All Geek to Me

March 19, 2008

RIP Arthur C Clarke

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 1:58 am

Arthur C Clarke, SF writer has died. His works include the novel and screenplay of 2001 A Space Odyssey and over a hundred other books.

One of his first published stories appeared in the British SF Fanzine, “The Satellite”, which was edited by my father. The story was a parody of HP Lovecraft’s “The Mountains of Madness”.

I admit that I preferred Clarke’s short stories to his novels. If I was to edit an anthology of great SF short stories, “The Nine Billion Names of God” and “The Star” would be in the collection.

His three laws of prediction are worth remembering
1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.


March 11, 2008

I am Human

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 2:37 am

According to this personality test, I am Human Wizard of Lawful Neutral Alignment. For those not familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, the alignment means that I am someone who follows rules. Unfortunately, I cannot summon fireballs to incinerate those who annoy me.

(Thanks to Zen of Design for the link)

A Less Than Perfect Vista

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 2:29 am

For those unlucky souls that have Windows Vista on their PC, you may draw some comfort from knowing that you are not alone.

March 10, 2008

My How You’ve Grown

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 2:45 pm

According to the Register, the MP3 player is ten years old this month. In March 1998, a Korean company launched a 32Mb player for $200. This is enough memory for about thirty minutes of music; less than one album. Looking at Amazon today, I see a 1Gb model for $25.30. Despite the range of such devices available now, the market is dominated by the iPod. For $240, you have a 60 GB device (180 times the original capacity). Happy Birthday to the MP3 player.

Basic Verse

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 4:43 am

I admire well written code and cringe at poor code, but I have never thought of it as poetry before. If the idea had crossed my mind, I would have ignored BASIC as a possible source of inspiration for a poem. This gentleman, however, found inspiration in that most unlikely of languages.

The Nature of My Game

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 4:16 am

I have been thinking about Dungeons and Dragons in the last few days after the widely reported death of its co-creator. I have been happy memories of the games played and the time spent with friends; many of whom I met through the game. There is one Dungeons and Dragons story, though, that reinforces my feeling that the game is a positive social experience.

I worked for two and a half years as a teacher in an International School in Portugal. While I was there I started a Dungeons and Dragons club with several of the pupils. It ran at lunch and at weekends. When I left the school to return to the UK and take up a career in computers, the parents of one of the pupils in the club came and thanked me. They said that until he had joined the club he had never had friends over and had been miserable at school. Now he had several pupils who came over at weekends and was happier at school. This they blamed on me introducing him to the devil worship that is known as Dungeons and Dragons.

March 5, 2008

A Short History of Computer Games – The Puzzling

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 3:57 pm

I have played video games almost since the moment that I was introduced to early computers. I thought about writing a post listing my top ten games, but as technology improved and the internet became pervasive, comparison does not seem possible. Instead I plan to write a set of posts on different styles of games that I have enjoyed and look at how they changed.

I shall start with a genre that, in general, I do not enjoy. There have been three puzzle games that I have played with enthusiasm. The first of these was Lemmings, on the Amiga. I remember getting home from work at about 6pm, finding the game had arrived in the post taking it upstairs and started playing. After playing it for a while, I thought that maybe I should take a break to eat; I looked at my watch it was 2am.

The Lemmings in the game were little green-haired creatures that would walk until they hit an obstacle, at which point they turned round, or reached an edge that they would walk off. If the ground below the edge was too far down, the fall would kill them. The idea of the game was to rescue a certain percentage, which varied by level, by getting them to walk out of the door at the bottom of the screen. To accomplish the task, you could make some of the Lemmings perform certain tasks, such as standing still to create an obstacle that caused other Lemmings to turn round, making them dig holes that would allow a safe drop, or giving them umbrellas to glide down a fall that would otherwise kill them. Most screens had a limited number of these options available, so the puzzle was to figure out how to use the resources available to get them home. It started off easy and got progressively harder. The game was ported to virtually every computer platform and is now available to play for free in a web browser.

It was over fifteen years before I next found a puzzle game that was as addictive as Lemmings. This was actually a simpler game, clearly inspired by Tetris, which never intrigued me. However, it was its availability on my mobile phone that gave the game appeal. The game was there when I had spare moments. The screen had a collection of coloured gems. Selecting a gem would remove it and all adjacent gems of the same colour and cause the other gems to fall into place. The score for removing a block increased exponentially depending on the number of gems, so removing a block of six gems scored a lot more than three times a block of two. The skill was in removing blocks to cause larger blocks to form. Simple, but very addictive.

The final game is a modern PC game. It is called Portal. The idea of the game is that you must get through a set of rooms. These rooms are in a lab and you being tested by a computer, whose comments are heard at the start and end of each room. To get through these rooms, you have a Portal Gun. The Portal gun allows you to create inter-dimensional holes in the walls, floor, and ceiling of the rooms. You can create up two holes at a time. If you walk through one hole, you will emerge through the other. You can also push objects through these portals allowing you to knock over items one the other side. Like Lemmings, this game is about using a fairly limited set of options to overcome obstacles. The added bonus in the game is the dark humour exhibited by the computer voice and that of the AI equipped gun turrets. I have not yet got to the end of the game, so I do not understand the graffiti on the wall that states “The Cake is a Lie”

To The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 2:17 am

Over twenty five years ago I started to play Dungeons and Dragons; my first exposure to Role Playing Games. RPG meant games to me long before I associated it with the world’s most productive programming language. I have not played D&D for many years, having first found other role playing games and then moving away from pen and paper based games altogether.

The PC game that I play now, Everquest 2 owes a massive and obvious debt to Dungeons and Dragons. D&D introduced the concepts of character classes, the gaining of experience points which lead to discrete advancement of the character by level.

So while I have not played D&D in over a decade, my games playing is still strongly influenced by the ideas in that game. Therefore, it was with sadness that I noted the passing of the co-creator of the original game; Gary Gygax.

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