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.