Monday, August 28, 2006

On vacation

I am taking advantage of my time between jobs to get some yard work done and to sit on my ass and not do a goddamn thing. That includes posting, so consider me officially on vacation. I won't say that I'll definitely be gone all week, however if you're searching for a site with regular updates, this is most decidedly not the place to be looking this week.

Regular posting returns next week. Have fun.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Endings for Beginnings

The last day at work shot.  13 months later and I'm leaving the cube as I found it.  Oh how I'll miss that sterile, gray box.  Upwards and onwards.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Songs for the Deaf, Track 2

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back.

Today's question comes again from Dennis who asks,
Where is the physical point of origin for the universe's expansion?
Finally, an easy question. Here's your answer: I don't know. And not just me, but science doesn't know either. Well science as we currently know it doesn't know and not only does it not know, but it can't know. How's that for an answer?

Here's what we do know. At some point in time, roughly 13.7 billion years ago, according to Hubble's Law, the universe began expanding. Well, that's not entirely correct. We are able to first observe the universe expanding 13.7 billion years ago. No doubt, something happened prior to that point to create all the matter in the universe and some expansion would have taken place prior to our being able to observe it, however our current scientific theories completely break down in those moments, rendering the point moot. In other words, scientific theory, as we now know it, can only account for what happened after a certain point in the universe's life. Prior to that, we don't know what happened nor can we know.

The point in time in which we can start getting some idea as to what went on is one Planck time after t = 0 for the universe. One Planck time is the length of time it takes a photon to travel one Planck length or 1.6 × 10-35 meters. So, roughly speaking, something happened and at that time and at that place, all the matter and energy in the universe was created and all fundamental theories were combined, living in perfect harmony, no doubt singing joyously about thier grand unification. One Planck time after that, gravity said "Fuck this, I'm outta here" and split off. At that point, theoretical physics can start giving us some idea as to what was going on.

Just as we can't speak to the universe at a time younger than one Planck time, quantum physics says we can't speak of the universe as being smaller than one Planck length as if we did, we'd basically be speaking of a point in space and time that has infinite density, due the fact that everything in creation would have to be packed into one really, really small space. Way smaller than a breadbox.

If you are unsatisfied with this answer and need to know the current center of the universe's expansion, you need only look within. Hubble's Law tells us that the universe is expanding outward equally, such that for any observer it would appear that the universe is expanding outwards from them. Imagine, if you will, that the universe is a cookie and you and I are chocolate chips in said cookie. As the cookie bakes and expands uniformly, you and I will move farther and farther apart. From your point of view, you're not moving at all and I'm the one getting farther away. From where I'm sitting, you're the one moving away. Eventually someone comes and eats us both, that being the inevitable hand of Death, so there's not much of a point in arguing it anyways, but you asked, so I answered.

So there you have it. Where did the universe start? I don't know and neither does anyone else. Well, anyone on this planet anyways. Where is the universe currently expanding from? That would be me. Or maybe it's you. It's all relative.

A special prize will be awarded to the first person to tell me what the title of this post has to do with the post itself. Respond via the comments.

"The Expanding Universe" - Gary Felder, 2000
Wikipedia - Big Bang
Wikipedia - Planck Epoch
Wikipedia - Planck Time
Wikipedia - Graphical Timeline of the Big Bang

Monday, August 21, 2006

Call Me

Oh, the joys of the Smartphone.

Recently, last week to be exact, my wife, who is a wonderous object of luminous beauty, purchased for me the Treo 700p, which is also a wonderous object of luminous beauty. Funny how things work out that way. As an employee of Sprint, she not only got the phone at the rate that others get only when signing 2 year contracts, providing a pint of blood, and signing over all claims to lands both here and in the afterlife, but her employment also confers upon me the joys of a monthly bill somewhere south of 20 dollars. This includes normal phone usage, unlimited text messaging, and more importantly, unlimited data usage.

Now, the upside of this is that I can use the phone to do pretty much anything and everything it was created to do, short of watching the premium tv channels. The bad news is that even if Sprint somehow relocated to Hell, and instead of being a Technical Writer, Linda was placed in charge of letting the HellBeasts feast on the gizzards of the damned, she would not be able to quit as I can't be without my data plan, nor can I justify spending 80 bucks a month just so that I can read the email informing me of my winning bid on Battlestar Galactica: Season One whilst I idle at a red light. Such is the devilish powers of these baubles. They quickly insinuate themselves into your lives to the point where you can't remember when you didn't have them. Like children, only with bright shiny screens and less dinner time pooping.

I'm still getting used to the phone and its myriad features, however I have gotten used to it enough to tell you that this thing is an amazing little piece of technology. The Economist ran an article upon the 25th anniversary of the PC basically saying that it was the mobile phone, not the PC that was carrying forward the notion of unlimited communication and portable computing power that seemed to be the birthright of the PC. When I use this phone, I have to agree with them. Email, web access, document creation, editing and viewing, movies, music, games and a phone, all in something that can fit in your pocket. Now, as phones go, it costs a pretty penny, but compared to the price of a PC, it's downright economical. That's not to say that you can ditch your PC and do all of your work on a Treo, however given that mobile phones have a greater penetration in underdeveloped nations than PC's do, a phone like this will do more to carry forth the notion of what a computer can do better than any PC.

But I digress. The damn thing works like a charm. Setting up things like email accounts, web bookmarks and other data applications is quick and easy. There's something like 9 email applications on the blasted thing depending on whether or not you want business email, personal email or some sort of setup that has you communicating with livestock. It comes loaded with multiple email profiles for things like Comcast, Earthlink, Google, etc so all you do is enter username and password and boom, you're off and emailing.

Most applications can be used with either the touchscreen or the 5-way rocker button, however some things, like certain games, can only be played with the stylus-touchscreen combo. That's to be expected as Mahjong would be an exercise in futility if you tried to select tiles with only the 5-way rocker. Some things, the phone in particular don't work nearly as well using only the touchscreen. The mute button, for example, is very small and requires either the use of the stylus, or the use of a particularly sharp and focused fingernail. I am considering growing a coke dealer/pimp nail on my pinkie so that I can better utilize my phone's features. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the use of the touchscreen, however when I'm using the phone, I want to use it as a phone and having to get the stylus out for muting seems like far too much work. I also call into question my cleanliness when I hang up and see a smear of ear grease on the touchscreen. Can't be helped, I guess.

Call quality is excellent, even if the signal switches from non-roaming to roaming randomly in the confines of our home even if the phone is left alone and not moved a millimeter. As I didn't have a signal at all in our house with Nextel service, any extra bars, even if they be roaming ones, are welcome. Besides, I don't pay for roaming, so what's it to me? The phone can be bouncing signals off of towers in fucking Poland for all I care. When I have a full set of non-roaming bars, the phone is identical in quality to a landline. No more will I drive home, listening to conference calls, desperately hoping that noone is asking me anything directly as I can't make out a single goddamned word anyone is saying. Now I can hear things clearly and cleanly. For the record, people don't seem to care I'm on the call, so all that worrying was for naught.

The Sprint TV application is pretty cool. I'm happy to download the Ghost Rider trailer and watch it as I wait for my bagel to be prepared however I wouldn't consider it a necessary feature. When the NFL is in full swing, it may hold more appeal, but I think I have to pay extra for that and I'm perfectly happy waiting until I get home to see how my team has fared. This device has cured me of the need for a video iPod, not that I had much of one in the first place, as I can't see myself watching anything for any length of time on such a small screen lest my already aged and infirmed eyes whither and die in their sockets from such fervent straining. Getting video on this thing can't be any harder than it was for the PSP, an exercise in technological bullshittery if ever there was one, so I can quickly turn it into a video iPod of sorts if I feel the need.

There seem to be no shortage of apps for the device, some that work well and seamlessly with the other preloaded apps, some that seem to have been made by epileptic monkeys. Needing to shut down my IM client just so that I can choose to connect to an additional service would be one of the latter. It's free, so I can't complain too much, however it is easy to see that there are those that believe in standards for the device's software and those that laugh at the idea of standards and then fling poo at your person. So far my favorite application is one that allows you to use mp3's as ringtones, assigning different ones to any of your contacts. Linda's is the chorus of "Old Dan Tucker" as realized by a one Mr. Bruce Springsteen. Well, not yet as I don't have an SD card to hold them, but soon I will. Not sure what I'm going to do for Andy, something from Nick Cave, no doubt, but I'm not too concerned as the fucker never calls me. Ever. In fact, no one ever calls me, so all of this work seems to be wasted time, but I'm having fun with it, and in the end, that's all that matters. I'm not sure what my default ring tone is going to be, but the chorus of "Brandy" by The Looking Glass is calling to me much like the sea called to those callous, waitress ignoring fuckers in the song.

To sum up, it's a fucking kick ass little piece of technology and for a big old dork like me, it confers a certain air of gadget supremacy. My phone can, and will, beat up your phone. Yes, it's a bit of an exaggeration to say that I can't live without the thing, especially given that I've only had it a week. It's more like I wouldn't want to go on living were it to be taken from me. That, on the other hand, seems perfectly reasonable.

Friday, August 18, 2006

It's A Dead Man's Party

Not a lot to talk about on the gaming side. I bought Dead Rising but wasn't going to start playing it until I had a) finished the main quest in Oblivion and b) finished Kameo. Last weekend I finished the main quest in Oblivion and then realized that I didn't like Kameo all that much. As a result, the plastic came off of Dead Rising and I played a little.

It's a fun game, however if you're going to play it, make sure you like staring at loading screens as the flow of the game goes something like this:

Fight zombies
Loading screen
Cut scene
Loading screen
Cut scene
Loading screen
Run through zombies
Loading screen
Cut scene
Loading screen
Cut scene
Loading screen
Loading screen
ok, that's enough
Loading screen

Thankfully, those times that involve fighting zombies allow you to do things like hit them with hot frying pans, run through them with an open patio umbrella, chop them up with a push mower and smash them over the head with large, ceramic planters. After a while, the loading screen becomes your friend as it allows to collect your wits and decide what seemingly normal object you're going to use to dispatch the shambling masses of the undead. Maybe a cd case? Perhaps a nightstick? Without the loading screen to provide a well deserved diversion, you might not think to smack a zombie with a severed hand from its recently dispatched co-zombie.

The cutscenes are well done, and well acted in the voice department and have the usual Capcom cute chick with big boobs. The Department of Homeland Security may see an increase in job applications from young, barely post-pubescent men who see it as the only viable option should they want to pursue a career in both smashing zombies and ogling women.

The much derided save system deserves every bit of criticism flung its way as it is both cumbersome and silly. Having one save is bad, but having a mission structure that demands you be at a certain place at a certain time, lest the entire game come to a screeching halt and you can't proceed is fucking stupid. Why Capcom felt that people, when faced with a mall filled with zombies and nearly every means of killing them possible, wouldn't want to just spend time killing said zombies is beyond me. They should take some time talking to the fine folks at Bethesda who, with their excellent RPG Oblivion, have realized that people want to do things at their own pace and if that means putting off the main quest for 75+ hours while they run through meadows and pick flowers, then OK, let them go and do that. I have heard rumors of an Infinite mode where you can run around the mall and kill zombies all the live long day, but my understanding is that this mode doesn't include the various escort missions, which would make it somewhat difficult to obtain certain achievements without starting the main game all over again. At least the game allows you to keep all of your experience should you spend too much time hitting zombies in the face with a toolbox and miss a mission. At least then you don't feel like you just wasted all that time and it makes your character a leaner, more efficient zombie killing machine.

Myself, I have come up with a solution to this save/mission system in which I don't give a fuck about the other people trapped in the mall and instead let them instead realize their dreams of being a huddled, shivering, zombie buffet. This allows me to be in the right place at the right time, to get the missions, and prevents me from having to give up my weapons and food to keep these morons alive as I escort them back to the security office. I have to admit, that the first time I saw the "James Smith is Dead" overlay on the screen, informing me that the poor chap trapped in the Hair Barn just met his demise, I felt bad for poor James. Now, when I see those screens I cackle with glee as I know that I won't be held behind by their plaintive wailings and substandard speed. Plus, if James is dead, I'm sure he'll come back as a zombie which will give me a chance to apologize before I cave his zombie face in with a mannequin arm. Here's hoping he understands. I'd hate for it to become a thing between us.

Soon the gaming deluge of DS games will be upon us, so I need to spend some time clearing up space in the old DS case. Between that, Guitar Hero, Dead Rising, Oblivion, the mewling of my all but abandoned copy of Burnout Revenge and the newly downloaded games for my new Treo there's a lot of gaming to be done and very little time to do it. Thankfully I have a week in between jobs to help me ease the load. It's a tough job, but I think I'm up for it. Now, if you'll excuse me, but my weedwhacker has a hankering for a hunk of, a slab or slice or chunk of, a hankering for a hunk of zombie.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Aw yeah. We just got mobile all up in this beeyotch.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I'm Not Dead Yet

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back. Today's question comes from Dennis, who, in a fit of feline concern asks:

Is Schrodinger's Cat dead yet?

My answer would have to be, I don't know, but I'd rather you check because I don't want to be the one that kills it. Ha! Ah, physics humor, is there nothing funnier?

Right. Schrodinger's Cat is a thought exercise dreamt up by Erwin Schrodinger to point out some of the fallacies of an early version of the theory of quantum mechanics. Rather than have me paraphrase it, I'll just repeat the paradox here:
A cat is placed in a sealed box. Attached to the box is an apparatus containing a radioactive atomic nucleus and a canister of poison gas. This apparatus is separated from the cat in such a way that the cat can in no way interfere with it. The experiment is set up so that there is exactly a 50% chance of the nucleus decaying in one hour. If the nucleus decays, it will emit a particle that triggers the apparatus, which opens the canister and kills the cat. If the nucleus does not decay, then the cat remains alive. According to quantum mechanics, the unobserved nucleus is described as a superposition (meaning it exists partly as each simultaneously) of "decayed nucleus" and "undecayed nucleus". However, when the box is opened the experimenter sees only a "decayed nucleus/dead cat" or an "undecayed nucleus/living cat."
Given this explanation, my joke now becomes all the funnier. See, if Dennis is the one who opens the box and observes the cat then he's the one who collapses the wavefunction into either dead or alive and, in the case of dead, he'd be the one who "kills" the cat. Get it? I'll wait for you to finish laughing.

Now, in reality, a system need not be observed only by us humans, or something with senses, to be considered "observed", something Schrodinger knew and was trying to point out. In his paradox, the instrument that collects the radiation from the decayed particle would act as the observer and, as a result, would collapse the wave function down into the decayed nucleus/dead cat option. It would be pretty silly of us to think that we need be the observer in order for such a collapse to take place.

This brings us to the idea of decoherence. Decoherence is the mechanism by which a quantum system's information is "leaked" into the surrounding environment so that a situation like dead cat/alive cat combinations don't exist in any measureable way. In other words, it may appear that the wavefunction has collapsed, but in reality, we just can't measure the superposition of the wavefunctions. Clear as mud, right?

So, if we take our cat system into consideration again, what kind of "information" can leak into the environment should we discount the observational abilities of the geiger counter? Well, for one, the cat would certainly know if it were alive or dead. Second, if the cat were alive, the change in the surrounding environment due to the cat breathing would count as "observations". If the cat were dead, the various bacteria that live in the cat that can now start the process of decomposition would "observe" that the cat was dead, effectively collapsing the wave function. Decoherence tells us that for something like a cat in a box, there are just too many damn atomic particles, all getting tangled up with each other, that the uncertainty as to the state of these particles is effectively zero. The cat isn't in a state of death and life at the same time, it's either one or the other, we just don't know which one until we open the box. I realize that quantum physics isn't taking into consideration the Theory of Zomibification, in which an undead, zombie cat can exist as both alive and dead at the same time, but that's a discussion for another time.

Now, decoherence is interesting because if you can keep a particle's superposition of states going, even after being "observed" there are significant applications there for quantum computing. We won't get into it too much here, as it's a pretty deep topic, but if you can imagine how in "classical" computing, everything is based on ones and zeroes, you can only imagine how much computing power would increase if a particle could be made to be both a one and a zero at the same time. Jinkies!

So Dennis, in summary, I don't know if ol' Erwin's cat is dead or not, but, like before, I'm going to ask that you check, 'cause if he ain't, I'm sure that fucker is pissed.

Wikipedia - Schrodinger's Cat
Wikipedia - Decoherence
Brad Marston - Killing Cats
John Boccio - "How Decoherence Kills Schrodinger's Cat"

Monday, August 14, 2006

A New Car!

As I mentioned last week, changes are afoot at Chez Cackowski-Schnell. One change, a rather big one, is that I have a new job. Yay for me. As a rule, I don't talk about employment things here, as I like being gainfully employed and wouldn't want something to be taken the wrong way and I end up out of doors. So, that's pretty much all you're going to get on the subject. Just to cover my ass, everyone I've ever worked for is fucking awesome. Please don't fire me.

When Linda and I moved here to beautiful Georgia one of the trinkets she dangled in front of me was a new car. And not just any car, but a Nissan 350Z. I've been in love with the Z since they redesigned and rereleased it. I downloaded wallpapers for our computer, ordered a free pack of cards from Nissan with various pictures of the Z on them, and generally lusted after the day when I would be able to rocket down the highway, inches above the ground, dangerously close to breaking various laws of both road and physics.

After a year in GA without need of a new roof, new siding, some sort bit of strange reconstructive surgery, or any other unforeseen bit of monetary outlay that can normally place a dent in one's finances, we realized that we had the money to purchase a new car. Oh yeah. So, armed with our package from Fighting Chance, a desire to buy and a need for speed, we commenced a blitzkrieg like attack on the local car dealerships. On Thursday night, our fruits bore labor and I sped home from the dealership in my new, shiny, 240 horsepower...Honda Odyssey.

Insert scratching record sound here.

I know, I know, a Honda Odyssey, a minivan by the way, is about as far from a Nissan 350Z as you can get and still be a form of automotive transportation however, in these situations, I find it best to rely on the joy of mathematics. You see, we all use numbers, some of us daily, and the equation to keep in mind here is 350Z + 2 seats = not enough seating for 2 adults + 2 kids + the family members who insist on coming to visit us. The Odyssey, on the other hand, has seating for roughly 3 dozen people, and something on the order of 195 cupholders. Oh, it also has a DVD player with 9 inch pulldown screen, XM radio and navigation system that can not only get you from home to the nearest Dairy Queen, but let you control the audio system, temperature controls, dvd player and the fucking clock with nothing but your wits and the mellifluous tones of your voice.

Now, buying a minivan made me confront a longstanding belief that I've had, namely that people who own minivans can't drive to save their fucking lives. Maybe because they're so big that I notice them cutting me off more than I would a normal size car. Maybe I was put off by their boxy appearance and couldn't see past the lack of aesthetics. Or maybe, just maybe, most of the people who drive minivans can't drive to save their fucking lives. I'm going with this last one, although notice that this time I added "most" as I am now among their accursed numbers and I know I can drive. I have a license from the state and everything.

As minivans go, it's pretty damn nice. It has some style on the outside, and the interior is pretty spacious and well laid out. I'm not kidding about the cup holders. There's something like 18 of them, which seems a bit excessive for a vehicle that can carry, at most, 8 people, and that's if most of them have some sort of eating disorder. Why you need each person riding in your vehicle to be able to have not just one, but a variety of beverages at their fingertips eludes me, but I'm happy to have the option.

The navigation system works well as a means of getting you from point A to point B unscathed, but not as well at directing you towards the nearest restaurant, home improvement store, or marina, as it seems to not be completely up to date as to the fine dining we have here in the soon-to-be town of Milton. When sitting in the parking lot of Lowe's Home Improvement store, the "home improvement" part being the most important, and asking the navigation system to find you the nearest home improvement store, it wants to send you 6 miles out of your way to Al's Shovel Emporium. Clearly, some updates are in order. Thankfully, I'm well aware of the location of the nearest Wendy's, so I don't need the system to point out those particular landmarks.

XM radio kicks ass, if for nothing but the ability to listen to filthy, filthy comedy as I drive to work. Not sure if I'll keep it after the free three months, as my new job is only 10 minutes from my house, a 75% reduction in commute time, so I'm not sure how much I'll need it. Then again, with everything this van has, we've pretty much taken "need" and thrown it right out the fucking window. Did I mention that there's a camera that shows you what's behind you when you put the van in reverse? See what I mean? Need comes nowhere close to this fucker.

The fax attack method espoused by Mr. Bragg at Fighting Chance is a work of fucking genius. If you are willing to spend $34.95 and maybe 2 hours of time reading the materials, putting together your faxes and sending the faxes off, you will be rewarded not only with a fantastic deal on a car, but with the satisfaction of bringing car salesmen to their knees. I hope that some day, you, dear reader, have the opportunity to feel the joy that comes from hanging up on a car salesman after you all but point out that his spurious line of bullshit will do nothing to get you to buy a car from him. It is a moment constructed from sunlight and babies' laughter and it flits aloft on gossamer wings.

When the dust had settled, we ended up paying somewhere between 1400 and 800 under invoice, depending on how much all the aftermarket parts cost the dealer, and not the bullshit invoice price the dealer tells you, but the real invoice price. All of this without having to set foot into the dealership except to test drive and sign the paperwork. Booyah.

Now, the realization that I was going to be minivan owners was not one that was welcomed with open arms however there comes a time in every person's life when they have to take stock in who they are and where they are in their lives. I'm not a cool person. I've never been one and most likely will never be one. Trying to change this by means of a car, even a car as glorious as the 350Z is an exercise in futility. I am reminded of the pig, who, upon donning a summertime frock, finds themeselves still positively porcine. No, me buying a car won't make me cool, so I might as well buy something that's going to be as useful as possible, especially if I'm going to drop as much on it as this thing cost. Besides, all thoughts of cool are put aside when I consider that I can have sex with my wife in the back of the van while "Butch Walker live in Budokan" plays on the DVD player. I'll take that over cool any day.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Maybe, maybe not

Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday. Changes are afoot at the house and as a result, spare time is at a minimum. I'm not going to make any promises for posts this week so you're on your own. Don't worry, once everything is settled I shall return with glorious tales of high adventure! Huzzah!

Friday, August 04, 2006

I Wanna Rock

Today's gaming post continues our current trend of commenting on games everyone else has already played, loved and talked about to death as we delve into the rocking world of Guitar Hero.

I'm going to put something out here that may seem odd at first, given how much time we, as gamers, spend gaming, but hear me out and I think you'll agree. As much as we enjoy playing games, and putting our virtual counterparts through their paces, with few exceptions, we don't really want to be those people. Think about it. God of War is fun to play, but who in their right mind would want to be Kratos, he of the chain seared arms, skin permanently covered with the ashes of his family, murdered by his own hand? I love playing GRAW, but I usually end up either shot by a latin american rebel, shot by Andy, or blown up by my own grenade. None of these appeal to me. Zelda is a blast, but who wants to have to use huge jars as a means of getting from one place to another? Not me. Even Splinter Cell seems like it'd be a real hoot to live through until you have to spend 15 minutes flattened against the Pepsi machine because the patrolling guard can't decide between Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew Code Red.

Sports and racing games are exception to this rule, as I know plenty of people who would want to either score the game winning touchdown or tear through the streets of Las Vegas in their souped up Esprit. To that list of exceptions I would add Guitar Hero. In fact, I would place it at the top of that list, because for my money, the only thing I want to do in a stadium, is rock it the fuck out.

The reason Guitar Hero works so well in this regard is the controller. There is no way, with the best of controllers, that pressing a button can make you feel even remotely like you have just put some guard in a headlock. There is no trigger on any gamepad that can make you feel like you just put a round of buckshot into a marauding alien. The disconnect between the controller and the things we're controlling in games is just too wide. Not so with Guitar Hero. Yes it's a smaller, infinitely simpler guitar, but it is a guitar. You strap it on like a guitar, you plug it in to your PS2 with a long cord like a guitar and you strum it and hit the whammy bar like a guitar. Yes, you feel like an idiot for the first 5 seconds but then the opening chords of "I Wanna Be Sedated" come out of your speakers, by your own hand no less, and those feeling evaporate. It is as if the Gods of Rock have come to Earth, been made plastic and placed in your waiting arms. You want to rock and no one, not even Doug Neidermeyer can keep you from doing so.

Before we go further, a little background on me. I have loved music for as long as I can remember. I used to have this Eric Clapton tape, tape 2 from the Crossroads set, that I listened to every day on my way to and from good old Albany High School. It was, in my opinion, the best tape in the set, nay, the best tape in creation, as it started with his work with Cream, moving to Blind Faith, Bonnie and Delaney, some solo stuff, and ending with some of his work with Derek and the Dominoes. The Cream version of Crossroads, was my personal favorite. I knew every goddamned note of that song, and would play it, rewind it, play it, rewind it, play it, rewind it, just so that I could feel like me and my air guitar were laying it down.

Imagine my surprise when decades later, I get to the final set list of songs in Guitar Hero (Easy level anyways) and what song is the final song in the list, but my good friend Crossroads. The first time I played the song, I was so amazed that this was the song, the song that I had dreamt about rocking out too so long ago, that I completely fucked it up. I then stopped, gathered my cool, walked out on that stage like I fucking owned it, because I did, and me and my axe tore that shit up. Tore. That. Shit. Up. 5 stars, 98% complete, boom. Granted, it was on Easy, but the feeling was so amazing, the memories of walking to school dreaming about playing those notes in front of an audience were so real, that it ceased being a game and started being something that makes dreams come true. I know it sounds stupid, but lets be honest. I am 34 years old. The chances of me learning guitar, learning that song and playing it in front of an audience of people are so remote, this is the closest thing I have. I will gladly take it.

For those of you haven't played the game, this will probably sound silly. How much can it possibly be like the real thing? More than words can possibly express. You start off trying to figure out just what buttons need to be pressed and when. Next thing you know you're playing "Infected" by Bad Religion over and over because it's just that much fun, and you can learn it well enough to not just walk around while playing, but strut and swagger. The connection between you, the controller and the song is so strong, that I defy anyone to finish playing Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic" and not drop to one's knees, place their controller in front of them and pretend that their guitar is on fire.

The song selection is top notch, with classics like "Iron Man", "Ace of Spades", "Sharp Dressed Man" and "Smoke on the Water" on the set list with newer songs like Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out", The Donna's "Take it Off" and "Higher Ground" from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There are some notable admissions for a game that rocks so strongly, however I can understand some bands not wanting to license their songs for a game, not knowing how the final product would come out.

Now that the game has caught on and bands can see how good it is, I'd like to see these omissions rectified, one of which, the most glaring one at that, can be summed up in two words: Led Zeppelin. It is an undisputed fact that Led Zeppelin rocked harder than any other band in rock and roll, either before their arrival or since their departure. Board certified, independent Rockologists have measured the amount that Led Zeppelin rocked and have determined that no other band rocks or rocked nearly as hard. I am an openminded person, and will gladly take alternate viewpoints on a variety of subjects, weighing them against my own opinions and experiences, however anyone who would dispute the amount that Led Zeppelin rocks would have their opinions classified by me as those of a raving lunatic, on the order of someone who would deny the existence of water.

Cast your mind over the vast expanse of Led Zeppelin's catalog, and you will come up with fistfuls of songs that would cause a near cataclysmic amount of personal rocking should they appear in Guitar Hero 2. "Whole Lotta Love"? Rock. "The Ocean"? Rock. "Rock and Roll", "Heartbreaker", "I Can't Quit You Babe", fucking "Immigrant Song"? Rock, rock, r to the o-c-k, rock. Only by playing these songs, and somehow plugging into Led Zeppelin's infinite capacity to rock, can our own rock capacity be elevated.

Now some may not be able to handle how much Led Zeppelin rocks and as such will be unworthy to be touched by the fingers of the Gods of Rock. I am not one of those people. To the Gods I say this, I will rock any time, any place, for any length of time, be it the short, blistering length of "Immigant Song" or the long, episodic rock out that is "Kashmir" or "In My Time of Dying". Bring the rock, oh Gods of Rock, bring it to me in the form of Led Zeppelin songs and I will carry your glory forth for all to hear. If, on the other hand, licensing issues don't work out, I'd be happy with The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again", Aerosmith's "Train Kept A Rollin'" or Ozzy's "Crazy Train". You know, whatever works.

Should Guitar Hero come to the 360, and the notion of downloadable song packs becomes a reality, I will rock out indefinitely, until this world is nothing dust and memories. Imagine, song packs becoming available as licensing issues get worked out. 5 Who songs for 10 bucks? Um, yes please. The ability to extend the life of this game would achieve Oblivion like proportions. Plus, how cool would a wireless guitar controller be? Wicked cool.

So, thank you Red Octane, for letting a young, lanky lad from upstate New York realize his dreams of rocking out. Thank you for giving me a reason to love music even more, even if it is balanced by momentary bouts of blazing hatred for Queens of the Stone Age. Stupid "No One Knows".

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Electricity, E-lec-tricity!

Greetings Squaddies! Welcome back. As you can see, I have gotten my shit together enough to post today. Yay me. It remains to be seen if it will be any good, but it's this or nothing, so take your pick.

Today's question comes from Ever Curious Andy who asks:
How do electric eels generate a voltage and why do they not get shocked in the process?
An interesting question, especially for anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of one of those shocks. From what I've read, they can be quite painful, possibly lethal. But first, a clarification. Electric Eels, or Electrophorus electricus, isn't actually an eel, it's an eel shaped fish. It is the strongest of the electricity producing fish which also include electric catfish and torpedo rays.

Electric eels use electricity for everything, navigation, communication, eating and powering their homes. Just kidding on that last one. The electric eel doesn't "breathe", using their gills to extract oxygen from the water, as other fish do. Instead the electric eel's mouth is used to extract oxygen by gulping air above the water's surface. As a result of this, having a spiny, moving fish in their mouth would most likely damage their mouths to the point where they could no longer breathe. In order for the electric eel to swallow their prey whole, they need to either a) come up behind it all stealthy like and swallow it quickly, or b) zap the hell out of it and swallow the incapacitated thing. Usually they choose the latter.

To accomplish this, the electric eel has a combination of three electrical organs which take up roughly 4/5 of their bodies. One of these organs is used to generate a low level electric field used for navigation and locating prey. The other two are used to generate the pulse used to incapacitate prey and keep their George Foreman grill hot and ready to make burgers.

The two other electrical organs consist of thousand of electrocytes. Each electrocyte acts as a small battery, capable of generating about .15 volts. These electrocytes are stacked in series, like the batteries in your flashlight, such that the positive end of the battery is at the head of the eel and the negative end is at the tail. Now, .15 volts might not seem like a lot, but when 4000 of them all fire at the same time, the resulting shock is on the order of 600 volts, which is more than enough to make for a very bad day for you or I.

Rather than rephrase exactly how these cells work to generate a charge, I'll quote here:

At rest, the Na+K+ pump, concentration and electrical gradient keeps the inside of the electrocyte at a resting potential of .08 volt. When the electric eel electrolocates its prey, the brain sends a signal through the nervous system to the electric organs. Acetylcholine is dropped onto the electrocyte which binds to the corresponding receptor on the ion. This opens the ion channels of the cell, allowing Na+ to rush in. The cell then depolarizes, momentarily reversing the charge, and fires. - Melissa Engalls, Electric Eel

In order for the pulse to be effective the eel needs to discharge all of its electrocytes at the same time. This is accomplished as a result of a combination of longer neural connections to the electrocytes closer to the head and thinner neurons which slow down the neural activity. In other words, the signal from the eel's brain to the electrocytes closer to the head are slowed down so that they arrive at the same time as the signals going to the eel's tail. As a result, all cells fire at the same time and boom goes the dynamite.

Now, why the eel doesn't end up a deep fried specimen as a result of this, no one seems to know. Some folks seem to think that the eel does get shocked, but that the eel's location relative to where the shock is in the water keeps it from getting too shocked. Other ideas are that the eel's thick, course skin insulates it from the shock. One source I read mentioned that an eel with severely damaged skin will eventually shock itself to death, however I couldn't find anything else to back this up, and the fact that eels will drown if they don't gulp air enough makes me wonder if this particular eel's demise can be attributed solely to a poorly defined skin care regiment.

I can say, that from an evolutionary standpoint, if the electric eel did shock itself every time it went to eat, it would have died out long before you or I emerged from the muck and started discussing it. From a survival of the fittest perspective, any species that incapacitates itself when it tries to eat ain't sticking around for dessert. Uncle Larry's post-Thanksgiving dinner unconsciousness doesn't count.

For those of you who are thinking that the electric eel would make a fantastic pet, look elsewhere. The electric eel will pretty much shock anything that comes near it, so should you ever need to handle Li'l Sparky, you may find large gaps in your memory that just happen to coincide with when you tried to clean the eel tank. Better you should stick to goldfish.

Melissa Ingalls - Electric Eel
University of Bristol - The Electric Eel, T. Riis-Johannessen
Who Zoo - The Electric Eel, LaTasha Cormier
Scientific - Ask the Experts: Biology