Baudolino

Umberto Eco is for sure one of the more knowledgeable men of our times. He’s main interest is semiotic, but he knows about everything on the middle age topic. In his books I read in the past, his huge knowledge transpired from every page. I don’t know if it is the will to teach, or the familiarity he has with facts, stories, concepts, that leads him to write very dense novels. Enjoyable plots that need a great deal of patience to read.
For these reason I was quite surprise when started reading Baudolino. The first half of the book was a really smooth reading. Funny at times, interesting because many aspect of the middle-age life style and story were presented to the reader as part of the plot, and not forced into.
Unfortunately I found the second half of the book less smooth, never reaching the levels of “The Focault’s Pendulum”, nonetheless quite different from the first part.
The story is about a boy named Baudolino from a small Northern Italy village. One day he meet a man which turns out to be the Emperor Frederic ReadBeard. The Emperor is lost in the forest and Baudolino leads him, unknowing of his real identity, to home. For this reason the Emperor decides to take Baudolino under his wing and brings the boy along him and later will send young Baudolino to the University of Paris.
Baudolino is very clever and inclined to smart lies, but above all is really fitting its time.
Belonging to Emperor Court, Baudolino is more or less involved in every events of the time – wars, councils, siege.
In fact the story is presented as Baudolino, now about 60, telling it to a historian in Bisanzio.
About every middle age myth, event, every day life is touched in the novel – the Graal, the unknown lands to east, the pervasive religiousness. It is likely that you can read “Baudolino” on more levels. Hardly some ideas, some dialogues, some points can be placed where they are by chance, or just because Eco didn’t find a better place. Anyway further levels of readings remain quite beyond my reach :-). For sure one of the central theme is lie, truth and doubt. Baudolino is telling lies to the historian, but they fit the expectation of the time and they build up an intriguing story. On the other hand the historian has to tell history by selecting what is worth and what is not and adjusting things so that a sense could emerge.

Linux – Windows 1 – 0

Sometimes there are things you give for grant, like gravity, water being wet, 220V being harmful, Windows interfacing painless with every kind of hardware. I was so convinced about this that I was utmost surprised to find problems with the wireless network of my notebook. In fact I had no problem with Linux, Fedora Core 3 latest kernel (2.6.10-1.741_FC3) supports naively the Intel pro 2200BG hosted in my Toshiba. Just a matter of a few settings and I could access internet from my living room without wire hassle.
I expected Windows XP HE to be more or less the same thing, and the starting was good – it told me it was looking up all available wireless networks. Good… But after some minutes of idle wait, it returned to me with one network that wasn’t mine for sure. So I tried to configure it manually with the network name (maxpagani.org 🙂 ), it waited another bunch of minutes, but it wasn’t able to find it. So I tried to connect to the other network to get exactly the same result… no connection.
I spent something more than a hour trying to make it work with no success. What is puzzling is that XP-HE came pre-installed on my notebook and my wi-fi network is just a plain network with default options (even no encryption enabled).
So… Linux, good job!

Halo 2

According to the January Issue of Edge, 2004 has to be considered the best year for videogaming ever. Half Life 2 seemed to have reached so high mark that I doubted anything could come close. Anyway I had to reconsider this after starting playing Halo 2. First I have to say that I didn’t play Halo 1. Yes I know, at this point some friends from Redmond would start making some hostile screaming, but that is. I wasn’t able to overcome the frustration of playing an FPS with the analogue stick instead of the mouse (as FPS are meant to be played) in the first level.
I get back to Halo 2 thank to the suggestion of my friend Paggio who described it as a masterpiece (along with Prince of Persia 2). And I should add that some TV commercials made their job clearing up all my doubts.
Halo 2 is truly spectacular game, in the Hollywood sense. Be prepared for fast action, humor and great cut-scenes. Maybe it’s the first time I see some cut-scenes with a real movie taste, where huge, armored space ships moves and acts as you would expect and not like a detailed, but dummy and empty geometric model.
I really appreciate some clever tricks, for example most of the FPS available on console allows you to reverse the Y-axis of the analogue stick. The net result I got has always been I moved the stick the wrong direction and never understood which was my natural movement (of course the natural movement for this kind of game is the one of moving a mouse). Halo 2 avoids all this pain by an in-game trick. Right at the start of the first level you are given a new armored suite and a pal ask you to calibrate the new suite, by looking at the lit one from 4 lights cleverly placed up, down, left and right. In this way the program is able to detect your natural movement and configure consequently.
So you start playing. The saga is intriguing, maybe I’m loosing something since I can’t always play with a loud volume and I didn’t listen carefully to all dialogues. Anyway objectives are pretty clear.
Another smart move from bungie is the objective aid. After a while that the game detects the player is not making any progress in the right direction a voice comes to help. If the player is still wandering after a while, then a direction is graphically marked on the display hinting you the right door/direction to take to accomplish the goal.
I found this a very good compromise since it doesn’t spoil anything to the hardcore gamer, but helps first softly, then more decisively the “non professional” player saving her/him some frustration (or worse abandoning the game because too difficult).
From the gameplay point of view I think Halo 2 is good and robust, but lacking of ‘adventure’ taste. I.e. in Half Life 2 (the comparison is unavoidable) the player has to operate some traps in order to advance, providing an extra game play level other than just gunning everything alive (and not, when dealing with zombies). Halo 2 is a plain shooter, extra polished and very entertaining, but it is just that – combat evolved.
Talking about zombies I’ve found some … er… citations of Half Life 2. There are some levels with mutants … really really close to the one found by Gordon Freeman, there are even mutants carrying load of infecting blobs.
From the technical point of view Halo 2 is for sure a masterpiece, first of all it loads just once, after that all levels are streamed from the disc while playing. During the cut-scene the graphic engine enters a super detailed mode that for sure makes the XBox sweat, but the look is great. Halo 2 engine is taking the XBox hardware to its limits, you’ll notice in some occasions that the scene is … built, first undetailed models are shown and in a few frames all the wrapping arrives. Apart from this I never notice severe frame drop in the game play, despite the number of enemies, graphical effects or the huge dimension of the set.
So far so good, what isn’t so good? It happened a couple of time I found what I would call A-class bugs, falling forever below the ground, or missing the time to enter a door to find it closed and being blocked in an hangar. Anyway these problems are not so annoying, first they seldom happen, and the checkpoint save is very fine grained, so restarting from the last checkpoint won’t waste to much time.
Talking about checkpoints, it is a very natural way of saving, when you are done, you just select save & quit from the in-game menu, and the next time you’ll restart from the last checkpoint you reached. This is so natural and the save&quit happens so little, that a couple of times I forget about it and I had to replay quite large sections of the game.
Keeping on the comparison between Half Life 2 and Halo 2, in this game too you are provided, sometime, with a team of warriors helping you, what is different from HL2, is that now they are smart. First of all they never get into you preventing from doing what you intend to do. They are also smart enough to not ruining your stealth entrance in room. They keep themself quite always out of your line of fire.
Halo 2 is for sure a game to play, at least as much as Half Life 2 was. Maybe 2004 wasn’t the best year ever for videogames, but H2 and HL2 are two of the best games ever, my word.