thing: the wordplay doesn't work at all for Oda's monolingual Japanese fans.  Harpies aren't native to Japanese folklore.  Japanese doesn't borrow its official word for the mythological creature from English either.  In Japanese, it's ハルピュイア ("harupyuia"), from the Ancient Greek ἅρπυια, so you have to be familiar with the English spelling and pronunciation to be in on the joke.