Archive for October, 2009

52/30/5 Week 39

October 18th, 2009

Week 39 was a quick trip to ANU.


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First up, a few photos of the recent John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) building:

JCSMR I

JCSMR II

JCSMR III

And secondly, a few ducks that were wondering around Sullivan’s Creek near the School of Law:

Ducks I

Ducks II

The full set is on Flickr.


Game Review: Prince of Persia (reboot)

October 17th, 2009

[Prince of Persia](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_of_Persia_(2008_video_game)) is the seventh 7th game in the main Prince of Persia series, and the 12th game overall.

Spoilers in this review, so you’ll have to click through.

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52/30/5 Week 38

October 16th, 2009

The photos for week 38 were taken in central Canberra.


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I was mainly focusing on public sculpture around the Civic area. A strange bird statue on top of a poster stand:

Bird on Posters

Some grafitti that appears to be taken from Where the Wild Things Are:

Wild Graffiti

A metal sheep:

Metal Sheep

Another more abstract sculpture:

Sculpture

And a building that has a few Government departments in it, including the Department of Resources Energy and Tourism:

DRET Building

The full set can be found on Flickr.


Book Review: Bad Science, Ben Goldacre

October 15th, 2009

Bad Science is drawn from the Guardian column of the same name, as well as the many other things that Ben Goldacre covers on his website. The main focus is on the abuses of science that seem to proliferate in the press and on the Internet. Things such as scares over the MMR vaccine, scares over radiation from mobile phone towers, the infamous Brain Gym taught in some UK schools, and so on. Each topic is carefully examined, the faulty assumptions identified, and the real truth drawn out.

The author has a saying (available in T-Shirt form): “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than hat”. He revels in the complication. When it comes to the oft dismissed placebo effect he dives deeply into the inherent, wonderful weirdness of the placebo. If statistics are required for the explanation of something (often the case in modern medicine) he draws the details out. The combination of detail and accessibility is rare, and is a product of the author’s deep passion for the area.

It would be very easy for a book on this topic to be very depressing. There is so very much bad science out there, so many people profiting from people’s willingness to believe, and so many newspapers more than happy to put the simple answer on the front page, rather than all the footnotes. But I found the book energising, a call to action. It’s a book that brings the scope of the problem to your attention, and calls you to do something.

Of course, I don’t know a lot about science. But the book also made me think about the similar problems that are seen in journalism around economic issues in Australia (and probably elsewhere). But after reading this book I’m very tempted to start my own column on these things: Bad Economics. And that kind of result of reading a book is the sort of thing most authors would dream of.


52/30/5 Week 37

October 14th, 2009

Week 37 was taken on a walk around my local neighbourhood, towards dusk.

A transformer on a power pole:

Transformer

Someone who needs to mow their grass. The recent rain has created this problem a lot lately:

Unmown Grass

A view down towards the Fadden shops and the Fadden valley:

Fadden South

One of the houses with a good view on Bugden Avenue:

Good View

And the sun reflected on the road:

Reflected Sunset

The full set is on Flickr.


Game Review: Half Life 2 + Episode 1 + Episode 2

October 13th, 2009

I just finished playing through all of Half Life 2 (at least, all of what’s been released so far) for Rebel FM’s Game Club.

Yes, a little late to the party. But better late than never, especially for one of the best games of all time. I was playing through on the XBox – I’d bought the Orange Box edition last year for Portal, but had never got around to playing more than a few minutes of Half Life 2.

As an experience there are few things that have drawn me in as much as this. Other games have done the same with the strength of their plot – such as Metal Gear Solid, Bioshock, Knights of the Old Republic – but Half Life 2 is one of the few that does it on the strength of character. Alyx Vance is the obvious standout character from the games, but even the minor characters come alive in a way that is disappointingly rare for computer games so far. This is due to a combination of technology, writing and environment that makes this an experience anyone interested in the evolution of computer games should go through.

But as a game, it’s a little harder for me to recommend Half Life 2. If it weren’t for the press of Game Club there are parts that would have made me give up. There are sections, especially in the main game, that go on for far too long. It’s nice to establish a few gameplay mechanics and play with them for a while, but there’s a distinction between escalation (which is fun and challenging) and dragging things out. This is better in the two sequel episodes, although only by a matter of degree. While others found the climactic sequence of Episode 2 a lot of fun, personally I found the new mechanics cumbersome and annoying.

It’s also quite ‘gamey’, something that only distracts me because of the quality of the plot and the characters. Given how strong everything else is, it’s distracting to see the obvious ‘points of no return’, mostly driven by your inability to jump very far. And to have a section, as in one point of Episode 2, where you go from being inside an alien hive to being back in a mine because it’s convenient to the construction of the level is distracting and annoying. It’s an artefact of building the game to be as fun as possible (and hence avoiding backtracking, something the design does well), but it comes at the cost of the sense of place.

I enjoyed Half Life 2 and its episodes a lot. Something that I would say about only one other pure shooter (Bioshock). And I’m looking forward to Episode 3, when it’s eventually released. But I don’t think that I’d ever go back to play them again, and would probably tell most people without an interest in shooters or ‘games as art’ to try before they buy.