Aug 17, 2010

A Strong Case Against Intelligent Life In Space

No, I'm not making any scientific claims here. I'm referring to Moonbase Alpha, a online NASA simulator in which you work as part of a team of astronauts on the moon. And, like anything made with good intentions, when you set it loose upon the internet it necessarily devolves into stupidity. Awesome, hilarious stupidity.

While I haven't played the game myself, it looks fairly straight forward: work together to complete science-y type tasks in a simulated - and visually stunning - moon environment. You can pilot vehicles and interact with Communication between astronauts is done using a chat which is then spoken aloud in what I believe is Stephen Hawking's voice box. It may not seem like it, but it's a recipe for unintentional comedy gold.

I think the funniest part of the video is not what goes on in the game, but rather what I imagine what ground control must be thinking when they realize the crew they sent up there. Do they regret sending up a crew that is completely unresponsive to orders? Did they realize the crew had a collective IQ of 80 before sending them up? Is ground control worried that the crew, at any point, are just as likely to take off their helmet than they are to fix whatever needs fixing? Are they secretly hoping the astronauts take off their helmets?

I wanna know who's getting fired for letting this happen.

Video might be NSFW for Stephen Hawking sounding like he has Tourettes.

Drop it like it low grav.

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Aug 12, 2010

The Doctor Is In (Again)

So. Hi.

Life got in the way for quite some time. I could fill a book explaining all the big life-changing events that have transpired in the past however-many months I've stepped away (I'll share them soon enough). Life may still get in the way. But the point is I want to start blogging again. I missed this blog.

This blog was amazing for a few reasons. First, it got me writing. I never really did care what the final product would be, just that I was writing on a regular basis. The only rule I set for myself was that I was enjoying myself as I did it. This continuous practice of putting out complete, compelling (at least to me) thoughts made me a better communicator. And not just written communication, I became a more clear and coherent speaker during the time I was writing.

Additionally, writing sparked my creativity. When I first started this blog way back in 2008, eons ago in internet time, I was daunted by the fact that I had to write about something every day. I thought I'd run out of ideas in a week. But I didn't. I kept writing. Sure, I linked a number of videos and stories in some of my posts, but it got me writing. It got me putting pen to paper in an attempt to be interesting and attach my own views and outlooks to things.

Remember images with captions? I freaking love images with captions.

Amazingly enough, the more posts I did, the more ideas for posts I would get. I want to rekindle that kind of creative momentum.

I'm back. Now I have to make an honest man of me.

P.S. It took a friend's blog to make me realize how much I missed doing this. There was nothing inspirational or remarkable about the post per se, it just got my attention at the right time, and she seems to genuinely enjoy it. Thanks, Julie.

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Apr 21, 2010

Going the distance

The Boston Marathon came and went just yesterday. For those not familiar with how big an event this is, most of the city shuts down for it. Sure, they say it's for "Patriots' Day", a holiday I didn't think was real until moving to Massachusetts, but when you've got tens of thousands of runners making it impossible to go across town, you might as well close up shop and watch. BC gave us the day off, at any rate.

One leg of the race happened to be really close to where I live so I decided to see firsthand what a river of people actually looks like. On my way to the race, and it being a nice day, I decided to stop off for some ice cream to eat while watching. It was only when I got up to the barricade that separated the spectators from the runners did I realize that stuffing my face full of ice cream in front of people who had already put in about 22 miles of running was about the meanest thing I've ever done.

Not pictured: The Ice Cream of Shame

After then discretely eating the ice cream, I sat and watched people go by me. Lots of people. I don't know the exact number of people in the event, but I saw runners wearing numbers that were up in the mid-20,000's. This doesn't even take into consideration the non-registered runners - people who decided to hop into the race for however long and go for it.

About a half hour into this high-speed parade, it started becoming surreal. I know from friends and family that a marathon is not something you can just "decide to do". It takes an incredible amount of training and conditioning to be able to make it the full 26.2 miles. I may have only seen each runner go 50 or so yards, but each step I saw them take yesterday required hundreds or thousands in preparation. Multiply this effort by the total number of runners in the marathon, and enormity of it all was pretty humbling.

It went on like this for miles. Literally.

In the end, I'm not sure what I personally took away from the experience. On the one hand, my mind was racing with speculation as to what would motivate each of these tens of thousands of runners. Do they do it for personal pride, to show that they can? Do they run for someone else? Do they run for charity? Do they run because they want to compete, either against others or against themselves? Each runner's demeanor, labored facial expressions, and sometimes even clothing offered minor glimpses into what compelled these people to run. It was never a complete picture, but it was also hard not to be inspired.

Other the other hand, the race was a sober reminder that no matter how hard you think you are working towards something, there's always someone else working just as hard, if not harder. This isn't to say everyone raced for the same reasons, but no one seemed willing to stop short of the finish line. I saw great parallels between this reality and the one I live at business school, itself just a controlled microcosm of the business world.

Either way, it was a heck of an afternoon. Only in Boston.

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Jan 8, 2010

Lots and Lots of Bots

If the string "TF2" means nothing to you, you'd do well to pretend this post is a giant blank space. Just sayin', is all.

Yesterday, Valve released updated tweaks to their experimental bots. That's experimental in the "we're really playing around with this AI stuff, please bear with us", not experimental in the "6 Million Dollar Man" sense. These bots are by no means the finished product -they only work on certain king of the hill maps, and Valve still has not programmed 2 of the classes (Scout and Spy). So I gave them a spin on my favorite map, KOTH_Nucleus.

And no, not these bots either.

What I found was that these bots play a surprisingly adequate game of TF2. Was their AI perfect? Nope, not at all. But what I did see was bots acting sort-of-human. By no means are they as good as humans yet, but I never knew what I would find around a particular corner, and they do a decent job of prioritizing in the middle of a firefight.

If their health drops low, and they aren't in immediate danger (say, a rocket pushed them far enough away from battle) I've seen them retreat and try to get health, either from a medic, med kit or dispenser. If their team had the point, they actually went hunting for other players. Medics do an ok job of healing the people around them and don't reach for their syringe guns if an ally is near.

Heavies probably walk around spinning their guns much longer than humans would, but it's nicely balanced by their recognition and harassment of snipers that are looking to hit the slow Russians. For example, unless he's in the middle of a firefight, I more or less have to catch a heavy off-guard with my rifle, or he just turns and keeps laying cover spray at me to mess up my aim. I like this.

But they do have a few niggles:

  • I'm not sure if the bots walking patterns are fully baked yet. In KOTH_Nuclues, it seemed like the bots kept running into our lower-level supply door because they couldn't find the nearby stairs. Also, if a sentry was just outside our spawn room, the bots would halt as they walked by our spawn door because, rightfully, they didn't want sentry in their face. This behaviors might be purposeful "spawn camping" (a nice touch, if it is), but they might be the result of glitches in the walking AI.

  • Demos bots don't use their stickies. Ever. Why not? I can understand it being a pain to program how and, more importantly, where to trap effectively with stickies. But using them as mid range combat weapons? That's a no brainer.

  • For that matter, I would like to see these bots switch to their secondary weapons more often in general. Soldiers and pyros switch to their shotgun when the situation permits itself. Engineers use their pistols to chip away at range. The only class I saw do a good job of this was the sniper. Whenever you got near him he spams his machine gun.

  • Interestingly, I didn't really notice a problem with snipers showing up in all the same locations, because these locations are exactly where human snipers keep pwning my ass usually frequent.

    It was the engineers I had a problem with. There might be only 3 or 4 locations I might expect an engineer to build, and by golly they only built there. It was always in a place that covered the capture point, and the Engineer would invariably be turtling.

  • This wouldn't have been a problem, if the bots actually behaved like humans. When a human sees a sentry that's kind of guarding an objective, entire team-involved strategies are devised to take that bastard out.

    What do the bots do? They ignore it until it they are in its range. And when the sentries are at level 3, that's a fatal mistake. So it's up to me, man of reason, to be an elite one man strike team to take out the sentry, or more frustrating sentries, so my team can recapture the point.

  • Speaking of, the bots do at best an erratic job of handling me as a Spy. I don't know what I'm going to get when I see them. There are times the enemy seems willing to invite me to their child's christening. There are other times it seems like they hear my decloaking from across the other side of the map and hunt me down Jumanji style.

    There are times when you can tell if they "suspect" you of being a spy. They'll keep looking at you (or, rather, keep their back from you), but more or less continue about their business. The minute you do something that would indicate you're not one of them, like stand still for too long or turn just slightly the wrong way, they'll attack you. Viciously. Valve, if the bots even have a whiff of doubt, why not have them attack the person anyway? It's what I'm used to against humans. And a hell of a lot less frustrating.

It's like they're messing with my head. Literally.

  • And the enemy engineers do a bad job of handling spies. If I sap their stuff, they try to wrench off the sapper instead of coming after me. Even their teammates nearby leave me alone. Of course, this means I'm free to keep sapping their stuff until it is destroyed. And even then, after his sentry is down, nobody attacks me. That needs some serious work.

  • While I'm still on the spy rants, they enemy bots have no concept of the Dead Ringer. They see me die and immediately forget about me. As a spy, that's not even fair.
Bottom line, if you're deficient in a class other than spy (I suck at flanking with a Scout, for example), these bots provide an adequate training ground to get you to some level of competence. Once you start beating these bots regularly as said class, then try your hand online. You'll likely still get your ass handed to you, but at least you'll have a starting point from which to build on.

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