Sunday, May 31, 2015

Screenshot of the Day: Marvel Heroes 2015

I can see why Marvel toned down the character color palette for the movies.

Marvel Heroes 2015 is an MMORPG in which players control Marvel superheroes and click on Marvel bad guys until they fall over. The game is certainly complex and has a lot of interesting powers to use and heroes to play as, but neither the gameplay or the story have bowled me over so far.

One thing I don't like about the gameplay is that when you click on an enemy, your hero attacks only once. This means a lot of clicking is necessary, as opposed to other games like Dungeon Siege in which a character will continue attacking after one click.

One thing I don't like about the story is that every single player is a superhero. I can't see any good way around this in a Marvel MMO, but it's hard to feel super when the streets are full of people with the same amazing powers or better.

Marvel Heroes 2015 isn't necessarily a bad game, but I haven't really found a good reason to play it.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Falsification and Fabrication

Falsification of data and fabrication of data are both forbidden in science, but until today I didn't know that there was a difference between the two. Falsification, apparently, is tweaking results you have to make them resemble the results you want to have. This could be removing outliers or changing standard error values or something like that. Fabrication, on the other hand, is just making stuff up, producing data for experiments or studies that never happened.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cup Quality Spectrum

I bought some cups today that were the cheapest Walmart had to offer: plain white styrofoam, flimsy and about as big as a fist. These cups are functional, but barely anything else. As cups go, I would say these are worse than sturdy paper cups or disposable plastic cups and better than a folded piece of A4 paper or cupping your hands together.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Origins of Spoon

The word 'spoon' comes from the Old English 'spon' (pronounced with a long 'o'), which means 'wood chip.' I suppose Old English people might have used bits of wood as spoons.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Two Views on Runescape Fishing

As I've mentioned before, Runescape is one of my favorite MMORPGs and I especially enjoy in-game fishing. As players catch fish, they gain experience points (xp), and having more xp allows bigger and better fish to be caught. Once players reach a certain level of xp, they'll be counted in-game as a master fisher and receive a special cape called the fishing cape. With all this in mind, here's what I've seen in two different fishing spots that lend themselves to different styles of play.

In Otto's Grotto, players fish for leaping trout, salmon, and sturgeon. Fishing here is the fastest way to gain fishing xp, but it requires a method known as power fishing in which players drop fish on the ground as soon as they catch them. When I fished in Otto's Grotto with other players, all conversation was how to gain xp more quickly. It seemed like people only wanted to get the fishing cape and get out of there. One player said, "I hate fishing," but they were doing it nonetheless for the xp.

In the Living Rock Caverns, players fish for cavefish and rocktails, which take a lot longer to catch but require less constant clicking. Some players will fish here and also be watching movies on another computer, but others simply chat with other players while fishing, talking about politics or celebrities or anything else that comes up. In some ways, fishing in the Living Rock Caverns is less about the goal of a fishing cape and more about the journey there.

This certainly isn't a black-and-white issue, but I personally get value from Runescape through the Living Rock Caverns approach, and I think the casual conversation supported by this aspect of the game is an example of what can make multiplayer games worthwhile

Friday, May 22, 2015

Cooking Meals

Timing is an important part of cooking, and the more dishes you're preparing, the more complicated it gets. There's only one other thing I do that requires such focus and quick decision-making: real-time strategy games like Age of Empires. Each minute involves checking on different projects and making sure everything is progressing properly.

I suppose my mom taught me theory of cooking and how to make most individual dishes, but most meal preparation I've done was with my dad, who raised the bar by adding vegetable dishes to every menu (which I now realize is a good idea). He taught me a few of the tenets I've been using this summer: toast goes on the toaster as soon as white sauce starts to thicken. Have vegetables ready to steam from the beginning but only put them on heat about ten minutes before you eat. Set the table after five or ten pancakes have been cooked.

The last point doesn't really apply, I guess, since serving dish and eating plate are the same thing for me at the moment.We certainly didn't always get things right in the meals we made, but I'm glad to have learned how to keep a stove busy.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

King Arthur Movies

I've watched three King Arthur movies recently and it's been interesting to see what each one emphasizes.

First Knight features an old Arthur and focuses on the Guinevere-Lancelot love story. The Round Table is based on the principle of serving others and protecting the weak. First Knight has a simple fantasy setting where every bad guy is dressed like a highway bandit and every good guy wears velvet and silver armor. Everyone in Arthur's court wears blue. First Knight almost portrays a complex moral question when Arthur catches Lancelot with Guinevere, but the cartoonishly evil bad guy attacks before anything interesting is done.

King Arthur attempts to portray the historical Arthur, a half-Roman Briton who leads the Britons against the Saxon invaders once Roman forces leave Britain. The knights of the Round Table are Sarmation mercenaries. The setting is good and the knights have great chemistry among themselves. There's no evidence in this movie, however, that any of these knights actually like Arthur. Both Arthur and Guinevere have a habit of just staring at people as a substitute for conversation, so the romance between them is little more than a series of meaningful looks. This Arthur is mostly concerned with promoting free will and the right every person has to do what they want.

Excalibur follows a simplified version of the legend told in Morte Darthur, starting with Arthur's conception and going all the way to his end. Arthur starts as a young and energetic king guided by Merlin and then grows to become wiser and more passive. Lancelot is a perfect knight who fails through one temptation, and the Round Table eventually falls because of Arthur's and Lancelot's mistakes. Knights in Excalibur wear full suits of shining armor almost all the time.

It just so happens that I've arranged these movies in order of personal preference, with Excalibur being the most preferred. None of the three stand out as classics to me, but it's safe to assume that more Arthur movies will come out in the future. I'm personally waiting for a movie that focuses on Gawain, a character arguably much more interesting than Lancelot.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Flash Drive Time Capsule

Archaeologists can date findings by referencing what layer of earth they're in-- a shard of pottery, for example, might be identified as a bronze age shard of pottery if it is found in the same sort of rock or dirt as a bunch of bronze stuff.

A week or so ago, I completed my biennial backpack cleaning and found two flash drives full of stuff I had written in high school, mostly for classes. I've been enjoying reading through these long-forgotten projects and wondering what I would write today given the same prompts.

One piece I wrote, "The Teenage Mind," was a personal reference all about the social structures I saw in my school. I remember back then trying to be very methodical about the whole thing and I can't help but cringe when I read it now. However, high school self was careful to say he probably didn't know what he was talking about, so fair play, I suppose.

In any case, I'm happy to have unearthed such a great cache from the high school layer of my backpack. I'll end with the first sentence of one of my 12th grade English essays:

"Of Shakespeare’s many plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the few comedies."

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Making Meals

Should I fry a couple eggs
Or toast a piece of bread
Maybe boil up some peas
Or roast some spam instead

Maybe bake some taco shells
And cook toppings to boot
Or maybe keep things simple
And just microwave some soup

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Science Facts: Xylem and Phloem

Xylem and phloem are the tubes in the stems of plants that transport water, nutrients, and other stuff. Xylem make up the middle of the stem and transport water and nutrients; xylem are made up of dead cells .

Phloem, on the other hand, are nearer the surface of the stem; they make up the inner bark of trees. Phloem are made of living cells and they generally transport the plant's sap. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, though. Maple syrup, for example, is made from sap extracted from the xylem of a maple tree.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pizza Sandwich

I'm cooking my own food this month, and that means that I'm doing a lot of experimentation to find the most satisfying meals that can be prepared in the shortest amount of time with the fewest ingredients. Today, I enjoyed some open-faced pizza sandwiches.

6 slices of bread
1 cup pizza sauce (or tomato sauce)
1 cup shredded cheese

Distribute pizza sauce evenly over slices of bread. Distribute cheese evenly over slices of bread. Consume cold.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Origins of Plate

'Plate' originates in the Greek word 'platus,' which means 'flat.' This developed into the Old French 'plat,' referring to a platter or other such serving dish, and finally became the English 'plate' that we know and love. I've only just now realized that plate and platter have the same root.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Reaching the Word Limit

Writing to fill a word limit can incentivize questionable practices. Here are some tips I've picked up to put the least amount of content in the greatest amount of words:

1. Start with a regular sentence:
"Micah had a piece of spam on toast for lunch."

2. Use lots of adjectives:
"Young Micah had a piece of salty oily spam on crunchy brown toast for a mid-afternoon lunch."

3. Add in adverbs, disregard grammar:
"Slightly young Micah had a piece of so salty so oily spam on very crunchy barely brown toast for a mid-afternoon lunch."

4. Extensively explain who's saying what at all times:
"'Slightly young Micah had a piece of so salty so oily spam on very crunchy barely brown toast for a mid-afternoon lunch,' happily wrote Micah on his so blue internet blog.

5. Repeat what has just been said:
"'Slightly young Micah had a piece of so salty so oily spam on very crunchy barely brown toast for a mid-afternoon lunch,' happily wrote Micah on his so blue internet blog, eagerly eating a piece of delicious so orange spam on some slightly toasted white bread on a white plate while typing on his laptop next to a plate that had such a piece of salty and a little bit spicy piece of spam on some toasted but not so buttered bread that he was eating while writing."

In the long term, this isn't effective, since the writer of sentence 5 isn't likely to be rehired. In the short term, who knows?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Superstition and the Search for Signal

I heard once that the difference between a superstition and a myth is that a superstition makes testable predictions whereas a myth refers to things that happened once and shouldn't be expected to repeat. A superstition, for example, would say, "Walking under a ladder is bad luck," i.e. anyone who walks under a ladder can be expected to have bad luck. A myth would say, "There was a time when the moon and the sun talked every day and were bright in the sky at the same time." This myth would go on to tell how things changed to become as they are now, so that the state of things now is irrelevant to whether or not the myth is true.

All that is to say, of course, that I engaged in some modern superstitions today in trying to connect to the internet. I was walking around my apartment holding my laptop and trying to find the spot of best connectivity. I didn't want to be wandering around randomly, but I don't know exactly how wireless connections work, and this lack of knowledge is what leads to superstition. Without further ado, then, here are the superstitions that guided me:

Internet comes from the sky, so holding my computer at a higher elevation will lead to better connectivity.

Internet has a hard time going through walls, so I should put the computer near a window.

Turning computers on and off often fixes things, so rapidly turning my wireless receiver on and off will give me a better signal.

Some of these ideas might be closer to the truth than others; I know, for example, that the wireless router that somehow projects internet is in the apartment above me, so having my computer closer to the ceiling might actually help. I've been calling these superstitions because some technology can seem a bit mystical to those of us who don't know exactly how it works. Since the internet isn't supernatural, though, all of these statements could be tested with experiments.

Why can't superstitions that involve the supernatural be tested with experiments? If there is, for example, a spirit that turns milk sour when not appeased with rice, any useful experiment on this superstition would have to control for the activity of the spirit, which isn't possible. The alternative, running the experiment while assuming that the spirit doesn't exist, is putting the answer before the question. If a person assumes that there's a plot against them, nothing other people say will convince them otherwise.

In any case, I'm writing this from a laptop three feet off the ground next to a window and I'm turning the wireless receiver on and off whenever I get any trouble with the signal. Take that as you will.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Research Poem

We're working with cell cultures now
With sleek pipettes and plates
We're learning to make agar
And keep track of freezer dates
We're wearing gloves and lab coats
And we're working in a hood
It's how I thought research would be
So far it's pretty good

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Rewards of Cleaning

It's the end of another semester and time to clean up and pack up. Neatness is not something I spend time on during the semester itself, so cleaning up today was an adventure through stacks of assignments and cards and other things.

I expected to find a few quarters and pennies among the wreckage of my dorm and I ended up finding $27.25 US, $5 Canadian, and 100 Naira. It was a nice incentive to keep cleaning, I suppose.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Gawain in Iteration

Some of the earliest Arthurian stories are told in Latin chronicles written by British monks. One of these chronicles, written by William of Malmesbury in 1125 AD, is probably the first written mention of Sir Gawain. He is referred to as Walwen in the following translation:

"It is said by some that Walwen's body was cast up from a shipwreck after he had been wounded by his enemies, while others say that he was murdered by his fellow citizens at a public feast. And so the truth lies in doubt, though neither story would lessen the assertion of his fame."

It's interesting to see how the contents of this short passage are expressed centuries later in a much larger way. In Morte Darthur and other tellings, a significant episode is the attempted murder of Gawain with a poisoned apple at a feast. In these same stories, Gawain ultimately dies in a boat on the coast of Dover after being wounded by Lancelot. The iteration of the Arthurian legend from the middle ages until today is part of what makes these stories so compelling.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Morning Exam Preparation

Here's what I lay out the night before to prepare for an 8 AM exam:
1. A piece of paper with the date, time, and location of the exam in case I'm not thinking straight when I first wake up
2. The clothes I'm going to wear so I don't need to spend time choosing them tomorrow
3. At least two pens to write with
4. Something quick and healthy to eat in the morning like a pear or a bowl of oats

I'll set two alarms to ring at 7:00 and 7:01 AM. With any luck, 8 AM will find me ready to think and write at peak ability.

Ghostwriting for a Ghost

Ghostwriting is a practice in which one person writes and another person gets credit for it. Generally speaking, ghostwriting allows writers to get paid for work up front instead of waiting for royalties or anything like that.

I currently have a job ghostwriting kids stories set in Minecraft, and after a bit of investigation, it seems likely that the author who will get credit doesn't actually exist. There are three signs of this: first of all, he goes by first name and last initial, e.g. Adam A. (not actual name). Secondly, his author description is full of sappy, general statements: "Every day is a new adventure for" him and "He loves writing unofficial Minecraft books for kids." Thirdly, his profile picture is a stock image-- a reverse image search of the profile showed the stock image website it originally came from and websites around the world using the same picture.

I suppose that as far as I'm concerned, it's a contract-enforced pseudonym.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Practical Lessons

Two of many things my mom taught me growing up were how to organize things and how to write with good grammar. As far as I can recall, I wasn't keen on either one. I believe, for example, that Legos should be mixed all together, not sorted into different compartments.  I was exasperated when told to write names and dates on my papers. I'm told that I really didn't like the grammar portion of our homeschool program.

It just so happens, though, that the jobs I've had for the past year depend on these skills. At the herbarium, I sort and catalog plant specimens, sighing with exasperation when the collector hasn't written their name on a specimen or the date it was collected. I fed myself last summer mostly by correcting grammar and editing stories for various clients, and it's looking like I'll be doing the same thing for at least part of this summer. I've enjoyed both of these jobs a lot. It's funny how things work out like that.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Knight Names

One part of preparing for an Arthurian Literature exam is making sure you know which knight is which. Two things make this difficult: first, most knights do the same sorts of things, fighting bad knights, rescuing those in need, and so on. Secondly, different knights can have similar names and the same knight can have different names in different texts.

Sir Marhaus, for example, is a knight that jousts with Sir Gawain (sometimes called Wawain) and joins the round table. In Morte Darthur, a Sir Marhalt, who is the same person as Sir Marhaus, is killed by Sir Tristram, who afterwards goes by the name Tramtrist to avoid being known by Sir Marhalt's lord.

On the other hand, in Morte Darthur Sir Galahad the High Prince and Sir Galahalt the Haut Prince are two different knights; one is Lancelot's son and only plays a role in the Grail quest while the other is a minor lord who is a knight of the Round Table for almost the entire story. If I remember correctly, there is a Sir Galihud who is a whole other character.