Saturday, August 29, 2009

professor layton 2 - main theme live

It seems like the only media installments on this blog have something to do with VGM... ah well. This is really amazing.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

econ 362 syllabus - update

For background, see my earlier posts on this topic here here and here

In the end I did decide to include some papers by neoclassical economists because they have done most of the important economic history data analysis of the last 40 years. For example, a well-known argument by Chandler states that the mid to late 19th century industrial structure is characterized by firms of increased "scale and scope". While it is a compelling argument (which is why we do read him), work by Jeremy Atack and others has dug into the manufacturing censuses of this time period and computed Gini coefficients for firm size and other statistics to see the real presence and impact of large scale firms on markets and industrial structure. The empirical findings confirm Chandler in some aspects, but they also open new avenues for exciting research questions when the results do not confirm his theory.

So, in general I found that if a particular unit was getting heavy on the social history and was making arguments that could (in theory) be empirically verified, I would bring in a neoclassical paper addressing the issue, and then either criticize the paper directly for not addressing the social history thesis or show how it has some good points. For example, while I do think the Chandlerian argument above is a good example of a thesis that can be at least partly addressed by some simple statistics of market concentration and firm size, some other attempts at dispelling a heterodox/radical theory of its validity largely miss the point: Rothenberg's work at constructing evidence of an integrated Northeastern market economy by the early 19th century is one example of this. She wants to disprove the moral economy arguments of some leftist and radical historians of the New England economy, but her data do not entirely support this thesis, nor do her conclusions follow from the results. (I wouldn't agree that the presence of integrated markets implies that New England farmers were inherently capitalist or market-oriented.)

Other highlights of the reading list: classics such as a short piece by Gordon Wood on the American Revolution, Fogel and Engerman's Time on the Cross, Sean Wilentz and the history of labor radicalism, a week of Kindleberger's The World in Depression, and W. E. B. DuBois' Black Reconstruction.

You can find the full syllabus uploaded to the course website here later today.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

professor layton and the diabolical box - first impressions

Eight people are playing an unusual communication game. In this game, one person has to get a message across to seven other people.

It takes one minute to pass along the message, and each time the message is spoken, it can only have one recipient. Using these rules, what's the shortest amount of time in minutes for the message to pass to all seven other players?

That's from Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box for the DS, the sequel to Curious Village released in February of last year. After doing 30 or so puzzles (out of over 150), I am very impressed by this game. It has amazing music that is definitely as good (if not better) than Curious Village: my favorite track so far (highly recommended). The artwork is just as impressive as the last game. There are more minigames and they are more challenging. The story is good so far, with more characters and a bigger environment.

Most of the puzzles, however, lack the charm and originality of the first game. They aren't necessarily easier or harder (although I guess for the most part they are easier), but they do seem to lack a bit of the imagination to which I associated the previous game's puzzles. Perhaps they will get better over time -- as with the previous game, they tend to start out easy then get tougher and more interesting. We shall see, but for now it's the only negative aspect of the game.

Find the answer to the puzzle in the comments!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"thought of the day" (on financial innovation)

Grabbed from a commentor on marginal revolution:

What does it mean when you have a system wherein innovation is not good?
Very well said...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

three games any nintendo fan should own within the next month

The Professor Layton games have a lot going for them. The environment is unique (including the artwork AND some amazing music!) and well done and the puzzles are challenging. This is the second installment in the series (after Professor Layton and the Curious Village which came out in Spring of 2008).

Wii - Muramasa: The Demon Blade (September 8)

Something tells me this is going to be a sleeper hit. I haven't seen a lot on it, but it's clearly bringing a lot to the table: unique artwork, a story inspired by Japanese history, and some interesting gameplay elements. (basically, will it repeat the "success" of Okami?)

DS - Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days (Beware - That's a gameplay-only clip) (September 29)

Need I say anything? Of course, unlike the two games listed above, you need to have played the other Kingdom Hearts games to fully appreciate this one: Kingdom Hearts 1, KH: Chain of Memories and KH 2. All are excellent games offering an attractive blend of Disney environments, Final Fantasy characters, anime-style graphics and gameplay, and a pretty interesting (and now well-developed) story!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

link roundup

Instead of commenting on each of these articles at length I thought I'd make a quick note of each and give them to you all in one post. So, enjoy!

Excellent article (from ALDaily) on the last thing classical music needs right now: blind praise

Can the constitution be seen as a cultural document, a work of art? Not exactly, but there is much to learn in this piece by conservative historian of the American Revolution Gordon Wood

Can videogames be an effective storytelling medium? Possibly, but the key aspect which differentiates them from novels, etc. is: interactivity (the same point reached by Kojima in a previous post about whether videogames are an artform)

On the topic of previous post concerning the social circumstances/agency debate (and where Marx stands), Steven Pinker holds an interview with BoingBoing guest commentor on the nature vs. nuture debates. The bottom line: Pinker is a methodological individualist (see a counterargument here)

Ponyo, Miyazaki's latest film, was released in the U.S. on Friday. The critics' verdict: overwhelmingly positive but it ain't no Spirited Away

Saturday, August 15, 2009

lessons from the past: how to stop pirating in videogames

On Earthbound for the SNES: "If you own a pirated version of this game, beware. There is a chip in all legal versions of this game that is checked right before the final boss. If this chip is not detected, the game will immediately realize the game is pirated/hacked. This means that anybody playing a pirated version of the game will get to the final boss, then the game will freeze. The player will reset the game only to find that his file has been deleted. This has been seen as a "cruel" way to prevent pirating, but it made it impossible for anything other than a legitimate copy to be beaten."

More on the top videogame glitches here

Friday, August 14, 2009

excellent history of videogames

This is an impressive lineup of Gamefaqs Top 10 lists that do way more than simply list the author's subjective opinions on a genre, etc. Username "DetroitDJ" basically tells a history of videogames through the various generations (roughly, one or two years that encompassed one console from each of the major companies - Sega, Nintendo, Sony, and later Microsoft).

Top 10 most listed 2nd generation games on GameFAQs Top 10 Lists:
Top 10 most listed 3rd generation games on GameFAQs Top 10 Lists:
Top 10 most listed 4th generation games on GameFAQs Top 10 Lists:

Top 10 most listed 5th generation games on GameFAQs Top 10 Lists:

This is my personal favorite. He argues we reached a pinnacle at this point in gaming in terms of universality of play, revolutionary character of some of the titles (FF7, Metal Gear Solid, and two of the most talked-about Zelda games- Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask), graphics, etc. I would have to agree. You can see some of my previous posts on the history of videogames (second half of that post) and their various musical and other qualities to see where my biases lean toward.

Top 10 most listed 6th generation games on GameFAQs Top 10 Lists:
Top 10 most listed 7th generation games on GameFAQs Top 10 Lists:

Note the complete absence of Sony games by the 7th generation, after clear dominance in the 5th and 6th generations. Sony's made a few mistakes, what with a delayed console launch and difficulty with the hardware at the beginning. Of course, you can't blame everything on Sony: Microsoft and Nintendo have done a lot of things right along the way. I suspect Sony will pick itself back up within a year or so. Nintendo hasn't been able to offer up a lot of promising titles, and hopefully within a year (you hear that Square?! I said a year!), two very anticipated titles will come out for the PS3: Final Fantasy XIII and Kingdom Hearts 3. They also have some promising titles for the first quarter of 2010, including God of War.

So, I wouldn't give up on the PS3 but I do think it's interesting how things have wavered over time for them. History teaches you how to win and lose in this industry -- so check out the links and enjoy!

Monday, August 10, 2009

"thought of the day" (marx on [economic] history)

One of the central issues I am grasping with in developing the Econ 362 syllabus is defending my use of so many social history papers and books. Of course, it depends on how you define "economy" (see a previous post on this, where I made some controversial remarks concerning the place of neoclassical economics in heterodox economics education) but it also depends on how you define "history". Most academics could only answer one of these questions. Our friend Karl, on the other hand, can hit both nails on the head at once.

From Marx's The German Ideology, Part I

In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men say, imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men, and on the basis of their real life-process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life-process.

There are still some things to unpack here -- for example, Marx seemingly ignores the importance of agency in a social theory -- but it's still an excellent way of understanding how an economy fits in society and therefore how we should go about studying it.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

a couple of short articles to think about in terms of war and human nature

See this:

Then this:

While only tangentially related, it reminds me of the Whig historians of the American Revolution who try to argue that the America was "born capitalist/liberal", in "we have met the enemy [capitalism, and] the enemy is us" type of fashion. There is a wide range of very good social histories that have provided ample evidence to show that from the beginning, a variety of forms of society existed. I believe it is the same here.

And just like the New Scientist article, I believe there is a brighter future for us.

review of murakami's norwegian wood

Norwegian Wood is a very good, but simple, Murakami novel (written in 1987, it is the book which propelled Murakami to fame in Japan, selling over 4 million copies when his previous sales were in the hundred thousands). It has nothing of the surrealism that has become a central theme of some of his later works (such as Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and most recently After Dark), but it is definitively Murakami-style in the development of the main character and in developing how all the other characters relate to the main. That is, murakami's novels are almost always about some boring and directionless 20- or 30-something who encounters very interesting and original characters so that the story is told as much through their actions as through the main character's mind/choices.

I like this aspect of his stories. While it does mean a sometimes boring passage or two in the course of the book's plot, I can appreciate them: just because the character is doing boring things does not mean they're any less sincere, and sincerity counts for me in character. For example, murakami might have a few passages where he's describing the main character reading in his bed on a rainy sunday afternoon and then writing a few letters to a girl he's in love with. It is not exactly a gripping part of the story but you have to credit the sincerity of his actions for something. Some people I know are very inconsistent in their actions at times: they pretend to be in support of some cause or interested in some subject one minute, and the next they're betraying their words by doing something completely opposite or unproductive. This rarely (if ever) occurs in a Murakami main character, and at times it leads to very powerful, personal connections between characters which is an essential part of his stories.

At any rate, as I said it's a simple story simply told, but Murakami does his best to make things interesting when he can. For example, I mentioned above that a lot of his other books are surreal, and while there is no explicit use of that device in Norwegian Wood, there are times when the main character thinks he sees something at night (the beautiful girl he's got a complicated relationship with undressing) but can't be completely sure if it actually happened or if it was a dream. Another excellent example is when he visits the hospital where girl he has a complicated relationship with is staying, the particular chapter in which that scene is conveyed is close to 70 pages long, or roughly a quarter of the book, even though it only encompasses two days in the story. This is done in a "kafkaesque" style, where time is stretched and bent in order to distort reality. In fact, the hospital itself where the girlfriend is staying is completely unorthodox (it's like a mental hospital where the line between patient and doctor is sometimes confused... perhaps these are simply more normal than i know of), elaborating on the surreal feeling the reader has while reading that chapter.

There is not much to complain about in this book. There are two things I suppose I could mention. First, there are two characters that are not very well-developed: Storm Trooper and Hatsumi (Nagasawa's girlfriend). Overall, It's not a big deal since they are minor characters and therefore they enter and exit relatively quickly. But, in a book that thrives on the main character's relationship to various characters in the book, the reader might feel cheated out of something that could have been much better with just a little more effort. This is especially true with regard to Hatsumi, who is presented quickly (and without evidence, really) of really being a shining beacon in the story in terms of her place in that generation of young people (Murakami casts his story between 1968-70).

Second, the "well theme" (the main character and his "complicated" girlfriend are walking in a meadow and she tells him to be careful to not step in the well, so they decide to hold onto each other, etc....) is very intriguing, but it could have tied closer to the plot. In the end, I still saw how it fit both of the characters, but I felt like it could have been done better than it was. Hover, it is possible that my problem here is more due to the fact that I recognized the well from Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, where it plays an absolutely central part of the entire story (it's really interesting -- the main character in that story spends days in the well, trying to connect to other worlds through a purple spot on his cheek), whereas here it does not. Still, I felt like it could have been a more effective concept in the story. It is a common criticism of Murakami novels -- he is notorious for throwing a lot of interesting concepts and imagery into his stories to the point that some are inevitably underdeveloped. (Actually, there is an interesting passage in Kafka on the Shore where Murakami himself seems to be commenting on this aspect of his writing to the reader. In the passage, the details of which I cannot recall, he embraces this aspect of his storytelling on grounds of the aesthetics of incompleteness.)

Overall, I thought it was a very well-written, well-told, and simple love story that may be a very good introduction to his style (although I would still recommend one of the books mentioned above as well before you decide you do/don't like him).

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

catcher in the rye and its relevance today

An interesting and well-written article on Catcher in the Rye, with reflections on the current generation of young adults (yanked from 3 Quarks Daily a while back):

I have to agree with the sentiments of Meis. While it's natural for teenagers to react to Holden by saying "shut up and take your Prozac," what I've found after numerous conversations with my 15 year old sister is that the attitudes toward being "fake" are no different now than they were when I read the book, or when my Dad read it...

Monday, August 3, 2009

nobuo uematsu interview

Interview with videogame music (VGM) titan Nobuo Uematsu:

Nobuo Uematsu is responsible for all of the music from the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger (with others), and several Final Fantasy spinoffs, including the band The Black Mages, who take Final Fantasy songs and set them to rock music. He has also worked with numerous orchestras on his most famous works, including Terra's Theme, Dancing Mad (both from FF6), Dear Friends (FF5), One Winged Angel (FF7), and many others. What I like about Uematsu's style is his amazing ability to create that perfect song for every town, dungeon, boss battle, etc. He's excellent diversifying the listener's experience as well, dabbling in flamenco, jazz, as well as rock and more classical styles of music. His music makes RPGs true adventure games because the experience playing the game becomes an experience listening to the game as well.

Check out for complete soundtracks from many of the games he's worked on and more. This site is, I believe, relatively new but quite impressive in scope and accessibility. Apparently at some point they promise to put downloadable content up, but I'm not sure how legal that is...

Here are some of my personal favorite Uematsu pieces:

"Other side of the mountain" from FF7 (slow, simple piece but it occurs at a great part in the game)

"Relm's Theme" from FF6 (this soundtrack is probably Uematsu at his best and this is one of many on this that have a "country" feel to them but with beautiful instrumentation)

The last is a piano rendition, but is a really great song: "To Zanarkand" from FF10

So, enjoy the interview and the music!