Friday, January 31, 2014

Problem Solving

I bought a game controller for my computer last semester, and had gotten it to work in several 2D platformers, but hadn't had any luck in 3D games-- the right analog stick that usually controls view in a 3D game didn't seem to work.

Well, today I decided to tackle that problem, having had enough of playing Skyrim with a touchpad. First of all, Skyrim did seem to even acknowledge the existence of my controller, so I downloaded a program called JoyToKey that would translate the input from the controller into keyboard and mouse input. I manually entered the controller buttons and corresponding keys.

Things were peachy except for the fact that the right axis still wasn't inputting. I decided to dig out the CD that had come with the controller and install some drivers, supposing that that might be a helpful thing to do. After some installing, reinstalling, and restarting, though, things were still the same.

Finally, I decided to look on the internet and see if anyone else was having the same problem. After reading through a single forum, I found the answer-- I need to press the 'Analog' button to make both analog sticks work. I pressed the button (I had wondered what it was for) and a little red light went on, as if to say, "okay, this controller works now."

My controller works perfectly now, and I'm looking forward to playing Skyrim without having to bother with my tangled keyboard controls. For now, though, I have another problem to solve-- what is the name of the surface appendages that allow a bacterium to stick to a surface?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Membership Tiers and Rocks

Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond-- whether it's airport privileges or membership tiers, more valuable materials get higher status. My question is what the next level up will be once 'Diamond' memberships become too common. A search of the internet suggested 'moon rock' as more valuable than diamond, but it seems that moon rock is valued at about $3.50 per milligram while diamonds can sell for as much as $37.50 per milligram. With that in mind, my guess is that membership tier makers will stop beating around the bush and name the highest tier the 'Money' membership. Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Money. How much money? If you have to ask, you can't afford it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snow Day

It's one of those special days in Atlanta-- I'll tell the story for those who didn't witness 'Snow Day 2014'. Around 12:30, frozen water began to fall from the sky. I was at lunch at the time, and watched as emissaries flooded the cafeteria, bringing news of cancelled classes, closed buildings, and severely affected shuttle schedules. Applause broke out at certain tables, and bustle increased as people rushed to stock up on food before the cafeterias closed.

Outside was a party. People were throwing snowballs and yelling, or gathered in energetic circles, taking pictures. Students, some of whom hadn't seen snow for years or at all, reveled in the powdery cold. After about an hour, people started heading inside, returning to warm rooms to begin the day where everything had been canceled.

I'm sure that having snow more often than once year might get tedious, but today I saw nothing but happiness in the celebrations of students getting to take a break from the routine of class-class-eat-class-work-eat-work-play-sleep. By Thursday, the snow will probably have melted or been cleared away by Atlanta's six snowplows, and I'll probably be looking forward to starting classes again. For now, though, I'm happy to rest and try something new.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tech Review: Basic Mattress Pad

Hi, Chris here. Last year, for Thanksgiving, my parents gave me a mattress pad for my dorm room bed. I finally got around to installing it about a week ago, and after more than forty hours of testing, I'm ready to write the review:

Basic Mattress Pad is a fluffy white bedding layer that fits neatly over a mattress. Installation was surprisingly simple, and the immediate effect on the rest of the bedding was clearly evident. Besides providing an exceedingly soft surface to lie on, Basic Mattress Pad greatly reduced the sound of chafing vinyl from the low-quality mattress. My sleep quality hasn't improved noticeably, but time taken to fall asleep and initial warmth of bedding have decreased and increased, respectively. While Basic Mattress Pad may not be optimal for those with high-end mattresses, it is probably the most cost-effective single improvement the amateur napper can make to their bedding setup.

Overall rating: 4/5

Monday, January 27, 2014

Origins of Fungus

Hey, Benjamin here. In a new and surprisingly brief search for knowledge, I wondered today where the word 'fungus' came from. It comes from the Latin 'fungus' which means 'mushroom'. I don't really know what else I expected.

Ah, but where did the word 'mushroom' come from? Funnily enough, also Latin, by way of French. The Latin word 'mussirio' apparently referred to a specific sort of mushroom. If this is depressing for anyone, a list of English words that didn't come from Latin can be found here.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Civilization V

That user interface, though...
Civilization V is a turn-based strategy game in which the player controls a civilization from 4000 BC to the present day, building cities, forging alliances, and conquering empires. There are many ways to play-- you can be militaristic, winning through conquest, but cultural, scientific, and even diplomatic victories are available (you win if the UN votes for you). History is far too complex for this to truly be called a simulation game, but the Civilization series is without a doubt a genre-defining group of games.

On a slightly more tired note, Civilization V is one of those games that just makes time fly. I played a multiplayer match today, starting around 6:30, and the continued realization of the existence of another human meant that we managed to stop before midnight, but barely. I even remembered to stop and eat.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Understanding Entropy

Hi, Benjamin here. The day has finally come that I slightly understand what entropy is-- I think so, at least. Through highschool, entropy was labeled as the level of disorder in a system, and as entropy always increases, there's a pretty glum lookout, especially for people who like to be organized.

In Chemistry class yesterday, we went a bit further into what entropy was. The new, but admittedly  still inaccurate definition the professor gave us was this-- entropy measures the amount of possible configurations of a system. I will now test my understanding of this new concept by trying to explain it:

Imagine two crates of eggs, a dozen egg-holes in each. One crate is full of eggs and the other has none. In this situation, entropy is very low-- there's only one possible arrangement of eggs in the full crate (every hole full) and one possible arrangement in the second (every hole empty). This first arrangement is also very 'organized', though it can be hard to define that. If, however, one egg was moved from the first crate to the second crate, there would be 144 possible arrangements, if my calculations are right. In the first crate, the empty hole could be any of the twelve, and in the second crate, the full hole could be any of the twelve. There are more possibilities, so entropy has increased.

If you go ahead and decide to put each of the twelve eggs in any of the twenty-four holes, there's a huge number of possible arrangements, and thus a large amount of entropy, and, most likely, disorder as well. What's the real difference then? Why not keep using disorder as a definition for entropy?

I guess it takes another example to show the difference. When oil and water are mixed together, they separate because of entropy, forming, in a way, a more 'ordered' arrangement. This doesn't make sense from a pure 'entropy as disorder' point of view, but when thinking of possible arrangements, I think it makes a little bit more sense. If a water molecule is theoretically surrounded by ten water molecules and ten oil molecules, it has ten molecules it can interact with and bond with (like interacts with like). When the same molecule is surrounded by twenty water molecules, it has twenty 'choices'. More entropy, but entropy that results in a clearly defined separation between oil and water.

This is a small step in my understanding of entropy, and still very tentative. It turns out that entropy is measured in joules, and I have no idea why that is yet. I'd like to know if anyone reading this actually does understand entropy and could explain it a bit further. Moreover, I'm wondering who else is out there who, like me, never really understood entropy in the first place.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Return of Gilgamesh

Hey, Chris here. Things aligned just today for a very rewarding experience-- I enjoyed reading ancient Mesopotamian literature last semester, and for Christmas, I was given a copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh. It just so happened that I'm taking a class on ancient heroes of the Mediterranean this semester, and the first one on the agenda is Gilgamesh. We need to have the story read by tomorrow. I had an afternoon shift at the museum today, and was assigned to the Ancient Egypt/Near East gallery. When no visitors are around, we're allowed to sit and read any book we bring to the museum.

Long story short, with only one brief interruption, I read through the whole epic in about an hour while sitting in slightly dim light amongst Ancient Mediterranean artifacts. It was a really fancy feeling, and I have to say my homeschool-nurtured love of ancient history is making a comeback. Anyways, since I'm Chris, I need to write something artsy or creative, so I'll do a short Mesopotamian-style poem:

Like the moon his computer screen glowed;
Like many stars it shone brightly
Nimble were his fingers, like antelopes as they struck the keys
Like a herd of wildebeest his fingers typed the blog post
Who will now say, "This blog is not updated daily?"

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Science Facts: Bacteria Transformation

Something I learned in Biology 142: If you leave strands of DNA lying around, bacteria can pick them up and use them. Just like that.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Mass Effect 2

I'm frankly surprised my computer can run this game.
Mass Effect 2 is a sci-fi RPG, the second installment of Bioware's Mass Effect trilogy. The player captains the Normandy, the spaceship shown in this picture, leading a special team on an adventure to save the galaxy. It sounds cliché, but I've been surprised at just how good this game is. Removing all of Mass Effect 1's tedious mechanics and controls, Mass Effect 2 is a smooth and exciting experience with meaningful choices and an engaging story. This is probably the game I would recommend to friends getting into gaming. To top it all off, I had an almost alien experience when playing-- the game is made up of thirty-minute or so missions, and after completing a mission, I felt like I had just enjoyed one of my best gaming in experiences in a while, but didn't feel any inclination to start the next mission, leaving it for tomorrow. My excitement for Mass Effect 2 will fade, but for now, I'm a happy camper.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Class Lineup

Hey, Benjamin here. I made the decision today to drop my 18th century British history class, going from 18 credit hours this semester to 15 hours. There are a number of reasons for this, ranging from work-study to uncomfortable seating, but what I thought would be more interesting for this post is to think of one thing I'm looking forward to in each of the class I will now definitely be taking:

Latin 102: Reading excerpts from real Latin authors (the name Virgil was mentioned)
Biology 142: Learning a bit more about how feasible genetic engineering is
Chemistry 142: Finally understanding magnetism (possibly)
ANCMED 202R (Heroes of the Ancient Mediterranean): Reading the Epic of Gilgamesh, Five Dialogues, and... the Book of Acts

There will undoubtedly be a lot of work, but right now, it's looking like a good semester.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

High Standards

Hi, Chris, here. I have a quick one today-- here's a direct quote from the criteria of a games journalism job post I saw recently:

"Able to write artciles and reviews to a high standard"

Ah well.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Dried Fruit

Coming back to college, I'm going back into the eating habits I started last semester. I eat my meals at the DUC, the center where my meal plan can be applied, but considering the restricted hours of all the university dining establishments, I've found it helpful to keep a healthy stock of non-perishable, but not necessarily healthy, foods in my closet.

My stash through the past months has included potato chips, pop tarts, raw oats, soft drinks, and occasionally peanut butter crackers. Enough to subsist on, but not a list I would want to share with my Health teacher.

This semester, thanks to my parents, I've come prepared with something more-- bags of dried apricot, apple, and pineapple. It's a small step, but I'm excited for the new possibilities. While I enjoy eating oats, for instance, I've been forced to acknowledge that they could use some flavoring.

All this is to say I have a high opinion of dried fruit at the moment. I searched the internet for things to do with it, coming up with a recipe for apricot bread, which I might try if I ever have access to yeast and a kitchen at the same time. Things are looking promising.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Linking Things

Hi, Chris here. For the first time in a while, I don't really have much to say here, as the first week of classes here at Emory has just gotten into full swing. I noticed today a bonus of all the writing I've been doing-- a class I'm interested in on heroes of Ancient Mediterranean has a 300 word analysis of topics due every Monday. I might have quailed at this last semester, but now, I'm already writing 500-600 words a week for my RPG column, often talking about heroes, even.

I'm still, as could be expected, enjoying myself immensely with all this journalism stuff, and I'm trying to make sure I also enjoy every class I take this semester. So far, the line-up is looking promising.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Science Facts: Orangutans and Mollusks

The Bornean orangutan has an average lifespan of 60 years in captivity, and has a diet comprised mostly of fruit, including bananas. The banana slug, recognized as the world's slowest mollusk, moves at an average speed of 0.000023 m/s. If an immortal banana slug starts locomoting in a straight line when an orangutan is born in captivity, it will be approximately 43.5 kilometers away when the orangutan dies of old age.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Runescape Party Hat

Hey, Chris here. I've been doing a bit of writing about the economy in Runescape, a surprisingly complex market to the point that someone can enjoy the game without ever leaving the Grand Exchange area where business goes down. There's been a lot of inflation of the gp (gold piece), the basic currency of Runescape, so large amounts of money are stored in discontinued items, very rare objects that never increase in supply, and thus only increase in value. Some notable examples of discontinued rares are 'pumpkin', 'half-full jug of wine', and 'halloween mask'.

The holy grail of rares, however, is the party hat, or phat. A blue phat is valued at a staggering 2.1 billion gp and is a symbol of immense wealth, and, of course, a huge number of hours poured into the game. To put this in a bit of perspective, in-game food in general is worth a few hundred gp per item. A decent set of armor would cost about 50,000 gp. Using the price of 'bonds', an in-game item bought from Jagex for 5 dollars and sold for around 6 million gp, a blue party hat is currently worth about 1800 dollars. Different sites around the internet advertise party hats at prices anywhere from 800 dollars to 2700 dollars. I'm very interested in the Runescape economy, but it's still staggering to me how much people will pay for virtual items.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Science Facts: Large Organisms and Population Density

The world's largest individual organism is a banyan tree in India named Thimmamma Marrimanu, covering 19,107 square meters. Using the given population density for Lagos, Nigeria, this tree could theoretically house 346 urban Nigerians.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Fable

You can't see it, but this kid has an impressive mullet.
Fable is a fantasy RPG. True to its name, Fable starts off with a perfectly stereotypical "Once upon a time..." beginning, establishing a young protagonist in a peaceful village. It's an interesting game in that it follows the whole life of your hero, from childhood to old age. I have to say, however, that the child at the beginning looks the least heroic of any character I've played, as far as I can remember. Raggedy shirt and shorts are one thing, and the addition of big gloves and sandals makes the young hero ridiculous, though endearing. I'm sure near the end of the game, when I'm equipped with the strongest armor and most impressive weapons, I'll look back at this picture and smile. That, in the end, is probably what makes a good story.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Sleep, Cheerios, and Cars

Hi, Benjamin here. One of the things we learned in Health class last semester was the relationship between tiredness and brain function, specifically memory. Funnily enough, I forgot to do the memory assignment we were supposed to do when tired. This evening, though, I thought I'd have a go with my cognitive skills when they're not at their best?

My question is this: using the energy from a single bowl of cheerios, how high could you lift a 2000 pound car? The answer I got was approximately 170 feet, even after double-checking. In the state I'm currently in, I don't know how feasible this is, so if anyone else wants to try out this problem, I'd be happy to find out how my brain works when tired. Health is a wonderful thing.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Does Gaming Take Too Much Time?

Hi, Chris here. I would have another 'screenshot of the day' ready, but I've found to my chagrin that Dragon Age II is a successor to Dragon Age: Origins in length, among other things. I've played for more than twenty hours, and the end is still barely in sight. The ridiculous length of many of the games I've played sometimes leads me to wonder how I can enjoy video games and still live a meaningful life. Some entertainment is acceptable, of course, but when you think of the idea of sitting down and watching a forty-hour movie, playing through a standard fantasy RPG seems slightly less reasonable.

As with many things, I don't have answers for these questions yet, but I'm going to try treating my individual games more as not-yet-released-on-Netflix TV shows, to be enjoyed in small portions every week, rather than gone through all at once, like released-on-Netflix TV shows. This means, of course, that I won't be able to play as many games as before, but I'm sure Benjamin will enjoy having time to focus on studying this semester.

On a completely unrelated note, Dragon Age: Inquisition is coming out this year. Following the current plan of a couple hours a week, I'll probably be finished playing halfway through 2015. I've been warned of this, and now it's coming true more and more: you can't do everything in college.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Seawater and Inquiry

Hi, Benjamin here. For a long time, I've thought that one of the most disappointing things about nature is that drinking seawater is unhealthy for humans. Up until now, I've accepted that as truth, but a semester in college has taught me about the importance if inquiry. Is drinking seawater really bad? What if you drink other liquids as well as seawater? Is it just the taste that's bad?

And thus I went about my research, id est, a Google search (id est Google translate as well). While I looked up "id est" on Google translate, it dawned on me that the abbreviation i.e. probably stands for "id est". Things began to fit together.

That's one thing I really like about scientific inquiry-- accidents or distractions during the pursuit of one idea can lead to completely new and different discoveries. As inexperienced as I am, I would guess that this is because of the fundamental structure of the universe, i.e. everything is linked in some way. Also, drinking seawater is unhealthy, or at least not beneficial, because the human body uses more water to get rid of the extra salt than the volume of seawater imbibed.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Braid

I'm on an artsy overdose here...
Braid-- in the locker room of indie games, it's said, Braid is a man among boys. This may seem surprising to someone who's only seen screenshots of the game (a.k.a. myself about three days ago), but once the game starts rolling, the beautifully painted levels, soothing music, simple platforming and complex story roll over the unsuspecting player in an indie-hipster tidal wave. The 24 minutes I've spent in Braid have all blurred together, but I recall jumping from cloud to cloud, looking for a sparkling key while cello music played soothingly in the background.

Braid's shining mechanic is time reversal-- holding down shift at any time in the game will reverse events, providing an ingenious alternative to the common mechanic of death in games (Fell on spikes? Reverse time!) Puzzles involving some objects, such as the player, traveling through time while other objects, such as keys, do not, make for puzzles mind-bending enough to flutter the heart of any puzzle-platforming enthusiast. As I unfortunately cannot count myself among that number, I ended up just jumping off cliffs and reversing time to see myself fly back up to the cliff top and start running backwards. Braid may not be a perfect fit for me, but if you enjoy solving crosswords, frequent Starbucks, paint in your spare time, enjoy retro platformers, or play a stringed instrument, Braid is probably the game for you. If you participate in all five activities, Christmas has just come early... really early.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Songs and Memories

Hi, Benjamin here. My Pandora playlist has just dredged up some memories from last semester, so without further ado, I will tell my tale. Story story. Once upon a time...

It was a pretty bad day. My phone had stopped working the night before, so I woke up late. I didn't have any classes, but I was scheduled to work at the museum from 10 AM to 4 PM. I ended up getting to the museum just a few minutes late, but in my haste, I forgot my watch in my dorm room. For the whole day, I had no way to keep track of the hours. My gallery was pretty quiet, so I sat and read by myself for large, indeterminate amounts of time.

I had a coffee meeting scheduled at four with a friend, so it would be a rush to get there straight after work ended. As I sat and read, though, I started to notice that things were unnaturally silent. I assumed it was just a quiet afternoon until my boss came around, locking up the doors. It was five o'clock, and when the museum had closed an hour before, none of my coworkers had checked that I was clear, assuming I knew the time, as I usually did.

I would have texted my friend to inform them what the situation was, but as I've mentioned, my phone was malfunctioning, so I had no choice but to return to my room. I was feeling quite downtrodden, and slightly lonely, having had less than two minutes of human contact through the entire day. I booted up my laptop and opened Pandora, hoping to find solace in music. The first song to come on was One by Three Dog Night-- One... is the loneliest number...

This isn't the first song I've identified with at a point in time (Crying in the Rain is great for angst), but the perfect fit of One, considering the situation, actually raised my strange emotions. Does this story have a conclusion? Not really-- I forget what happened next, but the happy ending is that things only improved through the following days and weeks. I got a new phone, met new people, and had more success-- either a sad country song in reverse, or most of the pop songs I've heard forwards.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Dragon Age II

This particular dragon is at a very mature age.
After my bout with Dragon Age: Origins, my attachment to the series was such that playing Dragon Age II was almost inevitable. At the moment, I've almost finished the first of three acts in this dark fantasy RPG, and am deeply enjoying it. While many RPGs and adventure games have a strong focus on travel and wandering, Dragon Age II is interesting in that the entire game is centered around one city - Kirkwall - in which you start at the bottom and work your way to the top, though not without getting your gauntlets dirty. The restriction to one city could be cynically seen as a ploy by the developers to reuse the same assets and environments over and over, it does establish more connection between the player and in-game locations than is usual. As for the combat, it's as good as I remember from Dragon Age: Origins. Fighting happens in real time, but liberal use of the pause button is encouraged in order to plan strategies moment by moment. I've heard through the grapevine that Dragon Age II is a terrible game, but either the game is saving its full awfulness for acts two and three, or certain grapevines are going to be rendered as credible as a blood mage claiming innocence in a recent series of disappearances.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Science Facts: Spoiled Food

Whereas it is commonly known that honey is the only food that doesn't spoil, scientists have recently discovered that chicken curry is probably not the only food that does spoil, an idea proven by the fact that curry not containing chicken also spoils. This discovery, while minor, throws new light on the idea of food itself.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

I have to finish the year here with a slightly sentimental but ultimately uninspired post. 2013 has been a big year for me. As far as this blog and my video game journalism is concerned, there's been great change just in the past three months (that is, from non-existence to existence). I for one am interested to see what comes of it all in 2014. For now, Happy New Year's!