You know how in Portal you can throw a portal on the ceiling and a portal on the floor and keep falling forever? This is what would happen if you were doing that and the two portals made contact. On an intellectual basis I know this is just visual feedback. On the other hand it look so trippy it's actually disturbing. Poor Chell, trapped for all eternity in one of Lovecraft's alien dimensions.
February 8, 2016
I have a rule about my games, if I'm still playing after 15 hours and enjoying myself, then the game has been a success for me, even if I don't finish. Steam tells me I've been playing Rise of the Tomb Raider for 16 hours now and as a matter of fact I am enjoying myself.
Lara Croft has turned out to be a pretty effective fighter, at least when she's facing human enemies. Wolves, bears and snow leopards turned out to be bullet sponges. And while I'm stumped by pretty simple puzzles, I'm doing a bit better, so that's nice.
Currently I've made it to the lost city of something or other on my quest to get the thing that confers immortality. Before I go any further I should probably travel back to some earlier areas and poke around for stuff I missed. The game has certain sections that you can't access without equipment that you get later on so if you're a completionist you have to backtrack. It's somewhat weird, the game makes it a point to scream at you that Trinity, the evil organization seeking to capture immortality for their own nefarious ends, is right on your ass, there's no time to lose. But they're nice enough to let you amble back to the copper mines to look for any tombs you might have missed. "Oh, go right ahead Ms. Croft. We'll just wait right here until you get back."
But it's still fun and a welcome break from the angsty role playing games I've been playing recently.
February 6, 2016
I've Grown to Hate This Bear
February 5, 2016
So the good news is that Lara a pretty damn good at stealth kills. The bad news is that the game has no mechanism for hiding bodies so it's possible that some other asshole will stumble across this guy's corpse and get all red alert about it. But the upside is that the enemy AI isn't exactly Skynet so even if someone does come along Laura can probably kill him too.
February 3, 2016
Gaming in the 80s
It's hard sorting out the timeline here. I got my Commodore 64 in 1983 and I kept it longer then any other computer. I think I got my Tandy 1000 EX to run Ultima V that would have been in 1988. It's possible that I used the C64 until 1990. Ultima VI was published in 1990 and it wouldn't run on a C64. At any rate I had the Tandy by 1990.
The Tandy had a modem. Until then if I got stuck in a game I would suffer or wait for Computer Gaming World to publish a walkthrough. But with my modem I could dial up the Casino BBS and through them access the RIME Net's bulletin boards, some of which were devoted to games. The first time I posted a plea for help I got a response the next day and boy did I feel like I was living in a high tech future.
The Casino BBS also carried a few Usenet groups so I guess you could say I had internet access in 1990. But I ignored the Usenet until I got my own internet account with Digex in 1993. For a time I lived on Usenet.
And all that was great but when I got stuck on Tomb Raider I was able to get my answer in seconds. 1993 was cool and all but 2106 is so much better.
February 3, 2016
So then, I've played a couple of hours of Tomb Raider today. I had three challenges, the first was to get past Trinity mercs, that wasn't a problem. The second was to kill a bear preventing me from getting into a cave. I wasted a lot of time trying to find the bugger but once I did I killed him with poison arrows. Finally I did my first challenge tomb. There were two puzzles to get to what Ken and I used to call the goodie room. I solved the first by myself but had to resort to the internet to get past the second one. I wasn't even close to the right solution. You know, I remember playing games in the mid 80s, before I had access to a modem. I'd get stuck in a place for days, sometimes weeks. I don't miss the 80s at all.
So, I got the treasure from the tomb. Actually, it was a ship that had gotten itself imbedded in an ice cave. I've established a second camp and can now fast travel between the camp in the cave and the one back in the forest, that's a nice thing. I'm six hours into this thing, I've upgraded my bow and my pick and tomorrow I'll explore the rest of the cave. I've no idea if I'll be able to finish Tomb Raider but the experience will be good for me.
February 3, 2016
Prime Minister's Questions
The best political program on any medium is Prime Minister's Questions. I would love it if the American president had to show up once a week at a joint session of Congress and have to take questions from the floor. It's not going to happen, Prime Minister Cameron is a member of the legislature. President Obama is head of the executive branch. Still, it would be fun to watch, wouldn't it?
February 1, 2016
Haven't played too much of this. First I was trying to finish Stand on Zanzibar and today I'm trying to shake off a cold. But I wanted to show you what the gameplay is like, so after taking far to long to solve a simple puzzle I reloaded and made this movie. I'm really bad with spatial stuff and feeling sick doesn't help. But damn it's a nice looking game.
February 1, 2016
The Nazgul are Wimps
Tolkien talks big about what badasses the Nazgul are but in practice they're pretty lame. Let's look at their attempts to waylay Frodo as Frodo tries to make his way to Rivendell.
In Fellowship of the Rings there's a long time delay between Bilbo's birthday party and Frodo learning the truth about the Ring from Gandalf. Frodo doesn't want to arouse suspicion so he makes out like he's running out of money, sells Bagend and makes his way to Crickhallow, a small house in Buckland. From there he'll be able to leave the Shire quietly. So he's setting off on his adventure and before he goes he hears Sam's father arguing with someone. Hamfast Gamgee ends the conversation by telling the guy to fuck off. And that marks the first appearance of a Nazgul in the book, and the badass villain is run off by a 92 year old hobbit.
Later on, before Frodo, Sam and Pippin reach Crickhallow they run across Farmer Maggot. Maggot also encountered a Black Rider and the conversation went the same way it did with Sam's father. Next the hobbits hit Bree. Merry is accosted by a Black Rider in the street, falls unconscious and then the Nazgul runs off, scared by the appearance of Nob, the hobbit servant at the Prancing Pony.
The hobbits set off, accompanied by Aragorn. On their way to Weathertop they see the hill with lighting flashing at its summit. That's Gandalf, he's battling all nine Nazgul and kicking their ass by himself. When Frodo and company reach Weathertop, their besieged by five Nazgul. The Lord of the Nazgul manages to wound Frodo after Frodo puts on the Ring. You'd think they'd just take the Ring and go but no, they're driven off by Aragorn and the other three hobbits waving burning sticks. Finally the Nazgul collectively grow a pair, chase after Frodo close to Rivendell and get caught in a flood raised by Elrond.
There is one final appearance by a Nazgul in < i>Fellowship. The group is on the left bank of the Anduin, a winged Nazgul shows up on the right bank and Legolas shoots and kills whatever the hell that thing is that they ride. And that's it for Fellowship.
They were useful during the Siege of Minas Tirith, but forget the scenes in the movie where their mounts are tearing down walls and picking people up. That really was badass. No, in the book their wails demoralized the defenders and the Nazgul made it a point to fly out of the range of their arrows. However Gandalf was on the front lines and using Narya, the Ring of Fire, was able to help the defenders shake off the effects.
So when you see Radagast kick the Lord of the Nazgul's ass in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman humiliate all nine of them in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, yeah, that's about right. As villains go I'd rather face five Nazgul then one pissed off Vader.
February 1, 2016
Recently I'm noticing a certain amount of pushback from dissatisfied Fallout 4 players. You're dropped into a large world and you have just two types of interactions with the NPCs. They either give you quests that involve killing other NPCs, or else they're the poor bastards you have to kill. That's it, the world is populated by quest givers and your victims.
And what's frustrating is that there's evidence in the game's code that there were non violent things to do in the game that were removed.
I'm not complaining, I had a good time in the game, but I had a better time in Witcher 3. Here's a bit that comes to mind, we're building up to the game's climax and Ciri, my protégé, is feeling a bit uncertain about things. There were several options and I chose the one that involved getting into a snowball fight with her. That loosened her up to the point where she was able to survive her confrontation with the ultimate boss. I had several interactions with her during the game that built up her confidence.
Indeed, there's a lot of that sort of thing in the game. You have two romantic options in the game, the witches Triss and Yennefer. You can start a romance with one or both of them if you wish. But if you choose both you'll end up alone at the end of the game, they'll find out you're a douche.
Fallout 4 is what it is, a slugfest. There's nothing wrong with that, and Bethesda isn't known for its subtlety. But I can see how people coming into Fallout 4 from Witcher 3 or Dragon Age could be disappointed. That being said, I'm looking forward to the remake of Doom later this year. Because there are times when you have to tell subtlety and nuance to go fuck themselves.
And while I'm on the subject of games, Rise of the Tomb Raider is right pretty, although my tomb raiding skills have atrophied over the last two years.
January 30, 2016
I got Newton on April 9, 2014 so we're approaching our two year anniversary. The picture was taken the day I got him. I expected him to run and hide somewhere until he felt safe. Instead, delighted by his new large environment, he tore around the house, breaking a statue of Thoth in the process, before calming down. Meanwhile some Superglue fixed Thoth, Newton has mellowed quite a bit and this is one of my favorite pictures of him.
January 30, 2016
Still Standing on Zanzibar
John Brunner's book Stand on Zanzibar was as much a commentary on the 1960s as anything else. In the 60s there were books like The Population Bomb by Paul R. Ehrlich that forecast shit and horror due to rising population and resultant famines. In fact, Ehrlich (and Brunner) was wrong. Our ability to feed people has, so far kept up with population growth. And in technologically advanced countries, population growth has slowed considerably. When children are no longer a resource for the family, families tend to have less of the little buggers.
Brunner was wrong about a lot of things, and one of them was the draft. In his version of 2010 the draft is still going on. Luckily for me the draft ended in 1973, one year before my 18th birthday. The American military makes due with a smaller, better trained force and a shit ton of technological toys. And so it goes.
You know, I got my first personal computer when I was 27. And the thing is, there are still times when I feel like I'm living in a science fictional universe. The idea of using an ereader to reread Stand on Zanzibar is a little disconcerting.
I don't know, as I get older I tend towards pessimism, but today I'm having a rare burst of optimism. Tomorrow I'll go back to being Eeyore.
January 30, 2016
In today's Times Paul Krugman reviewsThe Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon.
Gordon's thinks that the big technological change in America happened between 1920 and 1970, things have been rather stagnent since then. He acknowledges the PC revolution but believes it wasn't nearly as transformative as earlier technological changes. Krugman writes:
And it’s hard not to agree with him that nothing that has happened since is remotely comparable. Urban life in America on the eve of World War II was already recognizably modern; you or I could walk into a 1940s apartment, with its indoor plumbing, gas range, electric lights, refrigerator and telephone, and we’d find it basically functional. We’d be annoyed at the lack of television and Internet — but not horrified or disgusted.
By contrast, urban Americans from 1940 walking into 1870-style accommodations — which they could still do in the rural South — were indeed horrified and disgusted. Life fundamentally improved between 1870 and 1940 in a way it hasn’t since.
And he may very well be right, but I can't help remembering this essay by Charlie Stross:
Around 1950, everyone tended to look at what the future held in terms of improvements in transportation speed.
But as we know now, that wasn't where the big improvements were going to come from. The automation of information systems just weren't on the map, other than in the crudest sense — punched card sorting and collating machines and desktop calculators.
We can plot a graph of computing power against time that, prior to 1900, looks remarkably similar to the graph of maximum speed against time. Basically it's a flat line from prehistory up to the invention, in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, of the first mechanical calculating machines. It gradually rises as mechanical calculators become more sophisticated, then in the late 1930s and 1940s it starts to rise steeply. From 1960 onwards, with the transition to solid state digital electronics, it's been necessary to switch to a logarithmic scale to even keep sight of this graph.
I don't know if I'll get around to reading Gordon's book. Krugman seems to agree with Gordon's assessment but does admit that the author might not have taken into account the changes wrought by social media. Maybe the book will be the summer reading project.
January 30, 2016
The Name's Chandler, Alan Chandler
It's three in the morning and I sort of hoped that Rise of the Tomb Raider would unlock at the stroke of midnight, west coast time. That's not the case so I fired up Fallout 4 and bought Alan Chandler a tuxedo as a sort of goodbye gift. Because it's kind of sad to be leaving Alan and his world. After a playing for three months and 110 hours you become invested in the the character. But even thought he had to make a bitter choice and destroy his son's life's work, he just got a job as supervisor of the Atomic Galleria, a pre-war shopping center. So he'll chill in his tux and wait for customers with his faithful companion Dogmeat. It's not the life he intended but it's still better then what a lot of wasteland dwellers have.
January 28, 2016
Today I pulled the trigger on Rise of the Tomb Raider. I had a good time with the reboot of the series back in 2014 and it's a break from the string of RPGs I played in 2015. And, as is usual with Steam, the game is preloading even as we speak.
You know, it's with a certain nostalgia that I remember when Valve used to be a studio that actually made games. They haven't released a game since Defense of the Ancients 2 back in 2013. And really, why should they? Steam has made Valve rich beyond the dreams of avarice. But I remember how revolutionary Half Life was back in 1998 and I kind of wonder what they's come up with if they really decided to go all out and, you know, make a game again.
But Steam is very cool indeed and if the price of having Steam is no getting Half Life 3 ever, I'm good with that.
January 26, 2016
Science Fiction Double Feature
Earth has five active satellites in orbit around Mars, three from America, one from India and one from the European Space Agency. While we're at it there are two active rovers on Mars Curiosity, which arrived in 2012 and Opportunity, which has been working since 2002. And all that stuff has been doing wonderful science. For instance, we know that Mars once had a lot of water and a thick atmosphere. In fact the NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped pictures of water flowing on Mars today:
And the tech we have on and around Mars helped scientists figure out where Mars' atmosphere went. We have a strong magnetic field generated by liquid iron surrounding the Earth's core. That magnetic field protects Earth from solar storms. Mars has a pretty weak magnetic field and every time a solar storm hit, bits of the planet's atmosphere were blasted into space.
So our machines are making some damn fine observations about Mars. Humans need to interpret the data but the same could be said of the information astronauts brought back from the Moon. And consider this, Opportunity has been doing science for almost 14 years. The thing was only supposed to last for 90 days. That's a damn fine return on investment if you ask me. And that brings me to one of my favorite new shows, The Expanse.
The Expanse is set 200 years in the future. The United Nations of Earth and Luna are the Solar System's dominant power, Mars is the up and coming power and the two entities are clashing over Ceres, the center of Earth's mining operations in the Asteroid Belt. Although the Belters produce the Solar System's wealth, they live in miserable conditions and a group called the Outer Planet Alliance is agitating for independence. Earth is mighty cool towards that idea and Mars isn't doing handstands over it either.
It's all pretty exciting and I recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction. That being said, I'm fairly certain that 200 years from now if we're mining asteroids, robots will be doing the mining. We have the ISS and we'll probably get a Moon colony but hallowing out Ceres and dropping 6 million people there is just fucking ludicrous.
But you need humans to have dramatic tension. If you're doing a show about mining robots in the Asteroid Belt you'll be doing episodes about the company's IT department trying to convince the COO that it's time to dump Windows and move the mining bots over to Linux.
I'd watch it but nobody else would.
You know, in the 2020s NASA plans to send a robot to an asteroid, have the robot break off a chunk and try to orbit the thing around the Moon. If it works, that's probably how we'll mine the Belt. The Expanse is still a cool show though.
January 24, 2016
Newton likes his bed in the corner. Unfortunately it's right next to one of Kosh's speakers so sometimes he has to deal with the Beach Boys.
January 24, 2016
Kubrick in Color
January 24, 2016
An Irish Breakfast
Caty and her mom felt compelled to tell me they're at Buskers enjoying a fine Irish breakfast while I'm here in Galloway riding out a fucking blizzard. Next time I'm leaving Sparta, I'm feeding Rosie and Bean laxatives before I go.
January 23, 2016
Didn't like Consortium as it turned out, probably because I don't like being thrown into situations with minimal information. It's not the game, it's me. So it looks like the next Tomb Raider will be my next big game. In the meantime, here's a picture of Weeping Flame at level 50.
January 23, 2016
The Return of Weeping Flame
You remember the Weeping Flame I hope. She really hasn't been trotted out since City of Heroes. But when I decided to make the seasonal character a female barbarian there really was no other choice for a name. And she's good, in two days playing on hard I've gotten her to level 26. And that's what's happening in Diablo 3. Tomorrow I think the plan is to buy some beer before the storm. In that case I'll boot up Consortium and try to get oout of what appears to be the training area.
January 22, 2016
As long as I'm trying something a bit different with Consortium I put Diablo 3 back on Kosh and decided to try seasonal play. The idea with playing a season is to try to amass loot and craft stuff. The drops are a bit more generous and once you've hit the level cap there's a chance you might get something that can be used in another game, a pet for World of Warcraft for example. I've been playing for a bit with a barbarian named Weeping Flame and managed to get her to level 12 in about two hours. I'm also going to try to force myself to do a bit of crafting. Thus I expand my gaming horizon.
January 21, 2016
So, it's the mid 21st century and peace is maintained around the world by a group called the Consortium. I'm a member, Bishop 6, and I'm on a plane called the Zenlil. The game gives me virtually no information about my character beyond that, although it did give me a little training in a simulator.
Although it's a RPG Consortium is outside my proverbial comfort zone. But it's also free so I think that I'll lay in some beer before the storm and try to get comfortable with it. That may be a bit difficult. The NPCs assume that I'm Bishop 6 and know what I'm doing, but since I've been given no clue who the hell Bishop 6 is or what he's supposed to be doing I'm just bluffing my way through things. Apparently this isn't an oversight, it's a game mechanic.
I'm not sure if I like this scenario but I'll give it my best shot over the weekend, trying to be a suave kind of guy who can bullshit his way through anything. At the end of my career as an inspector there were a lot of casino games on the floor that I knew nothing about. When a patron came up with a complaint I had to go into bullshit mode while I quickly researched whatever the patron was whining about. Since nobody ever called me out on it I guess I have untapped reservoirs of bullshit I can use in Consortium.
January 21, 2016
Stand on Zanzibar
Stand on Zanzibar was written by John Brunner and published in 1968. The novel was set in 2010 and in Brunner's vision of 2010 the world's population stood at 8 billion and things were starting to break around the edges. There were random acts of horrible violence, forced abortions for a whole range of perceived defects (color blindness) and general short tempers from the background shittiness of life in the 21st century. Of course, to the folks in the novel, this was just the way things were.
Brunner was emulating a writer named John Dos Passos in Zanzibar, so you have lots of slice of life chapters, chapters that are nothing but little clips from newsfeeds and books, it was all very disorienting when I first read the book in the 70s. Coming back to the book after some 20 years it's not disorienting at all. The internet is nothing but short little bursts of factoids after all. In fact Brunner, like Gibson after him, didn't get the facts of our future right but he did get the tone of the future correct.
The driving force in Zanzibar is overpopulation. In 2016 the world's population stands at 7.4 billion and things aren't breaking down, at least not from that, but climate change is playing havoc with the weather, fundamentalist Muslim armies have taken over large sections of Iraq and Syria and abortion is under threat in many states. One can imagine my counterpart in Zanzibar reading a 48 year old science fiction novel set in our timeline being grateful that he lives in his own world.
I'd forgotten how good the book is.
January 20, 2016
Kind of makes me wish I knew an Andrew Chandler, just so I could fuck with him.
January 19, 2016
Stand on Zanzibar
I bet you never heard of Stand on Zanzibar have you? It was written by John Brunner in 1968 and it was science fiction set in the far off year of 2010. I first read it in the 70s, reread it several times and my paperback copy was lost in the wreck of the Meehan-Silverman Library. After that, I forgot about the book for, oh say 25 years. Until today! Today I ran across an article on John Brunner and it mentioned that unlike many near future works of science fiction written in the 60s and 70s, Stand on Zanzibar still holds up. And I had a great desire to reread the book.
And so I shall. I have a weakness for near future science fiction.
January 19, 2016
So, last year I bought a GTX 970 card and found it unbearably noisy. Actually, that's not true, if it was unbearably noisy I probably would have gotten another card. Given how much a 980 costs as it turned out the GTX 970 was quite bearable, just annoying.
So I've been dicking around in Fallout 4 and Witcher 3 while waiting for my next adventure and I've noticed something, since getting the new board and chip, I can go places in Witcher 3 that started the video card's coils ringing.
Apparently newer CPUs have video processing capability. I'm not sure if I just hit a lucky streak with Geralt or if the chip's own video capability is easing the strain on the 970. I'm not really sure and I tend to obsess about thing but, for the moment anyway, I'm just going to be grateful for what I have.
January 18, 2016
Take That PETA!
January 17, 2016
The Expanse and SpaceX
Today I watched SpaceX launch a satellite designed to monitor the ocean. The satellite got to its proper orbit and all then SpaceX tried to land the first stage rocket on a barge at sea. The booster came in hard and one of its landing legs snapped off. If you've been keeping track, this is the third landing at sea the company has tried and they've all failed. One landing on dry land was a success so they're batting .250.
SpaceX wants to land the things at sea because the barges are far away from populated areas, in case of a fuck up you kind of do want your rocket to be away from things like schools and hospitals. The landing on land was sort of one time only special. And SpaceX has incentive to keep trying because once they do get the landing thing down, they'll make a lot of money by reusing their boosters.
At this stage of the game you might be wondering why NASA never tried anything like this. Well, in the days of the Apollo program the tech wasn't there yet. They're not looking into it now because they don't have to. They get a fixed amount of money per year and they don't turn a profit, nor to they need to. Elon Musk does indeed want to turn a profit and so does Jeff Bezos. So they'll keep trying to land their first stage rockets until they get the tech down. There's no law of nature that says we can't land the damn things, it's just really hard right now.
Meanwhile Congress passed a bill called the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. In a nutshell, it allows private companies to extract resources from satellites, planets and asteroids and keep what they find. They can't own land on the Moon but if they extract water ice from a crater they can keep it and sell it to, say, California.
Which is a long way of getting around to The Expanse, a show set in the 23rd century when Earth has colonized the Solar System and tensions are running high between the players. They would be the United Nations, running Earth and Luna; Mars, a former colony and up and coming power; and the Outer Planets Alliance, which wants the colonies beyond Mars to form their own government. Earth is rather cool towards that idea. So is Mars, for that matter. Mars figures they're the ones best suited to administer the trans-martian colonies.
I I like the show because of the Gibson like grittiness and because I don't have to use willing suspension of disbelief for the tech. It's a good show and if you like science fiction you should watch it. Which is what I'm going to do right after I post this.
January 17, 2016
P. G. Wodehouse
I was not well read in 1975, but I did read the New York Times. Most of my money was earmarked for college but I did treat myself to the Times. That's how I learned that in January, 1975, somebody named P. G. Wodehouse was going to be knighted and that it was a big thing.
It was a big thing because Wodehouse was a British author living in France when the Germans arrived in 1940. As an enemy alien he was interred until he turned 60, then he made a very poor decision. He was brought to Berlin and was asked if he'd like to make some broadcast to the Americans, who were still out of the war. Wodehouse said yes, made five broadcasts about the humorous side of being interred. The British government was not amused and there were some in Parliament who wanted him tried for treason. In 1944 the Germans allowed Wodehouse to go back to Paris and after France's liberation he was interviewed by various intelligence types. The consensus was that Wodehouse was a clueless fuck who had no idea that his broadcasts would be interpreted as giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
In 1946 Wodehouse and his wife moved to America. He became a citizen in 1955, wrote a lot of books and died in 1975 at 93. The Times made a big thing about Wodehouse and from that I figured out that he was a big deal. Later on I bought one of his books, Leave it to Psmith. I didn't like it.
Some 41 years later I'm ready to take another stab at Wodehouse. I'm still not really well read but I'm better read and better suited to understanding Wodehouse's humor. Because humor was his thing and a lot of people think he was very funny. So I'm going to take a stab at My Man Jeeves. It's a book of stories all told by Bertie Wooster. Bertie, not unlike his creator, is a clueless fuck who is always being bailed out by his valet, Jeeves:
That's Stephen Fry on the left as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie on the right as Bertie. They did a television show in the early 90s called Jeeves and Wooster. As with so many other things, most of them are on YouTube. At any rate, after Mervyn Peake and the Caesars I think I'm in the mood for something light.
January 17, 2016
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