Monday, February 25, 2008

Dark Energy -- the Hidden Conspiracy

So recently there have been some measurements taken of the universe's expansion, and its possible between the various goings-on in the world a lot of folks don't have time to delve into the finer points of the astronomical vogue news.

Well, lucky you, because I feel its time that everybody learns about Dark Energy. Don't worry, I won't go into math or whatever, because I don't understand it either. I'll just give you guys the gist of it, and then let you go off and throw up in a state of nauseated euphoria as you consider the implications, and slowly go insane.

So...the Big Bang, right? Yeah, so, Maiar and Magic aside, its a pretty accepted theory of universal start time. Basically, every piece of matter was a tiny hot little speck, and for whatever reason it exploded and everything went everywhere in all directions. Eventually things cooled and became galaxies and whatnot, which is where your slurpies come from. In any case, you've probably heard about "Dark Matter," which is essentially a name the astrophysicists give the "fudge factor" constants they have to use in their fancy equations to solve for x. Dark Matter is an uncreative name for invisible matter ("ether," anyone?) that possesses a gravitational pull, that can't be directly measured, but can be studied by its effects on (regular matter) neighboring bodies. Fair enough.

Now putting Einstein's theories of whatever in the formulas, the big scientists determined that the universe will eventually slow down and stop expanding, and then collapse back in on itself as the gravity of the universe overcomes the force of the initial Big Bang, and then we'll have the "Big Crunch." You may have learnt about this in middle school, back when all they told us was lies.

Turns out, these scientists don't know shit about shit. Initially they had some quirky readings of the universe's expansion, but finally in August of 2006, they got some readings using NASA's orbital X-ray laboratory where they could measure the redshift of the galaxies moving away from our planet without the earth's atmosphere interfering. They figured they'd determine how fast the universe was expanding and at what rate it was slowing, in the hopes of being able to give a guesstimate on the amount of Dark Matter in the universe. Only instead of finding out the universe was slowing down, they found out it was speeding up.

That's right, speeding up. Think about that for a second. It doesn't make any goddamn sense. The fastest the galaxy should have been spreading is immediately after the Big Bang, and should slow down from then on out. "Objects at rest tend to stay at rest, objects in motion tend to stay in motion." Remember that little wit of wisdom from good ol' Newton? Well, not a universal truth, evidentially. Something is expanding in between the stars and galaxies, forcing the total area of the universe to get bigger without having any mass in itself at all.

What's the term for this ridiculously magical substance? "Dark Energy." Well, at least they didn't call it "The Xena Effect" or "Seven-of-Nine Swelling." In any case, Dark Energy is the new Dark Matter (there's still Dark Matter though...I guess).

So for the last 1-2 years we know we have had no freaking clue what was going on in space (we never really knew, but now we know we don't know, see?). We thought we did. I thought we did. But we don't. At all. Space is made of a magical substance that ebbs and flows however it wants, and swells up without having any measurable forces at all.

Light speed the fastest speed anything can travel? We probably got that wrong too. Alternate dimensions? Sure, why not? Hyperspace travel? Probably possible. Elder Beings watching us hungrily from across the endless voids of space? Most definitely.

Basically, every kind of cheesy alien/ghost/space travel origin presented late at night on the sci-fi channel, which everyone made fun of you for watching over and over, is now understood to be totally possible. Man, scientists are so freaking dumb, duh!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Krull: A Synopsis

Since Dr. Girlfriend and I have split our netflix lists into two separate queues, I have taken it upon myself to educate the good doctor in all of the epic 80s movies she missed as a little girl. We already went through the entire Indiana Jones Trilogy, in preparation for the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull...

So now we've moved on to 80s fantasy, and I am happy to report that while she didn't appreciate the Dungeons and Dragons-esque 1983 movie Krull, I found it better than I remembered (though, for the record, I remembered it being pretty bad). Here's the synopsis (super spoilertz!!!1!!).

Krull is the story of a happy medieval kingdom of magic and wonder on a far away world, and what happens when that world is invaded by a deep-space faring Satan who flies around in a spaceship castle.

At the beginning, a young prince with sweet chin-stubble and 80's-hair princess are getting married in order to unite the two warring kingdoms under one banner. This is so the relevant kingdom's armies can unite and fight off the "Beast's" alien armies. They make it pretty clear that the alien armies are right on the two kingdom's doorstep, but they still won't fight together until the kids are married. This is some really sticky politics the world of Krull has, and it costs them bigtime, because during the ceremony the aliens attack the castle (with freaking blasters that shoot blue laser beams!) and, with the exception of the prince stubblefield and princess Joan Jet (who they kidnap), kill every single person. Thats every person in the whole castle. Both kings, every knight, every squire, every peasant, every chambermaid.

The prince, fortunately, is just knocked out. On the bright side...hey, new king!

"Old Wise Guy" saunters down from the mountain and nurses the prince back to health. The prince is keen on getting his sweet lady back, but Obi-Wan tells him he can only defeat the big bad guy with the legendary "Glaive." Here's where my first recollection was off. I thought the Glaive was called the "Krull," but Krull is the planet, not the bladed thing. The name Glaive is a little misleading, because from my years of reading D&D manuals I know for absolute certain that a glaive is a huge blade on the end of a pole that orcs and cosplay dorks swing around.

You're welcome Paul.

In any case, the Glaive in Krull is a throwy knife-thing.

The origin of the Krull, shit, "Glaive" is completely glossed over. Its just an ancient weapon from ancient times with ancient power over evil. It doesn't seem very hard to get, as Prince Beardy waltzes up to a cave, sticks his hand in some hot lava, and pulls it out. I don't know what the deal is with the fire-resistant hand, but he gets it again later for no reason.

In any case, he gets the Glaive and you won't see it again for another hour and fifteen minutes. In the meantime Luke Beardwalker and Obi-Wan Bore-nobi start their journey toward Castle SpaceJump. Oh yeah, did I mention the evil guy's castle/spaceship teleports to a random destination on the planet Krull every morning at dawn? Well, it does. So they gotta find out where it'll be before they can go attack it and be completely overmatched by aliens with BLASTERS, so they obviously decide to head to the "Old Seer," so they can go off and get killed storming the castle.

This is where it gets wacky. Like every 80s movie and most early 90s fantasy movies everywhere, a plucky stupid JarJar-style sidekick is required by law. So of course they cross paths with a Monty-Python style clutsy magician who I hated throughout the movie.

Other 'joiners' to the Kingdom of the Sideburns included a group of Bandits (featuring Liam Neeson!), a little kid, and a spear-wielding cyclops named Rell. Rell threw his spear no fewer than four times, hitting dudes who were about to backstab someone every time with perfect accuracy. This kind of throwing accuracy is amazing because Rell shouldn't have any depth perception at all.

In any case, the old Seer gets killed off by Beastie McGee, so they gotta go see an evil spider-lady who can see the future. This is probably the part of the movie everyone with even a remote fear of spiders remembers, because of the awesome-looking white spider that hunts Old Guy as he tries to cross the webbing.

Old guy dies and they find out from the evil spider lady that the castle will appear in the "Iron Desert" in the morning, where it will remain for a day. The party of adventurers shows concern as they inform us that the "Iron Desert" is over 1000 leagues away! I felt it was interesting that nobody pointed out that the "Iron Desert" isn't a very specific location. That's like saying "Know ye prince, that the Castle of the Beast will appear in Kentucky, and stay there for only 24 hours! You must hurry!" If I'm going to kill off my Obiwan Kenobi character for some directions they'd better be given in latitude and longitude.

Fortunately they rope some some super-fast horses and are able to zip to the castle just before it re-teleports. They get inside where just about everyone dies. One thing that is great about the movie is the alien soldier deaths. When stabbed, the alien soldiers die in a very cool way, as they give out the exact same scream noise that R2D2 gives when he's shot by a blaster, and then a worm jumps out of their neck-armor and tunnels into the ground. Totally wierd. The movie is worth a rental just to see that.

Anyway, Sir Beardsalot fights the "Beast" with the Krull, which with he uses the force to make it telekinetically cut the creature a bunch of times. But then it gets stuck in the Beast's body and he can't retrieve it. Oh noes! Now he's powerless! How will he ever fight the Beast now?!

True fucking Love is how. I shit you not. On this crazy planet, somehow when people get married they can form flames in their hands and they trade them in some sort of ceremony. Well, Princess-in-Distress hands her flame to Hiro B. Protagonist and he shoots like a flamethrower out of his hands, melting the beast. Then he proceeds to shoot through the walls of the collapsing castle with his flamethrower-hands, destroying shit everywhere. It really is as surreal and out-of-nowhere as it sounds. True Love = 3rd degree burns. So, basically, newlyweds are the most dangerous people on the planet.

I give it seven Glaives out of nine!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Way is Shut

You know how when you're traveling through an ancient dungeon of unspeakable evil, and you and your stalwart companions wish to purloin the great treasures in the Chamber of Yog-Sothoth, but you can't open the way because you first must gather the three scattered gems of Avonleigh to unlock the great seals that bind the Dragons of the Old World behind the Gates of Khalim-yah?

Yeah, that's great stuff. That's when you show your icy stare that was hoary when the earth was young, and head off into a world-spanning pirate adventure. That's how a good DM gets you to do the boat trip adventure he has planned.

So how does the game Neverwinter Nights 2, 2007 game of the year, handle forcing fetch quests on its mid-level PCs? What if all you want to do is just get to another part of town where a dude you need to talk to lived?

Oh Noes! The City Watch have sealed the gates behind yellow caution tape! Would you, as a group of roguish and stalwart adventurers, be willing to run all sorts of errands for the City Watch in order to get into their good graces so they'd let you in? Of course not, and neither would 7th-level Ranger Quinn Apblanc, or his fiercesome sidekick 'Nibbles' the Dire Hampster!

So Quinn, along with his trusty high-level NPC companions, decided to find another way into the northwest quadrant of the city. I mean...the people in there have to eat, right? There's gotta be a wall we can climb or tunnel we can take or food supply wagon we can jump on or, if nothing else, we can overpower the guards and waltz on in (our dwarf has a flaming morningstar, after all).

Look at the height of that wall. I could climb a goddamn tree and get in there. Or I could, if the game recognized the "/climb" function (and there are a surprising lack of the 3rd-level fly spells in this game). But nope, you get railroaded into working for the City Watch for who knows how long. And the quests aren't even that good! Instead of 'Recover the golden scepter of the carnivorous ape tribe in the Lost Valley of the Velocigorgons,' you get 'clean up the docks and check in at all the guardhouses during your patrols.' Oh well written Atari, true masters of dungeons and dragons!

And as another kick in the pants, wherever I go now I'm attacked by assholes because I'm part of the City Watch. Here's a quick screenshot I grabbed of yet another ambush right after I left the tavern to start my patrol.

Thanks for the cheapshot required reload assholes! I'm now up to being a 9th-level Ranger after all these fetch quests and they still aren't letting me into the goddamn northwest region of the city. If you're going to force me to wade through a thousand sidequests before I continue the main quest (which I'm only barely interested in anyway), spice it up a little! I mean, where's my motivation?

Oh yeah, and Nibbles is getting pissed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Update from Hoth

Got out of work early today! Evidentally they had to let us go home early because even Imperial Probe Droids couldn't find a Rebel Base in this blizzard. These are pictures from our trip home at 1pm today (blizzard started ~7:30am).

Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads!

That reminds me that we got some sweet cross-country skis last week, and last weekend we went cross-country skiing around Middleton. There's so much perpetual snow here that you can pretty much ski anywhere. Here's pictures of us near our apartment, crossing a big open industrial park between blizzards.

Currently there's a huge blizzard outside and if they don't shutdown COMPANY tomorrow (unlikely) we may have to ski there rather than try to drive in this stuff (we live close enough its doable). Maybe I shouldn't have laughed at the snowshoe display in the sporting goods store we went to last week. Getting home today was an exercise in e-brake turns and rolling through top-of-the-hill stop signs (first paycheck went to new snow tires fortunately). But now that a couple more hours of blizzard have accumulated I don't think that the Fantastisuper Americar USA could even get out of the Apartment complex parking lot!

Don't worry Tim, I got her back home and she's in our underground parking space now.