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Category Archives: NaBloPoMo

The awesomeness that is Adam WarRock


Those of you who know me know that I’m not much of a music buff.  Until university I hadn’t listened to much outside of videogame soundtracks & remixes and a couple of Rammstein tracks that were attached to some Anime music videos.  Thankfully this has been changing recently and I’ve been listening to a lot more music in general, especially the more nerdy stuff, because it’s actually pretty good.  The artist that proves this beyond all others is a man called Adam WarRock.

Adam WarRock is a Korean-American comic book rapper who used to be a lawyer until he realised that he hated his day job and took up rapping fulltime.  He’s pretty much the only source for comic book themed music, aside from a few one-off tracks which I’ll mention in the links later.  He’s only been making music professionally for a couple of years, but he’s put together quite the tracklist for such a short period of time.  Almost all of his work is free too, apart from a couple of albums and special remixes of some of his songs, and even those can be streamed for free.  Speaking of which, let’s talk about the music.

Sinister Six (Spider-Man)
The first one of his songs that I listened to was a Spider-Man track focused on the Sinister Six.  This is a 10 minute long monster of a track that tells the tale of the original members of the Sinister Six and their coming together to defeat Spider-Man once and for all.  It’s told from the perspective of the villains themselves and changes tune as new villain steps up to try to best Spider-Man.  The tone changes quite frequently too, alternating between a darker, more violent take on the Spider-Man universe and becoming almost slapstick.  I think this is still probably my favourite song and I’ve already listened to it many more times than I could count.

Top Wobble (Inception)
A very catchy song that recaps the entire Inception movie. If you haven’t seen Inception then I’d go watch that first because spoilers abound here. I tend to find myself humming the chorus for a good while after every time I listen to this.

I believe in Harvey Dent (The Dark Knight)
I think it’s safe to say that most of us like Batman, or the Dark Knight movie at least. This track is about Harvey Dent, the up and coming attorney who, after suffering a disfiguring injury, becomes the villain Two-Face.

Smashed Gordon (Flash Gordon)
Like the Inception track earlier, this one follows the plot of three Flash Gordon movie, with a difference. Rather than being a regular sports jock, Flash is instead a drunken frat boy. It’s a bizarre take and I’m not sure write what to make on it, but you can’t deny the quality of everything else about this.

I Gotta Believe! (Scott Pilgrim)
This one was released not too long after Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, the last in the series, was announced and recaps the rest of the series to prep for the release. As with his other recaps spoilers abound, and you probably won’t find it too interesting if you’ve never read the comics. If that’s the case though, then you have more pressing matters, like reading the comics. It managed to earn a mention from Bryan O’Malley, mainly because it’s so damned good.

Browncoats Mixtape (Firefly)
Aside from the one-off tracks, Adam WarRock also makes the occasional album. All but 2 of these have been released for free, and the latest one is this Firefly mixtape. It’s an interesting mash up of rap and the slight western tang of the original series, but it works really well. It manages to maintain the balance of the two styles well and doesn’t drift into either style too much, where it either be a straight rip or too different to recognise. Definitely worth taking your time to listen to.

Other Links:

There haven’t been many other comic related songs, but here’s a few that have cropped up now and again.

Paul McCartney’s – Magneto vs. Titanium (Yes, THAT Paul McCartney)

Jim’s Big Ego – Ballad of Barry Allen

3 Doors Down – Kyrptonite

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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in Comics, Music, NaBloPoMo

 

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The Chinese Room


Back in 1980 John Searle wrote an essay on Artificial Intelligence on a concept he called “The Chinese Room”.  This essay was written a criticism of the Turing test as the De facto test for machine intelligence and brings into question whether something can truly be considered intelligent if it appears to be so to the outside world.

The concept goes like this:  Imagine yourself or another person with no knowledge of the Chinese language is placed in a windowless room with the walls covered in papers with Chinese writing on them (appearing as meaningless squiggles to anyone who doesn’t know better).  They’re given a book that explains, in English, that papers will be posted under the door with Chinese characters written on them, then by consulting the rules laid out in the book and the papers on the wall they write some more Chinese characters on the paper and post it back through.  To anyone on the outside it would seem like the person inside the room can understand Chinese perfectly well, despite them not knowing a single word.  Taking this analogy further if time were somehow sped up inside the room then the responses could come back instantly, perhaps even being verbally returned rather than physically returned.  In the field of Artificial Intelligence this would be a machine, perhaps one human in appearance who responds to forms off interaction verbally, physically and emotionally in a way that would not be distinguishable from a real living human.  But ultimately it’s still a machine that’s only responding according to the way it’s programmed.  Even if some of ways it would respond are randomised to give it more of a personality, perhaps responding more aggressively or even hesitating on certain subjects, it’s still just a machine.  Even if it were to further develop it’s own programming too handle new situations out would be doing ask based on the algorithms it was originally designed with.  So the question becomes where do you draw the line between a very well programmed machine and actual intelligence?

Let’s try another angle.  Suppose someone suffers from an accident in later life and has to relearn how to perform basic actions and social interaction based on a set of rules to ensure they’re responding correctly.  Can they no longer be considered intelligent, or even human, just because they’re following a set of rules on how to behave?  When you think about it, apart from the accident, this isn’t too different from how a lot of us behave anyway.  We all decide how to act based on the situation we’re in and who we’re with at the time.  And we generally act differently at work compared to when we’re at home or with a close group of friends.  The line may be hard to narrow down, but when it gets to the point where something appears intelligent to every form of perception I’d say there’s little reason why it shouldn’t actually be placed on the same side of the lines as ourselves.

This is a subject that’s popped up fairly often in fiction, although it’s rarely referred to by name.  The idea of a machine that wants to be human has become quite the popular trope and has appeared in Isaac Asimov’s novella and short story “The bicentennial man” which tells the story of a robot which fights for the right to be recognised as human.  More recently there’s the reimagining of Battlestar Galactica and constant prejudice against the Cylons who aren’t considered by the humans no matter how human they appear.  On a slightly different note there’s Peter Watts novel “Blindsight” which is high Sci-Fi story about aliens, spaceships, vampires and intelligence told from the perspective of a man who had half his brain removed and is himself a sort of Chinese room.

Links:

More details on the Chinese Room argument can be found here:
http://www.mind.ilstu.edu/curriculum/searle_chinese_room/searle_chinese_room.php

Blindsight can be read online for free or downloaded in a number of different ebook formats from the following links:
www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm
http://www.manybooks.net/titles/wattspother06Blindsight.html 

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2011 in Computing, NaBloPoMo

 

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Not quite the Master Baker yet


Well, it turns out that I’m not all that great at making Gingerbread.  Took a lot longer than expected in the oven, but that might be the new oven which we hadn’t used before now.  Worse though is that it’s a lot drier than expected and doesn’t have all that much flavour.  Maybe it just needs more ginger, but I’d also expect it to taste a tad bit sweeter too.

I’m not giving up though, I’ll just have to try again in a couple of weeks, maybe using a different recipe.  Hopefully I’ll have internet access at home then.  These things could really do with a bit more fancy editing, pictures and the like.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2011 in Food, NaBloPoMo

 

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Nerdy Show


Today I’m going to talk about my current favourite podcast/community.  It’s simply called Nerdy show and it’s a 2-3 hour weekly (occasionally more frequently) podcast series that, as the name implies, covers a number of very nerdy/geeky topics including video games, comics, webcomics, Minecraft and music, especially of the Nerdcore variety.  They cover several different topics in each episode, usually themed around a central topic such as a recent video game, movie or the like. These are interspersed with some pretty awesome music somewhat related to the topic at hand and generally find their way onto my iPod’s playlist before too long.  Their podcast has only been running since 2009, but they’ve already interviewed quite a few big people in the various industries they cover.  This includes people such as the legendary Rob Paulsen, who’s voiced at least one character in every cartoon you’ve ever loved.  Steve Blum of the supremely gravely voice who’s voiced such well-loved characters as Spike Spiegal of Cowboy Bebop.  Weird Al Yankovic, probably the best known name in parody music.  Mark Waid, writer of a number of well-known comics including an excellent run on “The Flash” and currently doing pretty damn well with Irredeemable over at Boom studios. And many, many music artists, way too many to list here, but it includes names such as The Protomen, FreezePop, Brentalfloss and Adam Warrock. Not only this, but they also run the yearly Nerdapalooza festival, the place to be for anyone who’s anyone in the nerdy music biz.

The thing about Nerdy Show isn’t just the podcast and the guys and girls who produce it. It’s about the community. The sort of community who frequently create works of truly insane magnitude upon their Minecraft server. These include things such as a 1/4 scale of the Battlestar Galactica, featuring a choose your own adventure story to decide whether you’re really a human or a frakking toaster. The SG-1 facility from the Stargate SG-1 TV show with a working Stargate that takes you to straight to Abydos. A recreation of the Serenity from Firefly with all the rooms shown within the show and about a billion different sprites and monuments from various other shows. There’s even a Pompeii villa in there.

But back to the podcast. One of the many things they do includes a monthly Dungeons and Dragons adventure, titled “Dungeons and Doritos”.  They tell the tale of the misadventures of a group of 4 adventures. Vimak, a hulking Goliath weilder of natural magic with a remarkably Russian accent and a wolf-bear companion. Jamela, a Dragonborn cleric with a habit of externally monologuing her actions. Jen’Ifir, a Tiefling Warlock seeking ultimate power and doesn’t mind sacrificing her fellow companions to get it. And finally there’s Chair, a Dwarf who used to be a chair until a wizard got involved. I’m not sure anything I could say could satisfactorily explain Chair, he really needs to be experienced. Later they’re joined by Bartholomew, a dashing swashbuckler and rogue and Lefty, a former pirate queen. Their adventures make up some of the greatest RPG adventures I’ve ever listened to, readily rivalling the Penny Arcade/PvP ones in my opinion. They recently started a new set of adventures from episode 11, so that’s a good jumping off point if you don’t fancy starting right from the beginning.

To sum it up, Nerdy Show is pretty freaking awesome. I’m bit saying everything they produce is brilliant, but that’s been the case so far.  If you’re into anything Nerdy whatsoever you really owe it yourself to listen to it.

Links:

The main Nerdy Show page:
Nerdy Show

The most recent Minecraft Build-a-thon, featuring all of the amazing Minecraft creations mentioned above:
Minecraft TV Build-a-thon

Episode 11 of Dungeons and Doritos, a great jumping off point for new listeners:
Dungeons and Doritos

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2011 in Comics, Gaming, Minecraft, NaBloPoMo, Podcasts

 

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Skylanders


You might have heard of a recent game/fad known as Skylanders.  Don’t worry too much if you haven’t, its one of those things that either passes you by entirely or ends up firmly embedded in your radar.  Skylanders, full title “Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure” is an Action-RPG and the most recent game in the Spyro the dragon franchise and comes from the creators of Star Control 2 and Pandemonium.

The interesting thing about this game isn’t that it has an engrossing story our solid combat mechanics, but how you choose the characters to play as.  With the main game you get 3 action figures, 1 of Spyro and 2 different Skylanders, and the “Portal of Power”.  You plug the portal of power into your console then place the action figure of the character you want to play as on top of it, simply swapping it with a different figure if your character is defeated, or if you just feel like playing as someone else. Essentially this means that the number of lives you have depends on the number of figures you own. There’s also certain areas of the game that you can only access using certain characters.

So how many different characters are there? 32 on my last count, but they could always release more as DLC. So far every single one of these is already on the disc, you’re just not able to play them until you buy the action figure for it. Since they come in packs of 3 and cost £20 a pack you’d think that gamers would be raging about this all across the internet, but there’s actually very little rage to be found regarding anything other than how hard done of them are to find. It seems that people are instead prowling different stores for missing figures and store exclusives to complete their Skylanders collection. And at around £250 for the entire set (just for the one hand remember) that’s nothing to sniff at. While the game was originally targeted at younger gamers it seems to have that sweet spot that appeals to both gamers and toy collectors alike. Even more so for the hardcore collector crowd as it seems you don’t actually need to take the models out of the packaging to use them, leaving them all in mint condition.

One nice thing that they’ve done is while the game itself is available on different consoles, the figures don’t seem to care which one you used them with. In fact the character saved data is stored on the figure itself you don’t have to worry about your saved data and you can take it to friends houses for multiplayer gaming on a current console and keep all the levels and upgrades you’ve built up. This is speculation on my part, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you can use the same figures in future games, alongside the new batch of characters that
I’m sure they’ll release. In years to come it might not be too uncommon for fellow geeks to have a several shelves just for their Skylanders collection, with internet forums occasionally debating the pros and cons of particular ones.

When I started writing this post I had no intention in getting into the Skylanders, and I hope that for the most part that I can stick to my original plan. But the more I think about it, the more I can see myself maybe getting into it as a long-term investment.

Links:

The Giant Bomb podcast was responsible for teaching me most of what I know about Skylanders, so it only seems fair to provide a link back to them. The specific podcast in question can be found here:
http://www.giantbomb.com/podcast/?podcast_id=256

And the main Skylanders website:

http://www.skylanders.com/sky/game-features

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2011 in Gaming, NaBloPoMo

 

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On backups and sharing files


Let’s talk about backing up files.  When I was growing up with a 56k modem and small hard drives (I think I got up to 60GB at one point) this seemed to involve taking all the big files I had, TV shows, music, Starcraft mods, etc. and burning them onto CDs. Anyone who actually works with secure data and data backups is probably cringing at this, and for good reason too.  Backups are not supposed to involve clearing off your hard drive by moving off files that are too big and not likely to be used for a long time.  That’s just freeing up space and in no way does it make your data “backed up”.  What I should have done is focus on the files that I used regularly or couldn’t easily replace.  Even on a 56k modem that large Starcraft mod is still just a download away.

So after losing numerous saved games, important documents and university assignments I’ve finally learnt how to keep my stuff backed up fairly safely.  Coincidentally the same method also lets me share files with people fairly easily too.  It’s called Dropbox.  In short, it’s a program that lets you create a folder on your hard drive, and any other files or folders you drop into it will automatically be uploaded to their servers.  You can then access these from the web interface or, if you have a second computer, they will updated on any other machines that you have it installed upon.  So you don’t need to remember to copy that one file onto a USB stick before you take your laptop to uni, you just need to have access to the web.  Since switching over I just do all my work out of one of the folders within my Dropbox one and leave music, TV shows or whatever on the hard drive.  If I know I can get it again easily enough without too much effort then I’m not too fussed about making it all that difficult for me to lose it.  And since the sharing tools are built-in to the interface it’s fairly easy to just share an entire folder with anyone else who’s using it.  It’s quite a bit cheaper too.

This may be starting a bit like I’m trying to hawk their software, but frankly I’m a little tired of hearing about people complain about losing saved progress/work when they don’t do a damn thing to prevent it.  These things are so simple to use now that there’s really little excuse.  It automatically backs up, automatically uploads and downloads files and keeps a history of any files edited recently so you can roll back if you accidentally delete the wrong folder.  I wouldn’t really recommend paying for it though unless you have a LOT of files that you need synced across several machines or shared amongst your friends/colleagues.  You’d do a lot better with a service like Carbonite which backs up your entire machine, then installing Dropbox on top of it to sync/share just the files you really want to.  It’s cheaper too.

There’s another little trick I discovered a few months back too, which I mainly used to let me sync saved games for my Steam games that don’t already take advantage of Steamcloud.  It involves creating dynamic links to either the files or folders in question, but I can’t easily explain how to do that while typing from a phone. It really needs accompanying screenshots and a few copy&pasted commands for the command prompt.  That’ll be a post for another day, when I finally get internet access back up at home (just got an email from Sky saying it’s won’t happen until the 11th now!).

There’s other programs out there, such as Evernote and even Google Docs, but they just don’t have the same ease of use when it Congress to blending in to the system you’re using.

Oh, one other thing that Dropbox do is let you increase how much space you have, regardless of whether you pay for it or not.  All you have to do is get other people to sign up for it using a referral link or email.  It’s 250MB each for a grand total of 8GB for a free account.  So to take advantage of the link whoring that everyone else who uses this product does, I’ve included my own referral link below.  If you do sign up, please use it.  You get an additional 250MB for your own account too.

Click here to sign up for Dropbox and also give me 250MB more space.

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2011 in Computing, NaBloPoMo

 

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On Sequels and Spiritual Sequels


It’s a question that gets asked almost immediately after any popular game released, “Are they making a sequel?”.  If it was successful enough the answer is inevitably a yes.  The problem is that the game in question doesn’t always lend itself to having a sequel pushed into the already established story, with perhaps some of the characters from the first game getting killed off or otherwise having their personal story nicely wrapped up. So what’s to happen then?  Just make up a bunch of new important characters that nobody had ever felt fit to mention beforehand?  The example that jumps to mind here is BioShock 2, which is already an interesting case as the series was itself a spiritual successor to the System Shock series.  Not really surprising considering that System Shock 2 and the first BioShock were made by the same team, but I’ll get to that later.

The problem with BioShock 2 is that the entire cast from the original BioShock, minus 1 or 2, were all wrapped up in such a way that there was little to no way they could be put into the second game.  So what happened?  A number of new characters appeared out of nowhere that were apparently around the entire time, but were never mentioned by anyone else despite their supposed importance.  The one character who does make a return only appears in one scene then is never heard from again. The end result is a game that’s somewhat ok, but ultimately falls flat on its face as it fails to hit any of the same spots that the original BioShock managed to. What would have been better would be to take what made the original game so great and make an entirely new game out of it, which is what Irrational Games are doing with their next game, Bioshock Infinite, which borrows some of the ideas from the original and build a completely different setting and story with them.

Then there’s series like Deus Ex which, before the recent release of Human Revolution, consisted of one great game and one horribly mediocre game. What exactly made the first game do great is still hard to narrow down, with even the developers not being entirely sure themselves. Somehow though the recently released prequel, Human Revolution, managed to far exceed the previous attempt to continue the series and resulted in a game that’s on par with the original. How did it accomplish this? By NOT trying to cram as many characters and other plot elements from the first game as possible, but by simply taking the essence of what made the first game great and making something entirely new with it. It in the end I’d argue that it doesn’t even need the Deus Ex name attached to it, but I guess that without it there wouldn’t have been much incentive to make such a game on the first place and if they had it wouldn’t have sold nearly as well. That’s marketing for you I guess.

In a similar vein there’s spiritual sequels, which try to take what made the game that inspired it good and make an entirely new game from it, with perhaps just a few subtle references to the original material. While in principle this sounds like a much better idea it can lead to games where there’s no incentive to play beyond “it’s just like that other really great game that I really liked” and often get labels like “Halo-killers” slapped on them. Usually this is the case when there’s no connection between either the setting or the development team, but this can vary pretty heavily. The UFO series for example was heavily reported as trying to be the spiritual successor to the then dead X-COM series and while it managed to succeed to a certain degree it just didn’t feel enough (not for me anyway). Arx Fatalis tried the same thing with Ultima Underworld too, achieving similar results. The problem here though is that they managed to imitate the aging series a little too well, making it somewhat unwieldy for gamers nowadays. I have a great fondness for that game, but I couldn’t happily recommend it to anyone who isn’t already a diehard Underworld fan.

It occurs to me that I’m starting to make all spiritual sequels sound bad so let’s talk about one of the best ones, BioShock. BioShock was developed by a group known as Irrational Games and was released back in 2007. This same team were the ones responsible for bringing us the phenomenal System Shock 2 and was essentially a spiritual sequel. Rather than take place aboard a space station infested by a variety of alien beasties it was instead set in a massive underwater city called Rapture filled with crazies. Instead of being a trained soldier stationed aboard said space station you were instead a rather unlucky passenger who’s plane crashed in the ocean, not too far from Rapture’s entrance. You get the idea. Most of the aspects that were System Shock were changed completely, but the important ones, the atmosphere, the solitude, the simultaneous feelings of claustrophobia from being trapped within such a deadly place with no escape and agoraphobia from feeling so small compared to the sheer vastness of your environment densely populated with foes around every corner. It was almost perfect. Like many games though, it had its flaws, the final stages of the game especially, but then so did System Shock 2. Regardless its still in my mind three best example of how a spiritual sequel should be done. Which is why I’m looking forward to Bioshock Infinite, the sequel that’s closer to a spiritual sequel to a game that was the spiritual sequel of another sequel. Considering the team and their past work, I’m expecting great things.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in Gaming, NaBloPoMo

 

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