Friday, April 28, 2006

I Apologize

Dear Eddie, Jeff, Stone, Mike and Matt,

I apologize for thinking that you would leave us, your faithful fans, out in the cold. I don't know why I would think that, given how gracious to us you have been in the past. As demonstrated in the picture above, I received my albums today and for that I thank you. I haven't had time to listen to the new stuff in it's entirety yet, however I've listened to about half of it, and all I can say, is fucking A. Fucking, fucking, fucking A! Good on you mates. Truly outstanding work.

Anyways, again, I apologize and please, please, please make some room on your tour for those of us holding it down in the ATL. Rest up, and I'll see you on the road.

Rock on.


P.S. Love the avocado, but the "band" picture inside, or whatever the hell it is, gave me the wiggins.

15 Miles on the Erie Canal

Good afternoon. I hope all is well. Today we shall riff on a number of topics, none of which involve naked old men. Not that I'm aware of anyways.

This has been a long week and I am tired, tired to my bones. My beautiful bride was traveling this week visiting the Kansas City, which put me in charge of the household. Now while I am not so far removed from the caretaking of my children to have it devolve into some sort of Keatonian farce, I will say that it was a trying and tiring experience. When there are two of you, it allows one of you to tend to the ministrations of the young, while the other runs interference, or at least prepares the props needed for the next act of the show. One person plays with the children, distracting them from their hunger while the other person works on getting dinner. One person draws the bath while the other begins the nightly cleaning up rituals. One person holds down the child while the other administers blows. That sort of thing. When there is only one person, all those duties fall on that person and it can be exhausting. I have always had a great deal of respect for those that raise children alone, either by choice or by circumstance, and that respect has only grown. I would say that I hope to return the favor soon and leave my wife alone with the children, but she being alone means that I have to be absent and I kind of like being around her. I am quite fond of her. Fancy that.

The new Springsteen album dropped on Tuesday and you would not be wrong if you were to describe it as "rollicking", an odd description given that it's a cover of folk tunes. I don't know how large Bruce's farmhouse is, but I can say that were he to sell it, he could truthfully state in the MLS listing that there is ample space for both bango players and horn sections. After hearing the album, I desperately want a house with a horn section permanently stationed in the hall. I think that the ability to yell "Horns!" and hear their rousing fanfare would be priceless. It would be very difficult for someone to construct an argument against your current position if you could easily drown out their speaking with plentiful brass. At first listen, I thought that some of the songs had too much going on, but subsequent listening sessions have cured me of this notion. I like the idea that we are hearing the music as it was made, rather than a construction of many disparate parts, all put together in some production studio.

The songs pack an enormous amount of vitality and musical craftmanship, even the low key ones. The overwhelming feeling one gets when one listens is that Bruce has a real affinity for the songs, and that he is having a geniuinely good time performing them. Such enthusiasm is infectious and makes it easy to let go the fact that there are something like 19 accordian players on the album. As an added bonus, to me anyways, the album contains the waterways classic "Erie Canal". As a child of upstate New York, I am well versed in this song, having sung it on the bus many, many times while growing up. I don't know what it was about our bus that we needed to daily pay our respects to the canal and to the men and mules that traversed it, but we did, and I remember it fondly. Low bridge, everybody down, indeed.

The new Pearl Jam album drops Tuesday and I am swelling with excitement. I have preordered it, so I can download it the minute it releases, as they won't be shipping it until Tuesday. Why this is, I have no idea. Surely, if they can ready copies for the retail behemoths to have it in their collective hands on Tuesday, they could throw it in the mail for us, the PJ faithful to have it on Tuesday as well. If they are that worried about postal expediency ruining the surprise for us, they could mail it on Monday. Whatever. Tuesday shall mark a new era of both rocking and a-rolling, with a possibility of splishing and a-splashing.

Finally, and I won't get too much into it, as I'd like to reserve my comments for Monday's gaming post, where they fit more readily, but Nintendo has decided to released the official name of their new console, up until now, known as "Revolution". We have met the console, and it is Wii (pronounced "We"). There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the online space at the moment, which I shall address on Monday. I'd like to say that by then the furor will have died down and people will resume their lives, but gamers seem to have an ability to hold grudges rivaled only by my mother-in-law and Jimmy.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Black Hole Sun

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back! Today we journey into the inky blackness of space to determine just how we're all going to buy it in the end, provided we all live to be several billion years old.

This week's question, is again from Andy. You too can send me your questions either via the comments, or in an email to suburbanjoe - at- gmail -dot- com. I don't want you to think that every week he sends me a question like some kind of slavering fanboy. He sent me a bunch all at a time. That's not to say I wouldn't want slavering fanboys, or fangirls, hanging on my every word and starting massive discussion board flame wars over some perceived inconsistancy in my writings. That would be very cool. No, Andy saw that I needed questions, and he sent some to me, him being a nice guy and all, unlike the rest of you worthless wretches. Um, I mean, unlike the rest of you very nice people (wretches). Did I say wretches? I meant wretches. OK, moving on now. This week I tackle my favorite question from all the ones sent in, specifically:
What if the Sun became a black hole?
Ah, the black hole. Is there nothing more exciting and mysterious in all of astronomy? A gaping maw in space, sucking in anything that dares get near to it, enveloping its prey in its crushing darkness as it sends you on a where? Good times. Most people associate black holes with stars and as we orbit a star, and depend on it for our existence, it's a common concern that one day it will collapse upon itself, turn into a black hole and suck us all into eternity. Well, maybe not common, but common enough to be easily researched on da Intraweb.

Before we talk about what would happen specifically to our little corner of the galaxy should good old Sol go all collapsoidal on us, lets talk about what a black hole is, and why it's so durn hard to get away from them. A black hole is an object who's mass has been compacted into such a small size that it's gravitational pull is irresistable. There are no special characterstics that an object has to have to be a black hole. Technically speaking, you could become a black hole, although I wouldn't recommend it, as it would require compacting your mass into a particle a hojillion times smaller than you are at the moment.

Every object that has mass exerts a gravitational pull on nearby objects. You do, your stapler does, the bus outside does, Mars does, our Sun does and on and on and on. For objects with relatively small mass like you and your stapler, the gravitational pull on objects is so ridiculously small, that nearby objects aren't affected. For big objects such as planets and the Sun, the force is much greater, and large enough to keep us from hurtling out into space both as individuals on our planet and as our planet in this solar system. That doesn't mean that you can't escape the grip of gravity, as Buzz Aldrin and the gang can attest to. In order to do that, you have to reach escape velocity. Escape velocity is the velocity at which you have to be traveling to escape an object's gravitational pull. It's a factor of an object's mass, and how far from the center of the object that you're calculating the velocity. For planets, we usually use the planet's radius for that last value, as usually rockets are launched from the planet's surface and not from some orbital platform. For Earth, the escape velocity is about 7 miles a second.

The important thing about the formula used to calculate escape velocity, is that the calculated escape velocity is inversely proportional to the distance from the center of the mass to where you're calculating the velocity. In other words, if this distance is small, the escape velocity is big. If the distance is big, the escape velocity is small. Remember we said that a black hole is an object who's mass has been compacted. Not lessened, but compacted. All that mass which had been in a very, very, very large object is now in a very, very, very small (relatively speaking) object, but the mass remains unchanged. If we keep the mass constant (which we are) for an object, and just decrease the size, our escape velocity for this object gets bigger. For black holes, the escape velocity gets so large, that it exceeds the speed of light. The gravitational pull of these objects is so large, that nothing, not even light, the fastest thing in the known universe, can achieve an escape velocity sufficient to escape it's gravitational pull. No, not even the Millenium Falcon. Yes, I know it did the Kessel run in under 12 parsecs, but the parsec is a unit of distance. Look it up.

Now, before you get your panties all in a bunch thinking that somewhere out there is a black hole that's sucking the entire universe into it's greedy jaws, remember that the calculated escape velocity is dependent on the distance between where you're calculating the velocity and the center of the object. What that means is that there are values for this distance where the escape velocity exceeds the speed of light, and values where they don't. The radius where the escape velocity equals the speed of light is called the Schwarzschild radius. Yes, yes, I know. Your Schwarzschild is as big as mine. For any distance from the center of the object greater than the Schwarzschild radius, you're A-OK. No sucking for you. Anything less than that, and well, lets just say that your calendar has been cleared for the rest of eternity. For the record, should you be pulled into a black hole, you're not going to end up in some alternate reality. You're going to be ripped apart by gravitational waves in about 8 seconds. So, maybe you will end up in an alternate reality, it just happens to be whatever version of the afterlife you cling to

Now, getting back to our good buddy, Mr Sun. As stars go, the Sun is on the smaller size, which is a good thing, because if it were bigger, it'd be hotter and we wouldn't be here. Well, not in this current, non-flameproof version anyway. Given the mass of the sun, were it to become a black hole, it's Schwarzschild radius would be about 3km, or a little under 2 miles. Given that we're 93,000,000 miles from the Sun, I think you can scratch "crushed to death by a black hole's gravitational pull" off of your ways to die list. So, from a gravitational perspective, what would happen if the Sun became a black hole is absosmurfly nothing. You'd stay where you are, it'd stay where it is, and never the twain shall meet.

That's not to say that life would be all happy-go-lucky should the Sun turn into a black hole. Stars turn into black holes when they run out of fuel and their mass is so large it begins to collapse upon itself, the important part of that sentence being "run out of fuel". No fuel means no light and no heat, which means that the Earth becomes a frozen, lightless world and we all die. Yay! But, don't worry. The Sun doesn't have enough mass to become a black hole. Instead, in about 5 billion years it'll get bigger, become a Red Giant and turn this world into a lifeless cinder. As my good buddy Robert Frost said:
"Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice."
Neither one sounds particularly appealing, but at least we have all of our bases covered. Well, except for monkeys. I think the world will end in monkeys.

The Space Place @ NASA - Phone Dr. Marc Archives
Black Holes FAQ List - Ted Bunn
NASA's Imagine the Universe - Black Holes
Wikipedia - Escape Velocity
"Fire and Ice" - Robert Frost, Harper's Magazine, December 1920

Monday, April 24, 2006

I Am So Smart, S-M-R-T

Rest assured, dear reader, I won't be succumbing to the crippling affects of Alzheimer's any time soon. I have purchased Brain Age for the DS and have begun a nightly regiment of puzzles to ensure that my drool stays where it belongs, well into my golden years. This also allows me to ignore the wife with impunity as we watch television. Before, when I would ignore her by playing Castlevania, I was treated with scorn. Not so now! Now when disparaging looks are cast my way, I can tell her that I'm engaging in actual, medically studied activities meant to allow me to keep all my faculties as we head down the highway to the inevitable, sweet release of death. As I tell her, I'm not playing this game for me, I'm playing for us.

Far be it from me to disparage the results of a lauded member of Japan's, nay, the world's medical community, but I feel as if the results of my Brain Age tests are sometimes off the mark. Allow me to explain.

The game consists of a variety of puzzles, exercises, what have you, that get your prefrontal cortex all fired up. As this region of your brain is important for reasons too numerous to mention here (translation: I don't know) it is equally important to engage in activities that are accomplished in this region. Engaging in these activities on a regular basis gets blood flowing to this area of the brain, which keeps it healthy, thereby ensuring you can do basic math as you become old and infirm.

In order to gauge your "Brain Age", you do these randomly picked exercises and the system then records how well you did and spits out the average age of test subjects who performed as well as you did. In other words, if you completed the exercise in 55 seconds, and the average age of test subjects who performed it in 55 seconds is say, 46, then your "Brain Age" is 46. The problem here, is that there are exercises where you will naturally excel at, and ones you won't. For example, I can rock the 20 calculations in no time flat. It's 20 simple math calculations, one right after the other. You write down your answers and get graded right or wrong. Get them wrong, and your time is penalized. The faster you can complete them the better. I have trained myself to be able to figure out the next calculation (you can see them all on the screen) as I'm writing down the answer to the current one, thereby giving the illusion of blinding mathematical speed. We're talking Numb3rs type shit here. I could be at Cal Tech or some similarly Tech style place of higher learning. Perhaps with a lab coat and a disheveled hair style.

When the age determination test has these kind of exercises, I do very well, when it has the word memorization exercise, I fail miserably. The premise is that they show you 30 4 letter words. No, not those 4 letter words you pervert. They then give you 2 minutes to memorize them. Once you've committed them to memory, you have 3 minutes to write down as many as you can remember. Yeah, good luck with that one. As anyone with kids will tell you, all memory goes out the window once you bring children into the home. If you don't write it down, it's forgotten, and even then, it isn't a guarantee, because you have to remember that you wrote it down and where you wrote it down in the first place. I've tried various rhymes and songs to help me memorize the words, but the most I've ever gotten is 11 which takes me about 30 seconds to write down. I then spend 2:30 just randomly picking 4 letter words out of my head. There are a lot of them, if you've ever taken the time to think about it. When the brain age determination thingy has this puzzle in it, I swear the DS is making reservations for me at the local assisted living facility.

Friday night I took my Brain Age and with the memorization puzzle, I got a score of 46, which is much better from the downright awful score of 63 I got the night before, but still a full 13 years older than my actual age. The next night, with no memorization puzzles, I scored a 23. Hell yeah! I'm wicked young and shit! Sunday night, I took it again, with the memorization, and I scored a 45. I think there should be a checkbox to tell the system that I have kids, so that it can just throw out any results derived from memorization puzzles. Besides, when was the last time I needed to memorize 30 words anyway? Right, never, whereas I am constantly asked to count how many people enter and leave a house in a given time period and provide the final tally of houseguests. That's some serious census type shit right there.

It's not like the numbers mean anything, but I do feel pretty shitty when I get a Brain Age significantly older than my actual age. I'm not anything special to look at, and I have no real demonstrable skills, so my brain is all I have. I'd like to keep it for a long as possible, at least until I can get it transferred into a younger, sexier, talent laden body. Plus, I know that once you hit 50 physical years, you start having to have exams with people putting strange things in you and taking videos and such. I don't think that anything similar exists for one's brain, but I'd rather not take my chances. There are things in there best left to the mind's dark corners.

Even if the game isn't doing anything from a clinical perspective, it's still a lot of fun, and for 20 bucks is a pretty significant value. Plus, it has gotten me hooked on Soduku, which is just what I need, more puzzles to keep me from paying attention to whatever me and the wife are watching. Also, given that I suck at the shooting type games, if ever aliens do invade and need to be beaten with conventional warfare, I'll have nothing to offer the resistance, however if their weakness lies in the ability to quickly count spinning numbers, I will singlehandedly pull this world from the gaping maw of destruction.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

My Apologies

I am so very sorry that I didn't post on Friday. Work was super busy, so I couldn't post there. I had planned on posting at home, but we lost cable Thursday night, which is a very TV heavy night for us. When I got home, I started the process of downloading Smallville and burning it to DVD, with the intention of watching it that night. It took enough time and processor resources to ensure that a) we wouldn't be watching it Friday night and b) I wouldn' t be posting. Again, I apologize. What? Why couldn't I post on the other computer instead of playing Oblivion? Um, because I couldn't. That's why. Now be quiet and eat your dinner!

To compensate you for a lost post, I've decided to present some work from my old site's archives. Yes, yes, I know, it seems again I'm getting out of posting and instead just serving up some reheated crap, but this takes a lot of effort. I had to share a directory on one computer, walk all the way upstairs and copy from the old post. Ooh, and paste! I had to paste too! It's very difficult.

Some claification is due here. The post was written back when I used to go fishing, something I haven't done since adopting Ben. It was also written back when Katie Holmes topped my list of those I would be happy to see naked, and hadn't birthed the spawn of one of the world's only Operating Thetan Level VIII's. Oh how things have changed. Without further ado, here's a gripping tale of geriatric nudity I like to call...

Flashed By Al

Every year I go trout fishing with my dad and a collection of friends, family and clients of my father's. I know this comes as no surprise to you as I am the epitome of sportsmanship, outdoorsyness and all around natureafied know how. Ha! The truth of the matter is that I am completely clueless when it comes to sportsman like activities. I went hunting with my father. Once. It was not a good experience. I killed a goose. It was a damn good shot but I then had to spend 3 hours in the freezing cold sitting next to its corpse in the goose blind. Nothing takes the joy out of hunting quite like staring at your previously living quarry for several hours the whole time worrying about whether there were some goslings somewhere wondering why dad's been gone so long. I actually apologized to it. Add to that the fact that hunting requires a lot of sitting and/or standing around somewhere cold while absolutely nothing goes on. And I mean nothing. To me, that time could be better spent sleeping, or watching TV or doing something that vaguely resembles anything.

So despite my failings as a master tracker and slayer of defenseless winged creatures I do go fishing twice a year in Pennsylvania. I am a horrible fisherman. A shock, I know. I know what I am supposed to do. I know where fish congregate, I know what they eat, when they eat and for the most part can tell if a stream will yield bad or good fishing. I just can't catch the damn things. I would be the guy on Survivor that would tell the camera that I'm the tribe's best hope for fish and then several days into it be booted off by those not passed out from malnutrition. I rarely catch anything. When I do I'm a nice guy and throw it back in but usually my post-catching intentions are rendered moot by my inability to actually land anything. Sadly fish are pretty dumb so this makes me someone a) too stupid to catch a fish and b) even more stupid because I keep trying. Most fisherman will waffle on the relative intelligence of a fish depending on the situation. When they hook one and pull it out of the water they'll say that the hook doesn't hurt the fish because fish are too stupid to feel pain. On the other hand, when the day is done and there are no fish to be found in said fisherman's haul, fish are magically transformed into the wiliest of forest creatures rivaling only Nazi war criminals in their ability to remain uncaught.

I go on these trips not for the fishing but for the company, and because it makes my dad extremely happy to go fishing with his son. It's a chance to see my uncle and my cousin as well as another cousin's husband. Also my dad's friends have all known my dad for over 30 years now and they always have good stories to tell. We always have a good time regardless of how the fishing is.

As I mentioned before, I go twice a year. The first time is in April for the opening day of the season. We usually have the largest group for this weekend. The second time is usually Father's Day weekend however due to extenuating circumstances this year we didn't go until the first weekend in July. The second weekend yields a smaller group and usually has at least one client of my dad's. I've always thought it was a little weird for my dad to bring clients of his given that I know what kind of stories get told by some of the group members. On the other hand, he knows what clients would be offended and which ones wouldn't be. Otherwise he wouldn't bring them along.

This trip's newbie was Al. Al is a 68 year old Air Force veteran who spent 20 years in the military and then 20 years working with DOD contractors. Al was a nice guy if not a little strange. He's been married for 45 years to the same woman and still has a great deal of respect and admiration for her. Al is also staunchly Republican (like my dad and most of my dad's friends). Most of the time I keep my liberal mouth shut for fear of bringing the firestorm down upon me. As you can tell I learned a lot about Al in my short time with him. Almost too much.

For example I learned that Al, like my dad, has a bit of a hearing problem. Conversations with him and my dad would go something like this:

Al: His (meaning me) mother is a fine lady. (At this point I'm wondering how Al knows my mom.)
Dad: (Silence)
Al: His mother is a fine lady.
Dad: (Silence)
Al: I said his mother is a fine lady!
Dad: What?
Al: His mother, Kathleen. She's a fine lady. (For the record Kathleen is my stepmother. My dad's clients usually assume because she's his wife and I'm his son that she's my mother. This is not the case.)
Dad: Oh. Kathleen isn't his mother.
Al: What?
Me: (Thinking) Oh Jesus Christ.

I also learned that Al's son has two children and is currently in the middle of a divorce. Al told me this because he's been trying to give advice to his son but doesn't know what to tell him as Al himself has never gone through a divorce. Apparently I'm the only other person who's ever been through a divorce because he then proceeded to ask me all about it.

Al: So what was it like? Didja get over it? Did it mess you up?
Me: (Keep in mind my father is in the front seat and I've known Al for all of about 5 hours) Uh, well it's painful but kids get through it. I mean, I did.
Al: Huh. So it didn't screw you up?
Me: (At this time I'm hoping that the car blows up or drives off of a cliff or anything to stop this conversation) Not that I'm aware of.
Al: Huh. Well how about your sister? Did it mess her up?
Me: Um. I don't think so. I mean she hasn't gone up in a water tower and taken any shots at anyone. Nervous laughter (That's great, invoke the absence of mass murder as a indication of mental stability). I mean, as long as he's there for his kids and they know that he's there for them, they should be OK. You know?
Dad: What?
Al: Huh. That's good. I'll have to tell him that.

Now I can see how this conversation will go. "Well son, I spoke to a guy who's never been divorced and doesn't have kids but his parents got divorced almost 20 years ago and he said as long as you're there for your kids and they know that you're there for them, they should be OK. You know?"

The third thing I learned about Al is that he sleeps in the nude. Unfortunately this is first hand knowledge. When we go on these trips we rent some rooms at this nasty motel and we try to pack as many people as we can in a room. The problem is that my dad both snores and grinds his teeth, sometimes simultaneously. How he can both snore (mouth open) and grind his teeth (mouth closed) at the same time is unknown. But he does it and it makes sleeping in the same room as him next to impossible. Usually he sleeps in one room with one other hapless soul and everyone else crams into another room. This time it was me and Al in one room. Thankfully there were two beds, a point that will grow with importance as the story continues.

So I come in from talking with my dad and uncle, wash up and get into bed with the intention of reading before sleeping. Al is frantically going up and down the cable dial spending less than .000001 microseconds on any one program. Finally he decides that it's time to go to bed. I'm reading so I'm pretty much focused on my book. Out of the corner of my eye I see Al get up, walk to the TV, shut if off and then proceed to remove all of his clothing. Now when I say all, I mean all. I am now fervently focused on my book. Had the book burst into flame causing severe burns on my hands, I would have continued to hold it and read it. Then he turns around so he's now facing me, walks to his bed, gets in it and goes to sleep. I can honestly say that I have never read something so intently and with such sheer concentration in my whole life. My eyes did not, I repeat, did not waver from the page. To do so would have meant certain death, or at least extreme sexual dysfunction for some time. I can think of a number of people whom could take their clothes off in front of me in a seedy motel and I wouldn't object. Al is not on that list. Al is not even in the same galaxy as that list. Al and that list live in separate realities, destined to never meet or even know of each other's existence.

All in all the trip was a successful one, even if the only thing I caught was a glimpse of naked Al. Next year perhaps Al won't go. If he does, I'll be interested to hear how his son's divorce went. In the meantime I'm going to try to get Katie Holmes to become a client of my dad's. She is on the list. Boy howdy is she ever.

I hope you liked this blast from my previous site's past. If so, let me know and I'll not write new stuff in favor of reheated drivel in the future.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

It's Not the Heat...

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back!

Before we get into the science post, did anyone see Pearl Jam on SNL this past Saturday night? I stopped watching SNL some time ago, and now I only record it if the musical guest is of intersest. As Pearl Jam is my most favorite band in the universe, nay, the multiplex, I had to record it. Their new album drops on May 2nd and I am super excited, even more so after watching them Saturday night. The band looked like they were having a great time, the set was tight and Eddie grew his hair out again. Yay! Back in college when I was young, stupid and impressionable, I grew my hair out to just above shoulder length so that I could look like Eddie Vedder. You might be surprised to know that I was in no way successful in looking like a rock star. Eddie played guitar on Worldwide Suicide which still doesn't look right. I remember the first time I ever saw Eddie playing guitar was on SNL and I remember thinking that Eddie doesn't play guitar. I don't know why it looks so odd to me, but it does. Anyway, the band looked fantastic, and Mike McCready looked like he lost some weight, which hopefully is just a health-kick thing and not a side effect (Mike has Crohn's Disease). I've already preordered the CD, and you can too but I'll warn ye, it's a bit pricey. However you do get a live show from 1992 when they opened for Keith Richards. The set includes "Dirty Frank" which is a charming, and often hilarious, song about a cannabilistic killer. Those guys!

Enough musical blathering, let us get wit da science! This week's question, like last week's question, comes from Andy who took time out of his busy motorcycle riding schedule to plum the depths of his scientific curiosity. You too can have your questions answered by me, you need only drop me an email at suburbanjoe - at - gmail - dot - com or leave your questions in the comments. No question is too large or too small. Remember, there are no stupid questions, only stupid questioners. Here we go.

If humidity is the moisture content of the air, why is the west coast less humid than the eastern seaboard, considering they are both close to large water sources?
This is an excellent question, and one that factors into both mine and Andy's lives as we both live in the south (him in VA and me in GA) where summers are disgustingly humid, and both of us have entertained notions of living in San Diego which, weather-wise, is paradise on earth. The difference is that Andy has a chance of living in San Diego where my need to not share a one bedroom apartment with a wife and 2 kids rules the idea out completely.

The short answer is that it's California, so who the hell knows why they do anything? I'm sure they had more humidity and then the residents voted to recall it. Ha! A little political humor there. Right, moving on. The temperature and humidity of your little piece of the world has to do with mainly two things, the temperature of the surrounding geography and which way the wind is blowing. And, as Dylan said, you don't need a weathervane to know which way the wind blows.

For the purpose of determining why CA is less humid than GA, the surrounding geography we're most concerned with are the massive bodies of water on each state's doorstep, the Pacific for CA and the Southern Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico for GA. In the summer, the Pacific ocean is relatively cool, with an average water temperature of around 60 degrees. On the other side of the country, the average temperature of southern Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico is in the mid 80's. To see where we're going with this, take an ice cube and put it in front of a fan so that the fan is blowing over the ice and onto your face. Nice cool air, huh? Now do the same with a cup of hot water. Not so cool now, is it? On a simple level, this is what's happening in the summer in the US. On the west coast, winds blow from the west, over nice, cool 60 degree water and in turn brings cooler air to our folks in CA. On the east coast, air blows up from the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic Coast, gets warmed up and then hits the eastern seaboard.

Why this makes a difference for humidity is that the air that is warmed or cooled by the prevailing winds contains a small amount of water vapor. I say small, because as a percentage of the atmosphere, water vapor accounts for very little. It may not seem that way when you walk 10 feet to your mailbox and you sweat so much that it looks like someone hit you with a hose, but trust me, it's true. If that water vapor is surrounded by hot air, the temperature of the water vapor increases. If the temp of the water vapor is high, the vapor's pressure is high. If the vapor's pressure is high, the air+vapor combo has a greater capacity to hold water vapor. In other, more simplistic terms, the warmer the air, the more water vapor it can hold, and the more humid it feels. Cool air blowing in from the Pacific can hold less water vapor than warm air blowing up from the Gulf. Hence a nice leisurely pancake breakfast on the sidewalks of San Diego in the summer, and a stank inducing sweatfest jaunt outside in Washington DC.

The temperature and wind combo also accounts for the heat waves that usually hit NYC every summer. The warm air blowing up from the Gulf covers pretty much the entire eastern seaboard, including the Big Apple. That, combined with the heat generated from millions of people crammed in a large city make for some especially warm, and fragrant times. This also explains the joy that is summer nights in upstate NY. Sleeping in coastal CA at night is a wonderful thing, the temps drop, you open the windows, maybe smell the ocean, or the wildfires, or the looting and you drift off into dreamland. Summer nights in upstate NY is like sleeping wrapped in a hot, wet towel. Because the air on the east coast contains more water vapor, the cooling process is slowed considerably, which means that you ain't opening your windows at night. I can remember one of the first apartments Linda and I lived in had brick on the outside, and no air conditioning. In the day, those bricks would bake in the sun and then all that heat would radiate from them at night and it was positively sweltering. Opening the windows did nothing becuase it was warm and humid outside. Her dad rigged up some air conditioner for us, but because it didn't vent out the window properly, it would only run for about 5 minutes before it would shut down. We'd get up in the middle of the night, turn it on, and stand in front of it for those blessed 5 minutes of cold air before it would shudder and shut off. Good times. In contrast, in CA, the dry air can cool much quicker, which leads to a greater temperature variation between day and night.

We've covered summer, so why are the winters in NY and the northeast so bad, if the air is coming from the Gulf? That would be because it isn't. In the winter, the west coast still has air blowing in over the Pacific and this air is significantly warmer than the frigid, earth shatteringly cold air that blows down from Canada into NY and all points north. Once again, it all comes down to wind. Those on the West coast can rest easy, content with the knowledge that the mighty Pacific keeps their weather nice and mellow, which will be helpful when the next Big One hits and California is cast off into the ocean. Good luck and bon voyage!


MadSci Network - Why does warm air hold more water than cold air? - What causes humidity? - Air masses bring variety of weather - Chad Palmer - Answers: Weather, climate of the U.S. West

Monday, April 17, 2006

Fun with Oblivion

Seeing how I've been playing nothing but Oblivion, I thought I'd spin some tales from my adventures. Thrilling, I know. Before I do though, I'd like to take a moment to talk about Tetris DS. The Easter Bunny was kind enough to drop off a copy yesterday (Thanks Easter Bunny! Bawk bawk!) and I played a little last night before being chastised by the wife for not paying attention to The Sopranos. It's amazing that they managed to take Tetris, which was perfectly addicting on its own, and craft multiple amazingly addicting game modes out of it. The combination of Tetris and classic Nintendo themes just rounds out the package. If you like Tetris, it's a no brainer. This week also sees the Japan favorite Brain Age drop for the DS. Fending off Alzheimers has never been so much fun!

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, onward, to Oblivion!

Sir Arcur Ran Away, Away, Bravely Ran Away
So I had heard about this super cool sword you can get early in the game that does copious amount of damage, plus lets you trap souls (soul trapping is necessary if you don't want to pay the outrageous prices for third party magical weapon recharging). The sword is also a quest item for a quest which is known to be broken, and getting it ahead of time is a valid workaround. Having already been through one broken quest, a positively unpleasant experience, I figured I'd get the sword ahead of time, ravage the countryside with it and just give it up when the time came. The problem is that, like most good weapons, the present owner rarely gives it up without a fight, or at the very least, some harsh language. This particular sword owner was no different and I read many the stories about how hard it is to fight her.

Not being one to expend any extra effort if I don't have to, I made my way to the dungeon, found said warrior and after being told to leave, I scoped the place out until I found a perch suitable for my particular brand of cowardice. All my leaping around the countryside like a spring rabbit has given me the ability to scale the greatest of heights, which then allows me to pelt my enemies with arrows while they flail away at the base of my hunting stand, poweless to stand against me. I did the same in this case, but either this chick had like a hojillion hit points or she kept running behind a column to heal herself because I put close to 75 arrows in her and she wasn't anywhere near dead. On to plan B.

Plan B made use of the facts that a) enemies will chase you through doors, b) I had a horse and c) I was a short ride from Imperial City which is positively bristling with legion soldiers, none of whom would be down with this chick pounding on me with her sword, even if I did start the fight. Again I made it down to the dungeon, again she told me to leave, only this time I then smacked her in the face. It was actually kind of funny. I guess you had to be there. I then proceeded to run like a scared child out to my horse and rode with haste to the city. After a few moments, I realized she wasn't chasing me any more, looked back and she was fighting a boar. A boar! Then, once done, she began trudging back to her dungeon. Come on! I dismounted, tagged her with an arrow and the chase was back on. As we approached the city, I could hear the clanking of her armor behind me, behind me, behind me, alongside me, in front of me, what the hell? Apparantly, not wanting to tussle with the guards, she put on a burst of speed, out ran me and my horse, hooked a quick left at the city gate and took off for the surrounding lake. That chick could move. I quickly lost sight of her as she presumably sprinted back to her home. OK, plan C.

Plan C involved everything in plan B, only this time, I'd repeatedly stop to let her whack me with her sword. Actually, I let her whack my horse with her sword, but as the horse seemed to heal without benefit of medical attention, it seemed OK with it. After several minuted of ride-whack-ow-ride-whack-ow, I managed to lead her right into the city. As luck would have it the guard's first and second in command were present. As they're important quest dudes, they can't die, so they quickly dispatched her. The other random guards didn't have the same quest protection, but they died protecting their city from the homicidal maniac that I led to their gates. I'm sure their families are proud. Once she was dead, I looted her body, as well as the bodies of the dead guards and sold off the armor and all weapons but the cool ass sword. Mission accomplished and all it took was some effort and some extra carrots for Ol' Paint. Actually there's no way to give the horse carrots. I just didn't want you to think that the only thing I gave my horse was gaping leg wounds.

For Want of a Horse
No, I also give my horse the sweet release of death. Actually I have no idea where my horse is. I head about this necklace that increases the skill that governs swordplay and my sources had told me that said necklace was in a cave very close to my present location. As my sources all existed on the internet, I should have known that they would be positively wrong in the wrongest sense of the word. When I arrived to said cave I was accosted by this wood nymph kind of chick who likes to conjure bears to do her dirty work for her. Usually, in this case, the best thing to do is ignore the bear and take her down as the bear will dissappear once she's gone. The problem here was that the bear was trying to eat my horse, so while I was taking the chick down, my horse got fed up and ran off. Either that or it died. I'm not really sure. All I know is that I couldn't find it once the nymph had been dispatched. Lovely.

I head into the cave, fight through the entire thing and no necklace. I found some cool stuff, sure, but I don't need the cash that comes with selling good loot, I need a necklace that makes me better at slicing and dicing. Earlier in the game, I had helped out some merchants and exposed a corrupt guard who had been shaking them all down. Apparantly he got out of jail and tracked me down, because as I entered one room and was beset by a minotaur and a will-o-the-wisp, this guy showed up and started attacking me. I believe my exact words were, "Now? You're doing this now?!" Here's something you may not know. Minotaurs and will-o-the-wisps will attack adventuring treasure hunters on site, but will have no problem with vengeance fueled ex-cons. I managed to lead them all into this one huge room where I backpedaled around a big central pit and alternated between hitting them with my sword and shooting them with arrows. It was all very surreal.

Once I realized that the necklace was nowhere to be found, I decided to head to a nearby inn and return some notes to a researcher who had lost them in the cave. I figured that I should at least get something out of this whole debacle. Upon arriving I was immediately taken into custody by a guard and fined 1000 bucks, for what I don't know. 1000 bucks! I don't know if it was for killing the ex-con or letting my horse die or what. All I know is that this little trip cost me 1000 bucks in fines as well as a horse, the replacement cost of which will probably be about 5 grand. Plus, I had to pay to get my weapons and armor repaired, which cost about 4 grand. All in all, I think I made 1000 bucks off of the loot, which puts me 9 grand in the hole. Thank you internet! I can do without a horse, but it makes finding places on the map a lot easier, especially if the places you find are besieged by baddies that you don't feel like fighting. I can usually just run away from them and they leave me alone. Stupid nonexistant necklace.

Grand Theft Oblivion
Even though I rolled an evil player, I find that I'll pretty much do anything for anyone, even if it's a good deed. I haven't joined the Fighter's Guild as that appears to be a bastion of goody-too-shoes ness and I don't swing that way. About 90% of my time is spent breaking into people's homes and stealing things as well as doing quests that have me assassinating people, so even if I wanted to be good, there's too much fun to be had by being bad. That being said, I try not to outright murder people if there's no reason to, as it only brings the law down on me and that's bad for business. However, on occasion, I'll make an exception. As part of a different quest, I had to travel to this guy's house and get a staff back from him. Even when I used my magical wiles to charm him into the stratosphere, the best I could do is get him to sell me the staff for 200 bucks. I must have pissed the guy off somehow because he called the guards on me and I had to pay another fine and all of my stolen stuff was confiscated, including some stuff that I had pilfered for the purpose of some quests down the line. At this point, I vowed that once I wrapped up my current quest (no killing allowed during Thieves Guild quests) I am going to go back to this guy's house and take him out. Him and his very unpleasant wife too. If they call the guards on me, I'll promptly pay the fine and then head back to the house to finish the job. I don't think that the game has anything like restraining orders, so let them try and stop me. Besides, I'm the Arena Grand Champion. I go where I want and do what I want. Plus, that dude owes me 200 bucks and I mean to collect.

I have a line on some interesting quests including one about a haunted beach and one about a shrine that nets you a staff that will change your non-human enemy into a randomly picked creature for 30 seconds. It may not make the fight any less difficult but it will certainly make it more interesting. I keep telling myself to wrap up what I'm doing before taking on new work, but then someone is telling me about some ghostly fort and I'm all like "yeah, I'll do that". I've put over 30 hours into the game and I've just barely started the main quest. Where those 30 hours have gone, I have no idea. I do know that I haven't played a game in a very long time that make it so easy to have fun just exploring around. If they could somehow make the level loading times disappear, you'd have the perfect experience.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to talk to a guy about a horse.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Party Like It's 1989

I walked to the bank today and cashed a check. It was positively old school.

Some Random Observations

Ah Friday, when all narrative flow jumps right out the window. There's a rhyme in there, should you want to look for it. I should do these posts on Monday so that I can tell good stories rather than the current strategy which is to just blather on in a fatigue induced fugue. That's a good word, fugue. Let's all say it together, "fugue". Good stuff. Of course, if I switched around the order of things my gaming posts would all be on the order of "Me like games. Games good." The wife would probably enjoy that very much, so perhaps it warrants consideration.

I have some observations for you today. Perhaps you have observed similar things in your lives. Perhaps not and I've observed them for you. If that's the case, then you should stop reading this, get out there and make your own observations. Come back on Monday and we'll share.

In no particular order, here are some things I've been privy to in the past weeks:

* If, at the time you go to bed, you turn off the light in the hallway and barely open your sleeping daughter's door so that you can turn her ceiling fan off, the resulting shift in air pressure will wake her up and she'll spend the night screaming. On the other hand, if, at some point in the evening, she throws up all over herself and her crib, she'll sleep right through it.

* A room that has been an all-night vomitorium smells bad enough to make the heavens weep. A more noxious odor exists in no place other than the blackest pits of hell.

* A baby that has slept in vomit all night is surprisingly receptive to a bath at 6 in the morning.

* If you have recently moved to a time clock situation at work, you will hit every red light on your way to work, ensuring your late arrival. Intersections that went for years without the benefit of illuminated traffic direction will spring traffic lights, like flowers in the springtime, solely to slow you down. Old people in walkers will be out in droves to cross every interesection you come to, impeding your progess lest you run them down and risk being late to work by 15 minutes and 15 - 20 years.

* No matter how much you have come to terms with an unpleasant new work development, when the time comes to actually start implementing said new work development, you will be filled with pools of black rage.

* It is unhealthy to spend 8 hours a day filled with pools of black rage. 5 hours is probably the upper limit in that situation.

* When someone decides to use a conference room for a phone call, they will talk louder when the door is shut, as if they want the rest of the floor to hear their conversation, but they know that they should shut the door because it's the polite thing to do. Either that or they think that closing the door magically turns the room into a soundproof fortress of solitude and they can now yell with abandon and sheer joy at the prospect of being at work. On a similar note, these same people think that using a speakerphone is preferable to picking up a handset, so that the rest of the floor can hear both sides of the conversation.

* We hate the aforementioned people.

* When you are very busy at work, and too tired to post at home, your head is filled with stories. When you have nothing but time on your hands, you make unfunny posts about stupid observations.

* 10 observations is probably enough

Have a good weekend and a happy Sunday holiday. If you're celebrating the resurrection of your Lord and Saviour, good on you. If you're celebrating the exodus of your people, enjoy the matzoh. If you just like candy, try the Reese's Fudge Peanut Butter Eggs. They're to die for.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tattoo Time

First of all, I'd like to take this time to wish my beautiful bride a very happy birthday. Supposedly it's not polite to talk about a woman's age, so let's just say that she's a year older than she was last year. Some people say that they don't get older, they just get better and this definitely applies to her, because I love her more now than I ever did. Not that she wasn't good last year, she was pretty damn awesome. She just seems to be getting better and better as she gets older. By the time we're old enough to retire, she'll be so good I'll barely be able to stand her. Kidding!

Today's science post is all about a subject near and dear to my heart, namely tattoos. I love my tattoos and want copious amounts of them. The only thing holding me back at the moment is spousal acceptance, which is a force stronger than any in the universe. Our question of the week comes from my good friend Andy who asks:
Why do tatoos persist without spreading out or dissolving?

An excellent question, and proof to all of you out there sitting on your own questions, that I do take the time to answer reader requests. So send 'em in!

This is a pretty interesting question and gets to the inner workings of our biggers organ, namely our skin. Your skin is comprised of three layers, the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis. The epidermis is the skin you can see. Cells from this layer routinely work their way from the bottom of the epidermis up to the surface where they are sloughed off and feasted on by dust mites as you sleep. Some disgustingly high percentage of dust is actually human skin cells, which freaks me out to no end. The next time you're dusting, think about how most of what you just picked up is what stayed behind from Aunt Mabel's last visit. Ew. If your tattoo ink was deposited solely in the epidermis, it wouldn't be the permament testament to your love of Dokken that it is today.

Instead, tattoo ink is deposited in the dermis, which is the layer that gives skin it's elasticity. The dermis is comprised of all of the fun parts of your skin, including sweat glands and hair follicles. You don't get much more fun than sweat glands. Hoo boy. The dermis is also the home to fibrocyte cells, dendritic cells, macrophages, and mast cells. The first cells, fibrocytes, are responsible for proteins that establish the network of connective tissue that keep the dermis together. Those last three cells, dendritic cells, macrophages, and mast cells, help keep the dermis's immune response working.

When you get a tattoo, your epidermis and dermis are punctured many, many times by the buzzing tattoo needle and ink particles are deposited in the top most layer of the dermis. At this point, your body's immune response takes over. Macrophage cells and other phagocytic cells head to the area, find all these ink particles in the dermis, and proceed to "eat" the ink particles. As a result, the ink particles are enveloped by the macrophage and other phagocytic cells. As the tattoo heals, the cells containing the tattoo ink are trapped in the rebuilt connective tissue. For about a month after the tattoo, some ink particles escape up through the epidermis, but by 2 - 3 months, all of the ink is safely trapped in the dermis. This helps to explain why your nice, vivid tattoo becomes somewhat less vivid 2 - 3 months after its application, revealing any areas that need to be touched up.

Over time, the cells containing the ink move deeper into the dermis, and some of the cells migrate to the lymph nodes to say "Hey! Look what I captured!" This helps to explain why tattoos fade over time, however there's no clear answer to this question. Presumably, once all the diseases in the world are cured, science will turn it's eye to the important questions of tattoo fading.

So, to answer Andy's question simply, the reason that tattoo ink doesn't spread out or dissolve is because the ink is trapped in immune system cells that are themselves trapped in the fibers of the skin as the skin heals.

The other thing to take away from this post, as anyone with a tattoo can tell you, is that the care you give your tattoo immediately following its application is crucial to the health and longevity of your tattoo. The better care you can give your skin, such as moisturizing and proper application of antiobiotics, the better your body can focus on consuming and trapping the tattoo ink, rather than fighting off other infections or other damage to the skin. Similarly, this outlines why sun damage is so bad for tattoos. Sun damage kills skin cells, requiring the immune system cells to leave the dermis, where they're keeping the ink, and tend to the cells being killed by our good buddy Mr. Sun. For those with external tattoos, keep 'em moisturized and keep 'em sunscreened. That way you can have them well into your golden years, where they'll act as a constant reminder of when you were young and stupid.

BME News - Tattoos
VeloNews - Ask the Doctor: Tattoos and beauty are skin deep
TeensHealth - Tattoos

Monday, April 10, 2006

Top 5 Gaming Moments

As usual, I'm having a hard time coming up with a gaming post, as all I'm doing is playing Oblivion and I don't think I can write up a whole post about Arcur sitting at his kitchen table making V8 fatigue potions. Maybe I can, we may find out next week. Actually, I haven't been playing too much as we've had family visiting and they tend to frown upon being abandoned for long periods of time while I triapse around the virtual countryside harvesting mushroom caps and fighting the undead. Whenever my sister is visiting and I come up from playing she always asks the same question, "Did you win?" which just goes to show the lack of understanding about how games have progressed. In the past, I've tried to explain what I've been playing and I just get that glassy eyed look my wife gives me during similar discussions, so now I just say "Yes, I won" and move on. I think she thinks I'm downstairs playing Pong or something, when in reality the fate of the world rests in these hands! That and Pong.

Whenever I'm in a bind, useless lists seem to fit the bill for content, so without further ado, here are my Top 5 Gaming Moments. Yay.

#5 - Playing Fallout 2
Techincally this isn't a moment, more like a very long string of moments, but Fallout 2 is the game that got me playing RPGs, and I've never looked back since. I had just heard about Electronic Boutique's policy of buying back PC games, back when they could buy back PC games, so I went into the store with a boatload of games, expecting to get enough credit to get maybe one game, and most likely I'd have to supplement the price with my own fundage. I managed to get enough money to buy 3 games, so flush with cash, I picked 2 games that I knew I'd like (Quake 2 and Sanitarium) and used the rest to try a genre I had never tried before. I picked up the Fallout 2 box and was immediately impressed with the physical weight. Any game that had such a hefty manual had to be good. The box art seemed cool, as did all of the options with character creation. I brought it home, installed it, booted it up and proceeded to play one of the greatest games ever created. So much of what I love about RPG's came from that game and so much about what I expect in an RPG came from that game. The character creation system was amazing. If you wanted to create a drug addicted, medical doctor who also sniped on the side, you could. I should know, because I did. The turn based system could make some battles a little on the long side, but that was pretty much the only thing I could find wrong with the damn thing. To this day, when playing an RPG, my first instinct is to kill the merchants and just take whatever it is they're trying to sell me. Thanks Fallout 2, for making me the homicidal shopper I am today! I still try to branch out into other genres when I have a little extra cash, which has helped me find games I love and normally wouldn't have played, like Burnout and helped me learn that I suck at fighting games.

#4 - Killing a Half-Dragon Single Handedly in Baldur's Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal
I spoke about this last week, but here's what actually went down. In this particular battle, once you beat on this dude long enough, he'd ditch his humanoid form and turn into this huge dragon and proceed to beat you senseless. My party was getting tore up and things weren't working. I took a break from the fighting and came up with a strategy. First, I led my party way out of harm's way and told them to stay put. Utilizing Tipsy's kick ass trap setting ability, I set a boatload of traps down the stairs from where the battle took place. Then, armed with my own gear, as well as a Time Stop scroll and a staff that conferred Invisibility, from one of my party members, I headed up to meet my fate. One of the perks that I had taken as I was leveling up, was the ability to use magical items (although not learn spells myself) which would prove to be essential in this battle. After some witty banter with my nemesis, I cast the Time Stop spell, which allowed me to get in some good thwacks without taking any damage myself. I used my Whirlwind ability to turn into a whirling dervish of damage and hit this dude with a sword that did extra damage to dragons in one hand, and with a sword that reduced your opponent's armor rating with every hit, in another hand. My plan was to get him to his dragon state as quickly as possible. My plan worked, and as soon as the Time Stop spell ended, he switched forms. His first order of business was to use his wings to blow me down the temple steps, which was exactly what I was hoping he'd do. Once I stood up, I equipped the Invisibility staff, and poof, no more Tipsy. The dragon-dude, unable to find me or my party, came down the stairs looking for me and instead found about a dozen explosive traps. They all went off, he died and just like that it was over. As they say, prior planning prevents piss poor performance. For once being a pack rat paid off.

#3 - Playing on Xbox Live for the First Time
It was January of 0f '04. I had purchased an Xbox in the fall after borrowing Andy's to play Knights of the Old Republic and had been content to rock the solo tip. We had been living in the stone ages of dial-up and our cable provider offered this deal where you could get an entire year of broadband via cable modem for something like 35 bucks a month. Seeing how we spent 22 a month on dial-up, this was a no-brainer. Of course, once broadband was "in the house" as the kids would say, Andy was insistant that I get Xbox Live. I did, and the first game I played online was Rainbow Six 3. I absolutely suck at this game, but the fact that I could play either against other people or with folks in a co-op mission without having to invite a bunch of people over and move around furniture was amazing. It also opened up to me an entire group of people who loves gaming as much as I do, and keeps me from having to game with the general public. I've met some great people through this group, and talk to them daily online. While I may not play online as much as others do, being able to via Live has expanded my circle of friends in a way that never would have been possible for a hermit such as myself without Live.

#2 - Playing a GameBoy for the First Time
I am a complete Nintendo handheld whore. If Nintendo comes out with a handheld, chances are I'll buy it. Despite having a DS, and loving it, I'm seriously considering buying a DS Lite, for no other reason that it's a "new" Nintendo handheld. This all started many, many years ago, when my friends and I started hanging out at Joe's house on Friday nights to watch the Mike Tyson fights on HBO. Joe was the only person with HBO and the only person with parents that would let a group of obvious losers such as us in their house. I think it helped that my sister was one of Joe's mom's favorite students (Joe's mom was an art professor), but not by much. As those that watched boxing in the late 80's can remember, Tyson fights were real big on build up and post-fight commentary, but low on fight action as Tyson would usually lay the guy out in two hits. That left a lot of time just hanging around and goofing off. Joe's brother had a GameBoy, which he always left in the basement, so while we were all waiting for Tyson to tear his latest opponent apart, I would play Tetris and Castlevania on the GameBoy, completely ignoring my friends in the process. This beget a long, proud tradition of not only handheld gaming, but ignoring those that are in my midst while I play the latest handheld gaming machine. I had a long lapse between the GameBoy, to the GameBoy Color, back in 99, but I've been going strong ever since. GameBoy Color to GameBoy Advance to GameBoy Advance SP to my current DS. I skipped the Micro, as I'm not into the games as fashion accessories thing, and I briefly strayed from the path and bought a PSP, but that was quickly rectified and I am now firmly esconced in Nintendo's handheld house. All because of Joe's brother, good old whatever his name was.

#1 - Learning that I Could Save My Progress in Space Quest
I don't remember the exact year, but as a young boy, I would spend most of my summer with my mom in upstate New York, and a few weeks with my dad in Annapolis, MD. Dad always had stuff planned, but he also usually had to work for a bunch of days while I was there. He had bought a computer for his home business (he prepared taxes for people on the side) and bought me a copy of Space Quest to play on it during the day. Many the afternoons were spent staring at that orange and black screen, playing Space Quest while I ate my Stouffer's French Bread pizzas and frozen Skor bars. But all was not well in the land of junk food and video gaming. There was a part in the game where you had to drive some hoverbike thingy across this rocky landscape, and I'd always die and then have to start all over from the beginning. One day, after doing this for the billionth time, I thought that there had to be some way for the computer to know what I had been doing and keep my progress. I reread the manual, and there they were, instructions on how to save my game. My computer experience up until that point had been next to nothing, so I had no concept of saving a game, to even think it was possible in the first place. All I knew was that I was pissed at having to do the entire first half of Space Quest again, despite being able to get it done in about 20 minutes flat. I grabbed a floppy, saved my progress and probably got the hoverbike section done on the next try. Since that moment, and probably because of it, poorly designed, or nonexistant save points have been my number one pet peeve in gaming. It is inconceivable to me, that I had the ability to save games back in the day of 2 color gaming, but I can't today just because I'm playing on a console. You can talk all you want about it being a design choice but it's laziness, pure and simple, and because people don't equate saving your progress with consoles, they don't expect it. It drives me nuts. I'm just glad that I found that floppy, because otherwise I'd probably still be sitting there.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Friday = My Day

Greetings. Welcome to Friday. We hope your stay is a good one.

I'm going to riff on a number of topics today as I don't have a story, as such, to relate. I have a bunch of things that need to be turned into a narrative at some point, but they also involve the uploading of pictures to computers and I really can't be bothered with such things. What I need to do is view these preparations as necessary to ensure that I have fallback plans for when Fridays come and I have nothing to write about. I also need to iron about a dozen articles of very wrinkled clothing, and I don't see that happening either. Given that there is a week in May when the missus and I will be frolicking in Disneyworld, far away from the plaintive wailing of hungry children, I should start preparing entries for that week to be posted in my absence. At the rate I work, they'll be finished in time for us to go to whatever Disney theme park they build once we've colonized Mars.

Speaking of my children, usually I would take this time to write a story about them that starts off with gruff words about their habits but eventually travels to a place where you know that I care about them, besides all of my bluster. That ain't gonna happen as lately they've been annoying the shit out of me. My daughter explodes with rage if food is not readily available upon her return home from a hard day of eating constantly at school. I can guarantee that even if I were to provide her with her own ham to consume during the 10 minute ride home, if dinner were not on the table, her fits of anger would ignite the atmosphere. My son reacts to her actions by yelling "You're fine!" in or very close to her face. I admonish him for this behaviour, but on the inside I cackle with glee. I know that it's just her age, and that it's equal amounts of hunger and frustration in her inability to express what she wants, however when one has had a long day and they're trying to make dinner but they can't hear anything over the deafening cries of the 2 foot tall child sprawled out on the kitchen floor, screaming like a banshee, one loses all sense of context. I guess I should just be glad that she's eating as we've been through the alternative and that was neither fun, nor exciting.

My son, who is 3 going on 17, has learned to express his opinion as to what he does and doesn't want to do. Like any good father, I don't give a shit. Ha! I'm kidding. Not really. I mean, yes, I care what he wants to do for things he has a choice in, however when I'm telling him to put his pants on, and the answer is "I don't want to", my interest in his opinion is dwarfed by my desire to not have to take him to Target bare-assed. I know that there's a school of parenting that says I should acknowledge his wishes and calmly explain something or other, to which I say, "Sure. Fine. Whatever." What I'd like to say is "Don't sass me boy." and then make him go plow the back 40 for his insolence, but instead I usually just tell him to not talk back to me and just do what I'm telling him to do. It is during these moments, that I truly do not understand people who cave whenever their child exhibits such behaviour. It's not like he's being cute and cuddly and with big puppy eyes saying "But I don't wanna put my widdle pants on" which makes your heart melt. No, this is a defiant, foot stomping refusal that instantly makes me want to deny him pretty much anything he could possibly ask for, including the most basic of necessities like food, shelter or Hot Pockets. I guess some people just don't see their kids in bad lights, which is unfortunate, because those kids are assholes now, and they're just going to be even bigger assholes in the future. Unlike my children, who will be broken shells of their former selves, after being crushed under their parents' iron will.

Apparantly I didn't get the memo about not having anything kid-related to talk about.

I purchased the newly released "Operation Mindcrime 2" by Queensryche yesterday, mostly on the basis of good reviews I had read by some fellow gamers. As I do not want to appear like I am trivializing their opinions, all I'm going to say at this point, is that my first listen to the record leads me to believe that they bought entirely different albums than I did. I am tempering this with the notion that I am notoriously hard on follow up albums that do not sound very much like the preceding album, be it an artist's second album, or something like this case, a sequel of sorts. My first listen to the second All American Rejects album left me cold, however subsequent listenings propelled it to the top of my list of favorite recent albums. I'm hoping that repeated listenings to Mindcrime 2 will endear it to me. I will say that the second album is a lot less straightforward in it's narrative. I think this is because the first album was more about people's actions, and this one is more about people's feelings. I will also say that Ronnie James Dio sounds like shit. Just one man's opinion.

Another album that I purchased recently and am enjoying immensely is "Collision Course" the Jay-Z / Linkin Park mash-up album. I have never given Linkin Park much thought, however I'm a huge Jay-Z fan and, for the most part, their music works real well together. The DVD that came with the cd is an interesting look into the recording sessions as well as a very good sounding performance of the mashups. The thing that struck me the most was how comfortable Jay-Z seemed in letting Linkin Park perform some of his stuff. There are a lot of artists out there who's ego would probably keep them from letting someone else take center stage, if only for a moment, but Jay has this look on his face that says he knows he's the best, so let these kids have their fun. The performance also cemented in my mind the positive influence a DJ can have on a rock band, and a live band can have on an MC.

If you want to see how good rap and live music can work together, look no father that Jay-Z Unplugged, where he is backed up by the magnificent Roots. Think to how powerful a band like Audioslave would be with a DJ in their midst. I love me some Tom Morello, but sometimes he plays guitar like a boy who wanted a turntable for Christmas and got a guitar instead. Undaunted, he began to make the latter sound like the former. Bringing in a DJ would let him play more guitar type riffs or, at the very least, allow for some cool ass back and forths between him and the DJ as they compete to see who can make their respective instruments most sound like a cat being pressed through a colander.

I made a kick ass meat loaf last night. I would divulge the recipe, but that would break the unspoken agreement between me and Cooking Light, where I don't publish their copyrighted material and they don't sic the dogs of war on me. After the meal was finished, the whole house smelled like glorious meat loaf. This inspired me to come up with a line of men's candles that smell like manly man things such as meat loaf, barbecued ribs, chili, and fear of commitment. I know that were I single, and I wanted to fill my homestead with a delightful aroma, I wouldn't pick the hyacinth candle, rather I'd pick the scent that made my house smell like delightful hickory. This would also allow the non-cooking men to light a Baked Ham candle, and then go out and purchase said item, thereby giving the impression to the lady that they are trying to impress, that they slaved over a home cooked meal. Nothing impresses a woman more than home cooked ham. We're currently focus testing names for the candles, but my initial idea was Mandles, however it would appear that name was taken by someone with similar ideas. I hope that the market space is big enough for several individuals all hell bent on making a home smell like steak.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The End of Color As We Know It

Don't worry, color isn't ending. As far as I know, you'll continue to see the world in all of its vibrant hues. Well, maybe not you. We'll talk.

Anyways, this is our last post into the origins of color. I had a ton of fun with all of the researching as well as the writing. Hopefully you all got something out of it as well. Now when a small child ever asks you why the sky is blue or why leaves are green you can give them an answer that ensures not only their scientific literacy, but that you'll never be asked stupid questions again. That, my friend, is a win-win.

This last week's post deals with colors that come about from various optical phenomena, namely scattering and interference. In a nutshell, whenever light hits something that prevents it from traveling in a straight line, the light has been scattered. If the light is stopped completely, we say that the light was absorbed, which is just a very extreme case of scattering. In some cases, the light is scattered in such a way as to send all parts of the spectrum back to your eye equally. Those items appear to be white. In other cases, the scattering is not equal, and the unequal scattering results in some parts of the spectrum making it to your eye, and some parts not. This brings us to our friend, the blue sky.

The sky is blue due to a form of scattering called Rayleigh scattering. Rayleigh scattering, named for Lord Rayleigh, he of the argon discovery, is scattering done by particles that are smaller than the wavelength of light. I'll spare you the formula, but the scattering is dependent upon the size of the particles and the wavelength of light. In fact, the intensity of the scattered light is inversely proportional to the wavelength of light, which means that when one thing (the wavelength) goes down in value, the other thing (the amount of scattering) goes up. Not only is the relationship an inverse proportional one, but the intensity is inversely proportional to the wavelength to the power of 4. In other words, really small wavelengths, like, oh, I don't know, the blue part of the spectrum, have a high intensity when scattered, while light with a large wavelength, like red, has a low intensity. This is why the sky seems uniformly blue, the intensity of the blue scattered light is incredibly high, and it appears to be coming from everywhere. Light comes from the sun, hits the particles in the atmosphere, gets scattered and voila, the sky is blue.

During sunrise or sunset, the light you're seeing has to travel through a much larger chunk of the atmosphere to get to your eye. During its travels, the light has the blue parts of the spectrum scattered multiple times and essentially stripped out. What you see is all that's left, namely violet and red. OK, that last part isn't true. The blue parts aren't stripped out, they're just being scattered to the ground earlier in the light's journey. Just because it's sunset for you, doesn't mean it's sunset for everyone there pal. While you're looking at the red light from scattering, someone else is seeing the blue portion. Somewhere in there is some lesson about togetherness or some such bullshit. FYI, the particles in clouds are too big to scatter the light via Rayleigh scattering, so the light gets scattered uniformly and the clouds appear white.

Interference is what happens when two or more waves intefere with each other so that a new wave is created in the process. It usually has to do with waves that are coherent with each other, because they have the same source or the same frequency. Let us not forget that light is a wave, and as such, it can be interfered with. When light passes through a plane with multiple slits in it, the crests of some of the waves interact with the troughs of some of the other waves and the two cancel each other out. As a result, bye-bye light. The size of the slits determines which frequencies of a wave are amplified. This becomes important later.

In the case of butterflies, such as the beautiful Blue Morpho and birds, such as the peacock, the color of the wings has to do with interference. A butterfly's wings is covered in very small scales, that are layered in such a way as to provide multiple slit interference. Ditto for peacock feathers, only instead of scales, it's thin, plate-like layers, like, you know, scales. Light that hits these scales travels through the slit, and reflects off the scales at the same time. The resulting new wave combination amplifies the blue part of the spectrum for the Blue Morpho, and every goddamn part of the spectrum for the peacock, depending on what you're looking at. The various colors of the peacock are caused by the size of the slits as well as the thickness of the layers of plates and the angle of view. Interference is also the cause of color for pearls and beetles. Who knew that something so simple as two light waves smashing into each other could be responsible for such beauty. Truly we could all learn something from violence. Wait, no, ah, never mind.

Next week we tackle the first in a long line of reader requested questions as we find out why that Pikachu tattoo looks so damn good now, but will only serve to annoy and terrify you with it's blurry, indistingushable features when you're 75. 'Til then Squaddies, take care.


Wikipedia - Interference
Wikipedia - Iridescence
Wikipedia - Rayleigh Scattering
WebExhibits - Causes of Color

Monday, April 03, 2006

Classic Gaming: Baldur's Gate 2

Welcome to the first of an unofficial series of posts where I talk about my favorite games from years gone by. While I'm trying to pass these off as an attempt to talk about what games shaped my love of the hobby, in truth I don't have anything new to write about and I'm desperate for content. The reason I don't have anything new to write about is because all I've been doing is playing Oblivion, and there are only so many tales of being a bad-ass lizard dude that you, my faithful readers, can stomach. In case you're wondering about my progress, I'm even more bad-ass than before, but not nearly as bad-ass as I feel I can be. Enough about Oblivion. Let's give Baldur's Gate 2 the love it deserves.

Fallout 2 was the game that first got me into RPG's, but Baldur's Gate 2 is the game that made the RPG genre my favorite. I had played the original Baldur's Gate, and while I had fun with it, at some point I got bored with it, and cheated my way to the end so that I could see what happened. I'm not sure what happened between the first one and the second one to rekindle my interest, but I think it had something to do with the sheer number of class variants you could choose when starting up the sequel. In Baldur's Gate, you had the normal D&D classes, thief, fighter, cleric, etc. Baldur's Gate 2 allowed you to do class variants to further customize your characters, and that, as they say, made all the difference.

I played a thief in Baldur's Gate, specifically a drunken thief named Tipsy McSwagger. When creating your character, you were given the option of choosing a voice set so that when you ordered your character around, they would say different things. As I clicked my way through the choices, I came across one that sounded like a drunk Scottsman. In a flash, I remembered the name Tipsy McSwagger's from the Simpsons, and my character was born. Tipsy was a thief who hid his stealing behind a near constant state of drunkeness. As most people wouldn't think that someone who drank as much as he did was capable of stealing, he was able to ply his trade rather well. The thing he couldn't do well though, was hide his love of the ladies, and many the time was he discovered in the bed of some Lord's wife, only to have to beat a hasty retreat out the window.

As you can see, the Baldur's Gate series taught me the benefit of spending the time to develop a back story, and a personality for your character. In my mind, Tipsy was this thief who could stumble around a tavern, picking pockets while appearing drunk, and who could jump on the tables and fight off several men at once, when they showed up to take him to task for bedding half the women in the town. The thief class didn't necessarily allow for this vision that I had, but when Baldur's Gate 2 came out, with its class variants, I found the one that was perfect for Tipsy: the Swashbuckler. The Swashbuckler let him wield a weapon in each hand, and gave him some extra combat abilities but with this, he lost the ability to backstab (a strike when concealed that did extra damage). In my vision of Tipsy, this worked, as he wasn't one to skulk in the shadows. In fact, he liked being caught too much to hide in the shadows, for the showman in him enjoyed the spectacle of being discovered.

Character creation aside, the game did everything right. The pacing was perfect, with just the right amount of side quests for those that wanted so stray from the path, but gentle nudging onto the main path when needed. Your party members were actual characters with personalities and conflicts with each other. You could fall in love and bed several of them (although not at the same time) if you so desired. Minsc, the ranger who, after getting knocked on the head, starts talking to Boo his space hamster, is one of the most memorable characters I've come across in any medium.

One of the great things about the game was how your character slowly progressed as they leveled up. When Baldur's Gate starts, your first level character is one that has to hide from dogs lest they be torn asunder. By the end of Shadows of Amn, you and your party have an amazing set of skills and talents that make you feel like a god, which, in a way you are, as you're a child of Bhaal, the God of Murder. If you then completed the expansion pack, Throne of Bhaal, you gain even more experience, climb even more levels and become some of the most powerful beings you'll see in gaming. I remember vividly using a combination of my stealth, trap setting abilities and my ability to use magical items to single-handedly kill a fellow child of Bhaal. Killing one guy by myself may not seem like a big deal, but this dude was half-dragon and once you got about halfway through the fight, he revealed his parentage in a rather spectacular fashion. So, technically I single-handedly killed a dragon, but I don't want to brag, Oh wait, yes I do.

There's so much about the game I remember, from rushing to the store the day I came back from a trip to Florida to get it so that I could roll up Tipsy before the next morning, to posting in-character on a BG2 message board with Andy. So much of what I love about gaming was represented in that game, that it makes me wistful to think about it again. The fact that I had a hell of a lot more time to devote to gaming back then probably helps too. Part of the reason that I'm enjoying Oblivion so much, is that it reminds me a lot of BG2. The openendedness is very similar, although it is done to a much greater degree in Oblivion, as well as the connection I have to my character. I'm also enjoying being able to talk to my fellow gamers about it, before we all fracture again and go back to Ghost Recon, Battlefield 2 or whatever the current game of the week is.

When I was in the store picking up Oblivion the other day, I saw BG2 and the expansion pack together for 20 bucks. I considered, and am still considering, picking it up and installing it on my laptop so that I can play it while watching TV. Two things are keeping me from doing this. One is that I have enough games to play as it is, between the DS and the 360 and I really don't need another one to blather on about in front of Linda. The second is that I don't want to play it and have my memories in any way diminished by the cold light of reality. Maybe it isn't as good as I remember it to be, and I'm not sure I want to give up the game I have in my head, and in my heart. 20 bucks is a small price for such a fantastic piece of gaming, but losing how I remember the game to be is a considerable expense and one I'm not sure I'm willing to risk paying.

That being said, for those that haven't played it yet, get the hell out there right now and do it. You won't be dissappointed.