Saturday, November 3, 2007

Mario World 2

So you think you may know Super Mario Bros 2. Its that game that let you choose between Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad right? It seemed a little off from the first one but it was still fun right? Well the Super Mario Bros 2 we all know and love in America is actually not Super Mario Bros 2 at all...

The real sequel was only released in Japan. It was actually a remake of the original Super Mario Bros, but the levels were remade to make the game much much harder, so hard in fact that Nintendo was afraid it wouldn't sell well in America. Instead, they took another popular Japanese game, Dream Factory: Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic and substituted its characters with the Mario characters, along with a few added items such as POW blocks, bomb fuses, cherries, and vegetables, and other features like mushrooms instead of hearts, and shrinking characters when life was down to 1. Despite the game not really being truly Mario, it sold very well, and holds the record for 3rd highest selling game on the NES, falling short only to the other two Mario games.

The original Super Mario Bros 2 was not lost forever, however. Americans finally got their hands on it as the "Lost Chapters" on the Super NES game Super Mario All-Stars.

On the Left: A screenshot from Dream Factory: Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic.
On the Right: The same situation and place in Super Mario Bros 2.

Another screenshot from Dream Factory: Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. This time it it of the boss fight that later changes to one of the Birdo fights in Super Mario Bros 2.


When I was in high school, we had to use Palm pilots. They were cool for about five minutes but then they got to be annoying. They had that electronic hum and my eyes hurt when trying to read the tiny screen. So when I heard about possibly the coolest thing ever to happen to digital displays, I was excited.

It's called E-Paper and I'm sure you have heard of it. It mimics paper like no other digital display that came before it could. It's flexible, not backlit and doesn't need sustained electricity to display. You can even read it at an angle. What more could you want?

E-Paper is made from sheets of plastic rather than glass. Pixels are made from tiny plastic microspheres full of black oil and titanium dioxide. The microspheres are suspended in a layer of liquid polymer. Because of the titanium dioxide, which is white, the microspheres have a slight dipole which allows the diplay to change. by changing the polarity of the current in that spot, the color (black or white) changes as well. To make color paper, each pixel is divided into triads of each color magenta, cyan and yellow. It makes colors by using different combinations of those primary colors.

I think that this technology is really awesome, especially for those of us who are going blind from staring at computer screens all day while we do our homework. If it wasn't so expensive, I would go out and buy a book on e-Paper.

Thanks Wikipedia for the content and Bookeen for the picture.

Fable: Cont'd

Soooo last time I talked about the game Fable itself. Well now I'd like to touch upon the hours upon hours I have spent hating either Microsoft or my laptop manufacturer.

Fable is a game that debuted on the computer near the end of Windows XP, and is very much suited for that operating system. However when I brought the game over to my newer Vista-running laptop, I was met with the strangest problem. At a certain point in the game, the screen would go black. However the game didn't freeze because I can hear the audio in the backround. I even messed with a few buttons and figured out the controls worked just fine, its just that none of it was displaying, at all...

So I delved through forum after forum. I wasn't alone. Many people just blamed it on Vista, saying there was some bug that prevented Fable from running. However after updating my drivers several times over and pouring through more posts, one poster pointed out that it was likely the built in graphics card. You see the card I have isn't supported by the manufacturer, and thus it is up to my laptop manufacturer to provide me with all my video card drivers.... =(

My solution thus far has been to run the game whenever I get to go home on my old PC that my family uses. There it works fine and I've enjoyed much of the game that way. However I'm still working on this damned problem and hopefully installing a modded driver or something of that sort will fix it.

If you have any suggestions I'd love you forever, otherwise thanks for listening to my bitching about a video game related headache.

Fable: The Lost Chapters

The choices we make influence us and those around us. They shape us and make us who we are. It is very rare however for a game to play upon a person's moral choices like Fable does.

On the surface Fable is your typical real time RPG. You have your generic hero that sets off in the world to find out about himself, meeting many people and adventures along the way. Also, like many RPGs, you can customize how your character looks and plays by choosing different stats. However, Fable takes it a step further. The game takes into account the morals behind your decisions. It keeps tab of each thing you do that is considered either good or evil. This tally affects things such as your appearance, a few of the spells you have at your disposal, and the way other people in the game react to you.

For example, you can rack up "scariness." The higher this is for your character, the more people will cower and run away from you when you come by. "Attractiveness" also plays a part if you ever want to woo a lady into becoming your wife.

Then there's the core idea of good and evil. Choosing evil deeds will make your face pale, your eyes darker and more threatening, and if you do enough evil, horns will even appear on your forehead. On the other end of the spectrum, good makes you look cleaner and more heroic.

The gameplay itself it quite fun. You run around the world free to pillage, break, kill, save, steal, and flirt as you please. If you follow the storyline strictly, the game is said to be short, only 6-8 hours long. However if you let yourself become immersed in the side quests and little nuances of the game (such as trading between traders for profit), the game can easily eat up many many more hours than that.

Overall the game is solid and the freedom makes for great re-playability. I myself have just touched the surface of the game, but hope to delve deeper into its many hidden treasures.

Deep Brain Stimulation

It's almost like science fiction when I think about it. Scientists have been exploring the brain for a long time now and it seems they've made a big breakthrough. A new-ish treatment called Deep Brain Stimulation is being researched in many universities.

The procedure involves taking two electric probes and inserting them deep within the brain to the place that needs the most electric stimulation. The probes are connected to a control pack that is implanted in the chest. The electricity is adjusted by a doctor until it is just right and the patient feels the most relief.

The procedure is complicated though, and very risky. A surgeon jabs big metal probes into someone's brain! The surgeon could slip and cause major brain damage. The probes could also run too much electricity and fry part of the brain. But it seems the benefits outweigh the risks.

Now, so far, I haven't mentioned what this treatment it for and I have done so for a reason. The doctors working on this treatment don't really know yet all the applications it can be used for. In the beginning, it was used to help Parkinson's patients control their tremors but now studies are being done on its applications in treating depression and Tourette's.

From the Popular Science article Happiness is a Warm Electrode, a woman with severe depression finally regains her life back because of this radical treament. It took her months just to work up the motivation to even call her psychiatrist about the new treatment she heard about. When she finally did, he helped plug her into the program as soon as possible. After many brain scans using an MRI, doctor use a titanium halo pinned to her skull, the scans and special software to map her brain so that the surgeon can safely place the electrodes. When they implanted them and got the electricity adjusted, the result was almost immediate. She was happy.

From another Popular Science article Shock to the System, doctors use Deep Brain Stimulation to awaken a man that was in an effective coma after a severe brain trama. After the probes were in place, he was able to move and talk again, whereas before he barely moved.

I think that this is one of the good things that are coming out of science lately. A lot of research has been done on the less ethically sound and its nice to know that at least some things are still easily black and white as to whether or not we, as humans, should be poking around where we're poking around.

Thanks again to Popular Science for the content and the picture.


For nearly a year of my life, I worked at CVS/Pharmacy. CVS originally stood for Convenience, Values, Service and I was expected to uphold that name as a cashier and Photolab Technician. I did have fun developing photos though. There were some funny shots of people at parties and some really awesome shots of an African Safari. But I didn't really develop very much film seeing as most people have moved on to digital cameras. Having seen many come through the store, I decided that I will share some about digital cameras and compare a couple of high end models.

There are a few things that you really need to look for in a digital camera. It needs to be a good size and be sturdy. The later is very important if children are ever going to be around the camera. Next, the camera needs a good sized display so that you can actually see what you are taking pictures of. Another factor is the resolution which is measured in megapixels. Resolution is important because it will decide how clear the picture you take are and what sizes of paper prints can be made. Lastly, look at the software that comes with the camera. The easier and smaller to use, the better.

I looked around and I found two cameras from the well known brands of Canon and Kodak. First, let me talk about the Canon model.

I picked out the Canon Powershot G9. It has 12.1 megapixels of resolution and comes with many extra features like red eye correction, face detector and optical image stabilizer. The camera is about 11 oz and is really fairly small but most of the backside is taken up by the screen, so that won't be too big of an issue. I don't know about the software associated with the camera because the website doesn't say. The reason I picked Canon is because the brand itself has proven to be reliable. I have never seen anyone come in to CVS with problems with their Canon camera. Also, it has a really cool feature which I mentioned before, optical image stabilizer. I am not known for my steady hands and I have taken my share of really blurry pictures because of it. This camera actually helps correct for that so your pictures can be clearer even if your hands are shakier.

The other camera is a Kodak Easyshare Z1275. This is also a 12 megapixel camera. It comes with 5x zoom, digital image stabilization (like optical image stabilizer), and various modes to help the amateur photographer learn the ropes a bit better. It also comes with Kodak's Easyshare Software. This is very easy to use but its a little big for what it does.

So which one would I choose? It depends on how serious I am. If I really want to become a famous photographer, I would drop the $450 (according to Price Grabber) for the Canon. But for the every day photographer, go with the much less expensive ($250 from their website) and much easier to use Kodak.

Thanks to Kodak and Canon for the pictures and the content.

The Technological Singularity

The technological singularity is a meaningless concept.

The technological singularity says, basically that the rate of change of technology will continue to increase. This point is inarguable. Hundreds of thousands of years ago we tamed fire. Ten thousand years ago, we developed agriculture. We were working bronze 4000 years ago, and iron 3000 years ago. Coinage was introduced 1500 years ago. Gunpowder 1000 years ago, the printing press 500 years ago, the steam engine 250 years ago, the internal combustion engine 100 years ago, and the computer 50 years ago. And there's every reason to believe this will continue.

But what will that change? What makes it a singularity? And I don't think there is anything like that. Amazing, nearly magical inventions will be created, at a faster and faster pace. AIs will be created, humans will merge with computers to keep up. Society will be completely reformed. But how's that different from before? Society has been completely reformed countless times before.

The rate of change of technology is increasing, and maybe even the acceleration is accelerating too, but the same way it always has been.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Virtual Boy

Old School going New School?

I love sucking my brain into a small red screen! Who remembers the Virtual Boy? If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you are very lost right now. There was once an old video game system made by Nintendo called the Virtual Boy, which was a funny looking red box that you would view a small screen that was located in what looked like binoculars. Basically it was an old school system that had a 3-D format that took 2-D images and game play and layered, like in Mario Tennis having both sides of the court shown with the ball coming from the background to the foreground in 2-D. Some of the best games that used this 3-D imaging for the Virtual Boy was Wario Adventures, Mario Tennis, and Red Alert (By far the greatest game ever!)

As I thought back with nostalgia, I thought of how the system really mimicked the old Sci Fi's thought of the futuristic virtual reality game systems, where you have goofy looking gloves and a head set on to move around in a game, as if you are really there. With the technological advances of today and the gaming industry always expanding exponentially, I could see this unrealistic prediction of a head set and gloves or controller to happen in the near future for children of all ages. With similar looks at arcade games such as the classic turret game, where you have to defend your turret against airborn and seaborn attacks of foot soldiers and military jets. This makes you have to circle in a 360 playing field to attack and play. Using this concept with the new motion-sensored and 3 axis sensored controllers of the Wii, the Virtula Reality gaming system could really come true. Then kids could walk around in the first person and really be in the game, acting out every action for their character. The system could be viewed just like the old Virtual Boy, sticking your head in that pair of viewing goggles and becoming one with the games you play. Who knows what the future holds for the gaming world. As long as I have my Virtual Boy, I can wait for the next newest thing.

Unsung Technology: The Loom

Do you remember the last time someone remarked about how influential the loom was? I certainly don't. But why not? The loom gets a short shrift.

Textiles are, naturally, a very important part of society. Clothes, blankets, towels, etc. Wool, cotton and linen have been used to weave such things for as long as humans have been out of Africa. Given human ingenuity, it was only a matter of time until someone came up with a device to make it easier, and thus was born the loom.

The loom's impact on textile production alone would make it worth mentioning. But it did more than that. It had an impact on automation and computing. The first machine to be automated by means of punch cards was a loom. It inspired Babbage to use punch cards in his designs for mechanical computers.

More than that, the loom led in the Industrial Revolution, and helped the growth of the steam engine. One of the first enhancements to the manufacturing process was the flying shuttle. The shuttle is a particular piece of a loom that needed to be moved by hand, until the invention of the flying shuttle. It sped up the process of weaving by loom, increasing the demand of yarn, which led to inventions to speed up yarn production, etc. Later, came the power loom, to make weaving even faster. Originally, it was run off of water power, but soon was adapted to take advantage of steam power.

Good Game Ideas: Too Good To Last?

I was exposed to video games at a very early age. My interest sparked with the more games I played, and with the wide variety of experience I started seeing ingenious ideas in video games every once in a while. Sometimes it was more than a long while though, because every game isn't made perfectly.

Through my years of gaming, I have noticed two games with ingenious ideas. The first one is EA Sports March Madness 2001 for PlayStation. This was one of the March Madness games before March Madness was referred to as a well developed video game. However, the ingenious idea wasn't in how well the video game was designed. The ingenious idea was in the dynasty mode, where you can choose your team, and coach them to championships. However, unlike the games being released recently, March Madness 2001 makes you start off with a 1 star team, and work your way up to having a dynasty. One question to think about is why this wasn't popular enough to be in every game EA Sports makes.

The second one is SRS: Street Racing Syndicate for xbox. There have been many racing games developed for xbox. So, what makes Street Racing Syndicate so unique? Street Racing Syndicate isn't one of the ordinary unrealistic racing games. This is one of the few, if not only games that makes you repair your car if you wreck it. It still has many customization options seen on very popular games as well. Once again, why does a game like this not get noticed for the ingenious design it has.

The reason these ideas never last with games like these is very simple. The majority of people who buy games, do so because they get bored, and believe playing video games are fun. This also goes along with the fact that people are becoming more lazy and settle for mediocrity. Others, like myself, who buy a video game to compete with others, like such features that force you to at least start with a not so good team. So, there is some competition for the player if they are just playing the CPU.

Matlab VII

While loops

Welcome back to another exciting installment of Matlab Tutorial, I hope you all had a good week. Have you mastered your skills on for loops yet? Well here is another command that is very similar to a for loop, in the sense that it is a continuous command that repeats steps that are specified and outputs certain data. The biggest difference that a while loop has over a for loop is the use of it. Instead of running through a loop with a given number of times and increments, the while loop continues to run until given parameters are unsatified. This is very useful but if used or written improperly will cause your program to run an infinite number of times. So as a warning up front, double check your code and syntax so the while loop doesn't go on forever.

So the first thing that needs to be established is when you want your while loop to run. It is a good tool to use when you want to cap off the number of times a loop runs through the data you have given the program. For instance, if you have a vector of 100 values, and you only want to sum up the first 20 terms, then a while loop can know to add up all of the X terms until X (index) > 20. After you get to the 21st term, the statement stated is false, and the loop stops. This example is written like this:
X = [3, 34, 87, 12,..., 3043]
Y = 1
Sum = 0
while Y <= 20
Sum = Sum + X(Y)
Y = Y + 1

This while loop goes through the first time knowing Y to be one and Sum to be zero. It fits the while loop's conditions, so it then proceeds to add the sum and the 1st term of X as the new value of Sum. It then adds one to Y and goes to the beginning of the loop. With Y = 2, the while loop goes through the same process. It will continue to add of each term of X until Y is 21, where the condition isn't met, so the loop stops and the next command under the loop is then performed. Our example loop just displays the last sum created of the first 20 terms of X.

The while loop can be a good tool when you don't know exactly how many times the loop must run. Make sure to add a line of code telling the value(s) in the condition statement to increment somehow, other wise it will run forever as I had done just now as I made sure the loop I created indeed works (Call me out if I want a syntax error). I hope you all are successful and have a good weekend. Stay tune for more from your favorite Matlab Tutorial!

Resources: While Loop Help with Cyclismo, HTML Tags at Web Source

Unsung Technology: The Plow

Yes, I'm stealing this idea from James Burke.

A lot of influential technology isn't properly appreciated. Computers, light bulbs, steam engines, printing presses, all get lots of attention. Everyone knows about them and everyone knows why they're so great and influential. But what about less known technologies? What about the plow?

Without the plow, I daresay, none of those things would ever have the chance to exist. For significant technological advancement, a civilization needs specialists. People who don't have to spend all their time growing, gathering or hunting food, so they can spend time making things. To support specialists, you need large scale agriculture, which can provide a consistent crop yield from year to year. A plow isn't necessary for that if you happen to live on a flood plain where the flooding river will replenish nutrients in the soil. But anywhere else, and you'll run into problems. The nutrients at the surface will quickly get used up.

The solution is to dig up the nutrients. Get them on top, and bury the used up soil under it. And this is what the plow allows. Without the plow, civilization could not have spread outside of flood plains, nor could it support a society large enough for industrialization, preventing the more visible technologies from every being created in the first place.