Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why do I do it?

Why do I feel the need to scare myself? I started playing FEAR again today, though I decided that since it's been so long since I've played, I should make a new profile and start a whole new game. So that's what I did, and I remembered why I stopped playing it - it scares me. That's not to say I don't enjoy it, it's just a little more "exciting" than the other FPS games I usually play (Max Payne, Half Life, etc). So I spent a good number of hours playing it today, and I'm almost to the part where I stopped playing if I remember right.

As of this past weekend I finished the elastic scattering problem I was given over the summer, which is a good thing. Also, the solution (at least the major steps) is now written up in Latex on my Linux partition, this way, if I ever need to know how to do it, I'll have it. Next week I'll be meeting with my advisor and get the next thing to do.

And finally, after a few years, I've finally beaten Neverwinter Nights 2, now I need to get the first expansion, Mask of the Betrayer. Read on for my review

I love RPGs, I really do. When the first Neverwinter Nights came out, however, I was a little iffy on it since I had heard that it was really geared for multiplayer games. So I waited. A few years later, I finally got a copy and played it, then played through the following 2 expansions. I really did enjoy them, they were quite entertaining.

Neverwinter Nights 2 (NWN2) continues this entertainment, and builds on it. It has the expected improvements, graphics and sound, but also improves the gameplay and the camera. Even with the graphics improvements, it doesn't seem "pretty" enough to warrant the high system specs and poor performance, though this isn't too big of an issue as long as you have the minimum specs.

One thing that I can say is good even though I didn't care for it too much is the fact that you now control a party instead of just you and a henchman. It's usually you and 3 others (once you get that many companions) in the party, and while it does allow the devs to throw more enemies at you simultaneously, I feel that it would have been better with just you in the party, possibly a henchman. Then again, this is how I usually played the game anyways, leave my party somewhere and sneak off to assassinate anybody I came across.

The storyline is compelling, and even though it took me a while to get through it, it does hang on to you for the most part. The only reason it took me so long was that I put it on hiatus for a bit after coming to an encounter that I tried a couple times, failing each time. I think there was probably some other game that got in the way as well. And despite my feelings about the party, I feel they did a good job with the characters in the game, they seem relatively well thought out and their personalities are fun, even if they left out most of the romances they had planned.

The music is great, sound effects so so, and voice acting kinda varies, at some points it seemed good, but at others it sounded like they were rushing and just wanted to get it done (I'm looking at you end of game summary).

The effects were nice in general, as expected, and there were some spells that looked quite amazing. Naturally, since my computer isn't the greatest, these spells would usually slow the game down a bit, but this generally let me watch the pretties for longer, so I can forgive them.

All in all, NWN2 is a very fun game, highly recommended, and now I have to go out and get the expansion.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

School's in

It seems I just can't keep to a proper posting schedule. I know I've said it before, but I'm going to try to post more often, and since I now have Wednesdays free (or at least, I don't have to be anywhere on Wednesdays...yet) I think I'm going to try to devote an hour or so on Wednesday to update. With any luck, I'll be able to keep to a weekly posting schedule, which really won't affect much of anything, other than making me feel good.

Everything with my teaching schedule and paperwork got in on time and it's all worked out, I'm getting paid, I'm teaching only once a week (with a tutoring session once a week as well), and I have health insurance once more. As far as my work goes, I'm still working on the problem my advisor gave me for the summer, however, after speaking with him this past Monday, I think I should be able to finish things up, and then write the main steps down using Latex. Of course, I'll have to learn the basics of Latex in order to do that part, but I've been meaning to do that for the past year or so anyway, since any published Physics paper is written using Latex.

A week or two ago I started playing Max Payne again, so that I would have it fresher in my mind in order to compare when I see the movie set to be released on October 17th. Read on for my review of this great game.

Max Payne is a TPS (third person shooter), although I'm not sure if that abbreviation is actually used, probably due to the fact that most shooters are first person, and the third person perspective is usually left to RPG's, or platformers. The downside to this method is the camera, when the action is taking place in closed quarters, as many shooters tend to, the camera can get hung up on protrusions or blocked by walls or doors. Max Payne is no exception to this, and while most of the action sequences are in halls or relatively small rooms, it only happens rarely. Not only that, but it actually helps when you want to look around corners, you're able to move the camera so that you can see around the corner while staying out of sight.

The graphics aren't horrible, but they're not much to look at, which is understandable considering the game was released in 2001. In a few places, when you kill an enemy, you're treated to a slow-mo death animation, which is kind of cool, unless of course there are still some baddies hanging around, although this happened to me only once. The bullet time effects and explosions are pretty nice as well.

The cut scenes are one of the aspects of the series that I love. They have the usual scenes rendered in the game engine interspersed throughout which doesn't break the gameplay too much, which is always nice. Instead of having prerendered cut scenes between acts or chapters, however, it's more a graphic novel style, which is definitely different.

As far as the storyline goes, I prefer the second game to the first game. The first game's basic story is fairly common, the main character's family is killed so he goes out looking for revenge. The difference here, is that Max tries to do it somewhat legally at first, he's a cop, so he switches into the drug branch of the NYPD, since his family was killed by junkies. Eventually he gets in over his head and ends up going on a killing spree through New York.

The only music I really remember is in a few major gunfights when some rocking music starts up. Other than that, the sound is alright, nothing too great, although it does get old listening to the shouts of the baddies when they see you. Most of the time, it's either "Payne!" or "It's Payne, get him!" If you sneak up on enemies, however, sometimes you're able to overhear conversations, and these are usually enjoyable, like the one near the end of the game where the guys are talking about bullet time in movies, and how it would be cool to have that in real life.

All in all, Max Payne is a good game, which has aged fairly well, and is completely enjoyable even seven years after release. Look for a review of the sequel in a few weeks (hopefully).


Monday, September 8, 2008

Victory is mine!

I passed the Quals!!!!

I was told that I "did well" on both the written and oral parts.

That is all.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Quals almost done

All that I now have left is the oral exam. Tomorrow, 9.30 AM, I will be standing in front of a committee of professors who will then proceed to grill me for about 50 minutes. So, what should I be studying in order to prepare for this oral assault? Physics. That's right, the professors can ask me about anything they want, even if it was something that I've never been taught. The entire realm of physics is open to them to pull questions from. Talking to students who took it last year, it seems that the professors don't always come to the exam prepared with questions, but will quiz me based on something that suddenly popped into their heads.
Because of the breadth of topics possible, I've been scared for basically the whole week, and been unable to study at all. Today I finally did something, flipping through Giancoli, but I don't know how much that would help me. I really don't know how much anything could really help here. I think my main hope is that I did well enough on the written test to pass. Besides, apparently students usually do poorly on the orals, and I think they don't matter as much if you do alright on the written test.
Ah well, we will see how it goes tomorrow, and then it's DONE.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Quals 1/2 done

So today was the second day of quals testing, only one more written test (on Friday) and then the orals. Today did not go nearly as well as I had hoped, and definitely not as well as Monday. I think I can still pull off the pass as long as I don't do too bad on Friday.
Found out some info about the orals yesterday. Apparently, it's given in a classroom, and there are 5ish profs sitting in desks or chairs or whatnot, and the student stands at the front of the room. Then the professors ask questions (usually about one per prof), and the student has to answer them, using the board if necessary.
In short: did well Monday, didn't do well Wednesday, should do well Friday, scared about the orals.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Quals 1/4 done

So I've finished my first day of quals, and I must say, it went better than I had anticipated. I say I'm a fourth of the way done because I have the 3 days of written tests, then the oral part. I still don't know anything about how the oral part goes, but I'll see about finding out from some of the people who took them last year.
Due to the fact that I still have two tests this week, one of which is tomorrow, I'll make this a fairly short post, but stay tuned for more info this week, I'm going to try to keep fairly up to date, at least while the quals are ongoing.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Long Post

Since I am apparently unable to update in normal, regular intervals, it seems that most of my posts (including this one) tend to be fairly long. Not my ideal situation, but oh well.
I must say that I really enjoy Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog. I suppose I'm not too terribly surprised, since I can't think of anything Joss Whedon has done that I don't like. I mean, I love Firefly (and Serenity, naturally), I remember watching and liking Angel for a time, although I only really saw the episodes somewhere in the middle of its run, since I got busy with things near the end of its run, and I'm sure I would enjoy Buffy at least somewhat.

As far as school related things go, the quals are coming up soon (2 weeks from today, actually) and I'm feeling quite nervous, although I think I can pull it off. My main concerns are E&M and Statistical/Thermal, those have traditionally been my weak points, and they still are. I think I can handle the Quantum, Math, and Classical problems, as long as they don't pull anything crazy. We will see how this goes.
Early next week my advisor should be returning from his trip, so that's something else I need to get working on, I really haven't spent nearly enough time on the work he gave me before leaving, although he did agree that the quals are my main concern. Still though, I think it would be nice if I could make at least some progress on the problem he gave me. I don't htink it should be too terrible. I need to determine the differential cross section for electron proton scattering, first assuming the proton is a point, then taking into account the fact that it is omprised of quarks. Of course, it would be a lot easier if I had done work on it a few months ago, when the material was still fresh in my mind, but oh well.

Every year as far back as I remember, my family has gone to the New York Renaissance Festival in Tuxedo, NY. Every Year, I go and see the knifethrowing show put on by Stewart & Arnold. Today I checked the schedule for this year's fair, and was quite saddened to not see their names anywhere. Even though they have the same jokes show after show, year after year, I still loved going and watching them. Ah well, I suppose I'll have to find some other show to watch, but it just won't be the same without them. Stewart and Arnold, I'll miss you.

Finally, read on for my (somewhat belated) review of Fable.

Now, Fable isn't really a new game, it was released for the PC in 2005 or so. However, I think it's still quite an enjoyable game. The game is a sandbox style action RPG, with a few minigames thrown in for good measure. The most interesting aspect of the game is its morality system. Throughout the game, when you perform good or evil actions you get good/evil points. The number of points you receive depends on how good or evil the act is. For example, killing someone gives you more evil points than stealing. The game keeps a running total and has a bar which shows you how good/evil you are. It's possible to go through the game and keep a somewhat neutral alignment, by balancing your good and evil acts, although trying to reach the extremes are more fun. This is due to the fact that when you are close to either extreme your character changes slightly. When you have reached the evil end (the one I chose this latest playthrough) you grow some good sized horns in your head, you have flies buzzing around you, and a red haze surrounds you. If you are a goody-two-shoes (my first playthrough, some years ago) you get a halo and divine light shines down on you (from what I can remember).
Another amusing aspect of the game is the attractive/scariness score. The clothing, tattoos, and hair styles that you choose all have attractiveness and scariness modifiers. Your total attractiveness/scariness can each go from -100 to 100, and they do actually affect your dealings with other people. For example, if you have a high scariness score, people will run, screaming, away from you when you come near them, while a high attractiveness will give you better deals on items from a merchant.
The graphics aren't too bad, especially considering the game is 3 or so years old. They're fairly cartoony, which I'm not usually a fan of, but I think it works fairly well here. The characters have a few peculiarities, such as their hands, which seem to be fairly large, and the main character as a child has HUGE hands. As far as the audio goes, I have no complaints. The music fits well, and the characters are fairly well acted, although the accents get annoying after you've been playing for hours.
The game definitely does not take itself too seriously, and basically aims to have fun. The chicken kicking competition is fun, and who can resist running around wearing a big purple pimp hat? The clothing selection in the game is very nice as well. There are many choices, from chain and plate, to dresses (even though the main character is always male, with no possibility of changing it) and assassin outfits.
Fable also keeps track of just about everything that you've done. The character info screen shows you a tally of the gold you've earned and spent, your records for the various minigames, the number of times you've had sex, etc. Yes, there is sex in the game. Kind of. Your character is able to have sex, but while he does, the player is treated to a black screen, with your partner commenting on your prowess ("Oh, you're so narty!" see above comment regarding the accents). Entertaining enough, but not enough to have a public outrage over, even after you're able to obtain the deed to a bordello.
The plot of Fable isn't the best or most original, but it's enjoyable enough, and the PC version includes an addon quest after the original game is completed, which is kind of nice, but does seem sort of tacked on. Also, once you complete the main quest, you don't have to stop. There are other quests that you can take up, or you can just wander the world doing whatever you want.
All in all, Fable is a fun sandbox style action RPG, which I would recommend to anyone who enjoys RPGs, or who isn't sure but thinks he/she might.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008


It seems that trouble just won't stay away. It's been about a month since the last bit of crap, so I suppose it's about time for more.

Let's back up a bit. A week or so ago, while checking my bank account online, I noticed a strange pending charge. $1 for APL*ITUNES, which, I assumed, was for Apple iTunes (bit of a stretch, I know). Now, since I do not have an iTunes account, and don't really much care for Apple anyway, I decided to call PNC about it. I was told that nothing could be done until the transaction posted, which should be the next day, fair enough. Next morning, check my account, nothing in pending or in posted. Weird. Still not feeling great about this (due to the fact that "Like most merchants, iTunes places a $1 authorization hold to verify that your credit card is active when you update your billing information. This is not an actual charge and the bank will remove the hold.") I called PNC and asked about it. The person I got didn't see anything in the account for iTunes, and told me to not worry about it, that they probably typed the number in wrong and that when they realized the mistake, they withdrew it. I didn't really buy it, but I figured I would let it go and just check my account every day.

That brings us to yesterday. While driving back to Philly, I was thinking that I hadn't checked my account in a day or two, and I should do that when I got back. About halfway to Philly, I received a call from PNC. Apparently there was a $103 charge to APL*ITUNES in my pending transactions. Joy. The guy cancelled my card, and when I got back to my apartment, I checked my account and there it was. Called PNC again, and made sure the card was cancelled (not taking any chances now) and a new one was on the way. All that was left was to get my bloody money back. Since the charge was still pending, however, gotta wait another day. Also, since I was not aware that when my card was cancelled, my phone banking was cancelled, I accidently suspended my phone/internet banking privileges by trying unsuccessfully to login 3 times. So, I try to login to the web banking this morning, and fail. Luckily I have a decent memory and was able to remember my latest deposit and check withdrawal amounts in order to get my privileges back. So, when I call PNC I'm told that I should call iTunes to get my money back (and the person provided me a number to call). Awesome, I won't have to go through crap with the bank to get it back.
Unfortunately, the number is simply a recording, with no apparent way to get a real person. Call PNC back (this is when I find out about the phone banking being suspended when my card is cancelled) and file a dispute of charges for 3 out of the 4 $100 charges from APL*ITUNES. That's right, 4 of them. There was also a credit to my account for $100, which is why the dispute could be for only 3 of them. This is also when I discover that I have to pay $7.50 for a new credit card, but I'm too tired of all this crap to argue, so whatever.

That's about all there is with the credit card for now, however, that's not all the trouble. This morning maintenance came to spray some sort of foul smelling liquid onto the air conditioning coils. Since it was extremely unpleasant and filling my roomate's room, we decided to turn off the air and open his window so he could actually breathe. Fair enough. Once his room was aired out, he closed his window and turned the air back on. Well, at least he would have turned the air back on had the thermostat been working. So now we're sitting in July, in Philly, with no air conditioning but our windows, which just don't cut it when it's 80 out. Around 1PM I filed a maintenance request about the thermostat, but as of 4PM nobody has come. Eventually I decided that it would be better to open the door to the hall, since the hall is air conditioned. So that's where I am now, sitting in my apartment with the door open so I can get some decent air in here, though it's still quite warm.

And to top it all off, with all this crap I can't really concentrate on what I need to be doing, i.e. studying for quals. Luckily I got 2 problems done this morning, but I doubt I'll get another 3 or 4 done today. Hopefully I'll be able to make decent progress in the next few weeks, because I really need to. I'm sure I'll be posting something about the quals in the next few days (or weeks) since I can't seem to stop bitching about them.


Monday, June 23, 2008

It's me!

Yeah, it's been a while, but the week before last was hell:

First, on Wednesday, I decided to bake a loaf of bread using the Bake-A-Round that my parents gave me from the attic. There was a tiny ding in it, but it looked fine to use. Of course, being stupid, I tried to remove it from its metal holder while still hot and a chip came off, so I had to toss that out.

Second, on Friday, I thought that I would broil 2 italian sausages that I had in the fridge, using my toaster oven. After about 20-25 minutes, I heard a noise from the kitchen. Thinking that it was one (or both) of the sausages popping, I rushed out, only to discover the glass door and handle to the toaster oven shattered on the counter. Checking the warranty info in the manual informed me that glass parts are not covered.

Third, again on Friday, I went home. Once I parked in the driveway and turned off the car, I heard a gurgling noise. When I got out of the car, I noticed that there was a good amount of antifreeze on the driveway. This had happened once or twice before, so I didn't pay it much mind, and took the car down to the garage later. On Monday, the garage called and said that it was probably a head gasket, or one of the heads, and that they'd have to take the engine apart. In the end, the gasket looked bad and the head was warped. All in all, the repair bill came to $2345. Luckily for me, my parents are awesome, and are covering half the bill for me.

Finally, my dad got home from a fishing trip in Canada on Friday (after I got home). It seems that on Monday, he banged his shin getting out of the boat, and along with some bug bites (most likely) he not only had a large bruise, but also an extensive infection. Naturally, he went to the hospital on Saturday, where he had to stay until Tuesday or Wednesday. Again, luckily the infection didn't get into his blood, and he should be fine once he's through the antibiotics they gave him.

In other, non crappy, news, I have finished the first trilogy that was written in the Eberron world. It's an interesting universe, and makes a nice change from the Forgotten Realms, although I'm not giving up the realm quite yet, although it may come to that if the planned changes don't work out well.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Another game done

So, because I'm a lazy bum, I was up till 2AM last night playing Entrepreneur, by Stardock Games, which was published in 1996. This is a game that I started once upon a time, I don't even remember how long ago, then picked back up, then decided to start a new game, then put back down, then picked back up months later, and then forgot about till last night. Continue for my (kinda crappy) review.

Entrepreneur is a game where you try to develop a monopoly for a certain product in a certain region. The product and region are both chosen when you start a new game. You can choose from among 3 products: Cars, Cola, and Computers. The region is also chosen at this time, my version (I don't even remember how long ago I got it) has 12 different regions to choose from, including two maps of the world, and one of the US, among others). Your other choices upon starting a game include picking a specialty: Manufacturing (make things faster), Marketing (make better/more ads), and Engineering (research faster); naturally I choose Engineering. Then you can name your company and CEO, choose what color your company will be represented by, select difficulty, how many and what names your opponents will have, and finally, how much money each company starts with.

After making your decisions and continuing on, you are taken to the main game screen, which has a number of windows explaining the various sections. This is a good intro, and means that in principle you need not find a manual for the game. The only problem you run into if you can;t find a manual is if you come back to the game after months of not having played, but the main play area is fairly self explanatory, and you can start a new game to see these help windows, then quit, if you remember about them. These help windows pop up each time you go to a new screen as well, so that you're not left in the dark when starting a new game.

The gameplay is fairly simple, mainly consisting of moving sales executives from one region to another in order to boost the sales of your product there. Of course, there are other ways to boost sales, as well, such as marketing campaigns, which can either hype your product or put down another company's product. Naturally, you can also change the price that you're selling at, make it lower, and you'll have more demand, in general, just as expected. The game map is broke up into regions (for the world it's generally countries, for the US it's states). In order to be able to sell products in a region, you have to investigate that region in order to determine what people there want. You start off the game with a single site (place where you can build structures in order to manufacture, research, etc) and sales exec., and only that region investigated. In order to investigate a region, you select it from the map, pay a fee (that depends on the map being played and the size of the region), and wait a few weeks. Once the region has been investigated, it will no longer have question marks covering it, but will be colored to reflect the stats you choose.

Now what consumer is happy with the same product month after month, year after year? In order to spice things up a bit, you can build engineering labs in order to research upgrades to your product. These upgrades are specific to your product, and change various aspects of it. for example, if selling computers, you can upgrade space required, reliability, aesthetics, manufacturing cost and time, performance, ease of use, and a few others. Each of the different components can be upgraded in this way, such as the ram, graphics card, cpu, hard drive, among others. The case can also be changed, starting with a full tower, and proceeding to a mini tower, desktop, and finally laptop. The aesthetics and manufacturing cost decrease as you upgrade these, along with the available space.

The other main facet of gameplay is the existence of direct action cards. These cards can turn the tides of the game, from making the government take anti-trust actions against another company, to inciting one region to completely boycott a company's product. You obtain one card at the end of each year, and can only play it if you control the necessary resources, which are scattered around the map and are obtained by winning market share in that region.

There are two ways that you can win, either make all the other companies go bankrupt, or obtain a certain percentage of total market share (which differs, depending on how many companies are currently in play). Usually, in the course of the game a few companies will go bankrupt before you can even get close to the required market share, so it can take a little while.

All in all, Entrepreneur is a fun game that can help to while away the hours, as long as you don't care too much about graphics and sound (the game is from 1996, after all). I think next, I'll try Stardock's follow-up: The Corporate Machine.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Various Items

So I made another loaf of sourdough bread today, and I think as far as texture and consistency go, this is the best yet, although the flavor is a bit milder than my previous loaves, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I also recently bought some yeast so that I can try to make some regular white bread, or any of the sundry variations on it. So far I've made one loaf of white, using a recipe from my regular cookbook, which took about 1.5 hours from start to finish. All things considered, I think it came out quite well, although I think I'd like to try a recipe that doesn't rush the dough.

On the schooling front, I've received all of my grades from this past semester, and it turns out that I earned A's in all 3 classes (Advanced Quantum, Particles, and Qual Prep). This is, I believe, the first time I have earned a 4.0 for a semester, so yay for that. Now, all I have to do is pass the Quals in August, and I'm home free.

Finally, I have decided that on those (fairly rare) occasions that I complete a game (computer, video...) I think I'll attempt to post a (hopefully) smallish review of said game here. I'll hide them all behind the expanding post thingy that I have so that they don't bloat the post lengths though. With, that, let's start things off with a review of The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass.

The Phantom Hourglass is one of those few Zelda games that is a direct sequel, in other words, it's easy to set the game in a definite time line, in this case, it takes place at some point after the events of Windwaker. Because of this, Nintendo decided to use similar art for this game, which makes everything, even the scary monsters, look adorable. The visuals are about on par for what I expected from a Gameboy game, although it's been a while since I've played GB.

This is the first DS game I've played (aside from about 5 minutes of Brain Age), so it was interesting having the main game window in addition to the top screen. Which brings me to the first complaint that I have, even though it's a minor one: the entire game is played with the touch screen. Everything you want to do, from moving Link and attacking, to using items, is controlled with the tiny little stylus. There are a few "hotkeys," such as pressing right and left on the d-pad to open the main menu and the item menu, and pressing (and holding) L to ready an item, but you're still spending the whole time gripping the stylus and tapping or swiping the screen. I'm sure this wouldn't be a problem for many people, especially the younger players out there, but after playing for a while, my hand would start to get sore and cramped, since the tiny stylus was clearly not meant for my long fingers/hands. That issue aside, the control scheme is fairly nice. Sure, it takes a little getting used to, but once you do, it seems almost second nature, and with the hotkeys you can quickly and easily ready an item for use, even in combat.

Having two screens is cool, and I can't imagine the game using them better. While most of the action occurs in the bottom (touch) screen, the top screen shows a full map of the area or room you're in. This is nice to see in a Zelda game, since in general, the on screen maps tend to be limited, making you pause the game to figure out where you need to go. It's also good on the collection screens, since it let's you see more of your inventory at a time, which means you don't have to cycle through 3 or 4 different screens to find what you're looking for.

Since this is a sequel to Windwaker, the land is covered in a great sea, with numerous islands that you travel to. The sailing was pretty fun, some of the enemies get old after a while, but they help to break up the monotony. There are two minigames that you can play while sailing, salvaging and fishing. Fishing is fun, although I quickly gave up on catching anything other than the two most common fish out of 5 or 6 types. Salvaging is also a fun pastime, and is the most common way to get different parts for your ship. There are a number of different "styles" that you can make your ship, though you have to find different parts to do it. This almost turns into a game of Pokemon, where you want to collect all of the different pieces so you can make your ship look however you want. There is a bonus to finding other pieces in addition to the aesthetics: if you use a style other than the starting one, and match multiple parts from that style, your ship's health will increase, which is useful if you find yourself running into sea battles often.

As far as the story goes, it seems a little short, but this could be due to marketing towards a younger audience, which I suppose would make sense for a GB game. This would also explain why, in general, the puzzles were slightly easier than other Zelda games, usually revolving around some form of "hit the switches in x y z order." This is another place where the touch screen was implemented well, requiring you to make notes on your map in order to pull levers or note the path of an enemy. There were also a few places where you can draw a picture on the screen in order to teleport somewhere, or to open a door. The nice thing about the notes you make is that they don't disappear when you leave the area, which is important.

The one major complaint I have is in regards to one out of the 6 or so dungeons that you must traverse: The Temple of the Ocean King. I won't spoil anything about it, but this dungeon is one that you must go through a number of times. Oh, and it's timed, in a way. And there are monsters that can kill you, but you can't kill. And there are traps...that reset when you leave the temple. This is where the note-taking comes in handy, you can trace the patrols of the invulnerable enemies, mark down how to disable the traps, and make other helpful little notes on your map that will be there the next time you visit. There are about a dozen floors to the temple, and you descend a little bit deeper each time you visit it, since you need different items to get past various obstacles. The main problem is that each time you visit, you have to go through the previous levels before you can continue deeper. At some point, you can make a kind of save point so that from the entrance you can skip a few floors while keeping the time you used to get there. The problem with this is that the floors you skip are easy and once you get the save point they pose little to no problem, it's the following floors that are the bothersome ones. I can understand having to go through them once, but by the third time you almost want to just turn the game off.

The sound was on par for a Zelda game, with the requisite effects for finding secrets and unlocking things and so forth, and the expected Zelda theme, remixed to fit the game. Otherwise, I can't remember anything specific about the sound effects or music other than the fact that they seemed fitting. Obviously a Gameboy is not meant to output astounding quality audio, though it was better than I expected.

All in all, I think Phantom Hourglass is an enjoyable game, and I would recommend it to any Zelda fan, though I might not suggest it to someone who wants to get into Zelda, since there are better ones that don't have sections like the Temple of the Ocean King, that annoy you to no end.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

For Realsies?

So if you search the ESRB ratings for Earthbound, it lists the rating as Everyone, and the platform as Wii. This surely can only mean that they plan to release Earthbound on the virtual console! I swear, Nintendo, you had better not merely be toying with our feelings.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lessons learned

So, not too much happening since last time, but a few noteworthy events. First, as of Friday, May 9, I am officially done with classes FOREVER. I handed in my particle project and had turned in my last quantum homework earlier. Also, I checked my grades today and apparently I earned an A in Advanced Quantum, despite the fact that I know some of my homeworks used mathematics of a questionable legality. YAY! Moral of the story? You can try, and even if you fail, you might succeed.

Next up, after turning in my project, I headed to the Red Cross Blood Drive that was on campus. I was fairly confident, having given blood a mere 5 years ago at UMBC. However, when I was at the sign in table, a nurse came up and asked if I would like to make a double red donation. I figured it couldn't hurt, so I agreed. I should have known it was going to go poorly when, in order to take my blood pressure, the nurse had to use 3 cuffs. Anywho, after all the preliminary paperwork and testing to make sure I could actually do it, they took me over to the apheresis machine. A different nurse now had to do paperwork for it and whatnot, then looked for a vein in my arm. Right arm? No good. Left arm? "I think we can use this one, let's do it." Definitely fills me with confidence...
So, she eventually sticks the needle in me and starts up the machine. At some point it must have started beeping, though I didn't notice it. Another nurse comes over and looks at things, then moves my arm out, then in, then back to where it originally was, more or less. She then told me that she had to adjust the needle in the vein, and proceeded to do it. I think that was the point when I started getting really hot and lightheaded. It turns out that when she adjusted the needle, she broke the seal of the vein and the needle, so some of the liquids leaked out. I gather that the machine was saying that I wasn't doing so hot after that, and so they finished up what they could and unhooked me. In the end, I donated a unit of whole blood instead of 2 units of red blood cells, and was left with a good sized bruise and some soreness. Moral of the story? I should not donate double red, and probably should not even try apheresis again.

Finally, as I was returning to Philly from Baltimore the other night, I got quite a surprise: the normally 2 hour drive took me 5.5 hours; I left at 6 PM, got to my apartment around 11.30 PM. The first problem was an accident that was "blocking all lanes" on 95, which I didn't believe until I hit the backed up traffic from it. 2 hours later I'm back on 95, and hit some traffic due to construction on the Tydings bridge: 2 of the 3 lanes closed.
Eventually that clears up and I can continue through the toll and get my gas in Elkton: $3.75/gal. By 9.45 I was back on 95 again, and looking forward to getting back around 10.30 or so. But shortly after I got going on 95, all but one lane was closed (yet again) until 495. From there, it was smooth sailing, but I still didn't get back till 11.30 or so. Moral of the story? Belligerent design works.


Thursday, April 10, 2008


Yes, victory indeed. I am now officially up to speed on the Half Life universe, having completed Episode 2 on Tuesday. Of course that means that I need to find something else to occupy my time with while I'm waiting for Episode 3. It's weird having to wait for the next episode - since I came in late, I've never really gotten a good feeling for the amount of time between releases. I suppose I now have no excuse to finish Shivering Isles, except, of course, for the fact that Oblivion crashes my computer when it gets in a foul mood. It tends to make things rather inconvenient since it's not just a regular crash to desktop where I can restart it again and keep going. No, no, I have to actually restart my computer before it will even let me play more. Ah well, I'll be building a new computer within the next 2 or so years.

The other accomplishment for the week was my successful baking of a loaf of sourdough bread. I've been trying to get the starter to work for the past month or so, and my first attempt at a loaf failed miserably. This time I gave the dough extra time to rise, and I think it came out fairly well. I'll be working on tweaking things in the future, and I might try some regular yeast bread as well. Regardless, I am pleased.


Monday, April 7, 2008

Short post

Short post, just wanted to indicate a very good petition online.

Stop Uwe Boll

If 1,000,000 (one million) people sign the petition, Uwe Boll has said that he will stop making movies.

That is all.


Monday, March 31, 2008

Life - a poor substitute?

So, as Ryan seems to have figured out, life is no substitute for video games, unless you happen to live in a video game. Well, I've taken another step down that road, myself. I've finally figured out who I will be working with for my PhD, starting this summer. His focus is theoretical high energy physics, so I'll be following in the footsteps of the great Gordon Freeman, though I doubt my dissertation will be nearly as interesting as his: Observation of Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Entanglement on Supraquantum Structures by Induction Through Nonlinear Transuranic Crystal of Extremely Long Wavelength (ELW) Pulse from Mode-Locked Source Array (from wikipedia article on gordon freeman).

In related news, this year the LHC should actually be turning on, unless, of course, people like Walter Wagner get their way. Really, if I were them, I wouldn't talk about possible black holes and strangelets, I'd be more focused on the possibility of a resonance cascade.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

I'm doing Science, and I'm still alive

There hasn't really been any big developments that I can think of in the past month or so, except for the progress I've made in my collection of video games. Near the end of January, I finally got around to buying and playing Half Life, and found it very enjoyable. So much so, in fact, that I finished it in a week. I had started it Monday night or so, and by the weekend, I was ready to buy the Orange Box. Thus armed as I was, I fought my way through Half Life 2, and loved it even more, despite the fact that I missed being able to execute the scientists as I was wont to do inside Black Mesa. Of course, complicating things slightly were the few errors that would pop up every so often. With the help of my trusty ally, the intarwebs, I was able to prevail, and finished that game in about a week and a half.
Next, it was time for me to take on my next foe, Episode 1. It seemed that this time, the errors were not to be so easily defeated, and that I might be relegated to playing on my laptop (which has a slightly inferior GPU than my desktop). The performance, was of course inferior on my laptop due to this fact, and the slightly slower cpu (2 as opposed to 2.2 GHz), since the Source engine does not, as far as I know, take advantage of multiple cores. Just when I thought all hope lost, the intarwebs rescued me once more, and I just finished off the first episode about 30 minutes ago.
Next up is Episode 2, which should bring me up to date with the series, at long last. Of course, as the title might suggest, Portal did not slip by me either. My first time through it only lasted 4 hours before succumbing to my might. The second time, I was able to defeat it in only 2.5 hours, and my next attempt will be going through with the commentary on, and I might attempt to earn a few achievements as well. And who knows, maybe some day I'll actually beat Narbacular Drop.

The rest of my time has pretty much been taken up by classes, homework, and teaching, although more the former than the latter. This semester my teaching is pretty nice, two classes, the graduate Math Physics, and an undergrad Gen Phys to which only 4 students show. The graduate class is fairly easy for the time being as well, since the class is on C programming, and none of the students have finished any of the programs yet.
Even with the coursework that I've had, I find time to visit Mel every weekend, which is a very nice thing. Also, this past Monday evening, I created my own pet, a sourdough starter. Tonight will be the third day I've had it, and it looks like its pretty much ready to go make me some bread. I'll end up feeding it tonight, then throwing it in the fridge for the weekend, and then attempt some baking on Monday, or Wednesday of this coming week.

Well, I'm off to free up hard drive space and install Episode 2. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, hopefully I'll actually start updating this more often from now on.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Late and Bored

So I've been browsing Gamespot's reviews lists looking for a decent game that sounds good and I saw Darkstar One listed with an 8.1 or something. Personally, I did not think it deserved an 8.1, probably more along the lines of a 6.5 or 7ish. Click Read More at the bottom of the post for my thoughts on it.

I still want a new game to play, feeling kinda bored with what I've got. I've kinda been in the mood for some sort of sci fi adventure, or an epic fantasy RPG. Lately, however, what I've really been wanting is a fantasy themed game similar in play style to Star Wars: Battlefront. Basically a battle (or series of battles, I suppose) between two armies, where you take the role of a regular soldier (of some type), you're nothing terribly special, the other soldiers around you are just like you, except controlled by the AI. If you die, you can respawn as a new soldier, once again picking what type you'd like to play as. Each side has a set amount of units that they can spawn for the battle, with the goal being to kill all of the enemy units.

I've recently discovered Savage: The Battle for Newerth, which sounds kind of similar to this idea, however it has no single player, and one player on each side must be the "Commander" who plays the game as an RTS, whereas the rest of the players play it as an FPS/RPG.

In other news, first day of classes was today (or yesterday, I suppose). Quantum should be better than Solid State turned out to be, I just have to make sure I am reading the book ahead of where we are in class. Particles will be interesting, 8 people in the class should make for something different, at least. We shall see.

I had heard some things about it being a "spiritual successor" to Freelancer, which I thoroughly enjoyed, so I figured it would be good, and I bought it. Not that long into the game, however, I started to conclude that it was more like a step backwards. In Freelancer, you had different sectors that you traveled to, and each sector had a number of different systems that were connected by "trade lanes", basically space highways - you traveled much faster than usual, however you could still be attacked, although it's rare. Most times, the systems would have a planet or a space station that you could dock with and trade at. At the very least, there was a star at the center of the sector and various planets or other, smaller, stars around other places. These places weren't just scenery, either, you were able to travel to each one, and would suffer the consequences if you got too close - for planets, you'd "collide" with their atmosphere, and burn up in entry, with the stars you'd be incinerated when you spent too long in the corona. The different sectors were connected by "jump gates" - basically points where you would be teleported to another sector.

Darkstar One, on the other hand, had the different systems connected by "jump rings" - you could leave any system yourself, but only enter through a ring. Each system, however is almost exactly the same, one planet (that you can reach), one star, one space stations, one research station, special systems might change those numbers, I don't fully remember. You can't land on a planet, only dock at stations. The star for the system is just background, no matter how long you fly towards it, you will never reach it - I think I spent about 5 minutes flying straight towards one once, and the size still remained the same. The same thing goes for the other planets that they threw in the background, other than the main planet you can't reach any others that you can see.

Another thing that bugged me about Darkstar One was the money, usually I save up my money in games to try to build up enough to buy that really cool weapon or accessory. In Darkstar One, for the first few missions (basically the tutorial levels) you're a little short on cash, but after that, there's very little need to even do the extraneous jobs that you can get at any space station since you're inundated with credits. Frankly it made the game seem a tad too easy, especially since you could buy artifacts (items used to upgrade your ship - very important) despite the fairly steep prices to do so. That, coupled with the fact that your universe map shows you which system an artifact is "hidden" in, means that it's a snap to grab up artifacts and pimp out your ship.

The main things that I liked about the game when compared to Freelancer were the land battles, they added a nice break from all the space fighting, even if they did consist of "Travel down long ravine, blow up building at the end, destroy or avoid enemy ships on the way." Again, a little too simplistic. One final point of contention I had with the game: the story was almost the same as Freelancer's. There are a handful of different races in the galaxy, some a little more ready for war than others, and some powerful alien race from outside the galaxy comes in and tries to maneuver the races into war. You find out, and must save the galaxy. I mean, I know that original stories are hard to come by, but seriously, couldn't they come up with something better?


Friday, January 18, 2008

It worked!!

Symantec doesn't give me bullshit about viruses that don't exist anymore!


Thursday, January 17, 2008

I know, I know

Yeah, I know it's been a long time and I said that I would keep this going. I just kind of forgot about it, and would never get around to updating when I did remember it. So mebbe I can actually keep somewhat regular updates going, wouldn't that be a treat.

So my lappy has been having issues with the copy of Symantec I get from Temple, in that it has been showing that I have tons of viruses about once a day. These viruses - called simply 'Trojan Horse' - only show up after my definitions are updated. For example, I usually leave my computers on at night, I have Symantec do a full system scan around 4 AM, and then I update the defs around 6 AM. A few minutes after 6, it shows up as having found some viruses. All of the files that are found infected are named DWH*.tmp. and they are always in my user/blahblahblah/temp directory. I even tried restoring one of the files so I could upload it to an online virus scanner, but the file never appeared where it said it should, and less than a minute later, Norton said that it was there and that it had quarantined it. I found some power point presentation where some pklace was having similar problems and Symantec Service said that the issue was a set of corrupt virus definitions. So, today I finally got around to uninstalling and reinstalling Symantec and Liveupdate, and we will see in the morning if that fixed it.

The only other thing that is really bugging me with my lappy is that the nvidia drivers don't want to change the scaling option for the screen. It's set to stretch the image a program wants full screen, but not with the native resolution. Whenever I tell it to change to no scaling and hit apply, the screen goes really dark, and doesnt lighten back to normal until I reboot, at which point the scaling option has reset itself. Hopefully newer drivers will fix this.

I think that's about all for tonight, I'll see about being more regular with updates and whatnot from here on out.