DARPA’s 100 Year Starship Study: a rebuttal

As the 100 Year Starship Study winds down, I have a few bones to pick with the FAQ.

http://www.100yss.org/faq.html

Why Is DARPA making this investment?
“…The technologies we create can have very direct impacts here on earth, including benefitting the warfighter-DARPA’s principal customer. ”

OK, count me (and a lot of actual scientists) out.  I ain’t workin’ on no spaceship ideas if you’re just going to use them to blow shit up.  Get your Heartbreak Ridge out of my Apollo 13.  Why isn’t there a SARPA ?(replace the D in DARPA with an S for Space).  I know we already have NASA, but I think we need a more DARPA-like organization dedicated to the next generation of human space travel.

Is it a starship? Where do I sign up?
“Neither DARPA nor NASA are actually building a 100 Year Starship.”  Why not?  Just gonna sit around and talk, huh?
“Consequently we are not taking starship crew applications at the present time.”  Why not?  They don’t have to be applications for an actual crew, but it might be a revelatory exercise to actually review applications for a hypothetical starship crew.  You’re going to need cooks and janitors, and who knows what else.  What qualities and skills will you actually need in order to send a crew on such a long mission?

Weird bug causes Internet Explorer to toss its cookies

Check this out…if you create an <img> tag with an empty src attribute, it might cause Internet Explorer to dump your site’s cookies.  I’ve only tested/experienced this on IE8, so I don’t know all the versions that are affected.  I also don’t know if this happens on all web forms, or just those generated by ASP.Net.

Correction: actually, what’s happening is this:

“Blank src attribute causes IE to load the default document.”  …and in the case of the particular application that I was working on, going back to the default page caused my cookie to get overwritten.

See the comments on http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms535259%28v=vs.85%29.aspx

Homefront: Short but Fun

I bought Homefront over the weekend. I was really excited about the premise and the style of the game. Here are my thoughts after finishing the disappointingly-short single-player campaign…

Mini-rant:  First off, understand that this review is strictly about the game in single-player mode. I’m not a big multiplayer FPS fan. I like stories. In my opinion, FPS multiplayer is mostly about knowing how to exploit the map.  When you think about it, so was Pac-Man. – except the ghosts didn’t have aimbots and voice chat.  Anyway, it bores me and I’m no good at it. I do enough crap over and over and over in my life that I don’t care to do it in my spare time.  So there!  Now, on with the review.

The Gameplay
For some reason I had an incorrect preconception of this game. I don’t mean to say that the trailers lied, but I got the impression that Homefront was going to be a fairly expansive, open-air kind of game like Fallout 3. It’s more like Time Crisis.

The game is on rails, so it’s impossible for you to get sidetracked or lost but also you don’t get to explore the devastated post-invasion landscape.  There were several times when it reminded me of Dragon’s Lair.  JUMP HERE!  CLICK THIS!  DESTROY HELICOPTER!  Special weapons were conveniently located near the place I needed them.  If only real life were that simple.

But once I accepted the game for what it is, I enjoyed the HELL out of it and I wish that the single-player campaign were about two or three times longer than it is. If you’re going to plop down $60 for a single-player game, I cannot recommend Homefront. Hopefully they’ll come out with some downloadable content for it.

One thing I didn’t like about the gameplay was getting stuck on things you can’t see unless you look almost directly straight down.  Basketball goals are an example that come to mind.  They have those support arms on the bottom part of ’em, ya know.  Can’t see ’em unless you’re looking down, but they’ll stop you dead in your tracks.

Here’s something else that was disappointing: After the introductory shoot-out, you’re brought to the resistance fighters’ camp where you can walk around and chat with various members of the resistance.  I’m thinking “Oh, cool, these are the people who will send me on missions and will upgrade my gear and stuff.”  Nope.  Too much RPG thinkin’ there.  There are around five people in the camp you can interact with, and you can chat with ’em about three times each.  And they all basically tell you to piss off.  Then they’re completely unresponsive.

Side note: The Helicopters
While I enjoyed the ground combat aspects of the game, I have to say that flying the helicopter was tedious.  Controls are sluggish and you’re limited to a very low flight ceiling.

Like many games, enemy helicopters are treated like flying tanks.  You need a special weapon to knock them out.  They’re used as mini-bosses, naturally.  Pro Tip:  In real life, helicopters really don’t like it when you huck golfballs into their intakes.  I always keep a sack or two of them in my trunk for emergencies.

Side note 2: The Goliath
Something that immediately made the game a little less plausible for me was the Goliath: an unmanned armored combat vehicle that acts as a deus ex machina in several situations.  What breaks it for me is that it seems automated in ways it probably wouldn’t be, but not automated in the ways it should.  For instance, it seems to be capable of driving itself just fine, but it relies on the operator to select targets visually.  Seems odd.

Story, Characters, Dialog
The game is set in 2027, and the United States has been invaded by a unified and increasingly imperialistic Korea.  John Milius, the guy who wrote the screenplays for Red Dawn and Apocalypse frickin’ Now and Conan the frickin’ Barbarian, was involved with the story and writing.

For me, the events leading up to the invasion (as they are depicted in the game’s trailers and intro) are plausible but just this side of uncomfortably plausible.  But then again, I didn’t think anything like the current unrest in the Middle-East would happen, either (especially Syria).

The dialog mostly relates directly to the task at hand, and it’s not as corny as it could have been considering how action-oriented the game is.  You don’t really have enough contact with the characters to judge whether or not they’re fleshed-out.

That being said, the very first few minutes of the story were pretty damned gripping.  The story and dialog never completely devolves into cheesiness, but the story aspects of the game weren’t as compelling after the first few levels.  And it ended very abruptly.

The Style
This is a game that really had potential.  Actually, since updates and sequels are so easy these days, I should say it has potential.

They managed to make the environments appear run-down and as if they’d been through a war without crossing over into HalfLife 2/Fallout 3 levels of devastation.  I wanted to roam across the shattered land and find new adventures.  I really wanted to see what the designers vision of a big city would look like during a modern war.  Also, they did a superb job on the music, ratcheting up the tension as only a game on rails can do.

The bottom line is that I enjoyed playing Homefront.  I just wish there was more of it.

The Super Alliance of Randomly-Generated Awesomeness!

After getting burnt-out on World of Warcraft a few months ago, I eventually stumbled into Champions  Online by way of an ad or an article somewhere.  A lot of folks bash Free-to-Play games for lacking the polish of subscription-based games, and most of the F2P games I’ve played are really cheesy with the way they try to make the game a pain in the ass unless you buy a mount or some better gear.  But I gotta say that Champions is a really fun experience, even if you’re being a cheapskate.

I have to confess that out of about twenty characters and many, many hours of play, I haven’t managed to get a single toon past level 14.  It turns out that my favorite activity in the game is actually just creating characters.  You have so much control, and there are so many options!  I can literally spend hours hitting the “Randomize All” button in the character creation screen, giggling like crazy at the ridiculous costumes that it makes.  So, I’d like to present a few of these randomly-generated toons.  Let’s see how many times we can use the word “justice” in their descriptions.

Pink Champion

Super Power: Fabulousness

Accessoria

On the day before her high school graduation, Accessoria was the sole survivor of a freak explosion in a Claire’s Boutique. Since then, she has used her amazing (but inexpensive) accessories to fight for justice.

ArticMimenkhamen

Exiled to the frozen wastes more than four thousand years ago for mimery, ArticMimenkhamen silently fights for justice in a world that tries to make him talk. I would totally play this toon, and never say anything in chat. I would just use emotes. RP for the win.

Balance Buzzard

Locked in a constant struggle between his yearning for justice and his insatiable hunger for carrion, Balance Buzzard travels the land helping those in need.

Syberian

This is a toon I actually play from time to time. The frost/soviet theme actually came up randomly and I thought it was pretty…cool. I tweaked his costume quite a bit then typed up this backstory:

“A product of a super-secret project during the last years of the Cold War, cybernetic and genetic enhancements have given Alexei Chernov the ability to slow subatomic particles to a near dead stop. His first assignment was to help freeze and contain the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl. After the collapse of the Soviet Union this devout communist dedicated his life to fighting evil, demonstrating the might and goodwill of his by-gone creators.”

Syberian’s Black Costume

For when he’s emo.

J.U.M.P., The CyberShark

When times are desperate and ratings are at an all-time low, he goes too far…for Justice!

Kinky Demon

You would. You totally would. After a few beers…end of the night…maybe use a fake name and a burlap sack or two.

Pirate Bootie

Here’s another candidate for the Double-Bag Club. I’m sure she’s a very nice person. That bootie is rockin’.

The Bellhop

I kept this guy. The random parts were the color scheme, the jacket, and the ape head. The rest was meticulously crafted by moi. I’d love to see a comic book with this dude in it, perhaps as a villain.

TigerMoth

This one is totally random. I’d play this toon if I were into the neko thing, I guess.

Flyin’ FrostWolf

This is another totally random toon that is actually pretty cool. A little tweaking and this would be a good character.

The Amalgamn

He’s a hero trying to find out who he is. Where do you fit in when you’re just a pile of random crap tossed together and painted yellow? And yes, I put that “n” on the end of his name on purpose. I thought it was rad.

PoundNote

He has a pound symbol on his chest and he looks like he would pound people into the ground. Might make a decent villain or a dark, snarky hero a’la Hellboy.

The Playmate

Um…moving on….

EightBit

Nope, this one wasn’t random. I spent a considerable amount of time on homegirl here. She bad.

Smartphones rob us of our introspective time on the can.

The other day I was thinking about how much money I waste every month on my iPhone’s data plan.  It occurred to me that the longest contiguous blocks of time I spend using the device are actually when I’m – what’s an elegant way to put it? – doing a sit-down potty.  Whilst dropping a deuce I’m either playing a game or flipping through the App Store, jealously cursing the insipid one-star wallpaper “apps” that somehow consistently make it to number 3 on the Paid Apps list.  The runner-up time-spendy iPhone activities for me are jotting down notes in Everlook, texting, or looking at maps.

I would say that about 80% of my iPhone time is actually at work while parked in the men’s room.  When I first got the device I’d camp out in there for what seemed like hours – browsing apps, downloading them, trying them out, rating them, reviewing them, sharing my excitement with whoever happened to be in the adjoining stall.  I would leave when I felt my legs getting numb.  I tried to go more often, but it felt strange to go to the bathroom and sit down without actually having some business to take care of.  To make my visits more naturally frequent, at lunch I began eating things that I knew would grant me plenty of trips to the john in the afternoon.  (The Chartroose Caboose earned that name fair and square.  I won’t tell you how.)  My iPhone/crapper addiction was starting to affect my job.

But eventually I got used to having an Internet-connected, touch-controlled, micro-computer in my pocket.  (Think about that…it’s pretty damned amazing.)  Up until very recently I’d still use my phone for a quick game or a quick hate-filled glance at the cesspool they call the App Store.  But yesterday I left my phone charging at my computer and took off for the lavatory.  I actually paused for a second, and wondered if I should grab it and take it with me, but it was nearly dead (from an earlier bowel-n-browse session) and I figured I wouldn’t be gone long.

It was while I was phoneless on the can that I had an epiphany:  Having access to a smartphone pretty much negates any chance of having an epiphany while you’re on the can.

I’m a firm yet malleable believer that the quiet time spent alone on the toilet is necessary for good mental health.  It’s like REM stage sleep.  A person can’t get right with themselves if they’re constantly interrupted by communicating, playing games, or mumbling death wishes for those lazy, opportunistic hacks who somehow manage to get their garbage apps approved by Apple.

Take back your sanity by leaving your phone behind when you visit the loo!

Putting Kids to Work: Thoughts on Making Schooldays Productive

About a hundred years ago, various regions of the United States began banning or limiting child labor.  It was a hard-fought battle.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we turn back the clock to those horrible times.  Before child labor laws, kids would operate dangerous, dirty equipment for 12 hours at a time for the inflation-adjusted equivalent of twelve cents a day and an inflation-adjusted three kicks in the ass.  But hear me out, and I’m not saying this in a satirical Modest Proposal kind of way:  I think children would benefit by performing simple, real-world computer-related tasks during school time and that they should be paid for their efforts.

Apparently the business world needs a lot of menial tasks to be performed, and a lot of it can be done via the Internet.   Amazon’s “Mechanical Turk” is an example of a service that will pay you to do stuff that’s really dull but wouldn’t be cost-efficient to make a computer do it.  I say we should have kids, from say 4th grade on up, get paid to get this work done.  We could give them an allowance for personal expenses, but the majority of the profit would be stashed away in the child’s college fund.

A small percentage of the profits could go to the school.  You talk of “No Child Left Behind” –  how about “No Child Gets A Free Ride”?  But all kidding aside, think about it for a minute:  what better way to make schools more self-sufficient than to have the kids earn as they learn?  You can tell the plan is brilliant because it rhymes.

As a child gains more experience and knowledge, they could perform more complicated – and thus higher-paying – tasks.  Not only would they earn money, but also valuable real-world experience as well as mental exercise.  Imagine if you’d been given the chance to actually apply learned knowledge for a couple of hours per day while you were in school?

In addition to the money and experience, kids would gain perspective, motivation and self-discipline.  “Man, if I nail that algebra test I can step up to Level 6 math tasks…which means more money and experience points.”  Yes, experience points!  Achievements!  Tangible, braggable, look-what-I-did measurements of a child’s progress that would mean a lot more to them than a report card that comes out of nowhere every six weeks.

As the kids enter high school, they could choose from a more varied set of vocational interests.  Imagine trying out a few different jobs before you even get to college?  It might give you more perspective when it comes time to choose a major.

Of course, there would have to be protections put in place to ensure that kids don’t end up working overtime, or letting work get in the way of learning.

You could argue that rich kids wouldn’t have any motivation to participate, or that schools would just become sweatshops, or that any kind of child labor is just exploitation.  I disagree with that last point, naturally, and the other two points are issues that would need to be addressed.  And since there are no other conceivable arguments against my proposal idea, I urge that it be implemented with all speed!  Good day.

Visit eHow for Management Success!

Found this on CNN this morning.  Strangely, the article that it linked to had no information about actually going about terminating a suicidal employee.  I guess you’re just supposed to be patient and hope they eventually terminate themselves?

They did, however, have instructions on how to fire employees.  So don’t bother consulting your HR department on this matter, just go through these eight simple steps.  And be prepared to lie, as it says in Step 5.

Thanks, eHow!  Now I know where most managers get their training.