Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Plants Vs. Zombies: A Zombie Experience for the Whole Family

For all of you who visit this blog, I don't want you to think that I spend much of my time surfing the web for the most depressing stories that I can find.  I have been meaning to make posts of a lighter nature, which is kind of hard to do, since I look at life so much differently than I did just a few short years ago.  Nonetheless, I do things for fun.  I have been a gamer for many years, and will most likely continue to be one until I die or the grid goes down. 

Anyway, I wanted to let you know of a game that I am currently playing.  Upon first glance, I was cynical.  I am a huge fan of the subgenre of horror called, I guess, zombie.  I love the Romero films (save his last one, "Survival of the Dead", which sucked; sorry, George), the "Resident Evil" series and the works of Max Brooks (he wrote the books "The Zombie Survival Guide" and "World War Z").  I love the zombie genre due to the utter terror presented in the various works, and the social commentary that is often present in them (particularly the works of Romero and Max Brooks).  "Plants Vs. Zombies" has neither of these things.  Upon first glance, it is a family-accessible game, and that's why I was cynical.  I couldn't see zombies in a kid-friendly light.  Imagine my surprise when I began to play the game (via a trial download on XBox Live) and was fully immersed in it.  "Plants Vs. Zombies" is what is known as a "tower defense" game, in which you must defend some piece of territory from an invading menace.  In this case, the "territory" is your suburban house and the "invading menace", of course, are the undead.  You must use sunflowers (and the sun itself) to grow zombie-killing plants and seeds.  How you use the sun, and which plants you plant, are instrumental in how you will fare against the zombies. 

There is lots of cartoon-type violence, rather than the intense, bloody kind that often pervades other works in the zombie genre, but that was okay with me.  The game is very addicting, and I've often lost track of time while playing it.  There are also various modes of play (in addition to Adventure, there is also Survival, Minigames and one other mode).  If there is one quirk with the game, I find it to be pretty easy.  I am currently at Stage 4 (each stage has 10 levels), and have never really had a serious problem getting through the game.  But after the last game I played (Jak II for the Playstation 2, which can be insanely difficult), I can't really complain.  The game is available for many platforms (PC, Xbox, PS3, and also the iPod/Droid if you want to game on the go).  I got it for the PC; Steam (an online game service) has it for $10.  I highly recommend it, and again, it's really family-friendly. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Time Magazine

This brief article is more interesting for the picture.  Apparently, four editions of Time Magazine are distributed around the world (in addition to the U.S., there are also European, Asian, and South Pacific editions).  Recently, the cover story of Time Magazine was the massive flood in Pakistan.  Well, in 3 out of the 4 editions, anyway.  One edition has the cover story of "What Makes a School Great?" As you can probably guess (since you'd have to be pretty cynical to be a regular reader here), this was the U.S. edition of Time.  It is shameful, as an obviously important story has been pushed aside here in favor of a puff piece. 

There is some talk around the Internet of this being some kind of right-wing agenda, or an active avoidance in having to humanize Muslims, but I think it's simpler than that.  I think this has less to do with any insidious plan to minimize the news of suffering to those whom we perceive to be our enemies, and more to do with the result of plummeting magazine sales in general.  I'm sure that Time is no different, and so is dumbing down to the lowest common denominator in order to move more copies and survive.  Months ago, Time had an issue with the "100 Most Influential People in the World" or some such thing.  Among the luminaries?  Sandra Bullock, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, etc.  Time is moving to the category of People or Us Weekly because it is a business and they have to sell magazines. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

Interview with Robert Hirsch

This is an interview with Dr. Robert Hirsch that's well worth reading.  Dr. Hirsch was the author of the first official government report that sounded the alarm on peak oil in 2005.  He has written a new book, "The Impending World Energy Mess".  A lot of this you should have heard before, but there are a few juicy morsels.  After his initial 2005 report, he and his colleagues were told by their superiors in the Department of Energy to stop talking about peak oil.  It's particularly striking how the DOE quashes discussion of PO and is headed by people who tackle the issue from an academic perspective (like the Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu), while the U.S. military has stated clearlly in several reports and statements, how much trouble we are in due to the energy crisis. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

IMF Fears "Social Explosion" From World Jobs Crisis

This is a good article from the UK Telegraph, but pay really good attention to the graph within.  It shows the duration of unemployment in the U.S. from 1970 to 2010.  It zigzags, rising a little more than usual during a recession (which is signified by grey bars) but downright soars by the end of it (present-day); note that the grey bar is pretty huge too.  According to the report, the world must create 45 million jobs a year just to keep up.  The report does sidestep around some things, like "labor arbitrage" (outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries to ship products back to us).

The only solution that the IMF's chief economist calls for is an extra monetary stimulus.  Now, I'm no economist, but printing more and more money does not seem to be working.  As the old saying goes, "hard times call for hard solutions", but the only solution the government is calling for is "spend, spend, spend".  It's not working, and amidst all this political hoopla with the primary elections last Tuesday, a lot of people seem to be under the illusion that this problem can be solved politically.  We'll just vote the Democrats out.  Well, two years ago, it was the Republicans that needed to go, because we wanted "hope and change".  And, assuming we still have a functioning government in 2014 or 2016, it'll be the Republicans who will be in disfavor and we'll turn back to some purported "savior" in the Democratic Party.  Some people I talk to feel that we won't see an actual "recovery" for five or ten years, and a lot of people would probably look at them as being pessimists.  If anything, I feel they're being optimistic; I don't think that things will ever return to what they were.  In order for there to be any recovery, we need not merely jobs, but the right kinds of jobs, that emphasize production of goods.  But that won't happen due to the already mentioned "labor arbitrage".  So the jobs that will be created will be more along the lines of "Walmart Greeter" or "suntan parlor clerk" or "restaurant cashier", and you cannot have a real recovery (that of job creation) on the backs of jobs like that. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our Rising Level of Debt Considered a National Security Problem

The United States Joint Forces Command released a study stating that the U.S. government will add 9 trillion dollars of debt to its balance sheets in the next decade, outpacing the most optimistic, best-case scenario for economic growth.  Payments will increase just for servicing the debt, which will cut into government spending, possibly defense. 

In a related story, a blue-ribbon panel met with Obama early in the year and told him the same thing.  Only, they wrote up a report that used the three major U.S. government so-called "entitlement programs" (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) as a model, and strongly implied that taxes would need to be raised or growth in these programs would need to be strictly curtailed.  I've always had trouble with that term, "entitlement program", at least as the first two are concerned.  I define being "entitled" as feeling that you deserve things that you really haven't earned; if you pay into a program your whole life, it's not an entitlement because you've earned it.  Anyway, I'm digressing again.  I just find it unsettling how neither group seems to think that our maintenance of "empire" is at least partly responsible for our spiraling levels of debt.  The blue-ribbon panel that consulted with Obama says we should hit the "entitlement programs", while the USJOC worries about the debt cutting into our defense spending, never factoring in that the defense spending (in other words, "empire") could have a big part to play in why we are so in hock in the first place. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

One Second After

I am currently reading an excellent novel called "One Second After" by William Forstchen.  The story deals with the impact and effects of an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) bomb on the United States, particularly a small town in North Carolina, where the novel is based in.  There is a foreword and an afterword in the book (the former by Newt Gingrich, the latter by a naval captain) that stresses the threat that EMPs pose to us.  It's pretty scary stuff, it can be transmissible through a nuclear bomb, but rather than it being launched directly at us, it can be launched a couple of hundred miles above the surface, frying all satellites and electronic devices.  IMO, using a nuclear weapon in this way could hit us even harder than if one were used against a major city. 

Anyway, the EMP bomb is just a narrative device; the story itself deals with how people in one town cope with life after a fast-collapse scenario.  As you know, the subject of collapse fascinates me a great deal, being as I feel that we're in one currently, albeit the slow kind.  But the author is apparently familar with the subject, and details in the narrative the many ways that we are vulnerable and are totally dependent on the mechanisms that make our modern life possible.  In a lot of ways, electricity is like modern civilization's central nervous system.  A "lights out" on a prolonged basis will lead to mayhem and chaos, like what is described in the book.  I really don't want to give the various examples the author gives in telling his story, so I will let you read it for yourself, but I did want to recount one thing I read this morning that did haunt me.  There are some light spoilers ahead, so if you want to read it and come in fresh, you might want to skip this part.

Six weeks into the attack, Black Mountain is struggling to survive, with dwindling food reserves and the less healthy dying off.  But the inhabitants of the town are the lucky ones.  Refugees from other towns are passing through, under the watchful eyes of the town militia.  Those refugees with valuable skills (e.g., medical, carpentry, building, etc.) are picked out and invited to stay.  One of the refugees is a professional businesswoman, who was a public relations consultant with a tobacco company before the attack.  Her business clothing is tattered and her hair is dirty from the walk.  She makes eye contact with the main character and strikes up conversation.  After telling him that she is a PR specialist, she gives him a "sales pitch" in how she can help the town in having a "better interface with the public".  As these "skills" are pretty much useless in a post-industrial age, he apologizes and politely sends her along.  Her professional demeanor quickly collapses, and she begs and pleads with him, offering to spend the night with him if he'll let her stay. 

It reminded me of the views that I now hold on higher education.  Many college students are preparing themselves for careers that simply are not going to exist, or in fields where jobs just aren't going to be plentiful.  I really want to try to steer myself towards something that could be useful and that could help me survive. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Great Overview of Peak Oil: A "Heads Up" for Humanity

This is a very good webpage, written and developed by a science professor for his students, but which is a very good primer for the many who don't know of peak oil at all.  It can also be used as a great refresher for those of us who do know; it never hurts to read through some of these things again and strengthen one's knowledge.  I especially liked how he tackled it from a somewhat different perspective of population dynamics (the warmup consists of a lot of examples surrounding "overshoot:", when a population exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment), rather than approaching it from an environmental or economic perspective as most PO-aware often do.  Warning:  it is quite long, and contains many video links, so this will take awhile. 

So this joins the short list of PO materials and media that I'd recommend to the PO beginner.  Others include Kunstler's book "The Long Emergency" and the documentaries "The End of Suburbia" and "Collapse".  I'd say that this is the most gentle and least doomerish of the lot, so it's recommended for the especially squeamish.