Archive for the 'Nerdism' category

E. Gary Gygax

Mar 10 2008 Published by under Gaming

I know I'm late to the tribute game, but this blog has never been about breaking news.

Gary Gygax, who together with Dave Arneson created the original Dungeons & Dragons back in the early 1970's, died on March 4 at the age of 69. On a gaming mailing list I belong to, we had a brief discussion as to just how big a stamp Gary Gygax left on the world. The fact is that role playing gaming remains a very fringe hobby... but its secondary effects can be seen everywhere. There are direct derivatives, such as the enormously popular World of Warcraft. (Having had the mentality that "geek culture" is a fringe thing that the mainstream only acknowledges with scorn, and almost never watching TV, I found myself surprised to see WoW adds during the Superbowl... but there you have it.) But there are secondary derivatives everywhere. Assuredly D&D had a major influence in vaulting fantasy as a major mainstream genre. Would we have had the big-budget Lord of the Rings movies if it weren't for the number of people who at one time in their lives had their imaginations fired by pretending to be heroes in a land of magic and monsters? I don't know, but I suspect not.

On this mailing list, we compared Gygax to Neil Gaiman. The fact is that the individual works of Gaiman— his Sandman comic series, his Nebula and Hugo award winning novels, the novels that have been made into movies (including the delightful Stardust)— are, at least today, better regarded and better remembered than the spottily edited works of Gygax. But, I asserted on this mailing list, the world would be more different today if Gygax had not written what he had written than it would be if Gaiman had not written what he had written.

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Thoughts on Accelerando by Charles Stross

Feb 19 2008 Published by under Science Fiction

Accelerando is one of The Books about the Singularity-- one of the fiction books, that is. Approaching any book on this topic means you suddenly have baggage trailing along with you as tenacious as the Luggage from Discworld. There are some who think about the Singularity with near-religious ferver, looking forward to it in a manner similar to how some other religious fanatics may look forward to the Rapture. It will happen, they think, and it will be wonderful. Meanwhile, there is the backlash of people who see the technolphiliacs waxing eloquent about The Singularity, themselves thinking "what a bunch of geeks with no life and no sense of perspective!" So that any book about the Singularity then is viewed with suspicion.

And it's hard to approach this book without all that baggage in mind. This is a book that's received some glowing reviews (e.g. Cory Doctorow's mini-review on Boing Boing); however, a co-worker of mine also dismissed it with saying about the first chapter or so, "It's like someone put boing boing posts in a blender and published it."

But let's try to leave that aside.

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EVE Online sticks their foot in it bigtime with system upgrade

Dec 06 2007 Published by under Online Gaming

Linden Lab often takes a lot of heat in the comment thread on their blog posts. Yes, both the client and the server are not at a level of stability where we want them to be. There have been painful times when a server deploy introduced a problem that made the server a lot less stable. (That blog post describes what was a very long Friday for me and a few other people....)

I think that EVE Online has really managed to take the cake, though, by rolling out a new client version that deletes a crucial boot file on Windows such that if you installed the update before the problem was found, you would not be able to boot your computer at all after that.

I think the only word that truly captures that is "oops".

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Newton's Laws in Science Fiction TV and Movies

Chad notes, in response to PZ's rather absurd assertion that biology is the only Dumped Upon science, and that physics is so well treated in movies and TV, that "Most of the SF movies I see are lucky if they can get Newton's Laws right, let alone any of the finer points of astrophysics."

Indeed, this was the topic of one of the two talks I gave at Hypericon a couple of weeks ago.

Let me try to explain one aspect of this: specifically, the motion of space fighters.

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My 10 favorite science fiction movies

Jun 17 2007 Published by under Nerdism

I'm just back from Hypericon, the Nashville area science fiction convention where, as I mentioned previously, I gave a couple of talks about science stuff— although one was about science in science fiction movies.

I was also on a panel with two other guys, Jim Messer and Fred Grimm, where we each constructed a list of our top-10 favorite science fiction movies. We presented that list and said something about why they were on our list, and compared the lists with each other... and sometimes made fun of each other for having such bad ideas. We also talked with others in the room about why these movies were interesting and how they compared to other movies.

Part of the ground rules is that we weren't allowed to use the biggest franchises-- Star Wars, Star Trek, the Matrix, Alien, and the Terminator. (I think that covers it.) The goal was to try and tease out, hopefully, some of the movies others haven't yet heard of in addition to the ones you suspect might be on the list.

I think of this right now because... well, because I'm just home from the convention, but also because Chad has just posted a "top 20" science fiction movies from Rotten Tomatoes.

So here's my list:

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Jun 14 2007 Published by under Nerdism

This weekend I will be hanging out at Hypericon, a small Nashville science-fiction convention that is in its third years. I've met a number of people and made local friends there. I have also managed to finagle myself free admission by doing work in kind....

I'll be giving two talks:

  • Why "Was Einstein Wrong?" Is the Wrong Question
  • Newtonian Physics in Science Fiction Movies and TV: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I"m also going to be on a panel where the panelists each list their top 10 favorite science fiction movies (excluding the Star Wars, Star Trek, and Matrix movies), and an argument ensues. A friend of mine who's been to a whole lot more science fiction conventions that I say that most panel discussions are this anyway, so this one has the brilliance of being titled honestly.

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My first sculptie

May 27 2007 Published by under Nerdism, Second Life


Second Life (SL) is a 3d virtual world (some would call it an online game, but it's not really that; for one thing, it kind of sucks as a game, and for another thing, it's much more than that). You can do modeling and building entirely online. People have created buildings, vehicles, sculptures, animals, hairdos, and any number of other things using SL's relatively easy to learn modeling tools.

Builds in SL are made out of "prims," short for primitives. There are a relatively small number of primitives; a block (cube), a sphere, a cylindar, a torus, a ring, that sort of thing. You can then torture them -- stretch them, shear them, twist them, etc. You can scale them, texture them, and put them together to make all kinds of stuff. This week, SL introduced something I"m very happy to see: "sculpted prims," or "scupties," a way that you can make a generic 32x32 mesh into a single prim. This allows geeks like me to use something like Blender to make a model and export it into something that tells SL how to shape its prim. To the right, I'm standing proudly regarding my first scuptlie. This is supposed to be a star filling its Roche lobe. I'll use this as I redo the model I've made of a nova and/or type Ia supernova progenitor, which I'd clumsily built out of prims in the past. This thing was easy: make a sphere in Blender, use the proportional edit tool, and pull out a lump on one side.

(The cat was not built by me, and has been around for quite some time. It is built entirely from traditional prims, no sculpties involved. It walks around my island and meows at me every so often.)

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The Intelligent Design Sort

May 23 2007 Published by under Nerdism, Science & Religion

To heck with bubble sort, selection sort, insertion sort, and all the rest. Yes, all of those algorithms were intelligently design, but none of them follow the precepts of Intelligent Design.

And, now, David Morgan-Mar gives us Intelligent Design Sort.

(found via Steve Jackson Games)

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The world's nerdiest mug

May 17 2007 Published by under Nerdism

It's all the rage to post pictures of your mug. (A mug mug, as it were.) I have lots of mugs, but I figured that this is the one that best fits the theme. This is one painted by... me. My wife and I, several months ago, went to one of those "paint your own" pottery places, and this was what I produced.


On the left, you see the cartoon model of an AGN (active galactic nucleus). There's the black hole and accretion disk at the center, from which are launched relativistic jets. Around the black hole is a dusty, obscuring torus. The same cartoon made by me on a computer can be seen on this page. On the right is a barred spiral galaxy, inspired by NGC 1365. Smaller and just off the edge to the right is something that's supposed to look like the Antennae, and I've given not-NGC 1365 an irregular companion. (The real NGC 1365 has no such companion.)

Of course, it being me, I also put something on the bottom of the mug:


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Popular Video Game Covers & the Tennesse Titans

Apr 18 2007 Published by under Video Games

As a Nashville resident, and somebody who's really a 49ers fan but one who is developing some hometown interest in the Tennessee Titans, I was happy to see that last year's rookie quarterback Vince Young has been selected to be on the cover of the video game Madden '08.

So the only question that remains is: will cornerback Pacman Jones make it on the cover of "Grand Theft Auto IV"?

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