09 December 2011

"Launching little green idiots into space."

That was my reply when somebody asked me what I was doing the other day. And lo, I was telling the truth, because I was playing the alpha build of the fantastic game-in-progress Kerbal Space Program. Read on for all the details and pictures of things blowing up.

Space: as beautiful as it is pants-shittingly horrifying (notice 2/3 of the crew in the lower right). (Image Source)

05 December 2011

I've been throwing a lot of long videos at you...

...so here's some nice, short, sweet entertainment. This is no excuse not to watch the recent talks I've posted below, though. They're enlightening and entertaining and worth your time, I promise. But for now, some Beck:

Some insights into the atheist mindset from Skepticon 4

Skepticon 4 went down in Springfield, MO, a couple weeks ago, and videos of the talks are up on YouTube now. Some people who identify as skeptics dislike that Skepticon seems to do deal so prominently with atheism, but given the current state of religious issues in our country I don't think it should be surprising at all how centrally it figures.

A couple of the atheism talks struck me as being addressed as much to non-atheists as atheists, so I thought I'd share them here. If you don't consider yourself an atheist and are wondering about the atheist mentality, these videos can give you a decent idea of where we're coming from, I think. Bear in mind that these folks don't speak for all atheists. Greta's views on the usefulness of anger are divisive in the atheist community, particularly.

The talks are long in today's world of thirty second videos of babies laughing (they're about 45 minutes each), but well worth it, I think. First up is Dan Barker, a former minister. He explains a bit about his program to help other clergymembers who have realized they don't actually believe leave their positions, and also discusses the lines of thought that brought him to his own conclusion that he is in fact an atheist. After the jump is Greta Christina, who addresses the perception of the general public that atheists are defined by their anger.

04 December 2011

The Gateway Game: Settlers of Catan

So a while ago I offered a general introduction to the world of modern hobby board gaming. I wrote that as a crash course in the topic so that I could jump right in to reviews of new games and thoughts on the hobby. Since then, though, I've decided that it would make more sense to extend the concept of that primer to a whole series of posts that not only introduce people to the world of hobby board gaming, but perhaps also help them get into it. (In light of that, that introductory post may or may not be of use to you. I think it's a pretty good intro, but it's mostly quick details and no meat, so may be more confusing than helpful.) Inasmuch, I'm gonna go more in-depth with a few games that I think are good for people getting started in the hobby, beginning with The Settlers of Catan.

It's a vibrant and engaging game. (Image Source)

Spread the infection!

This one's been around for a bit, but I just came across it again and decided to share it here. The good stuff's after the jump!

03 December 2011

A match-up for the ages: Stephen Colbert and Neil deGrasse Tyson

So I was watching some talks on YouTube from the recent Skepticon convention when I saw this video as a related item. It had me at the title; it didn't matter what they were talking about, I knew it would be great (and it was). If you've got an hour and a half to spare, it's well-worth a listen. The visuals aren't essential, so just put it on in the background while you go about some other task if need be.

I especially enjoyed Tyson's passionate remarks on science education toward the end. All I can do is reiterate the truth of his arguments: our culture is separating curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking from learning and pretending that fact-memorization is enough. Being able to recall the presidents and the different types of biomes is great and the facts have their uses, but our citizens need more than that to stay competitive in international economics and politics or to solve the problems that face us as a global society.

Another thing that struck me is his comment that our country may have reached the end of its greatness when we congratulate ourselves for depicting destroying an asteroid on a screen instead of starting preparations now for the very plausible time when the danger presents itself to us in the real world.

But don't let my cynical comments dissuade you; I'm just a grumpy person, and on the whole the talk is very positive and light-hearted, not to mention funny. And aside from it being enjoyable listening experience on its own, I'd say it's a great opportunity to make yourself a stepping stone toward learning something new. Do yourself a favor and look up at least one of the topics they touch on that you don't understand that well and see where it takes you. :)

14 November 2011

Lovecraftian biology

A friend of mine mentioned that presenting science topics with Oatmeal-style goofy images might make them more entertaining. But instead I turned some science into a tale in the style of H.P. Lovecraft, because I'm not good with directions.

Our story takes place in a small, insular community nestled among the trees. It's a place often overlooked, but the residents are fine with that. They're content to go about their own business within the community, and don't much care for outsiders. They work with a singular devotion to maintain their homes, raise their children, and provide for their kin.

Little do they know, however, that lurking in unknown spaces—spaces beyond their comprehension—is a mindless horror that seeks to use their bodies and their minds for its own sinister purposes. Its terrible spores have drifted unseen, but soon they will find a suitable host and begin the community's monstrous transformation.

12 November 2011

This whole thing just makes me sick

I'm a cynic and even I was surprised by the disgusting displays of callousness and idiocy in the wake of the child rape scandal at Penn State. That people think someone's success in a pointless game should overshadow the fact that they knew children were being abused and allowed it to continue is abhorrent, unbelievable, and depressing. It's fucking football. It doesn't matter. And it matters even less when compared to the well-being of a child.

I'm just glad that someone in the mainstream media is acknowledging that the reactions to the story are nearly as reprehensible as the story itself:

And for the record, I think the comparison to the Catholic church is incredibly appropriate.

11 November 2011


Ya, ya, I get it, it's amazing and you're playing it and I'm not. Once I have the money (and of course, no longer the time) I'll be right there with you, and until then I'll do my best not to be bitter.

I've been pleasantly surprised to learn from reviews about a few features that I never saw mentioned in the lead-up to the game, such as hiring or befriending companions and having a dog. The fact that it's already pleasantly surprising me before I've even played it isn't going to make the wait any easier.

And speaking of surprising:

On the one hand, it's pretty dumb that you can put a bucket over someone's head without them reacting. On the other hand, it's nice to see that the NPCs' perception of the world seems to in fact be based significantly on their line-of-sight in the rendered world, instead of simply on dice rolls in the background.

But the best news I've heard so far about Skyrim is that dragons don't start appearing at random until a few missions into the main quest. In Oblivion I barely did the main quest at all, and instead created a bunch of side-characters to take on things like the Thieves or Mages Guild or just running around in the woods like an idiot. In that game the main quest was really easy to ignore; the only clue that you were supposed to be doing something else being the amulet in your inventory. I was worried that in Skyrim it would be impossible to ignore the whole "dragonborn" thing if dragons kept appearing where you character was, but thankfully you can opt out of that. Huzzah!

And now if you would kindly just shut up about the game until I get it, that'd be great.

01 November 2011

Laugh at these guys, then put their skin on your body

So I StumbledUpon a delightfully morbid Minecraft webcomic called Creeps. It's only just started, but I'm already a fan. Another fan made some skins of the characters, and I'm a jerk so I made some, too. I'm no skinologist but they're pretty okay maybe? (The large preview images were made using Miners Need Cool Shoes.)


Jensen's friend:

If you've never used a custom skin for Minecraft, here's what you do: Copy the smaller image and save it to your computer (as a .png would be good), then make sure you're logged in at minecraft.net, change it so it reads minecraft.net/profile at the top of the page, and upload the skin file. Woohoo! If it doesn't work right away try quitting and the restarting the game.

And check out Creeps, dummy.

27 August 2011

Bloody maths

Ladies and gentlemen—a view of Canobie Lake in Southern New Hampshire, if it were filled with blood instead of water:

I tinted the clouds red because I figured they'd reflect the lake a bit,
not because I was trying to make the scene even more sinister. :P (original image)
You may be assuming I'm a bit of a creep for creating that image (and I am), but lemme explain:

I was listening to the song "3rd Planet" by Modest Mouse the other day, when I was inspired to take one of the lines far too literally. Dozens of browser tabs, piles of conversions, and way more hours than I'd planned later, and we get the image above and this post.

The line goes, "When it occurred to me that the animals are swimming around in the water in the oceans in our bodies; and another had been found, another ocean on the planet, given that our blood is just like the Atlantic."

It's lovely imagery, but it got me wondering: how does the volume of blood inside all living human beings compare to the volume of large bodies of water like the Atlantic Ocean?

20 August 2011

Well, I guess it was fun while it lasted...

...(for some of us, anyway) but I'm pretty sure this is the death knell for the American culture. I don't mean to be alarmist, but this really seems like it could be the singular moment that the entirety of the 'Murkan experience has been leading up to. Do we really have anywhere to go after this?

Yes, that's what appears to be a face on a Walmart receipt. And yes--why would you even ask?--of course it's Jesus. You can click here for the full story, but why bother, really? You already know what it says, and the situation is so beautifully, horribly perfect that it really doesn't need anything added. It's so 'Murkan it hurts.

12 August 2011

Best cover ever?

I'm a person who enjoys a good reinterpretation of a song. And while I'm also a person who tries to avoid using superlatives, it's hard not to want to declare José González's take on the song "Heartbeats," originally by The Knife, the best cover ever.

In the interest of fairness, I'll put up the original version first, because I do think it is a good song on its own, and so deserves to be heard without the bias of having heard the cover:

It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but like I said, I do think it's a good song. But now we come to José González's version:

No disrespect to the original artist, but goddamn does that sound like the way the song was meant to be played. It's absolutely beautiful, and if not worthy of my zealous declaration then damn close.

Agree? Disagree?

13 June 2011

Crabs in glass houses

I love being able to see things that are usually hidden, especially when it comes to animal behavior:

Hermit crabs have always struck me with a bit of charm thanks to their quirky little second-hand protection behavior. I think it's particularly interesting how the behavior blurs the line between simply seeking shelter and the loftier concept of tool use.

I was inspired to look up some info on hermit crabs after seeing the above image, and came to find out that despite their name, they are actually quite social creatures. The fact that they often fight over quality shells didn't come as a surprise, but they apparently also exhibit cooperative shell-acquiring behaviors, which I thought was terribly interesting. Here's a video of it:

Apparently when a hermit crab comes across an empty shell too big for it to use, it may wait nearby instead of moving on. Eventually a large number of crabs may gather around it, and the smaller ones will start to climb onto the backs of the larger ones. Then, when one of the crabs decides to make use of the empty shell, the next biggest will use the now empty shell of the first, the third smallest will climb into his, and so on down the line. It's been dubbed a "vacancy chain." I imagine some fighting would still occur if more than one crab of the same size joined the chain, but the generally cooperative nature of the behavior adds another layer of charm to these odd little critters for me.

01 April 2011

Invader Zim, a reprise

I think Invader Zim was one of the best cartoons out there. Unfortunately, being as creepy and deranged as it was, it was a poor fit for Nickelodeon, and was cancelled prematurely. It's a damn shame, since the show seemed to be really coming into its stride just as it was cancelled, with the seeds being sown for several story arcs involving things like the Resisty and Tak.

(image source)
Unfortunately I don't think the show will be able to pull a Family Guy or Futurama and come back after all these years (nearly ten! Christ!), but if you're a weirdo like me who misses it and what it could have been, the videos below might bring some warmth back into your icy, jaded heart.

30 March 2011

A couple ice-cold songs to warm you up

Both these songs have themes that aren't too cheery, but the music wouldn't give that away. One deals with the harsh dumping of a golddigger, and the other with a kid shooting up a school (or at least thinking about it). But the first will warm you up by virtue of getting you moving (I know I can't help but start to flail violently whenever I hear it), and that hot actin-on-myosin action will hopefully get your temperature and spirits up. And the second just has the sound of a summer night, the air thick but not oppressive. Both methods of warming are much appreciated here, since it's cruelly dipped back to freezing temperatures in New Hampshire after a brief taste of spring.


The other thing the songs happen to have in common is that while I enjoy each one greatly, I'm not really interested in the remainder of the artists' catalogs. For Fitz and the Tantrums (great name) the entire album seems to be about being spurned by women, and it only takes a couple of those before it just sounds whiny. For Foster the People, the rest of their stuff simply doesn't seem to be up to the quality of the song above. Of course, give both the artists a fair listen for yourself if you like their stuff above.

Hope you enjoy! :)

25 March 2011

Perspective, Part 2

Just came across this, and it seems like a perfect follow-up to the last post.

Having established how far away from the Earth our moon is, we now have a lovely point of reference for this video, which shows us how different planets in our system would look in our sky if they were the same distance away as our moon:


20 March 2011


To me, the most important thing that scientific inquiry gives us is a perspective of our place in the universe. I find myself drawn to fields within the sciences that give us a striking image of how we as individuals, a species, and a planet fit into the world at large; I enjoy biology, sociology, and astronomy, but can't get nearly as fired up about chemistry or mechanical physics, for example.

Of those, astronomy of course offers some of the most dramatic examples of scale and the biggest challenges to our human-centric impression of the universe. A lot of these are on such a huge scale that it's hard for us as mere apes to really understand the ramifications. However, I came across the video below the other day, and thought it was a nice example of a common misunderstanding of scale that's a little closer to home.

If you'll humor me, make a circle with one hand to represent the Earth and then use your thumbnail on your other hand as a stand-in for our moon. If your thumbnail is about 0.5 inches wide, then you should make your "Earth" about 2 inches from pole to pole. Now, hold your hands apart at a distance that you think accurately represents the distance from the Earth to the moon. If my math is correct* then you're on the money if you're holding your hands about four and a half feet apart. If you were way off, you're not alone, as the video below demonstrates:

You can just ignore the bits after about 1:20 in. The comparisons he starts to draw aren't really that clear or compelling, and as the folks in the comments have made aggressively clear, the bit in his slide where the light distance to the nearest star is multiplied by the number of stars in the galaxy is all sorts of wonky (first of all, it doesn't make any sense to multiply those two values, and secondly most current estimates of the number of stars in our galaxy lean toward 400 billion rather than 100 billion).

Misgivings about the end of the video aside, hopefully the distance he had to walk away (and the distance you had to hold your hands apart) helped your concept of distances in space, either by giving you a handy (lololololol) model for the distance if you were already aware of it, or by giving you one of those lovely little moments of sudden awareness if you weren't.

And if you're an easily entertained doofus like me who sent your thumbnail moon crashing into your Earth hand in a life-obliterating cataclysm, then you're welcome for the extra 30 seconds of apocalyptic fun.

*That can be quite an assumption given that my brain is allergic to numbers. But here's how I got it: moon's diameter ~2,160 miles, average distance from moon to Earth ~239,000 miles. If your thumbnail is 0.5 inches, then that's about 4,320 miles to the inch. So 239,000 miles divided by 4,320 miles/inch = 55.4 inches = 4.61 feet. Also, diameter of the Earth ~8,000 miles, so about 2 inches. That's a whole bunch of rounding, so the distance in inches is by no means exact, but a decent approximation, I think. If there's a problem with my values or arithmetic, please let me know.

16 March 2011

Minecraft is getting wolves/dogs; also, achievements

(Updates below the fold, including a video of the wolves in action.)

During GDC earlier this month, Notch, the lead developer of Minecraft, tweeted that he had promised a well-known developer that he would add dogs to the game. That tweet came a short time after another stating he had just met Peter Molyneaux (the guy behind the Fable games), and I'm inclined to think that it wasn't mere coincidence. My initial hope was that even if they were committed to adding dogs they would put it off in favor of other additions to the game, such as the "hardcore" option they've been talking about, wherein you'd need to eat to survive.

But a recent tweet from Jens Bergensten, another of the game's developers, strongly suggests that dogs and/or wolves will be added to the game fairly soon. The tweet included a link to a screenshot of the animals in-game (click for full size):

Read on for some more details on the dogs, what's been said about achievements, and my opinions on it all.

15 March 2011

The xx

I was in love with these guys as soon as I heard them. They're minimalism at its sultriest. Their songs are haunting and beautiful, and carry real emotional weight. And her voice melts me, basically. And of course this video in particular is pretty sweet. [And by "pretty sweet" I meant heartbreakingly beautiful.]

If you're wondering, the "The" is capitalized while neither of the "x"s are, and you pronounce both of them as the letter ("The ecks-ecks").

Link Post 2: The Rehashening, Part I - Webcomics

The content of my original list of links was written two years ago now, since it was borrowed from my Facebook proto-blagging. I've been introduced to StumbleUpon since then, so there are a lot more things I have to share. My original intent was to do a one-off like the first post, but trying to get everything in became unwieldy, so I decided to split it up into two parts, Webcomics and Everything Else. We'll start with the webcomics!

08 March 2011

I make faces

A promise is a promise (this one was made on Facebook), so here are a bunch of photos of me attempting to replicate meme faces:

26 February 2011

I like to keep you on your toes...

So from Feist, here we go into Fantomenk:

The genre is chiptune, which basically makes use of a lot of the sounds that can be created on an old gaming console. If you can listen to this song only once at a time, you're stronger willed than I am. Same if you're able to restrain yourself from flailing around in your chair while listening to it, because I sure can't. :D

25 February 2011

Unlearn what you have learned about board games

So I've been wanting to do some posts on the sorts of board games I've been playing, but each time I've realized that such a post would require a significant amount of introduction to bring people up to speed on modern hobby board gaming. So I've put off the more specific board game posts for now so that I can post a primer for those of you who might not be aware of what sort of depth the board gaming hobby has these days.

First things first: purge Monopoly from your mind. It's probably the first thing you think of when you hear the words "board game," and that's a damn shame. There's a board, certainly, but I'm less convinced about the "game" part. Monopoly is characteristic of those old childhood board games in that where you go is based entirely on luck, eliminating most of the potential for strategy. Then it takes it further by lasting freaking forever and having gameplay that makes you hate everyone else playing.

If I told you this game was actually developed by family counselors to generate more business for their practices, I bet you'd give it a moment of legitimate consideration.

That's not what board gaming has to be about. While most people these days get their games in video form (of which I'm also a big fan), board gaming offers plenty of things that video gaming can't, principally among them the pleasant tangibility of the physical board and pieces, and the wonderful social aspect of having all the players around the table to share the experience. So if you're ready to leave behind all the bad memories left with you by games like Monopoly and find out how much fun board gaming can actually be, read on. :)

17 February 2011

The Minecraft Apocalypse

I love the mix of stupid cardboard costumes with some pretty sweet effects during the fight.

Just a quick piece of awesome

A volcanic eruption as seen from the International Space Station.


A unique method of mammalian communication

As you probably know, crickets rub together surface structures to generate sound and communicate with other members of their species. It's become something of a mundane piece of trivia at this point, but it's really pretty cool when you think about it. 

The oral communication we're more familiar with also involves rubbing pieces of integument against each other to make a noise; the two big differences are that our communication involves the forced passage of air from our pulmonary system over these noisy bits, and that all the structures involved are internalized. The fact that crickets have gone an entirely different route by instead recruiting locomotive structures and that it all occurs externally can strike you as pretty alien to our methods in the right frame of mind.

Though, in the end, that degree of difference isn't all that unexpected between ourselves and insects. But what if there was a cricket-like method of communication a little closer to home? Enter the striped tenrec of Madagascar:

16 February 2011

Great song, great video

Though I do cringe a little when she holds the sparkler that close to her face.

14 February 2011

Tell me all your thoughts on god...

You know we live in a pretty amazing age when I can make that request of hundreds of people from all around the world from my bedroom. And that's exactly what I did a couple of years ago, using the chat service Omegle.

The countries filled in with blue are those which people have alleged to be from while I've talked to them on Omegle.

10 February 2011

Genetic drifting

Okay, so neither genetic drift nor drifting are involved in this, but I couldn't resist the stupid joke, because it's about evolving cars:

Play it here!
It's called BoxCar2D and could be a fantastic tool for teaching a biology class about how natural selection works.

Phantogram - "Running from the Cops"

Check them out.

Hank the Beautiful (Etymology, Comedy, Sexism, Vikings, and Asterisks)

You may be aware that the term "America" likely comes from the name of cartographer Amerigo Vespucci, being the Latinized, feminine form of his first name (Amerigo -> Americus -> America, to match the feminine names of the Old World continents). Vespucci made journeys to the New World after Columbus and his name was on the maps he made, and another cartographer apparently saw fit to therefore name over a quarter of the world's land area after him (to his credit he of course didn't know it was that much).

The Adventures of Reginald McFisticuffs, Part 1

So this is the first Reginald "adventure." It's the odd-one-out in that it's very short; all the others are painfully long. But it did start the formula of mundane or depressing contemplations juxtaposed with surrealism.

Though he did his best to hide it, Professor Reginald C. McFisticuffs III could not help feeling that his contempt for the young up-and-comer might be somewhat apparent...

The news was not all bad, however, as shortly thereafter the foreman of the build crew came down to inform him that construction of the dapper new top hat out of McFisticuffs's own hair was nearly complete.

A light has gone out.

 (This was originally posted to Facebook in March of 2010 after a friend lost her life in an accident.)

Recent events have had me thinking on the notions of life, death, the afterlife, and how we all go on with our lives knowing that certain special people are gone.


So at this point in my Facebook blogging I included a terribly long summary of most of my views on religion. At some point in the future I may republish that (most likely in chunks), but for now I think I'm just going to go into my reasons for including one of the particular pictures that I did in that original post:


Reasons why I secretly want a zombie apocalypse

So I think as human beings we're generally supposed to find the concept of a life-obliterating global disaster a bit distasteful, but I must admit, there are times when I find myself secretly thinking of a zombie apocalypse in a positive light.
Like this, but a smidge less English.

Now hopefully that doesn't prompt you to think of me as some sort of monster. I'm also pretty sure I'm not entirely alone in this (the facebook group "The Hardest Part of a Zombie Apocalypse Will be Pretending I'm Not Excited" has over 60,000 members). I'm well aware it's probably not a good thing to want a zombie apocalypse. If it ever did happen, I think it's quite likely my enthusiasm would be markedly dimmed.

But I can't deny the way I feel now, and so I thought maybe I'd delve a bit into the psychology behind such a seemingly absurb concept by examining my own motivations. But worry not: I will do no actual research for this blag, and will simply ramble off gut feelings and pop-psychology buzz words. And hey, I'll also do my best to make it humorous.

Some music to appease you

Since I'm reposting a bunch of old content, I figured I'd include some quick new content in the form of a song that I enjoy. If you haven't listened to the Cold War Kids before, give them a shot. I think they've put out some excellent music.

09 February 2011

These people are clever. You should therefore assume that I am too.

This was originally posted a couple years ago. I went through and adjusted the links as needed. I'll do a follow up in the near future that includes some more sites that I've come across since this was posted.

So the first blag probably didn't keep your interest all that much, with all the "blahblahblah Star Wars blahblahblah anuses blahblahblah." So now it's time to hopefully pull some people in by demonstrating how awesome of a person I am by showing you a bunch of people much funnier and more interesting than me. Sounds like a plan! Here are some of my favorite places around the interwebs (minus the more mundane ones like the several videogaming websites I check regularly and such, and hopefully without the ones that are too old of news), starting with the webcomics that I follow:

I'm in a relationship with Star Wars and it's complicated.

This was also my first Note posted to Facebook in my proto-blogging phase. Why I thought it would be a good lead-in then, or why I'm continuing that assumption now, is really beyond even me. If there was any doubt in your mind about my being a giant dork, this should clear things up.

I unabashedly admit to being a huge Star Wars geek. As I type this I'm wearing a "Han Shot First" t-shirt (if you don't know what that means, don't worry, we'll get to that in a moment), if I said I'd never bought a Star Wars action figure while being legally able to drink I'd be lying, and I spent a couple very enjoyable years during high school roleplaying as a Stormtrooper in an online game. You might assume I'm on some sort of mission to never get laid again, but really it's just that I seem to have been born without some genes critical to the human body's production of shame.

I'm so far gone that the only thing keeping me from joining these dorks is money. Yep. Source

My relationship with Star Wars is not a straightforward one, however. And since you're a damned fool, you're going to click "Read more" and find out all about it. Go on, it's worth it! I added some funny pictures and all sorts of talk about ferrets and anuses and such.

Another drop in the ocean

So I finally decided I had enough thoughts bouncing through my skull that it might be healthier to shout them into the internet than to keep them bottled up. So I've taken the plunge and gotten me some "Web 2.0" or "blogosphere" and probably some "synergy" while we're prattling off asinine buzz-phrases. I started by writing some blog-ish Notes on Facebook, but I figured with the amount of rambling I'm capable of a proper blog would be a better option. The first few posts here will likely be reposts of those Facebook notes, which is of course ultra-annoying since I'm assuming the only people who'll be reading this thing are folks who are already friends with me on Facebook.

As for further content, I'm thinking it'll be whatever crap is on my mind at the time. So you can likely expect lots in the topics of science (particularly biology), religion & atheism, and board & video games. I'll also probably include some links to things like music that I think is worth listening to and random crap I find on the internet. From time to time I may include some of my drawings of questionable quality and questionable-er sanity. And then of course I'll be bringing Reginald along with me, in the form of the "episodes" I already posted to Facebook and some new ones I have planned.

That's it for now; I'm gonna see what I can do with the layout and then I'll start adding some actual content.