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 Bungie.net 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 i09.com, 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.