Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Minecraft project

Awhile back I started building a giant sphere while playing Minecraft on my home computer. I never finished it and the computer died. I recently started playing on a server that's home to mostly Imgur users and started again. But this time I decided to go to the next step. I built the sun. Then I started moving on to the other planets.

Click to enlarge

The sun consists of two glass hemispheres. The lower half is 100 blocks wide, the top is 96 blocks wide leaving space for a 98 block ball of lava. Many servers don't allow you to pour out buckets of lava. They're too dangerous to work with. However, if you put the bucket of lava in a dispenser it can produce the same effect, just with more effort. So I set up dispensers on top of the sun and kept moving them around as needed. Due to the nature of the sphere and how lava behaves I was able to cover most of it with just 4 buckets. The rest was very dangerous work.

You can see Mercury peeking out from around the sun. Then Venus, Earth, and Mars. The picture is taken from what's done of Jupiter.

I tried to be fairly accurate with Earth. Africa looks pretty good from here. But the design was done by trying to manually convert 2D pictures to a 3D surface. There's flaws. And the parts we're most familiar with are all near the top where we can't see them.

Mars has polar caps. Everything else is made from Netherrack, which is reddish, but not very reflective. So at night it goes dark and would be invisible if not for the fact that it still blocks out stars. This picture was taken at sunset, so you can see Mars going black already.

Jupiter is being developed with colored bands and storms. I have some ideas on how to make the moons move. I figure I'll build a glass ring, put mine cart tracks on the glass, and release 4 carts driven by occasional powered tracks.

Saturn will have the hexagon, but I'll move it to the south pole, instead of the north.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Links: March 20

The spring equinox is today at 6:45 PM EDT. That's when the Sun passes over the Equator.

Game: Suspense II - solve puzzles by shifting back and forth in time. [link]

Short story: A Funeral on Mars. [link]

Comic book characters discuss serious issues. [link]

Baby bats in blankets. [link]

cartoon: I got a phone call from my college rapist. [link]

You've heard about the really deep hole the Soviets dug. Maybe in conjunction with talk about voices heard deep in the well. Here's the real story. [link]

A Return of the Jedi alien spoke Kikuyu, a Kenyan language. [link]

People can learn to control their iris so they can focus better underwater. [link]

A book about the possibility of becoming Batman. [link]

Using sound waves to make things fly.

100 year old notebook found in Antarctic ice. [link]

The case for asteroid mining. [link]

Using gravitational lensing to see supernova reruns. [link]

Herpes is more common than you may think. [link]

Maggie Thatcher's government was covering up a pedophile ring. [link]

Finishing Minecraft in under 12 minutes.

Among the things brought to the New World by Columbus... earthworms. [link]

WellDeserved: A Marketplace for Privilege.

Wait, is that sarcasm?

Nifty stone walls. [link]

The phrase "climate change" banned from official use in Florida. [link]

Your fridge may be spamming you. [link]

A man who shipped himself from London to Sidney. [link]

12 highlights from the Ferguson report. [link]

February's CO2 levels match those of 23 million years ago. [link]

What various states are doing price checks on. [link]

Robert Downey Jr helps deliver a prosthetic arm to a kid.

The crates even say Stark Industries on them.

The first pictures from a new island. [link]

Icebergs washing up in New England. [link]

Lava devouring Coke cans. [link]
Be sure to watch the Lava devouring a Monster Energy Drink video that follows.

Cattle rustling. [link]

Powdered. Alcohol. I can't see how this plan could possibly go wrong. [link]

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St Patricks day

The reason we associate green with the Irish, and thus St Patrick's Day, is because food was so scarce during the potato famine that they had to resort to eating grass.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett: RIP

Maybe you'll get links on Monday. We'll see. Instead I wanted to take today to tell you about Sir Terry Pratchett. He passed away yesterday morning at home, in bed, surrounded by his cats. He was 66.

Back in 2007 he was diagnosed with an embuggerance (his word). He had a variety of Alzheimer's that he admitted was the best kind to have if you absolutely must have Alzheimer's. It soon took away his ability to read and write. The words on paper just didn't make any sense. However, he was able to hire Rob to take dictation and read back to him. Together, they were able to produce several more Discworld books as well as a trilogy of sci-fi books that allowed Terry to break away from the series that has dominated his work.

Having been diagnosed, Sir Terry became interested in assisted suicide. He created a documentary on the subject and gave a talk. The hour long documentary is available here. The talk was partially given for him since he was unable to read his own notes. Baldrick of Black Adder fame was a friend of Sir Terry, having done many of the Discworld audio books, and finished the speech for him. It can be viewed here. But, I believe that Mrs. Pratchett talked him out of it saying that she'd rather have him and have to care for him rather than not have him around. The BBC is saying that it wasn't suicide.

Sir Terry was still making regular appearances in England, not allowing his health to interfere until last July. His hat attended in his place.

Looking at some recent posts to his Facebook page, they knew this was coming. Last Friday they were asking fans to say how much Sir Terry's work meant to people.

His twitter feed announced his passing in the style of the character Death from Discworld.

Terry took Death's arm and followed him through the door and on to the black desert under the endless night.
The End.

But so far I've been talking about his death. His work is what made his passing so notable.

I picked up "Good Omens" from the BooksAMillion in Dupont Circle not long after moving to Washington, DC. That's the book that introduced me to both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman and it remains firmly in my top 10 most recommended books ever. Terry Gilliam is the only one allowed to make a movie of that book and he would sometimes call either Terry or Neil in the middle of the night and curse them out for writing such a hard book to film.  Alas, as Pratchett himself said "...it's not absolutely certain that it won't happen..."

From there I started in on the truly massive Discworld series. This is not a series that requires you to start at the beginning and work your way through. In fact, it's not at all recommended. The Discworld universe contains many characters and storylines that run independent of each other. The diagram below should serve as a good guide. The only exception I might take to it is to skip "The Colour of Magic" and "The Light Fantastic" and come back to them later. Or watch the movie made of them and skip the books. Those were the first books that Sir Terry wrote and it shows. Years of refining helped make the movie much better.

I started with "Mort" and would recommend that or "Guards Guards" as a starting point. "Going Postal" and "Mysterious Regiment" stand alone nicely, but these later books don't have the same sense of humor of the earlier books. "The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents" is more of a children's book, aimed at pre-teens, but that didn't stop Yummy and I from listening to it on a car trip and naming a cat "Beans" after one of it's characters.

You can also find movie versions of the various books. The cartoon versions of "Wyrd Sisters" and "Soul Music" were horribly done. There was something wrong with the timing. Do not watch. The live action version of "Hogfather" really only works if you've read the book. However, "The Colour of Magic" and "Going Postal" were brilliantly done. Check Netflix or find them for sale online somewhere, because they're nigh impossible to find in brick and mortar stores.

My own book, which I've submitted to absolutely nobody, was developed in no small part because of these books. I'd read them on the subway which got me into a mindset that allowed me to develop a collection of interesting characters on my hike to the office. Once there I'd write down what I'd developed on the hike. I keep a collection of unread Discworld books handy for when I'm ready to start writing, again.

You've also seen me review his more recently release serious sci-fi novels developed with Stephen Baxter, "The Long Earth", "The Long War", and "The Long Mars". These books talk about a world where easy access to parallel dimensions was discovered and mass settlement begun. Actually, I'm still waiting to find "The Long Mars" in paperback. They were contracted for two more books, but I guess Baxter will have to finish on his own.

A good book can take you to another place and make you consider new ideas. Pratchett would laugh at society and make you laugh along with him. His books could not just change how you view the world, but how your brain processes ideas. He could literally make you think differently for awhile. He spend time as the second most read author in England, second only to J.K. Rowling. His passing is a loss to the literary community, the Alzheimer's and dementia community, a personal loss to millions, if not billions, of fans, and to his cats who were really looking forward to eating him.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Friday Links: March 6

Mice go extinct in mouse utopia. [link]

Facebook cover photo art. [link]

Another religious group protecting it's pedophiles. [link]

Anti-pirating ad music stolen (improperly licensed). [link]

Nested microwave ovens being used as a time machine.

10 jobs to enter if you like crazy-ass bullies. [link]

Marilyn Monroe was not a size 10/12/16/whatever. [link]

The manufacturers of Buck Knives will heat treat your homemade knives for you. [link]

The construction and operation of Jabba the Hutt. ~20 minutes [link]

Mary Poppins death metal.

Birds give this kid gifts. [link]
So, Disney princess meets Tim Burton film?

Patrick Stewart sees himself everywhere. [X-Men] [Star Trek]

How they put the heads on fancy pins. [link]

Some damn impressive CGI water. [link]

Nifty rooftop houses. [link]

Gods. You again? [link]

George Harrison killed by beetles. [link]
Once upon a time, kids, there was a band called The Beatles...

Photos of great rappers in history. [link]

How to deal with Twitter bullies. [link]

Stock photography to use to see if anyone is paying attention. [link]


Free movie soundtracks. [link]

Dynamic topographic map projected on a sandbox.

Friday, February 27, 2015

I have been, and always shall be, your friend.

Leonard Nimoy is dead. After a career like his it's hard not to want to deal with the loss using quotes from that career.
We are assembled here today to pay final respects to our honored dead. And yet it should be noted that in the midst of our sorrow, this death takes place in the shadow of new life, the sunrise of a new world; a world that our beloved comrade gave his life to protect and nourish. He did not feel this sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we will not debate his profound wisdom at these proceedings. Of my friend, I can only say this: of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most... human. 
- Capt. Kirk in Wrath of Kahn
I'm too young to have seen Star Trek in it's original airing, but I remember watching it on TV as a kid. Star Trek is considered the domain of nerds, but everyone watched it and everyone had a character they related to. The nerds tended toward Scotty and Spock. James Doohan was constantly told that someone or other went into engineering of one kind or another because of him. I want to take this opportunity to tell Nimoy what Spock did for me and some of my friends.

The story told about Vulcans is that they're beings of pure logic. Or, rather, that they're highly emotional beings who strive to bury their emotions. They work on self control and denial of feelings, both good and bad, until they appear to be beings of pure logic. And if you can break through that shell you'll evoke a rage that would terrify a Klingon.

I was a nerd before nerds were generally accepted. I watched Revenge of the Nerds pretty much on loop. And I was picked on. I was outcast. Birthday parties were filled with people I had classes with, not necessarily friends. I also developed crushes well before I probably should have. That one woman on the school bus back in Kindergarten or 1st grade. That one classmate in 2nd grade that I would still drop absolutely everything and go slay a dragon for.

Spock helped me bury all that. The classmates standing on my head, the isolation, the hopeless crushes... these all got skimmed over even in grade school. Just skimmed over, mind you. When I'd finally crack there were fits of rage, but I'd try to keep them in private. Most would call this behavior unhealthy, but it was the only way to cope that I had. In my mind I became like Spock for awhile.

When I got older I would meditate. In my head, down a long flight of stairs, in a long, dark hall, there was a room with a machine. And I'd pull the levers and turn the knobs to turn down the emotions, to limit hormones. I couldn't do anything about the thugs, the bullies, or how they'd turn against any girl I showed affection to just as much as if they came after me. I had to get rid of their ability to hurt me and those I cared for so I had to get rid of any feelings of affection that I could never express without hurting that person. So I used the machine to turn everything down.

That girl who sprinted away down the halls when I asked her out. I had to let that slide off. The one who hung the love note in the school display case? I knew what kind of person she was now. Just walk away. Instead, appreciate the fact that every girl in school stopped talking to the guy who threw me across the gym locker room for using "his" shower head. I knew why the women reacted they way they did. They were defending themselves from monsters. I knew already that the best thing to do when I liked a girl was to avoid her and make sure that nobody ever knows that I like her. But there were a few women that were friendly enough to me that I thought maybe, just maybe...

By then I wasn't summoning Spock by name, but it was him. It was his example. It still probably wasn't healthy.

This is not going how I expected when I started writing.

In college the bullying stopped. So I had that going for me. But that didn't matter anymore. I couldn't, and still can't, get insulted. At most I cock one eyebrow and think "fascinating". Everything washed over me. But, with women the issues remained. I could keep the world out, but when you fall for someone that comes from somewhere deep inside and bubbles out. The levers on my machine helped keep those feelings to a simmer, but couldn't turn them off. But the constant, ongoing rejection was an issue. I got my first pity date my Junior year. It wasn't even a pity date. She was pressured into it by our friends. I had random women approach me on the sidewalk and tell me they'd never go out with me. Guys, in the meantime couldn't keep their hands off my ass or stop complimenting me at the urinal.

There was one woman who was interested in me. And, truth be told, I was interested in her, too. She flirted with me pretty heavily. She came over and introduced herself when we first started college. She sat next to me in all of our psych classes. But she was a flirt. She flirted with everyone. She slept over in the rooms of most everyone on my dorm floor. So I never took her seriously even for a minute. She pinned me to the wall with her hips and read my homework in a seductive manner and I just assumed she was being silly and having fun. NO woman was interested in me. And this one is treating me like she treats everyone. Why would I take her seriously? And here is where I blame Spock. Spock and my entire dating history. I only found out she was serious when we were taking the final for our last psych class together. She finished first and told me she loved me as she left. I finished as fast as I could and went after her. I found where she was logged in to the computer system and went after her, but she was gone. And when we got back from Christmas she had a boyfriend.

I have gotten better at detecting flirting, but it still takes 5-10 minutes to register "hey, dummy, you were supposed to ask her out".

In my junior year I attempted suicide. I had friends, but they didn't really help with the idea that life was eating, class, and work with the only prospect for the future being that class would eventually be replaced with more work. Work I'd do to pay for the food. So I took lots of sleeping pills. I listened to the psychologists try to convince me that dating wouldn't make me happy. And I almost believed them. But years later, with a lot more time, reflection, and perspective I can say with confidence that they were 100% full of crap. I met someone during my first senior year and it was life changing. Just that one person to smile at you, to hold you, can be all you need to make the pain go away. And even when you separate the simple fact that she was there once upon a time can help you for years to come. Can let you walk away from the women that are bad for you.

Which is good. I'm pushing 40 now and I can't flirt. The old programming remains. I know better, but the middle school and high school training is embedded as instinct. The worst thing I can do is let a woman I'm interested in know. It's more Lancelot than Spock. I'm protecting her. If I don't ask her out she won't be a target. Or she won't have to let me down gently. And I won't have to summon Spock to deal with the disappointment. All this I fight, but it is ground into me so deep that it is a struggle. I know how to be friends with a woman. But if I want something more I don't have any clue what to do next. I move slowly. And when you're 40 that's a huge problem. And I don't know if I should blame Defense Mechanism Spock, the bullies and classmates, or if I'm on the Aspergers Spectrum somewhere.

Anyway, look, Nimoy, your inspiration helped me and a lot of others for whom emotions were a curse. And, beyond Spock, when you'd appear on other shows, Fringe, Mission Impossible, your many voice acting roles, or whatever, we were always happy to see you. An old friend come by for a visit. At one point Star Trek was playing on TV somewhere in the world 24 hours a day. It's been shown in 100 countries in dozens of languages. You are mourned by the world. And you will be remembered long after the era Star Trek is set in has passed us by.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Friday Links: February 27

Before action figures. [link]

Is this what they mean by weighted dice? [link]

I've played Half-Life 2, and I don't remember this part.

Republican in Congress believes stupid thing (part infinity plus one). [link]

Guy I know gets interviewed for making games. [link]

Frog riding a beetle. [link]

"Blood is thicker than water" means the opposite of what you think. [link]

This guy was so mad he had to carve it into rock. [link]
note: he actually wrote it in mud and waited for it to dry.

Short Adam Savage TED talk.

Don't march in step on a bridge. [link]
Because I know you had plans to do that this weekend

Man ordered to pay child support on kid proven not to be his. [link]