Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Science Facts: Molarity vs Molality

The molarity (M) of substance in solution is (moles of solute)/(liters of solution). The molality (m) is (moles of solute)/(kilograms of solvent). Molarity is used in most equilibrium equations and other such things, and molality is used when calculating how much the solute changes the boiling and freezing points of a solution.

Screenshot of the Day: Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad

Another gray day in Soviet Russia.

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad is a World War 2 first-person shooter that is renowned for its realism. You have to manually check how many bullets are left in your gun, have generally terrible aim, and the only way to distinguish allies from enemies is by their uniform and whether or not they're shooting at you. There's even a button to hold breath when taking a tricky shot. This is exactly the sort of game I'm not very good at, but I enjoyed the thrill of diving behind an abandoned wheelbarrow as bullets sprayed the ground around me. The strategy I ultimately arrived at was to sprint around the battlefield, occasionally dropping prone and crawling for several yards and firing off a few shots. War is a terrible thing, but games like Red Orchestra 2 manage to construct a virtual simulation of combat that is, at the very least, exciting.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Job Interviews

I don't particularly enjoy job interviews-- there's a lot of pressure (at least in my perception) to impress in every sentence, and upon not receiving the job, there's lots of opportunity to retro-analyze the falsely friendly conversation. Was my anecdote not entertaining enough, or was it that my answer to that other question was too generic? On a lighter note, while recuperating from today's interview, I came across this perfect interview one-liner:

Interviewer: What do you think would make you a good waiter here?
Applicant: I feel that I could bring a lot to the table.

Maybe I should look into some restaurant jobs just to try this out.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Science Facts: Gold to Lead

Turning gold into lead is possible with the right equipment:  a gold atom has 79 protons and a lead atom has 82, so once a few neutrons in a gold atom are converted to protons through beta decay, the alchemy is a done deal. This would most likely be accomplished by bombarding the gold with neutrons. At the moment, though, this process is more expensive than turning gold into lead isn't worth.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

IDOC Ballad

Some schools demand only FAFSA
To dole out their scholarship pay
Em’ry uses IDOC to make sure that
Their students are as poor as they say

Before the great IDOC was open
The ‘Profile’ was a criteria
The payment required, however
Was not allowed when from Nigeria

A fee waiver solved that one problem
So to the post office I flew
To buy a good letter-sized envelope
To put the tax papers into

Filling out forms had been tedious
It seemed to take more than an age
IDOC, beyond that, required
A signature on every page

Another obstácle presented
Though Profile’d already been paid for
My parent’s good foreign papers
Weren’t letter, but myst’rious A4

I visit’d the financial aid office
And while ‘twas a very nice place
The info I got there was useful as
Slapping myself in the face

Good scissors then solved paper problem
Just as waiver had given me hope
In manila I ‘serted my documents
And lickéd the good envelope

With burden in hand I progresséd
To post’ffice and sent it sans fear
My IDOC adventure is over
Until February next year

Friday, April 25, 2014

Brainstorming: 11 Things To Do With Peanuts

1. Try to balance one peanut on top of another.
2. Find an empty bag of potato chips and fill it with peanuts. Go around offering people chips and try to convince them that the peanuts are actually miniature potatoes.
3. Scatter them in the hallway of your dorm and watch to see what people do.
4. Using peanut butter as cement, build a miniature house out of peanuts.
5. Line them up and calculate how many peanuts it would take to get to the moon.
6. Acquire someone's sneakers and stealthily fill them with peanuts before replacing them.
7. Mix peanuts in a salad for that extra crunch.
8. Draw little faces on peanuts and tape them to your wall.
9. Hollow out a banana and fill it with peanuts.
10. Take the batteries out of a friend's appliance and replace them with peanuts.
11. Fill the inside of a necktie with peanuts and surreptitiously eat them one by one at a formal event.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Deus Ex Limerick

There once a hero named Jensen
With augments and promising pension
He cracked down on lurkers
And robbed his co-workers
And probably had hypertension

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Path of Exile

A cold man legging it across a beach.
Path of Exile is a free-to-play RPG. After choosing a class, the player starts at the bottom of the pecking order on the forsaken continent of Wraeclast. It's a pretty standard beginning for a fantasy RPG-- fending off the undead with a piece a driftwood and looting your first iron helmet. What excites me about Path of Exile is its system of passive and active skills. Active powers are presented in the easy-to-use form of leveled gems socketed in weapons or armor. The passive system, interestingly enough, is even more exciting. A massive web of passive skills is available for upgrade, allowing hundreds of possible builds for any character. Beyond liking a 10% bonus to elemental damage as much as the next person, I would say that the idea of passive skills is one of my favorite concepts in gaming. The fact that this whole game is free-to-play is just icing on the cake.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Origin of Khakis

Why are khaki trousers so widespread? Why not white, or brown, or even pale blue? The word "khaki" comes from a Persian word meaning "soil". According to my sources, khaki uniforms were first developed in 1846 for use by British soldiers in India. While the British army was famous for its signature red coats, leaders eventually realized that blending into the surroundings had its points.

Khaki uniforms spread between different national armies and were very common by the 20th century. Khaki trousers began to be used by civilians after World War II, presumably because of nationalistic sentiments and the surplus of khaki in the aftermath of the war. From this point on, it's probably safe to say that as long as dust is khaki-colored, trousers will be too.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Frozen Synapse

Look at all those tactical lines.
Frozen Synapse is a multiplayer turn-based strategy game. Each player controls a handful of soldiers, giving them directions on where to go, where to shoot, and so on. It involves a lot of mind games, for as each person plans their turn, they need to be thinking of what their opponent is going to do and try to preempt it. There's a lot of strategy possible, as the picture above indicates (ignore the part in the top where my brother's soldier is easily shooting down mine). It's time to polish my mind gaming.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Smoking in the US

The popularity of smoking in the US has been falling steadily for more than 50 years. According to Gallup polls, almost half of all adults were smokers in the 1940s and 50s. In 2013, only 18% of American adults claimed to be smokers. This shift in behavior is probably the result of a lot of things, from the increased revelation of smoking as an unhealthy habit to the increased price of cigarettes through extra taxes on tobacco.

As of today, I have an additional piece of data to through into the ring-- roughly one third to one half of Greyhound bus passengers are smokers. The sample size of this study was admittedly small, but before today, I hadn't seen any smokers at all for weeks. It was an interesting trip.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gaming Jokes

What font do the anti-augmentation extremists in Deus Ex: Human Revolution use?
Sans sarif
What's the difference between Garrus and a computer in Mass Effect 2?
One's always doing calibrations and the other's a computer.
What did the TF2 announcer when the parasitic scone attached itself to a heavy's spine?
The tart is leeching a neck joint.

These just get from bad to worse, so don't expect a part 2.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Science Facts: Most Popular Fruit in the World

Is it the crisp apple, the acidic orange, or the potassium-filled banana? Interestingly enough, according to most sources, it's the mango. The number I came across most often is that, worldwide, three mangoes are eaten for every banana and ten for every apple.

And no, tomatoes don't count because of reasons. What matters more, technicality or common sense?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tales of the Urban Dead Part 10 (Finale)

Albert Newman ran, the zombies close behind him. He could still be safe at St. Matheos', it was just two blocks away. Albert stumbled over a body in the streets and yelled as it shuttered and grasped at his ankles. He buried his fire axe in its chest and scrambled away, leaving the trusty axe behind.

Dashing through the alley he and Mayer had come through not long ago, Albert made a beeline for the hospital. He ran up the stairs to the main door but stopped short when he saw it swinging open. Zombies growled inside. Gray clouds swirled overhead, but yellow sunlight still splashed eerily around the city.

Albert sighed and looked to heaven, drawing both of his handguns before glancing around at the horde of zombies closing in around him. He fired at the closest shambling corpse twice, catching it in the arm, then hitting it in the head. More shots echoed through the city as the circle of the dead drew tighter. Albert fired again and again, but for every zombie he put down, another grasped at his back. The horde overcame Albert as the sunlight died over Kempsterbank.

It began to rain; slowly at first, then building to a heavy storm. On the steps of St. Matheos' Hospital, a new corpse began to rise.

Monday, April 14, 2014


This weekend was the Emory Hackathon-- 32 straight hours of programming and robotics. While I don't have skills in coding, I was convinced to join by one of my more computer-minded friends. It turned out that LEGO Mindstorms were involved in the robotics sector, so I was able to apply my years of playing with LEGOs to something besides building castles and race-cars. We made a good team-- I put together most of the hardware for our robot while my friend wrote the software.

Our project? "I, Sandwich," a machine designed to assemble peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the press of a LEGO button. The demo video we put together for our final presentation can be found here. There were a few unexpected problems we ran into along the way-- the amount of friction between two slices of whole-grain bread is surprisingly high (place one slice of bread on top of another, then try to move one without moving the other. It's not exactly Jenga.) Our solution involved a system of gears, triggers, and the use of extremely stale bread for all tests.

The premise of the Hackathon was something along the lines of the monkey-typewriter-Shakespeare scenario. Take a hundred or so technically-minded high school and college students, shut them in a building with a bunch of technology and pizza, and you'll get a few gems of engineering. I'm already looking forwards to making I, Sandwich 2 next year. Give a man a sandwich and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to make a machine that makes a sandwich and he'll eat for as long as there's stale enough bread available.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Things I Learned From My Mom

My mom was literally my teacher until fourth grade, and I'm still learning things from her:

If you don't write things down, you'll forget them later.
To make better pastry dough, chill your fingers in ice water.
Learning should be interesting.
Don't always depend on other people to solve your problems.
Pack flat things like papers at the bottom of a box.
Don't rest on laurels.
Keeping in touch with people is important.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Playing the Medic

I've been playing Team Fortress 2 as my relaxation game these days. A session can fill anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour, and the combat is simple enough to be enjoyable without needing too much skill. The situation often arises as a team gears up that nobody has chosen to be a medic, and that's where an interesting phenomenon begins.

It's theoretically possible to play without a medic, especially if your team is on defense, but it involves a lot of dying and waiting for respawn timers. As a medic-less team prepares to begin the round, people start calling for a doctor with the classically unspecific line "somebody switch to medic." More often than not, the suggestion is directed towards the snipers, a class notorious for not pulling its weight. People don't want to be medic because it can be boring, but the person who finally makes the switch gets a bit of instant goodwill from everyone else.

For this reason, I'm often the one to go medic. I've only been raged against once as medic (pretty impressive considering the state of most online multiplayer), and that's because its very dangerous to offend the team doctor-- he decides who gets healed and who doesn't. Medics are the glue that hold teams together.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why Are Books Cheaper Than Games?

In a not-very-recent post, Chris wondered why games were so much cheaper than food, at least by some standards of value. I agree with what he said, but an even cheaper medium has come to my attention: books. While I'd hesitate to pay $15 for a meal and $10 for a game, it would take a lot for me to spend even $5 on a book.

You can argue that books are shorter than games, but on the other hand, books are much longer than movies. Another factor could be the number of people involved in production-- a movie or game usually has dozens or hundreds of people working on it, while a book is often largely made by a handful of people. With many books being digitally distributed these days, the same argument can be made as that for digital games-- any profit is net profit.

I imagine that another explanation for the closing of bookstores and the low value of books would involve the phrase 'kids these days,' and while I probably can't comment with any good perspective on that idea, I was encouraged by the high attendance of a book sale on the Emory campus a couple days ago. Tables were piled with dusty tomes on religion, philosophy, and history, most priced at 50 cents and selling like hotcakes. Either there's literary hope for our generation or college students are attracted to low prices like moths to a flame.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Oats and Brown Sugar

It's time for another recipe: "Oats and Brown Sugar" is simple to fix, with a prep time of less than 30 seconds.
Combine in bowl:
- 1 cup oats
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
Mix well.
Consider going down to the basement to use the microwave. Laugh and immediately dismiss idea.
Serve in front of laptop.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More About Entropy

Chemistry is getting even more exciting as we learn about how entropy relates to thermodynamics. I've tried to understand entropy before, so consider this part two.

There are three variables in determining whether or not a reaction will happen: enthalpy, entropy, and temperature. Enthalpy can be roughly described as how much heat the reaction uses or gives off. A positive enthalpy means that the reaction draws in heat from its surroundings, and a negative enthalpy means that the reaction gives off heat to its surroundings. Entropy is the number of possible arrangements of the system or the potential of the system to do work, and temperature is just temperature (in Kelvin, though).

These three variables are related in the Gibbs free energy equation: Gibbs free energy = Enthalpy - (Entropy * Temperature). If Gibbs energy is negative, the reaction is spontaneous, and will happen by itself. If Gibbs energy is positive, the reaction is non-spontaneous, and work will have to be done in order to make the reaction happen.

The thing that interested me most about this equation is how it explains so much about what goes on in the universe. Consider ice melting-- it has to take in heat in order to turn to liquid. In other words, the enthalpy of ice melting is positive. If entropy were out of the picture, Gibbs energy would always be positive, and ice would never melt by itself. The entropy of this reaction, however, is negative (which is favorable for a spontaneous reaction). Liquid water has more possible arrangements than solid water. Taking another look at the Gibbs free energy equation, you can see that the effect entropy has on a reaction depends on temperature. If the temperature is 0 K, entropy * temperature would also be zero, and the ice wouldn't melt.

Now take a random guess at the temperature at which entropy * temperature cancels out enthalpy, and Gibbs energy becomes negative. It is, of course, at 293 K, or 0 degrees Celcius, that the reaction of water melting becomes a spontaneous reaction. There's still a lot I don't know, but entropy is becoming one of my favorite scientific concepts.

Monday, April 7, 2014

More Deus Ex: Human Revolution Screenshots

I never asked for these screenshots, but I got them anyways.

It might be coincidence that all these pictures feature the retractable-sunglasses-equipped Adam Jensen, but frankly, those are the only screenshots worth taking in this game.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great; so ambitious that he was distressed upon hearing his father's victories-- the more territory Philip took, the less there would be left for Alexander to conquer. It is said that he slept with a dagger and a copy of the Iliad under his pillow.

One of my classes is currently studying Alexander the Great, and funnily enough, we students are probably around the same age as Alexander was when he became king of Macedon and began his conquests. This can be discouraging-- I'm currently making minimum wage guarding pictures of Alexander the Great in the museum. On the other hand, I'm content with what I have, something that can't be said for Alexander at any age.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hurried Haiku

Homework, a quick game
Now it's three in the morning
Where did the time go?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Science Facts: Negative pH

Dabbling about with orange juice and stomach acid is all very well and good, but what happens when pH is negative? It is, in fact, physically possible to have a negative pH, since pH = -log[H+]. In other words, pH is the power to which the number ten must be raised to equal the concentration of hydronium (the ion brought about by an acid reacting with water) in a solution. A pH of 0, then, means that the concentration of hydronium is 10^0, or 1 mole per liter of solution.

It's rare, but possible, to have more than one mole of hydronium in a liter of solution. The lowest recorded pH I could find is -3.6, from some very acidic water in a mine in California. Since this pH is on a logarithmic scale, this is crazily acidic-- 10,000 times more acidic than battery acid. It almost seems preposterous, but these numbers come from the US Geological Survey. They must have done the measurement right. Right?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tales of the Urban Dead Part 9

Zombie groans sounded in the streets as Albert Newman bandaged his arm. Mayer Hawthorne was sitting by the radio, jotting something down in the notebook he always carried with him. Albert stood up and peered out of one of the broken windows. The zombies below were shuffling aimlessly about, occasionally stopping to sniff the air.

Garbled voices broke through the white noise of the radio. Albert hurried over as Mayer fiddled with the tuner. *...zed...or more...Julie General Hospital. Please send help. We.......survivors...*

"That's not too far from here," said Mayer, glancing at Albert.

Albert looked at his hands. "Think we should make a run for it?"

"We have more chance with a large group than holed up here. Maybe that's where the Boardsies went-- they mentioned heading south."

Albert grimaced and picked up his axe. "Let's get going then."

Albert's coat billowed in a brief breeze as he and Mayer slipped out of St. Matheos', heading through an alley free of zombies. Two pistols were holstered at Albert's belt, and Mayer held a third, along with poor Jerry's baseball bat.

Julie General Hospital was in sight when a zombie stumbled around a corner and right into Albert. Jumping back, Albert lashed out with his axe while Mayer fired twice, taking the zombie down. "They'll have heard that," gasped Albert, scrambling to his feet.

Three more zombies came up through the alley and another four or five shuffled in from the street Julie General Hospital was on. Albert and Mayer broke into a run, knocking aside the dead with axe and bat. There was a crash to the east and Albert changed course as a new flood of zombies shambled around a second street corner. He couldn't hear Mayer yelling any more, and couldn't see him anywhere either.

Albert shook off a grasping zombie hand and bounded up the steps of Julie General Hospital. Thrusting his fire axe through his belt, Albert drew both pistols and kicked the front door open. In the hospital lobby, dozens of bodies lay on the ground, fresh blood seeping from bite wounds and scratches. A smashed radio transmitter lay in the middle of the room.

The body nearest the door began to rise.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Niche Jokes With Benjamin: Reloaded

Why are DNA primers so pious?
Because they're always annealing.

Why did the CEO use subjunctive forms when reassuring an unemployed Santa during a job interview?
He was employing a doubting clause.

What's the difference between an Emory student who likes to eat after 10 PM and a horse?
One lives mostly on oats, and the other's a horse.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Wonders of Retro Games

As I look through my Steam library, I begin to see that a large portion of the games I've played that were truly great were made before the year 2000. Maybe it's the complexity and depth of retro games that makes them so memorable, or maybe it's just the imagination required to be immersed in early graphics.

Developers these days don't seem to see the benefits of making games the way they used to be made, and things are taking a turn for the worse. Look at all the series being killed of by money-hungry studios-- how did always-online SimCity come from amazing sandbox Sim City 2000? How did amazingly immersive Morrowind get dumbed down to easily-accessible Skyrim?

The real problem with game makers today is creativity. While better companies such as Nintendo keep on making the same great Mario game every other year, many other studios are journeying into lame new territory. Original IP is good for stuff like books, maybe, but video game clunkers like The Last of Us and DayZ show that, when it comes to gaming, it's best to just stick to sequels.

The one ray of hope in today's gaming society is the multitude of indie developers making traditional point-and-click adventure games and old-school platformers, complete with retro graphics. Some developers have lost sight of how good video games can really be, and while these traitors to art work on triple-A sellout projects, retro developers haven't forgotten the fact that video gaming reached its peak long ago, and re-creating the experiences of the 80s and 90s is the only way gaming culture will ever move forward.