Saturday, September 22, 2007

New Links on the Side ------>

Ok, so this post isn't exactly gonna be like my others. For a while now I've wanted to post some links on the side of the blog, but I don't wanna just do it without some explanation.

The first one is Penny Arcade. On the surface this site is nothing more than a webcomic about video games that sometimes makes no sense. However, each comic is accompanied by a blog that will explain the more confusing jokes, and more often than not they post reviews of games that developers send them.

A second webcomic is VG Cats. This one isn't updated as much and the real purpose of the site is just to provide a funny comic rather than daily blogs like Penny Arcade.

This next one is a little more for RPG players. The Grand List Of Console Role Playing Game Clichés as it is called is exactly as the title implies. It takes the most common plots and ideas from well known and not so well known RPGs. I will warn you though that unless you've played or heard quite a bit about RPGs, the list will make no sense, and a lot of ironic truths will be lost on you.

With the theme of RPGs is yet another webcomic... I promise they will stop. This one is Looking For Group. My take on the comic is that the races and classes of the characters are loosely based off of World of Warcraft and other than that the story is completely its own. The undead warlock Richard is my favorite.

Now I'm sure you've all heard of Super Mario 64. Well how about someone beating it in 16 from the time they turn on the N64? Well here is a link to a video of a guy doing just that. Of course I will tell you he used as many glitches as he could but its still impressive as hell.

My final link for this post is Curse Gaming. This is a site for MMORPG games for the PC. It provides user interfaces (UIs) and addons and most of the good addons are updated regularly to stay compatible with patches. Throughout 2 or so years I played World of Warcraft, I always turned to this site for my addon needs.

Well now you have some idea of what these otherwise random links are and I hope some of you find them helpful or entertaining.

Rings around Uranus

My dad came out here last weekend and he always brings me little articles to read. This last one he brought me was very interesting, so I decided to share it with all of you.

The Kansas City Star published an article from the San Francisco Chronicle about Space News. The planet with the funniest name is now doing funny things. Every 42 years, astronomers get a chance to look at Uranus and its rings edge on. The last time anyone got to see Uranus’s rings at this angle was when the Voyager 2 went by 21 years ago and took all the pictures it could take. Using these pictures and the new pictures astronomers recently got to take, they find that Uranus’s rings are doing strange things. It seems that they are dynamic. Some of the rings are much brighter than they were and the one closest to the surface of Uranus is moving. This is quite a find. Imke de Pater, a planetary astronomer from UC who was interviewed for the article, says the ring system looks completely different.

I, personally, think space is really interesting. Saturn is my favorite because its rings are so beautiful. Now, I think I will have to change my favorite to Uranus because it has rings that change. I wonder if Uranus ever has trouble figuring out what rings to wear when it gets up in the morning.

Just kidding!

Thanks for the picture of the beautiful Uranus.

Super Small and Super Cool

As I think you can guess, I love science in all of its scientificness. In high school, I had all sorts of opportunities to do cool experiments and use cool equipment. There was one thing we had that not even most colleges have and I think its time I pay tribute to it.

Oh, I’m sorry, I lied. They’re really two things.

The science teachers at my high school were amazing teachers and they worked hard. For a few years, they wrote letter after letter and pushed hard until they got a grant to buy a new microscope. And it was worth the effort.

They bought an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM). The AFM works kind of like SONAR. An arm with a point on the end of it wiggles at its natural frequency (Everything has a natural frequency, which is why singers can break glass, but this a whole different blog post entirely) sweeps across a sample at a certain speed that you set. As it goes over a sample, the very tiny differences in height make the arm wiggle higher or lower. Software takes this information, which it collects by bouncing a laser off the top of the arm, and makes a picture on a screen.

I’ve looked at cat fur with this microscope. It looked like an alien landscape. Even better, it can be used to look at live samples. You want to see a little protein form in an amoeba? You can do it with the AFM.

Thanks Physik for the picture of silicon

Sixteen Years of Civilization (Part 1 of 4)

In my opinion, the best turn-based strategy computer games, and possibly the best computer games period, belong to the Civilization series.

There have been four installments, though they aren't sequels. Each subsequent Civilization game is pretty much the same as the one before it, but with added concepts and improved gameplay.

The object is to, well, make a civilization. In every game you start in 4000 BC with one settler, who can found your first city. From there, you expand, build more cities, conquer enemy cities, keep your population happy and research scientific advances to the modern age.

Appropriately, my first post will be about the first game.

You start by selecting your difficulty level (chieftain, warlord, prince, king, emperor), and your nation (ranging from Aztecs to Germans to Babylonians to Zulus).

You start the game with one or two settlers (one is more probable). Settlers can found new cities, and they can build roads, farms, mines and other terrain improvements.

The game is a balancing act of military might, economic might, and population happiness. If you aren't strong enough militarily, a neighbouring civilization will conquer you. If you aren't strong enough economically, you will stagnate technologically and be unable to buy useful things. If you don't keep your population happy, they will revolt.

You can gain special abilities from building wonders of the world. For example you can see every city in the world by building SETI. Building Darwin's Voyage (don't ask me how that's built) gives you two free technologies. The Great Library will give you any technology known by two other civilizations. Hoover Dam will give you a free hydro-electric dam in every city on the same continent. Some other wonders that are in the game, but I don't remember what they do are: The Pyramids, The Hanging Gardens, The Great Lighthouse, The Colossus, and the Great Wall.

There are only two ways to win Civ I. Either you conquer every other civilizations (in which case you get a cinematic showing every one you killed), or you build a spaceship to go to Alpha Centauri (in which case you get a cinematic showing your its colonization). You also win if you have the highest score (determined by population, technology, how many civilizations you conquered, how much money you have, etc.) at 2100 AD, but I don't think that really counts as winning.

As you might expect, the first was, from an objective standpoint, the worst of the series. The worst flaw Civ I is the AI. It's a very primitive AI and in order to keep up with you, it cheats. A lot. The AI doesn't build things and make things. It just magically gets them. For higher difficulty levels, it just cheats more.

The next worst thing is the combat system. Every unit has one attack value and one defense value. There are no hit points so a unit that just got attacked ten times in one turn and survived is just as strong as one who didn't get attacked at all. Also, there is only a single "dice roll" to determine the winner. Which means about once every twenty times, an ancient age phalanx will beat a tank.

But, hey, it's the first one. It was revolutionary for its time, and it's good for a nostalgia trip. And its downsides don't prevent it from being fun.

RPG: Your Chance to live!

Some people don't see the point of RPGs (Role Playing Games). Many times the people that criticize these games are people that have never tried playing them, and are very biased to start out.

Basically RPGs are games where you create a character and develop this character throughout playing this game. You can develop your character through quests or missions of different sorts. One of the biggest RPGs for xbox has been Morrowind Elder of The Scrolls III. This is perhaps the biggest game ever created for xbox. In the beginning of the game you start out as a man just getting released from jail. You spend probably your first three hours figuring out how the game and controls work, before you actually start to get into the main quests throughout the game. The game itself, if you only do the main missions is said to have 48 hours of gameplay involved in it. Of course, that was most likely projected by someone who was experienced with the game and knew what they were doing. I know I have spent more than 48 hours on the game, simply by just getting addicted to it on the weekends, by playing and having one too many Mountain Dews.

There are a couple of reasons the majority of people get addicted to the game and spend more than just 48 hours playing the game. One of these reasons is for the fact that once you start to sit down and play it you get in the mindset of, I'm going to beat this entire game in one sitting. Which usually ends three to twelve hours later when you get frustrated at the game for a short time.

The other reason most people spend so much time on the game is simply because of all content in the game. The ranges of the game content is incredible. This ranges from the locations to explore, such as the wilderness, caves, and dungeons, to all the different types of armor and weapons you can obtain and use. It doesn't stop there though, there are plenty of guilds and factions to join throughout the game, depending on how you want to make your character. The quests, environment, items, and guilds make this game massive, but the fact that Bethesda ingeniously created a way to level up and control what skills you level up. This gives you complete control of the outcome of your character.

Each decision you make in this game has an effect on your character in some way or another. You don't really have any limits to what you do or who you kill, unless there is a locked door that you don't have the skills to pick...yet. You can fight anyone in the game, and if you are strong enough, kill anyone in the game. In a way, you could consider your character level to be a limit, but that is a problem you can solve by spending more time to level your character up. There are some people in the game essential to complete the main story objective, in which case, killing them, makes a black box in the upper corner of the screen pop up saying you cannot complete the main story quest now. In which case, you have to decide if you want to restart at your last saved game, or go about without being able to complete the game. The point here is you have the ability to choose. You have the ability to choose your character's outcome, or fate.

In what most people consider reality, some people question whether you can choose your outcome, or if you have a fate that is predestined for you. Whichever it may be, the point of RPGs is to give the player the ability to do what he wants to do, to choose the games outcome. The game creator writes the first part of the story, and then puts the book in the players hands to finish it. To quote a perhaps satirical but insightful show, South Park, when Stan's dad is questioned about playing the game World of Warcraft on his computer at work, he answers with, "No arrtard, it's an MMORPG. These are real people I'm playing with. See, I'm a hunter level 2. I can chat with all these other people. I can even wave to this other guy. See. In the outside world im a simple geologist, but in here...I am Falcor, defender of the alliance. I've braved the Fargo Deep Mines, defeated the Blood Fish in Jerrod's Landing...". This shows how the RPG can offer excitement to people, because of what it allows them to do. It has no restrictions, and it sure doesn't tell you to sit down and finish your work before you can play. They let you do whatever you want, when you want to do it. Most importantly though, you are in complete control of your character and what the outcome of the game is.

Jobs of Tomorrow

I just recently read the article that spoke of alternative fuel sources and finding a better way to create energy while balancing that energy with clean waste and low pollution. That is exactly what I want to do with my life. I am thinking of becoming an engineer of some kind, and I have always been intrigued to have a job that helped more than just my company. I have been wanting to help the world on a large scale. They have been tossing up the idea of global warming and the deterioration of the O-zone layer, and I would love to improve these problems, trying to help out more than just myself in life.

So what kind of engineer has this potential to safe the world? Which specific major would be best to go into? I find that there are multiple engineering disciplines that can somehow help improve the power plants we have today and create new methods to power our world.

Chemical engineers usually do a lot of research and data analysis. But I know that some chemical engineers try to find better filters for power plants to help reduce polluting waste that comes out of the smoke stacks. They also contribute to the advancement in fuel cell development in cars and other appliances.

Electrical engineers play a part in the role of power sources too. They find ways of optimizing power through circuits and create faster mediums in which power can be moved.

Mechanical engineers help in many ways. They try and create newer structures and processes for power to be created, improving old methods and finding easier ways to help power plants excel.

Environmental Engineers are the major contributor to finding alternative fuel sources. They are conscious of the environment and try to keep its cleanliness a number one priority. They look to finding more abundant sources of fuel that are cleaner and cheaper.

So which one to I pick? Is there one engineering field I didn't mention that is important in this concern of power and fuel sources? I hope to find out the right choice while here in school. Until then I will learn more of what engineers do and how they shape the world we live in.

Are Computers The End Of Acting?

Over the years, computers have continued to advance, as well as the capabilities these computers have. What does this mean though?

Could it possibly be coming down to the fact that computers are so advanced and are becoming so precise that they can create a person, looking exacty like a real person, that you can't tell a difference from seeing Marilyn Monroe or Marlon Brando on a TV screen. Cyberface basically says there wouldn't be any real use for this, unless an actor died before the completion of the film, or also in such instances in The Notebook, which Ryan Gosling played younger versions of James Garner. Perhaps Mr. Garner could have played both characters. Cyberface continues to argue that if you want a true emotional performance, you can't go and get that through animation.

Cyberface is completely correct on this one. This type of technology wouldn't really benefit the movie industry in any way. If you look at the movie The Notebook, you would be taking a near perfect movie, and sacrificing the emotion between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. The Notebook wouldn't have had any emotion or drama, if Ryan Gosling would have been a computer animated version of a young James Garner. There would have been no physical touch shown between Duke and Allie in many of the scenes, especially the one shown below, which is a very critical point in the movie.

It's not that the technology isn't great and that the person being computer generated doesn't look real, it's just that computers can't have any emotion. No matter what anyone argues, computers are not real, they can imitate actions of emotions, but they cannot by any means demonstrate their own emotions. I think the technology of computer graphics is phenomenal, but I don't see the movie industry having a place for it.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Brain-Computer Interface

Imagine you could just think about composing a paper and your words would appear in front of you. And you could just think about surfing the web, and you saw it. Or you could just think about the latest first person shooter and then you were in it, able to touch and smell the environment. It might not be so long before that's possible.

A few years ago, Rhesus monkeys were trained to control a robotic arm using just their thoughts. (cite) And some humans even have robotic prostheses which respond to their thoughts and give rudimentary feedback as the sensation of touch. (cite)

With further refinement, it's not a huge leap to my hypothetical in the beginning. As computers' speed grows exponentially, it won't be long before one can fit in your head and it could connect to the internet through Wi-Fi.

How such a computer's interface would work is anyone's guess. Mine is that you could control it with your thoughts like a limb, and it would superimpose its feedback onto your senses.

Of course, there would be problems associated with a brain-computer interface. Getting a computer virus could be disastrous.

I'm still gonna get one anyway.

Super Mario... RPG?

If you've never heard of the game, its not a joke. Its a classic game released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) which stars everyone's favorite plumber, Mario.

In the story, you party up with classic Mario characters such as Princess Peach, and other newcomers such as Gino and Mallow. And guess what! Bowser is not the bad guy in this one... dun dun dun... Instead its some crazy big sword that has come out of the sky and planted itself firmly in Bowser's castle. When our noble hero Mario tries to confront the fiend directly, it destroys the bridge, thus beginning a ridiculously long journey that accompanies any good RPG.

The game's graphics are actually very good for the SNES. Everything is in a 3D style and I'd say is a good example of the SNES at peak performance. The fighting system is simple, each of the four buttons (B, A, X, and Y) are used to select either defend, attack, special, or item. And to make the turn based fights even more fun, hitting the A button during your attack at just the right time gives you a critical hit (rather than just random percentages). Other special moves such as Mario's jump attacks will do additional damage by jumping again if you can time the button press just right.

The storyline itself is full of old and new characters. Koopas, goombas, rabid plants, bomb-ombs, Yoshis, and Toadstool people will all be easily recognized from the previous games. However the developers threw in crazy new enemies and bosses that all have a certain goofy yet sadistic feel to them. The lands you journey through will take you through towns of frog people, underground with mole people, up in the clouds, through sewers, and even to a town populated by monsters.

Overall the game is imaginative, fun, and a great addition to the Mario franchise. For me it was a very pleasant surprise and makes a great game for both casual and hardcore RPG fans alike.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Energy Concerns

As technology advances, the need to power that technology increases. This is becoming more concerning as we're running out of our chief energy resource: oil.

Now, of course, it's not possible to for any energy source to last forever. Delta S > 0. Even the stars will die. But, hey, a billion year fix is better than a hundred year one.

So, what other options are there? What will keep our technological society chugging along?

Well, there's ethanol.The idea makes sense. By far, the best solar cells known to man are contained in plants. Chlorophyll converts the energy of sunlight into the more storable and transportable form of sugar. Then we can process that sugar and make fuel we can run our cars off of. The problem is, raising crops isn't that easy, and requires us to put our own energy into it, in the form of fertilizers, harvesters, etc. That's true of any means of acquiring energy, but in this case, we put in more than we get out. Ethanol isn't feasible as an energy source even on a short term basis.

There's coal and natural gas. There's still plenty of that left, at least compared to oil. But that's hard to get out of the ground, and it's horribly polluting.

And then there's the nuclear option. Although nuclear power plants have their dangers, most of them are exaggerated. While there is the possibility of a meltdown, modern nuclear power plants are extremely well shielded. You wouldn't be exposed to significantly more radiation standing right outside of a nuclear power plant that was melting down than you would anywhere else. And nuclear power plants are well protected against external threats as well.

The only real concern about nuclear fission is the waste. Radioactive waste will stay radioactive for millions of years. What do you do with it? Right now, our best solution is to bury it deep under mountains. But that's not terribly secure. I haven't seen these ideas anywhere else, and they're probably not feasible, but the best I can think of is to either bury them deep under a subduction zone or launch it into space.

But anything we do now, is really just tiding us over until we can harness the power of the sun directly, either with extremely high efficiency solar panels, or fusion power plants.

Glitches, Bending the Rules to Your Favor

I am a huge fan of video games. I like any kind, ranging from your classic first person shooters, adventures, role playing games, and even the multi-player party games. I was playing the classic Nintendo Game Cube game Super Smash Brothers Melee with my friend the other day, and he showed me all of these really random but really cool glitches that the game can encounter. I was amazed at the simple little things I never knew existed in SSBM.

First, I'd like to tangent my entry by stating how fun glitches are. There is a difference between a cheat in a game and a glitch. Sometimes glitches are just as intentional as cheats when the game makers create each game, but usually the glitches are found by hardcore gamers who love to investigate the capabilities and possibilities of games. In any rate, glitches are always fun to come upon and hear from others. I always feel like I'm super intelligent and important, feeling as if I know the secrets to the White House or CIA. Some glitches are simple little things. Such as falling through floors into nothing, such as in Mario Kart 64 when you are racing some of the raceways. Others are more complicating, such as the one my friend recently showed me.

This cheat in SSBM is what I call the "Raddish of Infinite Damage". This takes at least three people. Have two of the players be Fox and or Falco. One player must also be Peach. Peach and one of the Fox/Falco's must be on the same team against the other player(s). Go to either the Battle Field arena or the Hyrule Castle to do this. Make sure you have the beam cannon as one of your items. Once you enter the game, my explanation is in Hyrule Castle, position the enemy Fox/Falco on the pillar seperating the map. The ally Fox/Falco should be on the ledge to the left of the enemy on the other side of the gap where the arena goes to the lower level. Peach must obtain the beam cannon and glitch it to have infinite ammo. (Which is another fun glitch in itself. It will not be explained here). Peach then must shoot the beam cannon through her ally and at the opponent. Both Fox/Falco's should be using their reflective shields to bounce the beam cannon shots back and forth between the two of them. If done correctly, the beam shots with begin to collide with each other, creating little cancelling explosions. All three players should play around with their position until they are able to get almost all the area between the Fox/Falco's to have these cancellations. This is where you may need a fourth player. He or she must fall down through the path of the shots to off-set the cancellations to create an even set of shots colliding with each other. If there is no fourth player, then simply wait for some item box to fall down in your path. If you are patient enough, eventually the path of cancellations with completely fill up, creating a very complicating glitch that temperarily slows the game down. Once this is done, the Fox/Falco's are frozen still.

This is where Peach will finish the glitch. She must go underneath the cancellation path and begin to throw her raddishes up at the path. They will lodge into the path. Throw as many as possible, creating a very condense ball of raddishes. After you are done, walk Peach back around the arena so she is positioned above the path. She will then need to fall through. This will break the path, but leave the ball of raddishes behind, floating in mid-air. You have successfully created the glitch, which if anyone on the team against peach jumps into, will freeze there, jump to 999 percent damage, and be shot of the screen

Enjoy the fun of the raddish ball of death!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Green Bombs?

War is a very touchy thing with me. I was raised pacifist and I have family in the military. And the Iraq War started on my birthday. So hearing about bombs doesn't always make me excited but this report just tweaked my interest.

The Russians claim that they have developed the most powerful vacuum bomb. They call it the "Father of all bombs" (Thanks EURSOC!) Now, if you are wondering, a vacuum bomb is a bomb that first releases a cloud of fuel into the oxygen rich air and then ignites it. (Thanks The Free Dictionary!)

Of course, when I first looked at the article, that wasn't what I was focused on. Russia claims that they have made an environmentally friendly bomb. The first thing I think is how can a bomb be environmentally friendly? All last summer, as I have alluded to in earlier posts, I worked at the EPA in the Air department. Fuel and air isn't a good thing, even if it is ignited and burned out of the air. That just makes another problem, CO2. We don't need more of that in the air. And I don’t even take into account all the green and growing things on the ground that get killed by the blast.

But, if you think about it in terms of nuclear bombs, I see that he has a point.

My stance is firm, though. Bombs are bombs and all bombs are bad. They only help us kill each other and destroy the environment. Maybe Russia should spend more time solving world hunger instead of finding new ways to kill people.

Thanks also RIA”>RIA and Brisbane Times

Thanks Green with Envy Gifts and Jooyeol for the pictures.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

Over Labor Day weekend I was able to get my hands on the game and play it while I was at home (my family insists on keeping the Wii at home). My first impression of the game was mixed. The graphics are improved from the previous installment, but the new controls where you "point and click" your Wii-mote to aim, shoot, and look around took time to master. As an avid player of the first two Metroid Prime games, the new controls were disheartening. However, after a few hours of solid game play, the controls become second nature and I was able to sit back and appreciate the game without worrying about controller difficulties.

The controls themselves are quite intuitive. As I said before, the player shoots by pointing the Wii-mote and firing with the hard to miss A button. The rest of the most used controls are placed where your fingers naturally rest, which makes game play even more natural. Another fun feature is that the nun chuck can be flicked forward to use the "grapple lasso" on enemies and objects, a fun movement that makes sense and makes the gameplay all the more interactive. In addition to slinging your lasso, Samus will twist, turn, pull, and push the Wiimote to activate switches and levers to solve different puzzles throughout the game

As I mentioned before, the graphics in the game are upgraded from the first and second installments of Metroid Prime, yet some may criticize that the graphics are not of the same caliber as games found on the PS3 and Xbox 360. I'm here to say though that the graphics are quickly forgotten about in Corruption. The graphics are enough to create the look and feel that the game needs to achieve, and the controls are immersive enough to pull you even deeper into the action. Also, by not pushing for higher graphics, the game play is smooth and flawless. You won't find any hint of lag or glitches in the graphics even during the most frantic firefights. This smoothness puts a proverbial cherry on top and makes the experience seem all that more real. The game pulls you in so effectively that you lose all sense of time and you feel like you've just been deep into a good book.

Ice missiles have been implemented and work just like they do in Metroid Fusion (with the typical homing feature of Prime), and beam replacement has been implemented as well. Instead of having to switch beams like in the first two games, the Plasma Beam in Corruption works just like your normal Power Beam but with the added element of heat and fire. Hypermode has also been added to give you added firepower for short time periods and the mode is eventually extended to Morph Ball mode as well. Finally is the lock on feature combined with the new Wii controls. In the other Metroid Prime games, locking onto an enemy meant being able to fire at only one spot. However in Corruption, the locking feature works only to center your screen and allow strafing. Your aim is no longer constrained and you are free to fire at anything still in your field of vision.

One of the few complaints I would have about the game is the addition of friendly NPCs. In the previous Metroid Prime games, the player is stranded in a strange environment and the only other life they encounter is hostile. The addition of the NPCs in the game's space station setting also makes the first hour or so of play a bit sluggish, with much less action than the opening areas of the other two games.

Overall the game met my expectations and then surpassed them. I highly recommend the game to everyone who owns a Wii, even if you don't think you'd like a first person shooter. I can't wait to visit home and get my hands on the game again.

Not the best preview of the game, but it's the best I could find.