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Posts posted by metadigital

  1. More astronomical features will be on tap to enhance Google Earth's ability to serve as a virtual observatory


    Google's launch this week of Sky, a new feature within Google Earth that provides a virtual tour of celestial phenomena, may be of limited use to professional astronomers, but its impact on future scientists and amateur stargazers alike is expected to be as infinite and expansive as the universe it portrays. New features on the horizon promise to further refine Sky's ability to serve as a virtual observatory and deliver images of unfolding cosmic events as they occur.


    The key to Sky's success and its impact on the field of astronomy is the software's ability to provide an easy-to-use interface that satisfies Internet users' insatiable appetite for new information. "There is a huge need to get more young people interested in science," says California Institute of Technology astronomy professor S. George Djorgovski.


    The Caltech Center for Advanced Computing Research's VOEventNet project, which created a virtual observatory by linking a number of telescopes, introduced a software program this week that works with Sky, allowing users to post and view images and video of transient phenomena such as exploding and colliding stars, gamma-ray bursts, and supernovae within minutes of their detection. As such, Djorgovski is hoping to make Sky a dynamic learning tool that leads not only to increased enthusiasm in astronomy but also to an interest in related disciplines such as physics and even information technology.


    Caltech's VOEventNet team is hoping to add links by March that let users track the movement of asteroids, which are "weeds in the rose garden for professional astronomers" but create excitement among amateur stargazers by providing them with the feeling of discovering something new, says Roy Williams, Caltech senior scientist and leader of the VOEventNet team.


    Google Earth debuted in June 2005, combining Google's search capabilities with worldwide geographic information provided by maps and satellite images. Google created Sky by stitching together imagery from a number of scientific institutions, including the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Caltech's Palomar Observatory in California and the U.K. Astronomy Technology Center in Edinburgh. Sky lets Google Earth users view and navigate through 100 million individual stars and 200 million galaxies by clicking on "Switch to Sky" from the "view" drop-down menu in Google Earth, or by clicking the "Sky" button on the toolbar.


    More than a star map, Sky is an interface that astronomers, educators and students can use to contribute their own findings to a community of like-minded users, says Carol Christian, an astronomer with STScI, which serves as the science operations center for the orbiting Hubble telescope. Look for Google to eventually offer Sky users the ability to go beyond conventional video and photo images and view ultraviolet and infrared images of the celestial universe, something that will help people "appreciate the astrophysical universe they live in," she says.


    Christian would also like to see the Google Earth and Sky interfaces merged into one (for now, users click on a button to switch between interfaces) so that they can navigate seamlessly between the terrestrial and extraterrestrial worlds.



  2. ^^ Don't try this at home.

    Aliens in a non futuristic setting can't do anything but suck. However, I will still watch it at theatres and buy the special edition DVD.

    I hope you intend to write copious complaints about the end of your gaming here, too.


    A proper setting for the game would be Medieval Europe. Aliens versus a team of knights and monks.

    I think Sparta would give them a good battle, too.

  3. I vastly prefer sandbox. If there's not some degree of freedom, I simply can not enjoy the game. I still haven't finished Neverwinter Nights 2 for instance..


    And it's perfectly possible to make a sandbox type of game and still have memorable characters. Just look at the Gothic games: I'm playing the third in the series and I'm still friends with Lee, Diego, Vatras, Gorn, Milten etc. and I even finally got to meet King Rhobar (who's was shown in a CGI in the intro to the first game and spoken of during Gothic and Gothic 2).

    True, but Neverwinter Nights 2 did manage to have a slightly sandboxy design, though, whereby the player could choose to do side quests, or not, and the game kept a reasonable account of the progression of gameworld time.

  4. I'd much prefer it if facehugger attacks and incubation were used in the plot as a catalyst or source of drama than as a "you've been facehugged - game over!" or "you've been facehugged - you have an hour to remove the embryo!" gameplay mechanic. That is, I don't want being incubated to be something like being poisoned - it only matters where your stats are concerned, only a source of tension in that you need to find a way to flick the "facehugged = on" switch off. And facehug = instant death completely negates the promise of alien incubation.


    What Obsidian should do, and I've said this before in that huge thread, is make incubation primarily a plot critical element in some way, and also use it as an element in the party mechanic. What if the PC has been incubated? How does he control his party? Some are going to want to help save him, some are going to want to kill him, some are going to just be afraid of him. What if a member of the team is incubated? What choices can the PC make? To maximize this potential, it's absolutely critical that incubation not be something that takes place in gametime. That is, it should be something the PC or NPC starts with, or it happens to him as a matter of plot. Because it would be just too much work to write and program one version of the game where the PC never gets incubated, one in which he gets incubated early, one in which he gets incubated late in a fight, etc. etc. and that goes double for NPCs, unless incubation doesn't matter to the plot of the game, and that would be a huge waste.


    Perhaps they could make it a source of tension within the party by not making it clear who is incubated. Perhaps there are 3 different party members who could be incubated, but there's no way of telling who is or isn't. You could choose to kill whichever you think might be incubated, but it would be random, thus maximizing replayability. There are all kinds of directions Obs could take with this, my only fear is that they'll neglect their options.

    This could be Obsidian's "Revan"! :mellow:

  5. I can't remember the game, but I remember one otherwise listless FPS where one of your weapons was a squeaky toy and you had to find a cat. It was a fantastic segment.


    *Pad pad*


    *Peers into darkened air vent*


    *shoulders assault rifle*


    *pulls out squeaky toy*


    Squeeka squeeka!


    *mutant lunges out of air vent*



    There will be a crate of unkillable cats in the game. :sorcerer:

    It's mandatory in Europe to not show animals being hurt, so (like The Sims invulnerable babies: good for fire breaks) this is very possible.



  6. Seriously, the ability to create any animal-Alien hybrid they like must be great fun and very tempting for the designers at Obsidian. I hope they don't go too far down the road to silliness...


    Apparently in one of the earlier drafts of Alien 3 there was going to be a sheep alien (monastery planet with livestock). I have a hard time imagining how that could have worked as a scary monster but it's something I'd genuinely love to see some day.

    sheep can be scary

  7. Windows 2k is a very solid product (much better than everything before it, and equal to everything up to Vista after it) and is (was) very popular with enterprise computing clients. 2003 wasn't more than a cosmetic upgrade, from memory, certainly you won't notice the difference I believe (though do some googling / wikiing for the differences so that you don't miss out on a feature that you really want).


    It is certainly true, especially for the web, that *nix wins hands-down, though; the major drawback is that you will need to know how to configure the security after updating the kernel to the latest version.


    Why don't you try a prototype build to see for yourself?

  8. I'm hoping AMD will bring home the bacon, as we need a competitive marketplace.


    Interestingly, I read (about a year ago) that Intel was scaling / has scaled back its R&D facilities / expenditure from the monolithic state it had achieved in recent years to a vestigial amount. If it's true, that's really sad (I haven't heard since).

  9. I'm pleased because

    • the 8800, whilst the best available, doesn't have the grunt to play this year's yet-to-be-released games with all the candy on max, and
    • I haven't upgraded yet.

    I am not pleased with the prospect of paying premium Christmas prices, but maybe I'll rationalise it as a reward for my expected end-of-year achievements. :sorcerer:

  10. 2001 was crap. It was like a boring acid trip.
    Great, terrible maybe but never had a boring acid trip.


    2001 was a great movie, loved the book as well.


    If anything is dead it's film makers (Hollywood's) creativity. Remakes and sequels rule the day. Which of course explains the popularity of making films based on comic books - a large source of new "creative material"

    Gotta agree here: loved the book and I really enjoy Kubrick's artistic vision and superb skills.


    Also, you young people are demonstrating an incredible myopia for the genre; the Golden Age of SF was the fourth and fifth decades of the twentieth century, together with a "New Wave" of the sixth and seventh decades.


    Don't tell me you are all ignorant of classics like Metropolis (1927), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Forbidden Planet (1956), the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Blob (1958), etcetra, etc!


    As for the death of the genre, I would say that people are being a little premature ... AND I would say that the genre was very tired after a couple of decades and needed a rest ... a bit like how Doctor Who was bankrupt after John Nathan-Turner's production career and only returned when a diehard fan, in the person of Russell T Davies, with some vision could do so after a decade and a half lying fallow.


    Now there is a resurgence of SF, like the recent films of from the books of PKD (Through a Scanner Darkly (2006): the only author with more film adaptations of his work is Stephen King ... no, Ian Fleming doesn't count ;p ) and Asimov (I, Robot (2004)), to name only two; the bar is a lot higher now because the audience contains (geeks) who understand a lot more science to a higher degree.





    PS Ridley Scott freely admits (in the DVD special features) that the "dirty future" of Lucas's Star Wars film was a huge influence on his vision for the Nostromo and Alien.

  11. The MAGIC gamma-ray telescope team has just released an eye-popping preprint (following up earlier work) describing a search for an observational hint of quantum gravity. What they've seen is that higher-energy gamma rays from an extragalactic flare arrive later than lower-energy ones. Is this because they travel through space a little bit slower, contrary to one of the postulates underlying Einstein's special theory of relativity -- namely, that radiation travels through the vacuum at the same speed no matter what?


    The team studied two gamma-ray flares in mid-2005 from the black hole at the heart of the galaxy Markarian 501. They compared gammas in two energy ranges, from 1.2 to 10 tera-electron-volts (TeV) and from 0.25 to 0.6 TeV. The first group arrived on Earth four minutes later than the second. One team member, physicist John Ellis of CERN, says: "The significance of the time lag is above 95%, and the magnitude of the effect is beyond the sensitivity of previous experiments."


    Either the high-energy gammas were released later (because of how they were generated) or they propagated more slowly. The team ruled out the most obvious conventional effect, but will have to do more to prove that new physics is at work -- this is one of those "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" situations. But if the high-energy gammas really did lose the cosmic race, we're talking Big Discovery. It could be a way to constrain string theory, loop quantum gravity, and other bleeding-edge theories.


    The basic picture is that high energies might cause small-scale fluctuations in the shape of spacetime, which would act as subatomic lenses. The higher the photon energy, the more it might induce such lensing and the slower it would cover large distances. Four minutes isn't much of a delay over a half-billion-year journey, but then again, you don't expect much. From the lag, you can deduce where quantum gravity kicks in. Some theories predict the effect is proportional to the quantum-gravity scale, in which case it happens at 5 x 10^17 giga-electron-volts (GeV). In others, it's proportional to the square of the scale, in which case the lag implies 6 x 10^10 GeV.


    I need to look into this a bit more, but I just wanted to get the news out there for people to mull.


    Update (August 23rd): Another co-author, string theorist Dimitri Nanopoulos of Texas A&M, writes to me: "I am very excited about this, because as you know we suggested this effect about ten years ago and we have follow through with several analyses and/or improvement on theory. Notice that the 0.4 x 1018 GeV is the typical string scale!!!!"


    Daniel Ferenc of U.C. Davis on the MAGIC team writes: "There have been attempts to observe time lags in gamma flares and in gamma-ray bursts, but we have never seen something like this.... We should keep in mind that the effect may still be inherent to the process of the emission of gamma rays in the source, although not very likely. We are rapidly learning about such emission processes in AGNs from new data collected by MAGIC, HESS, VERITAS, and CANGAROO, in coincidence with x-ray and optical measurements, and will know more soon."




  12. 747c.gif

    Image: The Joy of Tech


    So are we all just a bunch of consciousness programs running on some post-singularity universe simulator?


    The New York Times' John Tierney wrote about this yesterday, with transhumanist bigwig and Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom providing the ideas:


    Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems. [...]


    A more practical question is how to behave in a computer simulation. Your first impulse might be to say nothing matters anymore because nothing’s real. But just because your neural circuits are made of silicon (or whatever posthumans would use in their computers) instead of carbon doesn’t mean your feelings are any less real.


    Fine, we could be simulations. Now what? Tierney doesn't have time to do much more than scratch the surface, but that's okay. When it comes to cutting-edge prognostication, it's not the New York Times we turn to. It's science fiction, which has been kicking around digitally replicated consciousness for a few decades now.


    One of the best treatments of this idea comes from Charles Stross. His Accelerando is a multidimentional, multimillennial romp across space, time and competing software formats. It's got political conspiracies, intelligence embodied as a flock of seagulls, and inspired the title of an upcoming feature of mine: "Even Posthumans Have Mothers-In-Law." Best of all, it's available under a Creative Commons license and can be downloaded here.


    Our Lives, Controlled From Some Guy’s Couch [New York Times]

    Nick Bostrom


  13. And you've got the powers of superman, and after you do all the stupid stuff that everyone would probably do if they could fly, had super strength, invincibility and had sixty different vision powers, would you get involved in national fights? heck would you actually try to do a heroic thing? Because nothing is black and white anymore, who's right and who's wrong is written by the survivors (who are usually victorious, but I'm guessing that Islam will have something different in their history books than America does about what's happening).


    I personally wouldn't because I don't know enough about everything and everyone to make a proper decision. Who's good, who's evil, who's in the middle, who to save... to try to do the heroic thing seems like you'd end up going insane because there's too many crimes to control them effectively, meanwhile getting involved in national fights seems like your just asking to be screwed.

    The best part about having super powers is that you don't have to adjudicate by democracy, so the ultimate judge of what is "right" is YOUR interpretation.


    What you are basically asking is what people would do if they were made absolute ruler of the world.


    The best part of having super powers is that one could remake the world in whatever image desired.

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