Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Space...The Silent Frontier

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back.

Today's question has as once again plumbing the depths of space. It comes from Keg who asks:
Why can't anyone hear you scream in space?
Well, for one, it wouldn't be a very effective marketing campaign if the slogan was "In space, you can scream all you like and we'll be along shortly." Not that it would have mattered for our friends on the Nostromo as some of those people were bound and determined to end up as Alien food.

But I digress. On Earth, or any other planet with an atmosphere, your screaming causes a soundwave to propagate through the atmosphere. Basically the vibrations of your vocal cords cause the surrounding molecules to be disturbed. They in turn slam into other molecules which slam into other molecules and so on and so forth until said wave hits someone's ears. Their ears then collect the waves and translates them into something their brain recognizes as your plaintive wailings. They then tell you to keep it the hell down as they're trying to watch "Dharma and Greg". That Jenna Elfman is a hoot.

Air isn't the only thing that sound can proprogate through, however it gives us the best chance of being understood as anyone who has ever tried to speak underwater, or hear an argument through a wall can attest to. To be honest, I'm not sure if there's anything specific to our atmosphere that facilitates the transmission of sound waves, so it's possible that people could hear you scream on other planets in our solar system with an atmosphere, they just may be choking/burning/freezing to death while doing so.

Space, on the other hand, has no atmosphere, so when that Alien decides to use your fingers as toothpicks, the vibrations of your vocal cords vibrate the air molecules in your throat which then slam into...nothing. No slamming means no soundwaves. No soundwaves meand no sound and sooner than you can say "lickety split", or I guess mouth the words "lickety split", you're course numero uno for our slime dripping friend.

Now, that doesn't mean that sound doesn't exist in space, just not on any level that we can hear it. There is a gaseous ether that fills the void of space to the tune of about 10 atoms per cubic centimeter of space. Large scale galactic events like solar flares and explosions of planets as a result of fully operational Death Stars, cause vibrations in this galactic ether which then propagate through space. The wavelengths of these disturbances are so huge, that our ears can't collect the waves, and subsequently we can't hear the results of these disturbances. We can detect them through electronic means though, and then compress them into something we puny humans can understand. I guess the Alien poster should have had a disclaimer stating "Note: Does not apply to solar storms."

Sources:
Ask the Astronomer - Is there really sound in space?
Google Answers - Sound in space?
Wikipedia - Sound Waves

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

Howdy.

No gaming post today, what with the holiday and all. I'm playing a lot of God of War and it seems insensitive to me, to write about this game on a day when we honor those that died in war. I'm also playing Guitar Hero a lot and it seems equally silly to write about how I can't get 5 stars on "Iron Man" when others are in far off lands missing their families while under a constant threat of bodily harm.

If you feel the need to spend some time on the internet, see if you can find a soldier's, or soldier's family's blog and leave a comment of support. This is not a political gesture, just a human one, and one that shouldn't be hard to make regardless of your position on the war. One of the permanent links on this page is to Monique's site, Word Well. Monique's husband Terry is currently stationed in Iraq and is only a couple of months away from coming home. Should you want to show some support, that wouldn't be a bad place to start.

Take care. See you on Wednesday.

-Brandon

Friday, May 26, 2006

Finale Wrap-Up

Having finished watching the last of our TV season finales last night, I am now ready to give you all my opinions on them. How glorious for you. In truth, we haven't watched all of them as we still have 24 to watch. However, given that we don't plan on watching 24 next season, I'll abstain from commenting on it. We also happened to lose the finale to "How I Met Your Mother" due to our fearless leader's speech but I'm pretty sure Ted and Robin got together, an interesting development given that we know that Robin isn't the "mother" in question. Then again, I don't think that anyone watching Cheers in it's heyday honestly thought that Sam and Diane would stay together. I should point out that this post includes massive spoilers for various shows. My apologies for not mentioning that earlier and possibly ruining things for people currently watching Cheers. So, if you don't want to know that Jack died on Lost, you probably don't want to read this post. Dammit! I did it again. Kidding.

Gilmore Girls
This was a bummer of a finale as we see Luke and Lorelei bust up and Lorelei hooking back up with Christopher, something we knew was coming for probably 5 - 6 episodes. It's also a bummer of a finale as the show's creators and primary driving forces have left the show, and the network has chosen to place it in the hands of a guy who was once put in a loony bin for stalking Heidi Klum. Lovely. Not sure where the series will go next year, as we've already been through years of Luke and Lorelei dancing around each other but I'm willing to keep watching the show on the basis of the actors/actresses alone. Rory continues to be a real interesting character too, so hopefully they'll keep doing well by her.

Veronica Mars
Frankly, they could just have an hour of Kristin Bell reading the paper and I would have been glued to the screen. Seeing how I'm not the only person they're trying to appease here, they did considerably more than that. In fact, I don't think she read the paper at all. Anyways, the finale was good, with the right number of wrapped up ends and newly loosened ends, however I think it could have benefitted by being 2 hours long. This was one very dense finale, with some fantastic acting and lots of revelations and when done in an hour, it left me a little exhausted and confused about some elements. I was glad to see Veronica and Logan getting together because I think that Logan is the most interesting character on the show, and definitely one of the best actors, given how he's able to make you care about a character that spends half the time being a jackhole. Of course, all of the acting is incredible, but he is way incredible. Glad to see it has been picked up by the CW.

The Unit
For a midseason show, The Unit has done pretty well and has been damn entertaining. I'm concerned that it won't prove to be so over an entire season's run of shows, not without doing some character retooling, but that's just me. I'd like to see some multi-episode mission arcs, instead of just multi-episode story arcs with the wives. Mostly because the wives are pretty much all staggeringly annoying. The finale left some questions, notably if any of the wives died, but I kind of doubt that any did, only because they didn't give any indication whatsoever that anyone got hurt other than Haysbert's character. All in all, it was a good finale, but it could have been easily swapped out with any other show in the season which somewhat diminishes it, given what we expect from finales. At the same time, I only have so much energy to devote to being concerned about fictional characters for the summer, so I'm happy that I can just assume they're all safe at home bickering over finances and assassinating third world dictators.

Bones
Before watching the finale, Linda and I talked about how we want to see some multi-episode arcs, or a season long arc on Bones next year, and lo and behold we were rewarded with the beginning of one in the finale. The problem is, I'm not sure it's the right arc. So basically Bones's mom and dad were post office box robbers on the run from a murderous group of bank robbers? Riiiight. The introduction of Bones's brother was interesting, especially given the revelations of what happened to them as kids, but overall, I think this new development is kind of silly. Now that it looks like they're going to spend time searching for Bones's father, despite her father's insistence to not do so, I hope the writers watched Supernatural this season to know how to handle such a plot line. I also want to see more of the tanktops we were lucky enough to have witnessed in the beginning of the season. Yowza!

Lost
This finale, and Supernatural's finale make me want to just fast forward until September. Soooo much came out, yet at the same time didn't. We know what caused the plane to crash, or do we? We know what Desmond thinks caused the plane to crash, but we have no definitive answer. I like that we now have a character connected to the island, but not on the island, existing outside of flashbacks (Penny). That should put to death any of the theories that the islanders are all dead, unless they plan on doing a crossover with either "Medium" or "The Ghost Whisperer". I also liked seeing that much Desmond, because for someone with so little screen time this season, he's a damn likeable character. Henry Gale as the leader, at least that's my interpretation, of the Others was a nice development. Very Usual Suspects. Personally, I think this show can last for about 5 years and still be entertaining, longer than that and I think we start venturing into X-Files territory where things become so complicated no one, including the writers, have any idea what the hell is going on. Given that this would put this finale at nearly the halfway point, the finale did a good job at answering some very important questions, and opening up some more, while at the same time, changing the direction of the show to involve others looking for our island friends. The fact that others are looking is interesting, given Bernard's ideas a few episodes ago that no one the island seems interested in getting off of it, a sentiment echoed in the finale by the fact that the only idea people came up with for the boat was to use it track Jack and Co. across the island. Next fall should be interesting.

Smallville
Ugh. For a season that started off so well, they really shot it all to shit with the 100th episode and then went back to the depths of craptitude realized last season. So, now Lex is channeling Zod? Whatever. I'll watch it next season, because I want to see how much worse it can get. I'm sure that Clark will escape from the Phantom Zone in the first 10 minutes of the season premiere and then we'll be treated to an hour of Lana furrowing her brow as if she's trying to read something far away or figure out a math problem in her head. At this point, this show is so far removed from anything remotely tied to traditional Superman continuity, that I no longer harbor an interest in seeing them bring Batman on the show for fear of what they'd do to the character.

The OC
Double ugh. At least Marissa is dead, which gives me some hope for the future. Joss Schwartz is coming back too, which should help, however it's a little like an architect leaving the house construction site, and then coming back to oversee operations, but when he gets there, he finds that they've build a carousel. There's only so much he can do at the moment, and the fact that they killed off Marissa, instead of just not making the entire show about her, leads me to believe that the writers don't know anything about character development. Oh well. We'll always have season 1.

Supernatural
This show has my vote for the best new show this season, and is tied for Lost as the best finale. They did a really good job of providing creepy standalone episodes (the Bloody Mary episode was scarier than most recent horror movies) but maintaining an arc over the course of the season that came to a head at the end of the season. Sam and Dean are both really likeable characters, with good chemistry between the actors, all of which is nicely maintained when their dad is dropped into the mix. I'm glad that we won't be seeing any more of Meg, as she looked too much like Sandy Duncan to be effective as a viable villain. It's hard to be scared by a murderous Peter Pan. The finale's end was completely unexpected, and very well done. I can't wait to see what happens in the fall.

None of the new shows for next season look even remotely interesting to me, which is OK, given that the past two years have provided some really stellar new shows to our viewing lineup. Given the amount of TV we currently watch, along with the hundreds of hours of TV on DVD we have, I don't think we could watch any more TV if we tried without quitting or jobs or completely ignoring our children, neither of which are viable options, despite their inherent appeal.

Now the long summer of Netflix and TV on DVD can begin. Huzzah!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

It's the End of the World As We Know It

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back.

I must have left my manners in the hotel room upon coming back from vacation because I completely forgot to thank Andy for manning the ship while I was gone. He was kind enough to repost all of the stuff I had written for the last week and he provided the question for last Wednesday's science post as well. He's a good laddie that Andy is. So thanks mate. There's a pint in it for ye once we meet up again.

On to this week's question, provided by Aaron. He asks:

OK, so if it hasn’t been asked before, I’d like to know what the chances are of an ‘end of days’ asteroid striking the earth in our lifetime?

It has not been asked before, and this is an excellent question. Nice work son.

The answer all depends on just who's days are going to be ending. If it's all of our days, it's pretty unlikely, if it's just your days, it's slightly more likely. That's not to say that Aaron has some crazy, whackjob stalkeroid out there sitting in a skeezy gray van circling Aaron's picture with a black marker while rocking back in forth in the driver's seat, more that we could very well see an asteroid impact in our lifetime, just not one that will wipe out all life on the planet. Some life, possibly, just not all life.

The Earth is no stranger to getting pounded on by space rocks, as impact craters exist all over our fair world in various places such as the Yucatan Peninsula, Siberia, the Canadian High Arctic and here in the good old US of A. The impact in the Yucatan Peninsula is thought, by some, to be the catalyst for the extinction of the dinosaurs, and about 70% of all species on the planet at the time. Sure, we're a heck of a lot smaller than the dinosaurs, but not small enough to weather such an impact and emerge unscathed.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the Tunguska Fireball. In 1908, in the Tunguska region of Siberia, a massive explosion occurred about 6 - 8 km above the surface of the earth. The resulting explosion caused shockwaves that could be measured as far away as Germany, incinerated trees and herds of reindeer and produced a fireball that could be seen and felt from 60 km away. The prominant theory is that some sort of space rock, be it a comet or a meteorite, detonated in the atmosphere. The sides are pretty well split between comet and meteorite, however what they can agree on is that a) it was from space, b) it was a rock and c) it weighed about 100,000 tons. Replace "remote section of Siberia" with "New York City" and you can see why a space rock impact could very well end some days, but not all our days. Oh sure, we'd all have a bad day in one way or another if a major city was taken out by a passing space rock, but some of us would have a worse day than others.

So, how can we assess the threat that looms above us in space? Thankfully, we have science to help us. The fine folks at Nasa currently use what's called the Torino Scale (developed by a one Richard P. Binzel, MIT) which rates Near Earth Objects (NEO's) from a scale of 1 - 10. A 1 means that there's something out there that could, some day, possibly strike the Earth, however subsequent readings should reclassify the object as harmless, to a 10 which means that a mass level extinction object is on its way and a collision is assured. The Torino scale isn't perfect, as it tends to get folks all riled up, thinking they're going ot die in a storm of hellfire, and was reworded in 2005 to not sound quite so dire. Some folks advocate the ditching of the Torino Scale altogether and replacing it with some other scale, such as the Palermo Impact Hazard Scale, which is a logarithmic scale used to assess threats to the Earth. The Palermo Scale isn't as easy to communicate to the public (logarithms are funny that way) and doesn't have the informative color coding we as Americans have come to rely on. As any post 9-11 American can attest to, our media loves themselves some color coded threat levels.

From the Torino Scale we have 3 levels of "Certain Collision". An 8 means something is going to hit the earth and do some localized damage, a la what happened in Tunguska. This happens every 50 to several 100 years. A 9 wouldn't kill us all off but would really do some damage on land, or cause a massive tsunami at sea and happens every 10,000 to 100,000 years. A 10 is the big one, causing you to either perish or emerge as Lord of the Roaches. These happen once per every 100,000 years at the most frequent, but probably a hell of a lot less often. Whew.

Currently there are 13 NEO's observed by NASA in the past 60 days, two of which are rated with a rating of 1. To give you an idea as to how quickly some of these ratings are downgraded, when I originally researched this info on Monday, May 22nd, one of these objects had a rating of 2. Of the two rated objects, one has an impact year of 2102, and one has an impact year range of 2036 - 2069. Again, with a rating of 1, it's pretty much assured that neither NEO will impact the earth, however if it did, you're looking at an impact possibly 63 years from now.By then, I'll have had a pretty good run, being 97 years old and most likely would welcome the opportunity for an obituary that read "Brandon Cackowski-Schnell, 97, Nailed by Asteroid".

So, given the fact that we're currently not tracking anything capable of doing anything but possibly causing media scares, and given that about 80% of the Earth's surface is uninhabited, I'd say that the odds of you witnessing an asteroid impact that causes massive amounts of casualties is pretty unlikely. While it's true that even an ocean impact could cause a tsunami that could do a large amount of damage to coastal cities, there's a hell of a lot more ocean that's no where near coasts than there is beachfront waters. Bottom line is that yes, Aaron, you have to mow the lawn this weekend. Find some other reason to blame your procrastination on.

Much like how people used to really win on MTV, people really get their questions answered here at SuburbanJoe, so keep 'em coming.

Sources:
Near Earth Object Program, NASA - Current Impact Risks
Near Earth Object Program, NASA - The Torino Impact Hazard Scale
Wikipedia - Torino Scale
The Straight Dope - "What caused the massive 1908 explosion in Tunguska, Siberia?", Cecil Adams, Feb. 28, 2003
Astrobiology.com - Contemplating Craters

Monday, May 22, 2006

Still on Vacation

OK, technically I've been back from vacation since Saturday, but as far as our little corner of the universe is concerned, the "Gone Fishing" sign is still up. I know, I know, it's odd that I had content when I was gone, but now that I'm back, I have nothing, however while I was gone I was cut off from all gaming news, and played nothing electronic other than a few games of Soduku. As a result, I have nothing game related to talk about. Amazingly enough, even though I was completely cut off from gaming sites, I still knew that the new X-Men movie tie-in game would suck ass. It's like I'm psychic or something.

Instead of me rambling on about nothing, instead I offer the superior writings of Bill Harris, of Dubious Quality Fame. He talks about E3 and the upcoming release calendar for the various platforms. He writes better, has more information and is generally more entertaining than me on my best day, so it would serve you well to read his stuff. I know that doesn't exactly give you a reason to come back and hear me blather on about games, but who else answers all of your lilac cow questions? Yeah, I thought so. See you Wednesday.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Fun from the Archives

Given that I'm in Florida right now, I've decided to yet again raid the archives for material. Yes, I'm lazy, however I should remind you that all of this is free, so if you don't like it, feel free to move along. Wait! Please don't go. I didn't mean it! I love you! Pleaaaase!!

This missive comes from when Linda and I lived in Virginia. It's a hoot.

A Tree Grows in Ashburn
There will come a time, dear reader, when you are sitting at home engaging in home-type activities. Perhaps you are reading the paper, perhaps you are playing a computer game, perhaps you are down in your workshop tinkering or lathe-ing or doing whatever it is that people in workshops do. Your significant other will enter the room and after spending some time staring out at the backyard, a look of impending work on their face, will turn to you and utter the four words of your impending doom: The yard needs trees. At this point drop whatever it is you're doing and run out of the home as fast as your legs can carry. Do not grab your wallet, a new identity will be provided for you. Do not stop to pack clothing, you'll buy what you need as you need it. Do not kiss the children goodbye, do not wave to the neighbors. You must forget all of these people if you hope to survive. The other choice is to nod grimly and steel yourself for the upcoming task. Mrs. Joe and I recently completed a weekend of tree planting, or as we in No. VA like to call it, "rock smashing and swearing". Anyone who has ever attempted to plant anything in Virginia can tell you that it's like trying to spread butter on a cat. OK, maybe that isn't a good analogy as I don't know what the hell it means but boy is it tough. The planting not the buttering, although I imagine that's difficult too. The main problems stem from the fact that Virginia doesn't have soil per se, it has rock with occasional pockets of softer more breakable rock and some clay. On the plus side we don't have a problem with gophers as they can't burrow through our rock-strewn landscape. They have instead erected a shanty-town in my backyard and regularly shake down my dogs for cigarettes. Mrs. Joe and I have planted a fair number of things in this god-forsaken soil. Surprisingly we've managed to keep most things alive. What we have not managed to do is remember what a horrible, horrible time it is to dig in our yard. For this time around we decided to plant 6 trees that were purchased at Home Depot and to move a rather large and heavy dogwood that was planted by our builders. We have a huge rectangular backyard nearly devoid of plant life so our builder decided that the two trees would look best planted one on top of the other. I am constantly amazed that these people manage to build houses that are suitable for occupation. Whenever I walk through the houses they are currently building I keep expecting to see a sign that reads "Floor, then roof!" But I digress. It was a fine Sunday morning. The trees had been purchased and placed at their approximate planting locations. The bags of mulch and soil were stacked in the backyard. The wheelbarrow and yard cart were waiting to be used. The pickaxe, shovel, jackhammer, backhoe, dynamite, blasting caps, C-4 and portable thermonuclear device were all anxious to start tearing into the virgin soil. Mrs. Joe and I planned our assault. With any large scale task one must plan ahead. The planting plans went something like this: Step One: Pick a spot for your leafy friend. Step Two: Start digging. Step Three: 2 inches later, hit rock. Step Four: Curse the God that would give you such harsh, unyielding soil. Step Five: Move five feet in any direction. Repeat steps 1-4. Eventually you'll have a whole bunch of little holes in your yard. Rent these out to the gophers. Keep the trees in their pots. If needed you can always pile mulch around the pots to hide them from your neighbors. To maximize the joy of the tree planting experience we decided to allow our dogs to run free during the planting. This proved to be a bad move as every few seconds we had to tell the one dog to stop eating the mulch and the other dog to stop eating the rocks. For variety they switched diets midway through the day. I kid you not when I say that the next day when I went to clean up the dog's messes I had a bag filled with sh*t shaped paving stones. Our one dog, Henry, or Pain In the Ass #1 has the endearing habit of lying on whatever it is that has my attention at the moment. If I'm reading the paper he'll lie on it. If he could I'm sure he'd climb up the computer workstation and lie on the keyboard. I swear he does it to irritate me. In this case as I was trying to rip up the sod with my shovel he came and lay down on the sod circle I had just cut out. Each time I worked the shovel under the sod to tear the roots, the sod and him moved. Each time he'd look at me as if to say "Did you feel that?" Eight holes and eight hours later we were finished. Why were there eight holes if we planted seven trees? Good question. We tackled the moving of the dogwood first. I dug a beautiful hole about 3.5 feet in diameter and at least 6 inches down when I hit bedrock. This was not the soft, yielding rock that I would be busting through a la John Henry for the rest of the day. This was rock forged in the pits of hell and sent to break men's spirits. The sad thing was that the hole was exactly as deep as it needed to be. Unfortunately trees have a problem boring through solid rock with their roots so after much cursing, wailing and gnashing of teeth we filled the hole back in and started anew. All in all, the backyard does look very nice. Once the trees are in full bloom the yard will be alive with color. We purchased flowering pear, flowering cherry and magnolia trees so we should have a nice mix of foliage and flowers. It took a full four days for me to obtain enough feeling in my hands to be able to button my shirts properly and I still have bits of rock embedded in my front teeth but it was worth it. Mrs. Joe now wants to put in a brick path from the driveway to the deck. I'm leaving tomorrow morning. I'll contact all of you from the underground.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Me Like-a Milka


Before we get started, I have to apologize to Aaron. I had promised him that I'd answer his question next, which is a frackin' awesome question, by the way, but with my being gone, and having a sick child to deal with last week, I didn't have time to research his question. Aaron, I apologize and promise to sate your curiosity next week.

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back. This week's question comes again from Andy. He asks:
Why is the Milka cow lilac?
For those of you not raised in Europe, Milka is Kraft food's best selling brand of milk chocolate. It's symbol is a lilac cow with a bell around it's neck. Why lilac? Well, it's a very complex and historically storied answer.

Actually, it totally isn't. Milka was created in Switzerland in 1901. At that time, Europe was well in the throes of the Art Nouveau movement. and lilac was considered to be a decadent, opulent color. Boom, lilac on the bar means rich, decadent chocolate within. No muss, no fuss.

As well as it being a nice, easy question for me to answer this week, this question also allows me to have my own version of a "who knows" question. Some background first. When Linda's dad used to be asked a question that could be easily answered with something like "who knows", he'd answer "I don't know. Why is K-Mart called K-Mart?" This always bugged me, because the naming of a store, especially K-Mart, can't be that hard to figure out. I bet it's because someone's name started with K. Sure enough, it was because it's a spin off of a store called S. S. Kresge. It took me all of about 5 minutes to learn that, and that was back when I had to spend 3 of those minutes dialing up to the internet. After learning that, his answer bugged me even more as it was not only so easy to learn, but almost 100% intuitive. I know have my own version of "Why is K-Mart called K-Mart?" Whenever anyone asks me a question I can't answer, I can now say "I don't know. Why is the Milka cow lilac?" People will leave me thinking that it's a grand mystery, but only I will know how simple it is. Well me and all of you. Please don't tell.

Andy, once again I thank you for your questions. Keep 'em coming people, and I promise to answer them, as long as I'm not on vacation.

Sources:

Wikipedia - Milka
Kraft Foods Inc - Milka and the purple cow

Monday, May 15, 2006

The E-Thrizzle

[Special guest post by Phyxie 'cus while Brandon wrote up the content, he forgot to give me Publish rights while he's on vacation. I hope you don't feel like this decreases your enjoyment of his witty repartee any.]

This past week was E3 or the Electronic Entertainment Expo, when all manner of video game creators, journalists and drooling fanboys descend upon Los Angeles to celebrate this crazy industry. This year was particularly interesting as it marked the "official" unveiling of both the Sony PS3 and the Nintendo Wii. People also had a chance to hear about the upcoming plans for Microsoft's gaming endeavors. Having pored over the various articles about the big 3 companies, I will now provide for you, my impressions of how each company fared at E3. Seeing how I wasn't there, and have only the unbiased (ha) opinions of various gaming journalists to rely on, I see this being what can only be referred to as a fruitless exercise. It's either that or a note by note breakdown of "I Love Rock and Roll". Trust me, this is for the best.

Sony
Sony had its press conference first, so they get to go first. Well, they revealed pricing and configuration information on the PS3 and all I can say is, "um, what?". First of all, the lower end model is $499. The higher end model is $599. The difference between the two models is that the lower end has a hard drive that is 40GB smaller, no Wi-Fi out of the box, no memory card readers and no HDMI output. The smaller hard drive isn't a big deal, nor is the lack of Wi-Fi and the lack of a memory card reader. Both of those could be added relatively easily, even if it means a larger footprint. What boggles the mind is the lack of the HDMI output. Here's why. The PS3, both versions, will be a Blu-Ray dvd player. Blu-ray is one of 2 competing Hi-Def DVD formats, and the one created by Sony. Part of the Hi-Def standard is the ability to do copyright protection as part of the signal itself, something handled by HDCP, which is part of the HDMI connection Signals that go through something other than HDMI, or go through a non HDCP compliant HDMI port, will be downsampled to the resolution that current generation DVDs are broadcast at. What that means is that when people purchase a $499 PS3, thinking they're also getting a Blu-Ray player, their Blu-Ray player is essentially crippled. Why Sony would intentionally make a player that does nothing to push their new format forward is beyond me. Now, you can argue that most people don't have tv's with HDMI inputs in them anyways, so it's not a big deal, however if that's the case, then why do we need a new Hi-Def DVD format in the first place. Exactly. Personally, I think both versions are overpriced, but whatever. When Microsoft announced the dual pricing stucture for the 360, I thought it was silly, however there's a very important distinction here. In the case of the 360, you can upgrade the Core system to a Premium system, however it will be at a higher price than if you had just bought the Premium system. In the case of the PS3, unless you're handy with a soldering iron and have access to engineering documents that the rest of us don't, you won't be upgrading your low end PS3 to match the higher end one. That's not silly, that's fracking retarded.

During the presentation they also released that the new wireless PS3 controller will directly take on the Nintendo Wii's motion sensing with, get this, a tilt sensor. Whoa. That's some technological shit. I mean, we haven't seen that kind of innovation in a controller since, oh, I don't know, 2001. Well, they weren't wireless that year, but that kind of technology takes time. This "revelation" was met with the chirping of crickets and the inky silence of space as it showed that a) Sony is perilously devoid of new ideas and b) they have no idea how silly they looked. If they came into this looking to steal Nintendo's thunder, they may have wanted to do it with a technology not used by one of Nintendo's own handheld games 5 years ago. Whoopsie. People seemed to be impressed with a number of games for the PS3 shown at E3, notably Assassins Creed and Metal Gear Solid 4, but the press conference and the pricing info seemed to leave people somewhat underwhelmed, which is where I am. Seeing how I just got my PS2, I can expect a PS3 sometime around 2011.

Nintendo
Going into E3, I think people were most interested in hearing about the PS3's pricing information and getting their hands on the Nintendo Wii (that name just is not getting better). The Nintendo press conference was filled with a number of juicy bits, namely that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess will be a Wii launch title, available for both the GameCube and the Wii on the same day and the Wii version will make use of the controller, namely for Link's bow, his boomerang and for fishing. Yes, that's right, fishing. They also released information on a title called Wii Sports which will contain Tennis, Baseball and Golf. During the press conference, various Nintendo execs, including Shiggy and Reggie, demonstrated the game, and while a bunch of guys in suits waving around a remote shaped controller isn't exactly the picture of gaming fun you'd hope for, they did look like they were having a good time. The other interesting piece of info is that Metroid Prime 3 is also slated to be a Wii launch title. Now, I'm as skeptical as the next guy when it comes to Nintendo launch dates, but if they can launch with both a Zelda title and a Metroid title, that console will sell itself. Add a new Super Smash Bros game with Solid Snake as a playable character, and a new Mario game shortly thereafter and you've got quite the impressive lineup.

The same can be said for the DS which is getting a Zelda game, a Star Fox game and a sequel to Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney. Yes, yes and yes! That console is quickly turning into the best gaming investment I've ever made, even if I'll have made it twice when all is said and done. Response to the hands on sessions with the Wii appears to be mixed depending on the games. Some games, like Sports and Metroid appear to be most enjoyable with the new controller, while others, like Madden, are a mess. There's still time for them to fix things up, but I'm a little wary about trying to take "traditional" games like Madden, which requires something like nine thousand buttons to play, and porting it to a system who's remote has 4 buttons and motion control. I think I'm the only person who ever bought Madden for a Nintendo console anyway, and I stopped years ago, so guys, certainly don't go through all of this trouble on my account. I think Nintendo made a mistake by not releasing any pricing information, especially after the Sony announcement as any price under 300 bucks would have made them look damn afforable compared to Sony. Hell, any price comparable to that of a new midsized automobile would have made them look affordable compared to Sony. A release date would have also helped, but I think it's safe to assume that the Wii will be available so as to not ruin Johnny's Christmas. I think Nintendo did the best this year, a surprise I know, by sticking to the games. There's a tremendous amount of potentially excellent content coming out from the House of N in the next year. Hopefully the Wii titles won't be too gimmicky and the DS titles will come out in a steady stream, rather than a wallet and attention crumbling deluge. Good job Nintendo, you done good.

Microsoft
Microsoft was in an interesting position this year in that their new fangled console had already launched so all they had to do was show that they plan on supporting it in the upcoming years. I'm sure they got more out of seeing their competitors' long term plans than sharing their own plans. Based on what they showed this year, I'm sure 2007 will be an amazing year to be a 360 owner, I'm just not as sure as 2006. I mean, sure, Gears of War looks to be the shizzle, but November is a looooong way off and Live Arcade games like Uno and Texas Hold 'Em aren't enough to fill those months, especially considering that the tools required to play both of those games costs about 2 bucks, combined.

The Halo 3 trailer looked pretty damn cool, and the fact that it was running in real time allowed them to show the power of the 360 and make fun of Sony's Killzone rendering fiasco from last year. Word on the street is that they had two 360's set up in case one gave up the ghost. The trailer did a very good job of showing what we could expect without showing too much, as I think they did in the E3 before Halo 2's launch. Hopefully Halo 3 will wrap up the current story line, cause you know they'll be mining that universe for games until the end of time, and they won't have those asstastic texture popping issues from Halo 2. I'm not all that excited about the Live Anywhere set of tools, as I don't play games on the PC, or on my cell phone and my Team Binky persona isn't one that I feel I need to express with every gaming action. I can assure you that if there's a Team Binky tearing up Metroid Prime: Hunters, it ain't me. Maybe if I get my cool ass Treo or SmartPhone (ha-ha-ha-ha) I'll care more about being able to get Hexic achievements via cellular technology, but I doubt it. It's good to see that Microsoft is committed to gaming, by allowing Live gamers to play games on any MSFT supported platform, but I'd be happier with a ton of 360 games in 2006 while Peter Moore calls all gamers flaming assholes. That's just me. I don't think that Microsoft did a bad job at E3, and their comments towards Nintendo have all been surprisingly cordial, even, dare I say, supportive, I just don't think they blew away gamers with 2006's 360 offerings.

I think that this is going to be a very interesting holiday season, especially if the Wii can come through with a kick ass stable of launch titles, and the motion sensitivity isn't just a gimmick. Given how they've been able to elevate the touchscreen in the DS from gimmicky play thing to essential feature, I'm not concerned about that. The launch titles, I'm super concerned about, but I think at the very least we'll have Zelda, and that's like saying at the very least, Keira Knightey is coming to your party. November can't come soon enough.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Happy Birthday To Me

On Wednesday the world celebrated the birth of one of the blogosphere's most celebrated members, notably John Scalzi. Oh, it was my birthday too, something celebrated only by myself, Linda, and our kids. I have a sneaking suspicion that the kids were only in it for the cake. I'll take whatever attention I can get.

At this point in the post, I'd like to give a ginormous "Thank You" to my beautiful wife. Despite a sick child, the stress of a broken work laptop and the stress of an impending vacation, she took the time to make the house a birthday haven that only a comic book fan could love. Even though we had decided to celebrate my birthday proper on Friday, she took an unexpected child illness, and it's subsequent attendance by both parents, to celebrate my birthday. She didn't have to do that, and it meant a tremendous amount to me. So, Linda, thanks. And thanks for everything else too. You're pretty cool.

So, what exactly did the house look like? Well, let's take a look.

Batman and Spider-Man were the heroes of the day, as demonstrated by these lovely baloons. Yes, that's a Jim Lee Batman. Woot! My son wanted to take them and play in the other room with them, but we weren't having any of that. My balloons! My balloons!

Next up is the Spider-Man banner on the pantry door. This banner doubles as a pin the tail on the donkey kind of game, where you take individual Spider-Man stickers and try and "pin" them on the topmost spire of the building there. Now, keep in mind that the Pin the Tale on the Donkey set has got to be what, 5, maybe 6 years old? This banner is on the order of 19 feet tall. Even on the packaging material there are pictures of small childen, their arms outstretched towards the heavens, desperately trying to either pin Spidey on the spire, or be rescued from this celebratory hell by either their parents or a game of Musical Chairs. Even the horrors of being the only child without a chair, are preferred to this Sysiphian endeavor.

In the foreground of this picture is one of three Spider-Man ribbon hangy things that were hung from the ceiling. In the background is one of even more copies of a photo of me taken at Ben's last birthday picture. It is not a photo I am particularly proud of, as my face is smeared with cake and I have a beer bottle and a fork to celebrate my 3 year old's birthday. The combination of my facial expression, the cake and the beer make me look like some sort of escapee from a mental institution, breaking into people's homes and helping them eat cake. The funniest part of the house's decorations was various copies of this picture, complete with slogans like "Mmmmm Cake" and "You've Still Got It". My wife, ladies and gentlemen. It's why I love her.


This is a picture, albeit a kind of crappy one, of the fridge. It's decked out in more pictures of Retaded Cake Guy as well as Batman plates and napkins. I should say The Batman, as it's my understanding that the WB will come to your home and beat you with a sock full of pennies if you refer to the Dark Knight in a manner inconsistant with the latest marketing materials. I'm a big fan of The Batman, any Batman really, so I don't mind.

Finally, after the children were in bed, we capped off the celebration with take out from one of my favorite restaurants, the One Star Ranch. This place is known for it's beef ribs, one of which is in the picture to the right. Yes, that's one rib. I used to make country style pork ribs for myself, Mark and Andy, and they were so large that Andy called them "Dinosaur Ribs". These beef ribs make those things look like toothpicks. It was so large, I couldn't even finish it. I took the huge hunk of meat on the left side of the rib, placed it in a Tupperware container and weighed it. It came out to over a pound, and that was just half of the meat that came on this thing. For the record, I prefer the pork ribs, as they're more flavorful, but you certainly can't go wrong with these babies.

For my birthday I received a number of wonderful gifts, most notably a PS2 with a copy of Guitar Hero, complete with guitar shaped controller. I know that this probable elicits laughs from the gamers in the audience, the fact that just now I'm getting my hands on a console that's been the r0x0r for about 6 years, but I picked up God of War for 20 bucks, new, the other day and will spend the same amount for all of the Jak and Dexter Games, Kingdom Hearts, Katamary Daimacy and the Ratchet and Clanks. Who's laughing now? By the way, the name of my band is The Finites. Our lives may be finite, but our capacity to rock is infinite.

Next week the wife and I will be lounging in beautiful Florida, but I have left the house in the care of Andy. He'll be posting my missives in my stead, or maybe he'll forget and he won't. Either way, have a good week.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Shockingly Refreshing

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back.

Today's question comes from Kojubat, a fellow gamer and fine purveyor of Slayer poetry. That's Slayer as in Buffy, not as in speed metal, but perhaps he dabbles in both. You'll have to ask him. His question, and it's a great one, is:
Why do some materials/environments generate more static electricity than others? Example: a car on a brisk day can shock you, but not so much in the middle of summer.
There are actually two questions in there, but because I love you twice as much as the average site, I'll answer both of them. The first has to do with materials, the second with environments, specifically cold days vs warm days.

First, lets talk a little about static electricity. Static electricity is a result of a transfer of electrons from one surface to another. When a surface either gives up enough electrons or accepts enough electrons to have a net positive or negative charge, and then comes into contact with either a neutrally charged conductive object, or an object with a significant opposite charge, there's a spark, an owie and possibly some yelling. If said spark happens at a gas station, there may be a boom, an owie, and definitely some yelling.

The charge built up to generate the spark of static electricity comes about as a result of adhesion between the two materials. When two materials come in contact with each other, a chemical bond is formed linking the two materials together. As a result of this bond, electrons will transfer from one surface to another to try and equalize the charge of the bonded materials. When the two materials are then separated, the transferred electrons are left behind. Do this enough times, say when rubbing your feet across a carpet, and you have a significantly large enough collection of abandoned electrons to either open up a Home for Wayward Electrons, or zap the hell out of your hand when you grab a doorknob.

Now, there are certain materials that have a greater tendency to obtain a positive charge, some materials that have a greater tendency to achieve a negative charge and some that won't achieve a charge at all. This series of materials is called the Triboelectric Series. The rankings of the materials is basically a generalization as there are a hojillion characteristics that come into play when determining tendency to accrue charge. Basically, objects are the top of the list, such as human skin, rabbit fur and glass have a greater tendency to give up electrons. Things like teflon and polyester have a greater tendency to capture electrons. Why this is the case, I have no idea, so for the first part of Koju's question, "why do some materials generate more static electricity than others?" the core answer is "Dunno". A simple answer would be that some materials are more apt to give up electrons and some are more apt to accept them, resulting in a large charge difference when the two items are rubbed together and then separated. So, when you and your dry skin scuff across your carpet, which is probably made from polyester fibers, you accrue a much larger charge imbalance than if you had walked across a tile floor, or a floor covered in rabbit fur. You then touch a doorknob and BAM! Shock city.

As for the second part of the question pertaining to environments, we need to look back a couple of weeks when we talked about the relationship between warm air and humidity. Generally speaking, when it's warm out, there's more humidity as warmer air has a greater capacity to hold water vapor. Cold air, not so much which leads to dryer air in the winter and more humid air in the summer. Why this matters for the old shockola is because due to the hydrogen bonding going on in all that water vapor, the more humid the air, the better it conducts electricity which means that all of those electrons that, in dryer times, would hang out on your skin just waiting to blast you, instead bleed off resulting in a smaller charge imbalance. Now, just because it's warm, it doesn't mean that it's humid, nor does it mean that cold air is always dry, but typically that's the case. So, add the dry air, which doesn't conduct electricity very well, your skin, which is typically dryer in the winter, and warm winter clothing which is traditionally chock full of polyester and your ass is getting sparked every time you touch a car door handle in February.

Static electricity, while just mildly annoying most of the time, can cause some pretty serious damage under the right circumstances. Despite all the trappings of it being an urban legend, there are numerous accounts of static electricity igniting gas vapors at gas stations (just not from cell phones, so keep on yapping if you need to) so if ever you're filling up and you see someone rubbing a rabbit with a frying pan, get the hell out of there. Similarly, while you discharging at the door knob won't cause much more than a minor spark of pain, were you to do that while working on your super sensitive integrated circuit, say in a clean room, you'd fry the sucker and it's bye-bye circuit. This is why clean rooms used for circuit construction are usually kept at a relative humidity of 50%. Any rabbits reading this, hoping to grow up and build transistors for a living may want to reset their career expectations.

So there you are Koju. Thanks for the question and please keep these tips in mind the next time you head out for a night on the town in your polyester disco suit with genuine rabbit trim. I'd hate to hear that you exploded while doing the Hustle. For the rest of you, keep the questions coming.

Sources:

School for Champions - The Triboelectric Series of Materials Causing Static Electricity - Ron Kurtus
Wikipedia - Triboelectric Effect
Howstuffworks - How Van de Graaff Generators Work - John M. Zavisa
MadSci Network - How is static electricity produced in connection to low humidity? - Barry Kamrass
ESD Journal - Static Fires

Monday, May 08, 2006

Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?

Before we get started we have some administrative details to discuss. I will be gone next week in beautiful Florida, far away from the hysterics of my demon children. I have yet to decide how I'm going to handle my absence. I tried to publish via email, but so far, no dice. I could add a fellow blogger as an admin and ask them to post for me, but that would require me to write up info in advance. I guess we'll see how the week progresses and whether or not I have the time. I'll let you know what I decide before I leave so as to not have you coming back here and fervently clicking for updates when no updates are coming.

Mark your calendar for June 11th. This is the day that the true Nintendo DS, also known as the DS Lite hits the North American shores. For those of you not familiar with how Nintendo handles its handhelds, allow me to break it down in three easy steps.
  1. Release handheld that has fantastic games but is lacking in a) some key features or b) looks.
  2. A year or so later, release same handheld as in Step 1, only now with said missing feature or significantly improved looks/ergonomics/etc, or a combination of the two.
  3. Cackle with glee as money pours in and they sit on their throne of gilded baby seals.

That last step isn't entirely correct, it may be gilded puppies, possibly infant marmosets. They did it with the GameBoy Advance, which was a stellar piece of hardware except for the part where you couldn't see a goddamn thing, due to the lack of a backlit screen. At the time, Nintendo said that the backlit screen wasn't included because of battery life concerns. Well, the lack of a backlit screen certainly solved that problem as it's hard to drain the battery of a system that you never use because you need lighting conditions that rarely occur in nature. About a year or so later they redesigned the GBA and released the GBA SP which, in my mind, is the greatest handheld video game player ever created. It included a backlit screen, as well as a smaller size and a clamshell design. The backlit screen allowed users to play it even in the blackest reaches of space, and the clamshell design allowed it to be carried in one's pants pockets.

I think it's funny that the original GBA looked nothing like a cell phone, but instead like a video game player. Then came the N-Gage which actually was a cell phone, as well as a video game player, but was shaped more like a GBA which made you look like an idiot when using it as a cellphone. The GBA SP, then came out, which was a video game player shaped like a cell phone and people loved it. I have no idea where I'm going with this. I'll stop now.

While I've never had any real issue with the DS, it's not the most attractive piece of consumer electronics, and certainly can't hold a candle to the PSP's sleek, inky blackness. Now, having been an owner of a PSP, I know that said inky blackness attracts fingerprints on a level rivaled only by stainless steel appliances, which then causes you to blanket your sexy PSP in remarkably unsexy rubber. The DS was also a wee bit large which made it impossible to hold in one's pants pocket unless you wore either cargo pants or those crazy fucking Bag of Holding Dockers with their own personal wormhole pockets. It was also a bit large for holding it as a traditional game player, but seeing how you usually use the stylus for playing, thereby ensuring a non-traditional mode of holding, it hasn't been much of a concern.

The DS Lite, on the other hand is smaller, thinner has a sturdier stylus, a glossy white, iPod like surface and has three screen brightness settings all of which are brighter than the original DS. At the brightest level it can turn the undead and banish evil back to the darkest recesses of the universe. I picture an intrepid advanturer holding it aloft, the DS's brightness turning back some Lovecraftian horror bent on traversing the rift between worlds and subjugating all of humanity. Not today demon spawn, not today.

Basically, the DS Lite is the DS we all wished they had released from the start. It's not that the DS itself is bad, far from it, it's more that the Lite is so much better. Now, one can argue that the improvements aren't enough to warrant my buying of the new handheld, however when you argue that all I hear is a low level humming, much like the steady drone of bees. My current DS's screen is getting a bit scratched up, so from that perspective, a new purchase is almost a necessity. I'm paying for the DS almost entirely in trade-ins, and game returns. Top Spin 2, all I can say is "sorry." I meant to open you up and play you but you came out when Oblivion did, and then the DS Lite came along, so again, my apologies. I'm sure you're a very good game. You can sleep well knowing that the 40 bucks I spent on you pays for almost a 3rd of my DS Lite.

What I find interesting about this whole situation, and I'm sure I'm the only one, is that right around the same time that Nintendo released the North American DS Lite pricing and release info, Lucasfilms released info about the release of the original Star Wars movies on DVD. When I say "original", I mean the real deal, without any newfangled graphics, Hayden Christiansen insertion and Han Solo morals recalibration. Basically, if you saw Star Wars, Empire or Jedi in the theater when they were originally released, this is the version you'll get on DVD. Now, in this case, it bugs me because it's a way for Lucasfilms to make even more money off of this franchise, simply because they know that fans will buy these versions, as the fans have been complaining about not having these versions for what seems like eons. In the case of Lucasfilms spanking us for more money, it bugs me. With Nintendo, not so much. Trust me, I know that there's very little difference. Maybe it's because I think that in the case of Star Wars, any sense of wonderment and magic was shot to shit with episodes 1 - 3, so just having these films won't do anything to bring it back, save for costing me another 60 bucks or something. More than likely, I just don't care any more. Shoot first, don't shoot first, whatever dude. I do wonder what the Star Wars aficianados will complain about now that their precious "original" collection is finally coming to DVD. I'm sure that about 30 seconds after these movies are released epic flame wars will begin as to whether or not these are actually the "original" versions. You've been warned.

So, to sum up: I can't wait for my DS Lite, I could care less about the original versions of Star Wars, I don't mind being financially buggered by Nintendo, but I take issue to the same buggering when Lucas is on the other side of the proverbial barrel. I don't fully understand myself either and any attempts at introspection are met with low level humming. Like bees.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Mind, It Wanders

Ah, meetings, how I love them. This is a good thing as I spent 8 hours in one yesterday for training and over 4 hours in meetings today. So that you, my esteemed fans, could get greater insight into my mind, I decided to write down my thoughts as my mind wandered during my half day of meetings today. I should preface this with a story, so that you know what to look forward to.

When Linda and I were first dating and love was all new, and sunny, and covered in the dew of the fresh morning, she'd constantly ask me "What are you thinking." As I mentioned, our relationship was still new, so she had no idea that the worst thing I could possibly tell her is exactly what I was thinking. Not because I'm malicious, or was thinking of sex with supermodels, but because there's not a whole lot going on in my head at any given moment. We were driving in her car, and I was looking at how the tassel on my jacket was somewhat bent and its bending looked like a bunny. Again, not a lot going on in here. She asked me, "What are you thinking about" and I, in a rare moment of manly wisdom, decided to answer the question as honestly as possible. "I was thinking of how my jacket looks like a bunny," I responded. She kind of looked at me, and has never asked that question again. Score one for the little guy.

So, with that in mind, here are my thoughts from today's spate of meetings. You'll have to excuse the writing style, as my handwriting is atrocious. On the plus side, I appeared to be very attentive during these meetings.

Claws
It would be cool if I had claws like Wolverine...not sure if my forearms are big enough to hold them though...yeah, they're definitely too thin...that'd be weird...like Popeye...I bet that hurts when they pop out...then again, what the hell would I do with claws?...I can't just pop them out anywhere, and even if I could, what would I do with them?...Cut meat, maybe?...I dunno...I don't cut a lot of meat...now if it was like a swiss army knife, where I had different tools, that would be useful...that would probably hurt more though, like if a wrench came popping out...ouch...that wouldn't help too much either...I don't know how to fix anything...I should stick to claws...it would be cool if I had claws.

Motivational Poster
What the hell does that poster mean?...It's a small dude climbing up a huge thumbs down...what's that message, something about learning from mistakes?...how is the thumbs down a mistake?...who's hand is that anyways?...maybe the person who made the mistake cut off their own hand...that'd be a pretty big mistake...unless you planned on it anyways...but if that's the case, why is the hand as big as the house?...and why is that dude climbing on it?...and why does the climbing dude have a hat on?...maybe it's cold up on the big hand...I dunno, I don't think he's going to learn anything from climbing up there...that's kind of gross...they should stick to those posters with eagles rowing canoes and shit...that shit is inspiring.

Hair
I have a hair growing out of my earlobe...I should take care of that...no, wait, not here...that's gross...why do we have ear hair anyways?...I can't think that, from an evolutionary perspective, there would be an advantage to hairy ears...did parts of the early human population actually die from hairless ear syndrome?...I find that hard to believe...and if we're intelligently designed, why would you design us with ear hair?...especially when you consider that we don't have hair on our palms...that would make more sense...Linda says my hands are always cold...if I designed people, I'd make our skin bulletproof and some shit...I'd make our bones denser too so we could jump out of windows and stuff...no elevator? No problem, just jump out!...I'd make us without facial hair too...I hate shaving...man, this meeting sucks...what time is it?...10!...Another 2 hours?...Lovely.

No She Didn't
Wow...I can't believe she just said that...I'm glad I didn't say something that stupid, for once.

In the Jeans
Man, that dude can talk... I know now three synonyms for "understand"...he's like a thesauraus...that's impressive...are those Rocawear jeans?...damn...those are some nice pants...I'd probably look like an idiot in those...I bet they're expensive...I wonder if they're as nice as my Old Navy jeans...oh shit...these are the jeans with the hole in the crotch...I bet Jay-Z don't make no jeans with a hole in the crotch...thank heavens for long t-shirts.

Close Call
I should make sure that's the actual go-live date...I sure sounded convincing though...ah, he'll never check.

Pen
Damn...this is a nice pen...those Sprint people make nice pens...I should hold on to this one...then again, I say that about all my pens...I don't understand how I can lose so many pens...I don't go anywhere...I certainly don't take notes when I go places...I don't really even need a pen...pen...pen...pen...that's a silly word...it looks like I can refill this one when it runs out...I'll probably lose it by then...I should ask Linda to steal me some more...pen...pen...pennity...pen...ha...that's fun.

Zzzzzzzz
Zzzzzzzzz

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

How Deep Is Your Love?

When titling this post, a post about the ocean, I had two choices. One was to reference Led Zeppelin's "The Ocean", the second was to reference The Bee-Gee's "How Deep Is Your Love". I chose the latter, a telling action if ever there was one.

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back. This week's question comes from the venerable Keg O' War. He asks:
Just how deep is the ocean and how deep have we been able to explore?
The simply answer is that it's tremendously fucking deep. The numerical answer is that the deepest point of the ocean is in the Mariana Trench, 210 miles SW of Guam. There, the ocean reaches a depth of 36,201 feet. This is actually the answer to both questions, as this depth was reached by a manned submersible in 1960. To put this depth in perspective, if you were to put Mount Everest in the Mariana trench, the tip of Everest would still be close to two miles underwater. Coincidentally, this is also the deepest point in the Earth's surface. The Mariana Trench, is your typical trench, long, deep and thin. For all of its depth, it's only 43 miles wide.

Here's something you may not have known, but the average depth of the ocean is deeper than the average height of surface land is high. I had found a stat that showed that, but now, for the life of me, I can't find it. Oh well, I guess you're just going to have to trust me.

Just to give you a picture of what life is like at those depths, well, first of all, it's completely black. Light can't reach those depths, so bring a flashlight. It's also a mite chilly, at 2 - 4 degrees Celsius, which is about35 - 39 degrees Farenheit, not counting the temp by thermal vents, so bring a sweater. You're also going to want to bring some sort of high pressure suit as the pressure there is over 8 tons per square inch. That's 8 tons, as in 16000 lbs. It makes sense, given that there's several miles worth of water above your head, and even if it doesn't, it's a fact, so arguing is kind of silly.

The most amazing thing about the deepest part of the ocean, is that even under those harsh conditions, life still exists. They recently found a form of plankton that lives on the ocean floor at those depths that feeds on pieces of matter that drift down off of dead things from shallower parts of the ocean. So the next time you complain that they got your fries wrong at the drive through, be thankful that you're not eating bits of dead squid that had to drift through 8 miles of ocean to get to you. I'm sure there are plankton mothers telling their plankton kids not to complain about the blackness, cold and high pressure because they don't have to work in a cube all day and fight traffic.

Included in the sources link, I've added some links to some sites that have pictures of the creatures that live at the deeper parts of the ocean. It's amazing to see the level of diversity that exists at those depths. There are some pretty messed up looking fish living down there, but they're getting it done, so more power to them.

Thanks again to Keg for the question. Keep 'em coming.

Sources:

The Mariana Trench - Oceanography
ExtremeScience.com - Challenger Deep
LiveScience.com - Organisms Found in Deepest Part of Ocean
NOVA Online - Deep-Sea Bestiary
MarineBIO.org - The Deep Sea

Monday, May 01, 2006

Wii

As I mentioned on Friday, the Nintendo Revolution, the next console from the Big N has been given its new name. The new name is Wii, pronounced "we". The fact that it is pronounced like "we" lets them say silly things like "Wii are going to change gaming" and the double lowercase "i" is supposed to be evocative of both the controller and the ability for people to play together as it looks like two people standing next to each other. Two limbless, hairless, featureless people who live next to a giant "W".

As I'm going to spend the time today speaking about the reaction to this name, rather than the name itself, allow me to put out there that I think the name is pretty silly. Curiously enough, I think that the name functions better as a logo than as a written word, or a syllable to be uttered in a retail context, however I still think it's silly. I can see the need for codenames and real names, otherwise how would one get a feel for the contents of Untitled Tom Cruise Action Vehicle or Untitled Will Ferrell Comedy at the box office, but at the same time, Revolution was a pretty good name. Images of bloody upheaval aside, it communicated well that the console was an instrument of gaming change and the name's lack of numbers set it apart from Sony and Microsoft. Perhaps Nintendo didn't want its new console associated with Marxist rebels, or pitchfork toting French people, leading their rulers towards the guillotine, or maybe they just like saying "Wheeee!" Who knows. The latter is pretty fun, so I'm going go to with that one.

What bothers me most about the name change, and I can't blame Nintendo for this, is the usual, tired, insipid expressions of differing opinions that inevitably follow any announcement of this sort. This debate is even worse with Nintendo because Nintendo has the temerity, the utter gall, to make games that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. The horror! Look, you can like Nitendo games or not like them, I don't really care, but it irritates me to no end to have people calling Nintendo kid friendly as an insult. It'd be like if you called me a "faggot" with the intention of insulting me. My anger at that act would not be because you think I'm gay, what the hell do I care, but at the idea that in this day and age, someone would still think that being gay is an insultable state of being.

But I digress. Yes, Nintendo makes a higher proportion of games that can be enjoyed by kids as well as adults. How is this bad? How is this something that can be used as an insult? As gamers, are we so insecure in how we spend our spare time that any association with children must be pounced upon and stamped out? Are we so desperate to appear legitimate to others that we can't stand to be linked with the activities of children? How fucking sad is that? Get over it. Do you hate Disney because they make movies that can be enjoyed by kids and adults? Does your soul burn with rage because Fox televises both 24 and Saturday morning cartoons? And no, I'm not saying this because I'm a parent. My kids are 3 and 1.5 years old. Video games are so far away from their sphere of activities as to be completely unknowable to them. I am saying this because the argument that Nintendo is lesser simply because they make games appropriate for children is as stupid and tiresome as the argument that a game is somehow elevated in quality due to the inclusion of violence and profanity. A game either entertains you or it doesn't. The audience for the game should play no part in that assessment, unless you're specifically reviewing a game who's target audience is significantly different from you.

I find it amusing that the people who, in reaction to this name, bandy about the "kid friendly" insult, are the ones who are quickest to use the new console name for bathroom references. Apparantly, it's ok to joke at the 3rd grade level, just not game at it.

The name also fired up the usual factions of lovers and haters that are so irritating in their eventuality. There are the people who like the name because they like it, and the people who accuse the former group of only liking the name because of blind Nintendo allegiance, or just because others hate the name. For this last group of people, I would ask you just how difficult is the concept of someone formulating an opinion outside of the influence of others? It is completely possible that people experience something, and formulate feelings in regards to that experience before they ever know of others' feelings about the same experience. You should try it some time. It's liberating. Then you have those that genuinely do like the name because others hate it, people who hate the name because it's Nintendo, or not Sony, or not Microsoft, people who hate the name because it's stupid, and finally those that hate anything that isn't a Dreamcast and are doomed to play Crazy Taxi until the end of time as progress marches inexorably forward.

When I read the anger, the unmitigated venom in the responses to the name, I am taken aback. I am known to hurl the f-bomb on occasion for emphasis, but I think the last time I posted in genuine blood boiling rage was after Katrina. That was a hurricane, the aftermath of which had such a stunning display of governmental incompetence at every level that people died. This is a renaming of an entertainment device, the purchase of which is completely and totally voluntary. Do you see the difference here? Now, maybe those that posted with rage about the Wii also posted in rage about Katrina, however after a while it's hard to tell one rage filled post from another and you're just the crazy person who's mad about everything.

The ignorance I've read is appalling as well. I've read countless posts from people who say that all support for this console has now evaporated. Why? What sane person decides to drop several hundred dollars on hardware and games simply because of a name? Similarly, what person can look at a console, look at the games, say "yes, I want to play those" but then doesn't because they don't like the name? Do these people, upon hearing that their friends' or relatives' new baby, who had, in the womb, originally been named Mark, is now named Christopher, swear off all contact with the new child? Is that child now dead to them as all support for the spawn evaporates? Maybe there people out there so shallow as to base their level of something based on the name of said object. If so, they better not be named Wendell, or they are doomed to a life of self loathing. No offence Wendell.

I wonder, as I read the reactionary posts, if our's is the only hobby that evokes such responses. Are there those on television message boards who love one network but absolutely can not stand another? Fervent supporters of CSI who won't rest until the Law and Order franchise is in flames and Dick Wolf is paraded in front of them in chains? Are there baking aficianodos who love Ms. Crocker but erupt in rage at the mention of Duncan Hines or that fat fuck at Pillsbury? I try to avoid message boards in general, due to the fact that the anonymity of the internet allows people to be complete and total smacktards and just write whatever they feel like, without genuine examination of their feelings or the influence their words may have. Now, I realize that I use the same internet to foist my opinions on you, dear reader, and while I certainly can't say that I am completely up front with name, address, contact information, etc, I can tell you that anything I say here I would have no problem telling you face to face. That's because I believe in the old fashioned notion of personal accountability, both in words and deed. I have been to message boards for other hobbies, my love of smoking meat for example, and I have yet to see venemous posts about Kingsford vs lump charcoal. The great Pork Loin Dustup of '05 got pretty hairy, but people kept things in check, for the most part.

So to those that are so afraid about being associated with children that they run in fear from a copy of Mario Kart, here's a some advice, free of charge, from me to you. Stop going online and acting like a fucking baby because you don't like something as unimportant as a name change. If you don't want to buy the console, don't buy it. It's all very simple. If it angers you that much, just move on and maybe pick a hobby that doesn't infuriate you so much. I hear knitting is all the rage now.

Finally, there are those that believe that this all some sort of ruse, that Nintendo will announce at E3 the real name and that this is all some publicity stunt to get people talking about the console. They cite, as evidence for this theory, that people in Nintendo have said that the point of announcing the name now, instead of at E3, is to give people time to get used to it so at E3, they can focus on the console and the games. Why, the theorists ask, would they announce a name early, if they knew we'd hate it and if they didn't plan on changing it? Nintendo must know that the name sucks, they say. No, Nintendo knows what anyone who has ever spent any time on the internet knows, and that is that you people hate everything. There is no announcement by any of the 3 console manufacturers that won't elicit the exact same response, only with a shuffling of supporters and detractors. Nintendo is just being smart. Yes, the name is unusual, so the outcry is greater, however it's no different than any other reaction I've ever read to a new console. Changing the name at this point would be a huge mistake because it would give the whining children exactly what they want, exactly at the moment you shouldn't, when they are pitching a fit. If I have learned one thing from my experience as a parent, it is that you absolutely do not give in to tantrums, ever, ever, ever, for it is the surest way to guarantee a reappearance of the behavior.

This is a global marketing strategy meant to define their space in the console world for the next 3 - 5 years people. Do you think they're going to scrap the effort simply because you don't like the name? You may be important, but not in this space. Your importance lies with your wallet. If you don't like what the console offers, even if it's simply because of the name, don't buy it. Don't buy it. Don't buy it. Don't buy it. If people want to know why you're not buying it, tell them. Eventually, if enough people aren't buying the console for the same reason, that reason will make it's way to Nintendo. Do you honestly think that they don't know why people weren't buying GameCubes? They know every reason, however just because they know them, it doesn't mean that they're going to change everything, so don't get pissy when they decide to keep making kid friendly games just because you don't want to play Zelda.

With E3 right around the corner, hopefully the name change furor will die down and people can start bitching about other things, including things related to other consoles. Why should Nintendo have all the fun? I'm going to try and keep my reading of the coverage to "news" articles rather than reader opinions because I find worthless, PR handjob previews soothing during these tying times. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to fire up the smoker. Yeah, with Kingsford. Why? Because lump is for asswipes. Want to make something of it?