Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Power of Google

Over the years, Google has grown to be much more than just a search engine. If, for example, you type a math problem into the Google search bar, it will give you the answer and a browser-based calculator to do additional problems with.

Yesterday, I Googled "united airlines" in order to sign in and check my flight times. Google, however, cross-referenced my gmail account and based on that information provided me with my full itinerary in the browser, down to specific gate numbers for each flight.

Technology, eh?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mental Fatigue

One thing I've learned during exam weeks is that I generally can't think intensively for more than two hours at a time. The efficiency of my studying goes down if I don't take decent breaks between two-hour blocks, and sometimes I can't even think enough to play video games after especially mental sessions.

It could be my imagination, but this effect is unfortunately noticeable during the two-and-a-half-hour exams that come at the end of each semester. I charge in at the beginning of a test with all the knowledge I've gained and hope that I get through all the questions before fatigue sets in. It's worked so far.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Exam Design

What's the purpose of an academic exam? Generally, exams are meant to evaluate what knowledge and skills a student has gained, and the way an exam is designed determines what skills are tested.

A general example of this is multiple choice vs free response. Multiple choice questions test recognition-- selecting one correct answer from a finite, visible pool of answers. Free response questions, on the other hand, test recollection, determining if a student can identify a correct answer without being prompted.

What would happen if students were allowed to look at their notes during an exam? Understanding and memory would probably be less vital, and note-taking ability would be the major skill tested.

Next, what would happen if the professor made available all possible questions on the exam and their correct answers for students to study before taking a take-home exam? Two things are tested in this case: short-term memory, as looking over the question bank right before taking the exam is a no-brainer, and moral soundness, for cheating on such an exam would be extremely easy to do and get away with.

With the question bank so readily available, it's hard to imagine that anyone in the class would get less than a 95% on this exam, so it's safe to say that knowledge and skills aren't really being evaluated. This isn't something I should be complaining about, but if exams are my roller coasters, this one was a merry-go-round.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Plot Twist

It's a well-documented truth that internet comment threads are breeding grounds of negativity and bile, but there are some redeeming characteristics of the internet-mind-- for one, great creativity in unexpected areas.

An example of this that comes to mind is the idea of making up 'plot twists'. Internet memes and gifs tell stories or snapshots of stories, and speculation about these stories in comment threads are prefixed with the phrase 'plot twist:'. This is a mental exercise that emphasizes how important context is to any story. Thinking about plot twists in this way can be funny, but it also trains internet users to not accept statements and ideas at face value.

Here's a real example: a gif (short video) shows a person dressed as a ninja giving food to homeless people in Las Vegas. Someone reversed the gif and reposted it; now it appears that the ninja is taking food from homeless people.
The title of the post is: "Ninja steals food from the homeless"
One commenter says: Plot twist: ninja is homeless

If one assumes that the ninja in the reversed gif is homeless, the conclusion is that he's stealing food from the homeless for the homeless, so the action is seen as less wrong. Context is important.

Call it over-analyzing, but the way people interact on the internet can say a lot about what they value and how they think.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Night Before Exams

It's the night before exams, and everything stands prepared-- enough pens and pencils to equip a small, studious army, and a blue book to write English exam essays in. The morning will bring a relatively healthy breakfast and hand stretches. It's a big week.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Writing You Can Smell

A week or so ago in the English class I'm currently taking, we were given the task of writing a Spenserian stanza (ababbcbcc, eight lines of iambic pentameter followed by one line of iambic hexameter) based on any story in the Emory Wheel, the school newspaper.

Some of the resulting poems were collected and published in last Friday's newspaper, and I was happy to pick up a copy today and see words I've written physically printed for public display.

The feature is available here online, but I'm keeping a paper copy just for the smell of the words on newspaper.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Feudal Research Society

This has been my first semester involved in research, and I had a sudden realization the other day: from the undergraduate point of view, research labs function according to the feudal system.

The monarch is probably the dean of academics or something along those lines. Principal investigators (PIs) are like nobles, wielding great authority in a limited area-- their lab. PIs have lesser nobles and knights to manage day-to-day work in the lab; these are postdocs and graduate students. Lastly, there are peasants, undergraduates that often do much of the basic work in the lab.

Now, this may seem like a negative view of research, but the reciprocity of the feudal system shouldn't be forgotten. Just as serfs work for a noble in exchange for a place to live and protection, a PI maintains the loyalty of graduate students and undergraduates by providing resume-building research experience and mentoring. PIs also look out for their subjects when they write letters of recommendation or help them network with other researchers.

There are, of course, differences between the two systems. For one thing, it's possible to progress to the top of the research hierarchy in a few decades; the medieval feudal system provided much less social mobility. That being said, the similarities are clear to see. In a good lab environment, there's no doubt as to who's in charge, but everyone is happily engaged in the work being done.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Competitive TF2

There was a major Team Fortress 2 tournament this weekend and I watched some on Twitch just to see what it was like. Here's some of what I've gleaned:

This particular tournament, the ESEA Invite S17 LAN Finals, is 6s tf2: each team has one medic, one demoman, and four other players, usually two soldiers and two scouts. These teams fight over control points in a variety of arenas.

Scouts are fast, can double-jump, and have hitscan weapons (damage happens instantly when you click on an enemy), and are thus good at taking out individual targets and, of course, scouting.

Soldiers have rocket launchers that do splash damage (damage spread out over a small area). Soldiers can use their rocket launchers to jump long distances, making them very mobile. One soldier serves as a 'roamer', jumping around, flanking positions, and trying to kill the enemy medic. The other soldier is a pocket, staying close to the friendly medic, protecting them, and pushing forward as the vanguard of the team.

The demoman's job is to control areas-- the demo's sticky bombs and explosive pipes can keep enemies from advancing, especially in narrow doorways and alleys. If a medic is using the kritzkrieg (an offensive medigun that increases a teammate's damage), it will usually be the demoman that is given the extra damage-- a kritzed demo is formidable indeed.

The medic is the team healer and often the team's strategist, calling out plays and enemy positions. Medics also can use their mediguns to make teammates invincible or kritzed. This is a hugely important role, and killing the enemy medic is of highest priority to each team.

As with all sports, seeing star performers at work is half the fun of watching. The winning team of this tournament, Froyotech, is led by b4nny, a 21-year-old often cited as the best tf2 player in the world. Clockw0rk, also part of Froyotech, is called the best scout in North America and took out four players in 30 seconds in one of the grand finals matches this weekend.

There's a lot more that could be said, but the biggest takeaway I have from this tournament is that it's hard to see much difference between watching esports and watching real sports.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Amazon Pantry

I was going to go out grocery shopping today, but then I remembered that it's 2014 and Amazon Pantry exists. Amazon Pantry offers bulk delivery of food and kitchen items on relatively short notice and is one small part of Amazon's mission to be the one stop shop for anything money can buy-- the Walmart of the internet. Is this a bad thing?

I don't know much about economics, but when I actually did step outside after my virtual shopping, I got the feeling that the world is much bigger and more complex than the internet in the same way that a range of hills is bigger than a landscape painting. More real. I feel that dystopias that involve one large business taking over the world (such as in Wall-E) present the world as much simpler than it is.

To sum up, I certainly appreciate the convenience of the services Amazon provides, but it's not big enough to substitute for walking to a grocery store on a cold night.

Spawn Camping Poem

A gamer once upon a time proceeded forth with hope
But instantly at the spawn door was 360-noscop'd
Seized he then his keyboard, typed "OP the sniper rates"
Responded hence the sniper thus: "git gud" and "get rekd m8."

Friday, December 5, 2014

Notes in an Exam

I had my Chemistry Lab exam today, and we were interestingly allowed to use one 3x5 inch card of notes during the exam. Small writing is the name of the game, of course, but what was most helpful for me about this exercise was going through all we'd learned through the semester and considering what information is worth putting on the 3x5. Preparing the card could have been more useful than having it. Well played, professor.

On another note, if I were in a position of educational authority, I would like to try allowing a 1x1 inch card of notes in an exam just to see what happens.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: The Stanley Parable

The boss must be a heavy reader.

The Stanley Parable is a prime example of a "walking simulator," a game where player input is limited to walking around and basic interaction with various objects. The Stanley Parable is generally considered to be one of the cleverer games in this genre and features a narrator telling a story about life, games, and stories themselves. This very meta discussion takes place as the player wanders through an abandoned office that holds many surprises and different outcomes based on which path the player chooses to take.

I personally enjoyed The Stanley Parable, and while it wasn't as funny as I had hoped, there were enough interesting choices and unexpected twists to make a few hours exploring this office worth the time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Chalk Talk

I had an assignment this week to make a video about the research project I'll be doing in the herbarium, and while my inquiry isn't set in stone, this is the general gist of it.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Visa Ballad

'Twas once upon a happy day
My ears the good news found
That for that very Christimas
I was Nigeria bound

One thing I needed only then
To hence secure my going
A simple visa for my 'port
To mark my to and froing

That simple task I thus began
But needed one thing pronto
A new passport to bear my face
And stamp new visas onto

A quick trip to the justice house
Was all passport desired
But found I then that for said 'port
My birthgraph was required

Certificate of birth abroad
Takes one whole line to say
Unluckily for my travail
'Twas filed far away

A noble trav'ler it took up
And carried to the mail
Once had I it my passport
Application could not fail

Passport in hand and photograph
And visa papers too
I journeyed to the embassy
On buses not a few

My application was pristine
But hark my slight mistake
The consulate for payment
Won't but money orders take

Distraught was I but helped was then
By emb'ssy person neat
I could acquire 'orders
At gas station down the street

Strode I then to station store
And debit card showed fast
'Twas only then was I informed
That take they only cash

All was not lost! There was in view
An ATM convenient
I quick withdrew some dollar bills
For station store unlenient

Returned I then with stuff in hand
And for my visa stood
The person at the consulate
Said it was very good

'Twas simple, then
To cash withdraw
To order get
To visa 'pply
With passport new
With paper sent
To be Nigeria bound

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Color-Based Meditation

I'm currently in a class about different methods of reducing stress, and today's topic was meditation. The color technique is easy to learn and carry out without several years of living in the Himalayas.

The idea is to, sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, imagine oneself to be surrounded by a red sphere. After thinking a while what that feels like, imagine an orange sphere, then yellow, and all the way around the color wheel.

It's no secret that we humans associate certain emotions and sensations with different colors, and going around the wheel can help give insight into how one's day is going emotionally. I felt particularly happy today when thinking about yellow.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Essay Writing Process

I've had a number of two-page essays to do the past several months, and I've developed a certain routine for completing them:

1. Format word document and gather information
2. Spend several minutes pondering first sentence
3. Write introductory paragraph, making sure that the last sentence of the paragraph states the thesis.
4. Take a short break
5. Write the rest of the paper, following the outline laid out in the first paragraph
6. Spend several minutes pondering last sentence
7. Save and go do something else
8. Proofread and print next morning

It's worked out reasonably well so far.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Version 1.4

I've been posting here for just over a year now (November 20), and with that as a motivator, I've added new ways of finding posts of a particular sort. The new categories are academics, food, games, rants, and the inherently pretentious writing about writing. My next mission is to change the background.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Don't Throw The Apple

As my many boxes of hot pockets can attest to, college living involves a lot of unsupervised choices. Being able to act healthily takes willpower, something that I think can be trained like many other skills.

After each meal at the cafeteria, I usually pick up an apple or pear on the way out to eat later. These fruits fit the hand well, like a baseball, and during the ten-minute walk back to my dorm, I repeatedly think, "I wonder if I could hit that tree with this apple," or, "Wouldn't it be fun to toss this apple in the air and catch it?" The urge to throw is great, and that's the point of the test-- I'm not allowed to toss the apple.

It's a pretty easy test - I've been hardwired to not be careless with food - but thinking about throwing the apple makes me consider the other decisions I have to make throughout the day. Do I get up early and get work done, or do I sleep in and turn in a lower-quality assignment? It's easy to decide to "work hard this semester," but the actual choice comes at a thousand different points. Not throwing the apple is a constant decision.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Niche Jokes With Benjamin: Taxonomy

Why did the botanist throw away the basket woven out of rushes?
Because it was a piece of Juncus.

What did the botanists do when they saw the large, perennial grass?
They began to Panicum.

Which island has the most papyrus?
Cyprus (Cyperus).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Talking About Weather

The sudden drop in temperature here has provided a conversation starter for countless citizens: "Wow, it's cold, isn't it?"

It's an interesting thing to say, when you think about it. It can be assumed that everyone already knows that its cold, so commenting on it doesn't communicate information as much as it communicates a desire to connect, if just in a small way.

It's a way of reaffirming that we're in the same boat, if only because we're under the same sky. It's probably some sort of rule that conversations start with common ground, and weather is about as common as it gets.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Contemporary Philosophy

I remember an annoying game I used to play where I would ask, "why?" after every statement made by whoever I was talking to. "Why do things fall to the ground?"
"Because of gravity."
"Yeah, but why does gravity work?"
"Because every time two pieces of matter exist, they attract each other."

I know I'm not the only person to have done this as a child, but such questions are also the focus of metaphysical philosophy. Many contemporary philosophers, building on the assumption that deductive logic is the only way to know truth (ironic), have followed this string of whys to the bitter end in a quest for absolute certainty.

A philosopher, born in 1967, called Quentin Meillassoux, has suggested the following:

"Our inability rationally to determine an absolute necessity or sufficient reason underlying things, properly understood, can be affirmed as a demonstration that there is in fact no such necessity or reason." (Hallward 132)

In other words, the argument is this:
1. Humans, being finite in understanding and knowledge, cannot prove that things must be the way they are (necessary). We have an idea, for example, that pushing a box causes it to move, but we cannot prove using deductive logic that it was the action of pushing the box that made it move.

2. This ignorance and lack of understanding, according to Meillassoux, is absolute proof that no necessity exists anywhere in the universe. The idea that humans are not omniscient disproves the existence of natural laws and causality itself.

This philosophy, called speculative realism, has other bad arguments, arbitrarily setting up non-contradiction and mathematics as the only things in the universe that are necessary, despite earlier saying that nothing is necessary. However, focusing on point 2, I'd like to dwell on how appalling this view is both for those who think logic has value and those who don't care about proving things.

Logically, 2 does not follow from one. Deductive logic is only valid when, given the premise (1), the conclusion (2) is the only possible result. Given premise 1, any number of results outside of 2 can be conceived. It could, for example, be that there is something in the universe transcendent to humans (God is the most obvious, but even pi is transcendent).

When logic is thrown out the window, Meillassoux has nothing to offer the world. There is no practical application of the idea that things might be otherwise. However good is defined, there seems to be nothing good that can come of this philosophy.

As a person with relatively little education in philosophy, I recognize that there could be redeeming aspects of speculative realism that I don't understand, but as I currently see things, contemporary metaphysics, when it assumes that humans are the highest form of existence, is insane.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Faerie Queene

The Faerie Queene is an English epic written by Edmund Spenser in the sixteenth century. We often think of Shakespearean language as archaic, but Spenser, living at the same time as Shakespeare, deliberately used an English (Chaucerian English) that was old at the time when writing The Fairie Queene.

The Faerie Queene is divided into books, each telling the story of one knight who exemplifies and learns about one virtue. Here is an excerpt from the beginning of Book 1, the tale of the Redcrosse Knight and holiness:

"A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
     Ycladd in mightie armes and silver shield,
     Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine,
     The cruell markes of many a bloudy field;
     Yet armes till that time did he never wield:
     His angry steede did chide his foming bitt,
     As much disdayning to the curbe to yield:
     Full jolly knight he seemd, and faire did sitt,
As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Science Facts: Stability vs Resilience

In ecology, the stability of a community is how much it will be affected by a disturbance. A stable community, for instance, would be less harmed by a drought than a relatively unstable community.

Resilience, on the other hand, is how quickly a community returns to its default state after being disturbed. In this way, a community can be very unstable, but due to resilience, still be able to survive and thrive through many disturbances.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Yanning Dust

To look at your teacher with a straight face while cobbling together a pile of what's essentially nonsense in an effort to appear to have done work and understood-- this is what it is to yan dust. It's a lot like laying railroad tracks in front of a speeding train-- very difficult to do successfully but producing an amazing feeling if you pull it off. One could go so far as to say that yanning dust is like extreme sports for academically-minded people.

For example:*
Teacher: How did the Thirty Year's War change European politics?
Student: Well, of course, the European states were at that time mostly fragmented based on factors such as religion and the recent Reformation. These conflicts were brought into light by the Thirty Year's War as the various nations struggled in a competition not only for disputed land but for socio-political influence on a continental scale.

*this represents an unsuccessful yan

There is, of course, no substitute for actually learning things, but once in a while, on a busy day perhaps, it is a possible option to simply skim the philosophy reading, go to class, and yan like a champ.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Outdated Methods

I often find myself wondering if I should write something down, but then I think, "surely I'll remember this later." It seems to be the case that many botanists at Emory in the early 20th century had this same approach to labeling the plants they collected.

Missing dates and habitats on labels are among the many obstacles met when databasing old plants on such a large scale. Many plant names are written in pencil in cursive, which must have seemed like a good idea at the time. In the same way, specimen filing cabinets were lined with a mixture of mercury and cyanide to keep away bugs.. If the work of such scientists seems so haphazard today, what aspects of the current herbarium will seem crazy in the future?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Night For Walking

A night to calm the troubled mind to rest
The air doth clear as ice and cold surround
Hang shimmering the lamps in yellowness
As gentle water sprinkles grassy ground

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Origins of Down

'Down' apparently originates in the Old English phrase 'of dune,' which means 'off the hill'. This was shortened to 'adune' over time and gained the meaning we know and love today.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Metro 2033

Not many dare to brave the tunnels alone

Metro 2033 is a first-person shooter with strong story and horror elements. The setting is in the name; after a nuclear war flattens Moscow, the only people who survive are those who were in the underground metro tunnels at the time of the bombing. Metro 2033 is one of the most immersive games I've played recently-- the crowded tunnel-communities are full of details and people and stories going on outside of the player's influence. Setting the spoken language to Russian in the game options helps make the atmosphere even more believable.

The combat is quite good; every gun has a unique feel and fights are balanced to be harrowing and difficult, but not to the point of frustration. Ammunition is used as currency in the world of Metro 2033, which encourages players to shoot sparingly as they are literally firing money. In a subway system full of mutants and monsters, Metro 2033 is less about running around guns blazing and more about surviving to help the characters the player cares about.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Science Facts: Overcompensation

Predation - one organism eating another - is always bad for the organism being eaten because it implies the death of said organism. Herbivory - an organism eating a plant - is a bit more nuanced because plants don't necessarily die when parts of them are eaten.

There are some times when herbivory helps the plant, and this is called overcompensation. For the same reason that a well-trimmed rosebush will grow better roses, a correctly-munched plant can be better off in the long run. On a side note, the idea of overcompensation is a big blow to anti-vegetarian advocates. Herbivory just isn't the same as predation.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

That Culture

Some places in Atlanta have culture in a way that others don't, but whether it's the lightbulbs or the graffiti or the neon signs that do the trick is hard to discern. It could be argued that a place is 'cultural' in this way if it draws people in for no practical purpose.

There are, then, small things that attract people and contribute to 'culture'-- streetlights and wooden roofs and hearty food. The whole, though, is more than the sum of its parts in that a neighborhood is made up not just of objects and people, but of emotion, life, and, as the case may be, 'culture'.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Little About Herb

Herbs are plants that are used for medicine, food, and other such purposes, and about a quarter of all flowering plants are herbs. The name "Herb" is a shortening of Herbert, of German origin. The name Herb does not refer to plant herbs-- this should be made clear.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Enrollment Poem

A minute to seven;
The air is tense
As registration doth commence
Clicking swiftly o'er and o'er
The courses wished to enroll for

The hour strikes
The button's pressed
Loud ring the cries of those whose timing
Messed up all their schedule from the top
At least there still is add/drop/swap

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fall Fashion

There is much ado about fall fashion in many magazines, but this year, there's only one style I care about: the look and feel of holding a glove in a gloved hand while the other hand remains ungloved. I first noticed this when taking off a glove to use my keys, and since then, I can't get enough of walking around holding a glove while wearing a glove. There's a sense of purpose that comes from it; beyond that, the feeling is hard to describe.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Deadlight

Good thing these people had their seatbelts buckled

Deadlight is a 2.5D platformer set in a zombie apocalypse. It's a great game to look at whether the player is being led through a series of narrow rooms and hallways or across an abandoned overpass. Both the player and the zombies are dark silhouettes against the bleakly colorful world. In more practical visual design, it's usually clear what can be jumped on and what can't, an important distinction to make in a a platformer.

Zombies are frightening in Deadlight because, while the player carries a large axe, a clever stamina system makes it difficult to fend off more than one or two zombies at once. It's thrilling to escape a room full of undead, leaping out a window to freedom at the last second.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Holiday Decorations

Halloween was, of course, on October 31st, and I was travelling through Decatur on Saturday, November 1st, and saw that every streetlight in downtown Decatur had a Christmas wreath around it. This kind of stuff just can't wait until Monday, much less after Thanksgiving.

The wreaths looked very nice, of course, but it makes one wonder: now that Halloween and Christmas are bumping elbows, which set of decorations wins out? I personally think its very difficult to make Halloween decorations look nice, but there certainly are infinite ways to make Christmas setups tacky as well.

In any case, if Christmas absorbs Halloween, there won't be any major holiday to combat it here earlier than the fourth of July.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Cold Weather Poem

Alas for the days of the sunlight
The warm air and zephyrous breeze
Now enter the winter in cold night
The weather is thirty degrees

As truly as leaves fall from trees
It's likely that we will all freeze

But I'm sure it'll be all right

Friday, October 31, 2014

How to Research Paper Introduction

I've been reading a lot of ecological research papers for school this semester, and in addition to such papers becoming easier to understand, a few patterns are beginning to show themselves. Here's how to write an introduction for a research paper:

1. Find a topic in science

2. Based on that topic, write these two sentences with as few changes as possible: "Many studies have revealed this. Very few studies, however, have looked at this aspect of this."
     E.g. "Many studies have shown that people tend to sleep in beds. Very few studies, however, have looked at how bed type affects lifespan."

With an introduction like this and a lot of hard work, the data will essentially research themselves.

Rush Job

I had the invigorating experience today of remembering that a two-page essay is due tomorrow morning, and since I had a very limited amount of hours in which to complete said essay, I didn't have time for my usual mental meandering and taking a lengthy break after writing the first paragraph.

As they say, though, practice makes better, and I've been writing short essays quite regularly over the past few semesters. I found myself able to plow through the writing relatively quickly with the only side affect being that I can't think of anything creative to write about now. One might ask: why bother making a blog entry at all, then? Probably just to stay in practice.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Origins of Goodbye

'Goodbye' is apparently a contracted form of the phrase 'God be with you'. As this historical contraction happened, 'God' was replaced with 'good' in part because of the influence of other common phrases such as 'good morning' and 'good day'.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Atlanta Limerick

There once was a town named Atlanta
Where people ate subs and drank Fanta
The weather changed weekly
And MARTA ran bleakly
Past parks full of fauna and planta

Monday, October 27, 2014

Scientific Writing

I came upon this sentence in the methods section of a research paper assigned for ecology class:

"We then manually generated high water flow in the vicinity of the probe to check that it had not been inadvertently buried in sediment or covered."

Now, I can't be sure, but I imagine that what's meant is that a research splashed the water a bit with their hand to make sure that probe was still taking readings correctly. Once one breaks through the vocabulary used in research papers, nuggets like this make reading such papers much more interesting.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

TF2 Vocabulary

In my ongoing description of Team Fortress 2 culture, I'd like to explain some common TF2 vocabulary for those of us who have never been 360-MLG-noscoped. These are my understandings of words and phrases central to TF2 conversation:

crocket: an elision of 'critical rocket'; refers to a glowing rocket fired from a soldier's rocket launcher
     that will deal extra damage and pretty much kill any player it hits.
     In a sentence: *sigh* "just got hit by a crocket."
F2P: stands for 'free to play'; used to refer to players that have not spent any real money on TF2.
gibus [class]: a derogatory term used to describe players wearing the gibus hat; in TF2, skill is often
     judged by what hats a player wears, and the 'Ghostly Gibus' is one of the easiest hats to gain and is
     thus seen as an indication of a lack of skill.
     In a sentence: "Look at all those gibus snipers."
git gud: slang for 'get good'; a response to any complaint, implying that the complainer is unskilled.
     Player 1: "Stop spawn camping"
     Player 2: "git gud"
gg: stands for 'good game'; is usually said at the end of a game by good-willed players.
m8: slang for 'mate'; a standard term of address
noscope: to noscope is to shoot someone with a sniper rifle without using the sniper rifle's scope.
     Noscoping is a sign of skill.
op: stands for 'overpowered'; refers to weapons and tactics that are considered too powerful.                      Antonym is 'up'.
     In a sentence: "Sticky spam is so op"
P2P: stands for 'pay to play'; used to refer to players that have spent real money on TF2.
Rage [class]: TF2 is a class-based game, and when a player is getting defeated as one class, they may
     switch to another class in great anger. For example, a player constantly getting backstabbed by
     spies may 'go rage pyro' (the pyro class is good against spies).
     In a sentence: "Lol, that guy just went rage demo."
rekt: slang for 'wrecked'; to be rekt is to be fantastically killed or defeated by another
     In a sentence: "Get rekt, m8."
spam: firing an excessive amount of projectiles, e.g. sticky spam or pistol spam
spawn camping: the act of standing outside a team's base and killing players as soon as they come out      the door.
sticky: slang for the sticky bombs launched by the demoman's secondary weapon.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Pineapple Beauty

For a philosophy assignment today, I had to find something I consider to be beautiful and describe why. Here's the assignment as I turned it in:

This pineapple is beautiful for a number of reasons-- it's symmetrical and the leafy top part is roughly the same height as the fruity bottom part. The orange-yellow of the fruit contrasts nicely with the green of the leaves and the spikiness of the leaves complements the spikes on the fruit's diamond-patterned skin. This pineapple is also beautiful for what it represents-- encased among the prickles is a delicious food, a subtle fruit that brings tropical paradise to mind.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Art of Tryhard

Multiplayer games, if they're big enough, develop social divisions and different names for different sorts of players. Team Fortress 2, my current multiplayer game of choice, is most notable for the struggle between unusual-wearing-P2Ps and gibus-scrub-F2Ps, but that's too complex an issue to cover now.

With that said, what is a Tryhard? A Tryhard is defined by their actions, always pursuing the objective and playing in the most efficient way possible. More casual players will joke around with the new conga dance or the variety of taunts in TF2, but a Tryhard is just there to ruin your fun.

In short, a Tryhard views TF2 as a sport instead of a game. This is legitimate because TF2 is an esport, but it creates an interesting (read: bitter) dynamic between Tryhards and others who are just there for the lols. I know that when I go Tryhard, I never have more than one lol.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Convenient Pockets

A small convenience store has opened one floor below the Emory cafeteria, and I assumed that it was going to be nothing but inconvenient.

"Surely it only takes real money as payment," I thought.
The store accepts the campus dining currency that I already have an excess of.

"Surely it's closed evenings and weekends."
The store is open seven days a week until 11 PM.

"Surely they don't stock Hot Pockets."
They stock Hot Pockets.

Long story short, whoever's in charge of campus dining has made some good decisions, in my opinion. I write this all directly after eating a Hot Pocket.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Morte Darthur

Morte Darthur is a moving tragedy about the downfall of King Arthur's Round Table. It's a powerful piece of literature because of the sincerity of its characters and the cruel doom that forces the three pillars of the Round Table - Arthur, Lancelot, and Gawain - to wage war against one another. Nobody escapes unscathed. Here is part of the passage that follows Arthur's death:

"Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place. And men say that he shall come again and he shall win the Holy Cross. Yet I will not say that it shall be so, but rather I will say, Here in this world he changed his life. And many men say that there is written upon his tomb this verse: Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus."

This famous Latin epitaph means, "Here lies Arthur, who was once king and king will be again."

Science Facts: Armadillos

When nine-banded armadillos reproduce, one egg is split in the womb to produce four identical quadruplet armadillos. Armadillos are among the only animals that can come down with leprosy and they are often hit by cars because they jump up in the air as a defense mechanism.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Desk Art

Keeping a messy desk is a lot like flower arranging-- an art of ratios and balance working to make an aesthetically pleasing whole. The desk I work with is roughly a golden rectangle, the shape of  Ancient Greek temples.

My printer is to the left and back, rising with a pile of books to balance the focus of my laptop in the center right. The far right corner contains a small pile of opened amazon packages to even things out in the absence of a computer. Working from back to front, a general slope focuses the desk outwards, falling from the highest point, my desk lamp, to my lab goggles in front. To bring unity to the whole, receipts from the cafeteria cover everything, clustering at low points to produce the final light gradient.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Science Facts: Cordyceps

Cordyceps is a genus of parasitic fungi that often attacks insects in interesting ways. When an ant, for example, is infected with Cordyceps, the fungus will affect its brain and drive it to climb to a high place, such as a stalk of grass, and hold on. Eventually, the fungus will burst out of the ant's head and deposit its spores into the air.

Here's a link to a YouTube video of a Planet Earth segment on this Cordyceps

The Second Shepherds' Play

The Second Shepherd's Play is one of many mystery plays produced by various guilds in medieval England. Mystery plays tell Biblical stories in a way the common people can understand, and in the Second Shepherd's Play, a bumbling thief steals a sheep from the shepherds outside Bethlehem at the Nativity.

Mak, the thief, lulls the shepherds (Coll, Gib, and Daw) to sleep and, after stealing and hiding the sheep (a hanging offense), returns to the shepherds and pretends to have been asleep the whole time.

"COLL: Now God turn all to good,
       If it be his will.

[They wake up MAK who pretends to have been asleep]

GIB: Rise, Mak, for shame!
       Thou lies right lang.
MAK: Now Christ's holy name
       Be us amang!
       What is this? For Saint Jame,
       I may not well gang.
       I trow I be the same
       Ah, my neck has lain wrang.
[One of them twists his neck.]

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Using Big Words

Why do people use big words? On the 'good' end of the spectrum, words can be used for precision-- the sentence "I climbed a volcano" is easier to say and understand than "I climbed one of those mountains that has lava in it."

In my opinion, a more 'neutral' way of using complicated words is as jargon-- language that is understandable only to a certain set of people. This language can make outsiders feel isolated, but it may grant some sense of unity to the people who know it. For example, gamers have a sort of shared language and are brought together by in-jokes about critical hits and combos.

There is, of course, a use of 'big words' that I consider bad. Using big words to make oneself sound more important or knowledgeable is, in my opinion, useless at best and counterproductive at worst. For example, take a sentence from my assigned philosophy reading: "We simply query the reasonableness of this norm." Why use 'query' when 'question' would serve the same purpose and sound less pretentious? It's not more precise-- 'query' is almost a direct synonym with 'question.' It's not jargon either-- from what I've seen, the word 'question' is commonly used in academic papers. What went through the mind of the author as they wrote that sentence? I suppose we'll never know.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Internet Video Ads

There's short ads and long ads
And text ads and song ads
And ads that will leave if you pay
It's almost amazing when internet videos
Start without ads right away

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Return of Niche Jokes With Benjamin

Why was the baker unable to rotate?
He had just formed a pie bond.

What did the sheep say when he bought a computer game for full price and then got all his wool shaved off?
"I got fleeced and then I got all my wool shaved off."

Why was Mark worried when the ecologists began a population study?
They were doing a capture-mark-recapture experiment.

Travel By Greyhound

There's something about traveling by Greyhound bus-- in a way, the people feel more genuine. There seems to be a sort of shared understanding among passengers, the feeling that "I'm on the bus and you're on the bus and it's not that great but we'll get there eventually."

There's the generosity-- one man was sharing out his french fries, and when I was done with my Wendy's drink, I gave it to another guy so he could have a cup to spit in.

There are plain families; a father waving goodbye to a wife and baby daughter, and a tough-looking guy being berated by his mother who was dropping him off.

I think it comes down to this: people traveling on a Greyhound have nothing to prove. There's no point in trying to impress with fine clothes or advanced technology-- you're on a Greyhound. There's no point in acting street-smart or savvy-- you're not at home, and nobody else on the bus is either. 

It's with this spirit that Greyhound travelers stand in clumps outside gas station convenience stores, smoking cigarettes and eating bags of chips. You're coming from somewhere and going to somewhere else, but nothing is going to make that bus go faster-- you might as well share those fries.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Origins of Ramen

'Ramen' comes from the combination of Chinese 'la,' which means 'to pull,' and 'mian,' which means 'noodles.' This is apparently the same root as 'chow mein,' that is, 'fried noodles.'

Movie Music

Here are five of my favorite musical pieces from movies. YouTube links are included for each song.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
I knew this tune before ever seeing the movie, and there's certainly a reason it's so iconic. This song captures the adventurous spirit of gunslingers looking for treasure under the bleak sun.

The Last Samurai
This great theme is simple yet stirring, occasionally rising from the muddy pool of chords this movie wallows through. Advance the video to 2:00 to get to the good part. Great samurai movie.

Star Wars: the Phantom Menace
When I first saw Phantom Menace, I didn't know it was supposed to be a terrible movie and thus thoroughly enjoyed it. The song I've chosen is "Duel of the Fates," which plays during the climactic lightsaber fight, one of my favorite scenes in any sci-fi movie.

Chariots of Fire
There is, of course, the obvious running theme, which is great, but I've always enjoyed the contrast between electronic music and hymns in Chariots of Fire. It's either a comparison between Abrahams' and Liddel's worldviews, or I've been taking too many humanities classes. The hymn in the link is "Jerusalem," an unofficial national anthem of England, I'm told.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
There's no way The Lord of the Rings wouldn't make it on this list. I've chosen the Gondor theme, a brass-based piece that captures the fading nobility of a proud people.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Cost Efficiency

During my training at the herbarium I work at, I was shown the way to mix the special plant glue with water. "Why do we do that?" I asked, expecting some carefully calculated formula.
"This glue costs twenty dollars a bottle, and diluting makes it last longer" came the reply.

In the same way, old newspapers are used for pressing plants-- an elementary school procedure that apparently still works at university. When I ran out of mounting weights today, I secured plants with any objects close at hand-- paintbrushes, bottles of glue, a pair of pruning shears, and a screwdriver, among other things.

There certainly is expensive, specialized equipment that is used in the herbarium, but it's nice to see that simple, cost-effective solutions are used whenever possible.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Passive Voice

"Avoid the passive voice!" they say,
"Let not it touch your lips!"
Say not, "These chips were ate by who?"
But say, "Who ate these chips?"

Do not say, "Mistakes were made."
Announce, "'Twas Jim who did it!"
For active voice subject demands
And boy, look at Jim fidget

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Science Facts: Handedness

Two molecules can have the same atoms bound in the same order but have different arrangements in space. This aspect is often called handedness because human hands are mirror images but not superimposable.

Handedness is the difference between alpha glucose and beta glucose, the monosaccharides that make up starch and cellulose, respectively. Handedness is why people can't eat trees.

Screenshot of the Day: Prison Architect

Here comes the bus

Prison Architect is a simulation game in the same vein as the Tycoon and Sim series. Prison is a strange premise for such a game, but the game itself works well-- players keep a penitentiary up and running with power, water, food, laundry, lots of other things, and, of course, lots of security guards and locked doors.

While I would prefer a less grim setting, Prison Architect has all the aspects I like in simulations-- easy-to-use interfaces, intelligently working AI, and people carrying things from place to place in the well-oiled machine I create. Of the sim games I've played, Prison Architect is most similar to School Tycoon (haha, jokes). Really, though, I found myself having to build a cafeteria and hire enough janitors in both games before the prison and school buses arrived, respectively. The big difference is that I built holding cells in one and classrooms in the other.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Spice of Life

Over the past three hours, I've written about the population dynamics of the nine-banded armadillo, the activity of ketones in decarboxylation reactions, and the role of women in medieval literature. One of the things that keeps me interested in my schoolwork is the variety of topics that are covered each day. This is probably why I distrust summer classes-- I imagine that taking one or two classes intensively would be very difficult for me compared to the salad or stew of subjects I currently enjoy.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Ode to Chemistry Problems

How does the glycoald'hyde form?
Let me count the ways
Is't an oxidation or is it
The carb' which stays?

From whence do come th'electrons sweet?
Which form the hydroxide?
Is't from the tart'ric acid
Or is't from the peroxide?

How wonderful the catalyst!
How lowers th'activation!
And better yet, yon cat remains
Throughout the whole equation

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Origins of Muscle

'Muscle' comes from the Latin word 'musculus,' which comes from Latin 'mus,' which means mouse. Apparently muscles look like mice under the skin.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Thomas's Compleinte

Today's reading for English class was My Compleinte by Thomas Hoccleve, an English Civil servant who lived from 1367-1426. In this work, Thomas talks about his personal experience of recovering from insanity. What drives Thomas's distress is that none of his friends believe his wits have returned. Here's a passage in the original middle English:

"Thus spake manie oone and seide by me:
'Although from him his sicknesse savage
Withdrawen and passed as for a time be,
Resorte it wole, namely in suche age
As he is of,' and thanne my visage
Bigan to glowe for the woo and fere.
Tho wordis, hem vnwar, cam to myn eere."

That is to say:

Thus spoke many people and said about me:
'Although from him his wild sickness
Withdrawn and passed is for a time,
Return it will, especially in such age
As he is now,' and then my face
Began to glow for grief and fear.
Those words, without their knowledge, came to my ear.

Monday, September 29, 2014

How to Mount Plant Specimens

Once a specimen has been pressed and dried and served its time in the -20°C freezer, it's time to go to the mounting board.

1. Place specimen on mounting paper and determine which side should face up. The anatomy of any flowers should be visible, and both sides of the plant's leaves should be shown.

2. Apply glue. Depending on the plant, this can be done directly from the bottle or with a paintbrush. Glue under leaves, stems, and flowers so that the specimen is secure. Put small weights on top of glued spots while glue dries. No glue should be visible in the final product.

3. Stamp the mounting paper and attach labels and a fragment envelope if necessary.

4. Cover the specimen with wax paper and place previously used small weights on top. After 24 hours of waiting, the mounting process will be officially complete.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

How to Job

I've gotten a contract to write a story for a game where the protagonist is a clown and his sidekick is an adorable dog. Now, I don't particularly like clowns or dogs, or even have much knowledge of them but a job is a job.

The solution? As always with these writing projects, pretend that I know what I'm doing and just forge ahead.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Perfect Storm

It's been an interesting week-- the academic stars aligned, as they often do, so that multiple tests, projects, and papers were due in the space of five days.

These weeks are important because, when it gets to the point where there are simply not enough hours in the day for everything, priorities come to the surface and real decisions need to be made about what to give time to. Additionally, time management skills need to be kicked up a notch as every available hour is filled with classes, homework, other work, and precious periods of relaxation.

All in all, then, I'd be happy to have another such week. A very long time from now.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Anglo-Saxon Blogging

Cold clapped the computer keys;
The work-doer still awake,
His eyes ringed and red
Mica he was called; the son of Staffan.
The blog-poster in the pale night,
Feet feeling felt floors,
Lamp-light in the late watches.
His computer was the word-storer;
Eadward was its name, for it had never bluescreened.
Its essays had never been corrupted,
Neither had its hard-drive been cast down.

Monday, September 22, 2014

More Philosophy

In my philosophy class, we've just moved from the Greek philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, et al.) to Descartes, and thank goodness for that. After Aristotle's talk of forms and actualities, Descartes' approach is like a drink of cool water in a pretentious desert.

Descartes' first meditation on philosophy starts with the admittance that all he knows of the outside world is through his senses and that they are not completely accurate. He says, "it is the part of prudence not to place absolute confidence in that by which we have even once been deceived."

He goes on to admit that it is possible that he is simply dreaming as he writes his philosophy. I should say that I've only gotten a few paragraphs into the reading and may disagree with Descartes later, but I certainly appreciate the disclaimers at the beginning.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lab Safety

There's a safety quiz in my chemistry lab tomorrow and there are pages and pages of protocols to read. After going through this information, I can say that all the chemical safety law can be summed up in these two things: don't let chemicals touch you and douse everything in water if anything goes wrong.

Team Fortress 2 Hats

Team Fortress 2 is a free-to-play multiplayer first-person shooter. It is also famous for hats-- top hats, baseball caps, medieval helmets, and almost anything else you can think of. There are hundreds of hats for players to wear in Tf2, and this is where things get interesting.

Hats are pretty much the only part of the game that usually need to be paid for with real money, and they don't affect gameplay at all. This makes the roaring Tf2 hat trade all the more fascinating. I wrote about Runescape hats a while ago, and the same crazy prices apply.

Generally acknowledged as the most expensive hat in Tf2, the "Burning Team Captain" can fetch around $1500. This digital hat is extremely rare and features a military-style cap wreathed in flames. It's a crazy world.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Philosophy and Muffins

I was reading for my philosophy class and looking up muffin recipes at the same time this evening when one cooking site in particular piqued my interest. Instead of proposing a recipe for "simple muffins" or "muffins from scratch," it referred to the muffins suggested by the recipe as "our muffins." Even in replying to comments on this website, the recipe's author said, "I'm glad you enjoyed our muffins."

It just so happens that Aristotle has something to say about this state of affairs. It is written in De Anima (On the Soul) that "thought seems to be an independent substance implanted within us and incapable of being destroyed" (408b18). Aristotle says again, "the thinking part of the soul must therefore be ... capable of receiving the form of an object, that is, must be potentially identical in character with its object without being the object" (429a16).

In the same way, any muffins made with this recipe must necessarily be potentially identical in character with "our muffins" without being "our muffins." This ties into thought in that, while the thought of a specific muffin may be actualized by the recipe's author, the independent nature of thought's substance means that the author is not the possessor of any potential muffins, even if they share the same forms.

Let me sum up: is Aristotle's philosophy actually applicable in this situation? Probably not. Am I going to make someone else's muffins? Definitely not.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

To Tube

To tube;
To sweep atop the raucous wave
Tossed and turned o'er churning tide
To grip and grasp the vital hold
Seizing fast the swooping side
Talon-like; to tube.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Science Facts: Crepusculum

Animals that are active mostly during the day are diurnal. Animals active at night are nocturnal. Lastly, animals most active at dawn and dusk are crepuscular.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

7_Dan_7 Part 7

Chaoz96 took 7_Dan_7 out fishing the very next day. It was warm and the docks were crowded with serious-looking fishermen. After a while, 7_Dan_7 nudged Chaoz96. “My inventory’s full. What do I do?”
Chaoz96 glanced over. “Cook the fish you have, then drop them. Someone probably has logs for a fire around here.”
“Wait, why should I drop the fish?”
“Cooked fish aren’t worth anything in today’s economy.”
7_Dan_7 looked around at the fishermen and raised his voice timidly. “Hey, uh, does anyone have logs for a fire?”
They kept on fishing and only one looked up. “L2p, n00b.”
Chaoz96 grinned. “Ah, they only speak l33t.”
“What, do you know l33t?” asked 7_Dan_7.
“You can’t be a skiller for long without knowing l33t.”
“Can you ask them for logs?”
“Sure,” said Chaoz96. He stood up and called out, “F1re, pl0x.”
“<>< lvl?” said one fisherman.
“What did he say?” asked 7_Dan_7.
“They’ll only give me logs if my fishing level is worthy of respect.” Chaoz96 raised his voice. “My fishing level is 97.”
The fisherman said, “d00d n1ce” and placed a pile of logs on the ground.
“Ty,” said Chaoz96.


Monday, September 8, 2014

Group Work and Game Theory

The Prisoner's Dilemma (Wikipedia link here) is a staple of Game Theory, but it's come to my attention that the same concepts are at work in what can be called the Group Work Dilemma. The situation is this: if four people are given a graded project to complete by a certain date, what are the incentives for each individual. To simplify things, let's assume that everyone involved wants a high grade and that each person chooses either to do a lot of work on the project or no work at all.

The 'ideal' situation, then, is to do no work and have the other three group members complete the project-- this results in a high grade with no effort needed. The dilemma arrives because if each person chooses the 'ideal,' no work will be done on the project and everyone will receive a low grade. Because of these incentives, there's sometimes a game of chicken when approaching group deadlines-- if you wait for someone else to contribute, they might do work that you would otherwise do, but if you wait too long, your grade will suffer.

There are, of course, good ways to avoid this. One popular method is assigning each group member a specific task to complete, removing any need for games of chicken. Another thing that I've noticed works is to do a significant amount of work long before the due date, effectively forcing other group members to complete the rest of the project without calling on you to provide any input. In the end, though, there's only one way to be certain of that top grade: do it all yourself.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


I can't remember the first time I read the story of Beowulf. I first encountered it in an anthology of mythology that my family had when I was in elementary school. That version only contained the last third of the epic, and other versions I encountered in Middle and High School also had parts cut out. Just this past week, for English class, I read the whole story for the first time (Seamus Heaney's translation). Here are the stirring first lines:

"So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by
and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.
We have heard of those princes' heroic campaigns.
There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,
a wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.
This terror of the hall-troops had come far."

One of my favorite things in Beowulf is the kennings-- the two-word descriptive packages used over and over. In the passage above, hall-troops is a kenning. I like the gravity and flavor kennings add to the story. When Beowulf says his first lines, he doesn't "speak" or even "spake;" he "unlocks his word-hoard."
Interestingly, in the original Old English, there's heavy alliteration throughout the epic. It almost makes me want to learn all the archaic words.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Science Facts: Orbital Dimensions

When a carbon atom forms a bond, it often creates a hybrid orbital such as sp, sp2, or sp3. Since each of carbon's three possible p orbitals is on a separate axis (px, py, and pz), an sp orbital is one-dimensional (having only one p), sp2 is two-dimensional (having two p directions to work with), and sp3 is three-dimensional with all three p directions. Fortunately, all this happens without us needing to understand how it works.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Goodwill Odyssey

A good trip to the Goodwill store
We made this afternoon
We hoppéd on the shuttle-bus
At least we'd get there soon

Unluckily, the de-bus stop
Was far from destination
We walkéd to the place it was
At least we knew th'location

It turnéd out that map misled
And Goodwill store was nought
But Goodwill D'nation Center
Where things couldn't be bought

Fortunately, we had a phone
With GPS in gear
We located another G'will
At least it looked quite near

The Goodwill store was miles away
A marathoner's training
'Twas two-thirds leagues to Goodwill shop
At least it wasn't raining

A drizzle fell atop our heads
The dewdrops the ground starred
'Twas effluous but at the least
It wasn't raining hard

A thunderstorm conjuréd then
Raindrops fell in wide flocks
Soak'd was I from hair to toe
At least we had a sidewalk

We came then to a 'struction site
And sidewalk was no more
Forcéd off the road were we
On path to Goodwill store

We forgéd on through many trials
Sans-stoplight crossed the road
Through rain and mud and grassiness
Ourselves to G'will we towed

Arrivéd we at store at last
And purchased we our cause
Good Goodwill deals we siezéd there
Was't worth it? I say 'twas

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fun With Resumes

In a class I went to today, the subject of education was resumes. I was eager to learn because for the past couple years, I've really not known what a resume is supposed to look like. Do I need to mention where I went to highschool? What's supposed to be centered and what's supposed to left-adjusted? Where do extracurriculars fit in?

I'm still no expert, but the class today was very enlightening and I've done some major editing of my resume this evening to the point where I'd hire myself at the drop of a hat. Now I just need to see if other people will do the same.

Screenshot of the Day: Orcs Must Die! 2

Don't ask why

Orcs Must Die! 2 is a tower defense game with an action twist. The well-chosen title is the game's main objective, mechanic, and story element. The player builds a series of traps to poke, burn, freeze, and in other ways disable aforementioned orcs (the ones that must die). The player also controls an action-RPG character who can assist the traps in finishing off wave after wave of orcs.

The big thing that stands out to me about Orcs Must Die! 2 is how polished it is. I suppose that, as a sequel, a good level of polish is expected, but from the very start, this game is easy to understand and control. It's very easy to place and remove traps and very easy to tell what's going on and where the holes in your defense are. However, OMD2 is far from easy. I've found most levels to be very difficult, in fact, but because of the smooth design, the challenge comes from the scenario and not from clumsy mechanics. In my limited experience with tower defense games, Orcs Must Die! 2 is a simple gem of intuitive gameplay and reliable fun.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Educating Guesses

In both of my science classes this semester, the professors don't often approach new pieces of knowledge head-on. Instead, they ask students to guess at the system based on what said students already know about science.

Why do organic molecules usually bond covalently? We'd learned about organic molecules and about covalent bonding in General Chemistry, but this question from the Organic Chemistry professor threw the class for a loop. With some guiding of the conversation, the class was brought to the conclusion that it's because carbon, a building block of organic molecules, has four valence electrons and can't easily form an ionic bond.

The first Ecology lecture proceeded in the same manner-- how do populations interact with communities? There were lots of correct answers, from symbiosis to competition. It's not that students already know the material and aren't learning; rather, I would say that good questions bring out known information and require thought on how things actually work. Guidance is often necessary. As with every new level of science education I've encountered, the big discovery is that the systems through which the world works aren't nearly as simple as they were presented to be last year.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

University Bookstore

O thou bookstore, where we with humble tread
Do go to be thus overcharged
From whence grow these textbooks' daunting prices?
What reason creates costs so increased?

Dost thou think we remembereth not the internet?
Have the pages of decayed?
Why are thy prices multiplied twofold?
Why dost thou offer less to buy back a textbook?

The mindful student perceives that a book required is authored
By the self-same instructor who textbook required
We weep to see it only available at the bookstore
It does not grace the halls of the internet;
Yea, it is not available on
Does this author get royalties from a purchase so forced?

Dost thou not see the ruin of Borders?
O, Barnes & Noble mighty, head you not down the same path?
Dost thou not see Borders' bookstore standing in decay?
It was overcome; the internet has thrown down its pillars

Despite all this, we students forget not the idea of a profit margin
For the wise speak truly when they say, "Barnes & Noble has to make money somehow."
Wisely speak the elders when they say, "Just deal with it."
But sorrow still remains in the halls of the bookstore

Friday, August 29, 2014

Plushy Sales Are Up

One interesting thing about major world events is that they almost always have unexpected consequences. I saw evidence of this ripple effect today while browsing the website of a local retailer. This store has, for many years, sold fist-sized plushy toys in the shapes of different pathogenic bacteria and viruses-- there's a plushy rhinovirus, a plushy hepatitis virus, and so on. It turns out that with the ongoing Ebola epidemic, the Ebola plushy has become not only the most popular plushy pathogen, but one of the store's best-selling items. How about that?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Comparing Epics

It's time for a quote. This comes from The Silmarillion, after Fёanor, the greatest of the Noldor, betrays his brother Fingolfin and burns the ships that would have taken Fingolfin and his people to Middle-earth:

"Then Fingolfin seeing that Fёanor had left him to perish in Araman or return in shame to Valinor was filled with bitterness; but he desired now as never before to come by some way to Middle-earth, and meet Fёanor again. And he and his host wandered long in misery, but their valour and endurance grew with hardship; for they were a mighty people, the elder children undying of Eru Ilúvatar, but new-come from the Blessed Realm, and not yet weary with the weariness of Earth."

The Lord of the Rings is certainly an 'epic' series by some meaning of the word, but I feel that The Silmarillion surpasses it in both scope and poetry. In a small way, these two works could be compared to the Iliad and the Odyssey-- Iliad and The Silmarillion feature an epic engagement of nations, one featuring the Greeks and the other the Noldor. These works feature a large cast of mostly noble characters whose flaws lead to the ruin of many. Both epics end with a victory purchased at too high a price.

Odyssey and The Lord of the Rings tell more focused stories, following a few characters through their perilous journeys. This pair is probably more frequently read than the previous one simply because these stories are more coherent and flow better. However, Iliad and The Silmarillion provide context that make Odyssey and The Lord of the Rings more meaningful.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Student Perspective

Today was the first day of classes and I attended three lectures taught by professors Emory has hired and one lecture taught by a graduate student. Now, this graduate student was very knowledgeable in the area he was instructing, but the minutes crawled by as a series of topics I wasn't very interested in was covered.

Each of the professors whose classes I attended was dynamic and filled with an infectious excitement for their area of expertise. They moved quickly and carried the class with them, and while they certainly weren't perfect, they were interesting to learn from.

Before I make my final generalization, there are two things that should be said. First, responsibility does rest on the student to engage in a class, so it's not only the instructor's fault if something isn't interesting. Second, it's distinctly possible that I'll one day be a graduate student teaching introductory courses, and I'm sure I'd see things differently then.

My experience today indicates that it takes more than basic knowledge to be a good instructor, and I think it's a shame that so many classes at a school like Emory are taught by students only a few years more advanced in their education than us. I don't have an obvious solution, but would suggest that if a student is expected to invest financially and mentally in a class, it should be more than a student-led study session.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Textbook Limerick

There once was a college bookstore
That thought selling books was a bore
With that thought they took
One gross dollars per book
Now  no-one shops there anymore

Sunday, August 24, 2014


I've been cleaning house today and find cleaning an interesting idea because it's something that needs to be done periodically, like eating, but not all the time, like breathing. In other words, the two extremes of cleaning are both useless-- cleaning never means that cleanliness does not exist and cleaning always means that not much else exists.

The real question, then, is how often does cleaning need to be done? A sensible answer would be, "when something's dirty," but that's subjective since dirtiness is a gradual scale, not an on-off switch. As far as I can tell, the college student answer is that cleaning should be done when the discomfort of things not being clean overcomes the discomfort of cleaning. This is far from a solved question, but at least it gives me something to think about while wiping down windowsills.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Does Zeus Play Dice?

In Ancient Greece, people drew lots to ascertain the will of the gods. In Greek mythology, it's a pretty sensible thing to do-- leaving something to chance is essentially the same as leaving something for the gods to decide. However, I was reading some mythology today that casts drawing lots in a different light.

Cronus the Titan was ruler of all the universe when his children (Zeus and co.) rose up against him and overthrew him and the other Titans. According to the story, when Cronus was defeated, Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades drew lots to see who got to be supreme god next. What all this suggests to me is that being supreme Greek god isn't all it's cracked up to be if 1. it's very possible to be overthrown like Cronus and 2. you have to draw lots to see who the supreme god is. Are the Fates really the ultimate power in Greek myth, the ones, haha, pulling the strings? There may not be an answer to this question, but it's been interesting to think about.


At the end of a summer of cooking and pseudo-cooking, it's time for one brief recipe.
Combine in bowl:
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 3 tablespoons water
- salt to taste
Mix until dough is dough-like in texture. Divide into thirds and eat one third. Spread remaining dough on cookie sheet and bake until golden brown. Serve hot.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Virtual Life

I stand in a virtual forest
I'm chopping down virtual trees
I swing my big virtual ax
And feel the nice virtual breeze

I fill up my virtual pockets
With heaps of cut virtual wood
I gain lots of virtual experience
It does me great virtual good

I place logs on the virtual ground
And kindle a virtual fire
I pick up the virtual ashes
To sell to a virtual buyer

It's a wonderful virtual experience
I meet dwarf and virtual elf
It isn't actually important
But a story I tell to myself

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Science Facts: World's Smallest Carnivore

The world's smallest carnivore (order Carnivora) is the least weasel, which can have a body length of just over 10 cm. Its prey includes small rodents, but adult rats and hamsters can usually drive off a least weasel. Pliny the Elder of Ancient Rome wrote that a weasel is the only creature that is able to kill a basilisk.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dialogue Trees

Dialogue in games can be a tricky thing. If there are too few options of what the player can say, said player can feel limited and more of an observer than a participant in whatever story is being told. Trying to make a whole range of choices and branching conversations, on the other hand, is a huge amount of work and produces a shorter game for the same amount of resources. Even if there are only three points where a conversation branches two ways depending on the player's choices, any given player will only experience seven twelfths of the content written for that conversation. A conversation with four branching points of three choices each will result in players seeing just over a third of everything written. If the outcomes of certain conversations affect other, later, conversations, it gets even more inefficient.

What's the answer, then? I can't say that I know for sure, but as a player of story-driven games, I'm engaged as long as I can find a dialogue option that roughly describes what I'm feeling. The important in most situations, I think, is not real choice, but the feeling that you have an accurate way of responding to events and other characters in the game. For example, in the human noble origin story in Dragon Age: Origins, you're told that you're not allowed to go with your father's army. The dialogue options provide many ways of responding to this, from frustration to relief, but the conclusion is the same: you're not allowed to go. In this way, with many options quickly leading back to one main thread, the player has choice and the developers don't need to write novels of content for every conversation.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Chopstick Gauntlet

How do you approach a mass of culture that you'll never be able to fully learn and appreciate? You only ever get one chance to be a native of somewhere, so what do you do when you're somewhere else? In other words, is eating Chinese food with a fork better than doing nothing?

In my experience so far, that's the choice to be made-- among other things, getting to know different sorts of people makes it more than worth the effort. As they say, it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

7_Dan_7 Part 4

It was almost noon when 7_Dan_7 woke up. He stumbled down the stairs and waved at Father Aereck before heading out the door. It was a bleak day and there weren’t very many people on the streets.
7_Dan_7 was still cringing from his encounter with the bullies the day before, but he decided to take Alt1tude’s derisive advice and train on chickens. After all, if 7_Dan_7 couldn’t handle cows, he didn’t really have any other options. He picked up a bronze axe and headed to Fred the Farmer’s chicken coop.
Fred the Farmer was absent-mindedly staring at the wall when 7_Dan_7 walked by. It had always seemed a bit strange to 7_Dan_7, but the other people of Lumbridge didn’t seem to notice Fred’s odd habits. 7_Dan_7 walked out among the chickens and was just about to get started when he heard a voice. “Time for some n00b chicken farming, n00b?” It was Alt1tude.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Preparing For School

It's just a couple weeks until school starts again for me and I've been wondering how to prepare myself for the sudden change. I like the idea of the brain as a muscle, so how do I get back in mental shape? Reading through encyclopedias as an exercise comes to mind, but I don't at the moment have the energy or capacity for that. More importantly, what I've learned in my first year of undergraduate science is that knowing how to not know things can be just as important as knowing a few certain facts. To put it differently, science is a tool for exploration rather than a big book of facts and theories. Every idea that science produces is a rough draft that is edited for years or centuries afterwards.

Now that I've gone on my high-flying discussion of the nature of science, it's time to come back down and admit that I might not know what I'm talking about. Let me end the thought with this: facts are very important, but focusing just on knowledge might be missing the forest for the trees. With all that in mind, how do I prepare for school? The first step is to get into the mindset of asking questions.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Origins of Window

'Window' comes from the Old Norse 'vindauga,' a combination of Norse 'vindr,' which means 'wind,' and 'auga,' which means 'eye.' I'm not sure if wind-eye is an overly poetic description for a window or if there's some Norse context I'm missing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Titan Quest

That's me in the red chiton.

Titan Quest is a third-person RPG set in the world of Ancient Greek myth. I certainly enjoyed the concept as I enjoy Greek mythology and don't see too many games with that setting. As far as I've played, though, I haven't encountered anything in the mechanics or atmosphere that make it different from the standard fantasy RPG. Fighting hundreds of satyrs feels quite similar to fighting hundreds of goblins in another such game. This lack of distinctiveness isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it meant that playing the game wasn't as exciting as I had hoped.

The real reason I stopped playing Titan Quest is that it got very difficult very quickly, at least for a gamer of my skill level. By the second major area, I didn't feel like my character was either Greek or a mighty hero. The only thing I had left to play for was enjoyment of the combat, and it was too click-heavy for my liking. Titan Quest is a decent game, but it's not my cup of tea.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Doppler Effect Without Cars

From what I understand, the Doppler Effect is the distortion that occurs when the source of a wave is moving relative to the observer, but more practically explained as 'that thing where a car drives past you and goes niaaow.' Now that I think of it, that's probably the only example I've ever heard given, and for a mostly good reason. There are a lot of things in the world that move fast and a lot of things that make a constant, loud, noise, but cars are some of the few things that do both and that most humans are familiar with.

However, the Doppler Effect becomes much more interesting upon the realization that it applies to all sorts of waves, not just sound. The Doppler Effect is understood in astronomy as redshift and blueshift; light from stars moving away from the Earth appears more red to us. and stars moving closer appear more blue.

Now that's all nice and sciencey, but I didn't realize until today that the Doppler Effect also applies to water waves. It's easiest to see in still water-- dropping an object into the water will cause a series of concentric circular ripples centered around said object. The Doppler Effect is that V-shaped ripple that would happen when you drag the object through the water. The object is still sending out circular waves, but since the origin of each wave is different from the last, a distorted shape is formed.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

More Video Game Music

Several months ago, I made a post about some of my favorite video game music and I think it's time for part two. Again, YouTube links are included for each song.

Papers, Please
This piece is simple by most accounts, but sets the tone perfectly for the gray, oppressive world of Papers, Please. Evoking marching feet and a downtrodden people, this song also contains a glimmer of hope.

Dragon Age: Awakening
Awakening is the 30-hour expansion to Dragon Age: Origins, one of my favorite RPGs, and has a new theme-tune to reflect the new land the player is put in. The tone of this song is epic, but not as straightforward as the Origins theme.

Half-Life 2
I feel tense just listening to this song. I'm not sure exactly where it came in the game, but this soft, drum-heavy music was probably playing as I was being chased along some sewer by combine soldiers, constantly being ambushed by headcrabs from dark corners.

Divinity 2
The song I've linked for Divinity 2 isn't the main theme, but the music that plays in the first village the player walks around in, exploring and doing tasks for the player. I was strolling over lush green hills in-game when this song started playing, and the whistling part especially made me feel warmer and fuzzier than any other game I've played this year.

Team Fortress 2
Another Valve game, but a very different style. This snazzy song encompasses the fun, energy, and pace of Team Fortress 2. Just about every song in this soundtrack is good, ranging from calm and jazzy to bombastic and jazzy.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The History of Minimum Wage

There's debate over whether or not a minimum wage is a good thing, but what's even more intriguing is that the formal minimum wage was predated by a maximum wage. In England in 1349, King Edward III declared a maximum wage for laborers. The Black Death had severely reduced the number of workers on the market and Edward III put this cap on wages to make sure the high cost of labor didn't ruin the economy. Whether or not this was an economically wise decision, it's clear that the King knew which side his bread was buttered on.

A formal minimum wage was instituted in England later on, in 1604. As the centuries passed and capitalism became more popular, all these wage laws were repealed. It ended up being New Zealand and Australia in the 1890s that led the charge of minimum wages in the modern era. The US instituted a national minimum wage in 1938.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Remaineth There No Sustenance?

When runneth dry the saucy can
And breadbag bread containeth not
And sitteth there no spam in pan
And standeth same no broth in pot
And dwindleth sharp the butter dish
And wasteth 'way the carrot stalk
And waiteth there no tuna fish
And useless hangs the cookman's frock
And vacant sits the cutting board
And empty stands the cereal box
And crumbs fall not upon the floor
And hardeneth the salt as rocks

Then looketh I upon the shelf
And see-eth I with gloomy art
That planneth must I for my self
A trip tomorrow to Walmart

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Origins of Toast

The word 'toast' comes from the Latin 'torrere,' which means 'to scorch or bake,' especially when talking about the sun. It passed through the Old French 'toster' to become the 'toast' we know today. According to my sources, proposing a toast to someone comes from seasoned pieces of toast that were put in wine in the 17th century.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Game Communities

The two multiplayer games that I've put the most time into are Runescape and Team Fortress 2, an MMORPG and an online FPS, respectively. Because of the different genres, comparing these games' communities is an apples and oranges matter, but I'll go ahead and do it anyway.

Team Fortress 2 is a competitive game, so you'd think that most social interaction is antagonism between the two teams, but the real staple of conversation is intra-team bickering caused by differences in skill levels and goals among the members of one team. For every carefree submachine sniper, there's an aggressively competitive pyro telling said sniper to change class. There are more laid-back veterans who are happy to teach new players and have a good time, but most conversations seem to be on the negative side.

Runescape, on the other hand, is a much slower game and most time is taken training skills. Because of the way 'skilling' is designed, some skills like mining foster selfishness and distrust-- a given rock has only one piece of ore, and only one player is going to get it. About ninety percent of the angry conversations I've heard in Runescape are arguments over mining.

I'm sure I've mentioned before that my favorite part of Runescape is fishing, the skill that lies on the other end of the social spectrum. There are infinite fish in every fishing spot and player's hands are free while they wait for a bite, so it's easy to fish alongside lots of other people strike up a conversation in the chat window. People are generally good-natured in the absence of competition over in-game resources, and this leads to my final point.

The thing that I think Runescape's community has in more strength than Team Fortress 2's is a sense of solidarity and goodwill. There are jerks in Runescape, but the general sense I get is that players are there to journey together on the path to higher levels and shinier armor. In Team Fortress 2, I feel that players are there to win, aiming not only over the other team, but also to be the best on their team. There's much more to be said on this matter, but writing more than a paragraph after mentioning a final point is probably bad form.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Science Facts: Average World Temperature

There's been a lot of discussion about global warming in the past few years, but one piece of information I've recently come across is that the average temperature of the world (air temperature at the surface, I would assume) is currently at a cool 14.5 degrees Celsius (about 58 degrees Fahrenheit). That's sweater weather in my book, but what's even more shocking is that in half of the places in the world, the temperature is below average.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Dwarf Fortress

Dwarf Fortress graphics don't get any better than this.

Dwarf Fortress is an open-ended base-building and adventuring game, but these words don't do it full justice. In a previous post, I talked about a future of procedurally generated RPGs, and Dwarf Fortress is the closest game I've seen to that dream. Players determine what kind of world they want, choosing things like size, harshness, and age, and said world is generated, complete with civilizations, heroes, and histories. My world is called Boksmata, and I decided to start with only five years of history.

My first play session in Boksmata had me controlling Jasro Thrunion, one of the first humans. I walked around a hill for a while and ate some snow, then saw some ravens. I decided to attack a raven as was presented with a series of menus. I needed to first choose what part of the raven to strike at (head, neck, right wing, left foot, and about twenty other choices), then choose exactly how to strike. Should I try and stab this raven through the upper body, or just attempt to step on its wing? I eventually killed the raven, and, not knowing how to cook it, ended up just licking the carcass for nourishment. That night, Jasro made the mistake of sleeping out in the open and was killed by bogeymen.

Dwarf Fortress, at version 0.40.05,  is still a work in progress, but it already has a huge number and depth of systems. There are different actions for detecting an odor in the environment and detecting the primary odor in an environment. As I see things at the moment, DF is my procedural RPG except for one huge, huge element: polish.

In its current state, Dwarf Fortress is unplayable for most people because of its difficult, complex, controls and abysmal graphics. DF is made with ASCII art and controlled exclusively by keyboard. Even with the power of wikis and 'newb' mods, learning how to play Dwarf Fortress takes a huge amount of time. I'm glad that such an ambitious game is out there, but I might not be able to fully enjoy it at the moment.