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  • Posts Tagged ‘general nerdery’

    A little blacktron sequel


    2012 - 07.22

    In the previous post about LEGO, I mentioned this set.  Here it is im CG, nicely rendered.  It’s like an imperial walker, only like secret-ops style, all black.

    Smoove.

    The Summer Blockbuster of 2012


    2012 - 07.20

    It’s the 43rd anniversary of the moon landing today, so I gotsta post this:

    It’s coming. August 5th, 2012 at 11:30pm. The Seven Minutes of Terror:

     

    I dig how the official NASA video builds it up like a movie trailer. Because really, this stuff is honestly more badass than any movie. This is the exploration of other worlds, happing in real life and we get to watch it! Unless the sky crane doesn’t work and it crashes. Which is possible… keep your fingers crossed everyone. It’s gonna be an edge-of-your-seat ride, coming soon to a planet near you!

    A nice reminder


    2012 - 07.19

    This pic of the Orion Nebula is so fresh.


    2012 - 07.17

    No one can argue otherwise:

     

    a New LEGO MMO


    2012 - 07.15

    I’ve got a Level 7 Battle Axe to grind when it comes to Orcs, Paladins, or Wizards, and it don’t have no +5 to lameness tolerance.

    For whatever reason, I just can’t get into fantasy. I mean, I think dragons are sort of cool, but that’s about as far as I can get. Anytime people start talking about trolls or mages I just start to yawn. I thought Lord of the Rings was totally like 50,000% overrated. And while everyone else raved about Skyrim and World of Warcraft, I stuck to GTA and Red Dead. I don’t know what it is. I look at those worlds and say, wow, it’s amazing how rich and detailed they are, how much effort people have put into meticulously crafting them. And then I think, yeah, but this is all somehow still… BORING.

    And for whatever reason, it seems like all the major MMO games are fantasy games. I’m intrigued by the idea of MMOs; persistent worlds filled with other humans to interact with. So I was pretty stoked a few years back when an MMO was announced that was barking way up my particular nerd tree: LEGO Universe.

    As good fortune would have it, I was lucky enough to get a beta invite to test out the game before major release. The developers had a nice forum setup too where people could voice their thoughts on the progress. I definitely rocked the beta whenever I was home and the servers were online; and it was pretty fun. In my eyes though, it sadly fell pret-tay, pret-tay short of the hypothetical game it could have been. There were myriad reasons why, but really it came down to one thing: all content was created by the game developers and not the players.

    There’s something about LEGO that has captured the imaginations of minds for decades. Obviously a big part of that is the simple fact that you can take things apart and rebuild them however you see fit. So then, if you’re making a game that’s built primarily around LEGO, the logical thing to do would be let people build things. LEGO Universe did have that, but it was more of an if-you-want-to, off-to-the-side kinda thing. In my mind, the developers should have been spending their time doing two tasks: making the graphics engine look nice, and then releasing a huge variety of different bricks. If there’s one thing that Minecraft has conclusively proven about humanity, it’s that there are many, many folks out there with 1. copious amounts of free-time, and 2. the willpower to build incredibly intricate and detailed worlds for nothing more than their own amusement. Any LEGO MMO worth its salt should take advantage of that as its central philosophy.

    I think LEGO Universe could have been the most incredible game ever, if all it did was turn people loose with huge numbers of LEGO bricks and then let other players explore those worlds. You could easily sprinkle quests, events, enemies, and unique items over those worlds which were well made. I mean, Valve does a lot of the same type of thing with community-made maps in TF2. Take advantage of your passionate, inspired user base. That should be, like, enshrined into game-making law.

    So I’m raising a skeptical eyebrow at the announcement of a NEW LEGO MMO this month. It’s very thin on details. Like essentially all we know is that it exists. I would really hope that any new attempt at this concept would learn lessons from the failure of the previous one. A big shortcoming of LEGO Universe was simply the lack of content. It didn’t take long to finish it. And what content they did have really didn’t draw at all from LEGO lore. I wanted to see the Pirate sets I played with as a kid. Or city. Or Space sets like Blacktron and Ice Planet. A passionate userbase that is allowed to create their own content would solve all those problems.

    As an aside, I recently saw that there is apparently a LEGO Star Wars TV show now. It’s quite cheezy and laden with slapstick, but hey it’s meant for kids. The computer generated graphics in it are incredible though… its definitely LEGO come to life like you’ve never seen it. Watching that made me wish for the super-cool LEGO MMO that never was.

    So I’ll be watching that one, in hopes that it lets people build things as a main attraction. Because if you can’t build, is it truly LEGO? Not in my book!

    Games I Like: Mass Effect


    2012 - 07.05

    So a non-insignificant contributor to the lack of posting on here recently has been the fact that I got my hands on a copy of Mass Effect 3. This superbly made space opera, spanning the Milky Way galaxy, has eaten up a 30-some hour chunk of free time. Since this is a major release title, I’m not going to do an in-depth breakdown of what makes the game cool. Instead I’m just going to lay out a few observations and thoughts upon my playthrough.

    #1: Our Galaxy is Awesome.

    As I was chatting with my ladyfriend in the kitchen and the map of the galaxy was up on the screen she commented, “it’d be really cool if someone made a game where the objective was simply to explore the galaxy.” She was implying the *actual* Milky Way, based upon what we factually know about it. And yes, I would play the shiz out of that game, if someone made it. I said to her, well, out of the games I’ve played, this is probably the closest to that.

    There’s many star systems you can travel to in Mass Effect and each one of them has at least a few planets to check out, all with individual descriptions of the histories, inhabitants, and resources that make them noteworthy. Although fictional, it’s still very cool to browse through an imaginary atlas of the galaxy and search for random points of interest. And when you travel between the stars, you fly across 3D depictions of badass nebulae, like the horsehead. I really dig the music they play as you cruise among the stars; they used it in ME2 as well, and it sets the tone quite nicely.

    But yeah, it’s just rad seeing a slew of odd terrestrial planets with cratered surfaces, ringed gas giants being mined for their helium-3, random space stations, asteroid belts, and the occasional red giant with only shards of rocky debris in orbit. Indeed, the final showdown begins in such a system, where a small space station is easily concealed among the massive firery outbursts of a giant red star. These places are all imaginary, but it’s sweet to play a game that throws you into them. Of course our real galaxy is littered with fascinating star systems of all exotic types. Humankind won’t get to truly explore them for many epochs… but it is fascinating to submerge yourself in a fiction that conjures up all this imagery of what it must be like.

    #2: This Gun is Awesome.


    It’s called the M-13 Raptor and it’s described in the game as “a turian weapon developed for conflict on the low-gravity world Amar. Fighting at longer ranges than expected, the turians optimized a low-recoil, semi-automatic rifle with a scope, and issued it to their infantry, creating a hybrid weapon that was half assault-rifle and half sniper weapon.” Effectively, it’s a medium range weapon. I found it early in the game and combined it with a modification that slows down time by 15% when you look through the scope, which happens to be only 2 or 3x. I’ve played a whole lot of first person shooters in my time, and this gun fills a niche that is almost always left unoccupied: the medium range weapon, where a sniper scope is too powerful to track a fast-moving enemy, but that enemy isn’t yet close enough to make effective use of machine gun or shotgun. I wish every FPS had a gun like the Raptor in it. Fun.

    #3: Martin Sheen is Awesome.

    His voice, for the long-running character of “the Illusive Man” really lends a captivating touch. His character takes a page from the G-Man from Half-Life, or the Smoking Man from X-Files. It’s a device that just doesn’t get old: some powerful dude is behind the scenes pulling strings. He knows an untold number of secrets and he’s always one step ahead. He himself is a weakling, but his knowledge makes him immensely powerful. I’m a sucker for that character. Martin Sheen’s voice is perfect for the role. Also, I wish my computer desk looked like his:


    I have a Model Railroad! And have been reminded: This is a PROCESS.


    2012 - 06.24

    Okay, so ultra-huge “The Moment of Genesis” tag here: model railroad construction has begun! Last week I started building benchwork, and this last weekend I went out and got plywood, cut it up, put it together, and just last night, finished a bare-bones loop. That one sentence right there is a TON of work. Although it’s not much to brag about at this point, have a look at the progress thus far:

    For benchwork, I used plain old pine 2x4s and bought a gigantic box of 3″ tan-colored screws that will blend in with the wood. Seems like it worked out great so far. With the track plan I have in mind, the layer that’s been put down right now will eventually be almost entirely unseen, serving as a reversing loop on one end and hidden staging yards on the other. I established the height of the layout based upon where I visually estimated the height of the next layer to be. My thinking was to make the 2nd level (which is the visible level where all the action will happen) eye level when sitting in a chair. Already I’m wondering if I didn’t set the first level too low. It’s 30″ above the floor, which is exactly eye level if you’re sitting (straight-upright) on the floor. Raising the height of the whole layout might happen in the future, however I need to build the second layer before I’ll know if that’s a good idea or not. To be continued, many months from now…

    For my main construction material, I decided to use plywood instead of MDF (medium density fiberboard). MDF doesn’t warp, is quite sturdy, and absorbs sound better; however it’s also heavy… and when you cut MDF it generates a literal cloud of superfine sawdust. Sawdust that contains formaldahyde, a carcinogen, which will settle everywhere, over everything. I know this because I made the mistake of cutting MDF indoors when I was in high school, and afterwards I was finding dust from it for years. MDF definitely has major advantage in terms of planarity and acoustics, but I knew that I would need to make many cuts to the railroad boards in situ, and that superfine sawdust was a major no-no for a room that can’t be sealed off from the rest of the house. That, and MDF will totally eat sawblades like candy, and I plan to use my jigsaw to cut curves and special shapes. Plywood, despite the downside of warpage, will have to work. At least at $16 per 4’x8′ sheet, plywood is also cheap!

    I’ve been asking myself the question, “how am I going to build this layout so that it can disassemble in the future?” The solution I came up with was to use plywood sheets as a base that will attach to the benchwork. Any risers, subroadbed, and extra layers above will attach to the plywood sheets, rather than attaching directly to the benchwork. Any screws which attach the benchwork to the plywood base will come in through the bottom, so that by unscrewing those, I can lift off the layout in sections for removal. I won’t learn if this was a smart idea or not until I start building extra layers. Hopefully the answer will be yes. I suppose that all hinges on how securely I attach everything to the plywood base.

    On Saturday I pushed hard for most of the day and completed essentially all of the round one woodworking. I was really hoping to throw on some track and get a train running before bedtime, but then I went to search for my track spikes and they were… absolutely nowhere to be found. I tore open every box and looked twice. Nothing! No spikes, only exasperation! So Sunday I visited a local hobby shop and picked up what I needed. When we got home and I started working on the track I was reminded of a few rules of model railroad construction that I had completely forgotten about:

    1. for every track spike that goes in nice and easy, there are 5 that instantly get bent up in 7 directions and are totally useless. Somehow you delude yourself into thinking “hey, I can still save this, I can make it work!”
    2. old flex track loves to destroy itself if you try to force it into a curve while partially nailed down or constrained; the plastic ties snap off and you’re left with a broken section that has to be cut away
    3. anytime you cut a piece of rail, it will fly across the entire house, ricocheting off every wall and landing who knows where
    4. soldering a stretch of flex track together while straight, and then attempting to bend it into a curve later is a bad idea (see #2)
    5. brand new rail joiners are, like, impossible to get on. Anticipate raw thumbs.

    Alright, so now that I’ve remembered those rules, maybe life will be easier going forward. I got my loop built and broke out my awesome new MTH Bipolars for a victory lap! It was at this point that, as the title of the post says, it occured to me that there is no single moment of triumph, because a well-running railroad doesn’t just magically happen. It’s a process to get there. I could get the Bipolar to run around a couple times without derailing, but the trackwork, even with its very wide curves, had minor imperfections–and minor imperfections in 1:57 scale are actually not just minor imperfections. Track is FUSSY. For Serious.

    I got out the Hiawatha and attempted to run that, and got another rude awakening: A single bipolar can pull only about 7-8 cars around a 24″ radius curve. And this is on level ground, nevermind all the hills I’m about to introduce. Super Dome derailments started happening where nothing else came off. Okay, time to add a rerailer–I don’t know how I thought I could get away without one of those in the first place! Fixed the one problem spot… found a new problem spot. Then I started getting uncouplings due to track passing over two adjoining sections of plywood which weren’t exactly matched in height. Ahhhh, it’s all coming back to me now, the trials and tribulations of fine-tuning and troubleshooting the tracks!

    The track problems are not such a big deal. Every layout will need to overcome those. And of major responsibilty for this is the fact that I was rushing to get it built, rather than taking my time and being mindful to create smooth, perfect joinings between sections. I should know better than that. So those problems can all be replaced, reworked, and overcome. But I’m a bit more concerned about the Bipolar’s inability to pull much on level track. If I double-head them, that’ll increase the power but I’m not sure by how much. There are a few other options such as adding lead weights to increase locomotive traction, and a product called Bullfrog Snot (seriously), which adds grip to the wheels. But if it turns out that even two Bipolars can’t haul a 9-10 car train up the grades & curves I’m planning, well, that’s a real bummer. Time will tell.

    Also somewhat of another setback, the E1 with the cool paint scheme seems to have some kind of issue. It runs sort of jerky. Going to have to look into that. I’m sure it can be fixed, but just another thing to take care of before I can relax and enjoy the empire as I have dreamed it… Well, this is step #0001 I suppose. There’s a whole lot more to do!!

    Frontiers.


    2012 - 06.05

    Post #250.  Sestercentennial, baby.  Time for some introspection…

    I’m not sure what to feel about the crescendoing success of SpaceX. On one hand, it’s awesome that we’ve arrived at a point in time when space travel is within reach of a smart company. SpaceX did a nice job broadcasting their launch/ISS docking, including lots of cheering and even a tear-wipe or two. You’d never get that from NASA (and that’s not a bad thing). It is cool to see them get emotional about it–as well they should. I hope they do more live-broadcasts and behind the scenes TV work. I hope they’re not all secretive about the awesome work they’re doing, like say, Apple would be. Or China.

    And on that other hand, I worry that this event signals the beginning of the end for NASA. One thing that makes the work NASA does so incredible is that they do what they do because… someone should. Someone should walk on the moon, someone should evaluate the cosmic microwave background, someone should build the most badass space telescope ever and use it to learn the infinite secrets of the universe. Someone very seriously should do all those things–and much more–in space. Part of me worries that transferring the routine spacefaring work over to a private company is the first step of congress gradually scaling back and eventually pulling the plug on the whole thing. One amazingly great thing about public funding is that it goes to the PUBLIC good. One agonizingly bad thing about public funding is that it’s controlled by utterly short-sighted, duplicitous, and/or clueless plutocrats. AKA congressmen!

    I see headlines about NASA planning a manned mission to Mars–in 2033–and I just sigh. Those kind of timelines are just pure talk. There’s no responsibility for something that’s supposed to happen 20 years from now, no accountability for the people who make those claims. Maybe I’m being pessimistic, but I sort of feel like it’s never going to happen unless we have another JFK moment where the man in charge says, “your objections are nice and all, but too bad, we’re going to Mars because I say we’re going to Mars, and there is nothing you can do to stop this.” That’s basically what JFK did. I read an interesting article that gave stats on the public approval ratings on the worth of the Apollo program and even right AFTER the moon landing, they maxed out at around 43% I think it said. Even in their moment of glory, less than half of Americans thought it was a worthwhile exercise. I do wonder, if they asked those same people today, with the context of history now putting it into perspective, what the percentages would be.

    There’s a billboard I used to pass on my way home that’s advertising for an Alzheimer’s association. It shows a picture of an Apollo astronaut on the moon and asks “Do You Remember?” I think it’s poignant that out of every world event in the last century they could have picked, and even right over the top of personal events like your daughter’s wedding, or your favorite dog, or (insert personal joy of choice here), they picked the moon landing. THAT is the one thing that blew everyone’s collective mind and stands out brighter than anything. That is the one piece of history you simply cannot forget.

    I saw a late night comedian once, lampooning the USA by comparing us to Michael Jackson, saying “It’s kind of sad when your greatest achievement is a moon walk that happened three decades ago.” OUCH! As someone who grew up watching the space shuttle take routine flights, it feels wrong that NASA has no manned launch vehicle now. I’ll enthusiastically say that it feels great to see an American company take up that mantle (or at least getting closer and closer now). But I worry that as private enterprise takes the lead, and we transfer over to a system that ruthlessly asks the question “what is the short term profit?” that human spaceflight could miss out on true glory while grubbing for coins.

    If I can live to see one piece of history unfold, a man landing on mars would be far-and-away the thing I’d love to witness. When I look at that billboard with the astronaut, that’s what I think about. When will come THE moment for my generation, that piece of history you can never forget? Not a disaster or a scandal or a sporting event–but a true triumph of humankind. Those are rare. And accordingly meaningful. In 2033 I’ll be 53 years old. Will boots touch martian soil by the time I break 60 years of age?  Will I live to see it at all?

    Space News Quarterly


    2012 - 06.01

    A few space related odds and ends:

    Another awesome interview with Level 60 Exoplanet Wizard Geoff Marcy, from Wired Science. He talks about how he’s leaving the Kepler planet hunt and joining the SETI team, which is pretty sweet. He goes on to describe how alien civilizations probably use lasers to communicate–highly directed beams of signals–and that we’ve been beaming lasers into space ourselves, ironically from the adaptive optics systems of large telescopes! It’s a cool read, check it out:

    There’s also a cool interview with the outgoing SETI champion, Jill Tarter, who is stepping down from the leadership role to concentrate more on fundraising for SETI, which is good to hear. She cites last year’s shutdown of the Allen Telescope Array as a wakeup call–I’ll bet it was. As written about previously on here, they’re looking to do more crowdsourcing and other creative ways of securing the finances to continue their important work, and that’s a smart choice.

    Last thing I’ll highlight is that last week the SpaceX Dragon capsule at last docked with the ISS. That’s a significant event in space exploration, purely because until now only Japan, NASA, Russia, and the ESO had sent spacecraft there–all large governmental organizations. This docking is a feat of engineering and it’s really cool that SpaceX has gotten that far along.

    Infrared Telescope Action


    2012 - 05.25

    Just check this out.

    Now think about what the James Webb will be able to do in infrared….