Monday, October 31, 2005

Pluto now has three moons

The solar system gets a little weirder every day:

I find it amusing that people have big heated debates about the definition of a planet. The problem is that you can't really define a planet; if we used the definition "anything bigger than pluto" then we'd have to count all the Kuiper belt objects that we are going to discover soon that are bigger than Pluto. So that's a bad definition. I think the best thing to do is to just not have a definition of a planet; planetoid is the term astronomers use to describe anything just about any rocky piece of crap in the solar system (comets, planets, asteroids are all planetoids). I think we should just define a planet as "mercury through pluto" and be done with it. Maybe if (when) we discover a nice earth-sized ball of ice way out in the Kuiper belt or Oort cloud (which is actual pretty likely), then we can add an eleventh (that is, assuming that the IAU doesn't strip 2003 UB313 of its rightful place among planets!)

Monday, June 06, 2005

I guess I should post something...

I wonder about blogs.

I think that most people will use them as just diaries, and a few celebrities will actually have them read.

Come to think of it, that's what's happening right now.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Shut up about Hydrogen already

I'm all for renewable energy - but shut up about hydrogen already!

No matter what California does, no matter what the tech magazines say (and they don't say good things as it is), no matter how much money the government gives (not much), it will be a cold day in hell when everyone is driving Hydrogen-powered cars.

Besides that fact that it takes more energy to make it than you get out of it:
-Its hard to store
-It leaks easily and burns invisibly
-Transporting it is difficult. If you were to make it with wind turbines, you'd have to get it back to civilization by some means. Its hard to pipe it (you'd loose a huge amount to leaks), and hard to compress it
-Why make hydrogen via electrolysis when you could just use that energy to charge an electric car?
-Fuel cells only release water vapor, which seems harmless, but isn't - it affects many things, and can contribute to global warming. Granted, its not as bad as an internal combustion engine, but it hardly deserves being called a zero emissions vehicle.

Thats not to say that we'll be driving the same 'ol internal combustion engine-based car forever. As the price of oil goes up, the forces of supply and demand will ensure their demise. Already we're seeing hybrid cars - they aren't practical now, but in a few years the price of gas will make them practical. And eventually, the price of gas will make even a hybrid impractical - then we'll have to switch to something else (biodiesel, anyone? Or just plain old electric power?).

Hydrogen IS useful as an energy source - just not in a car. For it to work in a car, a hydrogen power plant needs to be light. You could use hydrogen to power your home instead, and the weight issues become moot. For example, put solar panels on your roof to power your house and when there is excess power, divert it to an electrolyze machine to make hydrogen (which could be stored for latter - when its cloudy, for example). I'm not saying hydrogen power is useless - its just useless in cars.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year

Shouldn't the New Year begin on the winter solstice? Wouldn't that make more sense?

Friday, December 24, 2004


On April 13, 2029, there is a 1/233 chance of an asteroid wiping us out (pause for dramatic effect).

Just the latest in death threats from the heavens. Of course if that worries you, than you don't want to hear about all the terrible things that are more likely to happen (terrible epidemics, nuclear terrorism, the collapse of society because of oil shortages, divine intervention, etc.). My point is that we've always been under the threat of annihilation, so why should we be any more worried because there is a (very very small) chance that an asteroid might hit the earth?

Of course we should take precautions, but there isn't any reason to live in fear all the time. Death is inevitable - whether it comes as fire raining down, or a whimper from your throat. No point in worrying about it if you can't prevent it. Better to worry about threats we can do something about.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

I should post something....

I'll just be unoriginal.

Here's a cool tweak I saw on a message board for making firefox faster:

To get started, type "about:config" in your FireFox address bar. The settings you're looking for are:

1.) network.http.pipelining
2.) network.http.pipelining.firstrequest
3.) network.http.pipelining.maxrequests
4.) network.http.proxy.pipelining
5.) nglayout.ititialpaint.delay

Set #1, #2, and #4 to "true". Set #3 to a high number, like 32. Set #5 to 0.

If you dont see some of the values, manually add them by right clicking and selecting new then a boolean if its a true/false thing, integer if its a number, or string if its a word or series of numbers and words.

Enabling the pipelining features allows the browser to make multiple requests to the server at the same time. The "maxrequests" is the maximum number of requests it will send at once. I've heard that 8 is the most it will send at once, but setting it higher won't hurt, just in case. The initialpaint.delay is the length of time (in milliseconds) after the server response before the browser begins to paint the page.

When done, just close Firefox and launch it again =]

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

My Half-Life 2 mini review

Ok, I just finished today. All in all, it’s a great game.

First thing I'll say is that they did a really good job on the engine. I ran it at 1024x768 with no AA or AF, at medium settings and it ran at 60FPS very consistently - during big battles the FPS didn't drop too much. (My computer specs are in my sig). At medium settings it nonetheless looked extremely good. The only bad part was the load times and some stuttering (as if loaded new textures in-game, I believe).

The game starts very slowly - you don't even get a gun until about 20 minutes into the game. That’s because you're being eased you into a surreal new world. Unlike other shooters in which you hit the ground running, HL2 starts at a crawl and then keeps building up until the crazy ending. The whole game plays like an episode of the X-files - it raises a lot of questions, and doesn't answer many of them. But I didn't mind - because the surreal atmosphere was perfect.

You start very much like in the last game - on a train. You don't know how you got there (one of the passengers even comments "I didn't see you get on the train"), or what you're doing. You get dropped off in City 17, a stark Orwellian-style place where an endless army of "public defenders" keep a close eye over the sullen citizens, big TV's hang everywhere broadcasting propaganda and little robots float around taking pictures of you. Although the game is very linear, it doesn't feel that way - you stumble through the game without any directions or goals, but you always find your way. Sometimes it isn't very obvious where you have to go, or what you have to do, but I only got stuck a couple of times, and eventually found my way without any help.

As I said the atmosphere is great. City 17 [I]feels[/I] repressive, the dark alleys of Ravenholm are creepy as hell, the airboat and buggy rides are exhilaratingly fast, the dark grunginess of Nova Prospective sets a dark, post-apocalyptic tone. The chaos of the penultimate chapters can only be compared to the Stalingrad levels of Call of Duty, and the final two chapters, well, lets just say those are probably the best in the game.

Most of the flaws of Half-Life 1 are fixed – there are far fewer jumping puzzles, and far fewer annoying dumb aliens. The only big annoyance to me is that the lack of variety in the weapons. The usual suspects are present – a pistol, an SMG, a shotgun, a rocket launcher. In fact, the weapons are suspiciously identical to the Half-Life 1 weapons. Sure, the look and sound cool – actually, the [i]really[/i] sound cool – but I got really bored of them by the end of the game. In particular I got board of the plasma gun. It looks and sounds cool, and it’s really effective, but after using it for hours on end it sort of lost its novelty.

There are two really cool new weapons, though: the gravity gun and the bugbait. The gravity gun is simple enough – right button pulls an object, left button pushes. Considering all the crap lying around, there is virtually no end to its uses. For example, you can throw big pieces of furniture at people. Or you can hold a radiator in front of you to keep snipers blowing your head off. Or you can build bridges. Just use your imagination. The bugbait is just as useful, although you only get to use it in one (extended) part of the game. Throw the bugbait somewhere, and ant lions will swarm the area. The results look a lot like “Starship Troopers”: endless swarms of bugs ripping apart a bunch of unfortunate marines.

Most of the combat involves fighting the human enemies in the game. They aren’t stupid; they jump out of the way of grenades, and take cover. But they tend to stand still out in the open a little more often than I’d like. This isn’t a real big problem – the battlefield is usually pretty well set up (sort of like in Call of Duty, where the soldiers were dumb, but where in the right places). Some of the best scenes are when you are attacking fortified positions – these are some of the few parts where you have to use tactics to win. Besides the human opponents, there are lots of headcrabs and zombies to blow away (and some new flavors of these), as well as the occasional gunship to shoot down with your rocket launcher (a lot harder than it sounds, since they can shoot down your missiles!). Remember those big three-legged monsters with guns that you saw in the trailers? You’ll have to take down more than one of those, and it isn’t easy.

There isn’t any multiplayer mode – it just comes with Counter-Strike: Source. I wrote a mini-review of it awhile back. It’s basically just a pretty version of CS.

All in all, HL2 is a really awesome game that you will not soon forget.