Saturday, May 31, 2014

Why Are Lemons Sour?

There's the obvious answer--lots of acid--but what do they need so much acid for? As far as I can tell, it seems that the lemon is no natural phenomenon, but was created when ancient peoples bred sour oranges with citrons.

The true origin of the lemon is apparently shrouded in mystery; in the 1st century B.C., a Near Eastern priest was subjected to a great flinging of citrus, and there is controversy over whether the fruits in question were lemons or citrons. For many centuries (apparently), lemon trees were mostly grown as ornamental fixtures.

In the 18th century, James Lind discovered that lemon juice helped fight scurvy in sailors (Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid, and more acidity makes for more sour taste). At some point in this timeline, bath salts come into the equation, and then the popularization of lemonade. In short, though, lemons are sour because that's the way people want them to be.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Divinity II: Ego Draconis

"The dragon is perceptive, his eyes as alert as his mind. Only he discerns a difference in a mirror."

Divinity II: Ego Draconis is a fantasy RPG, and the most surprisingly good game I've played this year. In most aspects, it's as standard as an RPG can get, from fighter/mage/rogue classes to doing sidequests for villagers. There are three big things, however, that make Divinity II such fun to play. First is the combat-- it's (for me, at least) quite challenging, and after almost being killed by tutorial goblins, I realized I would have to do things differently from my Dragon Age strategy of 'hit things until they fall over'. The player character is incredibly agile, leaping and bounding around the battlefield, so I developed a hit-and-run strategy, dashing in, dealing some damage, and somersaulting out before I could be hit. Very early on, I found a pair of magic earrings that tripled the damage from my jumping aerial attacks, so many a goblin suffered an unexpected death from above.

Secondly, the world is detailed and well-built. The main story (at least as far as I've gotten) is really terrible and uninteresting, but each environment along the way is populated with unique characters and lots of books to read and puzzles to solve. The player is free to explore at their own pace, discovering completely unnecessary caves and personalities, the latter including dual-personality Jackal & Clyde and the former including a mystical rune that creates infinite chickens.

The third selling point might be considered a spoiler, since you spend the first five hours of Divinity II as a Dragon Slayer, but on the other hand, Ego Draconis directly translates to "I am a dragon". That's the thing: after a certain point in the game, the player can shape-shift into a dragon. Levels after that are designed with that in mind: huge skies and deep canyons are explored by air, and the world is divided into "Things I Can Burn When I Breathe Fire" and "Everything Else". The leap of faith in Assassin's Creed is impressive, but even more epic is running and leaping off a cliff as a human, then transforming into a dragon and swooping away.

I can get very long-winded when talking about games I really like, and there's a lot more that could be said about Divinity II. It's a very screenshot-friendly game, so I'll probably be putting up some more pictures soon. For now, let me say that I am reminded once again that critical acclaim is one thing and entertainment is entirely another.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Things To Do On A Bus

Figure 1. Paʃʃengers do reade their newʃpapers while aboarde ye omnibus, ignoring thoʃe which have no seats.
Figure 2. D00ds on a train w/ smartphones.

Pictures like these seem to indicate that not wanting to interact with other people while using public transportation is a timeless phenomenon. After all, even the slightest eye contact with a stranger can lead to minutes upon minutes of awkwardness. Is being absorbed in personal entertainment a bad thing in this situation?

What I've noticed in my increasing usage of MARTA trains and buses is that there is a third option: the aware stare. The passenger sits casually, with no book, phone, or other diversion, simply staring at one point after another. When two people are doing the aware stare, the trick is to turn the head, glancing at the other person, then looking just over their shoulder. The message sent here is simple: "I'm on the bus, and you're also on the bus, and that's a thing that's happening." You show respect to fellow passengers by acknowledging their existence, but not assuming that they want to interact in any way. I look forward to the day when I can sit in a bus full of starers in complete, but very aware, silence.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

They always underestimate the lightsaber.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is an old RPG, a gem in Bioware's crown and a boon to Star Wars fans everywhere. I have a surprisingly low tolerance for the bad graphics and confusing interfaces that come with many older games, but Knights of the Old Republic (released in 2003; almost elderly by game standards) is praised for good reason.

Knights of the Old Republic is set thousands of years before the Star Wars movies, and features metal sabers, lightsabers, and blasters in pausable combat. Being a Jedi fits perfectly with the many missions piled upon the player. You can be mowing down security robots one moment and arguing a case in alien court the next. Knights of the Old Republic is also filled with believable and interesting characters, including a republic pilot who doesn't quite trust you to a fellow Jedi who questions your abilities at first but gradually becomes more friendly. In both these cases, the characters are quite certain that they're the 'good guys', they're just not sure if you are. This sort of nuance combined with a huge wealth of environments and many intertwined plot threads make Knights of the Old Republic a great experience, even if the sky occasionally does bug out and crash the game to desktop.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Origin of Origin

What happens when a day contains almost nothing worth writing about? It's time to go to the next level. As I went about finding out the origins of words, I realized that I was unfamiliar with the verbal tool I was using. In short, from where does 'origin' originate?

We start at a Latin verb: 'orior', which means 'I rise' (it's deponent). The infinitive form (to rise) is 'oriri'. From this verb comes the (still Latin) noun 'origo' (genitive 'originis'), which means 'a beginning'. This passed through the French 'origine', and now manifests in English as the 'origin' we know and love.

Bonus: The Dutch word for 'origin' is 'oorsprong'.

Monday, May 26, 2014

MARTA Moments

There's been a gap in posting that I'd like to blame on travel, but hopefully my schedule will be more regular for the next few weeks. Here's a poem about one of my more recent travel experiences:

Great train in distance drawing nigh
To station 'spended in the sky
For what to how where for to why
I legged it to the gate

Breeze card I flung upon the spot
Where card tranferréd cash to dot
I breezéd past for I did not
Want to the train be late

'Twixt open doors I darted in
And comfy seat did haply win
And realized I just only then
That I was on the wrong train

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

RPG Characters

Many of my favorite video games are RPGs (role-playing games). I enjoy being an active part in a story and choosing how my relationships with in-game characters affect the experience. When creating my character at the beginning of an RPG, there are a few templates I often refer to. Here are some of the heroes I've created that I keep going back to:

Luc is a paladin (lawful good, if you're into that sort of terminology). Playing as Luc, I always go for the most moral actions, forgiving left and right and not accepting rewards from saved villagers. Luc usually has short hair and wields a two-handed sword. I've played as Luc in Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age: Origins, Dungeon Siege III, and Dungeons & Dragons Online.

Talan is a soldier (neutral good). He helps people in need, often rising to leadership by merit of his great combat and decision-making skills. What Talan really wants is to settle down in a comfortable home, but he won't be found wanting whenever the land is in danger. Talan fights with sword and shield. I've played as Talan in Oblivion and Dungeon Siege 2.

Adrian is a mage (chaotic good). He's good at heart, but much more selfish than Luc, and is offended easily. He's extremely loyal to friends and holds grudges against enemies. Adrian often goes out of his way to help strangers, especially if they ask nicely. Adrian usually has long dark hair. I've played as Adrian in Dragon Age: Origins and Skyrim.

There are a few more that come to mind: Humphrey the archer and Mnicholas the cleric have gone on many adventures. It's fun to come up with new characters, but these regulars give a sense of continuity to my RPG gaming.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Basics of Spam

Spam, the pinnacle of canned meat, is made from pork shoulder and ham, with salt, water, potato starch, and sodium nitrate added. The origins of the name 'Spam' are unknown, but it might be an abbreviation of 'spiced ham'.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Dungeons & Dragons Online

You see chunky terrain surrounded by an imposing user interface.

Dungeons & Dragons Online is an MMORPG set in the D&D Forgotten Realms. It looks and plays a lot like Lord of the Rings Online, but that's understandable: both MMOs were developed by Turbine. For some reason, though, I liked LotRO much more than DDO. Three reasons, actually. First is the setting; Middle Earth is a lot more interesting to me than the Forgotten Realms. I seriously enjoyed Baldur's Gate and literally memorized the contents of each area of the Sword Coast during the course of dozens of playthroughs, but Middle Earth always seems more majestic and engaging than the various hills, forests, and caves that I've encountered so far in DDO.

Secondly, digitizing AD&D rules is all well and good, but in my opinion, it makes DDO less immersive; a die is shown on the screen for every combat roll, and an NPC Dungeon Master does a terrible job at making the world come alive. Again, in my opinion, applying board game rules to a video game usually isn't a good idea. The creative events and stories that come with having a human Dungeon Master are lost in DDO.

There's a lot more issues that could serve as reason three for my dislike, but let me just choose the most trivial one. Call me casual, but I can't stand mana that doesn't automatically regenerate. Crazy stuff. I'll balance all those negatives with one positive: I got a two-handed axe very early in the game, and it's such fun to use that I've stopped paying attention to the plot completely; most quests are resolved if I just go around hitting things with my axe for long enough. Dungeons & Dragons Online isn't necessarily a bad game, it just isn't my cup of tea.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Dollar-Pound-Minutes

Having just moved into the apartment that I'll be spending the summer in, I was confronted today with the realization that the microwave popcorn and cans of coke I had weren't going to be sufficient for my continued sustenance.

There's a Walmart not too far away, but it's still distant enough that carrying lots of groceries from store to house could be a pain. For this reason, I decided that the proper way to assess food costs for the summer would be using the dollar-pound-minute ($lbmin) as the unit determining what I buy and where I buy it (minutes would refer to how long it takes to walk back from the store). I bought 9000 $lbmins of groceries today, and it was quite an adventure at that. Long story short, I'm never buying milk.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Best Boring Game: Conclusion

I've thought long and hard; why do I enjoy Runescape, probably the most tedious game I've ever played? There are several reasons, from the fascinating economy to the hilarious NPCs, but my enjoyment of Runescape comes down to two things: the rewards of diligence and the open community.

It might take weeks to level up skills, but because of this barrier, players who invest the time to become high leveled are rewarded for it. I probably spent about about 20 hours (approximately the same amount of time I spent playing Half-Life 2) clicking on fishing spots until I had level 60 fishing and could start catching swordfish at a decent rate. Once I was there though, I could strut around the docks impressing those poor saps who were still catching crayfish.

Anyone with common sense, though, could tell you that you can spend hours achieving this special arrangement of pixels in an MMO and it wouldn't be worth it. I like to think that my time is better spent leveling up in real life. I think that the real reason I play Runescape is for the community. The hours I spent fishing were also hours I spent chatting with other victims to Runescape's tedium. People are almost always willing to talk, having nothing better to do. "Fishing lvl?" is a safe starter, or "Anyone know a good joke?" if you're feeling brave. You get all sorts on the virtual docks, and at times Runescape seems like a complex chatroom more than anything else. Runescape doesn't deliver in terms of immersion and engagement, but possibly because of that, it involves more player to player interaction than any of the other MMORPGs I've played.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Science Facts: Giant Frog

A frog fossil was found in Madagascar that suggests extremely large amphibians in the past. This frog would have towered 16 inches over any mighty lilypad upon which it would have sat, with a weight clocking in at 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms). The well-respected National Geographic reported that this frog might have eaten small dinosaurs as snacks. Isn't that something.

The Best Boring Game: The Setup

Of all my favorite games, Runescape is the most unreasonable. A popular MMORPG, Runescape rarely takes itself seriously--its players certainly don't, in any case. Out of scores of servers, the one role-playing server usually has a low population of world-hopping runite ore gatherers and not much else. Doing a quest without having the wiki guide open in another tab is unusual, and NPCs frequently acknowledge the inconsistencies of their gamey world.

The real goal of Runescape is leveling up skills and acquiring wealth and items. The economy is completely ridiculous; gold bars are literally cheaper than dirt while the most expensive and prestigious item in the game is a paper party hat. Leveling any of the 26 available skills is tedious in the extreme. The experience required to get to the next level increases exponentially, and achieving level 99 in a skill, the highest glory, takes anywhere from a week to more than a month. Of playing 12 hours a day. Skill training isn't particularly fun, either. I'm a fishing fan myself: click on fish, wait, click on fish again, wait, deposit fish in bank, click on fish, and so on.

All things considered, though, I've probably spent more time in Runescape than almost any other game. Is it some sort of disease? What could make such a game so popular? My train of thought is just getting started, and I expect to have the answer within two days.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Educational Conversation

When taking a class, you can generally expect what you'll learn. A chemistry lecture is rarely given about anything except chemistry. Conversations, on the other hand, have a much more random method of education. I had a conversation today that began on the subject of grandchildren, but before I knew it, I was learning about zoning laws in south Georgia. I ended up also getting an overview of Presbyterian church history in the bundle. Conversations can take a lot of time, but, upon reflection, there's a lot to be said about the world.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Theory and Practice

How is Kraft Macaroni & Cheese made? It's a simple set of steps in theory-- boil six cups of water, cook and drain the macaroni, then add the cheese mix and some milk and margarine. In practice, however, the dorm kitchen is two hallways and three flights of stairs away, and I'm not going through all that trouble for a quick midnight snack.

It was then that I came up with another idea: margarine and milk probably aren't all that important, so in theory, upon eating the dry macaroni and powder plain, the water in my digestive system should do the rest of the cooking. All the elements are there.

In practice, I could only finish a quarter of the mix before I began to feel a bit sick. As an inquisitive college student, I try to find new solutions for all sorts of problems, but I usually find that things are done the way they are for a reason.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Screenshot of the Day: Half-Life 2 Episode Two

I never go to places that aren't dangerous.

Half-Life 2: Episode Two is the second sequel to Valve's oft-considered-best-game-of-all-time Half-Life 2. The basic formula is the same, but new environments and situations keep things interesting. After fighting through Episode One alongside NPC Alyx Vance, I've begun to really care about her as a character, something very rare for me in non-Bioware games. Another thing that impressed me is that the new enemies introduced fit into the Half-Life combat system so well, but still force the player to develop new tactics. When confronted with long-range ant-lions, the I had to switch the shotgun that had carried me through most of Episode One with the less powerful but more accurate handgun. There's a lot more to say, but it all leads to the same conclusion: Half-Life 2: Episode Two is a pretty great game.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Exam Music

I have a routine I go through before most exams: all studying ceases half an hour before the exam takes place and I sit back to relax prepare my mind. I do some arm and finger stretches to limber up for the writing to come, and I make sure that I have sharpened pencils and working pens ready.

For this semester's final exams, I decided to step things up a bit with special preparation music. After watching The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly a few weeks ago, the choice of songs was easy. Here are links to the pieces that have been getting me through exam week:
The Trio
The Ecstasy of Gold
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Theme
All three of these pieces were composed by Ennio Morricone, who, from what I gather, was the go-to man for spaghetti western music back in the day. It's been a successful week so far.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Things I Learned From My Dad

Because November is a ways away.

Find out the origins of words.
Don't get angry if you can achieve the same thing through reasoning.
Think before you speak.
Yogurt is better when you put things in it.
Take time to consider things from other people's point of view.
Boasting doesn't help anyone.
Try new things every now and then.