All posts for the month March, 2007

————– Original message ———————-
From: "noisewar"
> Dear Prof. Chen and co.,
> I have been a longtime reader of your site, and it has been the greatest
> influence on my interest in macroeconomics. Your analysis is exceptional,
> and very entertaining, timely, and readable.
> I had a question about your views of future Japanese policies. Since it is
> of the website's opinion that the propping of the high Dollar comes from a
> collaborative effort, do you think that after their recession, the
> Japanese are still as eager to depreciate the yen? In other words, is the
> U.S. in danger of being at the mercy of a new Japan switching from exports
> to services, or will the old relationship resume? Or perhaps could China
> take over that role? Who is going to prop the dollar now?
> Thanks you sirs, and I commend you again on an impressive site!

Dear Noisewar:

Sorry to be late for the reply. I must confess that I am a lazy viewer of
e-mails. As for Japan, yes, Japan has no choice but to prop up the dollar. As has
been said in article 1 and many other places, the first phase of propping up
dollar has been done with Japan's super low interest rate that has started in 1995;
it ushered in the now infamous yen carry trades and pushed the dollar high
until 1998.

In the dollar debacle of 2003 to 2004, yen carry trade played not much
role since FED has lowered interest rates to around 1% (Japan was 0% at that
time), so Japanese government spent 400 billion dollars to prop up dollar. After
that phase, it has been the turn of FED to prop up dollar by raising interest
rate and reinduced yen carry trades. The danger of constantly propping up dollar
is now vividly shown as yen carry trade unwound, and the global stock markets
were hit one by one in a chain reaction.

Japan is the closest ally of USA, and cannot afford to see USA goes down the drain. The situation of dollar is now very touchy. If FED wants to lower the interest rate from whatever reason, it must ask Japan to prepare for another dollar buying frenzy, otherwise dollar will suffer a total collapse and the current globalization scheme will come to its end. I must remind you that my view of the globalization is totally different from tranditional economic theory. Actually I do not care very much about the modern economics because I think it only applies to an isolated economic entity and worked well in pre-globalization era, but has
failed miserably since globalization took hold.

With best regard.

Chih Kwan

I finally got the call today that I've been waiting my whole post-kindergarten life for.

I remember the early days of that life tediously typing up QBASIC programs from my 3-2-1 Contact! subscription so that my hand formed around the anvil of game creation. I remember ostracization bouncing off my rebellious little hide as I spent my grade-school recesses drawing intricate Megaman levels on paper, and then taking a childhood friend through them with my dirty pencil, asking him what actions he'd want to perform, or killing him and taking his life, or granting him weapons and powers with a quick sketch. Then I'd scribble over enemies as he killed them, or flicked the graphite on paper to simulate random shots in our wild tank battles.

I programmed. I learned level editors. I learned Maya, animation, modeling, and all other forms of CG baggage. I wrote, promiscuously. After college, I was paid way too well to work on reknowned projects. I experienced big productions, met bigger talent, people who go on to win Oscars and start companies and pump out innovations. I was never happy.

Am I spoiled to say those opportunities were, to me, sacrifices? Am I a brat? When I spoke about my involvements, people would say "wow, that's awesome!" I tried very hard to agree. But in my mind, the whole time, my heart was still set on being a game designer. And it wasn't even because of my incredible love for games. Nor my idolization of the industry.

For a time, I wanted to be an inspiring schoolteacher… fancy that! But that wish belies my desire, my insatiable pleasure, in getting people to change their perspectives, and defend the underdogs. To challenge assumptions, smash stereotypes, twist prejudices. In education, you can do that. In game design, you can do that to anyone in the world, and done well, they'll enjoy it. Sometimes I feel typecast myself, and the momentum of being a constant contrarian overwhelms me. But there is no better platform for constructive skepticism than games.

It was genetically imprinted into me to spend my waking moments and sleepless nights deconstructing the games I play, and constructing the games I want to play. It's not ambition anymore, it's an extension. Sometimes I am fearful, especially when I play a game and can't see it anymore. I only see the code, the art being drawn from the reservoirs of memory to be displayed for my manipulation. I see statistics rumbling with calculations to keep me maximally addicted. How games are still fun for me is a question I'm afraid to tackle.

Today I got a call from Page 44 Studios, and will be starting as a junior game designer there after the wedding. I am ecstatic. I feel as if the sacrifices were vindicated, even as I feel ashamed for calling them sacrifices. But sometimes it's just not about money, fame, or success. It is about following your calling, or risking your sanity ignoring it. I can't wait to work harder than I've ever had, because Confucius reminds us that choosing a job you love means not having to work a day in your life.

So 300 was amazing. The story and dialogue was predictably trite, but the shots were absolutely stunning, especially the long fight sequence in the first battle. Xstine went nuts over the painterly aspect of several shots, the ones that gave an illusion of no perspective points. I loved the claustrophobic set, complete with static props and painted backdrops.

The cherry topping it all was the total lack of political correctness. Asia! These terrorists are from ASIA! Promise! The film vomits patriotism, and makes no excuse for the need of violence to resolve all problems. While the speeches get long in the tooth, it provided ample ampules of adrenaline. So caricatured and comic it was that I don't seen how there can be a hang-up. I'm just surprised as an liberal an industry as Hollywood even let it reach the public.

As if timed by Zeus himself, God of War 2 comes out this week. Today in fact. In fact I don't know why I'm writing this and not picking up my pre-order from the store. I even prepared myself for this release by playing Golden Axe for the first time in a decade. I'm still a badass with the dwarf. While the AI is terrible, the game is still somehow fun, thanks to the visceral and unashamed action. Kinda like 300.

One last thing to check out is this jaw-dropping but heart-warming new game from the creators of Rag-doll Kung Fu. Most surprisingly, it's coming out for the PS3, not the Wii. While Sony's hodge-podge embrace of card-carrying "indie" developers hasn't impressed me yet, this one looks far more substantial than a Flash in the cell like Flow. Keep this up, and I might actually want a PS3. Provided it plays well. User-created content spawns more paupers than princes, and I've grown out of sandbox-style games. They're usually nothing but ludologized technology, and technology grows wearisome. Hurrah for LittleBigPlanet.

Yes! We FINALLY got our hands on a Wii. Xstine had been calling every EBgames and Gamestop every week for the past godknowshowlong when she had nearly given up on it, and handed the torch to me. Calling the service centers for Best Buy, Circuit City, and Fry's, I had them scour the whole of the bay area for any remote shard of salvation. It was futile. I typed "Wii tracker" on a whim, letting Google do my searching. Wal*Mart was the only online vendor with available Wii's and even then, there were only their 7-game mega-bundles.

I decided to call Wal*Mart anyways, even though I had foresworn never to shop their again after buying three shattered Kingdom Hearts in a row from one. A teenager so greasy you could sense it through the phone static answers me.

"'Scuse me, just wanted to know if y'all have any Nintendo Wii consoles." You can tell how jaded I was.

"Yeah, just got a shipment in, they're selling fast."

I screamed at him to hold one for me. I damned his ancestors when he said he couldn't. I tore downstairs into my car, crushed the pedal, nearly side-swiped eight old ladies and a dozen squirrels as I barreled down the freeway. I glared at each car I passed, wary of their intentions on my Wii. MY WII.

Fifteen minutes later, I was on the other side of San Jose. I forgot to wear a belt, but I charged into the store anyways, holding up my pants. Hoochimamas cocked their eyebrows at me. Had they never seen a geek in the wild? Breathless at the software counter, I yelped for a Wii, but the lady there seemed to already know what I wanted. In a cute latina accent, she told me there had been ten in the shipment, and now I was staring at two remaining.

"Do you want any games, sir?"

"I have to pull myself together first. There's time for games later."

As I stood jubliantly at the check-out, like Robert E. Lee at Manassus #2, like Alexander the Great looming over the frayed ends of the Gordian Knot, like Sir Galahad preparing to spank the virgins, a phone rang.

"Hello, Wal*Mart electronics department. Sorry sir, there's only one left. No, we can't hold it for you."

I nearly shouted out "SUCKER!" but I was already dashing out the door. Long story longer, it's all hooked up, and in fact I'm looking at my blog right now on my telly, amazed at how fantastic Opera Wii is. And last nite, Xstine and I watched Robot Chicken on Youtube, on our couch! Brilliant! The packaging, the interface, the feel of the console, it's all so planned, so… Nintendo. Critics of materialism wouldn't get it. There is something very immaterial about the Wii. It's like owning a physical brick made out of accessibility. For the nerdcore in me, it also represents bloodlust and victory, something hitting 70 in WoW hasn't even given me. I'll post more, after I take my medication…

Xstine hit 70 on her rogue, and I'm half a bar away, and we're dying to get into the arena season. Didn't take too long to get there I guess, although thanks to powerleveling, I've missed about half of Outlands. So far, Netherstorm is my favorite area, and I love the impaled dragonflights on the spikes of the Blade Edge mountains. Their art is phenomenal, and I've never seen better leveraged art assets in any game. How they get away with that amount of reuse leaves me boggled. My only quibble with Burning Crusade is that now that Alliance have shamans, shamans are being buffed big time, and now that Horde have loladins, they're getting nerfed.

Coincidence? I think not. Still not seeing many 70 Dranei though, and the few Dranei shammy I've killed were incapable of controlling some form of totem-frostshock diarrhea. You can check out our characters at the new (sloooow) Armory site: me and Xstine.

Another thing to check out is this gameplay footage of Bioshock timed with GDC. I'm very impressed with the AI, the animation quality, and just the overall atmosphere… or should I quip "bathysphere." While the mannequin hand could use some tuning. Why do they even need those conventions? Press to draw and point gun, release to fire. I hate the FPS tradition of putting an awkward looking sidearm hand stiffly into the screen corner. But I digress, enjoy:

The last few days, we saw global markets take a frightening stumble. Beginning with the Shanghai Index (FXI), falling 8.8% by day's end, Japan, Europe, and the Dow took smaller but equally rough spills. Taiwan, on a holiday, didn't see the gut punch until the next day. NYSE computers, unable to keep up, were backed up until a server switch caused the ticker to plummet with backlogged orders, exacerbating the situation and dropping stop levels all around. Welcome to the digital age.

The bright side of the story is that the ticker has recovered about half the loss. But as a lesson in volatility, I hope it was heard. Stories of people in China borrowing against mortgages so that they could "avoid risk" by buying only one stock… well let's just say the market is healthier when homebrew speculators are spooked.

It was also no surprise that the correction came on the heels of Bank of Japan's tightening of interest, and thusly putting the dent on global liquidity. I'm going to set my prediction in solid stone right now. After this correction, markets will continue at the same pace, and any further corrections will be saved by the influx of private equity (read: buyouts from the blue). Once they're involved, volatility will be insane, and they will move in and out of the market at will as the worst hedge funds do. Personal investors beware: I think it is impossible to ignore the technological mechanics of trading anymore. This ain't your daddy's Buffet's exchange, and the horizon for fundamentals to presevere in is longer and choppier than before.

Nothing in gaming to talk about, other than that we (personally) are seeing new prospects I hope to talk about soon. In the meantime, enjoy this very interesting economics article:

Taipei's Magic Ring