Everything old is new again

With the releases of OS X 10.8.2, iOS 6, and the iPhone 5, it's no surprise that a lot of things needed to be updated.  so when I looked at available updates this morning, and saw quite a few, that wasn't exactly a surprise.

What made it a happy pleasure is that both jetpack joyride and tiny tower had updates.  Mostly it was support for iOS6 and iPhone5 screen dimensions, but both had substantive changes as well.

Well, mostly cosmetic for Jetpack Joyride, as far as I can tell.  The lasers' pre-blast looks a bit different (and cool), and there's a new background (a lava cave).  There seem to be two new outfits (I say seem to be, because it's been a long time since I paid attention to clothing selection.  I'm pretty sure the basketball outfit is new, but I'm less certain about the hazmat suit).

One thing that was probably there already, but which I hadn't noticed, is that the profile screen now includes a whole section on gadgets.  Nothing particularly useful, but certainly amusing.  There are also two achievements I hadn't noticed, but I again suspect these were already there (Rejected, for missing the token gift, and walkies, which is secret but surely involves Flash).

The more interesting side is Tiny Tower.  It added eight new floors again.  It also made a way to select from available floors, which takes a lot of coins.  Early on, that might be useful; I'm not sure.  I started building all eight, but it'll be a few days before I get any completed.  The only one I know the identity of is the Italian Restaurant.  I'm anxious to see the others.  Gonna be a bit crazy when everything matures at once.


Perfectly balanced

Think Progress continues their excellent work by flagging a report on the economy that shows that the top 1% have 288 times as much as the median household.

And yet, we still can't tax the rich, right?  Because then they might only have 100 times as much as everyone else?


76 Trombones for the century...

I tried another musical with the kids, today, the 1962 The Music Man with Robert Preston and Shirley Jones.

It wasn't the first time I'd seen it, of course, but it had been a while.  Plus, of course, it's always a bit different with the kids present.

It occurred to me, while we were watching, that the movie took place in 1912, exactly a century ago.  That made for some interesting things to point out to the kids.  After all, we don't see horses every day any more.  Nor unpaved roads.  Nor soda fountains.

It was definitely fun to see again.  I'd forgotten a bit of the beginning, so it was funny to see Prof Hill thinking up his scheme again.  And I'd never noticed how the line in Marian the Librarian (much of the rest of the movie seems to be on youtube, but not that song) about his body turning to carrion got her attention.

And I noticed a couple more examples of Winston's talking getting Marian's attention (I knew that was what had won her over to his side, but hadn't paid attention to all the cases, I think).  I also hadn't paid much attention to his attempts to quote famous passages, and how that figured in.  The movie definitely fits together more tightly than I'd remembered.

But the key part was that it was still as fun as I'd recalled.  It wasn't as good as Sound of Music or Singing in the Rain for keeping the kids' attention, but we still had a good time.

The only disappointment was that I only had it on DVD, but did order the blu-ray after watching (and seeing that the price was fairly low).  Now I'll just have to watch it again, soon.


Those playing a lot of Jetpack Joyride have probably noticed that certain gadget combinations have names. I've finally made a list of all of them. Here they are:

Air Barrys and Grav-Belt: High Mobility
Air Barrys and X-Ray Specs: Futuristic Fashion
Air Barrys and EZ-Dodge Missiles: Air Dodger
Nerd Repellent and X-Ray Specs: Nothing to See Here
Nerd Repellent and Free Ride: Disaster Averted
Nerd Repellent and Flash: Not So Lonely
Insta-ball and Grav-Belt: Serious Bounce
Insta-ball and Freeze: Just a Little Further
Insta-ball and Flying Pig: Fantastic Contraptions
Missile Jammer and EZ-Dodge Missiles: Mild Missiles
Missile Jammer and Dezapinator: Quality Control
Token Gift and Magnetic Tokens: Spin Doctor
Token Gift and Free Ride: Instant Satisfaction
Token Gift and Lucky Last: Beat the House
X-Ray Specs and Free Ride: Transport Tycoon
X-Ray Specs and Lucky Last: Fortune Teller
Gemology and Flying Pig: Glazed Ham
Gemology and Coin Magnet: Kaching
Gemology and Flash: Petty Cash
EZ-Dodge Missiles and Flying Pig: Miss Piggy
Magnetic Tokens and Coin Magnet: Magnetic Personality
Magnetic Tokens and Lucky Last: Great Odds
Flying Pig and Coin Magnet: Smash and Grab
Flying Pig and Flash: Odd Couple
Free Ride and Turbo Booster: Speedy Steakfries

So, mostly funny. Some seem fairly obvious, and some are quite clever. Regardless of what you think of any of the specifics, a cool idea to name them.

Also, to update an earlier post: it appears that one of the subsequent patches removed the ability to ignore missiles at high speeds.

And two extra tidbits on specific gadgets. It appears that doing a Free Start (either kind, and whether won or purchased) when you have the coin magnet gives you all coins before the end of the Free Start, not just those that you're close enough to attract. Oh, and yes, that's even true when you're also using Gemology. It isn't the case with Final Blasts (again, purchased or won), although you do get some amusing eye candy when you are close enough to attract them.

The other involves the Nerd Repellent. While it does turn off Flashing Lights, that part of it is inactive if you have a Flashing Lights mission. Even to the point of the Lights being on at the start of a game, and turning off when you finish the mission. I would imagine the same is true of High Fives, but I've never tested that one.

Update: It turns out that High Fives do not work with Nerd Repellent at all.  There's also one oddity with flashing lights and NR.  The first flashing light doesn't light up, but still gives the visual effect of having been touched, when NR is active and you have that mission.  Weird.  Bug, I guess, but not a big one.

Rough start to a quest

It turns out that I already owned a copy of The Quest Begins, which I mentioned the other day. There was a shelf-break between the two books, which is why I didn't notice it immediately. Thankfully, I noticed before the second one could be shipped.

Anyway, I've been reading TQB the last couple of days, and I've been deeply disappointed. And maybe that's why I didn't remember owning it; I read it years ago and didn't like it all that much. At least, that's my guess.

It almost feels like it was written by different people (probably because of the 15-year gap between the writing of the two volumes). Too much of it feels like, "I've got some awkward dialog [from the comic], and I need to explain why that happened". I didn't mind the original dialog, and the explanations feel... forced, I guess.  It makes the story feel a little choppy, I think.

It certainly got me thinking about a couple of things I'd never really considered before.  One, saving that squirrel was really stupid.  Two, the whole quest is borderline insane, given the lack, not only of GPS, but even of roads.  I was thinking, after Cutter and Skywise had gone north and a long ways west, their only way to get back would really have been to go over the exact way they'd come.  There was really no way to try to take a short-cut, going back directly south-east.  Their odds of missing anything they'd recognize, doing that, would have been incredibly high.

The book isn't bad (I do love the story itself), but the magic is definitely missing. Very disappointing (and explains the lack of further volumes, I guess).

More electioneering

[This is another that I wrote several days ago, but am just getting around to posting.]

I mentioned, yesterday, that other people were doing a far better job than I of talking about the problems with Romney as a candidate. One that I found yesterday is this epic-length blog post by Kurt Eichenwald dismantling the entire economic argument for the GOP.

I really don't have a lot to add to it; it covers a lot of ground, very well. Really, it's well worth reading the whole thing.

The two things I think I want to mention are about the Laffer curve and about Reagan's tax increases.

We'll start with the Reagan tax increases. Wait, increases? Yes, as mentioned in the article, the TEFRA was a large tax increase. What he doesn't mention, was that it was needed to stabilize Social Security's finances. How well did it work? Well, Social Security started having surpluses immediately. Congress immediately used those surpluses by having Social Security buy T-Bills to finance the operations of the rest of the government. But the real reason I wanted to bring it up is that that also occurred right before the economy started booming, and there's reason to believe correlation, there. Not to say it was a bigger reason than the rate cuts, but it wasn't nothing, either.

About the Laffer curve, here's what I see as the key points. If you tax at 0%, revenue is zero. If you tax at 100%, revenue will similarly be zero (or very close; altruists might get some work done). So it's pretty obvious that there is some point in the middle that maximizes revenue. And pretty obvious that progressive marginal rates will push that maximum point higher. It's pretty tough to argue that current rates, already incredibly low historically (and Eichenwald does a decent job of pointing out how low, by comparing with Reagan-era rates. He neglects to mention Eisenhower-era rates (90% top marginal rate), though, which are also instructive).

Actually, let's look at tax rates for a bit. Here's a chart of top marginal tax rates, historically. Do tax rates really look high, now? They seem ludicrously low, to me. Ah, finally found it. Here's a chart with the full tax rate table under Eisenhower. Man, that would be painful for my family, but only because we're accustomed to paying so much less. Still think rates are high, though? How crippled was the economy by those tax rates? Yeah, it was extremely healthy.

The other point worth noting, though, is just how many different tax brackets there were. I'm not sure if that was a good thing, or bad, though.

The main point, though, is that, no matter what your political orientation, you should read that Eichenwald article.



I haven't talked a whole lot about the current presidential race. It isn't because I don't have strong feelings about it, but just because I think other people have covered it a whole lot better than I can.

Matt Taibbi (whom I've mentioned before) is killing it, again, with his summary of how Romney got where he is. Wondered how leveraged buyout works? He covers it. Incredulous about how one of Romney's pollsters (Neil Newhouse) can say "We're not going let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers"? Check. Given thought to how Romney's experience in indebting companies would help him keep the government out of debt? Yeah, I hadn't thought about that angle, either.

I wasn't a big fan of Clinton when he was president. I never voted for him, instinctively distrusting his ability to promise everything to everyone, all at the same time. It even kept me from voting for The Goracle, which I now regret (not that it would have mattered). But my point is that, looking back on what he accomplished, Clinton was quite a good president (philandering aside; although I look at that as a personal and familial failing, not a political one).

But even Clinton's level of mendacity doesn't approach Romney's. When the campaign started, I was thinking of him as the least dangerous (to the country) of the various Republican challengers. I figured he was the most moderate, among other things. Then I watched as he reversed pretty much all of his earlier positions. And since then, I've found out many other things about his concept of "truth-telling" (like what he went through to be able to get on the Massachusetts ballot). Then we've found his repeated changes of direction in when he left Bain (retroactive retirement? Seriously?). I also had no idea about the lengths to which he has gone to avoid paying taxes (real patriotic, dude).

After all of that, though, I've got to say that I think Romney is downright dangerous. I think he'll be the titular head of a kleptocracy (or plutocracy, if you want to be slightly more charitable), similar to what Bush Jr did (but probably on a larger scale).

I'm not real thrilled with how Obama has done (in particular, he's been a disaster in civil liberties, and has a very mixed record on governmental transparency (he has made some good strides, there, with new programs, but his war on whistle-blowers is truly reprehensible)), but I'm still 99% sure that he's been far better than what a Romney administration would be.

I truly do not understand how the race is as close as it is; almost nobody would benefit from the policies Romney has espoused (ignoring the ones he's repeated flip-flopped over, as I have no idea what he'd do about any of those issues). The only people who would are the insanely rich, and even they only would in the very short term. The amount of demand that would be crushed out of the economy by his policies would cause an absolute cratering of the overall economy (I'm not sure how long it would take, but I am sure of what would result), because nobody would be hiring.  And in an economic heavily driven by consumption, that would be a death-knell.

Anyway, the only thing I find encouraging are the polls that ask "who do you think is more likely to win?", because Obama leads those polls by a huge margin. I keep hoping that's a true sign of what is to come.

Wonders of Youtube

Youtube is just an endless wonder to me.  I wanted to find the music from my favorite DDR song, and realized that that was a good place to look.  Since I couldn't remember the name at the time, I put in the original artist and one word of the name, and was able to get the whole name.  Then I put in the whole name and DDR, and I find this, this, and (especially cool) this.

Our kids were very amused at the chicken dance over the weekend, and my wife ran into this mashup of the chicken dance and the macarena.

I was never a big fan of the old Pink Panther cartoon, but it did have one episode that I really liked, and I lost my tape of it (one of the very few things I've owned on videotape).  But it occurred to me that it was probably there, and - what do you know? - it was.

We wanted to distract our kids for a few minutes with the Sound of Music's puppet show?  No problem.  (And, incidentally, as proof of that movie's power: I showed it to my kids, and even my 18-mo kept quiet until intermission.  I wouldn't have guessed anything would keep his attention that well.)

Related to Sound of Music, I went looking for Oh, Susanna, to play for my daughter, and we found the scene out of the German inspiration for it.  I wasn't even aware of the existence of that movie.  Now I'm looking for a copy of it (preferably subtitled, as my German is not remotely close to what it once was).

And all of that, of course, is just stuff that I (or my wife) found in normal searching.  I'm not even going to talk about the things you can find via 'Related' videos, starting from a known point.  Way cool stuff.


The Unexplored Road

I recently mentioned reading Lawrence Watt-Evans' excellent Misenchanted Sword again, and again enjoying it (and I'll repeat myself as well, that that new cover is terrible.  Though at least it's people-focused).  After reading it, I went poking around amazon, and found another of his old books, Taking Flight (new cover on this one also.  It doesn't do much for me, but I don't hate it.  And the original cover wasn't exactly great either.  Call it a wash, I guess).

The description seemed a bit familiar, but I was sure I hadn't read it, so I ordered it.  It arrived, and I'd read about half of it (a week or two ago, actually) before looking at my shelves and realizing that I already owned a copy.  Ugh.

But that didn't keep me from finishing it.  It wasn't as good as Misenchanted Sword, but it was pretty interesting.  It had a lot of thinking in it about maturity and the concept of growing up.  It took me a while to figure out what was going on with Irith; I think it was shortly before Azraya was introduced when I realized how things had to end.

It's an interesting idea, gaining more experience without maturing, though a weird one, as well.  It kind of reminds me of a spell idea thrown out in Joel Rosenberg's awesome Guardians of the Flame series.  In it, an engineer posits an explosive created magically by heating something up (nearly?) to plasma, casting a spell to preserve its state, then cooling it.  The weird part coming when you juxtapose state preservation with cooling.  The two just don't seem to go together.

Anyway, Irith is much like that.  It certainly makes her an interesting character, and the book ended the way it needed to, but the story was pretty enjoyable, even though there really wasn't much going on in it.  The only thing I found a bit disappointing about the book was that I would have liked to have seen a bit more of Kelder's life.  It kind of ended at the beginning, in a way.  The story of the book was about him and Irith, so it made total sense, but I was still wondering.

Anyway, it made for a cool book.  I liked how the main characters from Misenchanted Sword showed up, and played a small, but important, parts.  i doubt I'll be rereading it, but it was worth the read.

Howling at Two Moons

When I was growing up, shortly after being introduced to Dungeons and Dragons (yes, I did play a little of that before taking up Advanced Dungeons and Dragons), I started reading fantasy novels.  The first ones I remember were The Lord of the Rings and The Elfstones of Shannara (I later read The Sword of... and The Wishsong of..., but never any of the later volumes.  As a side note, I'm just seeing the current covers for the first time, and they are lame.  Show people, not buildings!  Good books, though; especially the first two).  Probably a fair bit of each went over my head; I might have known the words, but, at eight, the concepts weren't all there.

The point I'm heading toward is that I was shortly introduced to Elfquest by the first novelization of the series.  I later bought, and read (many, many times), the graphic novels, and enjoyed them, but more because of the way they completed the story than the method of telling.

The story certainly stuck with me, though; for a long, long time, I really wished that I was Cutter.  When I found the RPG, I was all over that, although I didn't end up playing it much.  I just couldn't find others who were interested (unlike many of the other systems I played; heck I played a couple of campaigns of bleedin' Top Secret, but not even one campaign of Elfquest).  Too bad the web didn't exist back then.

I haven't thought about it a huge amount recently, though.  Other than my first discovery of that first link, above, when I realized that all the comics were available (and immediately read through at least the first twenty), I haven't given the series a whole lot of thought.

But, a couple of days ago, I was looking through my shelves, and that novel caught my eye.  So, of course, I needed to read it again.

It was interesting, coming at it from a very different perspective.  Not just being older, but less hurried.  I appreciated a lot more of the imagery and danger of what was going on.  Never gave any thought to how wolves might howl differently with two moons overhead, either.  Or about the geologic timeframe where sabretoothed tigers and mammoths exist.  Or the activity of a "smoking mountain".  Or what the Wolfrider's unfamiliarity with bread (as seen in their first arrival at Sorrow's End) says about them.  As I said, a different experience.

It was still a very powerful book.  It isn't going to get me spending nights wishing I was there anymore, but it is still beautiful and compelling.  I missed the second volume novelization coming out, and just became aware of its existence today.  I'm anxiously awaiting my copy arriving.  I can't find any evidence of a third or fourth volume, though.  Alas; I would certainly be all over those, as well.