Friday, June 30, 2006

Is there still Justice in the U.S.?

Perhaps there is afterall. I just hope it is not too little or too late.

Court declares Guantanamo tribunals illegal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In a sharp rebuke of President George W. Bush's tactics in the war on terrorism, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday struck down as illegal the military tribunal system set up to try Guantanamo prisoners.


The ruling, handed down on the last day of the court's 2005-06 term, followed the suicides of three Guantanamo prisoners this month and increased calls for Bush to close the prison camp. U.S. treatment of inmates at Guantanamo and in Iraq and Afghanistan has drawn international criticism.

The ruling only addressed the military tribunals, not the broader issues of whether "enemy combatants" can be held indefinitely or whether the camp should be closed.


One of Hamdan's lawyers, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, praised the ruling. "All we wanted was a fair trial," he said outside the Supreme Court.

Civil liberties and human rights groups were also jubilant. Amnesty International said it "sends a clear message to President Bush that he cannot act unilaterally to create a system of law from thin air."

Nicholas Howen, secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, said, "Now is the time for the Bush administration to move ahead swiftly to release all prisoners in Guantanamo."


Source: Yahoo! news

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A very scary, scary movie

I have watched Scary Movie series. All 4 of them in the cinema. Scary Movie 4 is a hilarious, politically incorrect movie. Funny but not much to think about. Except 2 scenes that disturbs me in a strange way.

Abortion: Just before leaving for the U.N., President Harris (Leslie Nielson) looked back at the kids and told Harper, "remind me to sign the Abortion Law."
Gay marriage: Henry (Bill Pullman) said in the party, "let's celebrate this domestic partnership...". He felt disgusted seeing the gay couple kissing each other and said to himself, "the village is nothing like what it was." (paraphrased)

I will leave you to decide if they are just harmless jokes, or if they have a message they want to spread.

Impressions on Scary Movie 4: 6/10

There is a review on PopMatters that I found interesting.

Friday, June 23, 2006

NetHack revisited

The thousand-word essay was not enough to describe all the features and peculiarities of the game, so here is the second part.

The Beast Within

Food is essential in real life. It is also important in sophisticated games such as NetHack. Regarding food, most creatures can be classified into 4 types: omnivores (humans), carnivores (cats and dogs), herbivores (horses) and metallivores (rust monsters). If you need to eat but do not, you quickly feel weak (reduced strength), and will eventually faint and die of starvation. The most readily available food source is the fresh kills you make. Corpses (except lizards) eventually rot and decompose, but before they do, they provide important nutritions for you or your pet.

Eating is good in other ways too. It grants you new abilities, known as "intrinsics" in the game. Eating giants may increase your strength. Eating poisonous corpses (not exactly a good idea) may grant you poison resistence. Eating an invisible stalker makes you invisible. Eating a werewolf turns you into a werewolf.

You can only kill monsters and eat their corpse after they die. Some creatures, like purple worms (from Dune), can eat monsters whole. A purple worm can eat your pet demon and digest it in one turn, giving you lots of frustration.

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

Stealing is bad, but it can be very rewarding. The foolhardy way is to just grab everything and run, but you cannot get out unless you first kill the shopkeeper, who is a very strong fighter. Not a good idea. You can also try teleporting your way out but you will never be welcomed in the same shop again.

Your pets can do these dirty tricks for you. If you tame your pets by feeding them regularly, they will pick up objects and bring it to you, even objects in shops. A large dog can even fetch a chest.

Yet Another ... Geek Pun?

Like it or not, humour is an essential part of the game. Sometimes they are coded into the game. If you are hit by a quantum mechanic, you are teleported and your position will be very uncertain. Eating spinach can increase your strength. So can a lump of royal jelly if you managed to run into a beehive and kill about 30 angry killer bees.

The game is also full of puns. If you eat an apple or a pear while playing a UNIX version of the game, you get a "core dumped" message. Eating a sprig of wolfsbane (wolf-s-bane) cures lycanthropy. If you levitate across a kitchen sink, you sink and fall to the ground.

A collection of harmless messages can be very funny. NetHackers even give this an abbreviation: YAFM or Yet Another Funny Message. One recent one I encountered is like this:
Kaablamm! You hear an explosion in the distance! --More--
You suddenly realize it is unnaturally quiet. The dog bites!

What really happened? Someone far away set off a landmine, while I am just entering a graveyard.

There are many ways to die. You can die by colliding with the ceiling, you can choke to death by eating too much. You can get thrown off the back of your steed. You can die by repeatedly throwing a cockatrice corpse up until the damage send you to heaven. There is also an abbreviation for this: YASD or Yet Another Stupid Death. Some adventurous players continuously try to find new ways to die! The owners of posts a list of top types of deaths on the website.

The Da Vinci Code

After getting the cat I have been quite slack on movie posts. This situation will improve, if she continues to bite me regularly. I am confining her to jail in the living room and lock myself in my bedroom with the computer. (Who is the prisoner? Me or her?) Back to topic.

The Book

I borrowed a copy of the book from a friend and finished it in 4 days. Not because it was that good, but because I wanted to complete the book before going for the movie. No it was not bad. In the first half before Langdon & Co. went to London it was rather nice, but after that it decayed into a poor imitation of a spy novel. There is one thing I really hate: creating myth that looks like fact. Dan Brown kept throwing lots of unrelated information at us and try showing us how they are related, but he did not really do his research carefully. It really helps to provide a small section of clarifation, like Chevalier's historical fictions.

The Movie with minor spoiler alert

I have repeatedly seen negative reviews from those who have read and loved the book, because it turned a suspense story into an action flick, because it changed the story too much, because they picked Tom Hanks to play Robert Langdon...

It was not as bad as I thought. Lots were changed in the movie but many of them are good changes. In the novel, there is only one bad guy. Sir Teabing the crazy, fanatic supporter of the sacred feminine. Captain Fache was a good guy from beginning to end; Bishop Aringarosa was simply tricked into believing what he should not and was trying to correct his mistakes by confessing to Fache; Silas the albino was a misguided "angel"; The Church paid Opus Dei only for a peaceful "divorce". In the movie the roles have been changed: The Church and the Bishop were conspiring to destroy the Priory of Sion, with the Church supplying cash and Aringarosa supplying the soldier, only to find themselves cheated by Leabing. Fache was a poor stupid cop who believed the lies of Aringarosa. I believe this story made more sense than the original.

There is, however, something terribly wrong with the ending. 2000 years of document lying in the Rosslyn Chapel? Believers rushing out of nowhere to see the last descendant of Jesus Christ? DNA analysis ruined because the body could not be found? They should have used the more opaque ending from the novel: An old woman, a young man and old photos. Nice family gatherings. Words that they chose to trust with faith.

Impressions on The Da Vinci Code: 5/10, because I hate how the ending was mangled.

You might also be interested in this MTV Awards parody.

The Boardgame

Da Vinci Code is the German edition of the 2-4 player deduction game CODA. In this Japanese designed game there are 26 tiles of 2 colours, out of which 2 special tiles are reserved for the advanced game only. Before game begins, you pick 3 to 4 tiles randomly and order them facing you in ascending numeric order, where black tiles are placed before whites in case of a tie. When your turn comes, you pick up one of the remaining tiles, then try to guess ("attack") the number on one of another players' tiles. If you guessed correctly, the "defending" player turns that tile around for everyone to see and you make attack again. If you were wrong, you turn your tile over and your turn ends immediately. The game ends when only one player has any unrevealed tiles, who is declared the winner.

Is it any good? I am not really a fan of deduction games, but I still find it entertaining. Unlike the more American styled games such as Clue, it is simple, easy to explain and short. I have not played it enough to like it, but I will be willing to play it again if given the opportunity.

P.S. I completed Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring in 2 days. It was that good.

Thursday, June 22, 2006





Wednesday, June 21, 2006

NetHack: a cheaper yet better version of Diablo II

I assume nobody understood what the valkyrie post was about. So if you do not mind reading a long, boring essay I will try explaining my favourite game, NetHack, here.

"Let's play a different game than what we're playing"

Diablo II screenshot
Have you played Blizzard's PC game Diablo, or Microsoft's Dungeon Siege? They are a type of games commonly known as dungeon-crawling or hack-and-slash games. There is a common formula to these games: An evil power has risen, and you, the "adventurer" must rush to save the day before the world is destroyed. You begin as a squire, a "level 1" character with weak fighting skills. Battles after battles, you defeat minions sent by an evil wizard or demon, learning new spells and abilities on the way. Replacing daggers with long swords, ring mails with enchanted plate mails, you fight your way to the final chapter, where you get a hard-earned, glorious victory. Then you see the ending movie and credits screen, and start again with the hard-core mode.

Now ditch the handsome 3D graphics and movies. Remove the multiplayer functions. Replace the 3-CD installation set with a 2MB archive and, with a little imagination, your adventure can be even more exciting.

Simplicity is beauty

More than 20 years ago, Rogue was born. Wildly popular (I suppose) among computer gurus, the game was later expanded into something called Hack. Hack was bundled with many BSD-compatible UNIX systems including SunOS 4.1, on which I first played the game while trapped in University laboratories at night. Later I found NetHack, a hugely enhanced version of Hack. I installed it in my GNU/Linux box and played it again and again, trying to beat the game but failed.

NetHack screenshot
These games, collectively called roguelikes, all have a very similar interface. Originally running on computers with 80x24 text only computer terminals when arrow keys were not popular, the game was operated from a standard QWERTY keyboard using HJKL as navigation keys, much like the VI editor. The whole game is presented in the terminal. Instead of animated 3D pictures, The dungeons are drawn using ASCII characters. The @ sign is a human, f stands for felines, including cats and tigers, and % represents food. It looks cryptic at first, but with a little training you can get used to it very easily.

Everything, including the kitchen sink

It is often said that "the DevTeam thinks of everything" (TDTTOE). Having a plain interface does not mean the game is plain. On the contrary, it allows more possibilities that any modern PC game could offer. In NetHack you can start as one of the 12 roles, including Archeologist, Samurai, Valkryie, Barbarian, Wizard and Tourist(!). You goal is very simple: go down the dungeon, steal an amulet from the invincible Wizard of Yendor. After escaping alive, you will then enter the astral planes, fight some elementals and angels, sacrifice the Amulet of Yendor to your deity and ascend to immortality.

Throughout the game you may encounter more than 300 different types of monsters, grouped by similarity into 57 groups, using all uppercase and lowercase letters except I, as well as characters like @ and &. There are many different types of scrolls, potions, wands and artifact weapons. It even has kitchen sinks with peculiar properties, imported from SLASH'EM, itself a derivitive of NetHack.

The DevTeam did not invent all the monsters and items themselves. Most of them has roots in folklore and novels, including Nazguls from J.R.R. Tokien's Lord of the Rings, Medusa and the Mjollnir from Greek and Norse mythology, the Excalibur from King Arthur legends as well as magic lamps filled with Arabian Nights Djinns. They even provided these references in the documentation.

I have already told you that the adventurer is allowed to bring a pet into the dungeon, but did I tell you they have default names? If you play a Samurai, your dog will be called Hachi, the loyal dog of a Japanese professor; if you play a Barbarian, your dog is Idefix, whose owner was a fictional Gaul barbarian named Obelix in Asterix, a French comic book. There is a section in wikipedia about Mythology and fiction in NetHack.

These characters and items are not just for decorative purposes. Most of them retain properties true to the legend from which they are born. If you are worthy enough, the Lady of the Lake may bless your sword into the Excalibur when you dip it into a fountain. On the Medusa Island, you will find a status of Perseus, stoned to death by Medusa. If you break the statue you may be able to find a shield of reflection (polished shield from Athena the goddess of war) and boots of levitation (winged sandels from Hermes the messenger from the gods). Like in Lord of the Rings, the Sting warns you of orcs' presence by glowing blue, and cuts through spider webs instantly. You may even have sex with a succubus and die of exhaustion.

Items can be combined to form the most bizzare effects at the strangest moments. What would you do when you need to cross a river? In a PC game there is usually only one way: talk to a villager, who will tell you that you can find a lever in the bushes to lower the drawbridge. In NetHack, to name a few, you can steal a pair of water walking boots, fly using a potion of levitation, freeze the water with a spell, or swim if you can breath under water. If you have the strength, you can even chain a heavy metal ball to yourself using a scroll of punishment, throw the ball to the other side and drag you across.

Say Grace

Two weeks ago a Ukrainian jumped into a lion cage. He shouted "God will save me, if he exists" but a lioness killed him before any god could save him. In NetHack this will not happen. For one thing there are tigers, panthers but no lions. In addition there is a deity system. There is a God to provide you guidence and to attend to your needs. If you are in your deity's favour, you can #pray and they will protect you from almost any trouble you run into. Monsters will not attack you when your deity is listening to you, and nice things will happen. You may be completely healed, your items may be uncursed, or your deadly food poison might just go away. If your God really likes you, you may also be granted an artifact with immense powers.

You have to pay for all these, though. To earn their favours you may need provide sacrifices. Corpses of powerful beasts work best but geckos are nice too. If you do not have their favours, things could go really ugly. When you annoy your God by talking too much, a heavenly thunder may strike you in your face, or your God may send an angel to hunt you down.

Messing with the dead

When you play the game matters. NetHack uses the computer clock to determine what may happen. During a full moon, dogs howl and werewolves are more feverish. On Friday the 13th, you have worse luck. If you insist on playing at midnight, undead do double damage.

In the game there are some randomly generated special levels. One of which is the bones level. When a character is killed, a bones file may be generated. The dead character becomes a ghost that haunts the place where he is killed. Somewhere during your game you may run into this level instead of the usual dungeon maps. If you manage to kill the ghost and whatever that killed him, you win a great prize and may take the possessions of the poor guy. Beware, adventurer! Most of his possessions may be cursed. If you are playing alone on your own computer you will only find your bones files, but if you want to meet new undead friends, you can transport the dead through a third-party application, appropriately named Hearse.

Alternatively you can play online like I do. Simply connect to through telnet, create an account and you can join the adventure.

Ah-mui's gift for me

I discovered a gift from her just now...

A dried house gecko. Must have come from the kitchen. Am I supposed to put it into the wine bottle?

Word of the day: What does the word "gift" mean in German? And what is the German word for a gift?

  1. das Gift = poison
  2. a gift = ein Geschenk

Monday, June 19, 2006

My first valkyrie past Medusa ended up like this

/ \
/ REST \
/ IN \
/ \
| hokuto |
| 4096 Au |
| killed by a |
| minotaur |
| |
| |
| 2006 |
*| * * * | *

Farvel hokuto the Valkyrie...

You died in The Dungeons of Doom on dungeon level 28 with 277663 points,
and 4096 pieces of gold, after 24746 moves.
You were level 16 with a maximum of 147 hit points when you died.

I should probably genocide minotaurs instead of gelatinous cubes next time.

Interesting and sad moments

Apart from getting through the Medusa level for the first time, there are some more interesting and sad moments, such as ...

Ah-mui turned into a blue dragon after I fed her some chameleon meat

Ah-mui later polymorphed herself into a monkey. Poor her. She was so naughty to stir up a dragons' nest for me.

Surrounded by dragons and orcs and trolls, Ah-mui died a horrible death...

Revenge is never sweet; It tastes like a cockatrice corpse and dragon statues.

Getting rid of Medusa is easy if you have the right tools

Saturday, June 17, 2006

s.beat: music player, swiss army style

Victorinox is into the MP3 business now. At 74 x 22 x 24 mm, s.beat includes a digital audio player, up to 2 GB of USB memory, radio tuner, voice recorder, scissors, nail-file, knife blade ...

Charming, is it not? The 1 GB model is already for sale and can be bought at ThinkGeek. (US$169.99 but is out of stock right now) Do you know if we will be able to buy one in Hongkong?

Source: Rocketboom

Friday, June 16, 2006



可愛的日本ホクト牌ブナシメジ (好像是叫本菇吧…)


Monday, June 12, 2006

Abortion, blood, CSI

When you try to look up something on the Internet, you often end up with something entirely different. No wonder people call it the Web and search engines Spiders. Mixed with a bizzare reading list I come up with the following information.

In CSI season 6 episode 6 "Secret and Flies", Catherine Willows argued with a Dr. Emily Ryan on the presence of life in an embryo. Dr. Ryan works for Project SunFlower, a "pro-life" organization. They believe life begins when the egg is fertilized and that planting embryos into a mother's womb is an adoption nine months early. Willows strongly opposed to that idea and had an argument with Dr Ryan, the transcript of which can be found in Scott McClare's blog. The argument turned sour and, as usual, our good old supervisor Gil Grissom has something to say.

"I'm pro-choice. I am in favour of stem cell research. I'm sorry she felt harassed but my comments were in response to her statements," Catherine said.
"You should have cited Leviticus 17:11," quoting the Old Testament, he continued his lecture, "'the life of the flesh is in the blood.' Taken literally, life doesn't begin when sperm meets the egg, but 18 days later when the embryo is infused with blood."
"Is that your position?"
"If I were speaking with a woman who prefers theology to science, it's a position she'll find tough to refute."

This argument received quite some criticism on the net. Kelly Wait said "... the Biblical reference is about sacrifice and atonement, not about when life begins." Scott McClare said Willow's argument was "un-scientific". Was it as un-scientific as some have said? Did the CSI screen writers try to smear the image of pro-lifers? When I was drafting this post in April I firmly believed the answers were both "no". After downloading the episode and viewing again, I am no longer sure. I noticed for a fact that they tried to describe Dr Ryan as a irrational woman. It is only a side plot but perhaps the screen writers were themselves pro-choice.

But I am quite sure of one thing: science can only explain and predict phenomenons. It cannot be used to explain ethics and moral judgement. In one of my favourite blogs, Dr Crippen has described his problems with the morality behind abortion and believes it should be called pro-abortion not pro-choice. He does not like abortions, but he does not like lethal injections either. Yet he continues to sign those "wretched abortion forms". "It is a woman's right to control her own body," he wrote. There are also some articles on Ann Althouse's "blawg" about the Roe v. Wade case, the South Dakota legislation against abortion, and abortion in general.

Abortion is a delicate issue. At what stage do we call an embryo a life? At what stage is taking it from the mother's womb a murder? If we are to kill someone, what reason is good enough? I have listed others' views, but as always, I am afraid to define my own standpoint. I am afraid to expose my choice. It is wrong to provide ethical judgement using science, but it is equally wrong to explain life with politics, as they are trying in South Dakota.

Sunday, June 11, 2006




『我唔要聽Avril Lavigne,你再聽我推你個喇叭落街』


Saturday, June 10, 2006



以下全是unicode 4.1 內CJK Unified Ideographs Extension B (U+20000)裡的字。『𠝹』字也是在這堆字裡面。

Pac-Man x Space Invaders?
同"飽"。《說文.食部》 :"飽,猒也。𩜕,古文飽。"
同"奏"。《說文.夲部》 :"奏,進也。𡳡,古文。"《字彙補.尸部》:"𡳡,《說文》古奏字。"

有興趣找原文嗎?看Unihan data裡面的dictionary information,漢語大字典下的五位數字就是頁數,例如『臥虎』是第四部2803頁。

如果看不到字形可以試下載Microsoft的新细明體更新套件,不過我安裝也有問題。我在網上找到更新套件的兩個TTF Collection自行安裝:細明體5.03細明體ExtB 1.05。即使用MacOS或GNU/Linux的應該也用得著。

Thursday, June 08, 2006


When we were young there used to be a TV cartoon show called Science Ninja Team. Purely fictional, you say. Perhaps it will become reality soon.

It is said that the modular flying device "GRYPHON" will allow soldiers to fly at 200km/h. It will be quiet, very difficult to detect with radar, and unlike parachutes, it will be almost completely unaffected by weather conditions.

More information is available in the company's latest press release and Daily Mail.

Source: Althouse

Sunday, June 04, 2006

200 litres of diet coke...

Gives us a fancy experiment

Punk; random thoughts through the eyes of an amateur

As someone who have absolutely no knowledge of the punk culture, I love listening to punk music.

Or so I thought.

When I buy a CD, it is often more about buying than using. After I ripped them to MP3 files or downloaded music from the net, (yes I am a pirate, as are about 10 million others; sue me) usually I just play them a few times and stash them away. There are some songs that I seem to prefer over the others, songs that I keep playing from time to time, again and again. Most of them (loosely) punk.

Or so I thought.

So who are they? What have I listened to since the last month that has something to do with punk?

Avril Lavigne
Kuroyume (黒夢)
Simple Plan
System of a down

Some are true pop/rock punk bands. Some are J-Rock / Visual Kei groups with punk/goth influence. Some are probably just teen-pop singers posing punk looks.

Let's just say... I love pop punk music, or punk wannabes who joined major record labels.

Or so I thought. I do not know anymore.

I know nothing... ™

The Wolf, again

Above is the Anarcho-punk symbol which is also embedded in the Damage Control banner. Fellow boardgamer readers, (as if I had any) does this symbol ring any bells? Guess not. What if we rotate the symbol by 180 degrees and erase a few pixels at the center? Does it look familiar now?

The inversed symbol is a clan symbol in White Wolf's now defunct Vampire: the Masquerade RPG and associated products. What seemed like a distorted feline face in a gothic make-up is the symbol of clan Brujah, the muscle of the Camarilla. It is good to know the punk warrior symbol had a deep history - even with some misconception. I know punks used to be poor, jobless, dumpster-diving dropouts unacccepted by the society, but anarcho-punks are not the angry warriors as Brujahs are portrayed in the story, or are they?

I wonder if any other seemingly meaningless symbols have meaningful real-life origins. Say, why did they choose the Egyptian Ankh, symbol of life, as the Caitiff clan symbol?

Friday, June 02, 2006


Can 5 people play a game by staring at wooden cubes scattered randomly on the table? (see photo on right) You can. And it could be a very nice one.

Through a friend's group order I got a copy of Oraklos from Funagain Games during a clearance sale. At USD $5, it is truely a bargain and I can bypass the usual restrictions, that I must have read the rules before getting a copy.

Oraklos is designed by Tamara Jannink and Joris Wiersinga and published by Splotter Spellen, a small Dutch boardgame company. The components the usual Splotter quality: bad but functional. The box smells like old cardboard. The ink did not coat that well, giving a rough surface and cards were tied using rubberbands. Limited budgets I suppose.

The true gem, as I have experienced from Antiquity, lies solely in the rulebook. In Oraklos, one player throws about 20 colored cubes onto the table. Then players attempts to locate quadrilaterals whose corners match the symbols on one of the 3 hint cards they have. There is a twist: if you look closely enough you will notice the cubes all have holes. Quads with holes on top do not count as a valid pattern. As do quads which enclose or touch any other cubes.

For game test purposes, we played a standard game to completion last night. Finding a valid pattern was more difficult than I thought, especially patterns which 3 different colours. As far as I know, all players seem to have enjoyed the game. The game took around 30 minutes, double the printed playtime, but I did not find it boring, and I wish to play it again real soon.