Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I'm worn out

I have been very busy which is why the two of you who read this blog with any sort of frequency will note that there haven't been any significant updates in several days. After working on a lengthy lab report and re-learning LaTeX in the process, I've finished up a problem set for Electricity/Magnetism. Naturally this is the point where I can no longer think straight and just finish up with whatever I have on the paper because it won't get any better than this. If I stay up much later I'll just fall asleep in class, leading to trouble in the lab period or getting behind in future assignments.

Usually I try to reserve 2-3 days to work on these, but the last several days have, again, been used up by the lab report I've been needing to type. Thankfully I suspect that future lab reports will take somewhat less time in order to complete. Of course, the longer I work, the less efficiently I work, as well. I think it's little surprise that the first couple problems went particularly easily, though it's probably also because they actually were a bit easier, being purely mathematical in nature.

One problem that I had a mental block on was one involving the capacitance per unit length of two (oppositely charged, as these problems have them set up, in order to be real conducting capacitors) coaxial hollow cylinders. I've got an answer that at least appears plausible, but it could very likely be completely wrong. In any case I've been spending this evening with an extreme case of "toroid rage". That's the term I'm going to use from now on for situations in which I have difficulty working with symmetries inherent in the math and physics problems I'm expected to solve.

The good news is that Thursday has no homework attached to it, which might just mean that I'll get to finally fold the laundry that's been sitting in the dryer all afternoon (which I put into the washing machine last night).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

An even crazier sonnet

No parking may be done from nine to five --
That is, unless you plan to pay a fee;
If you do not, a tow truck here will drive,
And his hard work won't be paid for by me.
So if this parking space you plan to take,
Be wary of the change that you may hold,
Or else your car you intend to forsake
And wouldn't mind to see it cheaply sold.
An auto may not be a work of art,
Nor does it grow in value over time,
But if with it you do not want to part,
You really better pay us up some dimes.
But if the parking charge you plan to pay
2 hours is the most that you can stay.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

This is what I do when I'm bored

One of my friends from internet chats has a couple cats. One of them is named Kabuki and is known for having a voracious appetite and along with that a rather large girth.

She recommended before taking a nap a few minutes before posting that the two of us form a crime-fighting team. Naturally I'm reminded of those sorts of shows one sees occasionally on Sleuth from the 80s, when such duos were apparently all the rage.

The idea then, is that we have two characters, Smarty and the Fat Cat. One's a guy who uses deductive reasoning to solve problems, collecting lots of observations, trying to get them all to fit together, often finding things a lot of other people -- even trained professionals -- miss. The other's a fat cat who likes to eat lots of food.

I then proceeded to do the most important thing for any show in the 80s, and that's develop a theme song, or at least lyrics for it. This is what I came up with:

  • smarty and the fat cat / when there's justice to be dished / they'll find the clues and solve some crimes / and eat a lot of fish
  • smarty and the fat cat / they're some crazy dudes / they'll put the pieces all in place / and eat a lot of foods
  • smarty and the fat cat / they sit down and confer / logic, reason, evidence / and happy petted purrs
  • smarty and the fat cat / now I just don't know how / they solve every single mystery / with lots of cute meows
  • smarty and the fat cat / their brains like grinding cogs / they'll catch all those bad guys / and stay away from dogs
  • smarty and the fat cat / one's brainy, one has claws / they've got cooperation / working hand in paw
  • Smarty and the fat cat / solving all those crimes / I think I'm done with singing / 'cuz I'm all out of rhymes
man am I a dork

I think I may have to develop this idea even further. No doubt their first mystery will have to be to find out where all the tuna supply in the tri-state area has vanished off to.

Friday, February 12, 2010

NEUTRINO, a sonnet

Man, I can't believe I found this -- or at least looked for it in the first place.

I wrote this one day my senior year in High School. I forget exactly why I did it, but I think overwhelming boredom had something to do with it. Either that or temporary insanity.

Here it is:

The physics masters' ideas now well known
As small and massless particles are found
They push the larger players all around
And sight unseen their presence clearly shown.
The theorists all did give a heavy groan
As some of their ideas were run aground
Traject'ries changed so quick -- and naught a sound --
And strange collisions now had them all thrown*
Though only Bohr had such strange results seen
Recounted in the chem'stry books of old
Rutherford throwing alphas at his gold
Bohr's leptons soon changed our atomic view
Of these, Neutrinos forth begotten been**
Be seen with measurable mass, and flavors too.

* The apparent collisions between some particles and neutrinos threw the scientists for a loop.
** Bohr's atomic model featured electrons outside of the atomic nucleus. As electrons were studied further, several different electron "flavors" were found (muon and tau, in addition to the atomic electron), and these were discovered to each have analogous neutrinos. As it was discovered that these flavors could change, it was also determined that neutrinos had a measurable mass.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Phrases not found on Google

Taken from an XKCD comic idea, this documents several phrases that, as of this time of writing, turn up no results on Google. Naturally, now that they are documented on this blog, they will all return at least one result, but given the growth predictions I have for this blog, I suspect that will be it. Feel free to check on your own.

Here they are:

"I learned Klingon to impress my girlfriend" (though to be fair, even "French" and "Italian" don't)
"I have seven PS3s" (any value between "two" and "six" returns results)
"Is a quadruple orgasm healthy" (which surprises me -- I would have figured someone would have asked this question satirically on Yahoo! Answers by now)
"ARIA made me depressed" (replacing "ARIA" with "Avatar" returns over 10,000 results)
"There aren't enough Touhou characters" (there is one result claiming the contrary, that "there are too many...")
"I wish poop tasted better" (other terms for "poop" do return results though)
"Coffee cured my cancer" (neither does "coffee enemas cured my cancer")

Some things that do return results:
"make the Wii remote function as a dildo"
"plants are people too"
"should I eat my children" (although the result contains the caveat that the topic with that title was deleted)
and incidentally, "my bladder is half full" returns far more results than "my bladder is half empty"

Awesome cool stuff that's happened to me recently

If you felt that last post felt a bit more disjointed than usual, there's a reason for that. I'll detail the story here.

The grocery store near the campus has, since around October, been giving out points redeemable for Cuisinart kitchen appliances. Because we don't have a meal plan, we end up shopping there quite often, and go there every couple of days, often buying lots of soda and lunch meat (which I usually have as a quick lunch). The selection is okay, but not amazing. I can't even find cheap boneless, skinless chicken breasts most of the time. I had to get chicken tenders instead, last night, which aren't as good for the purposes I was trying to fulfill -- basically baked breaded whole breasts.

Anyway, the store's main appeal is that it's really close to the college, and open late every day. And again, the points service. It ended recently; it only ran for a couple months, presumably so that the chain wouldn't have to honor a lot of the coupon books. However, possibly due to the fact that nobody participated, some of the cashiers would give us far more than we should for the points -- they're supposed to give one for every $10 spent, but it ended up coming closer to $2-3 instead. It wasn't very long until we collected the 120 points that we needed to get a blender/food processor combo unit, which we had been saving up for primarily.

And we kept getting points! We didn't stop shopping and even maybe bought a little more than usual to collect more so that we could get other things. It didn't take as long because the cashiers became almost insanely generous with the points (we got like 25 stamps one time for a $25 purchase very near the end of the promotion), and all the other things we got required far fewer points to redeem. We have now a free toaster and a waffle iron as well. The latter will be used, you may be surprised to learn, primarily for preparing bacon, and the former will be used for eggo waffles and pancakes.

We also got a nice coffee maker, though we paid $30 for it because we could only get it half-off. It's huge -- a 12-cup coffee maker with programmable settings (such that it can turn on and start brewing before I wake up so I can rise to a nice cup of coffee) and a charcoal water filter. I bought some coffee last night at Dunkin Donuts because my roommate had to choose between that and watching the first Star Trek film, and though the smell and taste of coffee are nearly enough to bring him to extended fits of nausea, that's still nothing compared to the first Star Trek film (I couldn't even stand watching it for 10 minutes).

Since that was around 10:00 last night, having coffee then wouldn't be a good idea, so I waited until this morning to try some of the coffee with the maker. It was tasty, if a little bitter (and hell, this is coffee we're talking about here so it's not like it wouldn't be). I think it's better with a little sugar added, wimpy though some may find the practice of sweetening coffee to be.

I made more than a single cup, so I left the carafe in the refrigerator in order to make ice coffee (or just cold coffee, I guess -- I don't want to dilute it with ice).

Anyway, that's why my thoughts are a bit less coherent than usual. I had coffee, after not sleeping as well as I might have liked.

Those Fraternity Thingies.

My campus, the College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, VA, recently put out a report on the state of fraternities on campus. Because this is a higher-class school, I've noticed that people seem to have come here to actually study stuff and not just get drunk on weekends and have lots of crazy reckless group sex parties and stuff. (Why people think they need to go to college to get that stuff is beyond me. Then again I guess they'd do that anyway and it's just a matter of coincidence they can find it on campus at all.) Anyway, the point is that fraternities here on campus have a very limited presence on campus and aren't a critical element of socialization on campus.

There's an article on the report at the campus's official paper: which contains a link to a PDF of the report in question. There's some amusing stuff in the article, and some that's way out there.

Naturally the report deals a bit on hazing. In my freshman year I was interested in one of the fraternities, whose identity I don't intend to make public. It noted in an early meeting of the pledges that in addition to some typical initiation rituals there would be some "optional" activities that would occur off the record, but he was very clear on stating that they really would be optional and should anyone be uncomfortable with taking part to voice concerns and these activities simply wouldn't happen. I'd say I'm quite satisfied with that response, as this allows the new recruits to potentially bond and maybe have some hopefully harmless fun. Nobody gets too resentful of the people doing the "hazing" and the "hazers" don't pull anything that'll likely raise the attention of the authorities. Making it at least nominally illegal then, might be for the best -- if the people hazing are abusing their power, the pledges can report it. If there's no problem, then it can just stay off-the-record.

Apparently the sororities have a "clue week" which I guess is something like a scavenger hunt or puzzle thing. Anyway, during this, the big sisters of the new members are all trying to outdo each other -- to the point that spending $500 on this for one person isn't unusual. Now, my freshman year, there was a good deal of money left in our dorm's funds and we wanted to spend it for our floor to rent a couple limos and all go to a Brazilian steakhouse in Richmond. If the money wasn't spent it would roll over to the next year. Though this was more like $1000, it was used among all the residents of the floor, so it would be more like $75-150 per person. It wasn't approved by the other people in the hall community, perhaps not surprisingly. However, the story reached legend status quite quickly, especially among people who don't like the people in charge of residence life on campus. I can't say I blame the haters -- the people in reslife are very strong bureaucrats, who make DMV employees look downright flexible, or at least kind. They would charge us $15.75 each for leaving personal trash in the hall bathrooms sometime during March, $15 of which were administrative fees for having to contact us over the summer; the only reason the charge was removed was that nobody told us before the summer that we would have to pay for this, and the year after nobody cared that this practice continued. I don't quite know how this connects with spending $500 on a new member, but I thought I'd tell the story.

(One lesson to be learned is don't send out letters requesting payment if it'll cost more than to solve the problem yourself, I think. Count it as a small loss. Second, don't charge people who aren't even leaving personal trash in those wastebaskets (like me). Thankfully that charge was eventually waived.)

There are also a lot of beer pong tables in the fraternity buildings -- since drinking games are barred on campus, the report recommended starting a policy against such tables. Why they can't just get plain ping-pong tables and use those illicitly is far beyond my understanding. Tables designed specifically for beer pong exist, though, which is why I assume that the tables that the fraternities have are not actually ping-pong tables that are used for that. I do wonder how they'd enforce this if the units move more to ping-pong tables. Will they get rid of all tables like that in dorms? What if they played these games with, say, grape juice or something? Why can't they just modify the beer pong rules so that the cups are placed on the floor and the competitors have to stand a certain distance away from them? It's not as though they've made the issue of unsafe drinking on campus a non-issue otherwise.

What amused me most about the report was the issue of nomenclature. They listed several terms that are common parlance in the community and came up with several alternatives. The result is largely laughable, if for no other reason than the alternatives are wordy and awkward.

• Greek Life becomes Fraternity and Sorority Life
• Pledge becomes New or Associate Member
• Pledge Training becomes New Member Education
• Rush becomes Recruitment
• Rushee becomes Potential New Member
• Probate becomes New Member Show / Presentation, or Presentation of New Members
• Boys becomes Men (or Gentlemen)
• Girls becomes Women (or Ladies)
• Frat becomes Fraternity (as it pertains to referencing an IFC chapter)
• Babies becomes New Members (pertinent mostly for sororities in reference to new members)
• Frat Units [They didn't even have a replacement for this one!] Strongly suggest a strategyto immediately eliminate reference to the fraternity housing facilities as “units.” A “unit” is appropriate as a reference to a cinderblock student storage structure.

Potential New Member is supposed to be a good alternative to Rushee? Perhaps it's because I'm largely unacquainted with the specifics of the fraternity culture, as an outsider, but I fail to see the issue with most of the original terms, barring perhaps, say, "Boys" and "Girls" inasmuch as it has an implication of immaturity among the members. Given the stereotypes of Greek Life (oh dear, I've used that term rather than the longer Fraternity and Sorority Life, as though getting the expression confused with, say, discussing the culture of Mykonos was a common occurrence), that seems appropriate, though obviously changing the words will be what will cause these kids to shape up and become outstanding members of the college community. Of course, if an outsider like me has no strong emotion about most of the current language, then I don't see any reason to change it -- it's not as though changing the language will change the opinion of insiders one bit, as they already have an emotional connection to the community (or at least, it's been my understanding that such is a tenet of Greek life).

Let's look at that last entry again in particular, the one for "Frat Units" it says this:
"A “unit” is appropriate as a reference to a cinderblock student storage structure."
I lived in a building last year that was part of the fraternity complex on campus -- it was built of cinder blocks, had very tiny dorm rooms (I think less than 10x10), and never had the heater at a decent setting -- around this time last year it was 84 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course) all the time in it -- and there was no air conditioning either. Made working and sleeping -- the kinds of things one might do in a dorm room -- ridiculously difficult. I felt less like I was living there and more like I, a student, was being stored there. Thus, for the reason they feel the term is inappropriate, I will continue to use it!

The last thing the report mentions is putting up a statue to celebrate the fact that the Phi Beta Kappa fraternity originated at this campus. It's the oldest fraternity in the nation, too, thus making W&M where fraternities first formed. Incidentally the organization already has a building on campus dedicated to it: it's basically the college's performing arts center. I think if the college wants to show respect to the fraternities, it should save money on a statue and work on improving the living conditions in the fraternity units such as by giving them air conditioning.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

That Super Bowl Thingy

So I watched the Saints and the Colts play each other. I had called the score as 35-17. So close and yet so far away.

As the issue of the fact that CBS would not air a commercial for a gay dating site was particularly controversial. The fact that CBS would be airing a program watched by maybe 1/3 of the US population which consisted of sweaty guys in tight uniforms piling onto each other, however, was not. Word on the street is that some of them patted others on the bottom as well. Scandalous!

Now, that commercial in mind, I assumed that this meant that CBS would have some standards in practice for super bowl commercials, which would keep them from getting too disgusting. I think that's for the best. I mean, I've watched erotic content voluntarily in the past, but -- particularly because it's part of an ad, I suspect -- I tend to find GoDaddy's commercials tacky and tasteless.

Any commercials that would air, then, I'd pay a decent amount of attention to, to see if any of them were racier than the commercial for the gay dating site in question. I'll include it here for reference.

You can almost feel the black dude's lack of comfort regarding the situation. Still, at least they're not slobbering over each other -- just making out in an almost farcical manner.

So, naturally this is the standard by which I'd judge uncomfortable commercials. Did any commercials step over the line? GoDaddy's, for once, did not, deciding it'd be better to leave it on the internet; since it's an internet service anyway, it's probably not a bad decision. The situation is stupid and contrived and reeks of fake lesbianism which I dislike muchly.

However, there was one commercial that probably did. Actually, there were two others that had similar themes -- commercials for Dockers and Bud Light -- but truly, this is in a league all of its own.

Clearly it's not about grossouts or anything -- because hell, that commercial sure was one -- it really is about the gay horrors. I mean, if there weren't ads like this I would -- perhaps a tad reluctantly -- accept the fact that CBS didn't air that commercial, and not chalk it down to it being a gay commercial so much as a slightly racy one (and even then I found it more funny than disturbing anyway).

Then again the controversy, as with the online casino that paid the streaker the year that Janet Jackson showed us all her breasts -- and they were pretty nice breasts too, which was why my first assumption was that it was part of a pair of falsies -- gave the ad a lot more attention than it probably would have otherwise. Hooray for free publicity by way of artificially creating a controversy?

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Recent Song I Made

Hoo-boy. I'm still not sure what madness possessed me to make this song.

Actually I like the source material a fair bit, at least on paper; it's nice cover material, though I don't think the original was very good.

It's Rihanna's Umbrella.

This song can be favorited and downloaded from my profile on 8bitcollective. There are other songs there, too!

I'll add a post at some future point about just how I make these songs in the future.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Post Two: Regarding Mega Man 10, Madden 10, and the question of innovation in retro-style games

This post was a commentary on a video by a cool guy on the internet who usually makes insightful commentary videos on the state of video games. I don't always agree with him on every point, but the videos are always entertaining and fairly witty.

This first showed up as a forum post in HG101, a little while before I formed this blog. I've since come to decide to form this blog so that I can make longer talkbacks like these more accessible, and to avoid rage strokes nosebleeds from people commenting it was a good thing not to have bothered reading it due to the source site for the video being (For what it's worth, aside from GAME OVER-THINKER there's not a lot on that site that interests me either.)

The original video is here


I thought this was an interesting video, if for no other reason than the fact that the questions along the lines of, "Is Mega Man 10 holding back gaming?" were actually pretty controversial here, and we've got a few other threads that I'm going to use in regards to my discussion of this article. I'm actually a very big fan of the Overthinker series, and he makes a lot of good points. I feel I agree with the basic points he makes, though in this case I disagree with a few of the details.

Everyone on IRC has probably read this schpiel already, but I figured I'd repost the gist of my statements here because there are only like 7 people in the channel.

In looking at a game like Madden, one has to realize that the game is meant to be a fairly realistic simulation of playing football in general. Now, the NFL is really only 80-or-so years old, and the rules of the game are basically the same as they were back in the 60s, and pretty similar to the very first games too -- you have a ball, try to run it from one end of a field to another, and get 4 chances to move it 10 yards at a time until you go, say, 80 to 100 yards depending. That field hasn't changed in size or shape much over the years, and is just a pretty empty rectangle all things considered. Any game that tries to be a simulator doesn't have the luxury of being able to innovate because they're trying to copy the experience of the main game, which is supposed to be fairly unchanged over time in order to balance competition.

Madden doesn't change much over the years because it's usually pretty closely tied to the hardware that it's on. Consider Madden 95, for the Genesis or SNES. They play pretty similarly to the games right next to it on the same systems, but compare that to Madden 09 and it's a very different experience indeed. At the bare minimum the controllers for the XBox 360 and PS3 are fairly different from that of the Genesis or NES -- there are more buttons to press, and thus more plays/maneuvers that can be done. Whereas in an early Madden game like 94 or 95, all that's required to catch a pass is to put up one's hands, in more recent games there's a lot more to it, like using the right analog stick to move your hands closer to where the ball's landing. If you haven't been keeping up, it's a huge change, even from PS1/N64 Madden. This will probably reach a limit around the time that really good motion controls come out; given that everyone's working on them already, this probably will happen sooner rather than later and a well-calibrated motion controlled Madden could be worth getting in general.

The engine for these games is also tied to the system that it's on. Madden on the Genesis can't do 3D rendering so the angle of view is fixed, and the screen can't really zoom-in/out to give a wider field of view on passing plays. Current Madden has limits to how well it can simulate everything as well; we can't render every single molecule in the space nor can we render every beam of light. Obviously as the games on the system get older, the engines they run on can get more refined, but as fairly high-budget titles that have a full year for development and don't have to worry about level design or bosses (more on that later), most work goes into the engine itself so there's not a lot they CAN do to make it better, aside from start developing for the next system.

In fact, after Madden 95, the Genesis/SNES Madden titles were made by THQ and published by EA, using the engine from 95 because it worked pretty darn well (in fact, Madden 95 I'd say is worth playing in general and I do so from time to time; it was no accident that it got a plug-and-play TV re-release with replica Genesis controllers). There wasn't a lot that THQ needed to do to make a football game for the Genesis. There was also a character creation mode added from '96 on, which was mostly inconsequential but a significant change from years before.

To summarize, the main strides in Madden's (and other EA Sports titles') development as games come from being able to take advantage of new/different hardware. The games are unable to innovate in gameplay because the gameplay of real football also doesn't change from year to year, and Madden's appeal is in being a simulation game. That's not an unreasonable developmental decision, I think, for the game, any more than it is for, say, Gran Turismo. The only problem is that it ends up becoming a niche title -- the more complex technical details bog it down slightly, make it less accessible, and as a result less fun for most people. Hence the comments on the video and the link to it put on YouTube -- Madden's not always widely regarded as being a very fun game to play in the first place, which is retooling a formula that to many doesn't work in the first place.

Now, if you look at something like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you see something that isn't remarkably innovative because of the fact that its formula has been tried and tested to work quite well -- as noted in the video with the narration "Super Mario Bros. 3 is the most significant development in all of gaming" (or something very similar).

Now, we can't come down too hard on NSMBW for being 2D, which is arguably stagnating in gameplay, because 2D platforming is a very different experience from 3D gaming -- lining up to hit an enemy is a more complicated affair in 3D requiring the player to line up with the enemy on two axes in order to make contact (which is why many such games have homing attacks), dodging enemies is easier due to the ability to sidestep them in most occasions, and along with that gravity thus becomes the biggest enemy because the level geometry can't extend infinitely in any direction -- every 3D level has nothingness on its outside, though this can be compensated for in most cases.

NSMBW may be graphically and musically similar to the DS version, but it doesn't look exactly the same as it. There's been some definite progression in the art, though it retains a style fairly consistent with Mario in the past, and before we get too far into things, we can probably all come to agree that there's no need to fix what isn't broke, nor that a sequel shouldn't have some things in common with its predecessors, which often include art style. In any case, there are some differences in gameplay, most notably with the inclusion of the ice suit and a 4-player mechanic, among other things. No other Mario game had co-op and from all accounts it drastically changes the way the game is played. Ultimately that's a new experience right there.

However, let's look at Mega Man 10. It and its predecessor (9) are designed such that they play as though they were running on an NES from gameplay resolution and sprite limits to controls and sound design. To many, after the 7th and 8th entries in the series, feel like a step backward. Is this something that we can criticize the developers for and are they lazy for developing a game in this manner?

Well, it's definitely the case that games back in those days were simpler affairs to create. It wouldn't be unheard of for major commercial games to be done with teams of fewer than 10 people, even for fairly high-visibility titles. Wikipedia tells me that the average modern Square-Enix game will require about 200 people to develop, probably many of them in 3D rendering. Clearly a game like Mega Man 10 takes significantly fewer resources to produce, and respectively will retail a lot cheaper than Final Fantasy 13 will.

Is it necessarily easier to develop for? Well, maybe not, especially if the development team doesn't have much experience for the platform they're trying to simulate. If they want to go really crazy they could do, say, 6502 assembly and maybe even have a limited-edition cartridge release, which would probably sell well. Of course, 6502 assembly (or any low-level language, really) is a lot different from any modern languages used for gaming, at the very least least in structure and syntax. It would not be something that could be done in half an hour and pushed out the door quickly, ultimately, which is why it's not really reasonable to say that something like Fantasy Zone II DX was a lazy effort on the part of the team responsible for it. It wasn't that they just made art and music that looked like it came from that era and put it on a modern engine, but they had to put it on an older system that comparatively few people are familiar with these days. In any case more than a modicum of prior research is required for the game to be a hit and faithful to its design principles.

So, given that it's probably not lazy to design Mega Man 10 the way they do, why should they do this? Does it add anything to the experience? Well, obviously it's not a matter of gameplay at all, but it does have an effect on the player, at least for some of them, namely those who still look back fondly at placing the new Mega Man game cartridge into a console and preparing to kick some robot-master butt. I'm not one of those, having come around just a little bit past the majority of the NES-era, which is why I'm personally not in favor of the design decision and would be just as happy to see something able to take advantage of modern hardware that might actually impress me. I'm not pulled away from the game by its visual style, mind you, merely unimpressed by it.

Would Mega Man 10 be more fun to play without this visual style? Well, probably not, nor do I think it would be correct to say that it will be more fun to play with it. The reason I say this is that the kind of fun that comes from the visual style of the game would still likely remain in watching a playthrough of it as much as actually playing it. Of course, anyone who claims that graphics are irrelevant to gameplay can go and enjoy their Intellivision and 2600 libraries (which are, like early 3D graphics, often not revisited due to the fact that the hardware involved wasn't always developed enough to have very appealing art) but for most people though it's not the most important factor definitely is one. At the very least appealing art can provide impetus to continue playing a game that otherwise wouldn't compare favorably to some of its contemporaries, certainly -- the same can be said for any elements of its presentation. Many tedious RPGs are unabashedly played solely to move the storyline forward. Think of it as analogous to the "carrot on a stick" concept.

But finally, what of the issue of stagnation in a game like this? Since it tries to feel like something from the late 80s or early 90s, it's not doing much innovation, certainly. But is it on the order of Madden, where from year to year very little changes? Certainly not, from the gameplay perspective if nothing else. This would be a valid claim if Mega Man 10 used the same stages as Mega Man 9 but only changed the robot masters and exchanged Protoman for Roll as a second playable character. The main thing that can change in Madden, after all, is the roster itself. However, for Mega Man 10, the level design and certain enemies -- as well as, of course, the robot masters themselves -- will be quite different from the previous game. It is to all intents and purposes a new game. To say that it must be a bad game because it doesn't stretch the limits of modern hardware potential is almost equivalent to saying that no games in the 1980s were any good at all, as they also are based on very limited technology by modern standards. For many platformer games (and related genres), sharing the same level order and enemy set doesn't inherently make a level too similar to be worth playing -- if it did, then there'd be no reason for a level creation utility to exist in a game like Mega Man Powered Up! because nothing could be done with it.

Similarly, while Madden may not be well-regarded in the gaming community, the response I see for the upcoming NBA Jam game seems to be rather positive. Because that game wasn't grounded in reality, along with, say, Mutant League Hockey and Football, it could change things up and break rules that improved gameplay and add modes that made a difference in how the game was played. It wasn't trying to be a simulation at all, and thus the court was more than just a box with lines -- there was a mode in the follow-up Tournament Edition that added hot zones that would give bonus points for making shots in certain regions, so if you were down 6 points, a good shot could easily get you the tie or the win. Something like that -- an optional "hot-spot" sort of mode that enhances player abilities would be an excellent thing to add to Madden, at the very least for casual play, since it would fit along with the idea of impeding player progress -- don't let the player hit certain spots that pop up on plays. It adds a small element of randomness, which, though always a dangerous mistress to court with in game design, may be just enough to make the game significantly more exciting on its own. Also, make these sorts of bonus gameplay modes different with every release, to try to make each one more worth getting.

Another way to make the Madden titles more palatable is to only release a significant version with notable changes every 3-4 years and make other releases smaller expansion packs that retail for a significantly smaller price -- all that will be updated is the player roster and some bug fixes, thus justifying a smaller price tag. (This is at least alluded to in the video, unlike the previous suggestion.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sample Post: A response on an article by Mike Adams

Mike Adams, who dubs himself the "Health Ranger", is currently writing a 15-part series about natural cures and whatnot. It's gotten a good deal of attention due to consisting primarily of easily refuted talking points from the alt-med community.

Though the first parts of the series are refuted on a lovely blog which I highly recommend you all read, Respectful Insolence, nothing was done on the site about the third article. I commented it a little bit on the page about the third part. I'm not a doctor and not a biologist, but I'm fairly confident that the information I've posted is quite accurate. I'd not be surprised if I got some things wrong or was misleading, probably due to a combination of being misleading and because, quite honestly, a lot of the information on nutrition seems more poorly informed than even the Today Show.

The main page is here. I didn't cover everything there, but I got some major points in. What follows is the comment I made, likely representative of the content you'll see here.


Well, the [third] article isn't too hard to get through either, in that it's short. Let's take a look:

"Many people suffer from poor digestion. In fact, you might say that most people aren't able to absorb the nutrients they swallow, so they remain in a state of nutritional starvation even though they're taking supplements that would otherwise be quite helpful.

These people tend to scratch their heads, wondering why all the nutrients they're swallowing aren't having the positive effects they had hoped for. The answer to this conundrum is found in enhancing the absorption of those nutrients."

Okay, this is surprising because, although a bit oversimplified, this isn't too far off base. A lot of material that goes through the body isn't absorbed, and some is more easily absorbed than others. Mainly this is because a lot of material is filtered out by the liver. When you take medicine, a lot of it is expected to be filtered out through it; that is, the size of the dose compensates for the fact that not all of it will get absorbed. If you take something like alcohol that the liver must process in order to make safe for the body, then the liver won't filter out the medication as much. People who die from drug overdoses have probably taken medication with alcohol or other illicit substances. The liver can only do so much, after all.

So that's something to keep in mind -- absorption of medication has a lot to do with the performance of the liver. Clearly the easy way to enhance such absorption is to only take supplements with alcohol. This is probably not a good idea so I won't recommend it. :P

"Pharmaceutical pill pushers have convinced many people that stomach acid is bad for your health. By promoting diseases like "acid reflux" or GERD, they misinform consumers into believing that heartburn and stomach pain are caused by too much stomach acid. But the truth is that in most (but not all) cases people actually suffer from weak stomach acid and they need stronger stomach acid to properly digest foods."

Hoo boy. That's a lot worse, then. The main reason acid reflux/GERD is an issue is the fact that it eats away at the esophogeal lining, at least what I'm led to believe from the pharmaceutical companies' commercials. Even then I've been led to believe that it's not so much an issue with an excess of stomach acid as it is poor performance of the pyloric valve. That controls the path of the strong stomach acid from the stomach into the small intestine (yes, just like the food in the stomach, some stomach acid enters the small intestine; this controls the pH of the acid in the body and helps prevent a buildup (lest it back up into the esophagus).

And of course we also have to wonder whether Adams has ever taken a chemistry course. Stomach acid is hydrochloric acid, and hydrochloric acid is hydrochloric acid. It's a very strong acid. There's no way to "weaken" it except to dilute its concentration. I guess that would mean that the stomach was filled of a relatively low concentration of HCl and a high concentration of, say, water. Hmmm...

Of course that doesn't explain exactly why acid reflux occurs in the slightest. Why would the acid back up into the esophagus in the first place, and if it's a weak acid why would the experience be that much more unpleasant than, say, swallowing water?

"Digestion is a complex process. It requires biochemical and physical processes to break down ingested substances into their nutritional components. This process is significantly aided by digestive enzymes which exist naturally in living foods (fresh, raw vegetable and fruit juices, for example).

Heating foods (cooking them) destroys all digestive enzymes. This is one reason why cooked foods steal life away from people while raw, living foods impart life. Living foods usually come with their own digestive enzymes, aiding your digestive processes in breaking down and absorbing nutrients.

Dead foods -- which include anything pasteurized -- stress your liver, pancreas and gallbladder by requiring these organs to produce extra digestive enzymes that are missing from the foods themselves. Because many people suffer from poor digestive organ function, they have difficulties absorbing the nutrients they've swallowed."

So this is what he meant about live and dead foods from the previous article. Not surprisingly, it's a load of nonsense. First of all, just like the living things that we ate, we have digestive enzymes too! In fact, they probably have more to do with digestion and absorption of material than the stomach acid. This is especially the case, ironically enough, for the raw fruits and vegetables that Adams so greatly lauds.

Most plant parts have a very strong cell wall made of cellulose that helps serve as the plants' skeletal structure and as a wall of defense against other materials. Cooking fruits and vegetables to a certain temperature (note: to all intents and purposes the concept of cooking is little more than applying a heat source to food in some way, to cause chemical reactions in the materials in the food...ooh yes, there are plenty of chemicals in natural food, of course) helps to weaken the cell wall which makes these nutrients easier to asborb, much like how one can't steal stuff from a house without breaking a door or a window.

This is also true for meats as well, though. It tenderizes them and makes the constituent proteins easer to be absorbed and digested. In any case, unless you're blanching the food, any loss in nutrients is made up for by the ease of which the remaining nutrients are absorbed into the body. [EDIT: This actually sounds like I might be saying meats have a cell wall like plants do. This is not the case, but they cannot be processed by the body as easily when uncooked because the materials are bound by membranes, though meats are more easily digested than plant mass.)

Hm, I'd also like to comment on why it is that the food, which presumably came from healthy animals and plants, is okay with having its own digestive enzymes but the human body, according to Adams, is not? Isn't that what the pancreas and for? Why would we have them at all if we didn't expect to use them? (Yes, I'm sure someone will note, we have the appendix. From what I remember from high school it's been hypothesized that the appendix was used to prevent foodborne illness from improperly prepared food; since most people cook their foods, killing a lot of foodborne parasites and other pathogens, it's fallen out of use.)

Even then, the pancreas is perhaps more importantly used for absorption of glucose by cells for producing energy (which is the main reason that we eat in the first place) than in actually producing digestive enzymes. If you cut up Adams's article enough you'd probably have something vaguely representing the truth. (I'm also greatly amused at the fact that Adams refers to an overworked pancreas in one paragraph yet claims diabetes is caused by mineral deficiencies. Well, more precisely some diabetic conditions -- not all -- are caused by the pancreas needing to produce more insulin than it can, due to resistance in these cells to that insulin, which is why insulin injections are given to people with that condition.)

Incidentally, if Wikipedia is to be believed, there are some researchers with some credibility in the field that think that the move to cooking food, which allowed the body to develop a smaller digestive system and a larger brain size. The latter would explain Mike Adams (heh heh), while the former would suggest that eating raw food is more likely to stress the digestive system than eating cooked food.

In any case, perhaps we should recommend Mike Adams suck on raw eggs, for health?


Oh deary me, it seems I've finally set up my own blogging account!

What on earth will I put here? No doubt it'll just be the kinds of things I usually end up talking about on the internet. Expect commentary on science, music, video games, and film.

A lot of what you'll find will probably be larger talkback responses from other articles. Hopefully this blog will be a learning experience for us all.

Someday I'll maybe get an audience.