Old games with a twist

I love casual games. I don't know if there's a strict definition for a "casual game" but I would say it's a small, simple game that you can learn very quickly. The kind of free flash games you find at places like Kongregate or Armor Games or Jay is Games. Lately I've seen a few fun games that are all twists on very familiar games, or combinations of them.

  • In Tuper Tario Tros, you're playing Mario and Tetris at the same time, in the same place. The tetris blocks that fall become the terrain that Mario is running and jumping on. If Mario can't make it across a gap, switch to Tetris mode and build him a bridge out of tetrominoes. If you can't find anywhere to put your current block, switch back to Mario mode and move through the landscape until you find a more favorable area.
  • First-Person Tetris is more or less what it sounds like. It's tetris but you are the tetris block! Warning: This game will make you dizzy and perhaps naseous if you play it enough.
  • gnop (yes, that's "pong" backwards) is a clone of Pong, except that you are the ball. Perhaps it was inspired by First-Person Tetris. While playing this one, I imagine that some kid in the 80s with a bad haircut is playing pong, and is wondering why the ball refuses to follow the laws of physics.
  • Lastly, I just discovered TetriSnake which is of course a tetris game where instead of blocks, you have little snakes. Which is cool because they can be any shape you want if you can succesfully maneuver them into that shape.
  • UPDATE: Found another one: Anti-Pacman, where you control the four ghosts. In fact, this is part of an Anti-Games series, but of all the ones listed, Anti-Pacman sounds like the coolest.
Do you know of any other casual games in this "classic(s) with a twist" category? What two games should be mashed up next?


The numbers don't lie. Except when they do.

On The Rachel Maddow Show today, they did a cute little segment where they played a fake game show called Pin the Debt on the Donkey whose purpose was to point out that Republican presidents in recent history have added much more to the national debt than Democratic presidents. To that end, they showed this graph.

I don't want to argue about this from a political standpoint, or imply that Rachel Maddow's staff got the numbers wrong* or anything like that. My issue with this graph is that the way the graph is designed deceives you into thinking Reagan spent way way more than anyone else. It's the kind of simple misunderstanding of math that Good Math, Bad Math is all about. First of all, some of these presidents were in office for 4 years, and others for 8. They put this in the "fine print" so to speak, but this is a graph! The point is to show information visually. They could have used the average increase per year, which is also readily available on PresidentialDebt.org. That graph would look like this:

(Sorry it doesn't look as fancy as Rachel's. Upper Harmonics' graphics department consists of, well, me and OpenOffice.org.) In this graph, things look a little more balanced, and you could argue that if Carter and Bush Sr. had gotten a second term, they would have increased the debt by about as much as they did during their first term, so it's a little more fair.

I don't think this is the biggest issue though. The real problem with this graph is that the numbers are percentages, not absolute numbers. This would be of no consequence if they were percentages of the same thing. But each number is a percentage of the national debt at the start of that president's term. So if you happened to be president after someone who (as Rachel points out) nearly tripled the national debt, you look much better in comparison. Not just because you're being compared to someone who spent a lot of money, but because your spending is being reported as a percentage of a higher number. If we look at each president's debt increase in actual dollars (actually, trillions of dollars), we get this:

Wow! You mean the first President Bush and President Clinton actually increased the national debt by the same amount? Yup. And both of them increased the debt by just a little less than Reagan did? Yes. But that's not really fair, you say. Clinton had two terms, and Bush only had one. Okay, let's look at each term, rather than each president, shall we?

This still illustrates the general point Rachel Maddow was trying to make: The worst four-year presidential terms of national debt increase in recent history were mostly during Republican administrations, and the best were mostly during Democratic ones. But I think the graph they chose to create didn't show the whole story as clearly as it could have.

You don't have to be an economics or math major to understand this. This is very simple math. A given amount of money may be a small percentage of one value, and an enormous percentage of another value. Comparing percentages the way they did on the show distorts the facts.

To be clear, I don't think Rachel Maddow or her staff were intentionally deceiving anyone or trying to distort the truth -- it sounds cliche but I'm really not trying to make this into a politcal thing. I suspect they just took the five easiest-to-spot numbers off of PresidentialDebt.org and quickly threw them onto a graph. So some of the blame should lie with that site, which made those numbers a bit more prominent than they should have been.

* Although, they rounded Bush Sr.'s number from 55.6% (direct from PresidentialDebt.org) to 55%. We could argue about the .5 rule all day, but I think we can all agree that 55.6 rounds to 56, right? Also, during the segment, she says George W. Bush grew the national debt by $4.9 trillion. The number is actually more like $5.04 trillion, which I assume is due to another rounding error. Either that or they got that number from another source that uses the actual inauguration days, instead of the end of the year, as the delineation between presidencies.


Prop 8 trial transcripts available!

I'm excited to tell you, my loyal readers, that full, official transcripts from the Prop 8 trial, which is currently underway, are available! If, like me, you were excited to watch the videos posted online each night, and disappointed when the Supreme Court of California disallowed the posting of those videos, this is a great way to read exactly what's happening in the courtroom. Several people who are present in the courtroom have been reporting on the proceedings, via blogs or Twitter, but now we can actually get the full transcripts and read them for ourselves. There will also be a video re-enactment posted any day now, based on these transcripts.

Here is the link to the transcripts. Thanks to Karen Ocamb for posting it on her blog, LGBT POV!

I'm only a little way through the first day so far, but I'll leave you with a quote from Ted Olson, attorney for the plaintiffs (which are the people opposed to Prop 8 which means they're in favor of same-sex marriage -- I know it can be confusing!) in his opening statements:
We wouldn't need a Constitution if we left everything to the political process, but if we left everything to the political process, the majority would always prevail, which is a great thing about democracy, but it's not so good if you are a minority or if you're a disfavored minority or you're new or you're different. And that's what happens here.


Prop 8 and violence against GLBT people

As with any major event, there's been a lot of traffic on Twitter this week because of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, better known as the Proposition 8 case. The supporters of Prop 8 (that's the people who are against same-sex marriage) asked the court not to broadcast the proceedings, or even make them available on YouTube, because they feared it would create a "media circus" (though I'm not sure the mainstream media spending more time on this issue is really a bad thing) and more importantly, that their witnesses might be intimidated or threatened by people who recognized them from the video of the court's proceedings. Most people seem to believe this is only an excuse, and that the real reason they don't want cameras is that they don't want the general public to hear the arguments for SSM expressed eloquently and carefully by the very intelligent team representing the plaintiffs and the pro-SSM witnesses they've called to the stand.

However--and this is what a lot of the people on the pro-gay side don't seem to want to admit--supporters of Prop 8 were intimidated and harassed right after Prop 8 passed. I remember seeing pictures of a Mormon church in Los Angeles being vandalized, and thinking that whoever did that, acting out of anger and desperation, was setting us way back. There were huge crowds of people in the streets that Wednesday night, and while I'm sure the huge majority of them were peaceful, there were lots of acts of violence and harassment not just against the people who put prop 8 on the ballot and ran its campaign, but against the individual citizens that voted for it. If that's what happens to individual voters, imagine what could happen to someone trying to defend Prop 8 in federal court.

My point is not to encourage groups like Protect Marriage to continue playing the victim (they do plenty of that without my help). And I hope it goes without saying that I don't mean to encourage anyone to commit acts of violence, vandalism, harassment, etc. against anyone. But it's conceivable that some witnesses really did have legitimate fears about cameras in the courtroom.

The reason I bring this up is that there's a very popular trend on Twitter tonight of posting videos like this describing hate crimes that have been committed against gay people. I guess the implication is that laws like Prop 8 encourage hate crimes, or at least encourage the kind of thinking that occasionally leads some people to commit hate crimes. I tweeted "Not liking all the RTing of this video http://bit.ly/6hI1oh Do people think homophobia / hate crime will disappear if we strike down #prop8?" To expand on that a little, if this case eventually goes in our favor, we'll never hear the end of it from the anti-gay-marriage crowd about "activist judges" who are "overriding the will of the people" and so on. Eventually, we would like broad societal recognition that gay relationships are equal to straight ones, not just government recognition. I worry that when we're posting these videos, people will say that we're equating everyone who is for Prop 8 with anyone who's ever killed a gay person. If we ever want people like Protect Marriage and NOM to accept gay marriage, we need to stop thinking of them as the enemy and start thinking of them as someone who is wrong but well-intentioned. That means not implying they're responsible for the occurrence of hate crimes.

Twitter user @california411 then said to me: "@tbreisacher No read the SCOTUS ruling- the US Supreme court is protecting the perpetrators of violence towards GLBT's" thus confirming my worry. You might say that attitudes like those of the Prop 8 supporters are related to the attitudes that lead to hate crimes. But that hardly means that SCOTUS was directly protecting the perpetrators of violence.

Someone named @nutrioso reacted to the videos more or less exactly the way I expected the anti-gay-marriage side would react: "Hmmm...looks like the lefties are displaying their penchant for civil discourse by swamping Twitter with irrelevant propaganda. #prop8" Basically, no one made it clear, at least not to this person, what the connection was between hate crimes and Prop 8.

I guess the point I'm really making here is that if you're going to post something about the GLBT community being victimized, in a Prop 8 discussion, it would be wise to show the connection between that victimization and Prop 8, as clearly and carefully as you can. And remember, the "other side" is not your enemy -- they are just someone who doesn't yet understand why marriage is so important to GLBT people. In the event that we have to fight this issue (or another GLBT issue -- yes folks, gay people do care about things other than getting married!) at the ballot box, we need every vote we can get. Out of the millions who voted to take marriage rights away from us, most of them did so with very good intentions and were simply misguided. Let's help those who are willing to listen to see our side of the story.


USC Basketball Sanctions

There's been a lot of talk lately about USC's self-imposed sanctions that have been applied to its basketball team in response to the violations of NCAA rules committed two years about by OJ Mayo and Tim Floyd. Some people say USC didn't go far enough, a lot of people say Mike Garrett is sacrificing the basketball team to save the football team.

To me, the whole system seems quite irrational. The NCAA makes it very clear what is and isn't allowed, but as far as I know, there are no official penalties for any of the violations. So when something happens, the school imposes a penalty on itself, hoping the NCAA will think it's harsh enough. If the NCAA accepts it, then maybe we could have gotten away with less, and we punished ourselves unnecessarily. If they impose even harsher sanctions than the ones we came up with, then we look like we're not taking the infractions seriously, simply because we couldn't read the NCAA's mind.

Imagine if the coaches determined their own penalties for fouls during football games. Instead of the officials referring to the rulebook (delay of game = 5 yards, holding = 10 yards, etc.) the coach simply imposes his own penalty and hopes the officials will accept it as "harsh enough." This would be a ridiculous way to run a football game. How hard would it be for the NCAA to create a mapping from violations to specific penalties? If you can find the exact rule that Mayo and Floyd violated, you should also find, on the same page of the NCAA rulebook, a specific description of the penalties that will be imposed on the coach, the school, and players who were involved. Maybe there's a reason the NCAA doesn't work like that. I would love for someone to tell me what that reason is.

But back to the sanctions themselves. My biggest complaint, really my only complaint, is the way the administration is taking our current team (none of whom were involved in the rules violations at all, and most of whom weren't even at USC at the time) out of all postseason play, including the annual Pac-10 Tournament and the NCAA Tournament (which I think we probably would have participated in for the fourth time in a row -- the first time that would have ever happened to USC).

This punishment has absolutely no effect on anyone who is actually responsible, and it keeps a great team, who so far as surpassed all expectations, from showing the country what they can do in "the big dance." So here's what I think we should do instead. Currently, during halftime of USC home games, there are a couple of little challenges, where students come down from the stands and try to make a shot or two in order to win money or plane tickets from Nike or American Airlines. Instead of that, I think we should have OJ Mayo and Tim Floyd come down and stand at midcourt. A student stands at either end of the court and fires a nerf gun at the NCAA rules violators. One student's nerf darts have cardinal paint, and the other's have gold paint, to make it easy to see which one got more hits. The winner receives a free Trojan Fever t-shirt. Mayo and Floyd do not. What do you think?