Sunday, November 14, 2010

SF Movie Concerns

There are so many SF movies that suck. But in the grand scheme of things, there are so many movies that suck. Nay! There's a ton of art that sucks.

I've been inspired by this recent release of Skyline. I don't plan on seeing it, not only because of the disappointing reviews but also my current philosophy of avoiding the movie theatres like the plague because Hollywood doesn't deserve my money. I digress.

Skyline is the perfect example of SF glamorized only for the FX then roasted for total lack of meaning. A cheap thrill, an insult to the human mind. But I say we still need movies like it to come out, even in our modern era. It will only fulfill the generations of humorously horrible movies. I would make the connection that such bad, CGI imbued movies are akin to such laugh-fests as Attack of the Killer Shrews or The Giant Gila Monster. In a sense, they are important for the SF genre only so future fans have the ability to enjoy themselves and laugh at the horrendous low-points of SF. So don't be fearing that SF has lost its glory, in fact horrendous flicks are just planting the seeds for future geeks to enjoy.

Friday, November 12, 2010


here is that essay about Star Wars Episode 5 and Aristotelian Tragedy

We Americans prefer action and adventure to pity and fear any day; directors must cleverly hide their tragic stories to reach the masses. George Lucas’ Star Wars saga is one grandiose story of redemption. The fifth movie in the story’s chronology, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, appears to follow the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, by creating a highflying space opera. Instead, director Irvin Kershner directly focuses on character development, “I like to fill up the frame with [the characters'] faces. There's nothing more interesting than the landscape of the human face." (Director’s Commentary). The movie baits the audience by opening as an epic then altering its style mid-way into a full-fledged Aristotelian tragedy.

As a technical sequel, Empire begins in medias res; the Empire and the Rebellion still play a galactic game of cat and mouse. After the rebels evacuate from Hoth, the story breaks into two simultaneous storylines: the shenanigans of the Millennium Falcon’s crew and Luke’s search for Yoda. Aristotle supports multi-faceted epic plot lines in The Poetics, “This has the advantage of giving grandeur to the poem, of affording a change for the listener, and of diversifying the poem with dissimilar episodes,” (52). Diversification is a major element to enjoying Empire. Kershner uses a variety of screen fades that capitalize on the dynamic scene changes from the insides of a space slug, to the bridge of a Star Destroyer, and then dark swamps of Dagobah.

The inklings of a tragedy appear once Luke crash lands onto Dagobah and begins training under Yoda. Before that, on Hoth, Luke plays the role of big shot hero and courageously leads the counter attack against the Imperial AT-ATs. When preparing for the defense of the base, we hear this dialogue, “DACK: Right now I feel I could take on the whole Empire myself. LUKE: I know what you mean.”. Luke arrogantly treats the battle as “just another day with the Rebellion”. The audience admires Luke’s bravery especially as he single-handedly destroys a walker. Luke’s combat and leadership superiority mimic the moral superiority of Aristotle’s tragic heroes. Once removed from the action however, his heroic pride starts becoming noticeably flawed as it clashes with his goal of becoming a Jedi Knight. Yoda, the exiled Jedi Master, identifies that hubris will not make a Jedi. Luke believes his hefty resume of anti-Empire actions is enough to prove his worth. The wise green one ignores Luke’s achievements, and responds:

“This one [Luke] a long time have I watched. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh! Excitement. Heh! A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless!”

This recklessness appears all too soon when Luke tries to justify his decision to leave prematurely, “But I can help [Han and Leia]! I feel the Force!” but the spirit of Ben rebukes “But you cannot control it.” We see a well-defined Aristotelian hamartia when Luke leaves. He absolutely believes he can fix the problems at hand. Truth is, Luke can never comprehend how horribly unprepared he is.

Assured by both Yoda and Ben, the audience realizes Skywalker’s doom and yet they still support him as he ventures forth to Cloud City, literally “walking in the sky”. This mental duality produces dramatic irony that further builds the suspense during Luke’s clash with Vader. At the climax of the battle, Luke experiences the triple tragic blow: reversal, recognition, and tragic experience, all up to par with the Poetics. Losing his hand and light saber, Luke painfully falls from hero to Vader’s helpless victim. He also experiences the most tragic form of recognition, described as, “that which results from the incidents themselves in which the astonishment too results from what is probable.” (33), when Vader says, “I am your father.” Only the flow of the plot itself catalyzes this revelation, supporting Aristotle’s expectation that plot must control all other elements. Furthermore, Yoda’s earlier remark about Luke’s father causing Luke to respond, “Oh, come on. How could you know my father? You don't even know who I am,” amplifies the ironic recognition. In response to all the events conspiring against him, Luke’s actions remain true to his character as he rejects help from the Dark Side and falls down the central shaft.

Fitting for a tragic ending, Luke does not die. The scene of him grieving and hanging from the weather vane provokes a catharsis. As he holds on for life “pity is aroused by the plight of the man who does not deserve his misfortune.” (24). A boy who cares about his friends should not have his reality crash around him, and we see Luke in agony. Even after Leia and Lando save him, he never returns to his old farm boyself.

Sadly, Kershner breaks from the tragic frame, finishing with a dénouement that does not “result naturally from the plot” (30). Instead, the final scene implies the main characters have plans to “right the wrongs”. As a result, Skywalker’s personal tragedy gets sandwiched between the earlier epic and the resounding finale to the saga.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hyperion: Revisited with Keats in mind.

So I asked my English teacher about Keats. He had me read two poems. "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" and "Ode to a Grecian Urn". We went through the latter stanza by stanza and he taught me a great deal about the Romantics, and Keat's philosophy in particular. It's all about finding perfect moments in art/nature and then the sad realization that artistic ecstasies do not last forever. In response, his poems end sadly even though there are high points of emotion in the middle.

In response to Hyperion. I see Keat's attributes in conjunction with the Destruction of Old Earth and humanities severing from their origins. The Bard's story in particular, how he was in a writing fury only to lose it all once he realized the Shrike was his muse. Many of the pilgrims have perfect moments in their stories but have lost them. They want to restore order by meeting the Shrike.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I found my book

I was asked during the beginning of school what is my favorite SF book. I replied at the time, "I don't know I haven't read enough of the cannon yet."

I can now safely answer, among all the wonderful SF I have read, many of which I respect and admire, Hyperion by Dan Simmons strikes at the chords of my literate soul.

It is a a novel that brings all my SF reading skills and literary understanding into one massive, festive hall. I sit on the edge of my bench, consuming red meat off the bone as a Dan Simmons plays the bard and weaves me a verbal epic.

In fact, I'll start my talk on Hyperion's own bard, Martin Silenus. He is one of the greatest characters I have ever read. His humor, attention to detail and witticism continued to make me laugh.

Here is the opening quote to his Cantos tale.

"In the beginning was the Word. Then came the fucking word processor. Then came the thought processor. Then came the death of literature. And so it goes."

It summarizes all I love about Hyperion, the first sentence speaks to the essence of literature. The second is a joke. The though processor is the science fiction speaking, then a prediction about humanity. Sum up the final sentence with a reference to Slaughter House 5. All magnificent.

There is humor in sending your son on a slow space trip to get the interest on his existence to accumulate enough to pay off family debts. Not to mention his slave years speaking only 9 profane words and still calling himself a poet. His gaudiness and ample swearing is a characteristic rarely seen in non-cyberpunk SF.

I won't go into each tale but I do love the idea of basically writing each story in one style of SF. As I said before, Hyperion really is a cantos, to all of SF and even literature in general. The Shakespeare, the mention of Gibson, the fact that ecologist John Muir sparked a zealous Tree-worshipping religion all are wonderful components that add to the setting and themes. (I also remember a stray Dune reference, "Once years ago in school, I saw a time-lapse holo showing the decomposition of a kangaroo mouse." (77). Totally a Muad'dib ref)

My favorite part is that the ending half of the book doesn't dwindle. Now I know that having the pilgrims enter the valley finally while singing "We're off to see the wizard" is not a technical ending, what I mean is that Simmons focuses all the stories to the very fabric of the SF setting he created.

I've seen many authors fail to get their world to resonate with the final revelations. Examples being that Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner, and Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson lost the magic of their setting and ended the book on revelations that didn't matter (i.e. pheromones in an African culture and humanity's language was actually a virus). Instead, Hyperion gets to the core of humanity, progress or stagnation.

I summarize this with the Consul's quote

"Suffice it to say that I believe the Ousters have done what Web humanity has not in the past millennia: evolve. While we live in our derivative cultures, pale reflections of Old Earth life, the Ousters have explored new dimensions of aesthetics and ethics and biosciences and art and all the things that must change and grow to reflect the human soul.
Barbarians, we call them, while all the while we timidly cling to our Web like Visigoths crouching inthe ruins of Rome's faded glory and proclaim ourselves civilized." page 468.

Civilization and evolution, that is what humanity is all about. That and the infinite mysteries of the universe, symbolized by the labyrinths that dot nine (if i remember correctly) world of Web Space. Oh yeah, and death. That may be the kingpin in this entire existence of ours. And we all know that the Shrike, the only real demon, will keep that problem a perpetual mystery.

Below are two interesting articles I've copied for my interest as well as your own.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Begin the Countdown!

Ok, so to have a running blog post, I'm counting down the top 10 aliens of science fiction throughout any media. Be aware, there are many SF TV shows I don't watch, Dr. Who coming to mind, so I probably won't represent that aspect fairly. Regardless, blogs by definitions are opinions. Here's what I like.

Space Invaders

These are the pixelated beginnings for video game SF. Parents of the late 70's didn't care if their kids were killing aliens at the local arcade. This idea is an extremely basic reason for the rise of so many non-human enemies in video games. Who cares about killing extra terrestrials that want to destroy our precious earth?

What strikes me about the Space Invaders is that they were the first instance of a zerg rush, granted humans weren't controlling them. The one-man laser cannon could easily kill a single alien with its rectangular beam but the shear number of little guys was the real problem. In addition, we have an instance of aliens getting progressively dangerous as time passes, a timeless attribute found among the galaxy's residents.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Food Chain

I'm not one to quote Family Guy in nearly any setting but.
"Damn Nature! you scary!". I say this in context of seeing a red tailed hawk fly over my friends and I as we were walking to the bus stop/our cars. It had a recently caught squirrel in its talons. The tail was the weirdest part, it was fluttering in the wind as the bird soared over. You would never think of the aerodynamics of the tail of a dead squirrel...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Zany Picture

I adore such SF internet art. A man lands on a planet in his pod. Meets massive, spindly quadrupeds. They remind me of the Eldrazi. And the planet's surface is a pale white wasteland.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Philosophy Essay uses Star Wars

That's right, here it is.

E.F. Schumacher, a modern world economist, believes in the map of life. It is an instrument that can identify any object or idea you will encounter in your life. Each human’s map should have a safe, reliable path through any of life’s difficult problems, so the theory goes. But if the map itself is incorrect, then there is no way to safely move forward. In A Guide for the Perplexed, Schumacher wants to help modern day humans fix their maps to include a vertical dimension including landmarks and symbols outside of the field of science that our current maps lack. Once attained, then we can safely and accurately trek the countryside of life.

I noticed two distinct writing styles in Schumacher’s Guide: chapters of elaborate definitions regarding ontology and epistemology, and chapters when his economist creativity shines in the “Adaequatio” sections and “Two Types of Problems”. In the latter, he connects historic philosophies and metaphors with current human issues as easily as he may analyze the productivity of a corporation. In this dichotomy, Schumacher offers brick and mortar to readers such as myself in order for us to build a foundation and begin ascension into his well-defined vertical level. His overarching goal flows from Saint Thomas Aquinas’ belief that “The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things.” (Schumacher 3). He is an engineer and I accept many of his blueprints for living my life to the maximum human potential.


My first instinct is to apply Schumacher’s ideas to the ever-important idea of entities greater than humans. I must tangle with the perfect being before I consider the human being. Schumacher’s talks about powers each that ontological level has. Plants, (m + x) have no sense of time, but many animals (m + x + y) have memories and learn from past mistakes. Humans (m + x + y + z) can anticipate future actions and events with some clarity. There is also the level of interaction with the world that matures from stimulus to instinct, and finally the z attribute of will, “that is the power to move and act even when there is no physical compulsion, no physical stimulus, and no motivating force actually present.” (Schumacher 28). To add another level, I extend Schumacher’s equation: m + x + y + z + Ω = god.

The Ω level is an absolute awareness, not just in the self, but also in the immensity of universe. The entity sees all instances of time simultaneously, removing all unknowns. Most importantly, “The progression from physical cause to stimulus to motivate to will would then be completed by a perfection of will capable of overriding all causative forces which operate at the four Levels of Being known to us.” (Schumacher 29). A god acts as he wants never as he needs. Note— I am hesitant to capitalize “god” because multiplicity of such beings are just as possible as a singular God entity.

Among my three years of high school, I have considered myself a young student of science. I enjoyed my biology, chemistry, and physics classes as well as participated in scientific research the past two summers. To maximize my senior year, I doubled up on science taking both AP Biology and AP Physics. Observing the current world over the past summer, science does seem to be the overwhelming force; any other belief system seems to be harassed endlessly as backward progression of man’s intellect. Schumacher anticipates my thoughts as part of the group of people

“who recognize the value and necessity of a “science of understanding” [yet] cannot resist the hypnotic power of the allegedly scientific picture presented to them and lose the courage as well as the inclination to consult, and profit from, the “wisdom tradition of mankind.” (Schumacher 56).

The feeling of forced hypnotism is an extremely descriptive concept, one I now sense during my daily life in the scientific community.

My case study is my relation to biology and grappling with definitions of life. My biology book tells me that life is a system of molecules that regulate themselves, create new copies of themselves, and change with each generation to better live in the environment. The book explains that organisms we see, from petals on a flower to a flying hawk, exist as emergent properties of molecular scale interactions (Campbell et. al). When Emergent property theories dominate biology, it simplifies life to a series of random chemical reactions that a cell stacks in its favor to remain functioning.

Schumacher gives me a different statement to observe life with his discussion of ontology, or chain of being consisting of: m, x, y, and z — mentioned above. His distinction is that the levels are ontological discontinuities or the difference in each successive step is absolutely distinct and harbors unique attributes different from lower levels (Schumacher). This ontological explanation is a throwback to vitalism, or the idea that there are unexplained forces that cause life to exist. Schumacher supports his idea; “There is nothing in the laws, concepts, and formulae of physics and chemistry to explain or even to describe such powers.” (Schumacher 16), yet I find that the vital “x-factor” is a massive proposition to accept in my mind. How can I accept a force I don’t see to have an affect on life I do see? On the other hand, to absolutely accept the biological emergent property explanation, there are unimaginably large series of probability statistics that obscure the “random formation and maintenance of life” argument.

The greatest problem that appears when I try support one of the above conclusions is their answers require a role reversal. The biologic randomness answer means that I indirectly have faith (which I define as supporting an idea with the will power derived from my z factor without other empirical evidence) in the universal laws of probability. I find this cop-out upsetting because of the power probability steals from the Ω-factor being(s). Albert Einstein sparks my unrest with his quote “I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice.” ("Albert Einstein"). Why should a being with the Ω-factor, whose will is the single most powerful force among all the ontological interactions, accept that actions in the universe occur without their conscious decision to do so? If Ω-factor beings have absolute will, they would not allow forces of probability to replace their absolute decision-making.

So now I try to accept Schumacher’s ideas of distinct levels of being. I know there are invisible forces, like radio waves and magnetic attraction, that science accepts. What about those that science does not accept? Just because we do not have the proper “eye” to see the unknown forces that affect the ontological levels does not automatically mean they do not exist (Schumacher). I find it is arrogant to assume that my species, spawned on one small planet in the outskirts of one galaxy must have all the organs to see all the forces in the galaxy. This extension means that the forces behind the ontological levels could exist without direct empirical evidence.

But I must stop. The above paragraph is logical, but that aspect, itself, means I have failed Schumacher’s original point. I am trying to use logic to explain phenomena even though he says, “life is bigger than logic.” (Schumacher 123). I cannot use logic to support his idea. Nor can I have faith in probability to support the scientific analysis of life. I am in paradox, but I feel comfort in Simone Weil’s statement that,

“a human being succeeds in making an effort of attention with the sole idea of increasing his grasp of truth, he acquires a greater aptitude for grasping it, even if his effort produces no visible fruit.” (Weil 107).

Wait, there are still other ways of thinking! I partially borrow this new idea from the concept of the Jedi philosophy in Star Wars. Obi-Wan Kenobi, an old Jedi Master inspired my thoughts, "The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together." (Lucas). This quote, applied to the Schumacher’s ontology implies that there is no energy that creates the levels of x but rather the x level creates its own energy. I find such a concept similar to the Quaker belief that, as a human, means I automatically have a sacred inner light. A concrete bunker with no plants has a different energy from a pasture; the feeling comes from the plant’s life itself. Furthermore, standing in an empty cathedral is different from standing there during a full Easter mass. Each entity in the ontological levels greater than m produces energy that human beings can sense.

Science and philosophy will continue to battle in my mind. I respect the understanding science gives me; its reasons for many of life’s events. I also agree with Schumacher’s hesitance to deluge the human mind with science. If I cannot side with their differences, I’ll accept what they agree on, life. I draw my conclusion from another source of science fiction. "If you need something to worship, then worship life - all life, every last crawling bit of it! We're all in this beauty together!" (Herbert)


"Albert Einstein." Wikiquote. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. .

Campbell, N. A., & Reece, J. B., & Urry, L.A., & Cain, M.L. & Wasserman, S.A. & Minorsky, P.V. et al. (2008). AP Edition Biology, Eighth Edition. San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Herbert, Frank. Quote from Paul Atreus, the Muad’Dib. Dune Messiah.

Lucas, George. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Quote and more

"Skywalker. Skywalker. And why do you come to walk my sky, with the sword of a Jedi knight? ... I remember another Skywalker."

What a wonderful quote. I found it on io9's article about 10 thing you didn't know about episode 5. One of the Yoda precursors was named Minsch Yoda, and he says this epic line. Come to think about it, names are quite powerful in Star Wars. Particularly the original trilogy. Of course names like Obi wan, or Ki Addi Mundi have little symbolic/literary value. But "Skywalker" and "Solo" among a few others can be consider important as allusions to the character's style and potential.

I was thinking about ice, because in AP physics, ice means frictionless in all the book problems. Why is ice frictionless? Well friction is the temporary bonds formed between two surfaces. Ice must be frictionless because water molecules are polar. In a solid form, all the polar molecules bond with each other to form complex crystals. If they're bonded together, they cannot be bonding with other objects.
How's that for some applied chemistry?

Edit: I just talked with a physics/chemistry teachers. He explained my water-friction idea differently. Friction is more about the microscopic abrasion going on between unsmooth surfaces. Ice is merely smoother than other surfaces. (Although, we could then lead to see it's smoothness as a property of a compact crystalized form...)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Halo: Reach reference

SF video games can't go wrong with some Star Wars themes hidden away. We cannot forget the hideously cheesy ion cannon in Starcraft 1's Terran finale ripped right out of Hoth's cold, frozen ground.

I present my theories on Reach's opening level, Winter Contingency. The architecture of the relay station circled below seems awfully familiar.
SF video games can't go wrong with some Star Wars themes hidden away. We cannot forget the hideously cheesy ion cannon in Starcraft 1's Terran finale ripped right out of Hoth's cold, frozen ground.

I present my theories on Reach's opening level, Winter Contingency. The architecture of the relay station circled below seems awfully familiar.!Winter_Contingency.JPG


Its a bit more than coincidence huh? I also must mention the role reversal seen in the later half of the level. Kat is frantically trying to close the door to the station while Leia/R2D2/Han were trying to open the doors.
What other SF references lurk about the campaign?
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Sunday, October 10, 2010

THX 1138

Just watched this dystopian sf and my friend pointed out how it perfectly melds with Socrates' Cave Allegory. In the beginning we see THX in the factory, lined up with other human beings all looking the same way. They are building robots (or androids), mere shadows of humans. They don't seem to care that they have such dangerous work. We quickly learn they use sedatives to keep their minds honed on the delicate mechanical labors. Once LUH gets the idea to stop taking the drugs, reality begins to take over, as does true emotion. This sparks desire to escape. We are then imprisoned in the white light limbo, a false escape. The sterile light is not the Truth. And yet THX does not have all the answers, it takes the insight of another to show us the next step. (And there is some humor to missing the blinking black spot in a world of white).

After various chase scenes we follow our hero to the brink of the city to where the monkeys live. (I forget their official name but they were primitive apes for sure). There is a sense of humanity degrading, a possibility that the entire escape was futile, perhaps the city is the only existence possible. Until we overload our preset criminal containment budget and climb the last cement tube. Behold, the True Light.

And now a word from our sponsors.

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[or] Let us be thankful we have commerce. Buy more. Buy more now. Buy more and be happy." — OMM 0000

Friday, October 8, 2010

Exciting SF in the movie sphere

Yeah, so fantasy is the rage now, marked by the landmark Harry Potter movie series. But I've learned
about this interesting movie

and the wikipedia site

Admittedly, the trailer has a bit too much ironic humor with all the various vehicles getting destroyed once it seems they are safe. And yet I'm a sucker for interesting aliens. They seem to be cybernetic creatures, tentacled and layered with tendril components. Oh yeah, and they like the color blue.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The humor in it all

So I was in BC Calculus the other day and the teacher gave us a lecture on applying derivatives to answer problems with related rates of change. Once we completed the mathematical equation our teacher pointed out to us an extended application of one of the ratios. The way it was written implied that as the boat hit the dock, it would be going at an infinite speed. The entire class found this hilarious. The teacher used this as an example to show how mathematical models can sometimes fail to explain real life examples.

In other news, my english teacher plans to have us write an essay on the Aristotelian components of a movie of our choice. Right now I'm considering either Star Wars episode 3, 5, or perhaps 2001: a space odyssey.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


My AP Biology teacher reminded me of this video we saw freshman year. I consider it the Pixar of the scientific community. It shows the molecular reactions in a graceful and majestic video stream. The complexity of life will forever astound me whenever I watch this. A cell is a living city.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Considering the etymology of units

So I've been cramming in physics problems all last weekend and into this week. When reading in the book about forces the book uses SI metric system, yet the British imperial unit "pound" is actually a measure of force. That's why we can talk about pounds per square inch. (On the flip side, the British unit for mass is a slug.) Of course, when considering the verb, it makes sense that a pound is a force. And yet we use lb to abbreviate pound when neither letter is in the word. That's cause lb is based off of the Roman measuring system when weight was called a librae. And yet a librae or libra was a scale, often symbolizing justice and equality. Etymology and recycling of words is mind blowing.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Halo: Reach, Legendary Campaign Gameplay Remarks

Figure 1: Enemies that will bring gameplay to a grinding halt

Here I am again, talking about the actual gameplay. Halo: Reach on legendary is hard a hell. As a die hard campaign fan through out the series, one gets into the style of enemies. In particular, Halo's 1 & 2 with Elites as the main enemy, there is a trend that is quite common. Grunt squad, followed by jackals on the flanks, with a few elites, maybe minors or veterans (red or blue). Gold and silver elites are become rarities that the game definitely will prepare you for with a well hidden shotgun or sniper ammo.
Legendary Reach throws that concept out the window, and the results are both terrifying and liberating. 3 ultras (silver armored) elites become child's play in Reach. 6 get thrown at you at least once every other level. And the setting is unfair, often they are attacking you, especially in Long Night of Solace. There is a real sense of being attacked from every side, backed up against the wall.
The other enemies each have unique flavor. If it's drones: stay protected, brutes: fill'um full of lead, turret or fuel rod grunts: priority #1, skirmishers: lead them with your cross-hair. And its the combo of flavors added to a dry yet nutritional serving of tough-as-nails elites that brings challenge to each encounter.
And to match the demanding enemies, the weapons are sparse. The game gets divided into two sections, times with the DMR and times WITHOUT DMR. And the difference changes the game completely. I noticed how much a soldier needs a straight shooting rifle. Heck, I'm sure the Spartan III's are trained on Full Metal Jacket's mantra

"This is my rifle.
There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My rifle is my best friend.
It is my life. I must master it,
as I must master my life."

And master the DMR you will. Especially in combination with the plasma pistol for instant elite death and if your daring, one of the power weapons: sniper or rocket. I must sadly announce that the shotgun has been nerfed to uselessness. Gone are the days of Halo CE where the shotty could take out flood 75 feet away. I only used the shotgun on hunters, because that's the only enemy I could get close enough to.

Then there are times when you regret wasting DMR rounds on trying to headshot that grunt from the ghost.
"Without me my rifle is useless.
Without my rifle, I am useless."

With no DMR, legendary is brutal.
But Halo has a wonderful way of giving you hope with the pathetic weapons you muster from the enemy corpses. Three of the enemy's plasma arsenal are particularly useful (aside for the plasma pistol which is only valuable with a headshot weapon to complement). Needler, fuel rod, and needle rifle, While the concussion, beam and plasma rifle seem too underpowered. (Especially concussion, it just does'nt lower shields as efficiently as it kills you). I felt the plasma launcher became too difficult to aim with the dodging AI.

The land vehicle combat is actually the worst in all the Halo Games. I specify terrestrial because the falcon rocks! It's the closest thing to piloting a vietnam heli. Vehicles parts are just supposed to be ridiculous in halo games ie Tank Army in Halo 3's the ark or warthog shenanigans from Halo CE. There nothing fun about the vehicles. The only tank portion of the campaign was the easiest portion on legendary while the 'hog parts made you too weak. I spent so much time hiding behind rocks to recharge shields in the hog instead of weaving around covy infantry. And that's not fun.

My final post on Reach will include my highlight section and favorite encounters.

Halo: Reach, Campaign Discussion


This is a return to my SF video game posts. A new contender had arrived with quite the bang. I finally beat Halo: Reach's campaign, 12 hrs and 6 minutes. Don't you be snickering, because I was defending Reach on Legendary my first time through. Yeah check my profile, I it clocks me getting all the campaign completion achievements, and the all-important "Monument to All Your Sins" in one day. And I have to say, Bungie made there swan song a wild ride. There was so much throwback to the good old Halo CE days as well as references up the kazoo that as a true Halo fan(atic) I enjoyed the game the whole way through. Where to start?
I must say the greatest aspect of the Reach experience is the tragic dramatic irony, what I would call "The Titanic Effect" much like that epic movie, the audience of Reach knows how the whole story goes down, Reach gets thrashed, pummeled, and then glassed. Humans lose the crown jewel of their fledgling empire and are looking down the barrel of extinction. But Bungie still manages to fit hope into the overarching decent into destruction. From cutting down grunt hordes to destroying the spire, victory seems so close in the early levels, especially Jorge's sacrifice.

Then, there is New Alexandria, and the human slaughter becomes unbearable. Bungie's reference to the jewel of the late Egyptian empire also resolves in absolute destruction. Civilians slaughtered, buildings burning, and the shadow of the Covenant ships always present. An unnatural apocalypse.
The greatness of the spiral toward absolute defeat is the way the landscape of Reach drastically changes as the invasion occurs. I applaud Bungie for their most engaging and stunning visuals. The change from green highlands in the first level to the desolation and dirt that surrounds the perched Pillar of Autumn is mesmerizing. There is a sense of the life force of the planet slowly leaking into the depths of space.
And the final, Lone Wolf level? A hellish wasteland. Absolute ruin, landscaped by the carapaces of Noble 6's Spartan brothers and sisters. The mission "Survive" became an obvious lost cause just by seeing the sandstorm and raw earth blowing around. Yet, all gamer naturally struggle and continue to fight the shadows of their Covenant foes amid the swirling sands. Thus, with the final, death cinematic, I understood that I did all I could Legendary mode. This Spartan was truly beaten.

Tune in Next Time for Actual Combat Analysis

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Productive Ecological Day

AP Biology field trip. To a Save The Bay location where we made both zoological and botanical observations.
To capture fish we used a seine net. Mostly killifish and sliver sides. We then recorded the numbers (we'll run
diversity calculation in class next week). Our biggest find was a horse shoe crab, and it was untagged. We
had to tag it, because they, as a species, are a valuable and closely monitored animal.

The botanical part involved counting the number of plant species, such as spartina patens and alterniflora, and
a personal favorite, salicornia, the edible picklewort ( which reminds me of gungan frontier's bubble wort... any takers?).

I hope to edit this post with some pictures but I'm busy.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Local Ecological Upset

What are that chances that my neighborhood animal community shows signs of interactions that you talk about in your local high school biology class? Well it happened to me.

Granted, this story is a dictation of my parent's spectacular tale. I'm merely the scribe to get it out to the internet. (I was playing Halo:Reach, it's not my fault I wasn't taking a stroll around the cul-de-sac (I'll have discussions on Reach rather soon)).

Anyway. This is a story of inter-species competition. Between wild turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo and Canada geese, Branta canadensis . The turkey population is a known group. I have been keeping a rough track of them each time the flock treks out into the field and yards of the neighborhood. I'm currently counting roughly 40 birds but earlier this summer I was closer to 30. Clearly, there is a population increase. I would go as far as saying surplus because the of competition observed.

There was a flock of Canada geese resting in the field, picking among the grasses for a quick snack. Suddenly, the flock of turkeys rush out from the forest underbrush onto the field. They aggregate a few dozen feet away and begin to squawk and gobble amongst themselves. After mustering the turkey equivalent of courage they begin to make a rumpus of bird noises. The sounds disturb the geese which begin to collectively migrate away. Suddenly all the turkeys charge into the resting flock of geese pecking and gobbling. The geese, bewildered, take off into the sky. The turkeys had protected their domain.

I like to see this as competition, the turkeys wanted to keep the resources of their land from other groups of birds. I did see this event on a much smaller scale earlier yesterday morning. The flock harassed two crows into taking off. I suspect the large population of turkeys require more resources and thus instinct kicks in to make one feisty flock of turkeys.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Age and Aeons

Science is hip and modern but study about the ages, and literature that includes the past is a valuable part of human culture. While visiting Amherst College today, I had a run in with many objects of varying age and it really makes me think about how ancient the earth is.

To begin, there was Stearns Steeple, the left over stone spire that the college kept even after razing the church that was built in 1870. Standing rather close, the roughness of the dark stone carries more emotion than the smooth, mellow concrete of today's architecture. As a nice "duality of age" aspect there was a TV in the steeple's first floor constantly running old home movies of an anonymous family. I'd go so far as to say the movies were from the 70's, due to their grainy nature (though I am no connoisseur of film integrity by a long shot). A wonderful 100 year gap gives stark realization to the advancement the world went through during that time.

Traveling further back, I saw the first of man's creations in the "ancient artifacts" section of Amherst's Mead Art Museum.

An old Greek helmet, African bead hat, tablets of assyrian cuneiform, and a feint Egyptian relief some 4,500 years old. That is amazing. Forget considering the smallness of an atom or the grandness of the solar system, how can a human being contemplate that fact that there was another human being, nearly genetically identical, who lived a long time ago in a land far, far away? (I couldn't resist). It's mind-boggling to realize artists have always been a part of human culture. Creators who master deathless stone and canvas that supersedes their mortality.

As another artistic ode to changing times. There was a pair of paintings titled "Past" and "Present". The former depicted a Medieval era fairground. The main action was the joust, and the scene was a snapshot at the instant before the lances of both riders collide with their respective shields. Behind the colorful bleachers rose a small yet regal castle set on the side of a lush hill.

The "Present" showed the same scene but the with no fair, no peasants and chivalrous heroes, just goats, shepherds, and the hulking ruins of the castle tower. Although still lush, the country side seemed more cynical and dark, as if to laugh at the decay it caused.

Finally, the final step of my mental odyssey was at the school's Natural History Museum.

Here where the truly old relics spawned at the beginning/a tad before the age of humans. Mammoth, Mastodon, Smilodon, the dire wolf. All ancient beings. Life older than human art. Unbelievable. I feel gigantic mirth when considering the wonder of the ages the Earth has lived.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Five Short Stories of Quaint Fear

I'm feeling quite good about me SF and fantasy development over this past year, I feel I've reached the first critical marker of fandom! I suppose the first bit of evidence of my self-promotion is that I'm starting to get references made by the internet at large. In particular the site, which I've added to my daily web browsing list, talks about SF and I can think to myself "oh yeah I've heard of that author" or "I absolutely agree with this analysis", etc. It's a wonderful feeling, and as celebration I'm listing 5 short stories of SF and one fantasy, that I believe fits the title of this post. These stories are no scary at all but they produce an aura of strangeness and concern. When you finish the last line, your mouth will dry up, something digit may tingle, and you may feel the need to slowly look up and check your current surroundings.

"The City", Ray Bradbury. A tale of an evil machine written with an archaic array of descriptions and imagery. You can find this in Bradbury's The Illustrated Man.

"I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream", Harlan Ellison. A nice contrasting tale also consisting of an evil machine. More modern and psychological themes present.

"The Hound", H.P. Lovecraft. The only Fantasy on this list. A classic demon dog tale but amplified by the strangeness xenophillic and antique loving hobbies of the main characters.

"The Hypnoglyph", John Anthony (a pseudonym for John Ciardi) Finding this gem will be the makings of miniature Odyssey but absolutely worth the effort. This story's namesake is an ingenious alien artifact and coupled with captivating prose.

Finally another Ray Bradbury story, "Pillar of Fire". Absolutely one of my favorite stories, not just in this list but in my grander library of fiction. In this world of cleanliness and Purell dispensers at every corner, it takes a zombie to remind us that dirt, fear, and ugly makes us human.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Inspirational Music Videos

I have become a fan of the Symphony of Science. They are auto-tuned music videos starring the famous scientists of recent decades. Here is one of my favorites, A Glorious Dawn. The opening beat is humorous but once the lyrics start up it becomes a moving journey through our mortal, bounded understanding of the cosmos.

I am particularly moved by the phrase, "A whole new glorious dawn awaits, not a sunrise but a galaxy rise." If that's not the definition of science fiction, finding that dawn in a book, then the genre can never be bounded by words.

"We are all connected" - "I find it fascinating"
"Our place in the cosmos" - Notice Bill Nye the Science Guy, a hilarious way of putting emphasis on our incomprehensible smallness. Another favorite quote, "The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it but the way those atoms are put together."


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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Alien compared to Aliens

Alien (film)Image via WikipediaThe xenomorphs of LV426 are an iconic, terrifying bunch. I finally watched Alien and Aliens this week and I'm inspired to write after being asked which movie I like better. To begin, James Cameron has a way of taking an idea and making it a grandiose endeavor in the movie industry. "Favorite" seems irrelavant to discuss on the internet but I am willing to consider and compare the steps these movies took to be a science fiction action/horror movie.

We'll start with the singular Alien, setting; some gritty cargo spaceship and and for one part an uninhabited planet. The mystery factor a huge thrill ride when Cane discovers the field of hibernating eggs. The most important aspect is that the alien must escape from its host in a grisly manner. As much as its terrifying now, put yourself into the time period and realize that such a gruesome "birth" was a massive surprise to the first audience members.
The rest of the film follows Ripley and the crew as they try to survive against the invader. Plain and simple; human reactions to an unnatural enemy. The lack of light and space is absolutely detrimental to a human's natural abilities and scenes in the airducts ooze of claustrophobia. The only weapon available is Prometheus' gift. In addition, the discovery that "Ash is a robot" and the corporation considers the crew expendable completely destroy any sense of trust for the universe. In the end, Ripley escapes the ship with only Jonesy, a sylvan companion who will stand stand by the protag when the rest of space turns a cold shoulder.

James Cameron's sequel does not depend as much on the sci-fi setting but rather on the human interactions. Already, being 50+ years older can wreck havoc on your perspective of the galaxy. Using the allegory that the xenomorphs represent the feral, inhuman aspect of rape, the beginning scenes represent Ripley's inability to forget the terrifying monsters of her past. In addition, with the company ignoring her initial reports, she has no where to turn and lives a isolated life in an apartment complex. Agreeing to go on the expedition is only after trusting that she can get her old career back and hold hope of an attempted normal future.
Enter the marines. Classic science fiction reminiscent of Heinlein's troopers. On the planet, after a couple of interesting technology cinematics and the first alien encounter it becomes clear that training alone will not save you. It returns to ingenuity, Ripley's best resource. This time around, she is not as alone because of the discovery of Newt and the mother-daughter bond created. As the survival aspect of being locked up in the colony increases, the interactions between the humans becomes more important. Ripley needs to trust Bishop for the escape route (I would also say he represents a religious cleric who can help Ripley deal with all the rape, on a side note). Burke realized as a greedy corporate puppet and his supposed betrayal. And that one marine, the name evades me, who keeps having a break down about the inhumanity of their enemy and the hopelessness of the situation. Of course there is Ripley's lone venture into the hive center in the end but its the middle of the movie that comes alive with character development.Aliens (film)Image via Wikipedia

As a conclusion, both movies follow the SF interaction between humans and nonhumans. Alien follows a more precise sci-fi "if-then" statement, "if an alien was in the ship what would the humans do?" with a great deal of unknown and darkness thrown into the mix. Aliens on the other hand, seems to have better character interaction, and slowly gives Ripley strength to save Newt and destroy the cause of her suffering and dreams alluded to in the beginning. Because of these redemptive qualities, Aliens is a more humanist approach of science fiction while Alien is content with discoveries and scares.

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Friday, September 3, 2010

An Enticing Enticement

I can't lie, it's hard to find time to write on this blog, as much as I enjoy SF. But taking AP Physics this year, the teachers offers extra credit if a student keeps a "diary" of science and includes pictures, links, and personal reflections. Well, this site is already set up and adding a bit of real science never hurt anyone so I will be using this as a recording tablet to proof I really want the Extra Credit and am willing to put time into thinking about science. On the plus side, you readers are guaranteed more posts per week than ever before.

As a first topic, hurricane Earl is grazing New England. When I got home from school it was already raining and I noticed the sunflowers were tilted. They are still stalks with large buds promising many seeds. To protect their delicate cargo in the final weeks of growth, I quickly found sticks and string to provide a support structure. Then the rain really started to come down. But I continued as planned and tied up the plants to sticks I hammered into the soft ground (though I did take off my button-down shirt). I found the experience exhilarating. Here is a man trying to grow a plant that nature wants to destroy. But man will not sacrifice the plant, perhaps more stubbornly, the hours he's already put into the gardening, so he'll go to great lengths to keep the little green sun-eater safe. That is a powerful bond. Agriculture should not be taken lightly in our society, only strong willed individuals can show love for fields of life-nourishing plants.

That's a solid start, I'm off to read Mostly Harmless, the final Hitch hiker's book in comfort of my home.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Curbed Joy and Minor Rantings on a Science Fiction Classic

The name of the game is Mass Effect, yes, I'm a tad late to be discussing a game that came out in '08, but this is no ordinary review. No, hands down, all video gaming SF fans should play Mass Effect. That is no debate. If you haven't yet, do not read below.

Great, you're here! Ok, my first portion will be the good stuff about this space opera. To begin, this is the game where you can finally be Captain Kirk! The Normandy is basically the Enterprise. Many of the cohorts and crew have equivalents to the TV show and the act of exploring the unknown and aiding the random is a perfect match. And yes, you can even score the alien chick!
Next off, as you can see in the picture above, the game sports a variety of species. Few games can display an in-depth history for entire civilizations (and mind you the picture does not display all the Mass Effect sentients) The true talent that separates ME from other populated galaxies is the way the history is slowly released. The first alien encounter is right in the beginning, with the turian Nihlus. Now my first reaction to this scaly feline was "Oh great, a Protoss rip-off, and maybe some kzin traits to boot". And the game made me think I was right, Nihlus was too smug for his own good, I don't fault Sarren there. But once you get to the citadel, the other turians, though simple NPCs are not haughty. Some are merchants, some bystanders, and a certain Garrus the C-Sec detective is a bit weird yet trustworthy. Bioware did not let their creations be defined by one theme, each race displays a spectrum of character.
Another fine example are the Krogan. Again, I'm thinking, "Wonderful, reptile versions of Oblivion's Half-Orcs". Indeed, Wrex fits the bill as my tank, so I can't complain about Krogan fighting prowess. What makes a Krogan different is that you slowly learn about the genophage and the dooming of an entire race. No half-orc is that troubled about his very existence.

Assessing the Gameplay, Mass Effect is a unique RPG because I would go so far as to classify it as an Arcade RPG, similar to Starfox 64. Both games can be beaten quickly and are meant to be replayed over and over. Of course, Starfox takes no more than 30 minutes while Mass Effect will clock more time but compared to your other RPGs, American or Japenese, the fact that you can take Shepard on a direct course through the campaign hitting up 4 systems and the Citadel, I'd say that arcade mechanics are in play. And Bioware clearly had such intentions with its Achievements that are too varied for one character build to complete. This bare-bones ability to rush the story is wonderful and makes the player think "On my next play through I'll do this or that but I won't let it bog me down now". Mass Effect provides the option to speed up games in an era where lengthy engagements in a campaign or multiplayer are becoming too burdensome for many gamers with other things to do.

Flaws I picked up counter my two "Joys" about the game. First off, why the hell can't I bring a Volus, Hanar, or Elcor on my ship! If you have the aliens, make them an option for the Normandy's crew. How awesome would a Volus merchant or Hanar repairjellyfish be? Then travel to the methane worlds would be an option, and we can see the presumably mouse-like face under the suit.

Finally, the combat system that is streamlined for such speed runs is a mess in the final 1/4 of the game. The enemies are not unique, either storm-trooperesque geth that just get bigger and bigger, the little hopping geth, or those 4 legged walkers. Those are the 3 basic enemies you fight. All three just shoot at you, with the occasional rush and melee. Bioware failed with the standard enemy unit. If the geth are cybernetics why do they rely on humanoid figures? They should have a unique mold for any environment. In addition, these geth pansies nearly never use techs on you ( I assume due to synthetic existence biotics are not possible ).

The occasional and rare enemies: Krogans battlemasters, random alien beasts, Asari commandos, they are fine though again they often lack "magic" attacks and thus make them all susceptible to basic projectiles assuming you have the shields to hold off. No the other combat flaw is the bosses. Benezia is the only good boss, because she used minions in her fight. RPG Bosses must have minions or else there is not challenge in ganging up. Sarren is horrendous, he flys around on a metal magic carpet and three guys are just filling him with lead. You fight him this way twice, it's pitiful on a Spectre's part. No indoctrinated aid him, no geth bodyguards, just those freakish blue eyes. His title as Spectre clearly didn't require small skirmish knowledge.

Alas, these are just some problems I've had the fun of stylizing. Regardless I'll be playing ME 1 at least once more then delve into the sequel, at which time I suspect the 3rd should be out.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


So I'm at a college camp, enjoying free time and dormitory experience. I just finished this book.

It was enjoyable. It turns out many of math's roots stem from finger counting and the abacus. That was a truly ingenious invention. They should return them to grade school education as they provide visualization of all basic math.

In addition I was impressed with the later, advanced chapters. As being on the verge of taking BC calculus next year, I'm excited to see new ideas and concepts, particularly the ideas around infinity. I don't completely understand it but it is a logical first taste. And I'm still impressed with the information that "calculus" means pebbles in Latin.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Oasis: Beauty of the Unexpected

So i've been playing some Fallout 3.

(Sub Quest Spoiler)

A solid game, not doubt about it. I was exploring the northern rim, trying to find me some of the final achievement quests I had yet to finish. Passing a rocky mesa I happen to turn my head from the interstate wreckage I was heading toward. I see a small mountain path shaded by the stone cliffs, my meta-game sub conscious clicked, Clearly a programmer had a reason for random paths so finely hidden. I deviate and follow.

Winding up the path i hit a small green shrub and some glowing mushrooms. In just about any game this would have been unremarkable. Indeed, I almost ignored the sign until another part of my subconscious ( I give credit where credit is due) did a double take.


In a world of brow dirt and gray buildings? A gritty, dark color scheme that has been etched into my eyes now dazzles me with the color green? This in incredible. Indeed it was. I had discovered the Oasis of Fallout 3.

This lush grove is akin to a druid's sacred prayer ground. Indeed, it is arguably a small nod to the vast landscape that Bethesda creates in Cyrodiil. I then met Harold, the ghoul/man with an intimate deciduous friend. The quest was a complete show stopper, because in a world of nukes, super mutants, and Liberty Prime, I now stood in a tranquil forest. Fallout 3 was indeed the act of stripping away all that was normal until it became ingrained into your head that empty cans and bottles littering derelict houses were commonplace. That all trees could be redefined as charred sticks. That rocks and cracked asphalt were the customary terrain.

Once the status quo is set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Bethesda provides one measly location on the outskirts of the game world. Carefully hidden to the point that shear luck is the only key to discovery. But upon discovery, reality of what is normal rushes back and you realize the twisted fairy tale that has been a drain (but an enjoyable one) on your spare time. Bethesda made a capital of aberrations to give you one moment of revelation, one instance of realizing how beautiful the natural world truly is. Because of this stupefying experience to rekindle a lost reality, The Oasis quest in Fallout 3 is the best mini-quest in all of gaming history.

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