The German Family Affairs Ministry has blacklisted EA’s new game Command & Conquer: Generals because it “portrays war as the only way to resolve conflicts,” and that “it gives military force an aesthetic appeal.”

When I first heard about C&C: Generals, I have to admit that I was a bit surprised at its premise of having Americans, Chinese and ‘terrorists’ fighting around the world; usually C&C stays well away from present day scenarios, preferring alternate history or science fiction. It did occur to me that some might be offended.

However, it didn’t bother me too much. After all, it’s only a game. If Germany wants to get irritated about C&C, it might want to have a look at the innumerable other highly violent FPS games out there, in addition to the various wargames. Slippery slope, etc…

Life in the Lab

Scene: A moderately untidy lab in a university with stacks of papers on tables and computers humming away to themselves. One person, G, is building a couple of computers and taking apart two others. S watches by. Another, R, is working on a paper.

G holds up a dusty-looking computer card.

G: R, what should I do with this old 1401 ISA interface card?

R: I don’t know, is there anything we could use it for?

G: I don’t think so.

R: What if we needed to use it with the old computers again?

G: Ah, well, I was intending to throw the old computers out.

S: Throw out computers? Sacrilege!

R: You could put the 1401 cards in a box.

G: A box?

R: A box.

G: Okay, I’ll put them in a box and put the box in the filing cabinet.

R (taken aback): Well, I don’t think that they need to be put in such an exalted position.

R gets up and walks over to a corner of the room, gesturing towards a veritable cornucopia of antique computer and signal processing equipment. Monitors, tape players and the burned out hulks of old 286s linger there, in silence.

R: We could just put them in this pile here.

G looks at the pile doubtfully, in which much of the equipment is almost as old as he is.

G: I suppose so, although I could just put it in this drawer (gesturing towards a smaller drawer filled with slightly less old but no less useless equipment).

And so the pile of disused computer equipment grows ever larger, where perhaps one day it may gain sentience and rise up against its neglectful human masters… or perhaps not.

The Murder Game

The BBC Digital are airing a new eight-part series this Saturday called The Murder Game. In it, ten contestants try to solve a murder investigation in the fictional village of Blackwater. It seems that the level of interactivity with the public (mostly online) will be pretty low, considering that we aren’t eligible for the £25,000 prize. Despite this, it sounds like it’ll be an interesting experiment; a bit like a reality show with content.

Groening sounds off

Matt Groening sounds off – he isn’t very happy at all about Fox’s treatment of Futurama, which was cancelled a while back.

“We won the Emmy for best animated show a few months ago and I didn’t even get a begrudging phone call from anyone at Fox. That’s a dark company that they can’t even make a fake phone call.”

Sing a Song of Esso

Guerrilla advertising – Meg has cleared up a mystery for me! When I was in London last week, I saw a lot of anti-Esso Poems on the Underground which surprised me no end since I couldn’t see how the London Underground could get away with it. It turns out that someone has been printing and pasting these poems on top of existing ones such that they look, on the face of it, indistinguishable. Very clever.


So it was a gorgeous day yesterday in Cambridge, sun shining, birds singing, etc etc, and after a game of badminton in the morning I went to do some reading on the Trinity College backs. I originally intended to take along An Instance of the Fingerpost which had been sitting around in my room looking quite malovent and foreboding, but has turned out to be quite a decent read, and a couple of papers, thus mixing pleasure and business. In reality, of course, I knew full well that I’d just end up reading the book, but what the hell.

Anyway, once I got to the backs, the book had mysteriously disappeared from my bag, so I had no choice but to read the papers. A bit disappointing, but then the weather was good and I had my iPod, so I couldn’t really complain. While there, I met up with my friends Alex and Kristina who told me about a visiting professor from MIT they met at a party the night before. This professor was set to give a lecture on Tuesday on some neural/computer science topic.

After a bit of talking about university admissions and girls, the two stable topics of discussion in Cambridge, we decided to go and get some coffee and as we were walking over the bridge, who did we see but the very professor concerned, who was a rather diminuitive Indian fellow. On our way to a cafe we made a detour to the computer room to go and drool at the new iMacs they had there. While demonstrating their Unique Selling Point of the moveable screen (clearly I should be employed by Apple) I managed to set off an anti-theft device that was attached to it. This didn’t faze me particularly since it wasn’t as if I was carrying the thing away (although the thought did cross my mind briefly) and since no-one turned up immediately, I decided to check my email while the alarm was ringing.

So after a while it got a bit annoying, and as we were making our way out from the computer room, I spotted a porter striding to the computer room on our right. Sensing a potential disaster, my survival skills went into overdrive and it was as if I had a heightened awareness of the universe – and most importantly, I spotted the MIT professor approaching obliviously on our left. We quickly made a detour to the professor and asked him if he wanted to come along for coffee. He assented happily (thus giving us much needed cover from the porter). As we were looking for a cafe, we showed him around the sights of Cambridge. Being late Sunday afternoon, there weren’t any decent cafes (i.e. non- Starbucks) actually still open, prompting the professor to proclaim:

“Why don’t we go for dinner instead? Tell you what, I want to take you out to the best restaurant in Cambridge. My treat!”

Of course, we were spellbound by this magical combination of words, ‘best restaurant’ and ‘my treat’. Naturally, we made vigorous protestations about paying for dinner, but he insisted that he had plenty of discretionary funds and it’d just be treated as a business expense. With our consciences thus cleared, we made our way to one of the best restaurants, had a wonderful meal talking about US and UK universities, neural computation, quantum computers, university admissions policies and girls. The professor was a very intelligent and talkative guy, and had a lot of interesting things to say.

Afterwards, we then had no choice but to adjourn ourselves to The Eagle pub; after all, the guy wanted a photo of him in the Watson and Crick’s famous watering hole. More fun discussion about evolutionary strategies of mating and the apparent deteriorating mental state of Watson ensued, and we finally departed with a promise to meet up to do some punting on Tuesday.

Only in Cambridge could this wonderful, serendipitous sequence of events occur…

(I guess it could happen in Oxford as well, but just not in such a nice way. I will probably have ample opportunity to find out though, since it appears I will be going to Oxford University for a PhD next year)

Spirited Winner

Spirited Away Captures Oscar – perhaps now this means that it will enjoy a proper release in the US and UK instead of the crippled (and non-existant, in the case of the latter) release given to it by Disney. It continues to baffle Miyazaki fans how Disney, after buying up the distribution rights to all of his films, has completed failed to actually do any distributing; rumour has it that they are afraid that own their sub-standard efforts (Treasure Planet, etc) will be shown up. More on Spirited Away.

London photos

London photos – from my sightseeing trip last week which included the Tate Modern, British Museum, London Eye, Trafalgar Square, Millennium Bridge and lots of good weather.

Third Wave

The Third Wave – in 1968, a schoolteacher conducted an experiment to find out how easily ‘normal American students’ could fall into patterns of behaviour as seen in Nazi Germany. The results were quite astonishing and unexpected, and well worth reading (via Metafilter).