400 Years: a surprisingly short game

Boing Boing linked today a quick, fun flash game called 400 Years, Here's the link to play, in which you play a strange little stone totem who has only 400 years to stop some great catastrophe. It took me a little playing around before I realized that you didn't just get to wait forever -- that whenever you waited, you were wasting time before the catastrophe hit, and you could conceivably wait the whole four hundred years, and lose.  I did fine the first time through, then I decided to check out what happens if you don't make it.

At top waiting speed, you only pass about a year a second, so it took a while.

While you're waiting, you see the world change before your eyes.  Where I stopped to lose the game, I saw two trees grow from saplings to extraordinary heights, then fall down, and new saplings sprouted in their place.

The game involves waiting for huge periods of time, but it also occasionally involves doing stuff -- manipulating physical objects like seeds you need to plant.  These seeds dry out and go away if you hold them while you're waiting, so sometimes you need to figure out how to get around without using the tricks of the long time scale.

Loss-condition spoiler below the fold:

You don't actually get to see what the catastrophe was that you failed to stop, if you don't beat the game.  The waiting stops suddenly, the earth begins to shake, the screen goes white, and then you see an image of burning trees, and the message,

TOO LATE... THE WORLD HAS BURNED TO ASHES.

GAME OVER

The win/lose conditions are pretty cool, but the story you see unfolding on the timescale of centuries is even more beautiful.  I highly recommend this game.  Here, again, is the link.

In about an hour...

The Doctor Who Christmas Special starts in about an hour, and I'm still at my aunt's house.  Hopefully, my parents are getting ready to get going.  But I'm a little worried. I'm also super-excited.  For one thing, I can't wait to see more of that Victorian lizard person, she was an awesome character.  And I want to see more of the new companion.  Fingers crossed that we're meeting next season's full-time companion.

Also:  I'd love to be able to go on tumblr again.  Apparently the new episode has already aired in some places, and that means people are referencing it, and not everyone tags diligently.

It's funny how, around some events, the mechanics of society are suspended in the temporary chaos until enough time passes that everything sorts itself out.

Talk to you tomorrow.

General disappointment

I'm more than usually annoyed at civilization's failures today. According to indexmundi.com, the average American spends 25.2 minutes a day commuting.  That's 2 hours a week.  probably enough time to keep up with an online class.  (Especially a class organized for commuters.)  If we had comprehensive public transportation, people could spend the time going to and from work on buses and trains, with their laptops or tablets, learning.

Or they could keep up with another reality TV show.  Or they could get in a nap.  Or they could listen to music and meditate.

Commutes would probably be longer in this paradigm, but that's fine.  That's more free time.  Time blocked out cleanly in everyone's day.

(I mean, ideally our cities would be built in a way that placed everyone close enough to their workplace that their commutes wouldn't take that long.)

I'm sure there are enough people willing to drive for a living to overcome the sudden absence of hundreds of thousands of amateur drivers.  It would reduce carbon emissions.  It would make the roads safer -- by reducing the number of cars, and by having only professional drivers on the road.

And, obviously, when I remember about this particular civilizational failure, I'm reminded of many of the other ones:  the continued existence of the penny, the horrible structure of student loans, the failures of education systems worldwide, the DMCA, American internet speeds, the war on drugs, etc.

We're suffering, in the United States, from a failure to optimize several societal institutions, because the optimization reduces the number of people who can profit from a reformed system.  Our internet isn't being reformed because our ISPs can charge us enough as it is.  Our entertainment industry is fighting against freedom of expression because it maximizes their ability to make billion-dollar, broad-appeal action movies.  Our education system is nearly a method for converting optimistic young adults into revenue streams for loan companies.  Our drug policies primarily benefit private prison owners farming nonviolent offenders for government money.

And our transportation systems are fatally crippled because all the obvious solutions would result in fewer people driving, fewer people buying gas, fewer people living in suburbs and fewer people owning cars.

There are two separate intersections on my commute to school where, no matter how wide a gap I wait for, I'm always terrified that someone is going to crash into me.  Part of it is that the roads are poorly designed, but a bigger part is that the roads are crowded with people who have no place operating a motor vehicle -- including me.  The fact that we expect everyone to do it means we've lowered our standards for who should be allowed to drive.  It's incredibly dangerous, and you really should have to be a lot better at it before they let you do it every day, whenever you want.

I'm pissed about this, because (a.) my life is daily put at needless risk because I happen to live in a country with a fetish for motor vehicles, (b.) I have to pay for this privilege because despite an infrastructure that makes them a necessity our society doesn't treat access to cars as a right, and (c.) it means I start and end every day with stress.  I spend about an hour every day being made anxious and irritated, time I could spend studying, or working, or napping, or listening to fracking music.  Really, anything other than being the person operating the vehicle would be awesome.

Wikipedia editors' cool new toy

Slate.com has instructed me to be jealous, and I am.  The top 100 editors at Wikipedia are being granted access to JSTOR, for free.  Normally, only universities are allowed this privilege. This cooperation is going to do even more to bolster Wikipedia's credibility -- as Fruzsina Eördögh at Slate puts it,

The online encyclopedia gets a bad rap for being at times inaccurate and easily prank-able; the joke goes that the sources listed are usually the top Google searches, not actual scholarly material. If Wikipedia articles become more well-known for citing scholarly journals, however, these criticisms have a real chance of becoming moot.

I have to admit, it's really fun to watch the academic community slowly torpedo the popular prejudice against crowd sourcing.  After all, the highest possible degree of public cooperation has always been the method that allowed academia to advance.  It's just been a very long time since the amount of cooperation that entailed changed much.