Thursday, December 29, 2011

Protein Discovered That Helps Bacteria Communicate

This article discusses a study that has found a protein that's involved in communication between bacteria that infect rice. Not only does this protein signal the bacteria to form into a biofilm and activate hundreds of genes which changes them from "benign" to "fierce invaders," but the immune systems of some rice are able to detect the protein as an antigen. Not only will this information help to protect rice, but it can be used to help protect us as well.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Peach Fuzz Protects Your Body From Parasites

Although humans are often known as the "naked apes," we're not really naked. Our bodies are covered with a layer of very fine, colorless hair, called vellus hair. A recent study shows that this "peach fuzz" may help protect us against parasites. Not only does the hair increase the time it takes a parasite like a bed bug to find a good spot to bite you, but the hairs also help you feel the parasite on your skin.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Newton Day!

I could write an extensive post explaining why I would very much like to live somewhere that had never heard of Christmas. Suffice it to say that, as someone who's a "recovering Christian," and as someone who's sickened by the blatant materialism of Christmas that so many seem to be blind to, simply ignoring it doesn't seem to be quite enough. So, for those of you who have similar feelings, I offer an alternative: Newton Day.

I got this idea from the writer of a blog I follow, Off the Hook Astronomy. She made a post about this last year at this time, and I thought it was brilliant. I found her term of "Newtonmas" a bit cumbersome, and it reminds one of "Christmas". So I decided to go with "Newton Day." I think she explained the concept very well, so I'll quote her here:
I ... subscribe to a much more scientific belief system .... Therefore, this year I've decided to celebrate Newtonmas. Isaac Newton, considered by many to be the father of modern Physics, was born on Christmas day in 1642. There was some confusing stuff going on with dates back then, and so according to our modern calendar, his birthday is on January 4th, but since the calendar back then said it was December 25th, I think I'll stick with that one for the sake of the holiday.

Newton is most famous for discovering the Law of Gravitation by showing that the same force which causes objects to fall towards the ground also governs the motion of the planets around the sun. However, he is also credited with inventing calculus (though Leibniz also gets credit for that), building the first reflecting telescope, discovering that light is made up of many different colors, and much more. He was also very religious and a practitioner of alchemy. He might also have been a bit of a jerk.

Anyway, to properly celebrate Newtonmas, I will be doing the following:
  • Eating an apple
  • Singing some Newtonmas carols
  • Shining light through a prism to watch it split into a rainbow
  • Doing some calculus problems
  • Dropping stuff on the ground
In addition to these fun activities, I also recommend learning something new (and scientific) today. We're very fortunate to live in a time where we can find real answers to our questions. We don't have to rely on superstition. I'm very thankful for that!

Happy Newton Day!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Scientists Track the Evolution of an Epidemic to Show How Bacteria Adapt

This article explains a study where scientists sequenced the genomes samples of bacteria from the epidemic. The samples came from various patients throughout the course of the epidemic, including "Patient zero". This study shows just one way that modern genetic technology and evolutionary theory are being used to understand disease-causing agents and design better treatments.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Biofuel Research Boosted by Revelations on How Blue-Green Algae Make Energy

This story is close to my heart as biofuel research is the area of microbiology I'm going to be working in. This area of study has been growing by leaps and bounds. Bacteria have been found that can produce ethanol (which can be used as auto fuel), jet fuel, gasoline, electricity, and even a biodegradable non-petroleum-based plastic. These microscopic organisms may very well be the "green" alternative to fossil-fuel-based energy we've been looking for.

This article describes how the "missing" link in the Krebs cycle (or TCA cycle--tricarboxylic acid) of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) has been discovered.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Scientific Mindset

Not only is the scientific mindset absolutely essential for performing good science, but it's also advantageous to cultivate this way of approaching the world in day-to-day life.


Curiosity is the heart and soul of science. Scientists never lose that childhood infatuation with the question "Why?". This single question has guided many of our discoveries and has led to much of our understanding of the world around us.

A scientist approaches the universe with an insatiable curiosity. We look for patterns in the world around us. We ask questions of "why" and "how" and "what if" about everything we see. It's not enough to know something is; we want to know why it is, how it became that way, and whether it will ever change. 

An Open Mind

A good scientist always keeps an open mind. When beginning to attempt to answer the many questions her curiosity brings to light, she considers ALL possibilities. She relies upon the scientific method to separate the true from the ridiculous. In the beginning, all possibilities are valid. 

Despite what many among the ignorant think, science is NOT about having a "pet theory" and designing experiments to "prove" that theory. That's called "pseudo-science". A good example of pseudo-science is the load of horseshit called "Intelligent Design". (Don't take my word for it, the teaching of intelligent design was ruled unconstitutional in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case. Learn more in this excellent NOVA program.)

Rather, a scientist seeks to DISprove a hypothesis through experiment. Experiments can only disprove a theory, nothing is truly ever proven in science, because there's always the possibility of new data and understanding modifying a hypothesis. This happens all the time in science as our understanding grows. For instance, it was once believed that nothing could escape a black hole, but now it's believed that black holes actually emit what's called "Hawking radiation".

Many scientific theories that are now accepted and widely used in technology were originally discounted by many as "crazy". For instance, Einstein's idea in special relativity that time doesn't flow at the same rate at all places in the universe--that the flow of time is affected by gravity and velocity. We now know this to be true, even though people once thought it was crazy (because it defied "common sense", or as I like to call it, "common nonsense"). In fact, GPS works based on this principle. It's because of the variable rate of time that the GPS in your car or phone can tell you exactly where you are.


A scientist's open-mind must be tempered by a very healthy dose of skepticism. While in the beginning of the experiment all possibilities must be considered, eventually we must start weeding out the erroneous ideas in our quest for truth. A maxim in science is "correlation is not causation". Scientists must always scrutinize their results and conclusions. They always search for hidden variables--things that may be producing the observed effect that are outside what they've considered. 

Most of us know people who believe everything they've heard or read, no matter the source. A good scientist always checks for the sources of information. Every piece of data must be scrutinized. Unfortunately, as humans we love "proving ourselves right". Skepticism combats this tendency, which can often blind us to evidence that we're not right. 

All scientific findings are open to peer-review. This is another hallmark of science that many among the ignorant don't understand. Every published paper is open to debate and debunking. A proper scientific paper gives the reader all the information they need to carry out the experiments themselves, and many do. Many of the lovers of conspiracy claim that science is "bought". While it's true that any given scientist's ethics may be compromised by large sums of money (we're only human, after all), the peer review process will weed these out pretty quickly. Scientists are harsh critics, and someone exposed in such a way can kiss his career in science goodbye. 


Finally, a good scientist is humble. In the search for truth, one must be able to admit when one is wrong. One must be willing to throw out a hypothesis that doesn't hold up to testing. It may seem counter-intuitive, but most scientists are actually happy when an experiment proves a hypothesis wrong. The reason is that this is the way the secrets of the universe are teased out. A hypothesis can never be proven with 100% certainty. Theories in science are those hypotheses that have been supported by countless experiments over years and years of study, but even these theories could be disproven with more sophisticated knowledge in the future (or at least amended, which happens all the time). However, a hypothesis CAN be proven with certainty.

Before science, people answered their questions with superstition. People lived in fear of the unknown, the unknowable. To combat that fear of what hid in the dark, man invented myth, superstition and religion. Today, we have a better way of figuring out the universe. It's true that some people still choose to live in ignorance. But they have the CHOICE, and choice is a beautiful thing.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why People Love Shitty MMO's

Ever wonder why horrible, dated games like WoW have so many sycophantic fans? It's called "cognitive dissonance" my friends. It's something you owe to yourself to learn about, because MMO producers along with many other businesses are using it to keep you paying.

Here's a great article on it. Read the article, and maybe you can avoid being manipulated a bit. Unfortunately, cognitive dissonance is part of human nature, so even being aware of it won't protect you 100% of the time. But I'll take knowledge over ignorance any day of the week. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review of Star Wars: the Old Republic

I got into the stress-test beta this past weekend, and I was really excited. I've been waiting to play this game since I first heard about it a year ago. I played Bioware's Knights of the Old Republic, and I enjoyed that game for what it was. Besides, I'm a huge Star Wars fan, and was really looking forward to a Star Wars MMO. I never played Galaxies. By the time I would have had a chance to try that game, word on the street was it was a stinking pile of poo, so I didn't bother.

I had some free time from school this past weekend, so I was able to devote a lot (i.e. way too much) time to SWTOR.

First, let me say I've never been so primed to LOVE a game. I was a little worried about my objectivity going in, figuring all Bioware had to do was phone it in, and I'd be hooked.

Second, let me say that my reaction to the game, in a word, is underwhelmed.

Don't get me wrong, there were some good things about the game. The voice acting was a nice touch and is DEFINITELY a huge improvement over giving me paragraphs of quest text to read. I never read the damned quests in WoW. The quests in RIFT are interesting enough that I usually read them, but come on. When I want to read, I'll read a book, not play a video game. For everything there is a time and a place, you know?

I hate to say it, but overall, I'm very disappointed with this game. Maybe I was expecting too much. Bioware had me convinced that they were going to do something "different" with this game. I really thought it was going to be something more than a WoW clone with a Star Wars skin on it (and voice acting). Okay, let me back up a minute. That wasn't fair. A more fair way to say it is SWTOR is really KOTOR III, with just enough of an MMO "skin" on it that Bioware feels justified charging you $15 a month to play it. Seriously, it looks and feels and plays exactly like Knights of the Old Republic. 

Sure, the game has all the things that every OTHER Star Wars game has had since the good old X-Wing PC game back in the 90's: blaster sounds, light saber sounds, yadda yadda yadda. But after all the Star Wars games that have hit the market, it takes a bit more than that to impress me. 

For one thing, the entire game is on rails, not just the space combat. You're very limited as to where you can go in the world. Just because you can see something doesn't mean you can go there. You can't climb over rocks, hell you can't jump over or on top of rocks that don't even come up to your character's chest. Now a trooper in heavy armor, you might be able to convince me, but a Jedi? Come on! He's gettin' over those rocks!

I also found their "instances" annoying. There will be places in the world you just can't go because you're not the right class. They don't even try to make it seamless so it doesn't jar you out of the world. Stay away from the red light!

Not only does the world limit you as to where you can go (follow the dotted line sir!), but the story line does too. This story line put the LINE in linear man!  It wasn't until I'd played 10 levels that I got to a point in the story where I had any kind of a choice of where to go next. To me it seems to be betraying the very spirit of an MMORPG game to lead you by the nose like that. Even in WoW you had your noobie zones, but you could leave them if you wanted to. Not in SWTOR. If you ever wanna get off your starter planet, you have to go through all the quests first.

I also found the race selections to be lacking. The Star Wars universe is HUGE, and while I understand they can't reasonably offer all the races to play, I think they could have done better than 5 or so (and "cyborg" humans--aka humans with a few implants--don't count as a separate race in my book).

I also don't like the clunky class system. It just doesn't work for Star Wars. Being a WoW clone works for RIFT because they took everything that sucks in WoW and made it awesome. Bioware just copied from WoW and called it golden. The game would have been much better if it were more skill based, even more so that KOTOR was. Jedi (or sith) should not be limited to the type of lightsaber they used based on CLASS. Come on!

I also call fail on Bioware sticking with the tired old tank/heal/dps paradigm. I seem to remember them promising in their early promotional videos that they were going to break out of that box.... That whole paradigm is stupid to begin with. You might be able to convince me (if I happen to be REALLY drunk) that  a dumb animal can be enraged enough to attack only the most armored person in the group attacking it, but a sentient person? Come on! It was fine when EQ did it, because they were the first, and we had to start somewhere, but I think we can make our games a LITTLE smarter now.

I'm really disappointed with this game. Move along, nothing to see here. Nothing new anyway. If the game cost a one-time fee of $60 to play, it MIGHT be worth it. If it only cost $15 a month to play, it MIGHT be worth it for a month or two. But shell out $60 and then pay $15 a month? No way, not for the, at most, one or two months of play I might actually get out of it.

If you didn't get into the beta, and you're considering this game, do yourself a favor. Don't listen to all the hype. Wait till you can try it for free, or find a buddy who has it and try it for yourself before you spend your hard-earned cash on it.

Maybe I'll try it again after a few expansions, but for now, I'm giving it a pass.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Save the World! Boycott Antibiotic Soaps

I try not to use this blog as a soap box, but this issue is too important to ignore. I'm currently studying microbiology, and I want to take a moment to educate you about a real problem you may not be aware of or may not understand fully. Consider this a Public Service Announcement.

More and more we're encountering antibiotic-resistant bacteria (e.g. MRSA and VRE). 

There are a lot of problems in the world today, and it can often seem that there is little that you, the conscientious individual, can do about it. Well, this is an issue that you CAN do something about. STOP USING ANTIBIOTIC SOAPS! Seriously, we should all be boycotting soaps and cleaners that contain antibiotics. If a soap or cleaner claims on the label "Kills 99.9% of bacteria" or something similar, don't buy it. I'll tell you why.

For one, it's a marketing scam. The truth is, soaps kill bacteria just fine by themselves! The detergent action of soaps break down bacterial cell membranes, killing them. This means, if you wash your hands properly, then the bacteria will be killed. There's no need to use antibiotics.

But, you may ask, what's wrong with having a little extra protection? Maybe I can't be bothered to spend 30 seconds scrubbing like I'm supposed to, or maybe I just want a little extra insurance. Antibiotics are a case where "too much of a good thing" is bad. I'll explain why.

Bacteria reproduce really quickly. To give you an idea, E. coli divide once every 20 minutes. As you may remember from your basic genetics, every time a cell divides, there's a chance for random genetic mutation. Since bacteria divide so quickly, these mutations actually crop up pretty often. Besides that, bacteria have mechanisms that cause them to mutate more often because it's advantageous for them to do so. 

Consider a population of bacteria. They're all reproducing like mad, because that's what bacteria do. Every so often, there's a random mutation. Again, these mutations are random, so most of them are either harmful or have no discernible effect. However, due to the very large numbers of bacteria, divisions, and mutations, there are some that will have a beneficial mutation, for example a resistance to an antibiotic. 

Now, you expose that population of bacteria to an antibiotic. Most of the bacteria are killed by it, but there are a few that have a mutation that makes them resistant. They aren't harmed by the antibiotic, so they keep growing and dividing. Before long you have a population of bacteria that are ALL resistant to the antibiotic, because each parent cell passes its genes (including the beneficial mutation) to all its daughter cells. Any cells that mutate to the wild form without the antibiotic resistance (called back mutation) will be killed by the antibiotic.

So, when you expose bacteria to antibiotics that aren't needed, you're doing a disservice to not only yourself, but everyone else. The more bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the more antibiotic-resistant bacteria we'll have. 

Every dollar you spend is a vote, my friends. Right now the companies who make these antibacterial products are capitalizing on your ignorance. What they're doing is at best misguided, at worst unethical. Let's save the antibiotics for people who are sick, who really need them. If we continue this madness, before too long most bacteria will be antibiotic-resistant.

People love to blame doctors for this, saying they're too quick to prescribe antibiotics. There is some truth to that. But each and every one of us can do something about this problem: boycott antibiotic soaps. They're unnecessary and ultimately harmful. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Try Ember Isle for FREE and Other Gaming Stuff

Trion is doing it again!  You can buy RIFT for $0 all weekend, starting today. If you're already playing, look forward to a 30% bonus to xp, dungeon plaques, favor, prestige, and all that good stuff all weekend. I can't count how many times in the eight or so months of the game Trion has offered it for free or something ridiculous like $5. There have also been many times they've given xp bonuses and such just to say "thank you" to their subscribers.

Ember Isle is AMAZING. I've seen expansions for other games that you have to pay over $50 for that aren't this good. The new zone is beautiful, and huge. The quests are fun, and they're a challenge even for someone with tier 1 and tier 2 dungeon gear.

Trion has really raised the bar for subscription MMO's. I honestly can't believe people still play WoW. Hopefully the days of paying exorbitant amounts for expansions on top of your monthly subscription are over. I never bought Cataclysm because I was sick of Blizzard's money-grubbing, and I haven't regretted that decision once, especially considering that RIFT is hand-over-fist better in every conceivable way.

I've been hearing and seeing great things about Skyrim. The game looks completely amazing. The art is gorgeous. Everyone is raving about the freedom you have in the game. I can't wait to try it. I'm going to have to break down and get it soon. Maybe when I'm off between quarters.

I also got into beta testing for Star Wars the Old Republic. Took quite a while to get the 20+ gig beast downloaded, but I'm looking forward to checking it out. To be honest, my enthusiasm for the game has waned simply because I'm enjoying RIFT so much, and I'm really looking forward to playing Skyrim. Well, SWTOR isn't going anywhere, so I don't really care if I don't play it right off the bat.

I've received some comments about not talking about EVE much lately. I assure you, I will post something about EVE as soon as something in that game motivates me to do so. I've only logged in a few times in the past few months, just every now and then to re-up my skill queue.

Yes, the upcoming winter expansion SOUNDS nice, but after over a year with EVE, I'll believe it when I see it. I can't find too much enthusiasm for one new ship for each race, the only new ships to be added to EVE in my time playing other than the Noctis. I also can't generate any enthusiasm or desire to play a game that, frankly, is boring as hell. My time is too precious. I don't have a lot of time for gaming, and the time I do  have I want to spend, you know, having fun. Not sitting around waiting for that 2 minutes of fun every couple hours.

The winter expansion sounds nice, yes, but let's face it: it's a list of fixes that should've been fixed a long time ago. Still not much PVE content to speak of.  Still not much "action" for someone who wants to log in for 30 minutes or an hour and have some fun. EVE is the only game I've ever played where so many players spend much of their time "in game" tabbed out doing something else while they're "playing" (i.e. afk mining, afk missioning, hell for all I know, people do afk pvp). I also can't help wondering if CCP will bother fixing any of the numerous bugs that have existed in the game since I've been playing it. I've never played a game that annoys me so much with constant bugs that never get fixed.

All that said, it still strikes me how beautiful a game EVE is. I still use my EVE screenshots as my screensaver.  My sci-fi heart leaps at the ideas of what the game COULD be. I sincerely hope that one day the game lives up to its potential and becomes more fun to play. If or when it does, I'll be there.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Going to the Next Level

Patch 1.6 in RIFT looks totally kick ass!  Check out this video to see some highlights, including the new mobile phone app, new zone and dungeon.  After only 8 months, RIFT is doing more than most games do in a year, and Trion's just going to keep it coming!  Way to go guys!

Fly smart.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Check Out Divine The Series

I'm a big fan of the show Supernatural.  One of my favorite characters on the show is Castiel, an angel played by Misha Collins.  

Divine the Series is a web-based show.  The trailer is below.  You can watch the rest of the episodes here.  This is really cool stuff.  

From the website:
“Divine: The Series” is storytelling for the smartphone generation. It’s got the DNA of graphic novels, action-adventure filmmaking, dark supernatural intrigue and cutting edge special effects all combined to create something new and exciting for the web. We want to push the frontiers of online entertainment and tell stories that you can watch in bite-sized chunks, and that you can watch in any order that you like, but at the same time when you watch more episodes, the answers to mysteries about the characters and their world will be unlocked.  

Fly smart.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Are You This Happy Playing EVE?

Are you as happy as this drummer when you play EVE?

BEWARE!  The following clip may lead to you peeing your pants.  
Wait for it!

Happy Halloween New Eden!

Flay smart!

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Complete Unknown WH Guide Revised

Check out the new and improved version here.  This is a great resource for all you wormholers out there.  Or, if you're just curious about life in wormhole space, check it out.

Now, back to the books! :)

Fly smart.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Preview of Remaining Captain's Quarters

CCP has announced the arrival of the remaining three races' captain's quarters sometime in October. You can view the blog post by CCP here.

I have to say, even though I play Amarr, my favorite quarters, by far, are the Gallente. Hopefully the quarters you see are based on who constructed the space station you're in and not upon what race your character is. If that's the case, I'll be spending my time in Gallente-built stations. I really like the look of the Caldari quarters too. Unfortunately, I think the Amarr quarters look too much like the Minmatar quarters.

Also, they're finally going to fix it so when you log into the station, you're facing your ship instead of a hallway. Thank you! I've been wanting that from the beginning of Incarna.

There are a few more pictures on the blog as well as a short video.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Heavenly Hummus

I love my hummus! I learned in my scientific nutrition class that it's a complete protein (meaning it contains all the amino acids the body needs to synthesize all the needed proteins). It has no animal sources of saturated fat (no animal products at all), so there's no reason not to eat all you want! Except one--the price. After spending $5 apiece for small tubs of it in the grocery store, I decided to make my own. What do you know, it's really easy, and cheap, to make. Not to mention it tastes way better than any hummus I've had from the store or even in restaurants.

Total prep time is ~10 mins or less.

1 16 oz can chick peas (garbanzo beans) - drain and rinse
1/4 cup liquid from the can of beans
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons tahini (this is made from sesame seeds, similar in consistency to organic peanut butter)
2 cloves garlic (sliced)
1/2 tsp salt (I use sea salt)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Throw ingredients in food processor and mix for 3-5 minutes on low speed until it's at the desired consistency. It tastes best if you let it sit in the fridge for a couple hours (to allow the flavors to mingle), and then take it out and allow it to come to room temperature before eating.

This is for the basic recipe (which is delicious), but there are countless variations. One I tried and liked was using 4 cloves of garlic and sauteing the garlic in EVOO before putting in the food processor.

Top with paprika and drizzle with EVOO

Tastes great with warm pita, on whole grain crackers, or on fresh carrots or celery.

I'm gonna go make some right now!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Star Wars: The Old Republic Release Date Announced

Set your calendars for December 20th folks! The long-awaited release date for the new Star Wars MMO by Bioware has been announced. You can get the full scoop here. I've heard from people playing the beta that this game is phenomenal. I can't wait to try it out myself. If I weren't so busy with school right now, I'd pre-order it just so I could start playing early. 

Fly smart.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What You're Missing in RIFT

Trion is a company that understands customer appreciation. Not only do they make the best fantasy MMO I've every played, but they give you all kinds of perks just to play their game. The world events are a lot of fun, and you get useful rewards for participating. Not to mention the fact that you can get purple items by doing things like finding cairns. Many of the achievements have real awards too.

Very, very cool stuff.

Fly smart.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Blog Banter 28 Summary and Wrap Up

Seismic Stan has really taken the EVE Blog Banter to the next level. Please go to his blog and check out his very well-written summary of this last banter. I don't envy him the task of writing the thing up, but it was a great read and very well annotated. 

Fly smart.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mistborn Movie Trailer

Ok, there's not really a Mistborn movie coming out (at least, not yet). However, this is just awesome. Here's an intro from Brandon's blog:
A reader of mine, Laura (rasinrice), wrote in to let me know she created a fan trailer envisioning what she thinks a Mistborn movie would look like, using clips from other trailers and movies. I think the overall effect is pretty awesome, and the opening quote is exactly right for a Mistborn trailer in my mind. Check it out.

Fly smart.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: A Deepness in the Sky

In an earlier blog post, I put out the call to my readers to suggest some good science fiction to check out. I got a lot of great suggestions, and I've started going through the list. The first book I read was A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge.

This was a really fun book to read, and more importantly, it opened my mind to quite a few new ideas and possibilities. This story is, for the most part, a very realistic view of humanity thousands of years in the future. I like that Vinge didn't shy away from the problems of time dilation when traveling at high velocities. Rather, it was a central element to the setting and plot. In Vinge's book, humans travel aboard ramjet fusion (I believe) starships that can top out at 0.3 c. Of course, this means that time flows much more slowly for the people on the ship than for those who are at rest. Instead of ignoring this, Vinge uses it in very creative ways. The crew are kept in cold storage during the long journeys (decades, centuries, or even millenia), with a few being up and active at all times in a system of rotating shifts. 

Vinge also doesn't ignore the limitations of communications that are bound by the speed of light. You'll see no "galactic empires" in this book, but you will see one man's dream of one and why it can't work.

Vinge's aliens were fairly believable. Unfortunately, he followed the trope of basing the aliens on an earth life-form (in this case spiders). Must we all do this? However, beyond that, the aliens were well-developed. They have a very interesting visual system. Although I feel the aliens were humanized a bit too much, which is a real problem in science fiction, there is at least a tenuous explanation for this in the story--the human translators. 

The plot is interesting and engaging, with some surprising twists here and there. It takes a while for the story to get going, but the writing is clean enough you don't get bored. My one complaint is the character I found the most annoying in the book became one of the "heroes". This bothered me because during the whole book she was the quintessential tool, but yet somehow still "saves the day" and earns the respect of her peers.  Oh well.

Unfortunately, this book is sadly lacking in any kind of descriptions whatsoever. You seldom if ever get any descriptions of the characters, ships, technology, etc. As a writer, I understand that too much description bogs down the pacing, but no description at all is laziness in my mind. It makes me wonder if the author even knows what things look like himself. I've begun reading A Fire in the Deep, which is set in the same universe. Only there did I learn that one of the main characters in the other book has red hair. Ultimately, I was able to get past the lack of description, but it does keep me from recommending this author as highly as I would otherwise. Personally, I think he could have taken out some of the irrelevant math he has in the book and replace it with good descriptions without changing his word count or pacing at all. For instance, he'll give the dimensions in centimeters of some piece of furniture or hardware, and yet not tell you what the ships look like. That said, though, you'll love this book as long as you have a really good imagination and don't mind having to fill in a LOT of gaps in the information you're given.

The book has decent pacing, although it does get kind of slow from time to time. I think it would have been better without the alien PoV's, which contributed to making them seem far too human.

Thanks again to all of you who recommended good sci fi for me. I really appreciate it. If you have anything else you'd like to recommend, feel free to do so in the comments.

Fly smart.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Infinity Pre-Alpha Tech Demo April 2010 - Part 1

Thank you to the anonymous reader who clued me in to this project. It looks extremely cool!. The scientist in me is tickled pink about the much increased realism of space flight and maneuvering, physics, and astronomical scale in this game.

Fly smart.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blog Banter Resurrection: the Future of EVE

After a long hiatus, it looks like the Blog Banter is back. The Banter is now being run by Seismic Stan over at Freebooted. Here is this month's topic:
In recent months, the relationship between CCP and it's customers has been the subject of some controversy. The player-elected Council of Stellar Management has played a key role in these events, but not for the first time they are finding CCP difficult to deal with. What effect will CCP's recent strategies have on the future of EVE Online and it's player-base? What part can and should the CSM play in shaping that future? How best can EVE Online's continued health and growth be assured?
This topic comes at an interesting time, as I've been recently thinking about the future of EVE, and I have to tell you, my opinions have changed a bit. I know I promised to be a positive voice in a sea of negativity, but I also have to face reality.  

I think there are serious problems in the EVE community and game right now. To be honest, I haven't been playing a whole lot of EVE lately. Summer has been a busy time for me with real life, and also the "Summer of Rage" left a bad taste in my mouth.  

People leave MMO's every day. It's a fact of life. New players are very important to any MMO. You have to wonder, though, what is a new player's experience in EVE these days? Whatever you want to say about CCP (and I'll even agree with some of it), we're all responsible for our own actions. That means we, the players, are as accountable as anyone else. If I were a new player thinking about getting into EVE, I think I would find the negativity in the community right now a real turn-off. Hell, I've been playing the game for over a year now, and I find it a turn-off. Between all the negativity on forums and elsewhere on the net and in the Local channel in the game, who in their right mind would ever want to be part of this community? Who would want to play a game that the most dedicated of players seem to hate? Whatever CCP does or doesn't do, we the players are doing a pretty good job ourselves of killing EVE. When I got to Failheap Challenge or the EVE forums, I don't see a community I especially would want to join.  

I don't really know what the future of EVE is. I used to have very rose-tinted ideas. I've discussed some of them in previous blog posts. I was very excited about the prospects of Incarna and Dust 514 and whatever else might be on the horizon in EVE. Now, that excitement has waned. It seems to me that CCP needs to learn some hard lessons about player relations for this game to grow at all beyond what it already is. Unfortunately, I haven't seen any sign that CCP has any serious interest in learning those lessons. To be honest, I think the CSM is a joke (and I always have)--it's just a bunch of smoke and mirrors to give the players the illusion they have some say in what happens with this game when they really don't.

Things have been slow in the wormhole over the summer, and I haven't had much play time anyway, so what little time I've had I've spent in High Sec. I've found myself wondering: Where the hell is the content in this game? I get that EVE is a "sandbox," and that's a great idea.  I think we'll see more games like that from now on.  But you've still gotta have content. The player-generated content should be augmenting content generated by CCP, not replacing. Having a sandbox game doesn't get you off the hook for putting your own evolving stories in the game.

However, the PVE in EVE is a joke. You do the same missions over and over and over. The same EXACT missions. This kind of makes suspension of disbelief impossible. Any fiction writer can tell you that's a death sentence. If people can't suspend their disbelief, then they don't really get into your story (or game), which means they don't really give a shit. Eventually they will put that book or game down and find something more engaging, something they can really connect with.  Fighting against sleepers is a little better (because  they're more challenging), but not much. There's still no story advancement. It doesn't take long at all to memorize all the sleeper sites and know exactly what to expect. Part of the fun of playing an MMO is participating in a story. EVE is sadly lacking in that department.  

I used to play World of Warcraft (who hasn't?). I played that game a lot, and while I enjoyed the game, there was a LOT I didn't like about it. There were a many things in WoW that were, frankly, fucking annoying. Recently, a game company called Trion came out with a new fantasy MMO. It's called RIFT. You may have heard of it. Playing RIFT, I see that all the annoying broken things in WoW have been FIXED. Even things I would have never thought to fix were fixed. What's more, Rift has an interesting storyline. Your quests actually go somewhere. There are also constantly new world events that further advance the plot. I never read the quests in WoW. I sure as hell never read the missions in EVE (at least, not after the first few once I realized they just repeat forever).  

Something the Mittani said during the CSM elections has really stuck in my mind. I don't remember which interview it was, but I believe he was talking about the metagame in EVE. The part I remember is when he said that the actual game play in EVE isn't really that much fun. You're just watching three grey bars turn into three red bars. I realized when he said it that he was right. I spend more time reading blogs and forums and working on my own blog than I do playing the game. Even when I am "playing the game", as often as not I'm tabbed out and reading a web page or something. This is very common in this game. I've never played a game where so many people who are "in game" aren't actually paying attention to the game. People AFK mine and mission all the time. If I worked at CCP, this would be a HUGE red flag for me. It seems like you spend more time WAITING in this game as you do doing anything else. This is broken.

The future of EVE is ultimately up to CCP and the players. However, the current trajectory doesn't look good. Something needs to change, and it needs to change now. Star Wars the Old Republic is coming out soon. Although I don't see SWtOR taking away many EVE subscribers, I do think it will be a very successful game. If it is, it may just show people that a sci-fi(/fantasy) MMO can be a successful money maker. Once it's determined the audience is out there for such a game, it's only a matter of time before an innovative, brilliant company comes along and puts out a game that fixes all that is broken in EVE, while keeping intact all that makes it great, just as Trion did with WoW. When that game comes out, I'll be in the beta!

EVE has a lot of issues, but they're issues that can be fixed. CCP needs to take their players more seriously. They need to listen to the community and back off the throttle on Incarna "iterations". Instead, they need to fix what's already in the game. I've never played a game with so many bugs. My warp tunnels have been borked since the first Incarna expansion. Yes, I've cleared my cache. I never notice any bugs in RIFT, yet I can't play EVE for ten minutes without being annoyed by multiple bugs. The UI is a mess and out-dated. Unfortunately, there's little hope in the community that CCP will fix any of this. Even Incarna was a let down. I maybe could have gotten on board if there was anything to it, but it's really just a new station interface. That's not an expansion in my book.

There was (supposedly) a large player exodus from EVE this summer. At the time I thought it was just a bunch of over-stated emo-rage from people who should really find some more important things in their lives to get passionate about. Now I think it may also have been rats fleeing a sinking ship. Only time will tell. In the end, EVE is just one game. There will be more, and they will only improve as time goes by. Check out my first post in this blog to see just how far science fiction video games have come already. EVE has changed the game industry forever. CCP's great experiment with their sandbox game was overall a success. They've shown it can be done.  Now they (or someone else) just needs to do it better. Hopefully the next sandbox spaceship game will have more content and will not rely solely on the players for that content.  

I believe that sci-fi MMO's will only become more popular in the coming years. You can already see an increase in interest in this genre in the movies and on television. What EVE really needs most of all is some good old-fashioned healthy competition. That may get the folks at CCP to finally pull their heads out. I don't think we'll have to wait for long.

You can read the rest of the Blog Banter posts here.

Fly smart.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Complete Unknown: A WH Guide

My CEO, Lorkin Desal, has just released a guide to WH space in pdf.  It's a great guide, especially for someone new to WH space.  It also has great resources for someone interested in starting their own WH corp.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Using Autopilot in Hazardous Space

A very important lesson that all new pilots learn in EVE is that you don't want to auto-death through low sec.  Sometimes, when I have to take a long route, I will take short cuts through low sec.  It's important to know that your autopilot will not stop before entering a low sec system, even though you'll get a pop-up box before entering a low sec system when flying manually.  For that reason, you have to be careful with your autopilot settings when traveling through low sec.

Here's how to still use your autopilot (a bit) without getting yourself killed:

  • Set your destination.
  • Check your autopilot settings.  
    • Hit F10 to go into your map screen.  
    • Select the Autopilot tab in the World Map Control Panel.  
    • Click the radio button for "Prefer shorter - ignore security status"  
    • Hit F10 again to close the map screen.  
    • Also, at the bottom of the autopilot settings, in the Waypoints section, make sure that "Disable autopilot at each waypoint" is selected.

You'll want to set up your autopilot so it will stop before going into a low sec system.  This way, if you're AFK, you're not cruising through low sec on autopilot.  At the top left of your screen, below the current and destination system information, you'll see your route represented by a horizontal line of small colored squares.  Each square represents a system on your route, and the color of the square corresponds to its secrurity status--ie light blue for 1.0, yellow for 0.5, orange for 0.4, etc.  When you mouse over a box, you will see the name of the system and its security status.  You want to look for orange and red systems.  These are the lowsec systems.  

  • Once you've looked through your route and found the low sec systems, you want to right click on the box BEFORE the first low sec system.  Select "Add Waypoint" from the pop up menu.  
  • Do this before each group of low sec systems your route goes through.  The waypoints will add to the end of your route, but don't worry about that for now.  
  • Once you've set waypoints before all the low sec entrance systems, right click on the original destination system.  (Destinations and waypoints are signified with pluses instead of boxes.)  
  • Select "Remove waypoint" from the pop-up menu.  
  • Now add the destination system back in as a waypoint.  

It's important that each time you add a waypoint you select "Add waypoint" from the menu and not "Set destination".  "Set destination" will remove all the other waypoints, and you'll have to start over.

Once you have this set up, you'll have a waypoint before each low sec entrance as well as your final destination waypoint.  Now, when you activate the autopilot, it will stop at the waypoints, before the autopilot jumps you into low sec.  You can then pilot manually through low sec and re-activate your autopilot once you're back in high sec.

Fly smart.