Archive for August, 2009

Monster Hunter Local

August 31, 2009 - 1:59 pm Comments Off

Having finally gotten word back from hosting that the earliest we’ll see our data back (not the earliest you will see the missing posts, of course- I still have to un-fuck further once I get the original database) is Thursday, the only thing to do is keep on keeping on. And swearing. Swearing a lot.

So in that spirit, I’m bringing Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International back for another romp through the limelight. LabRat already reviewed it, and I’m pretty sure I said a few words about it further back (short version: It rocks. You buy it. You read it. You thank me later).

Now Larry being hip and wise and in tune with his readership, he found on Facebook that folks who enjoyed the book were designing their own Monster Hunter unit patches, much like military unit patches. So just like any modern businessman, Larry sued the bejesus out of everybody who even looked at the book in a store for copyright infringement started a contest to become part of the official Monster Hunter canon. The rules were short and simple, design your unit patch however you like, as long as it’s in subdued colors suitable for a military-like unit. Get it to him by email or facebook (the page is called Monster Hunter International, Hunter Unite! – sorry no link, I don’t twitterfacemytubespace), along with the region/town the team represents. Full rules are at the link above, but if you didn’t know about it till now, it’s probably too late- entries close today. The winning patch will be mentioned in Monster Hunter International 2, currently estimated out sometime in 2010, along with an autographed copy of the first book.

Lacking utterly in the visual creativity department, I drafted a friend into service turning the image in my head into something suitable for submission. The Monster Hunter Los Alamos entry was submitted last night. Since I had some extra creativity juice left over from not having to get my hands covered in pixels with photoshop or gimp, I spilled it onto a screen and came up with a little back story for our local unit.

By 1943, the Manhattan Project was well underway in the quiet mountains of northern New Mexico. Scientists working around the clock were in a race against time to develop a weapon which would end the war. While the outcome of the project is well known, history has quietly overlooked the options on the table that were competing with the atomic bomb for priority.

Members of tribes local to the area for thousands of years were quietly hired on as support staff- janitors, cooks, maids, the usual jobs that folks with PhDs tend to look down on. Security was tight, but every small community gossips, and hints of what was going on behind all that razor wire eventually trickled out to a Bruja in Espanola, the next town over and home to most of the natives working for the project.

Standard Bruja rap sheet. Feared in her community, powerful and mysterious, responsible for deaths, losses, failed crops, and on one occasion, a particularly memorable tarantula mating season. The Bruja sensed an opportunity for great power, and convinced a research team of the possible weapons benefits of her talents.

MHI Los Alamos was founded as a direct result of this team’s led-astray research. After what was from then on only referred to as “Decision Week,” three top scientists were dead, a dozen lab workers were insane, another twenty were simply missing, and the Army security forces were literally decimated, with one man in ten missing, insane, or mutilated. Scientists tinkering with the most powerful forces in the universe sometimes achieve unexpected results. Sometimes dealing with these results requires specialized talents, combined with extraordinary intellect.

Since Decision Week in June of 1943, the Los Alamos team of Monster Hunter International has had a motto. In the midst of utter chaos and carnage, a physicst working under Dr. Feynman stared calmly into the eyes of a Skinwalker and told it, simply, “Back off man. I’m a scientist.”

MHI-LosAlamos-NewMexico
Click for big. Leigh did a fantastic job on this sucker.

Update: Vote here!

A Delightful Start to the Week.

August 31, 2009 - 11:43 am Comments Off

As you may have noticed, your daily fix of nerdery has been absent since mid-day of 30 August. Today, while back, several weeks worth of content has gone poof, including a popular post or two some folks we met at the wedding were planning to look up.

As I am lazy with the backups, they will continue to be missing “for a few days.” Why is this? The folks who do our hosting moved to a new colo center. New servers, all that jazz. Our site was copied over to the new stuff, as you can see by the next post back, on 7 August. The catch is we used a different service for DNS, so everything since then kept right on keeping on going to the old box.

Yesterday was when the New Stuff went live, and the old stuff got unplugged and tossed in the on-site tech’s car, who promptly- and I wish I was making this up- went on vacation. The DNS is obviously straightened out, since you’re seeing this, but our old content will be locked up on the old hardware until said tech gets back into town. When will that be? The best answer I can get is “sometime this week.”

Between this and everything at work, if you will excuse me I’m going to go start checking out clock towers.

Orly?

August 7, 2009 - 4:02 pm Comments Off

Those of you who also read Kevin Baker over at The Smallest Minority are probably familiar with his Quote of the Day. Today’s comes from Carol’s Closet, The Tampa Town Hall WAS NOT Open to the Public. You can see the whole thing over at Kevin’s. Here’s the money quote of the quote though:

Rep. Kathy Castor made it clear that she doesn’t represent us. That is okay. Next election, we will find someone who does.

Yup, 2010 we’ll get this shit all sorted out. President Sad Panda Barry may be putting the spurs to the giant failhorse that Bush left behind as hard as he can, but it’s cool. Now we’ve got honest politicians who are really trying to improve the country for the greater good so thick on the ground you can’t throw a rock without hitting five! Why just this morning I couldn’t even get through the parking lot at the grocery store without someone handing me a flier full of reasonable suggestions to improve government and lessen its intrusion into our lives. There were so many people concerned with actually doing good works from public office instead of just the next election that I couldn’t even get to the artichokes! Sure, the dork in office in my district now couldn’t be accurately described as representing anyone but himself, but hey, no problem! We’ll find someone who does represent me! And then I’ll get a pony, and then ammo prices will come down, and then GM will return the bailout money, and then my lawn will grow, we can have incandescent light bulbs again, and toilets that aren’t federally mandated to suck, and the leprechaun and I will dance and dance!

Public Service Announcement

August 6, 2009 - 11:39 am Comments Off

Your friendly nuclear weapons lab wishes to remind you today that bombing Pearl Harbor may result in adverse side effects, such as excessive rubble, lingering sickness, and a national simultaneous expression of “Holy shit, what the hell was that?”

Please remember, for your safety and ours, do not bomb Pearl Harbor.
Hiroshima

Hugs, kisses, and fallout,
Los Alamos

Job Satisfaction

August 5, 2009 - 7:57 pm Comments Off

One of the most frequent cracks you’ll ever hear leveled against Massively Multiplayer Online Games (hence referred to as MMOGs) is that they’re “a job you pay someone else for the privilege of doing”. On its face, this criticism is absolutely accurate; no matter how much fun it is or how varied the developers try to make the missions, the process of playing one of these games is essentially that of creating a virtual person that must work at various tasks to achieve progress, with the process being ultimately open-ended and non-conclusive in order to create an incentive for the player to keep playing indefinitely. Grinding through levels is undoubtedly work, and once you finish that process, so is levelling various money-making crafting processions and upgrading gear in order to deal with progressively more and more difficult “end-game content”- until the next expansion comes out and the process starts all over again. And you pay someone else for it! You chump!

The thing of it is, though, ALL games are fundamentally work that you pay someone else to be allowed to do. When I was a kid I forked over around fifty bucks of my carefully saved allowance (several months’ worth, anyway) for Super Mario Brothers 3. I then dedicated the next several months of my young life to conquering the damn game, which as anyone who played the original iterations of Mario Brothers knows was a sheer grind of developing reflexes, muscle memory, and sustained concentration sufficient to keep the goddamn plumber alive through eight worlds’ worth of increasingly ludicrous platform-jumping and pipe-mazes. I resisted the urge to pitch my controller through a window countless times and frittered away God knows how many hours. Best saved allowance I’d spent yet, so far as I was concerned- and I can assure you I didn’t put in all that time and effort and banked frustration just to find out at the end that Mario rescues the Princess and then see which Japanese people were credited with, say, the Goomba sprites.

I did it because, paradoxically, the reward offered up front for doing something- whether it’s navigating a platform jumper or successfully taking down a raid boss or working a job for real money- isn’t always why we really do something. If you ask someone why they work at their job the usual answer is a “duh, you drooling idiot” stare and a “because they pay me”- and unless that person is lucky enough to be in a job they’d work at for free anyway just because they enjoy the process that much, this is surely true. But pay is really only part of why people do particular jobs; if there were a direct relationship between willingness to work and number of dollars paid in the end, people would never quit high-paying jobs or even high-paying entire careers in order to do something that offers them less stress and frustration. Even if you’re being paid enough to spend weeks in the Caribbean every year, if your boss is obtuse and abusive and your co-workers are lazy and irresponsible, it might not be worth it to you to continue showing up and doing something that offers no rewards other than the pay.

One of the best ways to utterly demotivate and undermine anyone who works at anything is to remove the connection between effort exerted and results achieved. If some poor cubicle drone finds there is no difference in outcome for him whatsoever between how hard he works and how well he is treated or even just the simple question of having his effort acknowledged, and the guy down the hall that spends all day playing Minesweeper and does the bare minimum to get along, the odds are that he will quit if he thinks he can do any better, and that he will become equally as unproductive as the Minesweeper addict if he thinks he can’t. Similarly demoralizing and work-ethic-killing are bosses that offer no clarity of expectation and give arbitrary punishments and rewards that relate more to how he’s feeling than the worker’s actual efforts and quality of results; whether you’re a laboratory rodent getting random shocks or an employee of a company that models its management practices after “Dilbert”, not knowing what to do or how to gain rewards or avoid punishment will skyrocket stress hormones and rapidly set up the afflicted individual for a case of learned helplessness.

The real appeal of a game, whether it’s based on pixels, cards, or chess pieces, is that it represents a system with explicit and easily understood rules and paths to success, even if the success represents nothing more than a completely abstract condition. Even if actually achieving that success is extremely difficult and time-consuming, as long as the player still perceives that success to be actually achievable with enough effort, the odds are that he will keep playing, providing he has nothing more rewarding to do. The conditions for victory are clear and are not changed arbitrarily, and the connection between effort and reward is ironclad; even if you fail in an attempt, all improvement is measurable; you survived longer against your opponent, or damaged your opponent more, or stumbled across new possible strategies to try. More advanced games (and old games with particularly good systems) encourage a great deal of exploration and innovation, which extends play time and ways to be rewarded in some fashion. There’s plenty of other things that go into making a game good or bad, but most of the things that make them bad stem from somehow disturbing these elements of clarity and reward-to-effort link- making the game so obtuse to control that only the most lightning reflexes can possibly produce any success, making the game so easy that there’s no challenge (no effort required) for reward, or making it so difficult and opaque that only someone who read the developer’s notes could possibly figure out what the conditions for success are.

MMOGs take this one step further by involving other people, which both increases the potential for reward and for aversion. Cooperating with or defeating other players is simply more rewarding than doing so with an artificial intelligence, if only because the flexibility of behavior is so much greater. AI will always have its limits, but other players are endlessly innovative- both in the traditional sense and in finding ways to be a better idiot. Getting approval from real people is much more rewarding than just meeting an AI’s conditions for success- and getting disapproval stings a lot worse. (No one likes being called an oozing bag of monkey cocks for no reason, which keeps a lot of people off social online environments in general.) This sets up a massive challenge for anyone who wants to develop such a game: protecting players from the worst effects of the bad behavior or incompetence of others while also building in ways to reward true cooperative efforts. That this is pretty difficult to do is reflected in the history of successes and spectacular failings in the genre in general, but since Everquest developers have found a number of sound rules to build in to give the game at least a chance of success. (Don’t require other players to make any progress at all, make global chats easy to deactivate, don’t provide campable spawns, make player-versus-player combat an opt-in system, etcetera.)

At “end-game” stages where players have maxed out the levels and loot attainable through questing, explored the entire existing game world, and exhausted crafting or other make-work economic activities, the social aspects of the game get a lot more important, especially in terms of content that involves getting together a large group of people to achieve goals. In order to protect themselves from fools and predators and maximize their chances of success, players usually form semi-permanent alliances so they can choose from a stable pool of trusted people to work at the content with. I’m only deeply familiar with Warcraft, but in that game, guilds (alliances) often have an application to join- which a lot of people complain is too much like a job application. The reason this is so is that in nearly all respects it’s functionally identical to a job application; both the potential recruit and the recruiting group need to find out if they’ll be able to work well with each other without a lot of conflict, drama, and hurt productivity. Successfully cooperating with twenty-four other people to defeat a series of encounters and gain in-game rewards is rewarding; repeatedly failing because people aren’t taking their role seriously, grandstanding, or trying to screw other people for loot is incredibly frustrating. More subtly, finding out how often the group intends to raid and what the general atmosphere is is akin to sussing out a corporate culture- there’s a lot more profanity and sex jokes in a raiding guild than at a business, but the overall question of environmental compatibility is still just as important.

The function of an MMOG’s existence, and the reason people pay the gaming company to work at it, is to be an artificial good job, one at a well-run company with good incentive plans and skillful managers. If it more closely resembles a bad job, players are LOSING money rather than getting paid- and will quit with alacrity. The degree of psychological value a good job- even one that actually costs money- represents to people is reflected in the millions of subscribers.

Arrrgghh

August 4, 2009 - 8:49 pm Comments Off

Swear to God I’ve got stuff to write about tomorrow unless Fate drops a circus in my front yard or something. If it falls through there’s going to be a muse-icide if I have to take an emergency trip to Imagination Land to do it.

In the meantime, meet the internet black hole for those too attention span challenged to deal with Wikipedia or the Tropes Wiki: Fukung. If the image you see isn’t funny- or if it is- just click on the picture and you’ll get another. And another. And another… and another…

ETA: Should have mentioned originally some of the photos on Fukung are NSFW. >_<

Shortest Filler Ever:

August 3, 2009 - 8:15 pm Comments Off

Just out of curiosity, Heinz or Hunts?

FFS

August 2, 2009 - 4:27 pm Comments Off

Introducing a revolutionary breakthrough in exercise JUST FOR GURLZ! THE SHAKE WEIGHT!


Hilarious Shake Weight Exercise for Women – Watch more Funny Videos

This thing is like a sucking black hole of everything stupid that is ever sold to women in the name of fitness and the “delicate sex”. All in one video, we get:

1. THE NEW FASHION IS ARMS! YOU ARE BEING JUDGED ON YOUR ARMS! HOW DEFINED ARE YOUR ARMS? Make sure to prioritize what you do with various body parts based on what’s in season this year, ladies. Next year you can stop worrying about your arms- I have an inside tip that it’s actually your ankles that are up next*. Conveniently not included fact: muscle definition is about ten percent muscle tone and ninety percent bodyfat percentage. Of course, if you have body fat, you’re fucked anyway and will already be spending this bathing suit season on the couch in sweats with a bag of Doritos.

2. The claim that different machines are designed to build different “kinds” of muscle- “long, lean” muscles and “big, bulky” muscles. Sorry ladies, it’s pretty much just the same bundles of fiber and motor neurons, and the length of the muscle depends solely on its attachment points along your bones, not the way you train. (This applies just as much to Biffy Bodybuilder looking for the ideal esoteric dumbbell curl to build “peaky” biceps, by the way.) You notice how they use a man’s back at some machine for this shot? You know why he has big, bulky muscles and the women in the other shots don’t? It’s because he has these lumps of extra tissue between his legs, called testicles, that secrete large amounts of something called testosterone that promotes muscle growth. Moreover, that particular man also no doubt had to train for years building those muscles even though he has a natural anabolic steroid factory dangling in his shorts. I absolutely promise you that should you ever develop Schwartzenegger-grade muscles from accidentally lifting something that is actually heavy, your tears will be more than consoled by the many millions you will be worth to medical and sports science facilities around the world.

3. “Designed specifically for women”. See, the infuriating part here is that this is absolutely true. The problem is that there is absolutely no relevant difference between male and female physiology when it comes to how they should train in order to get a desired result; testosterone changes the maximum muscle fiber recruitment possible and the degree of anabolism in response to training, but otherwise, a man’s muscle and bone and nerves are interchangeable with a woman’s. What makes it designed specifically for women is that it’s as nonthreatening as possible, not heavy (they use the word “heavy” specifically to describe the “bad” bulk-inducing machines) and makes it look as though you shouldn’t have to exert a degree of effort that might break a sweat in order to achieve results.

4. “Based on a completely new workout technique called dynamic inertia”. This is not so much a “technique” as it is “physics”, albeit physics with a mangled delivery. And I’m sure that gymnasts around the world performing planks, bridges, planches, and front levers will be fucking REVOLUTIONIZED to discover there is a way to get effective exercise without actually moving much. On the other hand, all of these things require major effort, and I don’t know about you, but the guy in the pictures for the front lever looks like his muscles are kinda bulky. He must be utilizing the principle incorrectly or something.

5. Okay, look, just because muscles are technically active doesn’t mean they’re doing much, or at least anything that will produce a training adaptation. At any given time that you’re using a given group of muscles to do something, how many motor units are actually recruited and used depends on your previous conditioning, whether or not you have a ton of testosterone circulating in your system, and above all how strenuous what you’re doing is. Technically speaking I activate damn near every muscle in my body in the process of getting out of bed, but for some reason I’ve never seen the Rise and Shine routine touted to give me full body muscle definition. I’ve never touched a “shake weight” and have no idea how hard holding the thing still actually is, but given the thing only weighs two and a half pounds and there are limits to physics, I can’t think it’s that hard. Here’s a hint: if you can hold it straight overhead with one hand and this counts as an “exercise” with the device, it’s probably not going to do anything useful to the big muscle groups in your chest and upper back when you bring it down lower.

Women: if your bodyfat percentage is not the problem and you want something that will really tone and shape your arms, the truth is that you have to do all the same kinds of things as the sniffly little ninety-pound weakling in the Charles Atlas ads in order to do so. Unless you do what those scary-looking female bodybuilders do and stuff yourself full of androgens (it’s not the iron that made them look like men, it’s the testosterone that did it), you’ll get less bulky but still hard and defined muscles- which is, in theory, what you want, right? Take your arms, and then use them in the process of lifting progressively heavier and heavier things, preferably also while using them to lift yourself in various ways. Work yourself up to pushups and pullups, and beyond. Make friends with presses.

This will require you to sweat, which may feel unfeminine. (Although I feel compelled to point out that giving birth often results in sweating as well.) However, it will do what the shakeweight doesn’t, which is work. And if you really want to feel great about yourself and your body, I find being able to actually move yourself and various objects around without male assistance is a much more stable source of self-esteem than how your arms stack up next to Michelle Obama’s.

*What’s depressing is this is plausible. I spent several minutes trying to come up with a body part that it would be outlandish to become the subject of this kind of focus, and couldn’t conceive of anything that wasn’t an internal organ.

Weekend Quickie Filler

August 1, 2009 - 8:16 pm Comments Off

Ah, the weekend. That glorious time when after five long days doing pointless drudgery for a company openly hostile to you, you get to take a breath, relax, and enjoy your own thing.

And then, that two second period is over and your ass better get back to work because you only have 48 short hours to cram in about 100 hours of work on the house and projects there in.

The fence is reasonably patched (and I’m looking into some electric fun and those Hurriquake nails, thanks to commenter tips), the house is at least a vague approximation of clean, but the important thing is the beer is now in bottles.

Random Protip: About a cup of ammonia in a sink full of water will dissolve the glue on just about any beer bottle label you have around. Some (Sierra Nevada, for instance) just fell right off after 10 minutes. Others (Sam Adams) took a little scrubbing to get residue off. The odd part is the label from Santa Fe Brewery sat in that bath for the better part of an hour and barely even acted wet. Go figure.

Anyway, this batch of IPA represented my first go-round with dry hopping. For those not familiar, that’s the process of adding more hops to the already-fermenting beer for an extra aroma boost (and some more hop flavor, but mostly aroma) so the fragrant oils never come in contact with boiling water/wort that could break ‘em up. I tell you, an ounce and a half does not sound like a large quantity of hops, but they formed a cap about an inch and a half thick over the top of the beer in the secondary fermenter. Light product means high volume, and now it looks like a horse threw up in my trash can, because damn if I’m stopping up the plumbing by trusting the garbage disposal to chop that much leaf up fine enough. The process seems to have worked though, because the un-carbonated beer tasted pretty damn respectable already. Not as complex as some of the bigger name IPAs, but as the first attempt at an IPA after getting a little bit of a clue about what I’m doing, I think it’ll turn out pretty well once it has some time in the bottles and a cooler than ambient serving status.

Tomorrow: Chainsaws, paintbrushes, wrenches, insulation, fish tapes, and wondering why the hell it’s getting dark so early, I’ve only been out here for an hour or so it can’t be… oh. Oh damn. When did it get to be 9?