Five Catholic Things to Listen to on Spotify

Spotify has a pretty deep archive, but its poor tagging and search features make it difficult to burrow into the more obscure corners and find the weird stuff hidden below pop songs and other junk. Here are five things that may be of interest to Catholics.


Pope John Paul II: Mass in English is not a whole mass, but the Liturgy of the Eucharist, with oddly mislabeled tracks suggesting this is side two and side one is missing.


Alec Guinness Reads Spiritual and Religious Poetry and Prose has the Catholic convert reading from Julian of Norwich, T.S. Eliot, Hilaire Belloc and others in that magnificent voice.


Ensemble Unicorn: The Black Madonna is an album from one of my favorite early music groups. This one is a collection of early 15th century pilgrim songs from the Monastery of Montserrat, and it’s the kind of alternately vigorous  and pious music I associate with medieval Catholicism.


Fr. Benedict Groeschel & Simonetta: The Rosary is a Place alternates prayers and meditations by Fr. Benedict with songs by Simonetta. The songs aren’t to my taste, but your mileage may vary. You can create a playlist that leaves them out and just have Fr. Benedict’s portions.


G.K. Chesterton: Four Father Brown Stories has “The Absence of Mr. Glass,” “The Blue Cross,” “The Resurrection of Fr. Brown,” and “The Honor of Israel Gow” read by Bill Wallis.

Here’s a bit of Ensemble Unicorn to get you  going.

The Great Tree Massacre of Farm Sim 15

I wrote about the strange little niches of simulation and strategy gaming in Simulating The Mundane, And What It Means. I also noted the appearance of a Street Sweeper simulator, apparently aimed at OCD sufferers who don’t find enough opportunities to make things just right in the real world.

Thanks to Rock Paper Shotgun (the last gaming site I still enjoy), I found this little preview video of the upcoming Farming Simulator 15, and I’m not gonna lie to you, I find it entrancing, and not just because of the jaunty music that accompanies the images of tree butchery:

I’ve made an effort to “get” farming games, but I just can’t. This, however, is like the Great Tree Massacre. As RPS points out, you’re running a machine called the Ponnse ScorpionKing (!), as it clutches and mutilates trees with a manic and ruthless efficiency.

Dub some screams in there and These Kids Today might think it’s some weird new kind of shooter: Dendrohomicidal!

Sad Treebeard doesn't like this post

Sad Treebeard doesn’t like this post


Real Catholic Men Can Play Games

The 40 Year Old Virgin

“You know how I know you’re Catholic?”

A couple weeks back I read something by a priest arguing that Real Catholic Men should not play videogames. The article was pointless and ill-informed, and proved mostly that the author had not one single solitary clue about his subject matter and only the vaguest notion about “videogames” and the people who play them.

We were treated to the standard hand-wringing about man-children, wasting time, how people could be improving themselves rather than engaging in “pointless” activity, and so on. Honestly, the piece could have written itself by dropping almost any cultural artifact–rock music, comic books, TV–into a Disapproval-o-Matic and churning out the same hollow junk.

I want to just point out two of the main problems with these useless critiques: the assumption that playing a computer, mobile, or video game interferes with life, and the idea that it’s somehow unmanly and time-wasting.

Let’s look at the time factor first, and imagine two dialogs with the author, who we’ll call Fr.  Beaman.

A man in his 20s comes to visit Father for counseling. Part of their conversation goes something like this:

MAN: I spend about 12-15 hours a week following professional sports, and another 3-5 on my fantasy sports league and brackets. I also watch about 2 hours of TV a night.

FR. BEAMAN: Ho, ho! How about those (insert local sports team)!

Now let’s imagine a different exchange:

MAN: I spend about 12-15 hours a week playing Civilization V or Titanfall. I don’t really watch TV. I don’t like sports.

FR. BEAMAN: [curls his lip in disgust] And you call yourself a man?

Here’s the thing: I don’t follow sports, at all. Ever. I don’t judge people who do, but I think it is one of the most mind-numbing, pointless activities I can imagine.

If a man spends his leisure time in a complex and deep game world in which he takes an active part, while another man spends the same amount of time watching TV or following football (a fundamentally passive act), the second man is somehow judged to be more “manly” and not “wasting his time.”

This doesn’t follow. There’s nothing less “masculine” about playing World of Warcraft than there is in watching American Idol or Monday Night Football, or even going fishing. It runs afoul of none of the three moral determinants (object, end, and circumstance), and given the complexity of modern electronic gaming, it is not an empty or mindless activity.

Gamers watch far less television than non-gamers. One could even argue that gaming is morally superior to television because it can engage the intellect, stimulate the imagination, and require an element of physical interaction, whereas television renders the individual into a passive receiver.

If you’re a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, sure, I’ll give you extra “Man Points” if that’s important to you, just like I would if you were a soldier, fireman, ironworker, commercial fisherman, or longshoreman.

But if you just follow the Philadelphia Eagles? No. You’re just a guy sitting on a couch watching other men exert themselves for your amusement.

Beyond this, parsing who is a “real man” and who isn’t is a fool’s errand. Masculinity is not a set of things to be checked off a list.

The second criticism is the “you’re wasting your life” bit. We get the usual examples: you could be hiking! Learning a language! Deepening your faith! Helping the needy!

So one precludes the other? Why?

Here’s a partial list of things I have done in my life: camped, fished, sailed, fired a variety of weapons, built things out of wood and metal, painted and sketched, written and published books, learned to play several instruments, traveled to foreign countries, been in a fight, worked on a television series, earned the love of a good woman, made love to said woman, sired children, studied and taught the faith, volunteered thousands of hours, worked with the poor and sick, raised money for a charity, prayed daily, earned two advanced degrees (one of them in Theology), learned a language, raised and cared for a variety of animals, played a team sport, took care of my dying father, run a 6-minute mile, chopped a tree and made a fire, earned an income and supported a family, paid a mortgage, conducted pilgrimages, and earned a reputation in my profession.

Some of these I still do. Some of them I tried and do not enjoy, and thus will not likely do them again. I do not like camping, for example. My wife loves it. We’ve tried to compromise. I can take or leave fishing. I don’t oppose hunting but neither do I enjoy it. I’m not handy. And although my physical problems sometimes limit my ability to get around in the world, I don’t feel this makes me less of a man or my life less full.

Thus, this idea that all men who play games are living withered and incomplete lives is a fantasy. Some men indeed may be letting games interfere with a full life, and that is a problem just like any other disordered attachment. If Father had merely said “Men who overdo the gaming thing need to get out now and then and see the world,” he would have had no complaint from me. An obsession is bad regardless of the object.

But that wasn’t the point being made. Gaming was singled out as something no Catholic man worth his manhood should be doing.

Well, I’m a man, and like many other men my age (46), as well as men both older and younger, I enjoy computer and videogames now and then.

And that’s just fine.


Tech Addiction:Technology & The Synod on the Family

Alienation: Technology & The Synod on the Family

Titanfall [Game Review]

Since we’re getting into the summer months, I thought I’d run a few more game reviews, starting with that rarest of all things: a multiplayer shooter that I don’t hate.

You see, Titanfall (Electronic Arts: PC/Xbox 360/Xbox One) is fun.

Yeah, I know: big deal. It’s game. Isn’t “being fun” a basic part of its purpose?

If you’ve playing many multiplayer shooters lately, you’ll know “fun” doesn’t always follow. Grim, violent, often excessive, hard, and dominated by obnoxious teenagers? That’s your basic Call of Duty experience.

Titanfall seems to sidestep much of that, at least in its PC incarnation. When it was released, Titanfall was dismissed as Call of Duty: Robots thanks to a complete failure of the imagination on the part of reporters. See, it’s a multiplayer shooter developed by people who worked on Modern Warfare, so let’s write it off with a cutesy log line and move along.

The CoD comparison has absolutely opposite effects depending upon platform. Tag something as CoD: Robots and the Xbox players will line up at midnight. Say the same thing to PC gamers, however, and many of us will return to DOTA or Transistor. And that seems to be the case here: PC gamers are not giving the game much love, and Respawn is returning the favor by dropping modes and app support from the PC version.

I really hate it when mom and dad fight like this, because Titanfall is the first fun multiplayer shooter I’ve enjoyed since … gosh, was it really Battlefield: Bad Company 2? Crikey.

And Titanfall is just dang entertaining. It offers a great rewards structure and makes the player feel powerful and important. Despite an introduction/tutorial that utterly fails to convey the true nature of the game—making it look like, well, CoD: Robots with lots of wall-running–I stuck with it and found one of the real gems of PC action gaming, and one which also shines on consoles as well.

Titanfall is a first person shooter in which you play as footsoliders (“pilots”) who can also control giant mechs called Titans. The game is fun whether you’re just running around as a pilot with his standard weapons, or inside hulking, powered chunks of battle armor. This balance itself is a minor miracle of design. The footsoldier bits should be just a time-killer while you wait for your new Titan to be delivered, but the agility and unique properties of the pilots make this mode every bit as entertaining.

There are classes, of course: a standard soldier with an automoatic weapon, a heavy with a shotgun, and a light “assassin” class with a multi-shot autotargeting pistol.  Pilots can run up walls, access areas unavailable to Titans, ride titans (either friendly, just for a lift; or enemy, in order to take over the mech), and even do some damage to the big boys with shoulder-mounted rockets. They even have jetpacks! As you earn points you get upgrades and other bonuses for climbing the ranks.

Like pilots, Titans come in light, medium, and heavy varieties, ranging from the light and fast Stryder to the slow heavy tanklike Ogre. The pilots sit inside the cockpits and control these beasts like more agile, stripped-down versions of Battlemechs from MechWarrior. They don’t have the subtly of control and more complex power management that made MechWarrior the flight sim of robot games, but they make up for it with speed and power.

The game is exclusively multiplayer, which is a weakness. It’s clear that the issue wasn’t programming AI opponents. The game is full of grunts: AI-controlled canon fodder for each side in a multiplayer session. (These are great targets to have around, by the way, since they’re easier to kill and ensure that the game relatively modest 12-player maximum doesn’t lead to long empty stretches with nothing to do.) Even the campaign game is lacking in drama. It’s odd that to see developers expend this kind of effort on world-building and then not attempt to populate it with some kind of narratives.

It’s hard to really put a finger on what works so well, but the game just makes you feel good. The AI characters bend the curve just right so less skilled players have something to do. There’s a real sense of power behind the mechs and weapons, and pilots and Titans are equally fun to play due to their distinct qualities. Finally, the radio chatter, bots, and mission structure just make you feel kind of important, like you matter in this game world. Military shooters almost always begin with some kind of grim intro or “listen up, maggots” training session designed to make you feel like loser, but Titanfall is designed to make you feel like a tiny god in armor, and I like that a lot better.

Content Issues For Parents: Rated M for Mature. This is a violent shooter, so it’s for discerning older teens and adults. Since it’s online, there’s no controlling the nature of the text chatter. Violence, blood, gore, and some swearing is present, although not with the grim and amoral nihilism that’s characterized shooters lately. Half the action is fighting in robots.

This is a team-based first-person shooter in which players fight as either members of a militia or as soldiers from the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation. Players use a variety of firearms (e.g., pistols, machine guns, missiles, grenades, mines, sniper rifles) and mech-style robots called Titans to seek out and kill enemy forces. Titans use their robotic arms to punch soldiers and vehicles and can also use large-scale firearms (e.g., chain guns, mine launchers, electric pulse guns) to kill enemies. Combat is frenetic and realistically depicted, with frequent cries of pain, impact sounds, and blood splashes. Some weapons blow enemies apart into small chunks of flesh; Titans can also punch enemy soldiers or crush enemy Titan pilots until they burst into chunks. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” appear in the dialogue.

Tetrobot [App o the Mornin’]

Tetrobot and Co. (<PC/Mac: $12, Android/iOS: forthcoming) is a sequel to Blocks That Matter, a puzzler featuring a high-tech drilling robot called Tetrobot. (You can download a free computer demo of Blocks That Matter at, or buy the whole game for $5.)

The sequel (confusingly) focuses not on Tetrobot but Psychobot, a helpful little flying robot tasked with repairing Tetrobot.

The Psychobot functions a bit differently, absorbing blocks and spitting them out to solve puzzles. Its job is to float through the inside of a machine removing obstacles and getting things running again. Psychobot is not too clever, however, and needs help finding his way in order to trigger an electric fence, flick a switch to open a gate, or throw a block to remove a hazard. 

The game shows a 2D cross section of the environment, featuring boxes, switches, levers, tunnels, electrical fields, and other odds and ends. The levels are more sizable than your typical 2D puzzler, requiring the gamer to trigger multiple events on various screens. This adds greatly to the complexity level for perfect, 3-star completion of each level. It’s possible to “complete” a level quite quickly, but doing so with a perfect score can be a real mind-scrambler.

The real challenge comes from manipulating blocks with different properties. Some are sticky, some float, some grasp, some fall, and so on. By stacking and throwing blocks, you trigger events that lock/unlock/alter the environment. As the game goes on, you’ll find yourself shot through water, transported across the map, flying through goop, and dealing with other events and distractions.

It’s all buoyed by a charming animation for the little robot and endlessly clever level design. As puzzlers go, it’s more complex than most, but allows simple ways through for people satisfied with only collecting one or two stars. You, of course, will not be so satisfied, so expect a solid challenge.

Content: No concerns. Rated: E

The Most Commonly Used Password Was …

… yeah, you guessed it: “PASSWORD.” That’s been the winner for a couple years straight, but this year, computer users got wise and upgraded to a foolproof system with an uncrackable password.

That would be “123456.”

People, people, people … you need to stop doing this.

SplashData’s top 25 password list was compiled from data leaked to the net by hackers.

You don’t need to get all clever with passwords to make them better, with a lot of exotic characters and random numbers. Three objects or names that are loosely associated in your mind (but not necessarily in most minds) will work fine, like HUEYDEWIELOUIE or FATHERSONHOLYSPIRIT, but not that obvious. You can also build passwords based on loose associations, such as TOKILLAMOCKINGBIRD for Twitter, but not that obvious. Try to mix it up and add some digits as well. Child and pet names are bad if you have an active social media presence.’s 500,000,000 Lines Of Code?

This popped up in my Facebook feed today:

Click to enlarge

You can enlarge it to see the punchline, but it’s this: supposedly requires 500,000,000 lines of code.

I’m going to call BS on that.

The idea is that the site was programmed with such an absurd degree of incompetence that it bloated to an unprecedented size. But when I saw the graphic, it seemed like someone was just saying “One billion gagillion fafillion shabadabalo shabadamillion shabaling shabalomillion.”

I guess if you count the front end, the database, every line of off-the-shelf code, and every state system, it’s maybe slightly a little bit conceivable that you can get 500,000,000 lines of code

Also, “lines of code” is not really all that useful in determining how big or inefficient a program is. I guess compiler reports counting all the libraries and everything else in all the various pieces of the system might yield half a billion “lines” of “code.” For example, more than 80 libraries called Boost have 19,458,640 lines handling all kinds of tasks so programmers don’t need to reinvent them every time. No one working on wrote a line of it.

Still, that’s still a long way from 500,000,000. It just sounds made up. The cost and non-functionality of the system is bad enough without exaggerating.

How Many People Does It Take to Crash Obamacare?

No, that’s not a setup for a joke, like “How many Libertarians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” (“None, the market will provide correction.”)

Really, how many do you think?

The administration is saying that is non-functional because millions and millions of people are trying to access it.

In other words, it’s only failing ’cause it’s so gosh-darned popular.

One would think that a massive, high-profile website rollout would have been thoroughly load-tested long before it was set to go online, and corrected in order to handle millions of potential customers, or even tens of thousands.

A single server for a massively multiplayer online game should be able to handle anywhere from 5,000 to 15,000 or more players, and a successful MMO may have millions of subscribers in a graphically rich, live environment. And, of course, there are many, many servers in locations all around the world. I think one World of Warcraft player requires something like 10 kilobytes per second, which is like an eyelash in an ocean of data. One of the producers of Star Wars: The Old Republic game said their servers can handle 100,000 people and were tested with 200,000 bots (artificial players). That’s really high, but I see no reason to doubt him since BioWare spent $150-$200 million making and testing their game: one-fourth the amount spent on the Obamacare data processing.

So, if a company making a game spends months tuning servers so people can chop up wookiees with light sabers, you’d expect the flagship initiative of the current administration of the most powerful and wealthy nation in the history of the world would at least spend as much time testing theirs, right?


Nope. One week. They load tested for a week.

And failed.

What was their failure threshold? How many people did it take to crash a system that was merely collecting simple data fields?

A few hundred.

What’s that, Tom? you say. You mean, a few hundred thousand, right?

Nope. A few hundred simulated logins took down the system on a test “days” before the launch.

I know what you’re thinking: “But they found the problem and fixed it, right? They got it to the point where it could handle hundreds of thousands of users, and it was only the demands of millions that brought it to its knees. Please tell me they got somewhere closer to being able to handle more people than God and the Machine has readers in a single day.”

Ah … no.

On launch day, it was able to handle two thousand logins before the servers packed their bags and headed for Tahiti with that hot backup drive from accounting.

Two. Thousand. People. 

In a nation of 300,000,000.

And now Secretary Sebelius, testing out what she’ll wear for her appointment under the bus, says Obama never knew, and Obama is sounding as surprised as anyone about the failings.

“No one is madder about the Web site than I am,” he said. “which means it’s going to get fixed.”



Wasn’t he engaged before this? How does his anger translate into a solution to technological, administrative, financial, and managerial incompetence? When the Republicans were begging for a one-year delay in implementation, why didn’t he, in the spirit of bipartisanship and covering-his-own-ass-ship, agree and give everyone time to work things out? And why is a nation of laws and democratically elected leaders–a Republic in the purest and most classical sense of the word–being driven into ruin by the whims and vanity of this one man?

See also: in Three Images