The newest entry in the Civilization franchise is out. The new UI is great, nice use of 3d and lots of info packed on the main screen. Gameplay is improved but familiar, with one major addition: religion.

Religion is a fun twist on the culture system. Cities occasionally found new religions. Religions spread to other cities along trade routes. You can hurry the process along by sending out missionaries. Cities get bonuses for being part of your state religion; you also collect tithes. And religion affects your diplomacy with other civs.

I can't think of another mainstream game that's significantly touched the topic of religion. There's no Sims Church, is there? The developers were quite cautious, including this charming disclaimer in the manual:

We know that people have extremely strong opinions about religions ... We at Firaxis have no desire to offend anyone. However, given the importance that religions have had in human development, we didn't want to just leave them out of the game altogether; instead we have tried to handle them in as respectful, fair and even-handed manner as possible. (All religions in the game have the same effects, the only difference being their technological requirements.) ...

We offer no value judgements on religion; we mean no disrespect to anyone's beliefs. We're game designers, not theologians.

It is true that all religions are equal in-game, in the sense that each one gives you the same bonuses. But the game is by no means free of value judgements. Having religion is better than having no religion. Religion always aids science and income. Multiple religions get along fine; you'll never have a Belfast or Jerusalem. You're rewarded for stuffing as many religions as you can into each happy pantheistic city. That's gotta piss off the true believers.

The religion implementation is fun, a nice complement to fighting army men and growing culture blobs. And the implementation is as realistic and tasteful as the rest of Civilization's concepts. I just find it striking how gingerly they're moving. Maybe in a few years religion in games will mature and Rockstar will offend everyone with "Crusades: Fist of Righteousness".

  2005-11-30 17:18 Z
ethereal has a cool little-known feature: the -z option to generate statistics from a pcap file. For instance, here's how to get a count of how much traffic you saw every five minutes:
$ tethereal -q -r foo.pcap -z io,stat,300

IO Statistics
Interval: 300.000 secs
Column #0: 
                |   Column #0    
Time            |frames|  bytes  
000.000-300.000    3832    344880 
300.000-600.000    3744    336960 
600.000-900.000    2316    208440 
The query language is pretty bizarre and protocol specific but there are some useful analysis tools. There's also the proto,colinfo option which lets you select out arbitrary protocol columns to print in the text dump from tethereal.
  2005-11-26 18:44 Z
As much as I like ethereal it has a really annoying flaw; it only works on files less than 2 gigs big. I've been dumping some NTP traffic for 2 months and have 18G file to process, and tethereal complains
tethereal: The file "foo.pcap" could not be opened: Value too large for defined data type.
I'm not patient enough to wade through the ethereal code to fix it, so instead I wrote a quick and dirty Python script to split a pcap file into 1 gig pieces: Maybe someone will find this useful.
  2005-11-26 18:01 Z
Five things about San Francisco I missed while in Zürich
  1. Morning bathrobe, coffee, newspaper
  2. Speaking English without guilt
  3. Seedless grapes
  4. Campy salesmen at Nordstroms
  5. The smell of urine in the streets
With apologies to Merlin
  2005-11-21 14:04 Z
7:55am, checked in. There are two security lines in CDG Terminal 2C. One has a 30 minute wait; the other is empty, opening at 8am. So I wait. 8:00, 8:05, 8:10. The friendly French passport officer is sitting there looking at you indifferently across 20 feet of roped off entrance. Security screeners behind him, lounging around. When will they open?

It took a Frenchman used to the ways of French civil service to solve the problem. At 8:12am he simply opened the lines himself and walked in, presenting his passport and then whisked through security screening. They may or may not be open at 8:00, but they sure as hell aren't going to make any effort to let you know.

  2005-11-19 07:31 Z
6:45am. Wake in Paris, shower, shave, pack, cab, traffic, traffic, stress, traffic. Check-in, security, and suddenly it's 9:17am and Air France has given away your seats because it's less than an hour before scheduled departure. Never mind if the plane is half an hour late and they let Ken check in but not you. They gave your seat away.

So now I'm stuck an extra day in the hideous Sofitel Airport where it's faster to get from downtown Paris to the airport than from the airport to the hotel on their shuttle. Ordinarily an extra day in Paris wouldn't seem like a hardship but I'm tired and I miss home and thanks to Air France managing to only check in one of us, I'm alone. Another reason to hate Air France.

While I'm hating, I'm grateful for Internet in the hotel but screw you Orange for your WiFi implementation. For €20/day I'm given a network connection that dies every six hours or when NetNewsWire tries to download a bunch of RSS feeds. And their router silently intercepts my outgoing SMTP to deliver (and record?) mail through their servers rather than my own. The Internet is a hostile place.

  2005-11-18 16:32 Z
Our last Swiss weekend trip was to Luzern, a small German-speaking town about 45 minutes from Zürich. Here's the photos.

Luzern is a great tourist spot. It's the starting point for trips to Rigi and Pilatus, two famous mountain tops that you can reach by train. But we came to Luzern for the transportation museum, particularly for the trains. That was quite cool, definitely worth the trip.

Luzern also has a lot of nice tourist sites. The Kapellbrücke is an amazing covered bridge across the river with a series of series of secular 17th century historical paintings. I'm looking for a catalog of them; they were quite interesting. The Löwendenkmal is also quite beautiful, comemorating the Swiss Guards who died defending the Palais Royale during the French Revolution. There's even an old city wall you can walk, at least in the summer (grrr).

We had a nice stay at The Hotel, an aggressively decorated postmodern hotel that's quite nice. (Same group as the Hotel Healdsburg.) Dinner was uncommonly good Thai food at Thai Garden; we're just about done with Swiss German food, I think.

We're leaving Switzerland this Saturday (Nov 12). We've had a great time here. A bit homesick, but I suspect once we're back in daily San Francisco life we'll be missing Switzerland's beauty and easy travel.

  2005-11-09 17:53 Z
I had a sort of weird moment today on the train coming back from Luzern to Zürich. I was reading the International Herald Tribune (the American paper) and there was an article about how the European Union was investigating whether any of its member nations were hosting the recently disclosed secret American prisons.

I was thinking "good for the EU!" when I realized, wait, I'm American. And my country is holding people in secret jails and torturing them. And there's no response, no outrage, no investigations and resignations and arrests. The only one doing anything is the EU, making sure they aren't participating in the gross violation of human rights. What else can they do? What else can I do?

What has happened to America? Despite my criticisms of US politics, I'm proud and happy to be American. Except for the torture part. And the imperialistic wars. It has to stop.

  2005-11-06 15:21 Z
This week's issue of The Escapist is a 36 page special on girl gamers. Read the PDF. The article on page 27, OMG Girlz Don't Exist on teh Intarweb!!!!1, is great:
When I look at myself, I see a girl on the internet and a girl with an internet life. I see a girl who loves to play games and kill the dirty Alliance faction in WoW. I see a girl who can bunny hop with the best of them and keep her kills higher than her deaths in Counter Strike. I can talk the talk and walk the walk. But I am not a girl on the internet, because as I've been told before, I do not exist.
There's been a lot of writing on women and gaming that amounts to nothing, including some in The Escapist. But this article and a couple of others present a direct view into what it's like to be a hardcore girl gamer without a bunch of obnoxious overanalysis getting in the way of your understanding. Worth a read.
  2005-11-05 09:50 Z
Last weekend we made our escape to the land of French cooking, with a quick trip to Neuchâtel and La Chaux de Fonds. I have photos.

Neuchâtel is a bit small, but it's a charming town with a Saturday market, talented buskers, and fountains with crazy decorations. And a lake rumoured to be down there below the autumn fog. The neatest site for us was the Collegiate Church, a funky building up on a hill next to an old fortress and the château. The church is a handsome building with interesting carvings, but what we liked best was the sense of quiet up there. Very peaceful.

On Sunday we went to La Chaux de Fonds in the Jura. It's an astonishingly ugly city, bad modern buildings. But the Hotel Fleur de Lys does a good lunch of snails and horse steak, so I got my French fix.

Our main goal was the famous watch museum. The collection was amazing but the presentation was not very good, hard to understand what we were seeing. The highlight of the museum was the Astrarium, a reproduction of a 14th century astronomical clock. This thing is a remarkable monument to getting good predictions from a bad theory. The main part of the clock is a set of seven dials showing the position of the moon and planets on the sky. Only the whole clock is built on the Ptolemaic theory with the earth in the middle and crazy epicyclic gearwork to try to match the motions of the heavenly bodies. There's a great video showing how the eccentric gears and angled rods allow the clock to mimic Mecury's retrograde motion. Amazing dead end technology.

  2005-11-02 08:12 Z