You know, I actually had never heard of Justin Beiber until I heard people complaining about how overexposed he was and sick they were of hearing about him all the time. It's weird getting the backlash without ever having encountered the original cultural phenomenon. I guess this is what I get for not watching TV or spending time around teenagers.
I've been to the town of Ishinomaki, once, on my way to visit the famous temple on the island of Kinkazan. It's a small, not particularly exciting town best known for being the birthplace of Ishinomori Shotaro, manga artist who drew Cyborg 009 and Kamen Rider. They've got a whole museum devoted to his works.
Ishinomaki has pretty much been turned into a lake by the tsunami. Eek.
This one guy, named Hideaki Akaiwa, escaped from the tsunami, but he couldn't contact his wife. So seeing his neighborhood consumed by the tsunami, he decided to grab a SCUBA suit and dive in, swim through the freezing, murky, black currents and riptides and the cars and jagged metal chunks getting tossed around, and find the apartment building where his wife was trapped on the top floor. He rescued her and somehow brought her back out to safety. He and his wife were both surfers, so I guess he had some relevant experience for this kind of thing.
And that's not all! Hideaki Akaiwa couldn't contact his mother either. So a couple days later he went in to the tsunami again, find where his mother was trapped, and rescue her too.
Now he goes back into the flooded city every day looking for more survivors.
Wouldn't you know, right after I posted this post about my trip to the mosque, Sushu showed me this amazing video. A Pakistani mullah accuses a Pakistani actress, who was on a reality TV show in India, of shaming Pakistani culture and disrespecting Islam. The actress TOTALLY TELLS HIM OFF in one of the most amazingly righteous smackdowns I've ever seen.
I love, love, love how she was like "the Prophet, peace be upon him, would stand out of respect when a woman entered the room, so why don't you respect women?" And she was like "it's suicide bombers, and priests who molest children, that bring shame on Islam, not me". So good!
It's like I was saying in that post, who gets to decide what Islam stands for? I love that she finds references from the scriptures to support a peaceful and woman-respecting interpretation of Islam. It just goes to show that despite Abrahamic religions claiming to derive authority from their holy texts, what really matters is the cultural values of those who choose how the texts are interpreted. Christians, Jews, and Muslims can all choose violent or peaceful versions of their religions depending on what part of their text they choose to emphasize.
THE MOST important ideological battle in the world today isn't Islam vs. the west, it's extremist Islam vs. moderate Islam. It affects every one of us in the world, so we should all be cheering for the moderates to win out.
Firefox 4 was released today. I was asked to play accordion at the launch party. (Maria from PR says that my accordion is now "a meme". Oh boy, I don't know if I like the sound of that.)
I played La Bamba when we hit 1 million downloads and played Funiculi, Funicula at the end of the party. (I was sticking to public domain stuff cuz I didn't want to cause copyright trouble).
It was broadcast live to the whole world on air.mozilla.com and oh god I was so nervous my hands were shaking and I had confetti stuck to my fingers. I know both songs cold but I panicked and made stupid mistakes like starting on E instead of E flat but I recovered and pulled it out at the end.
Oh man. Gotta play in public more so I can get over my nervousness.
Even though parties usually make me miserable, I had a good time at a housewarming party for Sushu's friend Christie last night. Even though I didn't know practically anybody.
Not sure why that was but it was a nice change. I was able to strike up small talk with random people quite easily, I wasn't self-conscious, and the people seemed interesting.
Oh but there was this one guy there. He had just come back from 14 months of teaching English in Saudi Arabia. So that's pretty interesting. I asked him a lot of questions about it, and he just kept bringing everything back to how much Saudi Arabia sucks and how stupid and terrible all the students were. He didn't have a single good thing to say about anybody. He actually said:
"As soon as the oil runs out they're all going to go back to being cannibals."
Which made my jaw hit the floor. That's one of the worst things I've ever heard anybody say.
Granted, there probably are a lot of really terrible things about Saudi Arabia, but I think this guy just had a terrible attitude. I remember his type from the JET programm: There were all these people who went to Japan and then did nothing but complain about it for the whole year. Like, can't you find anything to enjoy about living abroad, and if not then why are you doing it? It was mostly the type of person who was not especially interested in the culture but was just bumming around from one international job to another, trying to avoid starting a proper career or getting serious about anything.
All the rest of the people there were cool though. Almost all of them, at least 3/4, were teachers, because teachers make up Christie's social circle. I know just enough about teaching to have a conversation but not so much that I'm bored by stuff I've already heard before. It was nice to be able to start a conversation just by saying "Hey, are you a teacher too? What subject?" and going from there. It might have been this easy way of starting conversations that made the party fun, or maybe it was just my mood yesterday.
Christie's sister, who is training to become an English teacher (this led to a fun conversation about the best and worst books we had to read for school) brought over some of her paintings, and they were pretty amazing. They're huge and detailed and colorful and done in a crisp, chunky style inspired by stained-glass windows.
You know what else was really nice about this party? NOT TALKING ABOUT THE SOFTWARE INDUSTRY. No APIs, no IPOs, no venture capital, no patent lawsuits, no startups, no iPhone apps or Facebook widgets. It was amazingly refreshing.
I really need to hang out more with teachers and artists and less with silicon valley wonks.
Yesterday before taiko class I joined a field trip that Sushu was taking with her World Religion students to a local mosque, where Imam Anwar, a 2nd-generation Indian-American with an amazing beard, gave us a powerpoint presentation about what Muslims believe in.
I was struck by two things about Islam: first, how basic it is. The core tenets are very simple and straightforward. There's six things you have to believe and five things you have to do, and those things include concessions to practicality (e.g. children, sick people, pregnant women, and travelers are except from fasting). There's no elaborate priestly hierarchy and no counterintuitive doctrines about trinities or sin and redemption. It's just... basic.
Of course, that's all before it gets entangled with politics, or war, or local cultural customs, or overzealous interpretations of Hadith, all of which can make Islam a lot less reasonable in practice than in theory. Which brings us back to the question of whether the real Islam is the essential form described on paper, or whether it's the thing that real people practice, and whose definition counts, and whether the interpretations of the Wahhabiists or the Taliban can be said to speak for Islam, but I don't want to get into that right now.
The second thing that struck me is how text-centric it is. No images, no statues, no symbols; and what's at the place of honor front and center at the mosque? Arabic calligraphy. God is held to have no form or attributes, and it's the precise text of the Qur'an that is held to be holy, which is why people memorize it. (Imam Anwar spent two years memorizing it before he learned Arabic meaning he was memorizing meaningless syllables. That sounds kinda crazy to me, but then that's why I would never go into any sort of priesthood.) My point is that basically everything sacred to Islam is words, specifically written words.
The high school students of course wanted to ask about all the edge cases. On the subject of Ramadan, they're all like "Is chewing gum OK?" "What if you live in Alaska and Ramadan is during the summer so there's no sunset?" etc. Oh man. There's a certain age where everybody loves finding edge cases. The kids were also pretty entertained when the Imam showed off his iPhone app for calculating prayer times and the direction to Mecca.
Anwar showed us a bunch of pics from the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) and talked about how there's big international hotel chains and fast-food chains right across the street from the Kaaba. And how he always comes back with a contact info for people from all over the world who he then friends on Facebook. It's kind of cool how the Hajj serves to create and sustain a worldwide community. I'm not sure if that's what they were planning when they made the religion up but it's a really good idea. During the middle ages it made ideas travel very rapidly from one end of the Muslim world to the other - it only took one or two years for knowledge to get all the way from Central Asia to Spain.
Zakat also seems like a pretty good system. You're supposed to tithe 1/40 of your savings each year to the poor. It's based on savings, not income, so you're not expected to give if you needed to spend everything you made; you're only expected to give if you had a surplus. Both Hajj and Zakat made me think "hey, whoever came up with this stuff was pretty smart about building functional social institutions."
Interesting: the Islamic version of the Adam and Eve story is that Satan tempted them to eat the fruit, and they did, but they were sorry and God forgave them. After that they were sent out of paradise to Earth as part of God's plan to populate the world, not as a punishment. There's no concept of original sin in Islam; you're responsible only for your own sins. That sounds pretty reasonable to me as the doctrine of original sin never made any sense to me.
Anyway, if it weren't for the treating women as second-class citizens and the evolution denialism, then Islam would seem pretty appealing.
It's been raining all week and will likely continue raining until the beginning of April. Went for a walk with Sushu anyway today; turns out there's a lot of cool stuff just on the other side of Middlefield road: a park, a swimming pool, a small children's museum and zoo, and a library.
A kindly old man at the library saw us examining an old aerial black-and-white photo of the peninsula, so he asked if we wanted a copy. He pulled out a poster-size print and said he'd give it to us only on the condition that we don't bring it back, and that if we leave town we give it to somebody else. It was a little strange, but cool.
Got a library card for the Palo Alto system. It was good to be in a library again, for the first time in years, and be reminded that they still exist. To be reminded that there is a place where long-form writing on significant ideas is organized by subject by people who expect it to still be referenced decades or centuries after it was written. A library is like the exact opposite of Twitter.
I picked up some intro statistics books so I can try to teach myself all the stuff that went right over my head when I attempted to do Stats 315a at Stanford.
I keep missing their shows - Samantha and I kept missing each other's calls when I was in New York, and then they came out here and played San Francisco but of course it was when I was out of the country.
Anyway, I'll make it to their show someday, I promise. Congratulations, Samantha! Break a leg!
It took us a while since we were taking turns reading it out loud to each other at bedtime. It's a very slow way to get through a book but it's a fun couple activity.
It's an absolutely fascinating book that combines chemistry and history in a unique way. Each chapter focuses on one compound or family of compounds and explains what it is about the molecular structure that gives that compound its special properties, and then explains the molecule's effect on history.
The title comes from the fact that Napoleon's army wore buttons made of tin, and tin gets brittle at low temperatures, which meant that when they tried to invade Russia in winter their buttons were disintegrating and they couldn't keep their coats on properly. Not that invading Russia in winter would have been a great idea even with better buttons, but it's just one example of how a small difference in the properties of a molecule can have a huge effect on history.
Further chapters explore...
Piperine, the molecule that gives pepper its taste, and how pepper drove Europe's age of expansion. ("Curses! There's this huge, useless, pepper-less continent blocking our route to Indonesia!")
DDT, how it kills mosquitoes, how it helped wipe out malaria throughout much of the world before we realized its side effects and stopped using it.
Sugar, why it tastes sweet, how our body processes it, and how it drove the plantation system and thereby the Atlantic slave trade.
Vitamin C, why our bodies need it and why we die from scurvey if we don't get it, and why it took sailors so long to figure out that they needed to be eating some fresh fruit once in a while.
Silk, the molecular structure that gives it its amazing softness and durability, and the lengths people went to trying to break China's monopoly on it by smuggling live silkworms out of the country in what must have been history's earliest example of industrial espionage.
Isoeugenol, the active ingredient in nutmeg, its medicinal properties (people wore it around their necks to ward off the Black Death - it's a natural insecticide so it may have been killing the fleas that carried the plague!). Growing naturally on a few islands in Indonesia, nutmeg was once more valuable than gold, and the Dutch colonialists burned down nutmeg groves rather than let anyone challenge their monopoly.
And then there's plastics, dyes, explosives, disinfectants, aspirin, caffeine, nicotine, rubber, salt, norethindrone (the active ingredient in the birth control pill)...
Each of these molecules had an enormous effect on human history, either because of the technologies it enabled, the social changes it instigated, or in some cases because of the journeys undertaken and the battles fought over the limited supply of a highly desired substance.
Each of these molecules, compounds that we take for granted today, had to be either discovered in nature, or invented. Often the difference between a useful substance and a useless one, or between a chemical vital to life and a deadly poison, is often something tiny like an OH group being on the other side of a carbon ring.
But maybe my favorite thing that I learned from this book is that the name "Heroin" is actually a trademark of the Bayer corporation!
Bayer wanted to follow up on the phenomenal success they had had with aspirin (originally refined from willow bark). So Bayer took morphine and tried to chemically alter it to remove its harmful side effects and make it less addictive. What they came up with was heroin. They made up the name "hero-in" because it was a "hero" drug! From 1898 - 1910 it was sold over the counter as a pain reliever and cough suppressant.
Just think about that image for a second. Rows of little bottles next to the aspirin in the grocery store, cheerfully labeled "Bayer brand Heroin, cough suppressant"!
It took them that long to realize that their experiments had backfired and that instead of making morphine less addictive, they had in fact created the most addictive molecule known to man. Oops.
Anyway, Napoleon's Buttons. Great read, very informative, highly recommended.
Kotatsu: The excellent Japanese cozy table, with built-in blanket and heating element. It keeps your legs warm while you sit under it. It's pretty much the best thing ever during cold Tohoku winters in poorly-insulated apartments with no central heating.
I've wanted one ever since I moved back to the USA, but importing one costs $500. Then Sushu proposed making our own, and it turned out to be cheap and easy.
Step 3. Buy 4 angle brackets (1.5"x5/8") and some wood (1"x.5"x4 ft) from the local hardware store.
Step 4. Use wood and angle brackets to secure heater panel to the underside of the table.
Step 5. Put a blanket over the top.
Step 6. Put something flat on top of the blanket to hold it in place and provide a suitable writing/drawing surface. Or, if you don't have a suitable surface, put whatever you have lying around, like some cardboard and a mirror.
Finally, make sure to get some legless chairs for lower-back support so you don't mess up your spine sitting under this thing for hours at a time.
(Proper Citation: Sushu already explained most of this in her comment on this post)
This video clip freaked me out pretty bad last night. I had trouble falling asleep after watching it:
That's the town I used to live in. I don't recognize any of the people in the video but I recognize the streets and the buildings that are getting knocked down. Thanks to everybody who sent me links to that clip.
This is also Kamaishi. Note the tops of telephone poles next to that ship.
Japan knew a big one was coming eventually so they were crazy prepared. Apparently they have an early warning system that detects the faster P-waves running ahead of the damage-causing S-waves of the earthquake, so they had 30-60 seconds of warning before the earthquake hit and were able to shut down machines, get to safer places, etc. An earthquake this big in most other countries would have caused a much higher casualty toll than the 1,100 ish dead-or-missing that I heard reported last.
Lots of people have told me they want to help somehow and are asking where's the best place to send donations. I don't know a good answer to that yet but I'm asking some of my Japanese friends for suggestions.
Fingers crossed that that nuclear reactor doesn't go critical.
Japan just got hit by an 8.9 magnitude quake just off the coast of Miyagi prefecture. This is one of the biggest in recorded history and it generated a 10-meter tsunami across Japan's eastern seaboard.
I got an email from the Mozilla Japan team in Tokyo that they're all OK. Their office looks like this, though.
My town, Kamaishi, is just north of there. I haven't been able to find anything about it in the news since it's a small town. All the news is covering Tokyo and Sendai. But I fear the worst. I know people there, and I don't know if they're alive or if their houses are underwater or what.
My heart goes out to all the people affected by this disaster. I hope your families are OK.
UPDATE: Jake found this news clip showing Kamaishi. Thanks a lot, Jake. That's actually somewhat reassuring, because the street in the video (I know that street. I used to walk down that street to get to aikido practice) is on the east end of town near the harbor. So if that was the high-water mark, then everything west of there is presumably not underwater. Although they might have taken serious earthquake damage.
It's painful. The tagline on the bottom of the screen said "GODZILLA OF SEARCH ENGINES". (We're not a search engine).
They asked Gary about the "IPO". He told them, um, no. (We're a nonprofit.) And the Fox lady was like, "The Godzilla of search engines is not going public, wow, that's a scoop !"
How many mistakes can you cram into one sentence?
(Obligatory Simpsons quote:
Mayor: "May the, uh, force be with you!"
Leonard Nimoy: "Do you even know who I am?")
This morning somebody put up this sign at the office. And somebody else made this image:
(I think the meme is supposed to be spelled "Y U NO IPO", but close enough)
This isn't even the first time Fox Business News have invited us on so they could embarrass themselves on TV. They interviewed our old CEO, John Lily, once, and in that one they told the audience: "Firefox is the most popular search engine besides Google and Apple".
(That's like saying "Firefox is the most popular video game besides Nintendo and France!")
Didn't anybody on the staff have, like, a teenage son who they could have asked about this confusing Internet thing? You don't get something that wrong unless you're intentionally trying to mislead people or you're unbelievably lazy. And I can't imagine any way these mistakes would help push an ideological agenda so I must assume it's plain laziness. They were too lazy to do thirty seconds of research on people they're about to interview or even to skim the info packet that our PR team sent them.
The problem with the mainstream news media (and don't fool yourself Fox, you are the mainstream media) is that nobody is ever punished for being wrong or rewarded for being right. Their only incentive is to bring in viewers and therefore ad dollars, and who cares if what they're telling viewers is complete bullshit? I wonder if the concepts of correct and incorrect even register in their minds.
(Oh, but just look at all those screens in the background showing... numbers... and orange rectangles swirling around! So high-tech! So professional-looking! They must be trustworthy!)
Nobody better be making any business decisions based on this show. Because they don't care if they're right or wrong.
Lately I've noticed that by 4 or 5pm at work my heart is beating way faster than it needs to, since I'm not doing anything more strenuous than sitting at a desk rocking out on my headphones.
I think I might be overdosing on caffeine. The free supplies of coffee and tea on offer at the office are really nice, but I think maybe I should cut it down to just one a day and see if my ticker calms down.
On days when it's raining (or when I left my bike at work the day before, long story) I ride the 35 bus from Palo Alto to Mountain View. This morning I was chatting with a woman wo bards at the same stop. she asked where I live and where I'm going, I found out she works at the local YMCA, etc. Then we had this exchange
Her: "Is that a wedding ring?"
Me: "Yes it is."
Her: "Oh I asked because I couldn't tell what kind of ring it is. Do you have any friends?"
Me: "Um... yes, I have friends...?"
Her: "Do you have any SINGLE friends?"
Wow, you've known me for like 110 seconds and you're asking me to set you up with somebody? O_o
Luckily the bus came then so I wished her a good day and ended the conversation before it got REALLY awkward.
Based on the way she talks I think she might have Down syndrome or some other learning disorder. If so it's a mild enough case that she can function independently. She's super friendly and nice and deserves a chance at happinss. Finding love is hard enough even for people without disabilities, so... best of luck to you, lady.
It worked! I was able to fix my broken touchscreen laptop using the replacement Passive Digitizer that came in the mail. Held my breath while starting up. Slowly reached out a trembling finger, ET-like, to touch the screen... and it works again! Pencilbox works! I can finally finish developing Pencilbox and make art with it!
One thing I didn't expect from this process: how much of the inside of a modern Fujitsu laptop is held together with tape. It's a thousand-dollar piece of hardware, you would think maybe it used a more solid construction method than a second-grader's construction paper valentine. But no. It's tape all the way.
Thanks to Sushu for plugging in one of the teeny tiny connectors that I kept fumbling with my fat chubby fingers.
If you don't want to read me praising Warmachine/Hordes, or dissing Warhammer 40k, or generally geeking out about minis wargames, turn back now!
This post is strictly about game design. I'm not talking about the ethics or business sense of either Privateer Press or Games Workshop, not today anyway.
"Warmahordes" refers to the entire conglomo-game that is Warmachine + Hordes. "40k" means Warhammer 40,000.
One of the things that draws people to 40k is the sheer spectacle of two large, painted armies facing each other. If you like the feeling of an epic clash between giant armies for the fate of a planet, well then 40k is going to be more your game than Warmahordes. For my part, I like the fact that in Warmahordes every model is significant. Paint a handful of new Warmahordes models and I can have a new list with very different gameplay. Paint that many new 40k models and all I've got is a few extra wound counters to take off the table as soon as the ordnance starts flying.
With less stuff to buy and paint in Warmahordes, you can either get your army done quicker OR spend more individual attention on making each model look good.
More balanced armies
Warmahordes has no "default" army like Space Marines. The ubiquity of Space Marines in 40k is just silly because it seems like half of all games are Space Marine vs. Space Marine. They're all supposed to be on the same side! Why are they fighting each other?
At the recent Warmahordes tournament I saw every army represented about equally.
Each new expansion to Warmachine or Hordes adds choices to every army at the same time in order to keep them in balance. So there's no out-of-date armies like there are in 40k. It's not like PP is doing anything special with their updates - it's really the minimum we should expect from any competent game company; it's just that GW handle their updates so very badly that PP looks good by comparison.
Games Workshop is the only game company I know that comes out with a new core ruleset and doesn't update every faction to the new ruleset together. They update them piecemeal, one at a time. The less popular 40k armies go years without an update. Sisters of Battle and Necrons are still on their 3rd edition codexes even though the 5th edition of the core rules came out 2 years ago! Much of the rules text in those 3rd-edition books was written to interact with core rules that no longer exist, meaning that exactly what effect those abilities have in play now is just a big open question mark.
And because the power level of GW codexes seems to creep upward over time -- or at any rate, the points cost per model is creeping downward, which amounts to the same thing -- the older codices can't compete with the newer ones.
Of course Space Marines get a codex update instantly after each new edition. And then half of the codices that come out are for minor Space Marine variants - Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Black Templars, Space Wolves, and Grey Knights. The release schedule roughly alternates between Space Marine and Non-Space-Marine factions. If you don't want to play Space Marines (maybe because the ideal they represent is essentially Fascism?) then you're out in the cold.
Less focus on listbuilding
Most of the internet's 40k strategy articles are about building a better list. There's a good reason for that - most of 40k's strategy is in the listbuilding. In 40k, listbuilding is complicated because there are like a zillion options for every unit (most of them too crappy to consider, but still). But once you've deployed, the tactics are pretty basic - the list almost plays itself. I feel like 60% of victory or defeat in 40k comes down to the matchup of the lists (and most of the rest is deployment and luck of the dice).
In Warmahordes I feel like more of the choices are during the game. There are still good matchups and bad matchups, but there's more you can do to mitigate matchup with skill during the game. Listbuilding is simpler because point costs are lower, each unit has only one or two options, and there are no mandatory choices or "force org" chart. Most importantly, when I lose at Warmahordes, I don't feel the urge to change my list up - I feel the urge to learn to play my list better!
If you give a "good" Warmahordes list to a new player, they won't have a clue what to do with it, because its power doesn't lie in the raw stats of the units, but in their interactions and the tactical possibilities that they open up.
While listbuilding can be fun, it's a solitary activity. These days I prefer my gameplay to focus on what happens at the gaming table with the other players.
More options during play.
In 40k you can't shoot into a melee, can't shoot out of a melee, can't voluntarily run away from a melee, etc. If you've got a 20-man unit and the enemy's got a 20-man unit then as soon as one of your models' bases touches the edge of one of his model's bases, the entirety of both units are "in melee" and everybody in both units suddenly loses the ability to walk anywhere else, shoot, or be shot at. It's arbitrarily restrictive game design.
In Warmahordes you CAN fire into a melee, but at -4 and with a chance of hitting your own guys: a harsh but fair penalty. You can voluntarily run away, but the enemy gets a free boosted back strike on you. Most of the time it's not worth it to fire into melee or to run away, but once in a while it is.
There are other examples too. A fleeing unit in 40k runs a random distance towards your side of the board. In Warmahordes a fleeing unit can't do anything except run, and it can't run towards an enemy, but aside from that you get to decide how far and which direction it runs, so you can at least retreat intelligently. Models in a unit have much more independence than in 40k; they can spread out more, one of them can be shooting at one enemy while his squad-mate is in melee with a different enemy, etc.
I greatly prefer the game design philosophy of "you can do tht but there's a steep penalty" vs. a flat "no you can't do that", because the need to evaluate the risk/reward of such actions adds more skill to the game and opens up more opportunities for creative plays.
In 40k I used to play Tau. That was in 4th edition when after winning a close combat you could "consolidate" into base contact with another unit, thus jumping from one close combat to another. Tau die to anything (even Guardsmen) in close combat. As soon as somebody got into close combat with one of my units, they would just roll down my line chewing up everything. Because there was no option to run away or to shoot them, there was literally nothing I could do once the assaults started. And it seemed like every army I played against had some trick to get into close combat with me early. I remember a first-turn charge from the one and only time I played a Dark Eldar army. Great, I'm so glad I spent all that time painting all these pieces so I could take them off the table and put them back in the box before they get a chance to do a single thing.
In Warmahordes I always feel like I have a lot of options. At least there's always something I can *try*, even if it's got a low chance of working. Even when I'm down to my last few models, maybe I can't win but at least I can spend all my focus on some crazy, one-in-a-million chance at an asassination run and end the game with a bang. And that brings me to...
Warcaster / Warlock asassination. The warlock of a Hordes army or warcaster of a Warmachine army (collectively called a "warnoun") is like your king in chess. If you kill the enemy warnoun, you win. All of the tactics of the game revolve around this: Defensively, you need to protect your caster, and offensively, you need to find a way past the enemy defenses with something capable of taking the caster out.
Since your warnoun has powerful spells capable of changing the course of battle, and those spells have limited range, there is a constant tension between moving your caster forward to use their spells vs. keeping them back for safety. There is also a tension between attacking your enemy's army to reduce their hitting power (attempting to win through attrition) and trying to go straight for the warnoun (win through asassination).
Planning a combination of moves that might resut in asassination takes some foresight and some flying by the seat of your pants. It's an opportunity for creative, memorable plays. It's also high-risk, high-reward (since you're comitting so much to the asassination, you will probably lose if it fails) which makes it very exciting. Finally, you can win through asassination even if you're far behind in terms of objectives or army attrition; this creates opportunities for a skilled player to make a come-from-behind win. A typical design problem for purely attrition-based wargames is that being the first to damage the enemy's army puts you at a huge advantage as it takes away their ability to retaliate. Once you start losing pieces you go into a death spiral, which isn't fun gameplay. Caster kill means that it is often worth it to sacrifice all the rest of your army if it can get you into position for your caster to kill theirs.
Army leadesr in 40k (called HQs) are merely super-units (sometimes with list building benefits) but have no special game signficance. The basic objective of gameplay is to kill more of the enemy's army than he kills of yours (although to be fair this is modified in location-based objective games). I personally find this rather dull and one-dimensional compared to the intrigue of caster-kill.
Resource management. Warmachine warcasters have a pool of Focus which they can spend to cast spells and power their giant robots, as well as a few other tricks. (The equivalent resource for Hordes warlocks is called Fury and works in a different way, but let's not get into that right now.) You never have enough focus points to do everything you want, which means you always face tough choices between casting spells, boosting jacks, getting extra attacks for your caster, saving the focus to increase your armor, etc.
These decisions are key to victory. A game where you feed most of your focus to jacks plays out very differently from one where you put most of it into casting spells. Judging how to spend it on any given turn is a difficult skill, especially since you have to allocate to jacks at the beginning of your turn before you know how any of your die rolls are going to go. This adds a large element of risk/reward evaluation -- giving maximum focus to a jack can be a game-winning move or a complete waste of focus depending on whether you manage to set up that charge or not. Often after a loss I think "if only I had allocated my focus differently on that last turn". As I said, it's not your list, it's how you play your list, and focus management is one of the reasons why.
40k has some characters with psychic powers, but there's no equivalent resource management aspect to its gameplay. The drawback of 40k psychic powers is that you might get your brain eaten by demons from the Warp, but that's just a random die roll - your only choice is to use the power or not.
Different warnoun = completely different play experience.
Each warnoun has a unique feat and a unique spell list, in addition to special weapons and other abilities. Some are offensive, some defensive. Some want to get up close and personal, others want to sneak around firing off spells, others want to stay behind their army casting buffs on it. Changing your warnoun changes how you play and how you maneuver. Their bag of tricks is so powerful that you build your list around it. Change warnouns and it's time to re-evaluate how you use all of your other models. That jack that's only good as a wall in one caster's list might become an asassination threat with a different caster in control.
If you get bored of a Warmahordes army, you can buy a single new warnoun model, swap it in, and you've got something that plays like a new army. There's no equivalent in 40k. Most 40k leaders are just grunts with better stats. If you want a different play experience, you need to build a completely new army.
Rock-em-sock-em robots. Besides warcasters and infantry units, Warmachine has magical steam-powered giant robots called Warjacks. (The Hordes equivalent are Warbeasts.) You can play an infantry-heavy army with maybe one or two jacks for support. Or if you love giant robots as much as I do you can build an army that's mostly or entirely jacks. (I probably would have liked Battletech, but it was popular before my time and nobody plays it anymore.)
Jack-on-jack fighting in Warmahordes is fun because of all the different moves you can do - headlocks, armlocks, slams, throws, pushes, headbutts, and tramples, spending focus on charging, running, boosting to hit, boosting damage, and extra attacks; and that's *before* you factor in the special abilities and weapons of particular jacks and all the spells their casters can use on them. Warjacks have damage locations that can cripple certain systems (it's the most streamlined damage-by-location system I've ever encountered, by the way - it slows down gameplay barely at all). Sometimes have to figure out how to make best use of a warjack who can't use its best weapon because that arm was cripppled.
It's a lot more exciting than 40k's vehicular combat. Yes, vehicles in 40k can have weapons destroyed, can explode, can be forced to disembark their passengers, are more vulnerable from behind, etc. But most of these effects are simply random and are not the outcome of choices made by the players. There's also no such thing as an all-mecha 40k army because 40k always mandates 2 units of Troops per army.
Exception-based design. Warmachine learned the right lessons from Magic: the Gathering's rules design. Almost every unit has some kind of special ability, so the interactions can get quite complicated. But the core rules are designed to handle and explain these interactions. Every ability has situations where it's useful, other abilities that it synergizes with, and abilities that counter it, and when two rules seem to interact in a weird way you can always look at the fine print and figure out what happens.
In 40k, back when I played, there was a Chaos spell called Lash of Submission that let you move some of your enemy's infantry. It was game-breaking because the rest of the game was not designed with this possibility in mind - unless your army had access to psychic hoods or you put all your guys in vehicles, there was no way to counter it, and a forced move threw off the timing that the rest of the game balance rested on. It also raised a ton of unanswerable rules questions because being moved out of turn was not something that other rules were designed to mesh with.
In Warmahordes, the game is designed for effects that move models outside their activation, so it is very clear exactly how this works. Every army has access to abilities that move enemy units, as well as abilities to make extra moves with their own units and various other abilities that can be used to counteract or nullify a forced move. It's an integrated part of the game instead of an unbalanced one-off.
In 40k everything moves, then everything shoots, then everything assaults. This means there's no such thing as using one unit to create an opportunity for another - you just move everything together to make the best of the opportunities that exist at the beginning of your turn.
In Warmahordes you choose the order for your models to activate, and you do everything with one model/unit before activating another. It seems like a small difference, but this flexibility allows you to use one model to set things up for another model -- if you plan ahead well enough and activate them in the right order.
One model might knock down a target for another to hit more easily. It might push or throw an enemy into range of another model's attack. You might need one unit to power up another with a buff or maybe just to get out of the way so a charge becomes possible. This is especially important because almost every model has one or more special abilities that you can use to create combo attacks.
Sequential activation creates opportunities for creative plays and for the more skilled player to triumph. Oftentimes when I lose I'm like "Oh, I should have had this guy go first on my last turn so I could have done this other thing..."
Competitive attitude. The 40k community tends to have strong opinions on "fluffy" vs. competitive gaming. It is actually frowned upon to build the most effective list you can because this involves "spamming" a.k.a. having multiples of the most effective units. It is considered better form to make a "fluffy" list, i.e. one based on the 40k background (or your made-up background for your personal army) and what units that faction "would" take. It's essentially a simulationist attitude (if this can be understood to apply to non-roleplaying games) where what is being simulated is the 40k universe. This attitude is partly a response to the fact that 40k isn't really designed for competitive gaming. Most codices have choices that are so clearly inferior to others that they would never be taken apart from fluffy reasons. More positively, the emphasis on fluffy lists reflects the fact that the 40k background setting is really cool, one of the best in gaming, and daydreaming about that background is one of the best things about 40k. Unfortunately there's a lot of frustration because exactly what makes a list "fluffy" is impossible to define, and fluffy lists generally lose to optimized lists unless somebody rolls really badly.
What it boils down to is having to listen to 40k players whining "waaa waaa my opponent took three Wraithlords, that's so cheesy and it's not realistic because each Eldar Craftworld only has a few Wraithlords and would never deploy them all to the same planet at once!"
Lame. Three Wraithlords is a completely legal choice by the book. But instead of people going "Hey, Wraithlords are pretty strong for their point cost, maybe this game isn't balanced well" they blame their opponent for being "cheesy".
Some 40k tournaments even have an "army composition" score, which means that your army list gets ranked on this imaginary "fluffy" vs. "cheesy" scale by a panel of judges - or sometimes even voted on by your opponents! - according to completely arbitrary, subjective, and undocumented criteria. I'm not making this up! Can you imagine bullshit like that in any other game?
Maybe people don't care about "fluffy" in Warmahordes because its background fiction (aka "fluff") is nowhere near as cool or interesting as 40k's. The Warmahordes fluff is fairly disappointing, actually - a fantasy world undergoing an industrial revolution is such a cool premise, but the writers do nothing interesting with it.
But at least Warmahordes is properly designed for competitive play! There are fewer (I won't say zero) auto-includes or never-includes in any of the army lists in Warmahordes. Sure, some units are seen more frequently, but the value of a unit depends a lot more on its synergies with the other things in the list, so there is some kind of use for almost everything. I've never heard anybody complain about their opponent's army list being "cheesy" or insufficiently "fluffy". They just say "Oh, nice combo you got there", then roll up their sleeves and figure out how to beat it. At the tournament I was at people congratulated each other on good moves and talked about learning to play better.
The infamous Page Five of the Warmachine rulebook lays out a "No whining!" social contract. Once you get done rolling your eyes at the ridiculous testosterone on display, Page Five is like a manifesto for a "Step On Up" agenda. There's no question whether Warmahordes should be played with a gamist attitude or a simulationist attitude - it's pure gamism all the way and no apologies, which I find refreshing.
The models actually correspond to the rules. 40k, having been around for many years and through many editions, has an endemic problem with this. There are models that no longer have stats, and there are units in the books that don't have models. The plastic guns that come in the box don't correspond to the weapon options that the unit has in the rules. It's a minor frustration, but it's a frustration.
The up-side of 40k's model ambiguity is that it invites creative model custimization to represent model-less units. One of the best things about 40k in general is that converting custom models is easy and fun due to the many multi-part plastic kits that include lots of extra bits. Warmahordes doesn't support kit-bashing nearly as well since most of the models are metal and come with only the parts they need.
But at least Warmahordes has a one-to-one correspondence between models and rules! Each model even comes with a stats card when you buy it, which is great for playability and means you don't have to buy the army book for the stats if you don't want it. It's a sensible system.
Human faces and personalities. OK this is a really minor aesthetic quibble, but look: I like painting minis with human faces. They have more individual character.
In 40k you're either working for the Imperium of Man or you're some kind of hideous chaos mutant and/or faceless alien menace. The Orks have some individual character, I guess, but if you play one of the other factions get ready to paint a lot of identical helmets or skull heads! Fighting to prop up a decrepit theocratic totalitarian state doesn't appeal to me, but if I want to paint people with faces then that's the side I've got to fight for.
Warmahordes has multiple human factions (plus elves, dwarves, trolls, etc.) that have different philosophies, styles, and goals, but they're all people with faces.
Female soldiers This is another minor aesthetic quibble. It annoys me that most 40k armies are exclusively male (the Space Marines proudly and explicitly so). The Imperium's attitude towards women is the classic madonna/whore dichotomy: if you want women soldiers you're either playing Daemonettes of Slaanesh, who are grotesque monsters with naked boobies! or you're playing Sisters of Battle, who are literally NUNS! IN! SPACE! Nuns with power armor. That has pointy crosses across the boobs. Remember kids, the female body is evil and must be restrained or else Chaos will take over!
In the 40k universe, Orks are all male and reproduce by spores, the Tau Empire has exactly one female, the Tyranids are sexless bug monsters, the Necrons are skeleton robots but are still coded as masculine, the Space Marine genetic enhancement regime only works on people with Y chromosomes, the Imperial Guard only employs men... apparently the Eldar/Dark Eldar are the only race who let women into their regular army.
Now I'm not going to proclaim Warmahordes is some kind of paragon of feminism. It still features the kind of slutty outfits for female characters that sadly seem to be par for the course in fantasy games designed by men. Especially the evil characters. (What part of a Cryxian War-Witch's job description requires her to bare her midriff exactly?)
But hey, look at this: Every single faction has a mix of male and female warcasters to choose from. Khador has three female warcasters, they're all dressed sensibly, they're all in poses that emphasize their competence and not their sexiness, and one of them is an old lady even. And the troops that they can lead: one of the four Widowmaker sniper models is a woman. So is one of the Manhunters, one of the Kossite Woodsmen, the unit leader of the Winter Guard... almost like women are just a normal part of the Khador army, even if a minority. The Trollbloods' female warlocks are unapologetically big and chubby and aren't portrayed as hideous because of it. There's even a female dwarf! Amazing!
No, wait, it's not amazing. It's, like, the bare minimum we should expect from representation in our fantasy gaming.
So I'm about 2 months late blogging this, gah. So behind on the blogging.
Our Taiko dojo held an O-Shogatsu (Japanese new year) festival on Jan 2, the day after we got back from our trip to New York City. We rearranged everything in the dojo to make room to set up chairs for an audience, and played a total of six songs to a packed house of about 70-80 people, mostly friends and family of the players. Sushu's parents came, and Chris brought one of his friends. Everybody contributed to a potluck lunch. (I brought onigiri of course - this was when we were still moving so I had to run back to the old apartment to use the rice cooker, blah!)
Me and Sushu are still in the Beginner 1 class so we only played in the first song, Hachijo, and then moved off to the sidelines as the more experienced students played more advanced songs. Mysterious songs with names like Omiyage, Rakuda, and Umi.
My camera decided to break that day so I didn't get any good pictures of me or Sushu performing but we're visible in the background in these pictures:
Before the actual drumming performance we also did mochitsuki, pounding steamed sticky rice with wooden mallets to make mochi, which was passed out for the guests to eat with azuki beans, nori and soy sauce, or kinako (toasted soy flour). Mochitsuki is a real fun activity but I've done it before so I recused myself to give other people a chance to try it.
Thanks to Virginia who took these pictures and shared them. All photo credits to her.
We dropped out of the taiko class for most of January while I was traveling to Brazil / MIT and we were moving house, but now we're back with it. I'm enjoying it a lot and I want to stick with it and get good. Something about the dojo discipline, counting in Japanese, yelling loud kiai in unison and beating things with sticks. It's primal and cathartic and it reminds me of doing Aikido back in the unheated police station dojo in Kamaishi. I find it very satisfying.
Friday night after my rpg group finished up our short campaign of Don't Rest Your Head, we watched three episodes of an anime that Ewen had brought over called "A Certain Scientific Railgun". Well, it earns points for the coolest name anyway. Apparently it's a spin-off of a show called "A Certain Magical Index". I'd never heard of either but that's cuz I'm, like, way out of touch with anime fandom these days.
The premise is promising - a whole city which is basically nothing but schools for ESPers; they have very strict training reg; the title refers to a girl with very powerful electrokinesis; she and Magneto were separated at birth or something. Her favorite trick is accelerating a coin to like Mach 10 to cause massive destruction, thus the series title.
It was alright when they were solving mysteries or having fight scenes or whatever, but Dear. God. The Fanservice. I couldn't take it. All these, like, panty gags, and the one lesbian girl is a creepy stalker who is always trying to grope the other girl, and I'm like, is that supposed to be funny? because it's not, it's really creepy. And the Gainax bounce, and the shower scenes and the short skirts and aren't all these girls supposed to be like 13? Gross!
Seriously I can't stand watching a show that directs that much lechery at adolescents, no matter what else the plot has going for it. I don't think it's that anime has gotten worse so much as that my tolerance for this creepy shit has gone way, way down. I mean back in the day I used to enjoy stuff like Tenchi Muyo! which was probably just as bad honestly.
It's not like I've turned into some kind of prude either. I like sex (duh), I like sexy artwork, and I think sexual subject matter is an entirely appropriate topic for fiction being as it is an integral part of human experience as well as something that reveals all sorts of interesting things about human nature.
Portraying sexuality in a mature way that uses it to reveal something about characters, relationships, human nature, etc: Good. Using female body parts for immature titillation and cheap ratings: No thanks. If it's the second one and the girls are supposed to be under 18? Get me the fuck out of here. Unfortunately anime seems to have a really hard time getting away from that mindset.
After I came home I had this conversation with Sushu and we talked about whether there was any good anime any more. We decided to check out a show called "Xam'd" that our friend Chris had recommended.
The first episode is pretty promising: the backgrounds are detailed and demonstrate that a lot of thought has gone into world building and mechanical design. The people are drawn realistically and graced with lots of incidental animation that makes them seem lifelike. The main character has a family - gasp! they're not just magically absent from the picture in that anime orphan way. His mother and father are separated and living apart but not enemies and he has believable relationships with both of them. That type of family arrangement can't be that rare even in Japan, but I can't even think of a single other anime that portrays it. The schoolgirls have reasonable outfits, are not grossly sexualized, and are drawn to look like real people! Amazing!
There's also, like, some kind of war going on in the background, and there are like steampunk airships and some kind of parasites that make people transform into weird-looking biological mecha type creatures, and mysterious plots and whatever. But at the moment I'm enjoying all the little stuff that Xam'd gets right.
Dream 1. My business partner / gay lover decides he wants to become a lich and he needs my help. I will miss having hot gay sex with him once he is undead, but I want to be supportive of his career goals. Part of the lich ritual involves me rubbing this really gross purple lotion all over his back. It's like congealed grape yogurt. Gross.
Dream 2. I'm on top of this absurdly tall tree, like hundreds of feet high. The only way up or down is a narrow wobbly staircase made of unmortared bricks just laying on top of each other. And it's only one brick wide, so, like, really easy to fall off of. I'm trying to push the bricks closer to the tree to make them more stable, but I accidentally knock the staircase over and now I'm trapped on top of the tree.
Dean Venture is down at the bottom of the tree and he's whining up at me about something. He doesn't know how many paperback science fiction novels to pack for his upcoming trip. I dangle a brickchain (this is a chain that is made out of bricks instead of metal links. The bricks are connected in a flexible way so that it can flex like a metal chain. In my dream brickchains are a totally normal thing.) I dangle a brickchain off of the tree into the box that Dean is holding and some of the bricks pile up in it. I tell him, there, take one book for each brick that fits in the box, do I have to do all your thinking for you? Now stop bothering me.
I'm still stuck on top of the tree. I start walking around looking for a way down. There are no leaves or branches up there, just a big flat plateau-like area made of bark. It's more like a mountain than a tree, really. I approach one of the edges looking for a ladder or something but it starts sloping steeply down and I get worried and step away from the edge. Then I find a stump with a hollow leading to the inside of the tree. That might be a way down, but the opening is all overgrown and encrusted with super gross slimy mold and algae and I don't really want to get that all over me if there's another way. So I keep walking and find a forest. Yes, a forest on top of the tree. Some parts of the forest are dark and swampy and others are mossy and suffused with soft golden light filtering down through the leaves. I come to a big tree: it's the one that I climbed in the first place. Wait a minute, I'm still on top of it, how can it be here in front of me? I get so confused that I wake up.
Dream 3. That energy vampire slug monster from that one episode of the Transformers cartoon. Ummm, this thing. He's coming to my office to mess stuff up. That guy's bad news; once he starts making grey energy vampire robots and they start making more grey energy vampire robots, shit kinda gets out of control. In this dream I am Transformer Robin, the sidekick of Transformer Batman. I make a really elaborate plan to lure the slug monster up to the second floor and bait it into eating a computer that has some kind of virus in it. But the plan doesn't work and the slug monster starts taking over all our computer systems and hardware.
Transformer Batman rolls his eyes and then locks me in my room so I can't mess things up any more. He has a much simpler plan. He goes and lays down in a grassy field and waits for the slug monster to walk across his face, because guess what, it's only the size of a regular slug. Man, I didn't know that! Then he slurps it into his mouth, bites it to death, and spits out the slime. Good plan!
Dream 4. I am the bad guy from Disney's Mulan. That Hun warlord, what's-his-name. I guess I survived death-by-fireworks. I just discovered that my sword splits apart into two sheets, and there's a treasure map printed on the hidden inside surfaces with magnetic invisible ink. Cool, a treasure map! My grandmother is also in this dream. She's an ancient, wizened Hun wise-woman. She's just learned how to use YouTube and so now she's sending me all of these links to YouTube videos of conquering and pillaging, paired with critiques about what the guys in the videos were doing wrong or right. It's her way of giving me advice on how to be a better warlord. It's kind of annoying but I appreciate the thought. I give her a hug and I'm like thanks grandma, I'm glad you learned how to use YouTube.
Later I think I was in a parking lot making a plan about how to rob this hotel and also collect all of the different kinds of nuts that the hotel had.
Because back in January when we were moving, this happened to my touchscreen Fujitsu lifebook:
Oh man. It got bumped or squished the wrong way or something got dropped on it, I don't know. But the touchscreen features don't work anymore. Everything else still works - the LCD itself displays fine, all the software still runs, but because of the crack through the glass, the screen no longer responds to touch. It's good only for generating spurious random mouse events.
I emailed Fujitsu and they told me that physical damage wasn't covered by the warranty, so it would be $750 to fix. Screw that. For that much I might as well buy a new laptop. So I went to Fry's and talked to a very helpful guy named Gin who had his wrist bandaged up due to repetitive stress injury. Gin said it would be about $200 - $250 to fix but it would take a couple months for them to order the part they needed. Then he told me whoops, actually there was no way for them to order the part at all. He recommended trying to do it myself instead.
So I took the screws out...
and peeled away the touch-sensitive glass...
As you can see, there's no damage to the LCD layer. Everything except the glass is fine. And here's a part number, so let's go online and search for that...
$189, and free shipping! Boy am I glad I didn't pony up the bucks to Fujitsu. The new part should get here in a few days and then we'll see whether I can fix it myself.
Well Time magazine ran a cover story about the Singularity (boldly predicting a date of 2045, even) which means a lot of generally non-tech-y people I know have been bringing it up, ask me if I believe it will happen, expressing various misunderstandings about it, etc.
Things to keep in mind are that Vinge is both a scientist and a science-fiction writer, so which hat is he wearing when he writes this? At least part of it seems to be expressing a writer's frustration: "Oh drat, this approaching singularity makes it really hard to extrapolate a plausible future history for a galactic empire setting". It's also worth noting that he regards the idea with dread, i.e. "Can the Singularity be avoided?".
Singularity dorks have taken this idea and turned it into the equivalent of an apocalyptic religion for atheistic nerds: it describes an approaching end to the human era (as superintelligent machines will take over), to occur at some unspecified but rapidly-approaching date, assumed to be within the believer's lifetime. It's got a god, except instead of creating man the god is created by man. It's got the same abdication of responsibility: Why worry about politics or the environment when the Singularity is about to happen and fix all the mistakes that humans have made? It's even got an afterlife (we all upload our consciousness into computers). The only thing it's missing is a Judgment where, you know, only the True Believers get to be uploaded while the heathens (Windows users) will toil in the server farms for all eternity.
Anyway, the reason I'm writing about this is because I just want to point out a certain logical fallacy that I keep seeing. The singularity guys say the Singularity is inevitable "because of Moore's Law".
Well Moore's Law is just an observation (made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore) that the speed (or power or number of transistors) of microchips doubles every X months, where X is in the 18-24 range. It's held true since the 60s. The logical fallacy is when people assume that it will continue to hold true indefinitely, and therefore extrapolate that a single microchip will have more processing power than all the world's human brains put together by the year 20X6, therefore POW! Singularity!
But Moore's Law isn't a law of nature or anything. It's not like entropy or gravity or nuclear decay. It's just an observation of economic trends within a particular historical period. It depends on competition between semiconductor companies and on the ability to make transistors smaller. At some point we run up against the fact that a transistor won't work unless it's a certain number of atoms across. Or, at some point people decide "Hey, my computer is actually good enough for anything I'd ever want to do with it, I think I'll spend my extra income on something besides a new laptop" and then the economic conditions that created the incentives for competition between semiconductor companies will change. Either way, the conditions that created Moore's Law belong to a particular period of history and they won't last forever. Even Moore himself says so.
I guess "Moore's Law" just sounds better than "Moore's Historical Observation". Call it whatever you want, but if your predictions are based on assuming that processor power must always grow exponentially, then I'm not gonna take them seriously.
Even if we do have an exponential increase in processing speed and network bandwidth, that doesn't mean that the Internet will somehow magically achieve self-awareness on its own someday. AI is hard. We don't know how our own brains work nor do we know how to duplicate them. We don't even know the right questions to ask. All the processing power in the world is useless if you can't figure out how to express your problem in terms of binary arithmetic.
That said, I watched IBM's Watson beat the human champs at Jeopardy and it was fairly impressive. Not impressive that it knows the answers -- it did have, like, all of Wikipedia and half of the Web stored in its database -- but impressive that it understood the questions as often as it did. What we now know, that the early AI pioneers didn't, is that knowing answers is easy but understanding questions is hard. When Watson got one wrong, it didn't make the kind of mistake a human would. Like, the clue specified an author and Watson named the book instead. Another clue specified an "American city" and Watson said "Toronto" leading to great LOLs. In both cases Watson's response correctly matched the rest of the data in the clue, but it misparsed or overlooked something obvious that a human never would have missed - a human would have recognized "this is asking for a person's name" immediately and ruled out all non-persons-name answers, for instance.
We've come a long way toward natural language processing but there's still a long way to go, in other words.