Saturday, January 19, 2008

All the Latest

Sorry to be such a lousy blogger. My focus has been really shitty. I’ve been handling a lot of bureaucratic shit and that puts me in a bad frame of mind for writing. Plus, I’ve got some other stuff banging around up in my head. Just garbage. Here’s all the latest

I got an application off

I am now an applicant for the United States Institute for Peace Dissertation grant. Who knows if I get it, but the important thing is that I’ve now sent out one application. The next, if the Graduate School offers has another “Dissertation Fellowship Competition in the Humanities, Social Sciences & Social Professions” as it did last year requires a four-page proposal! If they’re announcing one this year, the deadline is likely to be in February. Following that, the SSRC’s Dissertation Proposal Development Fellowship is due on March 1 and the Palestinian American Research Center Fellowship is due on March 15. I need to get cracking.

The Packers are in the NFC Championship Game

—and against the Giants, no less, who wiped the Cowboys off the map last week. Apparently Tony Romo spent the whole week before drinking margaritas and banging Jessica Simpson and has taken, in my brother Rashid’s view, a disproportionate share of the blame for the loss. While Rashid’s response was, well, more controlled, his opinion is clearly shared by Terrell Owens:

Indeed, the Cowboys are apparently the most sensitive in the NFL, if we are to believe Tony Romo’s own heartfelt response to TO’s comments:

I need to e-mail my buddy Brian McGrath, the Giants fan, to let him know that his team is going down this Sunday. Kirk, however, has sent me this reminder:

I am excited about the possibility of a Pack-Pats Super Bowl, but I've been excited about that since Thanksgiving. I was hoping even more for a Cowboys-Pats Super Bowl but obviously that won't happen now. Don't get too cocky about the Giants though, because they have been playing better than just about anybody in December and January. They opened my eyes with how they almost beat the Patriots in week 17 and come to find out they were really, really good at the end of the season. It's not surprising they took out the Cowboys, who played like they had their thumb up their ass at the end of the year and kind of stumbled into the playoffs. Sure, the Cowboys were 13-3 but they sure seemed pretty bad in December, a time when you normally want to start peaking. The Giants are definitely peaking while the Cowboys seemed to fall asleep and deservedly lost yesterday. I definitely think the Packers will beat the Giants but it won't be easy. I also think the Pats will beat San Diego but I also think that one won't be easy either.

But I’m going to razz Brian, anyway. He’s in Yemen and could probably give a shit anyway. He can take it.

Craig and I have been working out

Craig and I have joined Bally’s gym, some fifteen minutes walk from our house. Craig let me have all the trainer sessions. Kevin, my trainer, has a really great gay vibe. He smiles a lot, starts out with very basic exercises and quickly becomes a sadist. He especially loves making you lift light weights and do push-ups on pillates balls that throw you off balance and engage more muscles as a result. I’m sore all over, but have been to the gym four times this week. You can’t beat the convenience, but there aren’t nearly as many cute, muscled guys hanging out here as at school and, of course, no gang showers. I love gang showers. If I ever get to build my own house, I’ll have one. I’ll also have urinals in the bathroom and a toilet with enough pressure to flush properly.

We got Craig an mp3 player. It took me a lot of work to find out how to buy tracks without getting some stupid monthly subscription, but I did it. Craig is excited about his new workout collection.

Craig and I got Direct TV

Craig surfs continuously and, after nearly a week has said, “You’re right. It really is two-hundred channels of shit instead of five. There’s nothing to watch.” I laughed and laughed. But we can at least watch the same twenty re-runs of Sex and the City with clear reception and will actually be able to watch Desperate Housewives again.

I actually like the NFL channel, as they show all of last week’s games over and over again. It’s soothing. Plus, it’s a great way to catch up on what you inevitably missed. Plus, I’m trying to watch the news again. I was thinking about ordering the NFL Sunday ticket, but our friend Bill, the manager down at Billy McHale’s, suggested that it might be cheaper to order just the Packers games every week in the weeks they aren’t broadcast locally. I’ll have to look into it.

I’ve been Teaching Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict

We’re just finishing up the Robbers Cave Experiment and will be getting into the dawn of nationalism. I’m having all sorts of fun reading about French absolutism and the court culture of Versailles, under which the nobility of France became a sort of exotic pet. In their powerless indolence, they apparently had nothing to do but fuck themselves silly, a la Les Liaisons Dangerouses. I don’t know why it fascinates me. I even have friends with differing views on the subject. Sean, who is a member of the House of Savoy, might look at this alternately as golden age, where rich young nobles did nothing but kiss the king’s ass and fuck around in vengeance for being forced to marry the king’s bastard children. He might alternately resent the powerlessness and pointlessness of their lives. Who knows? Simon, in distinction, had no ambiguity whatsoever in his appraisal of the subject. He pissed on one of the many exterior walls of the famous châteaux to express his contempt.

What drives my interest? It may well be the cake. I adore cake.

I need to start writing again

So what else is new?

I’m still trying to sort out Civ 4

I have won three times at the warlord level and these are purely high score wins. To get a feel for the game, I’m having all the civs (including my own) and terrains assigned randomly. At this point, I’m pretty sure that there is no dominant strategy, in the sense that there is one strategy that can generate a win in most situations. I had a dominant strategy for Civ 3 that worked in most (but admittedly not all) situations. I don’t think that’s possible in Civ 4. Civ 4 is ultimately terrain driven and different terrains require very different strategies. Moreover, as far as I can see, the different gamer geeks who write on the subject are right. You need to commit to a clear strategy that delivers you to a victory type that is selected in the opening game. Everything, therefore, seems to hinge on figuring out the type of planet on which you’re living at the earliest possible juncture. In Civ 3, I never really gave a shit so long as I started on a continent and not an island. Figuring out the planet type so you can commit to an early strategy is essential.

Why is world size so pivotal in Civ 4, you ask? It’s tied to the way the AI makes war decisions. My theory is that in Civ 4, AI war decisions are driven by terrain pressures. The various AIs do not seem interested in vast empires and, instead, tend to want to become nation states of somewhere between six to nine cities. As a result, they tend to become more bellicose when they can’t expand to their ideal or when they are losing territory to foreign cultural expansion. In the absence of those pressures, only the AIs with very warlike personalities (e.g. Shaka, Montezuma) seem bellicose.

Small planets, particularly small pangaeas, are very warlike, because the AI has trouble getting to its six to nine city ideal. In contrast, large planets are very peaceful. I find that, on a large planet I can, by and large, avoid war until the 20th century at warlord level. In contrast, in my small Pangaea game a few iterations ago, I fought at least ten consecutive wars with less than five or six turns of peace between them. I’ve kept from losing much territory, but the wars have all been largely defensive and they showed no sign of stopping. I never actually declared a war in that game, but I bet I’ve fought more wars than any of the other civs have, this iteration. I punted it in frustration and started a new iteration.

I’m frustrated in my inability to find a satisfying game pattern. I know I need a better understanding of the AI worldview. The AI is difficult to buy off. The diplomatic model requires more work on my part. I don’t know how to manipulate the AI well enough to be safe from it.

Lebanon still hasn’t elected a president

So what else is new?

Nelly and Simon are getting married!

By far the best news I’ve had in a very long time—Nelly and Simon are getting married in May in Las Vegas. It looks like I will make my second trip to Vegas in as many years to dance at their wedding!