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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tax on Games in NM

Escapist Article
Huffington Post article

"The Environmental Alliance of New Mexico is calling for a new tax on televisions and videogames, which will be used to fund outdoor education programs.

The group is seeking the implementation of a 1 percent levy on game consoles and televisions, which it says will raise $4 million per year that could go toward the "Leave No Child Inside" initiative. Studies have linked videogames and television with poor academic performance and increased rates of obesity and attention-deficit disorder, according to a report in the Huffington Post, while a study funded by the Sierra Club, which also initiated the tax plan, determined that one week of outdoor education offered the same "beneficial impact" as six weeks of classroom time.
Michael Casaus, the New Mexico youth representative of the Sierra Club, said, "We believe it is such a nominal tax that consumers won't feel it too much, especially if they are educated about where that money goes." According to the State Parks agency, 80 percent of students in New Mexico live within a half-hour of a state park, but less than 10 percent have ever actually visited one. Health and education reports indicate that students in the state lag behind others in most academic areas, while obesity is an increasing problem.

More than 40 organizations in the state have asked for increased outdoor education, according to Casaus, including Santa Fe and Beranlillo counties, the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and the New Mexico Science Teachers Association."

I've just quoted the entire article just in case you decided to not read it. The second link is the original article from the Huffington Post. Now, before I have some naturist (If that's even a word) hounding me saying that I'm the epitome of the video gamer and whatnot, I'd like to say this is a GOOD idea. Exercise is good. Working out is good, enjoying fresh air IS GOOD. Getting taxes for program on funding for outdoor programs is GOOD. HOWEVER. There's something funny about this article that just makes it seem as if good intentions are the only thing that this tax is about.
FYI, I'm pretty in shape, just a few extra skin here and there but not to the point of I'm going to die of a stroke. Grades? A-B+ range. Not a majority in this case? Duh.

Lesson one about debates. When someone pulls numbers, it's usually out of their ass. As to quote Penn and Teller, or rather... just Penn I guess...: "The numbers aren't bull****, it's people that are full of bull****" or something in that sense. Do all the research you want, but if you're going to tell me something, tell me not the results but what the conditions were to get that specific result. Let's break this down... shall we?

"Studies have linked videogames and television with poor academic performance and increased rates of obesity and attention-deficit disorder, according to a report in the Huffington Post, while a study funded by the Sierra Club, which also initiated the tax plan, determined that one week of outdoor education offered the same "beneficial impact" as six weeks of classroom time."
The last time I remembered, ADD was something you had, not something you developed, and in our pill popping era, who's to say that ADD isn't just being active? From what I remember, ADD often results in poor academic grades, which is why those kids have "extended time" though honestly, nowadays it seems to depend more on how much money (or checks) can you slip under the table before getting the doctor to say "Your kid has ADD." I digress.

Apparently, these "studies" that show that video games and television = poor academic performance, obesity, and ADD. How do you do that? No really. How do you link grades, being overweight (which I may add has to do a lot with eating habits), and a hyperactivity disorder with sitting in a crouched position? I can see some links between television and obesity, but one would have to factor in that the subject watching television would probably be eating at the same time, which already is a poor eating habit, as it's usually not typical that you'd have celery sticks while watching a movie (or maybe you would. Not my point here). But that's not the video game's fault. That's the video gamers and the people watching television's fault. It is also the PARENT'S fault for letting their kid do so. Grades are linked to study habits. Habits that should've been in the child at an early age. If the parent never pushed the kid to study then I don't see why it's the kid's fault for not being able to correlate good grades with good notes and good study habits. Is it the kid's fault for not figuring that out on his/her own? Yeah, but the parent should be involved in the kid's life. It's like those shooting incidents. Some kid said he shot some other kid because he saw it in Grand Theft Auto Whatever. Why did the parents buy the game? Why didn't they notice that M rating? Why didn't they notice that their kid was prone to being influenced by what he sees somewhere else? WHY DID THEY SUE THE COMPANY FOR THEIR FAULTS?!
Video games and television can only go so far in taking the blame for these things. I don't see how you can prove with "studies" that you can link these things together. Sure, give any guy a controller and tell him to play for 13 hours a day, eating cheez doodles and see how he is in a couple months. No kidding he's gonna gain weight, but like I said, it's not the video game, its the video gamER.

Funny thing number two. "while a study funded by the Sierra Club, which also initiated the tax plan, determined that one week of outdoor education offered the same "beneficial impact" as six weeks of classroom time."

There's no way for me to put this lightly so I guess I'll be blunt. What the hell does that mean? I've been reading that sentence over again and searched the Sierra Club's site only to find nothing. I don't see any relation between outdoor education and classroom time. I'm not saying I don't think the study is correct, I'm saying explain to me how you were able to link the "beneficial impact" of one week of outdoor education to six weeks of classroom time. What beneficial impact? I thought were talking about obesity, grades and ADD. What does outdoor time equate to in terms of learning a subject in class? Well, a 1:6 ratio, but what does that mean? I found some report about this and reading it through, it talks about student relations with their teachers and peers and general problem solving skills. NOTHING TO DO WITH GRADES.
Fun fact: "This study focused on 255 sixth-grade students, 58 percent of which were identified by teachers as English Learner (EL) students. According to teacher reports, among those students who attended the program, EL students demonstrated gains in cooperation,leadership, relationship with peers, and motivation to learn that were significantly larger than the gains shown by non-EL students for those constructs."

No.... S***. If half the students who took part were kids who were learning English, then sports is one of the only other ways one can communicate since sports has some unusual universal language to it. Take a kid with barely enough conversational skills, put him in a room with any American. Observe. They can't communicate with each other. Put them in a gym. Give them a basketball. They'll play one on one. Why? Because it's something they both know. Getting tired? NEW QUOTE.

"According to the State Parks agency, 80 percent of students in New Mexico live within a half-hour of a state park, but less than 10 percent have ever actually visited one."
It's probably safe to assume that these statistics are based upon driving distances at a rate of 60 MPH. Ok. So... How many under 16 drive? What? None? ORLY?! Ok then. So what's the alternative?
A. School Field Trip.
B. Parents driving.

Well, apparently New Mexico kids have problems in school so it's kinda obvious where the funding WOULDN'T go. And so we have parents again. Hi parents. How are you? Taking your kids to national parks lately? According to this statistic, not really. We should really wail on your kids. You're not at fault. Oh wait. Yeah you are. I honestly believe we as a society of America, should push for educational classes for parents. Yeah sure, they have that class for nurture, but what about the social aspects? I mean, psychologists and "child specialists" don't really help, no offense to you people. For the general public, I feel that parents, like their kids, just go on with life pretty aloof and only take action at drastic instances. As long as their kid isn't killed, or is going to be killed, or is on the future path of being killed, or receive dire consequences for their actions after their death, they honestly don't care. Or for those that do, clearly a minority. Sorry.

Since I'm not the kind of guy to just talk. I actually did a bit of research and looked up some stuff about the Sierra Club and this article and whatnot. Unlike a certain article, I'm gonna give you links to such information to let you check it for yourself.
Here's the report I found on that little fun fact.
Report 1

Here's a "fact" sheet I found related to this article:
Fact Sheet

If you don't wanna read it. I'll label some points of interest. Mind you though, this IS to my discretion. Looks like it was done in Microsoft word. Those bullet points are what I use to take notes in my Economics class.
"Children today spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation. Many parents today are bombarded with media reports of “stranger danger” even though childhood abduction rates are actually down by about 40% over previous generations. 82 percent of mothers with children between the ages of 3 and 12 cited crime and safety concerns as one of the primary reasons they do not allow their children to
play outdoors."

That may be true, but let's assume each generation is about 40 years apart. Commercially, (according to Wikipedia, which required a bit of cleanup so confirmed by televisions were sold in the 30s. The last generation's childhood would've been about 1960s and before that... well... They never had TV. First computers, around 1940. No games, except for maybe tetris. No time for it really. First company to use the term "console," 1976. TV dinner era? 1953. See a trend here? Two generations ago (and even 40 years is hard to say, my parents were born in the late 50s) there was no such thing as the digital entertainment that we now have. It's a no brainer children today spend more time indoors than out, because back then any fun they could have was generally outside, with their friends. Ever seen those old black and white shows? "Good morning, Mizzus Smith. Can Billy come out to play baseball?" "Sure, Tommy. BILLY! Tommy's here! Be sure to come back by dinner!"
"Ok... but I had tons of old buddies who used to say they stayed in all day playing pong." Pong, made in 1972. By the way, they were a minority amongst the kids who played baseball and collected baseball cards.

"Many parents today are bombarded with media reports of “stranger danger” even though childhood abduction rates are actually down by about 40% over previous generations."
Did I, or did I not call that earlier? Parents tend to step in nowadays only when their kid is gonna be killed or something of that sort.

"Children’s free play and discretionary time declined more than 7 hours a week from 1981 to 1997 and an additional 2 hours from 1997 to 2003, totaling 9 hours less a week of time over a 25-year period in which children participated in unstructured activities"
Define your terms because as of now, that sounds like pulling numbers again over things you decide to keep from us. Define unstructured activities.

"The American Environmental Values Survey found that 92 percent of respondents thought that most kids do not spend enough time outdoors and 91 percent that most kids these days care more about video games and portable music players than about wildlife and clean air"
That's a pretty subjective survey, and what are these people expecting from kids that even ADULTS seem to have issues understanding?

"Studies reported upon in the medical journal, Pediatrics reports the average American child now spends
more time watching television (1,023 hours per year) than in school (900 hours per year)"
Let's do a bit of math since people are so keen on numbers. I'll assume the average school day is from 8:00 AM to 3:00 PM. That's 7 hours. Divide 900 by 7 and that's how many school days you approximately have. Now. Let's just assume that kids only watch on non school days. So subtract 128.57 (the answer I got from the school equation) from 365. You're left with 236.42 days. The point says the child spent time watching 1023 hours per year. now divide 1023 by 236.42 and you get 4.33. But that really isn't the case. I'm fairly sure kids also watch on school days too. So divide 1023 by 365. What do you get? 2.8. That's right. 2.8. I remember when I was a child I watched those after school cartoons on the WB channel. I got home at 3:30. These cartoons started around 2:30-3:00ish and ended around 5:30-6:00ish. Oh, I'm sorry. I promise not to watch those anymore. Apparently it's detrimental to my health. I swear to god, I think I exercise more than 3 hours a day.

"1960s television offered 27 hours of children’s programming a week, much of it shown on Saturday morning. Today, there are 14 television networks aimed at children (Cauchon, 2005)."
Shall I? Divide 27 by 7 if you haven't already. I have nothing else to say.

"Children between the ages of six months and six years spend an average of 1.5 hours a day with electronic media, and youth between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day with electronic media—that’s more than 45 hours a week! (Rideout & Hamel, 2006; Roberts, et al., 2005)."
Let's subtract that 2.8 that you got from earlier. So, assuming the kid doesn't watch TV, he spends on average 3.7-6.5 hours a day on electronic media. For some odd reason, I get that weird feeling that they're gonna count surfing the web for sources and ebooks for a term paper as electronic media. Let's also not forget the graphic designer wannabes that spend a good amount of time working on photoshop. The numbers may seem like much, but I can't really be sure that I can trust research like that without any more information.

I'd like to end this off with one last quote:
"We believe it is such a nominal tax that consumers won't feel it too much, especially if they are educated about where that money goes,"
Too bad we don't really know where that money goes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Zero no Tsukaima: Fustuki no Kishi (The Zero Familiar: Knight of the Twin Moons, "Rider of the Twin Moons")

So I posted on a Wednesday. Sue me. Mind you there are many things about this particular anime that I have a distaste for. Because of that I'm also giving out a lot of spoilers on plot to be nit-picky about specific parts that particularly vex me. Don't ask me where the HELL Rider came from. It's knight. Perhaps the US branch was referring to Fate/Stay Night or something, whatever.

This is really the continuation or second season of Zero no Tsuakaima, and that and I'd like to add I HATE IT. Also, bear with me as I take none of the manga into account and only rate the anime as is.
Will I be doing that back-seat directing kinda like those football fans who scream and converse with other football fans about player deals, trades and team management? Yes.
WIll I be as annoying as those football fans who scream and converse with other football fans about player deals, trades and team management? Yes.

This may end up being more of a rant than a review so bear with me.

So, like I said before, Futatsuki no Kishi is the continuation of the first season. So gander at the first paragraph or so of the first season to get a basic gist of the back story. Now then, onto the slaughter.

I was looking over at the production cast to see as to answer the question of "How is it possible to like one season and hate the next one?" Tada! Directors and Series Composition managers were changed. This probably explains the drastic differences in character for... everyone.

First, you have Saito, who I liked, a decent character in the first season. His character needed some tweaking, but only to make him less like a generic reluctant hero. He turns into a complete lecher and doesn't hold back his unexpected perverseness whatsoever. It looks ridiculous, this guy who looked really nice with the good supporting cast, does a complete 180 in intelligence and my respect for his is shot down faster than a blackbird flying head on into the ground at full speed.

What's even worse is Louise's character also does a 180. Forget that her character becomes more developed and starts to appreciate Saito after learning he isn't going back to his homeworld. Forget that she knows Saito likes her. Throw all of that development out the window, Now. From now on, she's now going to be an over-controlling, overly jealous type like how she was near the beginning. And we're also gonna add a bit of arrogant spunk to her(as if she didn't have it already).

What about Siesta? That black haired maid that Saito realized was actually Japanese and not from the magic world? One of my favorite secondary characters is smashed to pieces as she attempts to win Saito's undivided attention in obsessing over her feminine qualities. What? Don't care about her views and her take on the story as a peasant amongst nobles? SURE!~ Toss all her common sense out of the window and make her an airhead with a dependency complex? SURE!~
Add tons and tons of fan service to attempt to quell the masses against the new director's poor choice in characters? SURE!~

Just to add fuel to the fire, Henrietta is now more or less brain dead and bland now that her lovers are dead. And nothing, let me repeat, NOTHING happens with the secondary and tertiary characters. Nothing what-so-ever. Their appearance is so rare, you get the feeling they're now only doing cameos just so that the viewers don't forget what they're supposed to be doing in the show.

What probably bugs me most of all is how the show could've done really, REALLY well. Even near the end, when the director decides to do something serious, he's good at it. You finally see Saito's issues with classes (castes, nobles, kings, honor. Not like school) and his relationship with Louise matures. I've been dredging on the second season just because I was hoping it'd get better. And it did. The last 4 episodes were good, until it ended. All the character development, and work on all the characters was completely trounced with his decision to return everything back to pre-development stage, WHICH SUCKS. I understand the use of that tactic. It's usually useful in wrapping up segments and giving that warm feeling of normality (not normalcy. Leave president speak to presidents while we speak english) and a sense of closure that nothing has happened. Unfortunately, that is definitely not the feeling I want. I don't want it to revert to retardation. I would've been so much happier had Louise showed some actual emotion over Saito and had Saito actually become a serious character.

To me, the second season looks like JC Staff were just milking the series. I hope to god the third season (confirmed by the way) doesn't suck so much.

On a lighter note: Gunslinger girl II: Teatrino is already on the waves (cables now I guess, no one uses antennas anymore) in Japan. I've yet to see the releases, but I'll probably get around to them soon.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Zero no Tsukaima (The Zero Familiar or "Zero's Familiar")

As a note from now on, I'll give my translation of the name and then write the licensed name in quotes. Zero no Tsukaima is another anime based on a manga. Yes, it's another shoujo anime, don't wail on me.

It's about a magic academy in an alternate universe. In this other world, people can use magic and all magicians are ranked on how many elements they can control. From this academy is a noble whose magical skills, or lack there of, have earned the title of Zero Louise. For Louise, it seems that whatever magic she attempts to cast ends up in smoke, or in this case an explosion. Having unable to successfully cast one spell, the nickname Zero Louise seems to have stuck. There's one problem however. To become a full-fledged magician, one must be able to summon a familiar as a rite of passage. Everyone worries of what atrocity Louise may summon and to her and the acadamy's dismay, or surprise, she summons a Japanese boy from Akihabara. Thus begins the tale of a witch with what appears to be no magical power whatsoever, and a reluctant boy that refuses to be Zero Louise's familiar and adapt to the other world.

Just from looking at it, the production values are very high. Characters are very defined and the conglomerate mass known as everyone else has a different face and what may be different personalities as well. You have your two protagonists and their supporting characters, but you can't really tell (or perhaps you can because they didn't assign a voice actor for everyone. Almost everyone had a separate voice though...) who they are until you begin to see them reappear. Animation is fluid, though I admit, after a while Louise's explosions seem to occasionally look half-assed. I don't blame them, after a while it does get boring.

The story is unique. While the basic outline is very typical, the major details change the plot very much. Yes, it does fall under that "Inuyasha" category, but you really have two plots brewing. Since there are two protagonists to this story, one would expect that one submits to the other but neither do, and so the main plot is broken up into
A. why Louise can't use magic and what is the purpose of her summoning Saito
B. How can Saito find a way back to his homeworld.
Then there's a third one in the background that involves the world.
The story's good, it gets repetitive at times it's interesting to see the reverse of what's usually the case.

Voice acting is solid. You have Rie Kugimiya (Shana from Shakugan no Shana, Nagi from Hayate no Gotoku, Kamyu from Utawareumono and Alphonse from Full Metal Alchemist)and Satoshi Hino (Yuuji Sakai from Shakugan no Shana) doing the protagonist's voices. The other actors are just as solid with their parts as the protagonists and you have a large variety of characters that gives the academy a better feeling in general.

The music while very good is something I have to object to. Shinkichi Mitsumune, the guy who did the music for Mahou Sensei Negima, also composed the music for Zero no Tsukaima. There's only been about a one year gap between both projects, but the moment you listen to Zero no Tsukaima's music, you hear it. Many progressions and melodies are very similar, if not some directly ripped from negima, and often I get the feeling as if Zero no Tsukaima is really the extended version of negima. Don't get me wrong, the music's great. He add that "regal" tone to the general premise but his uses of violins is very prominent.

The overall story progresses a bit slowly. It's great overall and there are somethings that kinda hit me in the face as I stared agape, but some of the individual episodes felt a bit like filler. Probably necessary filler, but filler nonetheless.

Great production values, decent-good storyline. Far beyond average however.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rock Band

If you were wondering, I spent last week at a friend's home which is probably why I missed last weeks post. Coincidentally he bought Rock Band for the PS2 and I had a chance to play a bit of it.
Before I start this review, I'd like to say, YES I know that buying rock band for the PS2 may not have been the best idea since there's no downloadable content.

If you haven't been paying attention to games lately, then you may have missed the Guitar Hero craze nowadays. I'm not going to say that I was one of those who missed it because that would simply not be true, but even so, I didn't really have a urge to play it. No, it's not because I suck, I can play Freebird on hard pretty well thank you, it's just that for a game like Guitar Hero to come out when I've already been playing DJMax, keyboard mania, and Dance Dance Revolution (insert random mix here), it's one of those "been there, done that" situations. That isn't to say I didn't try it, with that mindset. I found the Guitar Hero games to be quite innovative and generally very good. I personally didn't think it was "teh Aw3s0m3" but I can't deny that bringing this kind of game to the "public masses" was a good idea.

Rock Band is on a similar concept. It's basically mixing multiple games into one and labeling it a party game. You have the mic, two guitars (or bass, whatever) and drums all mixed into one game. It's a good concept, it's fun and you get see your friends sing badly as they try to fumble with the lyrics of a song they don't know. The parts for each instrument works generally well (well, except the mic) and I haven't seen many problems yet. Ok, I lied.

The mic system is similar (or the same to) to karaoke revolution, that abominable thing they call a game. Though, there are some upgrades done to make the singing suck less. You don't get points off for singing at the wrong time, you just get points off for singing the wrong pitch at the right time. So you can actually check your general range by singing into the mic before the song starts. It's good that you can choose to either do it their style where the notes just scroll in with the music, or you can do it karaoke style where you get the lyrics in advance and you just have to match the rhythm. The sensitivity can be adjusted but in terms of range the mic blows. It only registers about all the notes in one octave so if you ever have to sing one of those super high or super low notes, there's a chance where the mic registration fluctuates as your voice hits the barrier between the ranges for the mic. It gets frustrating on hard and expert as that just destroys the phrase. Oh and uh... no vibrato, because that has a chance to destroy the phrase as well. Frustrating huh? For those who can actually sing, they can't because they're restricted by the mic and for those who can't sing... well. They still can't... and it's frustrating.... to listen to them.

As a group the game is good, but each part individually for each song is lackluster. It's obvious that they couldn't do it to Guitar Hero standards and I'm ok with that, but it seems like they nerfed it too much. The difficulties are inconsistent with different songs and the gaps between difficulties are just too large. Well, except for bass, where it's just terrible through all difficulties except expert where it's actually fun. For the drums, it seems to go well for the first 3 or 4 groupings of songs (in terms of difficulty) and then the last few groups just step up a handful of notches and expect you to play like Keith Moon later on. Guitar is nerfed except on expert, period.

Rock band is a party game. If anyone paid 170 just to play the entire thing alone then please go ahead and smack them for me. It's a good party game and definitely an alternative that would rival Mario Party. Since the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions have downloadable content, owners of Rock Band will definitely be getting more than its worth. I can't say for sure if you have to pay for it, but downloadable content is downloadable content. I'm just waiting for them to put in an Incubus song now.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Shakugan no Shana

I know, I know. I missed two weeks in a row. I apologize for that. So for today, I'm going to do as many as possible (bad idea). Probably three in total though.

Shakugan no Shana is an anime about a guy, Yuuji Sakai, who realizes he's dead and has become a replacement for the existence he represents (torches). There is a problem however, (For the lack of a decent translation) there are the Guze no Tomogara who exist in an alternate world and use the existences of the human world to be able to live on. This eventually creates a problem as the balances of the world shift. There are counters to this however, and those are the Flame Haze. Right as Yuuji is about to have his existence consumed he is saved by a Flame Haze known as the (loose translation) Red haired, Fiery eyed hunter, whose alias is the Nietono no Shana, which is her blade. Yuuji, having the common sense like all of us, feels that her "name" isn't personal enough and calls her simply "Shana."

Shakugan no Shana has a very unique twist to that "existence of an alternate world" style of anime. Yes, there's that alternate universe, but instead of moving back and forth between them (inuyasha), Shakugan no Shana has one where the alternate world invades ours and all the fighting is done here. IF, and let me repeat IF, I had to make a parallel, it would be close to Bleach. However, that's only on the surface.

The animation is pretty clean. I like all the effects they do and they mold computer graphics with the animation pretty well. I don't think I really see a part where it feels as if there's a disjunction when watching. Some minor details seem to have no justification to them whatsoever, but when I think about it, it's really not a big deal. It's just a matter of "uhh, is it worth my time pointing that out?" and my head says no. Character designs are unique. They're not exceptional, but they seem to fit well into the world that's created. No one really stands out except for a couple Tomogara that I could name but won't. Interestingly enough, the animators noticed this as well and also animated the crowd to stare at the couple as they passed by.

The story progresses in a way that's different from what I expected. Right off from the pilot, you have Yuuji Sakai thrown into a predicament and introduced to the heroine of the story: Shana. There's some nice battles and a bit of backstory given. The more I watched however, the more I realized this wasn't a super action filled anime. I'm not giving it less points for that, but because of the pilot, I never expected the team to do a lot of development with the characters. Typically, characters aren't given much depth until the animation team has exhausted a bit of their animation prowess, but the relationship between Yuuji and Shana ignite almost immediately. In my mind, I think it was a good move as it doesn't give the world that apocalyptic sense where it's just straight up action all-the-time, everywhere. They talk during the pauses between the times where the Tomogara slip across the barrier and it helps give the world a more "natural" sense. It isn't like Yuuji has found some secret underworld war, he just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time (or right place at the right time).

I believe Shakugan no Shana has been licensed and there are a few DVDs out. I can't really tell how many are out yet, but enough to spark one's interest. It's definitely of the better anime that have come out in the past couple of years or so.